Musical training generally allows one to identify quickly a music’s time period, place, and culture. That process is not so easy with Nuclear Option, the debut album of the string duo, Red Nucleus. One hears echoes of Iberia and hints of North Africa, along with avant-garde American string band, blues, and rock. The album is the product of unbounded eclecticism (the fruit of seven decades [2X] of creative listening) served up by guitarist Michael Goy and bassist David Cooper.
The album opens with the sprightly “Home Again, Home Again.” Guitar harmonics offer friendly bell-like tones to a Celtic-tinged melody that defies convention by never quite going the direction one might expect. “Annapurna Moonrise” is a gentle ballad that takes us to the Himalayas in Nepal. “D-Funked” echoes the irresistible grooves of the 1970s fusion super-group Shakti.
A string band album without a waltz would feel a bit disingenuous. Not to worry. We have the charming “33⅓ RPM Waltz.” 33⅓ RPM? I have two thoughts. First, the dancers’ rotational speed? Second, this is an obvious, and clever, reference to vinyl records, a format from the past that audiophiles love, but most listeners have long discarded (like the waltz?). Multi-tracking allows additional musicians, cellist and violinist, to offer two-voiced reminiscences.
The title, “Big Black Dog in a Big Red Truck” suggests a story waiting to be told. In fact, on listening to the opening bars, I half-expected Woody Guthrie to deliver one of his “talking” songs. But no words follow, just a country-road tune inspired by man’s best friend.
Thinking about the red truck (I assume a dusty old pick-up) brings me to “Standard Trance Mission.” The piece opens mysteriously with a descending bass line, like a foundational ostinato Bach might have chosen for austere repetition. Not here. The music shifts gears to a lighter touch, with lowered scale degrees suggesting the original bass line.
Simultaneously ascending and descending melodies projected across ephemeral shifts between major and minor tonalities mark the austere and hopeful personality of the album’s closing composition, “Charleston Requiem.” Michael wrote the piece in response to his anguish upon learning of the 2015 Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church massacre. What I hear is a social fabric torn and scarred by unspeakable hurt, but also being reclaimed through the redemptive power of the victims’ remarkable ability to forgive.
“Charleston Requiem” is an appropriate choice to conclude this insightful and ever assuring album. After listening, I sought out the American music of these musicians’ past: the Dead and the Airplane, Joni and Jimi, and Trane. They all sounded remarkably fresh. The next day, I returned to Red Nucleus and felt reassured about our own difficult times.
— Steven Cornelius
All selections composed by Michael Goy and arranged by Red Nucleus.
Michael Goy - acoustic guitars, MIDI instruments
David Cooper - electric bass guitar
Betsy Goy - cello on 33 ⅓ RPM Waltz and Charleston Requiem
Omar Ruiz-Lopez - violin on 33 ⅓ RPM Waltz and Charleston Requiem
Sound Clips (downloaded from Freesound.org)
D-Funked: clip "219056 Drone 001" created by Jarred Gibb
Charleston Requiem: clip "37617 rain_3thunders_01" created by Bruno Babic
* recorded and mixed by Michael Goy at Booker Creek Recordings
** recorded and mixed by Meghan Puryear at Nightsound Studios
Photography by Barbara Tyroler
- Instrumental duets