4 out of 5
Label: Hydra Head
Produced by: Oxbow
I’ve never been able to get too far with Oxbow. Their rough-shod blues sounds, conceptually, good to me, but listening to them hasn’t ever quite matched what I’ve wanted, and an album title like ‘Love That’s Last: A Wholly Hypnographic & Disturbing Work’ is pretty suggestive of why: most of their stuff feels more like performance art as opposed to music, to me; very indulgent, very “emotional,” but in an art-student processed kinda way. (I’ll fully allow that I’m sure half of my catalogue strikes others the same way; we all have our triggers when it comes to this stuff.)
However, Last, being a collection of rarities and alternate takes from across several years of releases / recordings, does avoid the buildup of that style over the course of a wholly conceived album, which allows those conceptual good points to finally stand out for me. The songs here still include some “for fans only” kind of inclusions, and have a very Oxbow tendency to linger too long and then cut out without a very good conclusion, but it’s still definitely the most listenable set of theirs I’ve heard, offering up a full range of what they do and sequenced effectively to prevent it from tiring or hitting those triggers.
The core of the group’s send is a hefty bluesy crunch, with vocalist Eugene Robinson doing like a stomach cancer version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins singing atop. I’m sure lyrics are important – some are included in the liner notes – but as above with performance taking center stage, it follows through that I think Robinson’s pained delivery are more important, and the songs here have plenty of harshness throughout; even when the group settles into a riff, things do not groove, they lurch, and drag themselves across concrete. When Marianne Faithfull joins in for the nigh-traditional music of opener Insylum, Robinson can’t avoid “harmonizing” and dragging the duet through dirt. It’s a great intro.
Thereafter, we get some Grifters-like swagger, acoustic outsider piece The Valley, a live bit of distortion experimentalism – Gimmer Bird – the hard hitting Yoke, grooving Pretty Bird, and others beside; as mentioned, the variation of the inclusions is appreciated, and the order of the songs keeps the changeups both fresh and flowing.
So, no, I have not been converted to Oxbow by any means, but Love That’s Last did allow me to appreciate the effect the band can have, expressed in its varying fashions. The release also includes a DVD with documentary / live performance bits, which I’ll review separately.