Wild Willy Barrett

Call of the Wild

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Recorded following John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett's well-publicized summer 1978 split (Barrett wanted to watch the soccer World Cup; Otway wanted to tour in support of their latest album), Call of the Wild was the multi-instrumentalist Barrett's reminder of who really wore the creative trousers in the partnership. While Otway was foundering alongside a session band's approximation of the anarchic magic that once came so easily to him, Barrett was turning out an album that dwells comfortably within the same folky-country-hard rock-mayhem bracket that the duo's first two albums made their own, at the same time carving out a niche that was unquestionably all his own. In terms of press interest, the album's highlight was the closing "I Did It Otway," a delicious pun that, for many observers, offered the last word on the pair's then ongoing dispute, the sound of Barrett sawing one of Otway's acoustic guitars in half, while playing a jaunty melody on it. But no act of random auto-destruction this. The hapless instrument miraculously remains playable (and, at least partly in tune) to the bitter end. Neither is it the sole gem on board. From the Mad Willy's Tea Party sleeve on in, Call of the Wild is a masterpiece of both sound and vision. The turbulent "Late Night Lady" is an excellent curtain raiser, while "Let's Play Schools," the album's first single, is a semi-saucy showpiece not only for Barrett's wicked lyricism, but also for his constant co-vocalist Yvonne Gretsch. Her duet on "The Song" is especially stunning, but she shines throughout. Elsewhere, "Nigel Pringle" offers up a reprise of Barrett's reggae-inflected instrumental contribution to the legendary Aylesbury Goes Flaccid sampler, while the Carter Family's "Old Slewfoot" is a holdover from earlier shows with Otway -- an excellent version opens the 1977 fan club only Live at the Roundhouse LP. Decorated with some frenzied picking, random duck calls, and a truly maniacal violin, the re-recording makes up in speed and virtuosity for all that it lacks in terms of comparative theatricality. In fact, the same can be said for the entire album -- in his best-known guise, after all, Wild Willy Barrett often appeared the ironically misnamed straight man to Otway's iconoclastic madness. Call of the Wild proves that things aren't always what they seem.

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