Shave the Monkey’s Good Luck Mr Gorsky

cover art for Good Luck Mr GorskyThis is the fourth CD by Shave the Monkey, four years after its predecessor Mad Arthur, which I reviewed along with their first two recordings here. The lineup is the same, but this time they have left the traditional tunes and songs aside and only recorded their own. As on Mad Arthur, they have employed the services of Woodworm Studios and Mark Tucker for the recording. Tucker is fast developing from a mere technician to one of the most used co-producers in folk rock.

Shave the Monkey open the record in a bombastic way with “On the Edge,” sounding like Blowzabella with drums. Then it is on to the first song, “Perfect Match.” With a prominent saxophone and some nice vocals they come across as a mixture between Moving Hearts and Great Big Sea.

Another song follows. On “Broken Rock,” Carolyn Sheppard takes her first lead vocal. A slow opening with keyboards and vocals changes into a straight shuffle with Shepperd sounding like a mellow Cathy LeSurf. Again the saxophone is there to create a more jazzy feeling.

“Beyond the Paddington Slip/Rondedans uit Arc-Anieres” starts out in a medieval fashion with hurdy-gurdy and some lovely percussion work. A bridge with a very rhythmic acoustic guitar and heavy drums turns into a more danceable tune. “Moving Softly” is the softest song on the album, with an acoustic guitar, airy keyboards and again a nice saxophone solo. With two voices, they create a feeling you could have expected from one of the softer progressive groups in the early 1970s. A thoughtful, well constructed song.

“Laayoune/Scavenger” is another instrumental medley starting in a mystic way with keyboards and percussion. An electric guitar adds a rhythm, soon to be followed by a melodeon, and bass guitar and drums. It is one of the rhythmically most interesting tracks on the album. Very far from folk, much closer to the instrumental breaks of early King Crimson.

The two most interesting lyrics follow. “Scared” is about being afraid of living life to the fullest, being brought down by poor self-esteem. Piano-like keyboard features heavily in the background, and yes, another saxophone solo. “Another Day” is an odd one. With an almost reggae-like heavy backbeat it sounds like nothing else on the album. The lyrics tell a story about the horrors of being unable to go to sleep. This is one of my favourite tracks.

“Scorchio” is a lovely instrumental piece with the foundations laid by a walking bass. It is probably heavily influenced by Balkan folk music. It is another favourite of mine. “Strangers’ Land” is more epic in its build-up, and again my thoughts turn to early King Crimson without really being able to explain why. Is it the guitar in the background, the saxophone, the harmonies? I honestly cannot say.

“The Last Goodbye” starts out heavily but calms down when the vocals enter. Then the proceedings are closed with “Hypocondriac/Cobra,” the first part of which combines heavy guitar, some interesting keyboard figures and the hurdy-gurdy: medieval music goes disco. The beat continues, but the hurdy-gurdy is exchanged for a saxophone, and the band waves up a storm.

As a whole, the instrumental pieces are wonderful. Shave the Monkey are masters in that field. The songs are not bad at all, but most of them pale when compared to the tunes. Maybe that reflects the band. To me they are all very good instrumentalists, but there is no real vocal front man or front woman. They are musicians who sing as well, not singers with instruments.

All things considered, it is another step forward for Shave the Monkey and worth checking out for everyone. But if I were Shave the Monkey or their producer, I would change the balance a little next time, with one or two more instrumentals and a couple of songs less, and why not go back to the old formula with a traditional song or two? They have made very good use of them in the past.

(Percheron Musique, 2000)

Gary Whitehouse

Gary has been reviewing music, books and more at the Green Man Review since sometime in the previous Millennium. He lives in a mostly hipster-free part of Oregon, where he enjoys dogs, books, music, the outdoors, and craft beer, cider, and coffee.

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