Aztec Camera: High Land, Hard Rain

NEVER A BACKWARD GLANCE: Imagine a perfect world, where some human somewhere has the wisdom, taste and fortuity to take Love’s Forever Changes, the third Velvets album, Neil Young’s first and ‘Expecting To Fly’, and Jackson Browne’s ‘Song For Adam’, and combine them into something that, in this new and perfect world, would not sound utterly derivative, or the work of some half-assed rock critic whose reach vastly exceeded his or her ability. Not old, done up as new. Just new.

Well, the world ain’t perfect. But High Land, Hard Rain comes close. Aztec Camera’s first album, written, arranged and performed mostly by Great Scot Hope Roddy Frame, sounds younger than yesterday and not necessarily stoned, just beautiful. Get the picture? In fact, Elvis Costello’s new fave rave sounds not unlike a few “artists” who graciously filled that 1970-76 era always written off as being vacuous by people with short memories or even shorter yardsticks. Hey, Danny Kirwan put out records like this after leaving Fleetwood Mac. Tranquility managed two before Terry Shaddick went bye-bye; can we afford to ignore that this anonym would later co-write ‘Physical’ for Olivia NJ? Roddy can’t.

In the superbly ironic ‘Consolation Prize’ from the superbly ironic You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever album by the superbly ironic Orange Juice – Aztec Camera’s former labelmates on Scotland’s defunct Postcard label – one can hear OJ’s similarly-influenced Edwyn Collins declaring “I wore my fringe like Roger McGuinn’s” shortly before announcing he’d never be “man enough” for the object of his affection. Granted this is conceptually superb – is it merely ironic that Aztec Camera’s young Mr. Frame has taken this fashion note to heart and actually wears similar fringe? Upon hearing ‘Set The Killing Free’, an A.C. B-side, and visualizing the fringe-favoring guitarist playing a stinging, blistering lead guitar attack, might one be forgiven for composing a mental image of a brash, former Buffalo Springfield guitarist performing, perhaps, ‘Mr. Soul’?

MAYBE A FACTUAL GLANCE: Aztec Camera’s Roddy Frame has spoken highly, in interviews, of Neil Young, of Jackson Browne, of Bob Dylan. Hard Rain. Get it? From Dylan to…Bryds. Fringe…like Roger McGuinn’s. Byrds…with David Crosby. A sense of deja vu. ‘Déjà vu’…written by David Crosby. From the album of the same name by Crosby, Stills, Nash and…Young. Neil Young. More fringe. Bruce Botnick: “Forever Changes started out as a project Neil Young and I were going to produce.” OK. Forever Changes orchestrated by David Angel. David Angel…he orchestrated part of Fever Tree, an album containing ‘Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing’. By Neil Young.

NEVER A FORWARD GLANCE: Aztec Camera do not sound like anybody but Aztec Camera, a very young band – Roddy Frame himself is just 19 – with the sort of influences you can point out, admire, maybe notice a similarity here and there in chord structure with those same influences, but otherwise enjoy. Certain snatches, musical and verbal, jump out at you. Lyrics like “They call us lonely but we’re really just alone.” Like “I’d try to lead you but I’d crush your hand,” or “You’re free to push me and I’m free to fall.” Good stuff, potentially great stuff, and there’ll be more.

NEVER A GLANCE AT ALL: Anyway, it’s probably the best album I’ve heard all year, and I can free-associate with the best of ’em.

So can Roddy.

© Dave DiMartinoCreem, December 1983

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