Ex-Sun City Girl (Sir) Richard Bishop has been responsible for some of the most original and eclectic guitar music of the last few years. The Freak of Araby is a conceptual collection of sorts, with Arabic scales and tunes informing the work. He’s even credited by the name Rasheed Al-Qahira.
It’s very much a band work, with two percussionists and a bass guitarist joining the fray, but the opening piece “Taqasim for Omar” is a deft and haunting solo electric guitar piece. When the band joins in, the results are a little like the Ventures if they had grown up in Rabat rather than Tacoma. Twangy guitar and Middle Eastern percussion may seem like unlikely bedfellows – like seeing Hank Marvin in a fez – but it works really well. Some tracks go for the simple melodic approach (such as the cover “Solenzara”), but others allow Bishop to engage in some captivating improvisation over a steady, and impeccably laid down rhythm.
Sometimes the cross-culturalism leads to something unexpected. Both “Kaddak El Mayass” and “Essaouira” have shades of Calexico’s Tex-Mex desert twang, particularly the latter. But then Spanish culture is influenced by the fact that it was a Moorish colony for hundreds of years, and that culture was exported to the New World, so it’s not so surprising.”Ka’an Azzaman” has a Balkan feel to it, but then that again is a product of the cross-fertilisation between Eastern Europe and the Arab World through the Ottoman Empire.
There isn’t a dull moment on the whole album, but the two closing tracks are worthy of particular mention. “Sidi Mansour” rattles along at the sort of pace that would have Dick Dale struggling to keep up, and has a terrific dubby, space-rock middle section. The closing “Blood-stained Sands” jettisons the guitar altogether in favour of Moroccan Chanters. They’re instruments that it takes patience to get to love (like the bagpipes), but they lend a hypnotic end to proceedings – especially when allied with some really warlike drumming.
Another fine album, then, from Rick / Sir Richard / Rasheed. My favourite yet, although he’s got such a bewildering catalogue that I’ve heard a mere fraction of the stuff he’s recorded.
1 Taqasim For Omar (7:16)
2 Enta Omri (2:45)
3 Barbary (2:20)
4 Solenzara (5:01)
5 The Pillars Of Baalbek (5:18)
6 Kaddak El Mayass (3:26)
7 Essaouira (2:21)
8 Ka’an Azzaman (2:51)
9 Sidi Mansour (6:03)
10 Blood-Stained Sands (7:30)