The Red Krayola



    At first, Jim O’Rourke’s production job on 1999’s Fingerpainting did not go over well with the Red Krayola and its mercurial leader, Mayo Thompson. Although details are vague, we can assume that Thompson, having total control and essentially being Red Krayola, did not like someone else’s stamp on the work. So the record came out in Thompson’s version.


    Apparently, though, he had a chance to listen again to O’Rourke’s mix and
    dug it, and so behold Fingerpointing. There isn’t much difference, but then again, with any Red Krayola record, the differences between tracks, never mind releases, can be subtle. Here again we have five tracks, ranging in time from somewhere near traditional to something well over thirty minutes, and all are under the usual — now mythical — “freeform freakout” umbrella. The first track is iconic: a half-hour droning, muted raga, driven by a lonesome viola, that threatens to fall apart yet remains stable and hypnotic even in its improvisational noise.


    The Red Krayola have been following this pattern of open-ended pieces that sometimes drift into recognizable song structures, then out into a free-jazz/psychedelic hybrid, ever since their debut, in 1967. Thompson has been the one constant, and this release features Frederick Barthelme, George Hurley and others who have been mainstays in the band since the early ’90s. They do their best to provide rhythm and form when it is needed on and to step aside when the drones take on their own life. The Red Krayola have often been caretakers of sound rather than directors of it.


    O’Rourke’s mix for Fingerpointing obviously sounded different to Mayo Thompson than 1999’s Fingerpainting, but it’s difficult to understand the subtleties. The artist knows best, though, and half the fun is listening to both records and trying to hear what Thompson heard.