Robyn Hitchcock

Spooked

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Sometime after the release of 2003's sparse and slightly chilly Luxor, Robyn Hitchcock attended his first Gillian Welch show. Impressed by the duo's rootsy adherence to the organic -- two guitars, two voices -- he approached the longtime fans -- Hitchcock unknowingly signed David Rawlings' guitar at a Boston in-store in 1989 -- and exchanged digits. The unlikely partnership came to fruition at Nashville's Woodland Studios a few months later, and in just six days the lovely, intimate, and typically eccentric Spooked was born. Produced by Rawlings and culled from hours of off-the-cuff originals, Dylan songs, and general weirdness, Spooked harks back to his mercurial I Often Dream of Trains period. References to fungus and food abound, but wrapped in the wooly blankets of Rawlings' signature picking and Welch's winsome harmonies, they take on a fireplace warmth that renders them amiably nostalgic rather than blatantly surreal. On the dew-soaked opener, "Television," Rawlings lays down a beautiful descending lead that wouldn't have sounded out of place on the duo's debut, and its juxtaposition with Hitchcock's "bing a bon a bing bong" vocal entrance is jarring, but when the three of them come together mid-song to harmonize, the results are quietly majestic. Much of the record revisits -- musically at least -- Hitchcock's colorful past. "Everybody Needs Love," with its breathy urgency and electric sitar, sounds like something off of Element of Light, and the lurching "Creeped Out" -- featuring Welch on drums -- could have been the B-side to 1985's "Brenda's Iron Sledge." This is Hitchcock's most rewarding and creative endeavor since 1993's Egyptian-led Respect, and the fact that Rawlings and Welch are there as eager tools to flesh out his English netherworld makes the fellowship feel even more collaborative. It's a testament to both camps' willingness to try anything -- hearing Welch and Rawlings repeating "crackle, crackle, pop" beneath Hitchcock's spoken word sales pitch to extraterrestrials looking to vacation on Earth is a pretty good example -- that ultimately succeeds in making Spooked the left-field gem that it is.

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