Kitchen Cynics: The Orra Loon (theactivelistener)

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Kitchen Cynics: Richard in Bedlam
Kitchen Cynics: The Orra Loon (theactivelistener)

Anyone coming new to Scottish singer-songwriter Alan Davidson who goes by the moniker Kitchen Cynics -- and my guess is that will be just about everyone -- will be astonished if they do a bit of reading and discover how prolific he has been.

And they may well ask themselves, how can someone who recorded many dozens of albums since the late Eighties (for a partial list see here) have gone past me?

Given the enormous size and scope of the back-catalogue this compilation through the agency of the excellent Active Listener blog is perhaps as useful a starting point as any into the strangely beguiling world of hushed folk, quiet songs which can be amusing narratives (The Place You Hid which owes a little to the eccentrically wonderful Ivor Cutler) or seem mysteriously ancient (Richard in Bedlam).

Davidson plays fascinating finger-picking guitar in sometimes unusual tunings but he's not averse to introducing a subtle blues filagree (Hughie Auld Has Gone). There are also embellishments from guests on cello, flute (on the gently psychedelic Flies), fiddle and sitar -- and an almost spectral and disembodied piano on The Wilhelmina Gabb -- but these are always in support of the hauntingly understated, beguiling songs.

Useful reference points are few -- the Incredible String Band at their most understated and least trippy on Now's The Time perhaps -- but you sense Davidson occupies his own rare space.

His sonic palette also sounds more and more broad on repeat plays (the instrumental Pressed Flowers possesses a disturbing but ambient quality) . . . and there are many repeat plays to be had with these 10 tracks.

If not for this introduction through The Active Listener I would have remained one of that huge majority who had never heard of Kitchen Cynics . . . and my life would have been the poorer for it.

A collection that seduces you in, turns preconceptions on their head and rewards time spent in contemplation of its many mysteries and wry humour. 

This album is available through Active Listener's bandcamp page here for the ludicruously cheap US$7 (or more). That's so cheap you can hardly refuse, and you probaby won't have heard much -- if anything -- like Kitchen Cynics before.

For more on the Active Listener and its releases see this interview with Nathan Ford, the brains and enthusiasm behind it.

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