Colonel Bruce Hampton’s album Arkansas, like his 1978 One Ruined Life of A Bronze Tourist, has been recently re-released on Atlanta’s Terminus Records. Arkansas was originally recorded in 1987 and released on Landslide Records. Arkansas certainly features a complex mix of styles.
Known for his ability to blend the best attributes of musicians into one “egoless” sound, Colonel Bruce collected a formidable array of guests for Arkansas, including Paul Barrere, Tinsley Ellis, Jimmy Herring, Rev. Jeff Mosier, Jeff Sipe, Sonny Emory, Walter Brewer, Yonrico Scott, and Oteil Burbridge.
Widespread Panic’s John Bell, band member Lincoln Metcalf (aka Ricky Keller), and Stanley Booth composed liner notes for the re-issue, while the CD’s artwork was designed by Flournoy Holmes. The album was dedicated to the late Robert Palmer, who in 1969 took the Colonel to Memphis, where he witnessed blues great Bukka White performing his legendary song, “Fixin’ To Die”. “It is,” the Colonel said, “the one song I never don’t do on live gigs.”
“Elevator to the Moon” is a Caribbean-flavored funk number, and the Colonel’s inimitable humor flows through songs like “Trondossull” and the hilarious “Brato Ganibe”. “Strange Voices” travels into an 80’s dance floor realm—equipped with screeching cats and Mariachi horns!
“Basically Frightened”, another blues ditty, is one of the best tracks on the album, while the reckless abandon on “Mr. Kane” is pure jazz. Hampton’s old proverb “maintaining the threat of collapse” is evident throughout the unorthodox Arkansas. One would expect to hear “Zumpano’s Retreat” while floating in a wooden canoe up the Amazon River, and “Baseball Tickets” is a vaudeville spoken word piece by the Colonel, who is backed by a saloon piano.
The re-released Arkansas contains two bonus tracks—the banjo instrumental “Morgan” and the rock fusion piece “Cold Mountain”—both of which are testimony to how “seriously” the Colonel can make musicians around him play.
Colonel Bruce’s relentless humor and protean variety place him in the pantheon of American oddball geniuses like Frank Zappa and John Cage. Arkansas—like a horrific picture or a beautiful face—lingers in the mind and haunts the memory long after it is heard…
- James Calemine