David Axelrod

Earth Rot

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After the sublime excess of his two takes on William Blake, with Song of Innocence and Songs of Experience, David Axelrod went bonkers and issued the single weirdest record of his career that stands pretty much unparalleled more than 30 years later. Earth Rot is in effect a cantata for the planet, or, in Axe's own words "contemporary music with ancient yet timely words set to the theme of ecology." Those ancient yet timely words come from the book of Isaiah in the Bible and for a Navajo legend called "Song of the Earth Spirit." There's a nine-piece choir singing these texts, accompanied by a 15-piece orchestra that includes Ernie Watts, Earl Palmer, Willie Green, and Jack Kelso. Capitol's Studio B must have been humming with the mojo for these dates. Musically, each side is divided into four sections. Side one deals with the warnings themselves. Axelrod's musical begins by celebrating the earth's lorry and then indicting humans for messing it up. With gorgeous tings of flute and guitar, he underlines his upfront horn section with a shimmering grace. Side two are the warnings themselves, and Philip Glass' chorus lines in his opera were influenced by Axelrod's, I swear. The half-step dissonances between pitches, the long lines, the glimmer of consonance as the music enters the front of the mix with Ernie Watts blowing like crazy. In all, though, for as dark as it was reputed to be at the time, this is a blissed-out album musically. Gorgeous, lush, and full of gentleness, if it weren't so strange, so completely out of sync with everything that came before and after it, there might be a context in which to give it a higher rating. Bottom line, though, is that he was never this consistent again.

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