Cara & Mike Gangloff and the Great American Drone Orchestra – Knock On Life’s Door

Posted: 4 August 2016 in Albums
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

MIE (Vinyl) / Clang (CD) – 5th August 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Classics, standards, call them what you will. There are so many songs that have been performed and recorded and everyone, songs that have become in some sense the canon of American musical history. The majority of the tracks featured on Knock on Life’s Door will be familiar, and if not immediately so, then they will be subliminally engrained.

The songs are all woven into the heritage of American music. These are not traditional folk songs, but examples of ‘modern’ American songwriting (context is important here: modern does not mean contemporary or recent in generational terms, but in the longer view of history (even America’s comparatively short history), the twentieth century is modern. These are songs the origins of which have been largely forgotten, the songs themselves having taken on a life of their own and become a part of the collective (sub)conscious or the canon.

The press release comments that ‘Cara and Mike Gangloff don’t so much reimagine old American music as infuse it with the life it’s always had. A life always just below the surface and a life far beyond the stars.’ It’s perhaps fair to say that as a European – at least geographically and spiritually – my comprehension and cognisance of ‘America’ is somewhat simplistic. However deeply I immerse myself in American music and American literature created in the twentieth century, I remain completely distanced, unable to truly grasp the disparity between the America of TV and film, even the America of art and literature and news reportage and documentaries, and the ‘real’ America, the experience of the American everyday and the true core of American culture And so the life below the surface, the life of these songs and the significance they hold is something I have to ultimately accept is something which will forever elude me. But this does not preclude me from enjoying and appreciating not only the spirit of the album, but also the intent behind these radical reinterpretations of what might reasonably considered ‘important’ songs.

So, as I said, the songs on Knock On Life’s Door will likely all be familiar, at least through the medium of one or another previous version. That’s the nature of classics and standards: so often their origins are lost, the original creator’s input usurped by another or numerous others. The artist – or at least the writer and original artist – is eclipsed by the song. But of course, herein lies the road to immortality as the art takes on a life of its own. Nevertheless, that familiarity will probably be strained on hearing their interpretations, and I do mean this as an unequivocally positive thing. Cara & Mike Gangloff have paid a heartfelt homage to each of the songs, and by no means set out to do them damage or disservice. And yet it’s safe to say no-one will have heard any of the songs played in the way they are here.

The nine-minute rendition of ‘Moon River’ finds Cara weaving around the tune, slowed to an opiate crawl of woozy, undulating drone. The meditative Eastern-tinged blues of ‘Misty’ is a long way from both Ella Fitzgerald and Johnny Mathis, the scratchy strings scraping out a hypnotic sway that transforms the jazz standard into something completely non-standard from whichever perspective one views it. Calamitously crashing percussion and shrieks of feedback punctuate a manic freeform arrangement of ‘All of Me’, which features a vocal performance that’s little short of terrifying in its intensity, sounding more like a challenge than an invitation. The strolling stop/start bassline of ‘Cry Me a River’ hints at something approaching conventional, until the tortured strings and rattling percussion threaten to derail the dual – or should that be duelling? – vocals. ‘Sunny Side of the Street’ concludes the album in a more upbeat, melodic fashion, but the song’s jaunty folk skeleton is crooked and bent out of shape.

Knock On Life’s Door is an album which will perplex a lot of people, and many purists and fans of well-known versions of the songs presented here will likely be affronted by such unconventional interpretations, not only because of what may be construed as Cara & Mike Gangloff’s anarchic irreverence but also the alternative musicality of their arrangements. These are precisely the reasons Knock On Life’s Door is a good album: it’s bold, it’s challenging, and above all, it’s very, very different.

Cara & Mike Gangloff & the Great American Drone Orchestra cover

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