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Mackey: Lonely Motel: Music From Slide / Eckert, Mackey, Eighth Blackbird

Mackey / Eighth Blackbird / Eckert
Release Date: 09/27/2011 
Label:  Cedille Records   Catalog #: 128   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Steven Mackey
Performer:  Steven MackeyRinde Eckert
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Eighth Blackbird
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MACKEY Lonely Motel: Music From Slide Rinde Eckert (voice); Steve Mackey (el gtr); eighth blackbird CEDILLE 128 (56:49 Text and Translation)

Way back in Fanfare 24:2 I reviewed Steve Mackey’s opera Ravenshead and concluded that while it had a number of compelling elements, it didn’t ultimately satisfy, and I would eagerly await his next opera. The work now under review Read more isn’t exactly an opera (the previous one was a two-act; this is more a series of scenes in what appears to be one act, so more a “music theater piece”), but there are a number of similarities (to be discussed below). Above all, the good news for me, and any other listeners, is that this work seems far more successful, and shows an extremely talented composer in high form.

Lonely Motel: Music from Slide (2009) is another monodrama, like Ravenshead , and also like that work it spotlights the inner life of a loner going into meltdown. In this case it’s a psychologist holed up in a seedy motel, dealing apparently with the collateral damage of a failed love affair, trying to apply his own professional techniques to himself … and obviously not succeeding. Indeed, the work’s tone and profile of its protagonist goes all the way back to Paul Dresher’s Slow Fire (a work I still feel is one of those Essential Works of the American Canon That Nobody Seems to Know). It also featured Eckert as the soloist, and in fact Eckert and the Dresher Ensemble were the performers for Ravenshead. So it’s obvious there’s a lot of cross-fertilization going on here.

What makes this new piece particularly strong for me is that the music leads the action, instead of creating a sort of underscore. Mackey has brought into play a host of influences (he cites in his brief notes everything from Dowland to the Beatles), but in the end it sounds well integrated. Yes, there are crazed neorenaissance dance breaks (as much Kate Bush as Susato), and there’s a haunting piano progression that to me seems like a ballad from The Bad Plus, but these somehow seem to occupy points on the composer’s personal spectrum, rather than being set pieces pulled out from the file and pasted together. And that progression, by the way, is a unifying factor in the piece, hinting at the central moment in the work, a song called “Stare” (near the work’s Golden Mean, of all things), that’s genuinely memorable, the sort of combination of memorable harmony and tune that carves itself into your memory.

The forces that came together to make this piece also had good chemistry. Eighth blackbird quite simply rocks; it’s one of the most adventurous groups around in its curatorial taste and presentation. Mackey plays electric guitar suavely and sounds exceptionally fluent, clean, precise, economical, never showing off, but impressive. (He also does a narrator-cameo relating the synopsis of a Twilight Zone episode that’s hilariously chilling.) And Eckert of course continues to amaze. His voice seems only to get better; it’s operatic in scope and strength, yet entirely naturalistic, and he has a killer falsetto. He’s also the author of this libretto, which is simultaneously poignant, allusive, and focused, and a major factor in the work’s success.

So there’s redemption here, at least in my eyes. Bravo to all.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Lonely Motel: Music from Slide by Steven Mackey
Performer:  Steven Mackey (Guitar), Rinde Eckert (Tenor)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Eighth Blackbird
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
Lonely Motel: Music From Slide:
1. Slide of Dog 00:05:29
2. Stare Prelude/Overture 00:03:04
3. Depending 00:05:18
4. She Walks 00:07:00
5. Fog 00:06:00
6. Stare 00:06:03
7. Addiction 00:03:59
8. Processional 00:03:47
9. Running Dog 2 00:03:07
10. Ghosts 00:04:56
11. Lonely Motel 00:08:19

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