David Thomas and the Pale Orchestra
Mirror Man, Act 1: Jack and the General
I’ve always felt that some of the greatest albums released are those that I’ll probably never get to the bottom of. Mirror Man is such an album. I thought that David Thomas had really created something new and original with his Pale Boys concept when it included only himself, Andy Diagram, and Keith Moliné. Now, with Mirror Man , Thomas has actually improved upon the concept with this live performance of his new, expanded ensemble.
Mirror Man is a series of both poetic and straightforward “testimonials” delivered by different members of an assembled cast. It comprises of a sort of abstract play that Thomas has pieced together using Pere Ubu, solo, and recent Pale Boys material, as well as a handful of compositions contributed by the diverse members of the orchestra. The centerpiece is a long poem, “Mirror Man Speaks,” which is intermittently recited throughout the performance by Beat-influenced poet, Bob Holman. Holman’s delivery sounds distant and crackly, as if he is part of a broadcast being picked up by an old short-wave radio. The other orchestra members sound more up front and intimate, especially David Thomas, who really knows how to get inside your head.
The Mirror Man concept revolves around David Thomas’ fascination with the language of geography and how it can mirror who we are. Many of the monologues and songs are geographical descriptions of places in the present time or nostalgic musings on what places were like in the past. The backing music is led by the effects-drenched calm and chaos of Moliné’s midi-guitar and Diagram’s infinitely reverbed trumpet. An undeniable treat is the inclusion of the little-known London singer, Jane Bom-Bane, who brings vocal elegance to the cabaret folk of “Montana,” a song that Kurt Weill would have been proud of. Also of note is the addition of acclaimed British folk artist Linda Thompson who reaches near Patti Smith-like intensity on “Over the Moon.” Particularly haunting is her overlapping exchange with Thomas on “Bus Called Happiness.” The Mirror Man performance ends with “Weird Cornfields,” in which cornfields represent the world closing in from all sides. Fans of challenging new music should get a hold of this masterpiece as soon as possible.
Thirsty Ear Recordings, 274 Madison Ave., Suite 804, New York, NY 10016; http://www.thirstyear.com