[10 April 2007]
This second solo album of loosely constructed, fragile psychedelic folk from the Gris Gris frontman evokes Mad Syd, Tyrannosaurus Rex and, especially, Satanic Majesties-era Stones. First cut, “Song from Limestone County” takes its time getting going, with two minutes of noise and samples to weed out the amateurs. Still, out of this haze and self-indulgence, an echo-ey gorgeous melody emerges, paced by hand-slapped drums and embellished with sitar-ish drones. Likewise “Caroline and the Orange Tree” takes shape only after an extended bout of flute/organ/percussion freakery, its lovely eastern-twanging verse gently shouldering its way out of chaos. Ashley won’t be hemmed in with freak folk conventions, though. He borrows Asian melodies for the female-sung “Sailing with Bobby” and Jagger-esque blues and fluttery operatic background vocals in slow-waltzing “Pretty Belladonna.” “Fisher King” is maybe the most arresting tune on the disc, and the most surprising, with its hard soul piano and skittery, jazz-nodding drum beats. Lyrics are laced with drug references (for instance, “Pick up your spoon/Cook up your breakfast,” is probably not about making oatmeal), but then the whole 1960s fabric of this record is soaked and caked with mind-altering substances. A little unfocused but full of visionary moments, Painted Garden is a trip and a half… but a good one.