Eighth Blackbird, Lonely Motel: Music from Slide

John Schaefer

By John Schaefer

on 10.11.11 in Reviews

“Lonely Motel” is the musical portion of Slide, a music/theater piece that once again combines the considerable talents of American composer and electric guitarist Steven Mackey with the redoubtable singer/actor/composer/director Rinde Eckert. The two have worked together previously on “Ravenshead,” a psycho-monodrama featuring Eckert and the Paul Dresher Ensemble; for this piece, they join forces with the virtuoso new music ensemble Eighth Blackbird. Telling the story of a research psychologist whose fiancee has left him, Mackey and Eckert have created a poignant, convincing tale of self-deception, isolation and the uncertain nature of human perception. (The original music/theater piece tells of the psychologist’s experiments in showing his subjects hazy, almost Rorshach-like images and then finding ways to challenge their perceptions when they say what it is they see.)

An unconventional song-cycle combining the talents of Steven Mackey and Rinde Eckert

Eighth Blackbird gives its usual committed, incisive performance, aided and abetted by Mackey’s electric guitar. The musical language touches on everything from Renaissance music to contemporary rock, but never resorts to quotes or collage; the opening “Slide of Dog,” for example, uses slide guitar and touches of percussion that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Keystone Kops soundtrack to back a Rinde Eckert text that suggests what you see may not be what it appears. Similarly, Mackey’s often kaleidoscopic score also refuses to be easily pinned down. The vocal writing, often declamatory, lapses into moments of reflective beauty {“Fog,” with its sinuous electric guitar solo) or soaring emotion (“Running Dog 2″). Lonely Motel also finishes strong: From the nocturnal “Processional” through the gamelan-chiming of “Ghosts,” this unconventional song-cycle takes us on a tour of psychic fun-house mirrors before leaving us with the quiet, questioning title track — an ending, but not necessarily a conclusion.