Review of An Afternoon in Austin by Susan Alcorn and Eugene Chadbourne, Boxholder Records,2002
For this record An Afternoon in Austin, or Country Music for Harmolodic Souls, Dr. Chadbourne and Mrs. Alcorn sat down in a friend’s living room to record a series of intimate duets that strongly reference country music, but at the same time letting them to explore their own artistic paths. The played result of this odd couple is a complex mix of free improvisation, free jazz, dissonance and free interpretations of songs by Merle Haggard, Mickey Newbury and Loretta Lynn (one of the initial ideas of our music doctor was a project with covers of Lynn and Sun Ra).
The Harmolodics is the scene of two pieces of extended improvisation, “Albourne” and “Sugene”. Two slow tracks, relaxing and evoking surreal images of green dusty sage, barbed wire and cowboy boots bleached by the sun and pale blue skies.
This musical marriage might seem strange and inconsistent, but just a couple of plays of this An Afternoon in Austin can easily suggest a logical, perhaps an inevitable combination of purpose and talents. If there is anyone on the planet able to produce an album that, conceptually, appeals to two fans’ categories so different from each other as lovers of free improvisation and those of country music (a tall order, let’s be honest), that man is Dr. Eugene Chadbourne. Alcorn, for her part, proves to be perfectly able to rise this challenge; she is an excellent musician, ables to weave between sweet nostalgic lines (as in 11 minutes of If We Make It Through December by Haggard, where the notes of her pedal steel guitar slowly fray and unravel in a strange dialogue of faltering melodies) or spectral resonances.
Both musicians prove to have a truly remarkable ear, Alcorn is very good to antcipate the twisted logic of Chadbourne’s acoustic guitar and banjo and the Doctor knows how to integrate himself with precision and imagination in the melodies of his partner. Despite the pedal steel and banjo’s heavy cultural baggage, this is a really fun record and it could not be different taking into account Dr. Chadbourne’s sense of humor. It ‘s true, their music brings in more abstract domains, yet neither Chadbourne or Alcorn play without ever disrespect to their sources: does humor belong to music?