CD Reviews

MIKE KENEALLY: Wing Beat Fantastic

With the weather turning weird and the weird turning pro I am happy to inform you of an alternative to soaring in a hot air balloon this Indian Summer and it’s called Wing Beat Fantastic, the 17th solo album by San Diego wunderkind Mike Keneally.

Or perhaps the sensation is more like Charlie Bucket riding in that great glass elevator over the rooftops of London… in lieu of the perfect metaphor Wing Beat Fantastic is an old-school 40-minute sonic splash into that subterranean lake on the edge of town, right before dusk (known in cinema parlance as the magic hour). Each time I hit the play button and dive back into its splendor I find this record’s charms to be nearly mystical. WBF establishes a tone and sustains it with all of the child-like wonder and masterful flair that has inspired me to declare repeatedly that Mike Keneally is a musical genius. His instinctive grasp of what makes a song work along with a Herculean ability to play a score of instruments makes comparisons to Stevie Wonder or (especially) Todd Rundgren extremely apt when discussing his all-around gifts as a musician, because the dude really can play anything. But he’s an astute enough producer to draft in collaborators when their tonal colors or style better serves the needs of a particular song (most notably percussionist Marco Minnemann). In a back catalog shimmering with rough diamonds and difficult-to-digest-jewels WBF is a masterpiece and I find myself wondering if Keneally would have ever made such an accessible musical statement were it not for the obvious but unlikely collaboration that resulted out of his long-time association with Andy Partridge, the primary steward of Britain’s woefully underappreciated XTC.

Two writing sessions at Partridge’s home studio yielded eight collaborations, covering quite the emotional range of material with melodies that are positively sublime, particularly on “Inglow” and “It’s Raining Here, Inside.” “You Kill Me” is filled with wry observations and the album’s title track makes me feel like I’m whirling through space without a tether, such is its propulsion and sense of proportion. I’m also struck by the album’s plaintive tone, exemplified by “That’s Why I Have No Name” and the emotional narrator in the poignantly desperate “Your House.” “Miracle Woman and Man” goes a long way to restoring the balance and the trip reaches a joyous climax in the album’s penultimate track “Bobeau”(featuring a superb guitar solo from Keneally and the awesome trombone textures of April West) before the balloon drifts back to terra firma on “Land.” Call it oceanic circulation or climate change, Wing Beat Fantastic is an invitation to fly regardless of the weather and should you not be afraid of heights I will see you in the clouds. Time to hit play again…

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