Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Durutti Column: The Guitar and Other Machines

This was an album bought new on cassette when issued in 1987 and it was striking how different much of the sound was compared to earlier records.

For one thing, even though drum machines had been used on the first Durutti Column record, The Return of the Durutti Column (1979), there was an increasing use of electronics for The Guitar and Other Machines, as discussed in the liner notes of the expanded album version released under the Factory Once iteration of Anthony Wilson's Factory Records label.

In his typically breezy and idiosyncratic style of writing, Wilson observed that "Vini had some new technology thrust upon him" in the form of a Yamaha sequencer and a DMX drum machine.  With these new tools, the guitarist created a recording that featured much of his gorgeous guitar, as well as keyboards (he was first a pianist) and which was augmented with drums, xylophone and the drum machine by longtime compatriot and manager Bruce Mitchell, violist John Metcalfe and guests Stephen Street, who played bass on one track as well as produced the album, Rob Gray, provider of mouth organ on two tracks, and vocalists Stanton Miranda and Pol.  Tim Kellet, who had been in the band but left to join Simply Red, contributes a good trumpet solo on "When the World."

The other major change was that, while there was plenty of the precise and atmospheric guitar playing that has distinguised Reilly from anyone else emerging from the postpunk era, The Guitar and Other Machines features some examples of performance that are more "rock" like.  The most amazing result was the absolutely scorching guitar solo from "When the World."  There are similar sounds on "Arpeggiator," as well.

Finally, there is Stephen Street's production.  He had produced Morrissey's Viva Hate, which Reilly, who had been in a short-lived punk band with Morrissey in the late 1970s, performed on, so the partnership here appears to have meant a more direct and, perhaps, accessible sound.  This is a good thing, actually, as the opening up of the sound takes Reilly out of a more confined environment without sacrificing any of his aesthetic.

What is rather typical, though fantastically so, is the way that Reilly and his collaborators blend instrumentation, creates evocative emotional sounds, and makes his work so personalized.  A beautiful piece like "Jongleur Gray" with Reilly's guitar and piano juxtaposed with Gray's harmonica is then followed by :When the World" which begins with drum machines, Reilly's rhythm guitar, and a distant harmonica before the vocals from Miranda come in.  Suddenly, the uncharacteristically searing guitar blasts through the piece, changing the atmosphere substantially and in a thrilling way.

After that is the sublime "U.S.P." which is a feature for Reilly's fantastic acoustic guitar playing--something that hasn't been heard often enough for this admirer.  Then, on the excellent "Bordeaux Sequence" more drum machines and electronic keyboards lead into some plucked viola from Metcalfe before Pol's beguiling vocals take the piece somewhere else.

Following is the beautiful "Pol in B," following a long tradition of Reilly's in naming pieces for those close to him.  The extraordinary lead is echoed by pretty acoustic flourishes and keyboard touches--yet another example of his unique penchant for creating some of the most striking mood music.

These examples show how the diversity and the sequencing of the pieces make The Guitar and Other Machines a highlight in the long and extraordinary career of one of the most interesting musicians around.

There are four bonus pieces known as "Related Works" in the Factory Once reissue series, including "Don't Think Your Funny" which provides Vini's oft-maligned vocals with a backing vocal layered behind and is another simple and effective little piece at under two minutes.  The unusual use of bongos and sampled audio make "Dream Topping" and "You Won't Feel Out of Place" distinctive for the DC discography.  "28 Oldham Street" has a rhythmic keyboard pattern under Reilly's trebly work on his guitar, while drum machines come a bit in to the piece, making for a nice piece.

On the CD insert, there is reference to four other pieces from a performance at Peter Gabriel's WOMAD festival in 1989, but this must've been for a UK version, because the one discussed here lacks these tracks.  These can be heard elsewhere, notably on the 1989 album Vini Reilly, as well as 1991's Dry collection, and include the incredible "Otis," a sampling of soul singer Otis Redding's voice with one of Reilly's most memorable guitar lines.

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