This is one of the most important hip-hop EPs in years. Rhode Island’s Bernard Dolan is the perfect hybrid of Buck 65 and Strange Famous boss Sage Francis and that is in full flight here. He is half artsy storyteller and half righteous political activist, and always with the fantastic, crunchy, cinematic beats the label is renowned for. Alias, Reanimator, and Isan all pitch in tune, among some surprising minimal folk that adds to the mood and variety immensely.
“The Skycycle Blues” puts you square in the grab-death-by-the-short-and-curlies, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants ego of the ninth wonder of the world, Evel Knievel. The live audience subject to Dolan’s reading doesn’t seem to know if it’s supposed to take it seriously, but there are no illusions here as they quickly find out. Bernard tells Evel’s whole story from fame and fortune and the true motivation behind challenging the limits of possibility to loss of health in old age, deathbed religious conversion, and the unavoidable failing of everyone close to him as payment for dreaming. Laying that over a sparse upright bass, piano, trumpet, cymbal roll, and electric piano all barely playing at the same time lends a City Lights basement beat poet vibe to the recording. “He was not a good man, but was a great man.” I hadn’t thought of him in years, and now he will never leave me. I bet most kids today have never heard of him, but they will google him if they cop this mini-masterpiece. It’s riveting.
Live Evel has seven whole tracks, equal to about half the tracklisting from his long-awaited debut full-length The Failure. The album is well worth your time, but this EP has a lot of the best parts from it. “The Crow on the Riddle” is a downtempo Tom Waits track with a drunk telling riddles to a computer. That one acts as a concept for the full record, with a man removed from society and only an inhuman voice to keep him company, but it’s the only taste you get here. Showing his spiritual side, “Joan of Arcadia” paints the martyred French savior as a sexually ecstatic warrior poet with a dildo made of Jesus’ cross, sluggishly motivated by a lagging, popping electronic beat. Dolan’s ability to get in the heads of his lyrical subjects is enchanting and otherworldly at all times. This makes Live Evel a work of art in the best sense of the term.
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