RJ McKendree—

Released 2022 on Hand Of Glory
The Seth Man, May 2022ce
Will Twynham (aka Dimorphodons) has created an alternative reality in the form of sonic evidence of one RJ McKendree. McKendree, a reoccurring character and inspiration to others in VILLAGER (the brand new novel by author Tom Cox that is an altogether alluring collection of stories set in the past, present, and future of a West Country village, with McKendree one of its many players) is a native Californian musician who ambles in and around the environs of said village, leaving behind experiences, acquaintances, and impressions on others in the novel much like Twynham does on WALLFLOWER. Wistful, shoe gazing numbness acoustic wrapping up all surrounding Alexander Spence and Maitreya Kali (aka Craig Smith) emanations (°±) in a wilderness of tall grasses, mossy stepping stones, copses, pathways, wooden gates, through tall grasses and swarms of tiny wingedness, it pulsates quietly in a stunning display of stunning iridescence and shimmering, gauze-like feel. It registers with the same body temperature as Tim Buckley’s BLUE AFTERNOON (1969) as it maintains the same lustrous weave throughout.

Dartmoor distances from Watsonville, California create a world of its own heartaches and homesickness as it cleaves memories from its heavy heart as they fall weightlessly on the ground, WALLFLOWER begins with a gentle explosions of notes located in timbre somewhere west of a sitar guitar that leading into the slowest sung of songs, “Cow Of The Road.” McKendree’s muted vocals and splendid phrasing create waves of emotion that leave all words behind. So diffusive and beautiful, one is immediately entranced by it all until it craters into silence. A quiet psychedelic coda of hand percussion and recorder enters, then quietly drifts off.

Greeting the open road with an open heart, “Villager” begins with an acoustic strum akin to Incredible String Band from way back in the 1960s but now inset into an arrangement that swells, drifts off and then regains pace...much like the character of McKendree himself. “Bog Asphodel” follows, with shifting, echoed, dreamlike voicings of Skip Spence’s opening to “War In Peace” extended for a couple minutes with backing sympathetic to its introspective kaleidoscope. Suddenly, there is a major shift as drums crack open a slight return midway and into a druggy “I Am The Walrus” R. Starkey drum pattern only slowed further down. A swirling jumble of indistinct instrumentation, ringed in by harpsichord notes, continues in psychedelic slow dive that accurately illustrate a passage from VILLAGER (Cox, pg 55): “a zigzagging path down a landslip.”

In the West Country, a definite “beyond place” (Cox, pg 3) where terms define the place and time of its landscape arrives the Byrdisan tinged “Clapper Bridge.” A bridge comprised of large flat slabs of stone, here it is rendered like a drumless “Change Is Now” left to follow itself like a tailless kite and the reveries continue with “Penny Marshwort.” While guitar strums serve to shore up the reverberations of voice and underscore its melancholy, nothing can prepare one for the beautifully heart-wrenching coda. Serving as deeply held evidence of McKendree’s internal alienation, it starts to blur the lines of McKendree as character in novel and McKendree as a real musical spirit channeled by the expertise of Will Twynham. The psychedelic haze demonstrated here is different from the shoreline haze described in VILLAGER but with matching results: “...Everything went so hazy today I lost sight of where the water ended and the sky began.” (Cox, pg 56.)

Side two begins (much as it did on side two of the original LP) with the sparse and vibe-laden “Gods Of Mist, And Stone.” As multi-layered signals resound with pregnant pauses, muted chanting, echoed recollections, drummed accents, guitar lines hung like gossamer wings above spates of gnarled braches blown bare by moorland winds, McKendree’s gentle strums reverberate sympathetically throughout until you think: “Is this a dream I once had? Or one I’m currently having...or in?”

Making its way back to earth with great strength arrives “Little Meg.” With a solid strum of acoustic guitar, breathless vocals ringing and ever-building finger picking runs, these effortlessly bridge the song while ever-building skittering runs on the guitar beat down like autumn rain. The cyclical nature of McKendree’s conversation, forever interrupted but ever-regrouping at the crest of association, breaks and allows him one final freak out at the end.

With an interior melancholy like that of acoustic Anthony Phillips on “Stagnation” meets Maitreya Kali on the corner of Dino Valenti's 1968 solo album arrives “Mrs Nicholas.” Just voice, acoustic finger picking, echo and vibe that captures McKendree’s lackadaisically sad “stumble and fall” through life as he briefly whistles the song down in the coda. It’s stunning.

A brief hymnal of clang, “Marsh Pennywort” shimmers quietly as ghostly, piano-like guitar notes are struck in a forgotten upstairs bedroom. Following this is the absolute outlier of the album, “Sad Portrait Of A Dog.” Apparently, it was one that McKendree himself deemed inferior. It’s a full band electric raga rave up with crashing drums and was probably recorded at the ill-advised behest of the producer as possible hit material but all is forgiven with the return to its agrarian-tempered introspection with the beautiful album closer, “Sea Cabbage.” Opening with a quick finger picking passage that always hints at the opening phrasing of America’s “Ventura Highway,” it sallies forth effervescently and lively across the moorscape, capping off an album that already had me re-reading VILLAGER a second time.

And remember: Let Norman Steal Your Thyme.

Purchase RJ McKendree's album here

Purchase Tom Cox's novel here