The fact that it seems to be a major production of the duo Jack the Dog is interesting enough. But when a indie label's manager frets about a release being incredibly unpopular, that's when certain sorts of listeners will want a copy. Jon Hain of Madison, WI, put this release out on his Uvulittle label, but it apparently had first ripened hanging in the Orchard recording enterprise. According to Hain, a record that combines religious music with a canine theme simply has little appeal. Throw in the fact that it is an avant-garde group, and nobody will order the thing. The religious crowd doesn't want it since it appears to be a profanity, while the avant-garde crowd doesn't want religion. That, at least, is the state of things when paraphrasing Hain's views after the experience of distributing Missa Canibus. Meanwhile, there's the aspect of some people thinking the record has something to do with pot, and not the kind they collect money for charity in. It is a simpler rule, however, that if music is good enough it can break through whatever unattractive image it might present in terms of chosen themes, musical styles, or combinations thereof. The religious music of Olivier Messiaen is also avant garde, and tremendously appealing to believers and non-believers alike. Well, okay, he did get booted out of the Sunday mass for weird organ improvising. The main thing, though, is to make that connection and then point out that Jack the Dog is no Messiaen. This record is good but not profound, although some moments come darn close. In not being profound, the music inevitably has no chance of being regarded on the level of religion, or dogs for that matter. Messiaen, on the other cross, is better than either. Having established where this Jack the Dog opus sits in the scheme of things, mention should immediately be made of the great beauty and inspiration of some of the passages, as well as the obvious amount of work that went into this project. Of course the aura of the Catholic mass hangs over the proceedings like a nun's cloak, inspiring torpor. Yet group members Carrie Biolo and Jeff Kowalkowski can never be accused of not trying, the first three tracks alone containing full scale musique concrete, fairly decent choral singing and Biolo's trademark luscious vibraphone playing. The aforementioned Jack the Dog choir contains several performers associated with the Chicago theater scene, Jenny Magnus and Beau O'Reilly, both of whom are better than just fine singers. Obviously, listeners who know Jack the Dog as a percussion duo as well as those who would flee to the hills rather than face such a musical reality may get the point that this is hardly a record of just percussion. Much of it features spaced out operations of vibraphone, piano, and organ. There is also a series of short recitations and the use of what sounds like taped material. A remarkable track such as "Responsorial," a duet for vibraphone and acoustic piano, creates a really wonderful mood. That lasts less than three minutes, followed by a piece in which splendid percussion noise is accompanied by commentary that is a bit pretentious. A final comment of great importance is that Biolo is a great lover of dogs, and her partner might be as well. Thus, any effort to drag a dog's feeding bowl into Catholicism, be it "Credo" or "Sanctus," should certainly not be regarded as an attempt to insult the faith. While superficially this creation may seem headed for the bin next to the Electric Prunes' "Mass in F Minor," the detail in a piece such as the extended "Gospel/Homily" is on a much higher level. Listening in short spurts, to particular sections, will no doubt be the most rewarding way to enjoy Missa Canibus.
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AllMusic Review by Eugene Chadbourne