[Reviewed by Peter Marks]
I’ll be honest here, I’d never heard a harmonica played in this way before. Decades slip by as First composes, within their matrices you can hear and even at times feel what he’s documenting.
Suddenly we’re there.
The low hanging smoke after two sides have blown each other to bits accompanied by the shards of recognizable melodies which litter the battlefield. Wherever you look there are no victors to be seen, only survivors. With each passing engagement, those who endure become more grizzled; steely eyes dart this way and that, cynicism is the order of the day. But when all is said and done, the dead cleared and the wounded safely muzzled by cotton bandages this sort of work may well have been what was played around the campfires.
If you listen closely it’ll become quite clear that First is not attempting to make any sort of statement, it is all about exploring the full range of the harp and if some particular progression happens to pop into his head… who is to say it wasn’t just floating about in the ether or churning slowly in the depths of his subconscious. What he comes up with sometimes sounds like a dying rattlesnake being ground under the heel of some nameless boot. Then there are the more gargantuan leaps he makes between the keys; it is as though he’s using the harmonica to punch holes in the very fabric of music theory.
Trust me, if there’s a methodology being employed it’s a random one. In his liner notes, First elaborates on the various types of mouth organs that are out there. Did you know an entire school of tuning had been cast aside and that finding the scales you’re after will involve owning several of these little beasts? Oh, and for you ‘collector’ types out there basking in the ego extensions you’ve shucked out hundreds if not thousands for… no more than $50 is required to own quality. Who knew the harmonica was so punk rock?
Without hesitation, he explores a sorely neglected field of creativity wherein the wrong notes turn out to be precisely the right choice. Perhaps this is the one underlying message First has with his newest volume: what appears to be the path of least resistance can turn out to be nettlesome, beset on all sides by impediments. When he finally does complete this four album odyssey it will be a bittersweet achievement, one which I have no doubt will become more and more intrinsic to any underground aficionado’s collection as the years go by.
David First – Same Animal Different Cages Volume 3, Civil War Songs