Sleepwalking 1986

This review appeared in Rolling Rock, October 1986     

Jacob and the Denizens 
Boz-Line Records 

Review by Hank Toupein 

Sleepwalking, the latest offering from the interminably prolific Jacob Sewell, sees him team up again with atmospheric Missouri acid jazz ensemble the Denizens. The almost universal criticism levelled at their last release, 1985’s By Night, was the under-utilisation of saxophonist Manny Blonheim. This cannot be said of Sleepwalking though as Manny’s soprano sax weaves a constant web around Jacob’s falsetto exhortations. Add to that the production of jazz rock maestro Boz Scaggs, and this album was always going to outstrip its predecessor. 

Although there are several poppier cuts here like Circling the Block, Cool Poison and The Night Arrived, this album’s strength lies in its sprawling sax-driven instrumentals. Taxi Driver which opens the record, takes you on a tour of the city’s seedy underbelly, your guide - the soprano saxophone, while Leave Me Where You Found Me has Jacob’s silky Stratocaster playing counterpoint to Blonheim’s unbearably smooth alto, set against a soundscape of mellow funk and inner city street atmos. 

However, as silly as this may sound, the real high point of the record is the only track without saxophone! Title track Sleepwalking recalls the slick minimal funk of Boz Scaggs’s Lowdown, and manages to impress despite its complete lack of woodwind. It has a high-hat heavy rhythm, scantily clad with intermittent guitar and electric piano and Jacob’s sparse falsetto telling the tale of a city in moral decline. Could this instant classic be a harbinger of an approaching saxless pop epoch? This reviewer seriously doubts it, but the glorious aberration that is this title track serves as testament to Jacob and his Denizens’ pop funk acid jazz acumen. 

7.5 Stars

See more of Jacob's back catalogue HERE


Hitsville AUS

The Ray Mann Three circa 2008 L to R: Me, Ray, Byron
Once upon a time i was a member of the Ray Mann Three. It was the brainchild of Ray Wassef, one-time Kid Confucius lead guitarist and soul singer. Ray imposed a sort of vintage suit'n'tie dress code for tRM3 gigs, and we extended this aesthetic beyond the stage and into the studio.

This was a really smart idea, it didn't feel like artifice, on the contrary it helped to legitimise the project without needing to consciously contrive anything- it put us in character, made us feel like we were doing something special and i really think it translated onto the tape.

It connected us to another time and plugged us into that old school Hitsville USA ethic of going into the studio to work, but in the best possible sense of that word. Like: this is my job, this is my office, i am the motherfucking shit!

Ray on a tank, on tour with Kid C
Ray was a very influential figure in my musical life. He is a brilliant guitarist and a really stunning visual artist. More than that though, he has a real eye for the big picture. Everything we did in that band was integrated, nothing was done without some consideration of a greater intention, an ultimate goal.

During his time in Kid C he was an assiduous networker, gathering advice from anyone who would offer it. Once he felt like he had enough of an evidence base, he left Kid Confucius and put his full creative weight behind tRM3. Gigs that seemed like a waste of time would be booked to fill a gap in the resume, and that in turn would impress the right person who would then stick their neck out for the band in some other well-anticipated context. Posters that Ray designed for the band's very first gigs hang now, many years later, in perfect congruity with those from last week's gigs.

I aspire to this sort of shrewdness, but i don't think i have the discipline to pull it off. All you have to do is take a short click-stroll through this blog to see how sidetracked i can get. My creative energy shoots outwards in a diffuse spray- a lack of focus and foresight that leads to catastrophic stuff-ups and personal meltdowns. I'm about due for the next one actually...

ANYHOO, in the spirit of Motown and the Ray Mann Three, Dave and I suited up for the rhythm section sessions for the briscoe album.

And while the stress of knocking out a whole album's worth of drum and bass tracks in a day isn't conducive to the kind of romance i was trying to invoke, it at least made for some nice pictures.


maths, recording and tales in space

Algebraically speaking if Briscoe is x and Dusker is y and Rosario Ferraro is R then:

x - y = R

In other words, I was playing drums in the very excellent band Dusker when I was trying to start briscoe. I loved everyone in Dusker so I bullied them into joining briscoe. This reconfiguration needed a drummer though, and despite protestations from my stroppy ego, I asked monster Rosario Ferraro to join. This overlapping of Dusker/briscoe personnel will hopefully lead to logistically simple touring and a few WTFs from confused gig-goers.

Luke in his natural habitat with dave, kate and me
I have been mixing the briscoe stuff with Luke Bertoz at Zapata Studios in Coogee. I was also in there on the weekend recording with Dusker. It was the first session for an album, and we finished one great song written by Dee and Jacob which will likely be the first single. Luke is also recording and mixing the up-coming Ranger Spacey E.P. which is going to rule.

Luke is a crazy production angel, he makes the best suggestions and tells it like it is. He is very friendly and accommodating and will work his butt off all day as long as you feed him regularly with subway and breath mints out of a flat open palm. He is also in a great band called TALES IN SPACE.

Yesterday he told me about Google Alerts and how that if anyone anywhere writes "TALES IN SPACE" on the internet, Google tells him. So this is a test. Luke, you have 24 hrs to comment on this post or i will prime my musket and hunt you for sport...


Sewell ALIVE!

Jacob's seventeenth live album, 1989's Sewell ALIVE! Live in Rotterdam. His electric blues rock period was embraced whole heartedly by sections of Europe, but none more so than Holland. Highlights from this concert include a blistering back-and-forth with special guest Slash, the entire seven part, 48 minute Yakattack odyssey and a reprise of Oh! Melissa sung entirely in Dutch.



briscoe guitarist jacob sewell: a long history

Jacob's 1964 album Texas Ranger hailed by critics as "A study in unintended atonality"
Jacob Sewell was born into a life of privilege- it was 1939 in a little town south of the Mississippi called Young. At the age of 16 he eschewed the good life and ran away to the big smoke with nothing but his great grandpappy's acoustic guitar and the harmonica he stole from old man McCutchin. And a suitcase full of old money.

He purchased a modest seven bedroom chateau on the harbour and made his way to the centre of town to begin his new life as a meager troubador. The cityfolk, however, didn't yet have a taste for country and western music, a fact he deduced from the many kicks to the groin he received from irritable passers-by.

After a particularly disappointing and painful afternoon in the summer of 1956, Jacob was on his way back to the Manor when he was stopped by a swarthy stranger.

"I have been watching you young Jacob"
"How do you know my name?" Jacob asked
"I know all for I am the Devil"
"Oh, I see"
"You have been having little success young Jacob"
"It hasn't been too bad" he replied, trying not to think about his throbbing nether region "they just don't like country music."
"No, they just don't like horrible guitar playing"
"Oh, I see"

The Devil accompanied young Jacob home and they ruminated on Jacob's problem late into the night. Once Jacob and Beelzebub had imbibed an appropriate amount of 30 year old scotch and had their fill of roast pheasant and tubers, the Devil made his proposition.

"I don't really know if thisssh is appropriate to shhay thiss but I really love you Jacob"
"YES YES, i was jussht going to say that to you jussht then!" slurred young Jacob
"I want to help you, i rooooeally do" said the Devil
"I want to help you tooo!" The Devil paused
"Um, anyway... how attachshhhhed are you to your soul?!"
"Oh, yeah! I can sell you my ssshhoul to you, and you'll make me great at playing the guitar like you did with Robert Johnston right?"
"Johnson" corrected the Devil
"Yeah, Johnston!"
"Well, i used all my wolfsbane and newt faeces on Robert so i can't do that ssshpell anymore..."
"Oh, I see."
"But maybe there'sssh something else I can do..."

The Devil explained that for the bargain price of one soul, he could grant Jacob everlasting life. In other words: the opportunity to hone his craft until the Universe's end, by which time he would surely have attained a level that no longer invited casual physical abuse. Jacob accepted and they celebrated with ramekins of candied sturgeon caviar and warm buttermilk.

Over the course of the next six decades, Jacob recorded 432 albums. His first forays into the world of recording artistry were disastrous. After his second and third albums, the venerable Daily Bugle ran with the headline: "Music is F *%@king Dead", and review after review delivered metaphoric kicks to his metaphoric groin.

Since those early attempts though, Jacob has had half a century to bud and blossom into the player he is today. Now widely regarded as the greatest guitarist of his generation(?), briscoe's members feel very honoured to count him among their number. I will post any album covers or songs i can dig up from his formidable back catalogue.



i never sleep...

"The Silent Mixer"
Can you call yourselves a band if you have no recording and have never gigged? The case is arguable. It's hard to see here but this is the next photograph in our ongoing exhibition - "Evidence of Music Making in lieu of Music". It's me in a studio allegedly trying to mix the eight alleged songs that allegedly comprise the debut briscoe record. If you look closely you can see my mouse-clicking finger poised to do some excellent editing. Actually, Luke the engineer was just having a wizz and I jumped into his chair for a misleading second.

The mixing is going well though, and will hopefully be finished by the end of the month, but it's been my life for so long now that i really can't imagine it finishing. I'll believe it when i hear it, or when i see the photos of me hearing it.

Up to now i've resisted the urge to post demos to preserve the sanctity of my conventional recording and release aspirations, but having now experienced the odyssey of recording with plenty of bands, i realised that a song i demo today won't see the light of day for at least 2 years, if ever. And at this stage i know the five people who read this blog anyway.

While i was in the studio this week (see photographic evidence inset) I wrote a topical ditty about feverishly working towards an unlikely goal and being battered by expectation, mostly your own. I demoed it yesterday so i'm just gonna post it. By the time we get around to recording it in 2032, North Korea will probably have deleted the internet anyway. Enjoy.    

i never sleep cos i'm trying to get on someone's wall DEMO