Tim Harrington rebounds with a remarkable record By Allen Czelusniak
Guitarist Tim Harrington was the lost master of the Masters of Reality. Just when that band had a shot at-giving the rest of the world a taste of Salt City rock, Harrington and the band's other driving force, Chris Goss, parted ways. Goss kept the Masters of Reality name and record deal, and enlisted former Cream drummer Ginger Baker.
Since then, he's kicked around Syracuse and Los Angeles.
Although his post-Masters ensembles, the Bogeymen and Spookdaddy, could both ride a groove, neither fulfilled the promise of the early Masters material. Mired in redundant riffrock, Harrington could have become another Syracuse almost-made-it.
Almost no more, artistically speaking. Embracing his muse more completely than at any other point in his career, Harrington has produced his finest work to date: Master Frequency and His Deepness, issued last month on the internationally distributed California label Triple XXX Records.
The levels to which Harrington's depths sink and rise give the record an atypical sound by pop Standards. In these days where most bands adopt a packaged gleam to match an homogenized, MTV-friendly sound, Harrington eschews those restrictive trappings. Master Frequency and His Deepness Stretches the notion of what populär music is, and can be. No, it's not Electric Ladyland nor another Sgt. Pepper's, but it contains elements of both, including superior guitar work and a psychedelic edge, both of which are used tastefully as opposed to excessively.
But the real virtue of this work exists in the distinctive noisy tone poems that Harrington creates, and the craftsmanlike arrangements in which they're framed. This is not a record churning with overblown waves of guitars nor a muddled bass bottom. Instead, Harrington opts for clarity.
That sonic clearness crystallizes on the third track, "No Slaves," when a swirling e,cho blows away the heaviness of the opening two tracks and majority of Harrington's previous work. On "No Slaves," he uncovers a sonic ground closer to the space the Beatles occupied at the end of Revolver, warm, psychedelic and ethereal.
From there, the trip continues on "Material Outcast." Reminiscent of the dark jazz of Tom Waits' Rain Dogs, Harrington employs choppy, odd percussion, squawky guitar and a stand-up bass line to accompany his beatnik-style lyrics. The sly, dreamy "Outcast" gives way to a sonic orgy that would win nods of approval from slacker noise merchants such as Buffalo's Mercury Rev and Norm Syracuse's Wallmen. "Backward Prayer," built upon a terraced percussion sound, features bells and other assorted clanging metal objects laying the foundation, as various whistles and electronic hisses scurry and shimmy above. "Prayer" culminates with a rat-a-tat conga and recorder whistle finish suitable for a baptismal ceremony in the effluent of the modern, industrial jungle.
Throughout his career, Harrington has embraced a darker side in music. Not to the point of having a pentagram branded on his forehead or anything, just an edge that might give Tipper Gore, Jerry Falwell or Newt Gingrich a sound bite now and then. The darkest lyrical offering here is "Pet Theory," where Harrington shoves a nine-inch nail through the mild-mannered with the opening lyric, "I want to be ridden by Christ like a cross." The accompanying swirl of Synthesizer noises and voice bring the song an eerie, haunting atmosphere, enhancing the dark motif.
"Grey Skies" rises out of the darkness of "Pet Theory." Sandwiched between a Mideastern-styled string introduction and coda, Harrington brings back his trademark buzzy guitar sound, somewhere between Blue Cheer and the MC5. "Corning on Again" adds a sitar, giving the track a Beatles/Pink Floyd flavor.
If anything subtracts from the sum of this work, Harrington's vocals would supply the red ink. His range, vocal quality and phrasing are distinctive, but thin, recalling the honky twang of Bob Dylan, Tom Petty or Neil Young, all emotive singers who will never give Pavarotti a lesson. But the vocals are just one small part of His Deepness' bigger picture. Although it's no rock opera per se, a unifying thread runs through the disc all the way to the surprise bonus track, "29."
Not all of the credit for Master Frequency and His Deepness belongs to Harrington. Of particular note is Gary Dobbins, who programmed the drum machine loops throughout, added the recorder to "Backward Prayer" and played drums on "Corning on Again." Fans of the Los Angeles-based Mentors may want to check out the guitar work from Sickie Wifebeater (yes, that is \usprofessional name) on "No Slaves." And Syracuse music fans will appreciate the blues-hardened bottom delivered by bassist Jack Holton and drummer Fred Carr on the opening cut, "Signify."
Part of the reason this record has such distinctly different sounding material conies from the fact it was recorded at three separate Studios: Acq-Rok and Eastwind locally, and Chez Ray in LA.
The tracks recorded on the West Coast have a more experimental sound than their Hast Coast counterparts, which are more in the vein of Harrington's Bogeymen and Spookdaddy work, only better.
Master Frequency and His Deepness is just one part of the Harrington re-emergence. This coming summer, his fans can check out record störe bins for Shinola, being released on the Masters of Reality's old label, Delicious Vinyl. According to Harrington (who was nominated last week for a Sammy in the songwriter category), Shinola promises to be a more accessible, traditional pop-rock kind of album. Until then, Master Frequency and His Deepness will astound listeners with the depth of Harrington's creativity.