Exposé print issues (1993-2011)
John Shirley & Jerry King — Escape from Gravity
(Bandcamp no#, 2022, CD)
by Peter Thelen, Published 2022-09-25
Fantasy and sci-fi novels, screenplays, short stories, poetry, songs, and song lyrics are just some of what John Shirley is known for. He’s written lyrics for a number of Blue Öyster Cult songs beginning in the late 90s right up through their most recent album The Symbol Remains. Growing up in the Portland, Oregon area in the 70s, he was a member of a number of local bands there, joining the band Sado-Nation in 1978. During the 80s and 90s, while living in New York City and Paris, he was a member of various other punk and funk bands. The double album Broken Mirror Glass: The Anthology 1978-2012 summarizes over three decades of Shirley’s musical activities. Since that time, in addition to his collaborations with BÖC, he has been working with Jerry King (Cloud over Jupiter, Moon Men, Moon X, and others) and in that time produced three albums with him: Spaceship Landing in a Cemetery (2018), Short Stories for Tall Aliens (2019), and the latest album at hand, Escape from Gravity. Shirley wrote all the lyrics and performed them on all of the album’s ten tracks, plus played occasional harmonica, and for his part King plays guitar, bass, horns, and synth effects, as well as production and arrangement of the material. Other guests include Ian Beabout on flute and mastering, drummers Chad Wardwell and Pete Zolli, the latter also handles fretless bass on certain cuts, Jamie Bruhn on bass on one cut, Chris Boros, Travis Plantico, Walter Whitney and Dave Newhouse on all manner of keyboards, track depending, and a half dozen ot so other guests playing on this track or that. The best way to describe the music here: the instrumental elements embrace a solid trippy progressive space-rock ethic, with Shirley’s more-or-less spoken lyrics as an overlay on top of that. I’m not sure how it all came together, if it was words first then music played behind them, or if the instrumental parts were produced independently and then the words mixed with them later. On some of the songs, like “Woodsmoke,” Shirley almost sings so he would need to be in the same key as the musicians playing, but on others they are simply spoken. Throughout the lyrics are interesting and excellent, as are the instrumental performances. There are a number of standouts, like “Evil Is a Rose That Sings,” “My Five Eyes,” “The Spider’s Tale,” “Poisoned Wheel,” and “God Is an Alien.” I guess ones mileage will depend on how much one likes spoken lyrics accompanying amazing music, but I say don’t judge it until you’ve had an opportunity to hear it through. This listener was a little put off by it initially, but after half a dozen listens or so, I’ve definitely warmed up to it, and Escape from Gravity won’t be going on the shelf anytime soon.
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