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Leaving the Commonwealth

by: D. Charles Speer & The Helix

Album Artwork

(Thrill Jockey)

Leaving the Commonwealth follows D. Charles Speer's solo album Arghiledes.  Leaving the Commonwealth counts as the 3rd full-length album by Speer and the Helix. The band Helix includes Hans Chew (keys), Marc Orleans (pedal steel & guitar), Ted Robinson (bass) and Steven McGuirl (drums). The Atlanta, Georgia, native Speer moved to New York in the 90s where he plunged into eclectic brands of music. However, the heart of his music never strayed very far from pure country.

Leaving the Commonwealth is a variegated collection. The Civil War-era album cover transmits a ruthless undercurrent to this package. The silver tone twangs of "Razorbacked" opens this collection. Like previous collaborations between these musicians, tones of the Flying Burrito Brothers, early Little Feat and the Grateful Dead stream through the currents of this track, but Speer's contemporary take on 'old time' music prevails. "Days In the Kitchen", a lazy tune, propelled by Marc Orleans' pedal steel causes a sad sway in the soul.

The fiddle-laced "Le Grand Cochon", sung in French, reminds me of Doug Sahm at the apex of his power--especially the way the lyrics, piano and pedal steel fuse into one musical stream, or swamp. "Cumberland" serves as a tribute to Speer's friend and late collaborator Jack Rose. A cosmic cowboy aesthetic surround these heady compositions. "Alamoosook Echoes"--an instrumental--sounds like a Neil Young solo electric guitar track laden with an electronic crickets drone.

A rollicking barrel tune, "Freddy's Lapels", permits the band to get a little frisky. Elements of Jim Dickinson's solo work permeate this unrestrained tune, and it's interesting when the band stretches out the song. "Rust In the Bay" operates like a sepia photograph of old on the memory. Tales of coastal treachery navigate this tune.

"Battle of the Wilderness", a composition based on the Civil War, mentions Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, James Longstreet and Ulysses S. Grant in the lyrics. Rest assured, this is not mindless stoner rock. Speer reminds me a bit of west coast bands Howlin Rain and the Sig Organs of Admittance in his apocalyptic, cold-blooded vision.

The title track closes this album. The instrumental "Leaving the Commonwealth" finds Speer and the Helix jamming in an edgy manner, and one can only imagine during live performances how bright this dynamic of the band will shine. Highly recommended...

James Calemine


Jack Rose, D. Charles Speer & the Helix: Ragged and Right

D. Charles Speer: Arghiledes

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