The life of a music reviewer is usually quite easy; all you’re normally asked to do is spin a disc and then pass comment on it. But occasionally something comes your way that really challenges you, surpassing the “Is this good/bad?” debate in favour of making you question the very nature of music. The late Louis Hardin’s work is a case in point.
Normally the mention of avant garde minimalist jazz is enough to make anyone dive for cover, but just a casual look into the life of Hardin (aka Moondog) is more than enough to pique interest. Blinded since an early age, he spent 20 years of his life living on the streets of New York City, busking on instruments he invented himself… and all the time dressed as a Viking.
Before you turn away with images in your head of drunken tramps blowing tunelessly into traffic cones, you should be assured that there is a certain method to this madness. The Viking Of Sixth Avenue’s influence has been far and wide. His work had been sampled and quoted by many, including our very own Mr Scruff.
As someone who literally lived on the streets, the sounds of the Big Apple play a vital part in Moondog’s music. The chorus of metropolitan hubbub was an important inspiration and the noise of trains, traffic and barking dogs accompany the tape-hiss to create an interesting and unique atmosphere. The home-made instruments form a primitive and unpredictable tribal rhythm through these 30 snippets of bizarre bite size compositions.
However, the nature of the archive material, and the fact that is a rarities/offcuts collection, makes this a little inaccessible for the casual listener. A lot of these tracks can sound a little similar after a while so it’s best to let this album wash over you and create its mood. There are certainly some stand-out moments, including a masterful monologue from Moondog himself and a fascinating tribute to the sounds of Broadway (The actual sounds that is – we’re not talking about musicals here!)
This is an album that really makes you work hard. The challenge is worth it, but it’s still very much a niche listen and not likely to make any converts other than those who already have a penchant for the eccentric. Whatever you make of this odd collection, the world’s a much richer place for something that makes you sit down and listen with such attention. Who knows? It make bring out a little bit of the Viking in you.