Robbie Fulks’s artist recommendation: “The latest thing to blow me away is Annette Peacock, and please don’t quote that excluding the “away” part. Cognoscenti have known about Annette for decades, so it looks like old Robbie is late to the love-in as always. What is she? She contains multitudes. Voice-wise she’s at times astringent, at others soft and syrupy, but always soulful. A lot of her output in the last 30 years seems to be mellow (as on her records with the ECM label, which she was associated with early and often). On what’s right now my favorite of her records (I’m the One, see below), she presents herself as a half-crooning, half-shrieking pop diva, a jazz composer, a sensitive keyboardist, a freaky crazy poet, a mother, and a half-cocked prophet of electronics. “Half” because the world she prophesied, of machine-savvy audio manipulation, has come to be, but it’s nothing like the ecstatic, free, funny, and weirdly powerful style of synthesis she unloosed. Her tunes meander, often non-repetitively and non-catchily, like the Shaggs. But her singing and playing are fierce and focused, and her inborn gifts honed. None of her records sound much like another of her records. Even less do they sound like anyone else’s records.
Annette has an illustrious biography. She was married to Gary Peacock and then Paul Bley, and she has played and recorded with people like Albert Ayler, Mick Ronson, and Bill Bruford; she directly influenced David Bowie and Brian Eno; she’s been sampled by Busta Rhymes. She’s also beautiful, for what that’s worth — which seems to be quite a lot to whoever decided to plaster her skimpily dressed frame, come-hither expressions, and bare stomach all over her record art.”
Not familiar with Annette Peacock? Robbie suggests you start here: “On I’m the One (a record I think everyone ought to buy at once), Annette puts an early (1972) Moog into her mouth and makes sounds that are musical by a generous but actual definition. The first thing up is the title track. This is two minutes of tense, dense-chord, late 1960s far-outness, played by a funky rhythm section (Airto is on the record) and horn section, followed by a blunt edit and a few naked syllables of singing and immediately into what you might call a “song” — more specifically, a cagey and coiled tone-rapture of sexy self-assertion, expressed in words that are idiomatic and natural but, by pop lyric standards, ungraspably bare, childishly uncensored and comically artless. Song lyrics tend never to play well on the page and away from the bandstand, but a lyric like “I’m the one/I’m the one/You don’t have to look any further/I’m the one/I’m here, right here for you/I’m the one…one/one/one/one” is as good as an announcement that Greil Marcus will be writing no explanatory essay on the dust jacket.
Annette’s unholy range is revealed toward the end of the “song” — she’s fairly bursting blood vessels at the fade — along with her Moog, which appears high in the mix in beautifully rude bleats, blurps and glissandi. I love how, in contrast to those who in the early 1970s used synthesizers as the Instrument of the Future, Annette saw its function as an instrument of the past: a hammer. I’d say Sun Ra was a fellow carpenter. And I may be idly fantasizing, but her and Paul Bley’s live synth workouts (their show at Lincoln Center in 1969 was the first live use of the Moog, says the Internet) put me in mind of Paul Hindemith’s 1930s experiments in turntablism — fun science perpetrated by people with a love of invention and a deep musical feel. Elsewhere on the record there’s a riverine cover of Love Me Tender and a minute of Annette’s 5-year-old daughter tinkling on the piano (“Did You Hear Me Mommy?”).”
About our guest author, Robbie Fulks: As Robbie hilariously details on his website, music writers have a hard time classifying him. He considers himself country, but how many acts on CMT do you know can pull off songs that are titled Fuck This Town, have released a full album of Michael Jackson interpretations (The Way You Make Me Feel sounds like Tom Waits in full stalker mode) and has a new record that is produced by Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies, The Breeders)? Robbie describes himself best when he said, “I play the kind of thing that you might hear if you come to America and go out in the country — not the thing you hear if you rent a car at the airport when you arrive and hit the “country” button.” Let’s pass on trying to fit Robbie into a specific box and focus on the praise a bit, shall we? Spin calls him “America’s most unjustly unsung singer/songwriter” and The Chicago Tribune says that he’s “so good, he’s scary.” Veteran Fulks desciples and those just learning about Robbie can rejoice for two reasons: one is that Robbie’s new record is coming out on August 27. Do yourself a favor and preorder the album, Gone Away Backward (and listed to a song from the collection below). Secondly, some of you lucky souls will be able to check out Robbie live. Robbie is a 20 year vet of being on the road and he’s a flawless showman. Get the album, see the show and join the growing ranks of smarties that are in the know.
Editor’s note: As we mentioned, Robbie can be downright hilarious, so it wouldn’t surprise us if his essay was just a tad tongue-in-cheek. Either way, there’s some killer writing there.