Dumb Instrument. Doubt. Bad Tool Records

a3786848051_16Back in 2014 when the Scottish referendum debate was at fever pitch, there was an oasis of calm within its midst. For sure, it was quite a surreal oasis but Dumb Instrument’s Suffering From Scottishness, a wonderfully absurd and deadpan hymn to the nation was, for a while, the unofficial Scottish anthem. It’s too soon of course to say whether another bid for independence is on the cards but Dumb Instrument have gone ahead and released their third album, tired of waiting perhaps?

Anyhow, it’s great to be able to say that on Doubt (the title and album cover a joke in itself), Dumb Instrument remain stoically Scottish and singer Tom Murray’s humour is as pawkish as ever. The band, a seven-piece outfit led by co -founder Mikey Grant on piano and supplemented by a string section, provide some excellent ornamentation for Murray’s vocals. They delve into a breathtaking Latin styled workout on LadeDa and on Backwards Is The New Ways Forwards they’re next door neighbours to Robert Wyatt while That’s The way To Do It is an exhausting Klezmer like knees up full of parping horns and melodramatic keyboard flourishes sounding as if they were lifted from early Hollywood cliff-hangers.

Above all however, it’s Murray’s words which draw the listener in. Many of the songs are vignettes, some spinning into a tenement version of magical realism as on the driving opening song, High Jumper which is stuffed full of musical references in the lyrics amidst worrying references to skyscrapers and window ledges while the music is dizzying enough to induce a sense of vertigo. Backwards Is The New Forwards comes across as if one were reading James Kelman’s How Late It Was How Late backwards and Drunk In The Playground is an excellent capture of an incarcerated father imagining he’s waiting for his child as the bell rings. Perhaps the best of all on offer here is the excellently named, That Stupid Wee Lassie From Elderslie, an incredibly imaginative song. Here the protagonist is haunted by and goaded by a plooky wee schoolmate who wasn’t worthy of attention then. Almost in the same league is the simple guitar and vocals of Venus In A Cardigan which could be a mash up of Billy Connolly, Ivor Cutler and The Incredible String Band.

It’s important to say that Dumb Instrument are not doing comedy. There’s dark humour aplenty here but overall Doubt is an immersive experience, the music’s great and Murray has a winning way with his lightly spoken vocals. They don’t sound at all similar, but imagine if you can, if Ian Dury and The Blockheads came from the west of Scotland rather than Billericay or Upminster or where ever Dury pretended to be from, and then consider Dumb Instrument.

Doubt is available now and there is an album launch show on Saturday 19th October in Glasgow’s CCA where Dumb Instrument will unveil the album in conjunction with Doghouse Roses’ own album release.

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Dumb Instrument. Backwards Is The New Forwards EP

oneway202

Back in the heady days of the Scottish Referendum the Ayrshire based troupe Dumb Instrument were all over the airwaves with their deadpan hymn to the nation, Suffering From Scottishness. A perfect combination of our ability to poke fun at ourselves and our gift for self deprecation (which is only there to hide the fact that we do believe we are the “greatest little nation on earth”) the song captured the zeitgeist (as we journos say) and there were even suggestions that it become the national anthem for the newly emerging independent nation.

Well, we all know where that got us and now, two years on, we’re facing a future where we might all be forced to become Little Englanders while a bouffanted buffoon across the pond might be considering invading us in order to stop wind farms spoiling his view from the links. It may be farfetched to consider that in the title song to their new EP, Backwards Is The new Forwards, Dumb Instrument have again got their finger on the pulse of the national mood but at the very least the song can be considered a parable about the dash to the past that has characterised these political catastrophes; as if walking backwards will take us back to the days of Empire (or in the US, glorious isolation). If so then it’s a masterstroke, if not then it’s just a bloody great song.

The undoubted humour inherent in Suffering From Scottishness and other songs such as Buckfast Vs. Hash on the album The Silent Beard somewhat overshadowed the musical prowess of the band. On this EP it’s almost the reverse. The title song, a whimsical piece that in its subject recalls The Goons is delivered swathed in a stately jazz rock arrangement that recalls some of Robert Wyatt’s work. The horn section is alternately muted and then swollen as the song progresses over a metronomic drumbeat and some beautiful double bass work. Singer and writer Tom Murray’s use of Scots idiom is perfect, the song overall a miniature absurdist masterpiece that is just glorious to listen to.

The third song, Shug, is also set to a somewhat ponderous beat as Murray sketches a portrait of an idiosyncratic artist (one is tempted to consider this almost a self-portrait). Here the music achieves prominence over the words as pedal steel glides in towards the end with a fine otherworldly sensation against an ethereal choir which recalls some of Eno’s work on his Apollo soundscapes. In between these two songs is the electronic bounce of Blin Bobette which harks back to Euro disco with plenty of synthesized burps although it seems to be about a woman’s descent into a religious madness who sees Jesus rising from her soap dish.

On the strength of the title song alone this is a tremendous listen and apparently it’s the first of a series of EP’s the band are planning to record over the next year, one a month. Dumb Instrument are appearing at a charity show at Mono, Glasgow on 22nd December in aid of Glasgow Night Shelter along with Rulers Of The Root and The Primevals.

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Best of 2014

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There’s a lot or pros and cons when it comes to listing end of year best ofs or favourites. Two years ago Blabber’n’Smoke eventually plumbed for the pros outweighing the cons so this is the third time we’ve presented what, when it comes down to it, is an arbitrary choice of remembered listen. Albums that have stood the test of (a relatively short) time, the ones we’ve returned to or recommended to others in the pub. Above all it’s been fun to look back, read the reviews and see if they still stand. So with this in mind the following are the official Blabber’n’Smoke 2014 picks, in alphabetical order.

Blue Rose Code. Ballads Of Peckham Rye
Birds Of Chicago. Live From Space
Fire Mountain. All Dies Down
Bradford lee Folk and The Bluegrass Playboys. Somewhere Far Away
Cahalen Morrison & Eli West. I’ll Swing My Hammer With Both My Hands
Jim Keaveny. Out Of Time
Parker Millsap. Parker Millsap
Michael Rank & Stag. Deadstock
Sturgill Simpson. Metamodern Sounds In Country Music
John Southworth. Niagara

Random honourable mentions go to

Lucinda Williams Down Where the Spirit Meets The Bone,
The Johnny Cash Native American album reboot, Look Again To The Wind,
Danny and The Champions Of The World’s Live Champs!
Dan Michealson & The Coastguards Distance
Cale Tyson’s EP, High On Lonesome,
Luke Tuchsherer’s debut You Get So Alone at Times It makes Sense,
Petunia’s Inside Of You,
Ags Connolly How about Now,
Chris Cacavas & Edward Abbiati. Me And The Devil along with Abbiati’s band Lowlands who delivered the excellent Love Etc.,
Zoe Muth. World Of Strangers,
Hank Wangford & The Lost Cowboys. Save Me The Waltz .
Grant Peeples and the Peeples Rebublic. Punishing The Myth.
Simone Felice. Strangers.
Bronwynne Brent. Stardust.
Sylvie Simmons. Sylvie (allowing an honorary mention here for Howe Gelb who produced).
The War On Drugs. Lost In The Dream.
Lynne Hanson. River Of Sand.
Gal Holiday & The Honky Tonk Revue. Last To Leave.
And finally John Murry’s EP, Califorlonia which is brilliant and hopefully just an appetiser for his follow up to the majestic Graceless Age.

Digging through the archives it’s been noticeable that there’s been a fine contribution this year from Scottish acts who dip into or draw from an Americana well to a greater or lesser extent. While Blue Rose Code’s Ballads Of Peckam Rye features above the following are all stellar contributions to the local scene.

Dropkick. Homeward
Dumb Instrument. The Silent Beard (with the Scottish song of the year, Suffering from Scottishness).
John Hinshelwood. Lowering The Tone.
The David Latto Band. Here Today, Ghost Tomorrow EP
Norrie McCulloch. Old Lovers Junkyard
The New Madrids. Through the Heart of Town.
Red Pine Timber Company. Different Lonesome
The Rulers Of The Root. Porky Dreams
Ten Gallon Bratz. Tales From The Long Shadows

Although his album, Little Glass Box came out in 2012, Fraser Anderson is a major find of the year while another local lad, Daniel Meade unleashes his Nashville recorded Keep Right Away in January. Hopefully folk will have long enough memories to recall this when it comes to compiling the 2015 lists. In the meantime it can be first on the New Year shopping list.