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Robert Wyatt — Shleep
(Thirsty Ear thi 57040.2, 1997, CD)

Shleep Cover art

An album from Robert Wyatt, (arguably the founder of the Canterbury music movement) is a rare and cherished event. Since there hasn't been much heard from him in several years, one could almost assume that he had become ill and was short-lived for this world. I'm relieved and excited to report that Shleep is a consummate work from the vocalist which seems to have shot some life back into the old boy! Wyatt has gathered an impressive array of friends from the past (Evan Parker, Philip Catherine, Phil Manzanera, Eno) and a few new ones as well, (Paul Weller from The Jam and Style Council) to enhance his whimsical rambling  ideas. Not to be stopped there, he has taken a stab at a few new uncreditable instruments, notably trumpet and bass guitar. A strong case can be made for Shleep as the should-have-been follow up to 1975's Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard. The most notable track is "Blues in Bob Minor," a stream-of-conscience lyrical piece which is embossed with Weller's lead and rhythm backing guitars. After all this time, I'm still mystified by Robert's vocal texture, how can he maintain such a purity of voice across 35 years plus of singing? One can only guess as to what has sprung the aging composer back to recording activity, but the results are top notch. Shleep is another add-on to my top ten list of the year! Let's hope for a domestic release too.

by Jeff Melton, Published 1998-02-01

By now experience has demonstrated that all we can expect from Robert Wyatt is the unexpected. Shleep offers surprises on several fronts, first that an hours worth of stunning songs has been masterminded within the same decade as his last masterwork Dondestan (by his processes six years is a short break, consider ten years between Ruth and Old Rottenhat). One of the qualities that makes Robert's records special is the diverse ideas used to imbue each track with its own texture and colors, and for this collection he has embraced old friends for additional instrumental resources to help resolve the challenges of content and form. He's also returned to playing bass guitar and trumpet with a warm personality that transcends technical limitations. Contributors to Shleep include Phil Manzanera, Evan Parker, Annie Whitehead, and Brian Eno, who produced the opening track and arranged an affecting vocal mid-section. Yes "Heaps of Sheep" is an hilarious spin on that tired old horse called pop and proves utterly irresistible from every perspective.  By contract guitarist Philip Catherine's "Maryan" is dripping with melodic sensuality and is suitably sung with doubled vocal. Robert's haunting lyric "Was a Friend" (a window on old pains) marries perfectly with Hugh Hopper's dark shifting chords, but it's the flickering cymbal work (a la Tony Williams) that provides candlelight through the dramatic finale. Then there's Evan's snake charming soprano bringing "The Duchess" to an illogical conclusion, and Paul's searing guitar leads darting within the Dylanesque delivery of "Blues in Bob Minor." Of course there's Alfreda's wonderful cover painting and poems. And then there's that multi-faceted voice which needs no further comment. Indeed there is such a wealth of enjoyment within Shleep that further description seems pointless. Track it down, curl up with a friend and favorite bottle of wine and discover its treasures for yourself.

by Mike King, Published 1998-02-01

Filed under: New releases, Issue 14, 1997 releases

Related artist(s): Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera, Evan Parker, Robert Wyatt, Philip Catherine, Annie Whitehead


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