The Mindful Bard – The Greatest Show on Mars

Weird America at its Beautiful Barnum-and-Bailey Best

Album: The Greatest Show on Mars

Artist: Clothesline Revival

“Never known to have performed before any live audiences on Earth, Clothesline Revival received an exclusive invitation to join an interplanetary circus on a mission to become the first musicians from Earth to entertain Martian colonists.”
– from Clothesline Revival’s official website

“I don’t know where I’m being taken. I don’t know what I’ll find, beyond the earth and sky. But I’m not afraid to go.”
– from The Man Who Wasn?t There

Imagine You’re one of the new Martian colonists. A childhood dream of adventure, or perhaps a longing to escape the madness of earth, has compelled you to set up homesteading on the Red Planet. Now imagine that after living there for a few heady months, during which you’ve learned nearly all you need to know about how to be a successful interplanetary pioneer, you start to experience excruciating boredom and loneliness?and That’s when the circus comes to town.

It’s a good old-fashioned Barnum and Bailey-type show but with a host of characters from American rural folk and pop culture, like The Dark Man, Little Maggie, Wildwood Flower, The Revenuer, Ghost Riders in the Sky, UFO?s, space aliens, and The Old Time Bible-Thumping Salvation Show Preacher.

This is the premise that Clothesline Revival has set up presenting yet another fantastic set of tracks made up of archived field recordings of traditional tunes (many gathered by the famous Alan Lomax) and interviews interspersed with acoustic instruments in-studio, all composed and arranged by the inimitable Conrad Praetzel, the genius behind Clothesline Revival and one of my very favourite artists (witness an earlier recommendation and an interview).

The circus theme coupled with the outer space mission is a stroke of genius; it underlines the fact that the 1950’s B movie era, which included loads of low budget sci-fi, coincided with a zenith in American folk and pop music.

The fascination with UFO’s was an expression of frustrated spirituality; a longing for a better world (with a simultaneous fear of nuclear war and a paranoia toward alien races) compelled North Americans to look to the skies and, as we now see coming to fruition today, to see other planets as future real estate.

This premise also allows Clothesline Revival to bring the best of American music history into outer space, so to speak, and no one is better qualified to do this, both artistically and technologically, than Conrad Praetzel.

I’m no expert, but I’ve listened to enough studio projects like this to know that even with a team of the best technicians and musicians It’s just not easy to layer live studio recordings over field recordings and make it sound all-of-a-piece. Somehow Conrad Praetzel?who selects the traditional archive material, arranges the recordings, and plays most of the live instruments on the tracks?manages to make the blend seamless and somehow enhances the primitive essence of the archive material. All while granting the music an ecstatic transcendent quality.

Here are a few high points:

“Move Up” was recorded by Alan Lomax at bluesman Fred McDowell’s home in Mississippi in 1959. The singers were never identified, but they sound a bit like the Blind Boys of Alabama, and their song is a tremendous positive motivator for saints and sinners alike.

“No Have No Spot” stars an 80-year-old southern preacher giving the kind of hellfire-and-brimstone sermon That’s still a fixture of Bible radio. His laundry metaphors are to die for.

“A Mysterious Light” features a wonderfully odd couple?a southern geezer describing an alien sighting to a female interviewer whose voice strangely swoons and sighs at every phrase.

“Leather Britches” just sounds wonderful.

The Greatest Show on Mars manifests five of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for music well worth a listen.

– It’s authentic, original, and delightful.
– It provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavor.
– It inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation.
– It makes me want to be a better artist.
– It makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomena, making living a unique opportunity.