Although some people definitely thought differently, I was one of those who was a little bit disappointed in the last Beta Band release (Hot Shots 2). While I highly enjoyed the crazy (and sometimes downright sloppy) work on their first two discs, there was something about that third disc that felt a little too prepackaged and sterile. Although I enjoyed the group, one thing I wasn't aware of was that one Gordon Anderson was a member through the release of their Three EPs album, and that he'd been the one responsible for some of my favorite tracks on the disc ("B + A," "Dry The Rain," "Dogs Got A Bone"). He even helped on a track on their Self-Titled (which was their true debut).
After suffering some severe problems with mental illness, Anderson left the band and just took some time to get things straight for awhile. Concubine Rice is his debut release, and after knowing all of the above, it doesn't sound too far off from what one might expect. At times, it resembles the ramshackle, warm sounds of the early Beta Band, yet at other times it is completely different than what you'd expect. Although the songs on the CD are seperated into only 13 tracks of data, there are actually something like 25 different songs within the nearly 60 minutes of the release. It's a wildly varying affair, going from short instrumentals to experimental pop, and all kinds of other styles.
"Dad's Blue Danube" opens the disc with an odd mixture of electronics and accordian before "Concubine Rice" arrives and sounds like a hip-hoppity track that the Beta Band might have done in their early days, mixing a loping beat with warm vocals and even animal samples. Showing two completely different sides again, "Sally Bradwell" rocks out with a hummable melody and lyrics while "Been So Long" and "Heaven Come Down" follow it up with reflective piano/vocal pieces. Then again, things get severely goofy with tracks like "Ancient Hubbard Cow Of Bubbletoop" and "Melonbeard."
Although he's released a couple CD-R only discs and some singles on Bad Jazz, Concubine Rice feels like a document of someone wrestling with many different conflicting emotions and trying valiantly to get them all out (which the disc does a pretty good job of). At times it's funny, and at other times it's melancholy, it has a wide scope of sound and will honestly appeal to everyone from fans of early Beta Band to those who like work of the Elephant Six collective or even the wackier stuff by the Beatles (true!). Most of the disc is pretty lo-fidelity in terms of recording values (plenty of tape hiss), but there are a lot of ideas thrown out, more of which stick than not. The last track on the disc runs almost 10 minutes and literally feels like about 15 different tracks that didn't quite make the cut individually, but have been pasted into a bizarre hodgepodge that pretty much echoes the rest of the album. Not everything works on the disc, but part of the joy is just hearing all the ideas bouncing around.