Album: Eric Mingus

Too Many Bullets ... Not Enough Soul, Some Records

Andy Gill
Wednesday 13 November 2013 02:58
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From Adam Cohen and Rufus Wainwright to Jeff Buckley and a brace of Lennons, rock has been overrun in recent years by a horde of second-generation second-raters, most of them lacking their father's distinction and drive. Not so Eric Mingus: like his late father Charles, he wields the bass with intelligence and authority, striving to reinvigorate his chosen genre through restless forays into other areas.

But while his dad understandably casts a huge and imposing shadow over his work – the title of his 1998 debut Um... Er... Uh... was a droll, self-deprecating echo of his father's classic Mingus Ah Um – Eric is shrewd enough to realise the limits of that influence. "Truth is, you will never come strolling through the back door of some nameless bar during my gig," he notes in "Goodbye Pork Pie", a genuinely moving and insightful poem for his father; "truth is, I won't be whole until my hand falls free of yours." With the diverse and stylish Too Many Bullets... Not Enough Soul, that process is virtually complete: aesthetically daring and emotionally mature, it's the work of a fully formed artist with ambitious ideas of his own.

A key factor in the album's success is Mingus's new band, particularly the contributions from the celebrated New York avant-rock guitarist/ composer Elliott Sharp, who produces, programmes and plays guitar, alto sax and "xtronics" (whatever they are). Whether scattering glass-like shards of guitar notes across the dark, churning funk-jazz of "The Pill" or slashing the Beefheartian blues of "Roll with the Demons" with razor-edged slide guitar, Sharp invariably lives up to his name, adding depth and intrigue to Mingus's ideas. For his part, Mingus, who studied voice at Berklee, brings an impressive command of vocal strategies to the material, humming and keening layers of wordless harmonies – like Bobby McFerrin doing an old prison moan – on the a cappella section of "Take a Look at Yourself" and extemporising with the assurance of a blues or gospel giant on "All I Ever Wanted", a seven-minute ambient-soul piece in which the organ, guitar, brushed snare and horn coalesce with the subtle power of Astral Weeks.

Mingus's lyrical concerns, meanwhile, mark him out as the heir to conscious-soul poets such as Gil Scott-Heron, Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield, with bitter, literate commentaries on things such as the chemical cosh ("The Pill"), gun culture (the title track) and "life in the electronic labyrinth" (the sardonic "Wondrous"). "We have become masters of distraction," he observes in the latter, lamenting the hours "lost, lost, lost" slumped in front of the box. With Too Many Bullets..., he offers his own antidote, an album that both entertains and engages on any number of levels.

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