Henry Kaiser

Those Who Know History Are Doomed to Repeat It

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Guitarist Henry Kaiser manifests at least three distinct personas: the free improvising musician coming out of Derek Bailey, the indefatigable ethnomusicologist discovering obscure musics and demonstrating their relationships to the blues and other forms, and the imaginative cover artist. This last is one of his most successful guises and is on fine display here. Kaiser's own compositions have never been particularly memorable, but he both exercises a superb ear in his choice of covers and a creative and buoyant sense of fun in his interpretations. He seems to often favor versions of songs from bands native to his own California, especially those from the Grateful Dead and Captain Beefheart. This disc begins with a rousing version of the Dead's "Mason's Children" and includes a half-hour plus exploration of "Dark Star/The Other One" that will surely satisfy the most die-hard Deadhead. Four shorter Beefheart gems are also beautifully performed. But the oddball highlights are a handful of pieces rarely associated with any kind of avant-garde, including Burt Bacharach's "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence," given a heartfelt reading by vocalist Cary Sheldon, who also warbles enjoyably on the theme from The Andy Griffith Show and, of all things, "Ode to Billy Joe." The best is saved for last, an instrumental rendition of the Country Joe number "Colors for Susan," with a delicate, John Fahey-ish accumulated strumming that shimmers transcendently. Knowing and repeating history, Henry Kaiser produced one of his finer albums.

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