Fear not, this review is ABBA free. This Fernando is Fernando Viciconte, born in Argentina but commencing his musical journey in LA with Monkey Paw, a hard rock band, before moving to Portland, Oregon in 1994. Since then he’s released several solo albums which have variously visited his Latin roots, alt-country and “gauzy, narcotic songs with Latin and country-folk accents”. A health scare a few years back threatened his voice but he has thankfully recovered and recorded Leave The Radio On, the first of his albums (I think) to get a full UK release.
It’s getting so that Portland is the happening place to be in the States (actually, it may have been for some time and we’re just behind the curve here). Anyway, while fans of The Holy Modal Rounders will know of goings on eons ago, for the past decade or so it’s been a magnet for musicians, Peter Buck of REM the latest drawn to live there. We mention this as Fernando has a dream list of Portland musicians on the album. no surprise really when you consider that Willie Vlautin of Richmond Fontaine is on record as saying that Viciconte is “one of my all time favourite singer-songwriters”. Vlautin doesn’t appear here but Daniel Eccles and Freddie Trujillo from RF are both onboard along with Paul Brainard, Scott McCaughey and Mr. Buck himself who variously plays guitar, sitar and mandolin on eight of the 11 songs. In addition there’s another “unsung” Portland musician here in the shape of Lewi Longmire on guitars and keyboards. A long time associate of Fernando, Longmire also has a history with various Rounders and the esteemed Michael Hurley, so, nice to see him in here.
The album itself is a polished affair. Viciconte’s voice is high in the mix, his tremulous vocals recalling at times Bowie and Lennon. There’s little of his dusty Americana background although there’s a fine laid back vibe to the wonderful pedal steel and mandolin whorled Kingdom Come while the spectral White Trees oozes with a mysticism heightened by the simple ritualistic percussion, shadows gathering in the gloomy bass and subdued organ. Instead, we get the dark psychedelic soundscape of The Dogs, surely indebted to The Pretty Things in their lysergic days and the kaleidoscopic guitar tumblings of The Freak, a song that roots into Bowie’s 70’s paranoia (turn this one up loud). Buck’s presence isn’t flag posted throughout the album but it’s tempting to think that the churning guitar charge of Burned Out Love, a fantastic slice of power pop is a nod to him and Minus Five chap McCaughey. Turns out that the guitar here is handled by Fernando’s co-producer Luther Russell but it certainly hits the heights, a glorious addition to the canon of sun kissed guitar pop. Fernando certainly knows his way around a hook, the opening and closing songs here both memorable slices of dark melodic rock with shades of The Dream Syndicate and The Church lurking in there. Finally, there’s the odd seeming combination of Fernando sounding like Bowie on El Interior. Here, glistening guitars lead one into a twilight zone, an infra red desert, the singer stranded, his thoughts clouded by the intrusive Mariachi band. Whether Fernando intended this or not the song is a fine summation of the gin sozzled Thomas Jerome Newton damned in New Mexico. A wonderful song.
Good news is that Fernando is appearing near you soon as he is supporting Richmond Fontaine on their farewell tour. Dates are here.