Sunburned Hand of the Man
Spirit of Orr
estling themselves comfortably in the nebulous free-folk genre, the Sunburned Hand of the Man has been releasing music for, at the very least, eight years. In 1996 the group, then known as Shit Spangled Banner, put out the No Dolby No DBX and promptly changed their name to SHOTM. That release now goes for $70 on the Ecstatic Yod website. Furthermore, in the years leading up to Rare Wood, the group has put out a host of CD-R and LP-only releases in ultra-limited quantities, frustrating and exciting record collectors. Rare Wood, however, is perhaps just as rare of a document as No Dolby No DBX: it’s the group’s first proper CD release in its history.
Which isn’t to say it breaks new ground for the group, because it most emphatically doesn’t. The CD is, actually, a mere collection of recordings: two live and three in proper studios with engineers (albeit much of the studio work was presumably improvised). And that’s perhaps why all of the group’s trademarks are present: droning, meandering guitar lines, ramshackle percussion and the chanting muffled voices. In fact, it’s so intimately connected to what the group has already done that this release feels less like a step forward and more like a consolidation of themes and ideas. Which, you know, when you haven’t released any albums on CD doesn’t seem like such a problem. But, for obsessives of the group, and its already available material, it seems like a let down.
The album starts off with farting synths and a noodling guitar, soon lapsing into a shambolic groove, all tied together by John Maloney’s ranting voice. It resembles an extended outtake from Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica at its more inspired moments and the Cookie Monster on acid at its worst (or is that the other way around?). The fourth track, “Glass Boot”, is the highlight of the disc, featuring Chris Corsano’s strong drumming and a, relatively, normal guitar leading the way.
It perhaps says something that the finest moments on this disc are anchored by an outsider to many (but not all) of the group’s recordings. In Corsano’s drumming we have the necessary infusion of “new” to coax interesting things out of the rest of the band. That being said, this consolidation of form and theme is not a major problem (although the slight finale, “Buried Pleasure”, definitely feels like a letdown). The group’s unique sound is only being forged by a select few and each release should be regarded as treasure, rather than trash. Obviously, the genre could do with a defining work. Rare Wood is not it, however, and merely rests easily beside other offerings like Headdress, Jaybird and The Trickle Down Theory…. Which is to say, since it’s the easiest available offering from the group, definitely recommended.