Stripping the disguise of “Trout Mask Replica” to reveal his true face, veteran six-stringer releases a solo debut.
If the fretboard in the skies on the cover of this platter looks like a stairway to heaven, that’s the way to go for Jeff Cotton’s latter-day attempt to secure his place in eternity after five decades spent out of spotlight. Known once upon a time as Antennae Jimmy Semens, the American guitarist left a lasting mark on Captain Beefheart’s most outstanding opus, where he also sang on a couple of cuts, but was disillusioned in the experiment to such an extent that, except for a few records with old friend Merrell Fankhauser, the artist quit the music business to turn into a minister. Still, melodies continued to flow from him until call of the wild became rather strong to resist it, and thus “The Fantasy Of Reality” appeared on the scene.
Consisting of almost staggering, yet understandably so, twenty two not-too-lean tracks and comprising both vocal and wordless numbers on which Cotton plays all the instruments, this album adheres to traditional forms, although there’s an occasional quirk here and there to keep things spicy enough, and if the punchy funk of spoken, not sung, philosophical opener “Does It Work For You” – whence the cycle’s title emerged – won’t impinge on the listener’s desire to delve deeper, their nerves are to be pinched, in a good way, further on. The twang of Jeff’s strings resonating, sonically and emotionally, throughout, and getting accompanied on “Together We Sail” by a slider roll, none of the old-timey pieces like the bossa nova-tinged “It Never Ceases To Blow My Mind” or the dramatic “All Things New” show any patina or resort to overt pastiche thanks to his warm voice and poetic stanzas, and the flamenco lace of “Ivy” and the romantic Appalachia of “Hear The Word” feel exquisite, while the Hawaiian aroma of “Green Bamboo” and the bluesy “Heavy” should bring forth a smile.
Of course, the psychedelic jive behind “He Made The Eagle” or the multilayered insistency of “This Gentle Earth” can’t be for everybody’s taste, but the harmonica-oiled R&B that drives “Crusin’ Hamakua” and the reeds-ravaged, jazzy panorama of “The Space Between Us All” come across as down-to-earth delicious. The drift might seem a bit insipid in the record’s second half – only the a cappella intro renders the countrified mourn of “The Breeze Of Oblivion” genuinely majestic, the brisk strum makes “The Season Of The Awakening” ooze a spirit of ages, and the irresistible tune of “Mother Earth Needs Healing” careens towards infectious pop. So once the elegant, raga-scented lines let “Clean In Nature`s Stream” unveil the platter’s finale, the sense of bliss will descend on those who used to groove to Antennae Jimmy Semens’ licks and those who discovered Jeff Cotton just now. It’s an idyll worth exploring.