The Freak of Araby CD - Drag City

Ex-Sun City Girls guitarist Sir Richard Bishop, following up on a string of excellent primarily solo acoustic outings, has produced an electric guitar and band homage to the late Egyptian actor, film-scorer and guitarist Omar Khorshid. Although few Americans will be familiar with Khorshid, in the seventies, prior to his untimely death under questionable circumstances, he was a triple threat in the world of Middle Eastern pop culture, most famously as a guitarist. On The Freak of Araby, Bishop has labored hard at capturing the sound of that pop culture, which will sound simultaneously exotic and familiar to Western ears, combining as it does traditional Middle Eastern themes with Western pop techniques for results which are often inspired brilliance, if occasionally chuckle-inducing. Clashes of culture like this have intrigued Bishop for years, both in his work with Sun City Girls and, notably, in the Radio series of releases on Sublime Frequencies, the label he owns.

The Freak of Araby is as close as Bishop has come to reviving the spirit of the Girls, especially in the disc's final two cuts. "Sidi Mansour" is a traditional tune that opens with hand drums and Bishop's hypomanic guitar runs, at times recalling the surf antics of Dick Dale, then descends into a haunted experimental realm of studio effects. The Bishop-penned closer, "Blood-Stained Sands," comes off all Master Musicians of Joujouka, benefitting from Rasheed Al-Qahira's free-form work on Moroccan chanters. But the best track here is the first, "Taqasim for Omar," featuring just Bishop and his deeply echoed guitar. By the way, a taqasim is a semi-formalized improvisational interpretation of a composer's written work, and appropriately there is much more of Bishop, jumping at whim from East to West, than Khorshid on the cut. On the remaining tracks, though, Bishop's guitar does sound not at all unlike the work of Khorshid himself.

By Michael Meade



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