SUBTITLED SONGS OF Reflection, Excitement & Danger (R.E.D), Totem is a generous 21-song selection by the British-born, Wellington-based axe-wielder. The idea, according to his website, “was to represent 10 totemic spirits in 10 different songs using 10 different guitars,” although he doesn’t stop at guitars, adding a veritable party of percussion, basses, shakers and honkers to the project.
Jamieson describes the album as having “a world music influence”, but aside from a few flamenco/Latin nuances here and there, that’s more evident in the choice of instrumentation than the songs themselves, which often display an fertile mind and a way with words, but lack the voice that’s characterful enough to make them come alive. It’s not that Jamieson sings poorly, exactly, just that his style might sit more comfortably with a classroom of kiddies than an adult audience.
I guess that’s my way of saying that it just doesn’t sound hip, and I hate myself for critiquing it on that basis, but music (like any other art form) has to convince the listener, take him somewhere, and his vocal delivery is just, to these ears, a bit stodgy.
Totem’s other problem is that – despite an attempt to make it more than a bunch of disparate tracks – it just doesn’t add up to more than the sum of its disparate parts. Taken individually, in fact, some of these pieces have more potency than they do in totem, as it were.
Which is a great pity, because Jamieson is clearly a gifted guitarist, and a competent multi-instrumentalist with a mind full of ideas. The best moments, then, are those where he gives himself the opportunity to really play, uninterrupted by the need to convey the message of a lyric.
With the right kind of collaborators, Totem could have sounded so much more vibrant and necessary than it does. Instead, it’s tainted somewhat by its one-man-band introversion, and it’s definitely not exciting, nor dangerous!
Having said that, some may find the imaginative and often philosophical take of Jamieson’s lyrics compelling, and some may even find that those songs, combined with the excellent performative standard and the rather spiffing sound quality, may more than make up for any other deficiencies. I suppose the obvious comparison is with former Frank Zappa sideman Mike Keneally, whose solo career has featured way more smart lyrics and melodies than wizzy guitar solos, even though he’s an exceptionally wizzy guitar wankologist when he feels the urge (in fact, he’s touring with master guitar wanker Joe Satriani later this year).
For me, Totem is deeply flawed, but its beautifully uncompressed sound is a wonder to the ears, and it does, indisputably, have its moments. GARY STEEL
Check out Mikey Jamieson’s work at www.tasmanrecords.com
Sound = 4
Music = 3