Bob Drake had set the bar pretty high with his third solo album, the admirable Skull Mailbox (And Other Horrors). So it should not come as a surprise that 13 Songs and a Thing feels somewhat weaker, yet still makes a damn fine record of avant-garde progressive rock (or experimental rock or crack-pot rock songs from beyond the grave, whatever suits you better). This album is the close relative of Skull Mailbox. The booklet doesn't disclose information on how it was recorded, but it sure sounds like the decrepit barn used for the previous album. Add to that the same half-broken instruments and an extremely dynamic stereo mix. In general the lyrics are not as punchy and frightening, but they retain a strong element of strangeness and some songs (like "Griffin" and "Plinth Shriveller") could have been included on Skull Mailbox. Drake is still in full control of all aspects of the album, from playing all the instruments to creating the cover artwork. He has brought in a select number of friends to add specific instrumentation (organ, Mellotron on one track) and teamed up with Steve Courtright and Dick Verdult to write some of the lyrics. Each song is typically Drakesian: angular and sharp despite its country-like innocence, hiding its often naive simplicity under tons of warped arrangements that equally evoke avant-prog and a rehearsal for Saint-Saens' Le Carnaval des Animaux gone awfully wrong. "Ten for a Dime" and "Plinth Shriveller" stand out and will delight fans of early 5uu's. Among the songs, Drake has hidden a monster, "Building With Bones." The "thing" in the album's title; it consists of 13-minutes of the percussion ensemble from Hell. The infernal banging and clanging (how many tracks in there?) amounts to a loud drone that will destabilize many a listener. Is it an exercise in ironic self-indulgence or simply the result of creativity lacking imagination? One thing is sure, you couldn't attribute this CD to any other artist.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture