AMN Reviews: Jack O’ The Clock – Repetitions of the Old City – II (2018; Bandcamp)

Northern California’s Jack O’ The Clock is back once more for the follow-on release to 2016’s Repetitions of the Old City – I. Not unlike that effort (as well as much of the group’s previous works), this album combines lyrically-driven melancholy folk with tightly-orchestrated prog rock and touches of a handful of other styles.

The breadth of their approach is illustrated by the instrumentation, with Damon Waitkus on lead vocals, guitars, hammer dulcimers, and various other stringed instruments, as well as keyboards, flute, and percussion. Emily Packard plays violin and viola while Kate McLoughlin is on bassoon and vocals. The rhythm section consists of Jason Hoopes on bass and Jordan Glenn on drums and percussion (both of the Fred Frith Trio). This, the core of the band for the last several years, is joined by Thea Kelley helping out on vocals and Ivor Holloway with tenor saxophone and clarinet. Other collaborators on one track or another play pipe organ, trumpet, piano, and samples.

Thematically, Repetitions of the Old City – II is similar to that of its predecessor and 2013’s All My Friends. Waitkus’s poetic lyrics evoke what could only be described as weird Americana – explorations of disturbing sides of our national psyche. After a decade of albums, it has become abundantly clear that these stories are a key part of Jack O’ The Clock’s music and responsible for at least half of the aforementioned feel. They go beyond the literal but remain grounded in and describe a working-class earthiness…in decline. Nonetheless, three of the eleven tracks are instrumental, another area where the group shines.

But the compositional and instrumental aspects are ultimately inseparable from these texts, as each strengthens and reinforces the other.  As just one example, the nearly-fourteen-minute Miracle Car Wash, 1978 begins with a bluesy dulcimer / bassoon / clarinet theme that evolves into the backing rhythm for vocals (“I saw a picture and I thought of you / and the gloomy Christ on your bedroom door / a clown sits in a giant swing / in the shadows high above the forest floor / The same tempera blare / the same tenebrous eyes that dogged your little friends around the room”).  After several verses in line with the above comes a long contrapuntal interlude featuring electric and acoustic guitar, bass, drums, bassoon, clarinet, and violin.  It demonstrates the ease at which the group can handle complex lines both aggressive and delicate. This leads to a more straightforward rhythm with accentuations from the reed and stringed instruments, punctuated by car horns.  Around the ten-minute mark a pseudo-orchestral break leads to the final verse (“I was alive when that blizzard hit / I don’t remember but I’ve seen the super-8s / People asphyxiating in their cars / and there was martial law in parts of some Northeastern states / And there’s Miracle Car Wash, and you and your friends / are making high-speed angels in the road”).

Another outstanding release from Waitkus and company.

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