The Bill Frisell Band: Lookout For Hope (ECM 1350)

 

The Bill Frisell Band
Lookout For Hope

Bill Frisell electric and acoustic guitars, banjo
Hank Roberts cello, voice
Kermit Driscoll bass
Joey Baron drums
Recorded March 1987 at Power Station, New York City
Engineer: James Farber
Produced by Lee Townsend

Listening to Lookout For Hope is like wandering into a windblown cowboy town. The dirt is bare, save for the errant tumbleweed that dares set twig in this dustbowl. You wander past the Sheriff’s office. A poster hangs outside the door:

WANTED
FOR ARMED ROBBERY OF GENRE

BILL FRISELL
REWARD: MUSICAL LUXURY

And indeed, Frisell has run off with many a stagecoach prize, fashioning each into a personal politic of twisted charm.

On this, another seminal effort on ECM’s Touchstones, Frisell continued to chart his inimitable sound. The wordless vocals of Hank Roberts in the album’s title opener waver like something from the dream diary of Pat Metheny, with whom Frisell shares much insofar as it is almost impossible to listen to either guitarist without seeing epic films of vivid imagery. But make no mistake about feeble comparisons: Frisell is the only dude on this ranch. From his gentle entrance, we know that his is an axe that melts, revealing thematic contours in negative space. He frees melodies from the chopping block and lets them bump into one another as they will. Roberts’s sinewy cello is a no-brainer. As it extends its forked tongue from this sonic bayou, defenestrating itself in a blissful unraveling, it lands smack in the molasses of “Little Brother Bobby,” where with easygoing persuasion it rocks like a back porch chair before stumbling on through the banjo-infested prophecy of “Hangdog” and into the crystalline vision of the album’s capstone, “Remedios The Beauty.” And where “Lonesome” is a raw slab of Podunk beauty that glistens with Frisell’s acoustic, “Melody For Jack” is a dream tunnel into a trio of miniatures before the warm fuzziness of “Alien Prints” plays us out with understated panache.

Lookout For Hope is a walleyed world replete with hokey profundity and slack jaws. Like a good Stephen King novel, it gets under our skin even as it nourishes it. The titular lookout seems but a toothpick of a shadow on the horizon. But no matter, for by the time the final note has run away we’ve already found our hope.

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