Karl Blau

Out Her Space

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When Bella Union issued Introducing Karl Blau in 2016, it was in actuality anything but; he had been making records for 20 years. Produced by Tucker Martine, who assembled it as a showcase for Blau's voice, it was his 21st album, populated with gloriously sung and arranged country covers by Tom T. Hall, Don Gibson, Townes Van Zandt, Waylon Jennings, and more. Given the artist's reputation for eclecticism, the songs fit him like a glove. Out Her Space is a return to his own quirky and alluring form of music-making. Back in 2009, Blau recorded country-psych band the Great White Jenkins, fronted by Matthew E. White. Three years later, when White created the Spacebomb label (named for his orchestral-soul house band project), he called on Blau once more. The resultant album was White's Big Inner. Having heard Blau's demos for this set, White returns the favor by not only playing guitar but bringing the Spacebomb House Band along. Megafaun pianist Phil Cook, various other horn and string players, and backing vocalists also contribute, with Blau returning to producing himself.

Out Her Space contrasts with its predecessor in employing a mélange of soul, funk, jazz, indie, Afro-pop, and yes, country in these eight songs. First single "Slow Children" is a case in point: its sweet pop melody is framed by Nigerian and Beninese juju-styled guitars, hovering brass, layers of synthetic and organic percussion, and an infectious hook. It's followed by second single "Poor the War Away," which juxtaposes hypnotic dubwise rhythm and bass tracks with a slippery pop melody, thin, reedy rapping, and classically arranged horns, with White adding angular guitar breaks. "Beckon" commences on a rubbery funk backbeat with organs, Nigerian highlife guitars, squiggly synths, and a monotonous snare and hi-hat combo. Halfway through, it dissects itself and floats into spacewise dub with pianos and strings flitting in and out of the mix, though the backbeat remains. "Blue as My Name" is a decidedly straighter shuffle, but its horn arrangements evoke late-'60s country, as the swampy guitar bump of Creedence Clearwater Revival competes with Lee Hazelwood's production aesthetic and Love's loopy psychedelia. The set's longest jam, "Where Ya Goin' Papa," is a mini-suite of its own at nearly nine minutes. Its Stax-cum-Muscle Shoals backbeat is the jumping-off point for an extended exploration of disco, jazz, gospel, funk, and dub, held together by Blau's mellifluous singing and a female backing chorus adding an otherworldly dimension to the coda.

Despite its evocation of many source inspirations all applied in unusual ways, Out Her Space is pure Blau. He never lets his ambitious charts get in the way of his melodies, ample spaciousness, and warm multivalent textures. Add to this excellent core songwriting and inspired playing from all involved, and this date follows Introducing Karl Blau like a falling domino. All killer, no filler.

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