8 Mar 2013
Chris Sherman "Sandalwood Haze" Review
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
Sky Picnic have been navigating their way through the murky depths of Floydian psychedelic space-rock for a few years now, with increasing dividends over the last few years with two excellent LPs, "Farther In This Fairytale" (reviewed here) and "Paint Me a Dream" (you guessed it, here).
What then to expect from the more sparse offerings that a solo offshoot project would presumably entail? Especially from someone who seems to be such a dominant force in their dayjob band - surely there's the potential here for this to just sound like a bunch of Sky Picnic demos?
Well doubters, no need to worry on that count. "Sandalwood Haze", despite the almost constant presence of Sherman's very distinctive set of pipes, is a very different beast indeed, and doesn't suffer from the samey one dimensional nature one sometimes finds in solo recordings. The key to this is Sherman's mastery of a number of instruments, making this a much more varied selection of songs than you'd expect, especially considering the absence of any form of rhythm section for the most part.
Opener "Time Must Have Stopped" is the most straightforward track here, and shows Sherman's much hinted at Donovan influence more strongly than anything we've heard from him yet - a gentle psychedelic folk song with a strong melody, and a graceful sitar accompaniment weaving in and out. Don couldn't have done it better himself (and hasn't for quite some time, sadly).
The concise "Swirling Thoughts" admittedly starts off sounding a little demoish, but before you've had time to register this fact properly, it's lifted by a gentle tabla beat and some of the most glorious mellotron you're likely to hear this year - mellotron which you'll be glad to hear doesn't back off for the duration of the E.P.
The title track starts off with a majestic mellotron flute theme before Sherman's voice enters, layered with so much reverb that you'd swear you were alone in an empty church with him. This is the proggiest track here, but not any of this 'tricky time signatures, fit in as many notes as you can prog', nope. This is prog how it used to be done, pretty much exclusively in England, and only for the briefest time before everyone wanted to be Keith Emerson. Think the quiet pastoral bits of "In The Court of the Crimson King" and you're on the right page.
And what's this for the final track "Preponderance of the Great"? A piano and mellotron infused instrumental with a church bell intro? You have been studying your Deram / Vertigo songbook very closely Mr Sherman, and good thing too.
Top stuff then, the only problem being I'd like more please. If you write any other songs that don't fit the Sky Picnic mould a similar treatment would be much appreciated thanks.
A neat little E.P that manages the difficult task of showcasing the diversity that Chris has to offer, while also demonstrating clearly what the rhythm section of Leah Cinnamon and Pete Merriwether bring to Sky Picnic. A pretty neat trick.
And it can be yours for a price of your choosing via the Bandcamp link below. Splash out.