Various Artists

Refined Lard: A Trunk Records Sampler

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Even within the realms of obscuro music, Trunk Records has defined and mastered a very specific niche that manages to draw from many sources yet manages to sound and look distinctively "Trunk" when put together. Refined Lard, a budget-priced sampler akin to the label's previous comp, Now We Are Ten, is a fine example of, and introduction to, the label's world. Everything about the collection exemplifies Trunk, from the artwork, which nods to label owner Jonny Trunk's fascination with the designs of U.K. supermarket chain Sainsbury's in-house products (to the extent that Trunk published a book of the most striking ones), to its mix of surprising, hard-to-find gems that might not seem to go together on paper, but reveal a playful, sophisticated, and mischievous aesthetic in practice. Label mainstay Barry Gray provides a standout track with the perky "Super Shell and ICA" (taken from Stand by for Adverts), along with "A Children's Tale [From Night of the Hunter]" -- one of the eeriest and loveliest song snippets ever recorded -- and Jonny Trunk's own "Kenwood 2," which defines his sample-friendly instrumental pop. As with Now We Are Ten, many of the tracks focus on light instrumental pop and jazz, and on a cursory listen, much of Refined Lard sounds like it could be used as background music for a dinner party. However, even within these styles, there's still plenty of range from dapper cuts like the Paul Smith Quartet's "My Favourite Things" and Max Harris' "Gurney Slade" to the more serious tone of Bill Evans' "Peace Piece" and Alex North's "Love Theme from Spartacus," or from the pretty exotica of Frank Hunter's "Temple Bells" to the beautifully unsettling "Sunday" by Kenny Graham and His Satellites. While the collection doesn't dig into Trunk's wilder side that often, when it does, it's memorable, whether it's a track taken from a limited-release album of recordings of what the Midland Mainline train was offering in the way of refreshments for a series of trips; vintage comedy bits by Terry Thomas or Rolf Harris; a piece of computer-generated music so early you can almost see the lab coats and punch cards; or "Sports Activities," a track from the infamous Dirty Fan Male project, which had the comedian Wisbey read actual fan letters sent to Jonny Trunk's "glamour" model sister. A minor drawback to Refined Lard is its lack of liner notes, which Trunk releases generally feature and shed quite a bit of light; for example, it takes some online digging to discover that the buzzy rock instrumental "The Snake" was a 1960 hit in Argentina for Maximilian, aka Max Crook, the inventor of the Musitron and a member of Del Shannon's band. Quibbling aside, those who have their appetite whetted by Refined Lard will be delighted with the feast of unique music Trunk has to offer in its regular catalog, and of course existing fans will dig it too.

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