Living on the wrong side of The Pond, it is highly unlikely I will ever get to see the thoroughly beguiling modern skewed Americana construct who trade under the unlikely name of Jack O’The Clock cast their musical spells from a stage. This disappointment is now at least partly offset by a live album from musical wizard Damon Waitkus’ outfit, entitled Witness, now playing on my stereo.
Jack O’The Clock’s studio albums are intricate works benefitting from layered production, but here, the songs are stripped bare and opened up for close inspection. Often grouped together to form song suites, a surprisingly feral ferocity is revealed towards the end of Slow March/Schlitzie, Last of the Aztecs, Lodges An Objection in the Order of Things, contrasting nicely with the airy folksiness of the opening of .22, or Denny Takes One For the Team/I Am So Glad to Meet You. This is but one example of the imagination of Waitkus and his fellow musicians on a 67-minute long trip into a surreal version of Americana that sounds like no-one else.
Recorded at the Columbia City Theater in Seattle in 2017, where the band were playing as part of the line-up of the enticingly eclectic SeaProg festival, Jack O’The Clock played material from across their entire career, the original quintet performing apparently for the last time together.
All the best bands have a female bassoon player, and this one is no different, Kate McLoughlin but one stream of the five that meet at the confluence of a fluid union of musical imagination and intuitive interplay. Sometimes they sound more like an alternative folk chamber orchestra, especially on Guru On the Road/The Blizzard/Ten Fingers, a melding of tracks from albums six (the only track here from their latest, Repetitions of the Old City II) and four (Night Loops), with the mysterious The Blizzard acting as the glue in between. Jason Hoopes’ funky (possibly fretless?) bass gets quite slinky and aroused towards the end of this mini-epic.
The audience draw breath during the following Rehearsing the Long Walk Home, the reflective and atmospheric final number from the fabulous Night Loops album. We then go back an album for The Pilot, a delicate but slowly rising arrangement from All My Friends, an album I don’t have, but probably need.
The more exotic musical ephemera of their studio works are left in the woodshed, and the band use a more traditional array of instruments for this live outing (see line up below), but that does not hold them back in the slightest. The rhythm section in particular shines on this album, which is a perfect introduction for the uninitiated.
The three songs/suites briefly described are typical of the musical and emotional depth of Jack O’The Clock, a band that deserve far wider exposure, Although they may well be a group who would lose what makes them special if they came to the attention of the mainstream, which would be a shame.
This band are so good at what they do, which is at once quirky, accessible, and occasionally quite odd, that they have turned into something of a personal cause of mine over the years. I first became aware of them while writing for DPRP seven or so years ago, when a reviewer sent me his copy of second album How Are We Doing, And Who Will Tell Us?, claiming “I’ll never listen to that again”. It was his loss! Everything they have done since has been otherworldly and occasionally sublime, and I have reviewed a fair proportion of it. Sadly, the name Jack O’The Clock is still more than likely to be greeted with a blank stare than a nod of mutual appreciation, at least over this side of the Atlantic. As we know, there is no justice in this mad world. You can put that right by giving this a listen, and jumping into their back catalogue over on Bandcamp. You will not be disappointed!
01. Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence/Blue Tail Fly (7:23)
02. The Old Man and the Table Saw (10:17)
03. Come Back Tomorrow (7:01)
04. Guru On the Road/The Blizzard/Ten Fingers (13:07)
05. Rehearsing the Long Walk Home (5:37)
06. The Pilot (4:42)
07. Salt Moon (3:02)
08. Slow March/Schlitzie, Last of the Aztecs, Lodges An Objection in the Order of Things (6:27)
09. .22, or Denny Takes One For the Team/I Am So Glad to Meet You (8:52)
Total Time – 66:54
Damon Waitkus – Vocals, Guitar, Piccolo Guitar, Hammer Dulcimer
Emily Packard – Violin
Kate McLoughlin – Bassoon, Vocals, Recorder
Jason Hoopes – Bass, Vocals
Jordan Glenn – Drums, Vibraphone, Accordion
Record Label: Geomancy Records
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 3rd October 2019