Elliott Sharp has been involved in myriad projects for decades now. But each project has its own criteria or focus: Carbon is his rock band, Terraplane is his blues band, he writes for string quartet, and does solo albums focusing on a single instrument. But as far ranging as his projects can be, each one is fairly rigidly structured in some way. Soundtrack work offers another side of Sharp, where he puts his talents to use to serve someone else's vision; the music must not only suit, but complement the film. Commune is a documentary by Jonathan Berman on the Black Bear Ranch, a commune founded in 1968 (that was apparently still around some 40 years later). Sharp chose to revisit the sounds of those times for the soundtrack, and does a fabulous job of evoking the feeling of the late '60s and early '70s (the time he was first learning to play guitar). The tunes basically alternate between psychedelic electric guitar jams and pretty acoustic pieces. On the acoustic side, there are slide pieces done on a resonator steel guitar ("Looking," "Norther"), standard acoustic slide ("Mrkana Sarkastaka"), 12-string acoustic ("Rural"), and even a Django-esque ditty with Sharp on both lead and rhythm guitars ("BlackBear Rag"). On the electric side, there are a couple actual songs ("Mountains Laughin" and "Losing Ground") alongside some searing wah-wah workouts ("Setting Forth," "Commune Rock"), and a track that sounds inspired by early, spacey Grateful Dead ("That Winter"). "Shivalila" is a killer dual-lead guitar rocker. Commune is probably as "conventional" an album as Sharp is likely to make, and might just lure the unsuspecting listener more deeply into his world. It's a side of Elliott Sharp we don't often get to see.
AllMusic Review by Sean Westergaard