This reissue of a St. Joan/Black Label release from 1989 was a project related to the late Chicago band Gastr Del Sol, comprised of Jim O'Rourke and David Grubbs. Their aim was to reissue classic criminally under-heard recordings: this, Derek Bailey's Aida, Folkarabe, and others. Unfortunately, the band broke up and the label went belly-up, leaving their distributor Drag City to unload the remaining copies. There are a few out there so snap them up while you can. This gig features guitarist Loren Mazzacane Connors playing "Trouble in Mind" twice with a couple of wondrously creative "Preludes" in between, creating a suite of the entire work. So stark is the original, and so drawn out its phrasing, we are tempted not to hear it as that nugget of American folk song, but as a new one offered in the sprit of dislocation, disappearance, and the erasure of the America that song represented. Connors' "Preludes," with their distant tones and slight dissonances, attest to this as well. They carry within them the root of "Trouble in Mind," but also of Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer." They cross boundaries between blues, folk, classical, and jazz musics, slow as a turtle, and as careful as a preacher with a new bible. In fact, the music here is the word, stretched to the breaking point where it bleeds into only sound and resonance. When Connors reenters "Trouble in Mind," he plays as if from another world; his key change is evident as a different sense of purpose. The tune is now played as a reverie, for something erased and barely remembered for what it was. This is the deep blues Robert Palmer wrote of, a sense of "how did I get here and not remember where I cam from or even what I was?" And as if on cue, the second "Prelude" prepares us for an entry into the world of those very same blues, prepared from ether only to return there. The absorption of atmosphere and texture inherent in every phrase and fragmented line suggests a melody that never quite comes. "Wish Train" becomes the ghost that rode in on the wind of Mazzacane Connor's guitar. It has the tenderness of a lullaby and the vastness of eternal space floating about its open tuning like a star. It calls back and forth across musical history for an answer but all it gets is an echo. But in that echo is all the music you could ever want to hear. Both "Child's Blues" and "Fallen Son" are the end pieces of generational changes in music, in sound, in culture. Connors, like John Cage and Mark Rothko before him, sees and hears the value in not ordering sounds along a particular path even if that path has been drawn out in advance. Hence, where the 12 bars are supposed to be placed are sparse notes and large spaces where notes, harmony, and melody once existed. Touch, sense, and aural interrogation are the only bones left on the skeleton of Connor's blues, and even these are ghostly, spectral in their languid elegance and deep sense of sadness and remembrance. And as if this weren't opaque enough, Suzanne Langille wraps her voice around Lonnie Johnson's "Blue Ghost Blues" with such an ethereal sensuality it's difficult to hold the lyric because you are too busy listening to the way the words drip from her mouth like honey. She's singing of being haunted by the presence of the disappeared, but it sounds like she wants to possess the bodiless essence of that personage within hers, no matter how horrifying. We can only wonder if hearing this originally, Margo Timmins of Cowboy Junkies decided she wanted to be a singer and front a rock & roll band dedicated to playing the blues her brother had so obviously appropriated from Connors. But it's an old story, and the majesty and grace with which Langille and Connors play out this old, obscure blues points to another kind of disappearance, of this music from the culture at large. Their emphasis is not on how dead the music is at this juncture, but how absent we are from our emotional and cultural heritage. This is a wondrous album of profound implications.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek