Nikki Sudden

Egyptian Roads

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"Love Nest," the first cut on Nikki Sudden's Egyptian Roads, starts with Sudden's electric guitar playing balls out, in the red zone, a Neil Young-like scree accompanied by the drum kit and a Hammond B-3. It's an edifying way to begin a record that for all intents and purposes has been forgotten by rock & roll -- like most of Sudden's catalog. The fans, of course, are justifiably rabid: Sudden has assembled one of the most consistent, enigmatic, and prodigious shelves in rock. Egyptian Roads was begun in 1986 and actually finished and released in 1997. In other words, it was forgotten before it was issued -- thank God it was briefly available again in a limited edition of 500 copies in 2004. There's a hell of a list of players here: Rowland Howard, Steve Shelley, Epic Soundtracks, Dave Kusworth, and loads more. The songs, like those on Red Brocade which followed it by a year (after the death of Sudden's brother Soundtracks), are among the most refined of Sudden's career. The country-ish "When Angels Die," with its lovely piano lines and backing chorus, turn a sad song into something utterly infectious. The spooky instrumental "Misty Roads" features Howard playing some of his most shadowy yet seductive slide guitar. The medley of the Stones-like "Evangeline" with the country-rocker "Silver Dollar" is just amazing. The slow, swirling, and dark rocker "Broken Glove," with Mars Williams' tenor saxophone, is shambolic, desperate, and dramatic. Soundtracks' piano is heard most prominently on "Page 66," a brief, tender, and surrealistic love ballad both André Breton and Georges Bataille would have celebrated. The spooky "Golden Dawn" is an acoustic-driven tune of foreboding and trepidation. And it get shattered in "Wedding Hotel," where Sudden's reedy vocal is all but drowned by the roaring, distorted-to-bleeding guitars. The blistering Quaalude-speed guitars take the rest of the set out on the self destructive "Liquor, Guns & Ammo" and the burning "Butterfly," which gives Young's "Like a Hurricane" a run for its money. Sudden's approach to making music is utterly unpretentious and low-key in an age when virtually everything -- including "outsider" art -- is hype-driven. One does wish he would have a bit more ambition or that some generous and visionary major -- or at least big independent -- label head would sign him and give him a steadier way to make all this great music. But perhaps if that were true, this kind of poetic, magically real, ragged rock & roll on the edge of obliteration and oblivion wouldn't happen at all. No matter what, this one, like the very different Red Brocade that followed it, is well worth seeking out both for fans and for the uninitiated. Dare to have your ears opened.

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