The tag line of this blog would indicate that this particular release would probably not fit in these confines. But then several others featured thus far could be considered in the same situation. There are small elements of drone, but not in the usual style accustomed here. I mentioned this to Johnny in an email exchange. I also mentioned my admiration for artists who go out and release their own material without seeking a label to do it for them. This is what Johnny Bell has done for this two-track 7″ limited to 200 copies and wrapped in a custom-made letter press sleeve.
For this release Johnny Bell has been joined by Will Dyar on drums and Ben Montgomery on Trumpet. Both tracks have two feet in the Americana movement (which is defined by Americana Music Association “contemporary music that incorporates elements of various mostly acoustic American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk and bluegrass resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw. While acoustic instruments are often present and vital, Americana also often uses a full electric band”), but also are quite different from each other. Johnny Bell himself states the music is “a sparse and understated integration of clawhammer banjo, odd time signatures and experimental horn melodies. The music embodies the desolation and vast expanse of the high desert of Santa Fe. New Mexico. These are the new sounds of America’s Southwest.”
“A Visitor’s Anthem” begins with a feedback like drone accompanied by finger picking banjo (playing clawhammer banjo the picking is downwards) and lightly, but mid paced, brushed drumming before the long haunting and slightly desolate trumpet blows in. Another layer of Banjo this time appearing to be strummed, joins in adding an extra layer of sound and instigates the track picking up the intensity which is then matched with the pounding of the drums. The trumpet carries the melodic line and works as more the lead instrument over which the bed of drums and percussion are working in tandem mirroring each other. When this trumpet drops out the playing changes intensity and returns to a similar picked/strummed territory as the beginning which allows space for the trumpet to return to it’s more haunting longer notes. The banjo with its layering of strummed and picking gives it more a percussive/rhythmical feel than a lead instrument and with the drumming being brush driven gives the two elements a more percussive feel.
“The Die Four” picked Banjo with a lo-fi type quality is joined by shakers and what sounds like mallet played percussion and trumpet. In this case the trumpet is more freeform in its lines weaving in and out. The focus on the track is more in the variation in the banjo which appears to be both picked and more hand strummed than plectrum strummed. The changes in the track are generated by the banjo, while the percussion remains similar in its tribalist nature. The feeling of this track is different to its flip. While the previous track had a more driving and dare I say a ‘rock’ based format this is more like a ‘campfire jam’ with an old west feel. In the background in sections there appear to be other percussive elements like gongs (my guess) which are buried in the mix, but add a percussive element similar to the use of cymbals.
Although not the style of music I would typically listen to (the closest comparison in my collection to the style would be The Dirty Three), Johnny Bell and the Visitors have released a 7″ of music that opens your ears to a different style and culture.