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Published: 2009/08/04
by Brian Robbins

Sounds of John the Revelator The Revelator Orchestra

Make no mistake about it: Sounds of John the Revelator is more than simply the audio book version of Peter Murphys weird and gripping novel. If I was to dole out advice as well as opinion here, Id tell you to experience both as they are each their own experience.
In the book John the Revelator, Murphy (a veteran rock journalist from Dublin) takes us inside the head and soul of a troubled young lad growing up in rural Ireland. Its a tale thats real enough to be believable and believable enough to be haunting. Sounds of John the Revelator does feature excerpts from the book (read by the author himself), but it in no way tries to tell the whole story of our boy John. Instead, its meant to capture the books mood and feeling while drifting and lurching in and out of scenes like an old drunk ghost.
Born of an unplanned reading between music sets at a pub one night, the project is basically a collaboration between Murphy and the Irish sound wizard known as acko, who was moved enough by Murphys words to want to set them to music. There were some sources of inspiration (Neil Youngs Dead Man soundtrack and the creepy beatness of William Burroughs Dead City Radio album), but Murphy had a couple of ground rules. First, each track had to stand on its own two feet with no long monologues only enough words to capture a mood; secondly, acko was forbidden from reading the complete book until the recording sessions were over to avoid his reaction (and therefore his musical reaction) being influenced by anything other than Murphys individual readings.
The musical sources for the albums 18 tracks range from beautifully-recorded acoustic instruments to weirdly-manipulated electronic tones. Sometimes things are easily identifiable; other times it all evolves into layered symphonies of noise whatever serves the mood.
Imagine, if you can, music that sounds like Tom Waits on drums and Lightnin Hopkins on a battered hollowbody thumping away down in the cellar while Murphy reads:
The old crow knows the story. He sees it all unfold like a sequence of silent irised images. Figures move in herky-jerky movements, but no matter what happens he does not intervene, for in his starved bird mind all mortal events are merely dreams of what happens. Even a crow knows that in dreams you cannot change a thing, but merely watch with a detachment that is at once benign and malign, like a bored god, or a bored gods messenger
Believe it or not, blending those words with that music allows the listener to drop into the middle of the setting and (in this instance, for 54 seconds) become that old crow detachment, wisdom, and hunger.
All in all, Sounds of John the Revelator is a neat piece of work that somehow combines the weirdness of Poe with the coolness of the Beats over a soundtrack that mightve been created by the Velvet Underground if theyd had Irish accents.

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