Vine Sweetland & The Forefathers Of The New Millennium - "Light Shining In The Distance" (Zemira 1999, CD)
From Aural Innovations #15 (April 2001)
This CD is a huge collaboration of 25 musicians playing over 40 instruments, featuring world-renowned sitarist Rahul Sakyaputra and "street-poet" Vine Sweetland. Vine is actually based in Orange County, California (though I doubt he was seriously affected back when OC "went broke" about eight years ago...), and the recording and general organization of the project also seems to have been centered in OC. But I'll leave off the local kick and get to the music.
The first thing I'll mention is that this 74-minute CD contains only one track. They are broken into sub-titles in the insert, but it's all meant to flow together, telling a continuous story through the lyrics, which are based on the physical and metaphorical journey of a caterpillar/butterfly (though I would have had no idea of this if I hadn't read about it in the liner notes). About half of the album is comprised of instrumental music which covers a LOT of ground, from the many obligatory Indian-styled psyche jams and ragas, to quiet interludes, to burning rock 'n' roll. Vine handles all the lead vocals but is more than capable, competantly utilizing many different approaches. He rarely "sings", but usually speaks, shouts or whispers. Now for a partial break-down of this monster.
The album begins with an old record twittering its cylces, a heart-beat and the whispering of Vine before segueing into the first movement of any significant length, which is a wild sound-assault including what sounds like numerous animals' response to a forest fire, frantic tribal drums and a killer hip-hoppish vocal delivery from Vine, introducing the mostly-Eastern religious/philosophical themes which dominate the story. From here is a brief but moving instrumental movement of female vocal, sitar and various other exotic instruments. Next is a tune which continues the story but is not too musically exciting. But before you know it the aggressive side of Vine returns and we get to hear him test his vocal chords with some wicked shouted vocals reverberating powerfully with an echo-effect, all against cold-blowing synth-wind. But after this the quality drops off for a while. It's all very professional-sounding and well-played by the many expert musicians (with more sitar, tabla, violin, cello, piano, organ, you name it); these segments all seem to fit well enough into the musical and lyrical flow; also introduced at times is the great evil dijeridu and some good vocals from Vine here and there.
But overall, this contains a good 10-15 minutes worth of sound which perhaps could have been left on the cutting floor. Over all, I would describe the general feel as "brooding" or somewhat depressing. But hey, maybe that's part of the journey of mind and soul and the joke's on me. If you were to look at this CD as a whole, then of course it's hard to make 74 minutes worth of music stick together well. But I wouldn't insist that you must listen to this album all-at-once or not-at-all. That would be nice, but perhaps not realistic. Take as needed. But then... Evil rumbling repeating dijeridu and freak-out voices of all kinds definitely put your mind in another state for a while, and Vine all of a sudden sounds like someone you wouldn't want to meet in an Orange County alley. But the mood is rather brief and it's time to boogie. This means several consecutive rock-and-roll segments generally in a '60s fashion with acid/wah-Hendrix guitars, organ and Morrison-esque on-the-beat shouts by Vine. It's kind of cheesy in a way, but quite enjoyable. The final of these segments has a trippy sweeping tape-manipulated cymbal and an interesting chorus chant. But now as we're about 2/3rds of the way through the odyssey, things become quite ethereal again and Vine does a thing over sitar and tabla where he sounds again a lot like Jim Morrison. This is nothing too overpowering, but shortly after returns the enchanting female vocal, more obscure Indian instruments, and from here on it's almost pure bliss, with some great rising ragas and psychedelia. One of these brings itself epically into the light with powerful flowing electric-guitar drone and a strange watery synth-effect. (This is for fans of the Tea Party!) Then comes another fantastic raga with a violin that sounds almost as human as the above-mentioned female, while sitarist Sakyaputra REALLY brings it (as a street poet might say) and someone sends waves of harmonium. Is that it? Not quite...
The album finishes in a really odd post-modern manner. A fevered Arab-type wails, the evil dijeridu reprises itself, Vine returns for more spoken-word and the butterfly is born (to be the last of its kind). Then more people join in on the horrific chant, carbonated synth bubbles and again an old record twitters its cycle as John Beresford introduces himself and says "Let's start off with some basic", and at that very moment the CD comes to an abrupt end. A notable and unique release! The CD itself does not list a record company, but Zemira Productions is now apparently handling the release. I'm curious as to what this bunch (or whatever sort of variation) will offer next.
For more information you can visit the Zemira web site.
Sound files are available at the Vine Sweetland Mp3.com web site.
Contact via snail mail c/o Zemira; PO Box 41162; Long Beach, CA 90853.
Reviewed by Chuck Rosenberg