Review of The Balky Mule's album 'The Length Of The Rail'.
The Length Of The Rail is long awaited second album from Sam Jones under the alias of The Balky Mule. Jones has recently played in Bristol based bands such as Crescent, Movietone, Flying Saucer Attack, Minotaur shock and The Third Eye Foundation until recently relocating to Melbourne Australia. You music aficionados out there may have heard of the Balky Mule before as it was a song by the old blues legend, Blind Lemon Jefferson! Not sure if that's the inspiration for the name or if it's just the reference to the stubborn unmoving mule? Should I get to interview him, I shall ask! It's been eight years since his first release and The Balky Mule returns with the music he has created during that time. He's a self recorded DIY multi instrumentalist, bit of a mouthful, who uses old and discontinued hardware which adds tenfold to his charm. The term DIY or DIY culture is pretty much that, a Do It Yourself mentality, non mainstream, which doesn't rely on expensive studios or bells and whistles equipment. DIY is about musicians using what they can get their mitts on to create their music, and is more closely linked to the origins of Independent music and home recording artists of yesteryear and the results can sound as polished and as epic as those recorded in million dollar studios, but unlike the bells and whistle offerings, the charisma is in its uniqueness.
The Length Of The Rail has a depth to it that draws you in. The layers of the sounds used in Dust Bath Birds the opening track are creative and natural like those of Beruit's Nantes, with The Beatles Blackbird type bird coo's that could kid a cat from nine yards that something tasty approaches thrown in for good measure! Instantly it is clear that the length of the rail is a tapestry album displaying intricately positioned snippets of sounds and prose. Continuing to set the tone is a simple song Jisabone with a vibe comparable to one of those unfinished Love with Arthur Lee tracks, version eight on its way to the final version, version sixteen. A Moth has a simple instrumental feeling placing lyrics for pure story telling, like Sufjan Stevens or Lenard Cohen that allows the listener to conjure up imagery in a floaty daze. There are moments similar to snippets of Tunng like the rolling backgrounds on Blinking, Illuminated Numbers and the title track the length of the rail. Although The Balky Mule still remains unique sounding. Jones is very delicate with his placing of the electronic against the acoustic like the well placed sound processing against really natural guitar strings on Instead or Paper crane. He uses programmed loops with subtle glitches, blips and drips to generate atmosphere, but never allowing them to be too dominant. The comparisons to Syd Barrett are clear listening to Chalk with its quirky lyrical commentary. Jones is a singer noticeably uncomfortable with the uniquely beautiful story teller tone he possesses. Chalk also has the off the wall, acid trip clashing and grating percussion, some lovely reversed recording loops to summon up a little more crazy, all familiar to those on Pink Floyds Pipers at the Gates of the Dawn. Or Barrett's solo offering The MadCap Laughs, but I don't suppose Jones painted himself into a corner varnishing his room like Barrett did during his albums conception, well I hope not anyway! Knowing that Jones is an industrious multi instrumentalist I expected to hear lots of sounds and samples and generally lots of little delicate pieces of melody, Tell me something sweet is the final and most delicate track on the album giving you a sense of nostalgia reminiscent of a kiss on a childhood bump. I have to say, I got the warm and fuzzies from the first listen and then every listen thereafter something new springs out at you.
The Length Of The Rail is fresh, interesting and inspirational for all DIY musicians out there, foraging for instruments from bargain bins and ebay. Its true testament to a musician when anything can be an instrument and instruments can also become something else. Jones is gifting in also knowing how to tweak and tinker to record them tool! To the length of the rail should be enjoyed by music lovers for its ambitiousness as well as purely for its beauty. What a breath of fresh air!