Robbie Basho – Venus in Cancer (CD)

Again, leave it to Tompkins Square to find a work done by a forgotten guitar hero from the sixties and catapult it back into social and popular significance. This time, “Venus in Cancer” is being re-released; this 1969 album shows Basho’s technique just as much as it shows eir mind and soul. While vocals could be placed on tracks like this, the result would be to paint over a Leonardo with a Norman Rockwell. What is amazing about tracks like the title one is that Basho is able to elicit so many different sounds of the guitar; at point, it sounds as if Basho has a bassist and a mandolinist in the same room as eir. The richness of these compositions no doubt had to be what individuals heard when they saw Basho live; the limitations of the original vinyl were negated, as the master tapes were cleaned up for this release. A monument to the impact that Basho had is also present in this album, as a number of legends in their own right (from Max Ochs all the way up to Pete Townshend) gave their critical opinions of Basho’s work.

The tracks on “Venus In Cancer” were never intended to make it on a pop or rock radio station, as the extreme length of these songs (averaging over eight minutes per track) and the always-experimental style that Basho arranged in only made this album attractive for a few turned-in fans. The fact that there can be a set of vocals that are given an instrumental role (as is the case during “Eagle Sails The Blue Diamond Waters”) and said vocals have even more of an impact than if they would be imbued with lyrics shows Basho’s skill both as a guitarist and as a musician. I am all for accessibility, but there are times during tracks like “Kowaka D’Amour” that I wish I had a few years of classical musical training. I am sure that Basho is using some long-forgotten style and time signatures that I could only dream about, and the only thing that comes to my ears is a very harmony-laden track (good to listen to, for sure, but not anything I get the true breadth and width of).

This is an amazing album even if individuals might not get every single musical allusion that Basho inserted along the way. Make sure to pick up this album so that Tompkins Square can keep releasing these type of albums.

Top Track: Kowaka D’Amour

Rating: 7.2/10

[JMcQ]

Robbie Basho – Venus in Cancer / 2006 Tompkins Square / 6 Tracks / http://www.tompkinssquare.com / Reviewed 23 August 2006

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