A Fistful of Desert Blues - Lydia Lunch and Cypress Grove (Rustblade)
The cover - taken by Lydia Lunch - shows the ruins of an ancient desert city. Could be Jericho. Whether Jericho is in the Mid-East or the West of the USA makes little difference. We’re dealing with perennial humanity in a perilous place with a mythological backdrop. But, you know, the Israelis and the Palestinians are still killing each other, and as I say, it’s a big thing on a big, operatic stage with no solution and no apparent beginning, never mind end…
… and there are plenty of abandoned towns in Australia… it doesn’t take much, just a bit of intolerance and a bit of ignorance, and idealism for a hopeless, not very sensible cause…
Lydia Lunch. If you’ve passed her by before, do not do so now. “A Fistful of Desert Blues” is a fine album, a hurting soundtrack to a film never made… and Lunch should not get the short shrift she does in the wider world, certainly since she’s easily the creative equal of our beloved Nick Cave (for example) - and equally prolific. I’d love to see Grove and Lunch support Cave, be interesting to see if he could top their performance.
Cypress Grove is best known for his work on the Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project (he’s also the ringmaster), but Cypress also worked for many years with Jeffrey (see Ramblin’ Jeffrey Lee). I’m keen for a solo lp, but given that each JLP Sessions lp takes a couple of years, and Fistful of Desert Blues was made over the last five years or so …
And it’s worth the wait, of course, because “A Fistful of Desert Blues” is a hell of an achievement. The songs are simple, sophisticated, almost religious in their reverence. We are intimately involved in this lp from the first moment, escorted on a journey with Lunch as the audio camera, or talking blues (with a touch of nasty nursery rhyme). Cypress’ guitar style has been described as ‘pre-war’, and I’d have to agree; you can hear echoes of dark, pre-electric blues here, you can hear poverty’s desperation.
Here we have a startling, seductive, eerie take on a series of ancient themes all too common to us; but our modern world and modern music seems to lack a certain emotional capacity to contemplate, really comprehend the struggle of people + needs + not enough = violence. Throw in a series of intransigent beliefs, greed and dishonesty, and you could be in the Mid-East, 19C Tombstone or Ballarat, or… Pitt Street, a land where trust is hard to find, and loss and survival rule with a hard hand.
In some senses, although the songs are distinctively different (some of Grove’s guitars are extraordinarily rackety - have a listen to Tuscaloosa), and the driving rhythms urgent, the overall feel and tone of the songs is a laid-back, lush, burning similarity; wistful, regretful, bitter, descriptive and always gorgeous. Lunch’s voice and Grove’s guitars (they’re TDF, did I mention?) are a wonderful, perfect union.
Comparisons? Must I? Ry Cooder’s Paris, Texas springs to mind, as does Sacri Cuori, but really - huge, full and sparse, Fistful of Desert Blues is its own movie.
I notice Adelaide has a guitar festival. They could do worse than bring these two over.
For certain, if we haven’t made ourselves extinct, we’ll still be squabbling over some godforsaken bit of parched ground for reasons we can’t quite figure out. For this reason, and the lp’s sheer glorious beauty, Fistful of Desert Blues is an lp which your grandkids grandkids will be playing into the next century.
Also - if you only get the CD, you’re missing out. There are two limited special editions; the bagged edition has the LP and assorted goodies; including the wooden boxed edition, which includes a book and a DVD and further goodies. I used to record the LP, which allowed me to replay the music over and over again without wrecking the vinyl. I suggest you do something similar.
“A Fistful of Desert Blues” is for right now, back then and for the ages to come.
(and a mortgage), Mr Barman
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