Albini’s recording technique inspired Steve (piano), Tim (drums), Andrew (electric guitar) and MJ (classical and acoustic guitars, vox) to record in an Elwood kitchen, somehow squishing in a grand piano, Wurlitzer, Vibraphone, Hammond organ, drums, 24-track mixing desk, vintage microphones, guitars, four musicians tangled up in leads and oh, yes, a 2” Tascam tape machine imported from Germany at great shipping cost. So, yes, they were all clearly off their heads, fizzing over with enthusiasm for the concept, the songs and the method - especially as I gather that there was no guarantee the expensively-extracted tape machine would work, nor that any of the four musicians - none an actual sound engineer - could get the bastard expensive thing to work.

So, there was no room to make bacon and eggs or even toasted sandwiches. Possibly, they brought their own sandwiches in a lunchbox, and a thermos or two. Presumably Link's chicken barn was a tad roomier than the kitchen in Elwood.

Engineer by proxy, Steve Boyle, pressed record, and everything ticked over miraculously even though a ghost track was somehow recorded on one song and the tape timer didn’t function. 

So, what was clearly a recipe for the Four Stooges reunion produced ... what?

Well, the first song, “Lost My Name” opens with the most glorious guitar and piano. Just on this one song alone, we have an LP for the ages, which will soak into us from youth to wrinklihood. 

I could, at this point, nod you towards assorted suspected musical influences, but no. That's not right. No, here is beauty found in the human condition, "Look inside the palm of your hand/ Open a door, unlock a safe. Get out of this place".

I have seen “Woke Up and Seen my Reflection” referred to as "sparse" or "stripped-down", and this is to completely miss the point. There is a huge, glorious power here, Boyle's grand piano like the beginning of some loaded Kubrickian journey; the guitars chiming in and out, the drums perfectly positioned. MJ sings every song with restrained emotion yet the flow is like a rising tide lifting cars and patios ... "The universe provides for two/ So, baby, life is full of many lives" ...

These songs are so perfectly realised, it bloody well hurts. There's no storm and demonstrative caterwauling, it's all quite matter-of-fact beauty, stifled tension, aches and pains. 

Perhaps a tribute to survival. “Son of a Man” is devastating, compelling; "I’m the son of a man/ Who left me for life/ And now I bear the fruits of a broken heart/ I feel in my body/ You see it in my face/ Stuck with this longing/ For a sense of place" ...

“Son of a Man” should be an anthem for this century, surely. Never have we felt so abandoned. A friend of mine, who I'd known for more than 30 years before he mentioned to me that he had been adopted, made my heart actually contract. Such a sad and extraordinary thing, family, that we take so much for granted.

The last song on the first side, “Feel Your Loss Again”, is a reflection on missing a friend who died. Kim Salmon's guitar is magnificent here, unique and creative, plastic and heartfelt. We are caught up in Brian Hooper's plea to the void: "What about my daughters, what about my wife, what about the music I’m yet to write", and MJ's reflective response, "Why should it matter/ If I feel your loss again? ... And I’m damned if do/ and I'm damned if don’t/ feel your loss again."

If, by the end of Side A, there isn't a lump in your throat and your eyes watering from sheer sympathy, I'd argue that you're not human, not really. Just breathing in and out. And some other stuff.

Side B opens with “A Matter of Feeling”, which is more upbeat, pretty (with a little inbuilt clatter), and has a wry poison buried in it - I won't give it away; all I'll say is that Charlie Watts would probably find it amusing and telling, and even Keef Richards would cough up a ruffly cackle of recognition.

You don't need me to go through every song. The last, “Pieces of Your Life” deserves mention because it's the other song with guitar by Kim Salmon - which is very special. Why? Find out...

One thing which has impressed me enormously about “Woke Up and Seen my Reflection” is that despite these men's background - all sorts of underground r'n'r - there's a straightforwardness about both the production and the songs. They have an instantaneous quality to them, a swift recognition of ourselves. You can imagine MJ's songs being told to you by your favourite uncle over a couple of beers one lazy Sunday, or you can imagine them being played in any local bar, whether they be sung by MJ, Georgie Fame, Taylor Swift or Tom Waits on the three-centimetre high stage, with the inevitable buck's or hen's night carrying on like horny vermin in the background.

Which is to say, of course, that MJ deserves considerably more appraisal and a broader platform. Remember, “Woke Up and Seen my Reflection” was recorded in single takes, the musicians reading each other’s moves, moments and grooves with an intuition borne of worn experience and knowledge. 

MJ: The tight space in the kitchen meant a more acoustic and intimate recording. Hard to get the voice recorded in a room of instruments playing. So, it was a challenge to find the right balance of playing and recording in the room. Clever adaptations to playing and performing by everyone (Steve, Tim, and Andrew). I moved my song writing and vocals in a different direction to suit the vibe of it all. The final challenge was to record live to tape, all in the one room, in two sessions, late last year. Given how it turned out and sounds, I echo Andrew McGee's thoughts; "It was a miracle". 

At this point I'll give a hearty shout-out to the mixer, Finn Keane at Head Gap Studios, Melbourne. The purity, vibe and clarity is bloody gorgeous.

Surely you don't need me to explain any more. It's a four and a half bottle lp, well worth your time and dosh (and you'll pull 'Woke Up and Seen my Reflection' out far more often than the duplicate copies of half a dozen of your favourite LPs. 'Woke Up and Seen my Reflection' is the kind of magnificence which would capture your heart, if you would only hear it.

Let MJ end the review:

“As they usually are, the songs are drawn from personal experience and thoughts about the world. Falling in and out of love, amused and confused by the world and people. Tongue-in-cheek statements about how it is. Somewhere a humorous twist, elsewhere a tribute to my dear friend Brian Hooper."

You'll get it. You are a sharp observer and thinker. Aren't you?


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