John Cale

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

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A companion to the superlative Sabotage/Live album, immortalizing the best-known phase of Cale's end-of-the-'70s residency at CBGB, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues captures performer and performance on either side of that momentous watershed, four tracks from December 1978 and four from almost precisely a year later. The sound quality is not always pristine, but the music itself needs no such niceties. With Judy Nylon in electrifyingly liquid voice, guitarist Ritchie Fliegler on fire throughout, and with both Ivan Kral and Jay Dee Daugherty moonlighting from the Patti Smith Group, the 1978 material captures everything that Cale's reputation promises, but so few of his regular albums ever deliver. The opening "Dance of the Seven Veils," narrated by Nylon while the band builds a wall of atmosphere and yowling behind her, marries experimental drone with a grinding hard rock that will only increase in intensity as the night wears on; "Helen of Troy" is blistered beyond recognition and, though "Casey's at the Bat" lowers the temperature a little, it readily retains the harsh sense of Americana on the edge that was Cale's dictating imperative throughout this period. Twelve months on, the performance is even more brittle, as a (slightly rearranged) band locks into the mantric "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues," a spellbinding Deerfrance showcase that only slowly finds room for Cale's own darkly laconic vocal. A duet for caterwaul and cataclysm, it's a haunted excursion, as mantric as it's menacing, but "Decade" is even more extreme, a one-off, ten-minute improvisation built around metronomic drums, crazed feedback, and an absolute disregard for anything but the sonic terror of the moment. It should be no surprise for anyone to learn that the band who created such hellish symphonies was to fall apart soon after this second show. Such dramatic intensity simply could not be held together any longer.

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