Alibi V.28 No.15 • April 11-17, 2019 

Sonic Reducer

Rahim AlHaj Letters from Iraq: Oud and String Quartet (Smithsonian Folkways)

Originally released by Smithsonian Folkways about two years ago—and now available digitally through Bandcamp—this collection of program music features the oud playing and musical vision of Albuquerque resident Rahim AlHaj. He’s a notable member of the local music community who came out to the high desert at the beginning of the 2dd1st century, as a political refugee seeking asylum. Since his tenure in Burque began, AlHaj has received NEA fellowships, performed worldwide and even jammed out with REM. In broad terms his work embraces traditional Iraqi techniques and tonalities while also employing Western instrumentation and deeply felt personal and cultural narratives.

This record documents the lives of humans caught up in war and its consequences. Through personal correspondence and the widely emotional evocations of a string quartet playing in conjunction with the the traditional tunings of the oud, AlHaj creates evocative and thoughtful soundscapes, each, it seems, a component in an organic machine that seeks refuge, peace and ultimately reconciliation. Tracks like “Letter 4-The Last Time We Will Fly Birds” speaks to the starkness and dissonance of war, of the impossibility of returning to the times that came before. But by the time the album ends with a track titled “Letter 8-Voices to Remember,” a hope for the future is borne upon sparkling strings and searching harmonic discourse.

Black Unicorn Black Unicorn LIVE at Launchpad, March 21, 2019 (Self-released)

Jeremy McCollum has a posse. JK. Really, the axe master for longtime Burque super stoner band SuperGiant has another band and dang it, you ought to give their latest record a listen; it’s so far removed from the guitarist’s other work as to make pique just about any rocker’s interest. More importantly it genuinely jams, creating a surfed-out and smoky world where the roots of rocanrol shine and the overall sound is the season of summer, elusive yet satisfying just like that extra special cheeseburger in paradise you plan to capture and conquer come the Fourth of July.

Recently recorded at Burque’s best rock club for the rest of time and even unto the apocalypse, Launchpad, this virtual 45 minute set by the up and coming, counterintuitive alternative to SuperGiant presents a repertoire that is bluesy, ballsy and as broken as the best in west-coast rock coming from the OC at this very moment. Tuneage like “Surf Fever” is as relentless as the ocean while doo-wop numbers like “Goodbye” give listeners an indication of the commitment to rocanrol these dudes are making while paddling out to a musical past that can slay if not quickly controlled. The stylistic changes all come off as knowing and I’m sure Jeremy and company must have listened to millions of records to get this out of that. Mi favorito: the slinky eighth track, “I Want More.” Y’all listening?