Dunlavy - "King Of All He Surveys" (Fleece Records 1999, FL# 16)
Dunlavy - "The Alison Effect" (Camera Obscura 2001, CAM043CD)
From Aural Innovations #17 (September 2001)
As I promised last time, I do have a few more words to say about the (no-longer-quite-so-) solo project out of Houston, TX called Dunlavy (or The DunLavy as it sometimes appears). Founded and fronted by ex-The Mike Gunn bassist Scott Grimm, the project involves a full orchestra of instrumentation with guitars (both acoustic and electric), bass, synthesizers and other electronic devices, and various forms of percussion.
This review will cover both of the newest releases, the fourth Dunlavy release on the 'home' label in Houston (Fleece Records) and also the fifth just out from Tony Dale's outfit in Australia (Camera Obscura). Both CDs are of typical LP length (40-45 min. ea.), but hardly are limited in musical statements, whether eleven tracks are offered (as on 'King') or just five (as on 'Alison').
'King of All He Surveys' contains exactly no liner notes whatsoever, so I am left to believe that this creation was by the hand of Mr. Grimm (and his omnipresent puppy friend 'Dun') alone. The dreamy 'Unstable' immediately puts forward one of Grimm's most notable signatures, a multi-layered acoustic guitar approach that has an intertwining character that makes your own thoughts and emotions get lost somewhere in the mix. 'Captain Space' is a seven-minute creation that is presented in three different segments that are effectively sprinkled throughout the album to give the listener a familiar sense of one common motif. All three are colored with a muffled voiceover in triplicate and a number of other cosmic effects amongst the acoustic guitar backdrop, until in Part Three it finally ends with what seems to be a spaceship landing. The middle part of the album is mostly an amalgam of shorter musical statements (some instrumental, others with voiceovers) that alternately swap acoustic and electric sounds as well as pace, "Big Finish" being one of the more notable compositions. The lengthier pieces "Scott Dewey" and "Everything" were saved for later on. The former relies on a heavier, stoner-style guitar riff to power its march forward into another realm, and also includes a chant-style singing voice here and there. A fine slab of cosmic rock, though brought down a level by employing (as throughout this particular album) drum robots. "Everything" suffers a little less in this way by being more laid-back most of the time, letting the very real guitars and keyboards take center stage, at least up until the full-"band" rock-out that is inserted into the middle of the final offering.
For the freshly made 'The Alison Effect', Grimm (aka 'Dun' here, or so I presume) has now brought on board multi-instrumentalist and vocalist John Crevasse. To my ears, percussion seems to be about 50:50 handled by human vs. machine, so already 'Alison' is my preferred choice of Dunlavy works. But of course, the compositions themselves are the key ingredient and indeed we have some good ones here also. This volume leads off with an 18-minute extravaganza entitled "Woe to Be Croton" that winds through many phases and could be described as the ultimate 'chill-out' up until the final five minutes of crunching guitar riffs and blazing solos. Before all this, the 'chilling out' results from the triple acoustic guitar 'round' that is repeated several times, the keyboards used effectively as faux violins and oboes, and the rolling tribal rhythm that subversively pulsates in and out of focus. This wonder is outdone next by 'Rob Walks In,' an eight-minute psychedelic feast complete with real, acoustic drumming and no end to spaced-out flavor-enhancers. Like much of (well, actually both of) the album(s), this track comes across as a meeting of 'Revolver' and Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" (or indeed the disputed Indian territory itself). "Sassy," a more developed version of an idea also presented briefly on 'King,' shows a more spirited and fun-loving approach to songwriting. "Lacerating," though, immediately returns to Raga country, and invokes comparison with labelmates Salamander and also early Black Sun Ensemble material. 'Alison' wraps up with the six-part "Better than Sleep" that treads similar ground, but winds up with an extended spacey echo-guitar portion that comes across both droney and rhythmic at once - brilliant! Thus the problem becomes, how can you tell if it's truly 'better than sleep' if these soothing sounds actually lull you into unconsciousness? Zzzzzzz......
Dunlavy, with these two most recent efforts, seems in one sense to be a tad less forward-thinking than what I had heard in 'John Merkel is a Miracle' (reviewed in last issue). But then I think great musical ideas are still being developed here very nicely and I think Grimm's new partner has added in a number of new dimensions (and an all-important, to me at least, human-drum-machine). So if you were a Dunlavy virgin but intrigued by what you read here, I might be inclined to suggest a double-fisted reach to acquire both 'John Merkel' and 'The Alison Effect' and then proceed from there. I doubt, though, that Grimm has been involved in much of anything that didn't exhibit a great deal of merit. The Mike Gunn family tree (including also Charalambides and Linus Pauling Quartet) is a psychedelic family that should not be overlooked by any means.
Fleece Records (and Dunlavy by association) can be reached at P.O. Box 70012, Houston TX 77270, or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit the Fleece web site at: http://soundexchangehouston.com/fleece/.
Camera Obscura is best reached via their website at http://www.cameraobscura.com.au.
Reviewed by Keith Henderson