SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Pete Brown And His Battered Ornaments – A Meal You Can Shake Hands With In The Dark – Pure Pleasure (vinyl double album)

British poet/songwriter really shook things up in 1969.

Published on August 3, 2012

Pete Brown And His Battered Ornaments – A Meal You Can Shake Hands With In The Dark – EMI-Harvest Records (1969)/ Pure Pleasure Records (2012) 180-gram audiophile double-vinyl PPAN SHVL752, ****: 

(Pete Brown – trumpet, vocals; Nisar A. Kahn – tenor saxophone; Dick Heckstall-Smith – tenor saxophone; Chris Spedding – guitar; Charlie Hart – organ; Butch Porter – bass; Rob Tait – drums; Pete Bailey – congas)

Pete Brown is a significant figure in the British musical scene. But his initial ascension was as a poet in the early sixties. His affinity for music inspired the formation of The First Real Poetry Band whose members included guitarist John McLaughlin. Perhaps his greatest achievements came as songwriting partner to Cream bassist Jack Bruce. Hits like “I Feel Free”, “White Room”, “Swlabr” and “Sunshine Of Your Love” (with Eric Clapton”) expanded his audience. Following the breakup of Cream, Brown continued to collaborate with Bruce after the breakup of Cream.

In 1968, he formed Pete Brown And His Battered Ornaments. They recorded two albums that were released in 1969, A Meal You Can Shake Hands With In The Dark and Mantlepiece. Incredibly, before a scheduled opening appearance for the Rolling Stones at Hyde Park, Brown was fired. Subsequent projects, including the successful progressive rock group, Pete Brown and Piblokto, kept him active on the scene. His mixture of psychedelic, jazzy, horn-infested social commentary was unique and perplexing to some. He would continue working with others, including Graham Bond, Felix Pappalardi, George Harrison and Phil Ryan. Although never connecting with a mass audience, his influence was unmistakable.

A Meal You Can Shake Hands With In The Dark has been reissued on 180-gram vinyl. Drawing on diverse musical influences, the album mixes jazz, rock, blues and folk in a dizzying (and sometimes, uneven) representation. The opening track, “Dark Lady” is a cacophonous horn-laden psychedelic-blues piece. Brown doesn’t possess a pure voice, but he sings with emotional intensity. There is a certain sinister imagery in the lyrics and the music. “The Old Man” employs a slack-type tuning as Chris Spedding injects some grooves into the guitar runs. It sounds very late sixties British with wah-wah, and atmospheric descending lines, like The Spencer Davis Group.

Brown reveals his socio-political conviction on the piece he wrote with Jack Bruce, “The Politician”. It begins with hipster, free-form verse that addresses the cultural state of London. This scat diatribe is reminiscent of beatnik comedian Lord Buckley. After an avant-garde, screeching tenor riff from Nisar Ahmed Khan, the band breaks into a rollicking “mojo” jam. Spedding is agile on slide guitar and this could be the group’s best performance.  Side 4 also utilizes more structure on the 12 bar blues opus, “Travelling Blues” (Or “The New Used Jew’s Dues Blues)”. It’s traditional, but with a dash of English sarcasm. Brown contributes tough vocals and a solo on trumpet.

The closest thing to a pop song is “Rainy Taxi Girl” The addition of flute (Khan) and a Middle Eastern-flavored tango arrangement is interesting. The phrasing (both vocal and instrumental) is different from what was being played at the time. “Sandcastle” also employs exotic ambiance with jazzy percussion and flute accents. It is difficult to describe Brown’s music. He does seem to incorporate some progressive rock elements.

Pure Pleasure Records has produced a sonically textured re-mastering. The stringed instruments and reeds are fluid and not piercing. Brown’s voice is jagged but never too harsh. The slide guitar has a mind-bending resonance (and sounds even better with headphones). The double vinyl sides enhance the sequential flow of the material. The glossy gatefold jacket is top-notch and the black-and-white cartoon graphics will bring a smile to rock fans.

A Meal You Can Shake hands With In The Dark is offbeat, yet weirdly appealing.

TrackList:
Side 1: Dark Lady; The Old Man
Side 2: Station Song; The Politician
Side 3: Rainy Taxi Girl; Morning Call; Sandcastle;
Side 4: Traveling Blues (Or The New Used Jew’s Dues Blues)

—Robbie Gerson




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