Joe Craven & Sam Bevan: Foakee

By: Sarah Hagerman

Foakee (Blender Logic) opens with a refreshing version of the bluegrass gospel song "Dig a Little Deeper in the Well," and there couldn't be a more appropriate statement to set up this record. Crafty multi-instrumentalist Joe Craven and classically schooled pianist and jazz bassist Sam Bevan dig through a crate of beloved, timeless American folk numbers, but when the needle hits, the results pulsate with an ecstatic global soul.

It's an enticing dance with traditional nuts and bolts and a shed full of joyful revisions, all stirred up in the duo's delightfully freaky brains and stitched together with genuine quirk. The colors and textures swirl with kaleidoscope captivation, pieces excavated from far-flung musical locales from the Caribbean to Africa to Latin America. Utilizing a medley of instruments (to take but one example, the "canjo," where dumpster diving meets luthiering), percussive clatters and beat box loops, the compelling pastiche, taken as a whole, defies any easy description. It's just really darn innovative, yet utterly warm and charming. Despite this wide embrace and sticker-plastered suitcase, there's also a real sense of intimacy here. One feels you could come upon the duo in a smoky club, where traffic rumbles and neon glitters a few steps away, or a cantina with sun bleached tiles and saltwater kissed air, or even a rickety garage tucked down a winding dirt road.

No matter where these cats are, it's certainly off the usual maps and guidebooks. They artfully draw you into those undiscovered corners with tales and songs we know by heart - "Little Sadie," "Sitting on Top of the World," and the eternal "Shady Grove." "Sadie" sounds like a salsa number, with Craven's mando shimmying across the rhythm, "Sitting" gets a three-martini speakeasy workout, and "Shady" is sizzling with a flamenco guitar line. Meanwhile the haunting "Julieanne," which begins in foggy mountain mystery and a chilling lonesome fiddle, ends on some decidedly urban beats that fizz on the pavement. "Nobody's Fault But Mine" draws wry humor from the two's contrasting voices. Bevan's delivery on the blues classic is silky smooth over a dripping, jazzy bass line, while Craven's public announcer throws off Orwellian lines like, "Ladies and gentlemen, your government is not to blame for the current situation in our country. Please be advised on what to do by tuning into mobile television," and, "Those who matter don't mind, and those who mind don't matter," that sound like they were delivered through a megaphone. It's a disquieting screw in the general absurdity of the present ride we're on, and just one of many examples of the sly slips and slides, twists and twirls that make up this a subtly radical album. Don't let this one sneak past your radar, because it's certainly one cool drink of water.

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[Published on: 10/7/09]

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