Positive Music Place

CD review: Colonel Bruce Hampton & The Aquarium Rescue Unit, “Mirrors of Embarrassment”

Posted by dlockeretz on December 12, 2011

Sometimes rediscovering a record can be like getting a call from an old friend.  Such was the case with this album from an Atlanta group with an unlikely name: Colonel Bruce Hampton & the Aquarium Rescue Unit.  “Mirrors of Embarrassment” was one of my favorites in the late ’90s, although over time, I gradually forgot about it.  But anyone who read my review of the Zombies’ “Odessey and Oracle” knows that I sometimes find some of my best material at thrift stores, and that’s what happened here.  Given the record’s relative obscurity and the fact that I don’t exactly remember how I lost my original copy of it (probably a casualty of a move), it’s not out of the question that the CD I found at the Salvation Army store might be the exact one I used to own.

There are a lot of good things about this record; chief among then being that while each individual member of the group – vocalist Hampton, guitarist Jimmy Herring, bassist Oteil Burbridge, mandolinist Matt Mundy and drummer Jeff “Apt. Q258” Sipe – is quite a talent on their own, they blend well together to make a cohesive group.  Similarly, they meld different styles that shouldn’t go together – funk, bluegrass, swing, blues, country, rock, spoken word – smoothly, without making it seem like a gimmick.  In fact, the Unit’s sound is a good argument against labeling musical styles.

On the opening track, “No Egos Underwater”, Hampton’s vocals, which straddle the fence between spoken word and singing, layer nicely over a funky groove based around a recurring blues riff.  Next is “Lost My Mule in Texas”, in which a country-styled vocal and mandolin riff go hand in hand with another funk groove.  Other strong tracks include the odd-timed “Lives of Longevity” and the uptempo “Dead Presidents“, both of which feature Herring and Mundy matching each other’s blazing riffs, a la the Allman Brothers.

Slower songs include the shuffling “Memory is Nothing but a Gimmick” and the ambient blues “Trondossa.”  The last song, “Payday”, is a medium-tempo shuffle, with a final bit of spoken word to close out the record.

This is not necessarily a CD for everyone’s tastes; don’t expect to have the songs stick in your head, at least not immediately.  But it’s well worth checking out, especially for fans of music a little off the beaten path.  If you’re tired of hearing the same stuff on the radio day after day, this one might just do the trick for you.

After this record, Hampton left the band, and with a revamped lineup–including Oteil Burbridge’s brother Kofi on keyboards and flute – they released “In A Perfect World.”  According to the band’s website, the original members got together in 2011 to perform at the reopening of the Georgia Theatre.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: