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Thursday, 10 January 2013

Directing Hand - 'Bells for Augustine Lesage' (Secret Eye)

Alex Neilson exploded with a flurry of musical activity about seven years back, playing suddenly with everyone from Alasdair Roberts to Jandek to Current 93. Often overlooked was his own solo project, Directing Hand, which was some part noisy free improv and some part traditional British folk re-interpretations. This CD on Secret Eye, a relatively early release in the Directing Hand saga, is somewhere in-between. Made up of Neilson plus many compatriots from his old band Scatter, this features a mix of loosely interpreted, casually sung traditionals (at the end of the disc, both the immortal Anne Briggs 'Lowlands' and the less known, Kentucky-based Jean Ritchie's 'Hangman') and some quiet, Jeweled Antler-styled drone pieces. With a name like Directing Hand you'd expect confidence but this is really music of trepidation. The vocals are constantly in retreat, and the various organs, brass instruments, strings and I think harmoniums carefully eek out notes only after everyone else has stepped forwards. It's a bizarre type of improv and Neilson's own voice is clear from a musical perspective even if his vocalics are often mixed low. But it's charming; that warm, enveloping sound made those overlooked Scatter CDs so wonderful to bathe in, and there's plenty of that here, even if the structure is somewhat more rampaging. At times Neilson feels almost like he is trying to channel as much energy as possible into low-volume music, an approach that is relatively successful. 

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