Peter Blegvad

Choices Under Pressure – an acoustic retrospective 2000

2000 Voiceprint

If a central tenet of surrealism is the juxtaposition of disparate but commonplace ideas, Peter Blegvad is a casual surrealist in spades.

This career retrospective is a re-recorded series of slightly quirky, irreverently approached but more or less conventional takes on blues, country or bubbling pop songs. Playing off these are lyrics with either simply bizarre topics told in simple terms or more conventional stories employing dramatic metaphors or images to powerful effect. Blegvad uses surrealism as an outlook, a casual tool; sometimes overt, sometimes just an underlying state of mind informing the lyrics, showing through between the lines.

On the one extreme we have "Inside a giant Eye", "God Detector", "Byron as an Embryo" or the exhortation to Astral Travel told in a late night lounge jazz-blues croon "Let’s Travel Light". On the other, the touching "Daughter" ("Everytime she blinks/She strikes somebody blind") or "Scarred for Life" ("Leave me something to remember you by/More than a lock of your hair/Leave me scarred for life/Show you really care").

As with Blegvad’s astounding newspaper cartoon "Leviathan", reputedly Simpsons creator Matt Groening’s favourite, the songs are highly literate & may harbour serious or philosophical points but are kept well clear of pretension by a wry humour.

Three songs are co-written with XTC’ s Andy Partridge, two with Blegvad’s ex Slapp Happy colleague, composer Anthony Moore. Despite compositions originating between 1977 & 1999, the album has a cohesive, acoustic based feel with prudently spartan arrangements. Henry Cow’s John Greaves & Danny Thompson share the bass chores on electric & upright acoustic respectively. The overall sound is heavily influenced by producer, keyboard, flute & guitar player Jakko Jakszyk. Blegvad's acoustic guitar playing is accomplished & understated & his seemingly cigarette stained voice distinctive with splashes of Dylan & Harper.

Mere written descriptions might invite comparisons to Syd Barratt, Beefheart or Robyn Hitchcock. While this would be no bad thing & there is some shared conceptual territory, this is an entirely distinct, inspired & highly listenable collection which may have you searching out the originals or the recent "Book of Leviathan".

James Hibbins

January 2002.

The Milk & Honey Band
Boy from the Moon - 2001

“Boy from the Moon” is a sweet concoction made with a base of very sharp songwriting, ladles of vocal harmonies, dashes of 60’s British Pop, Surf, Psychedelia & a generous helping of Crowded House.

Primarily a vehicle for songwriter, singer, guitarist, bassist, drum programmer & keyboard player Robert White, The Milk & Honey Band recorded this piece between 1996 & 2000. Some indication of chronology on the sleeve would therefore have been useful in allowing the listener to chart the development of sounds & ideas. Instead of featuring so many tastefully manipulated images from the American & Russian space programs, part of the booklet might have been better employed to reprint White’s simplistic, quirky & distinctly English lyrics.

“There’s a message in my heart for you
Like the feeling on a swing when you go too high” - “Junior”

The album is awash with crisp, driving acoustic guitars, layers of atmospheric, occasionally ethereal electric guitars, strong percussion, swooping & loping bass and lush pop production.

The only sour note is left by the fact that White’s writing, particularly vocals & harmonies seems at times a little too heavily influenced by that of Crowded House’s Neil Finn. Where White finds his own voice however, it is that of a fine songwriter with a talent for melodic hooks which fast track into the memory, impressive use of textures in his production & an ear for vocal arrangements with sweetness which stop short of saccharine excess.

James Hibbins
February 2002