The time to tally the year's best albums may be another eight or nine months off, but already there are front-runners for year-end honors: XTC, Lou Reed, Elvis Costello and Roy Orbison.
But if you were to compile that list today, it would have to also include little-known Canadian violinist Hugh Marsh.Never heard of him? You're certainly not alone. Marsh records on the tiny Soundwings/Duke Street Records label. And while industry insiders have raved about his work with fellow Canadian Bruce Cock-burn, Hugh Marsh has been just another obscure name in a faceless business.
Now, thanks to vocal appearances by Robert Palmer and Bruce Cock-burn, Marsh's "Shaking the Pumpkin" is shaking up to be one of the finest - and quirkiest - recordings of 1989.
The track getting all the attention lately is a funky version of Jimi Hen-drix's "Purple Haze," a brilliant cover that meshes jazz, rock and funk into one delectable package, all with Robert Palmer on vocals.
"Purple Haze" aside, it would be a mistake to perceive "Pumpkin" as a rock 'n' roll album. Instead, it is a robust hybrid of jazz, rock, fusion, pop and New Age, all framed around heady socio-political commentary and literary references (what did you expect from someone who's spent the last seven years touring with Cockburn?).
Tunes alternate between the serious, the humorous and the sublime. "The Way of the Flesh" has Marsh narrating pronouncements from Chairman Mao's "little red book," complete with tongue-in-cheek ad-libs. "Mistreated" is electrifying funk, while "Pizz Pink" is instrumental rock.
"Rules Are Made to Be Broken" is a list of the Nazis' rules governing jazz musicians during World War II (forbidding vocal improvisation, restricting the use of saxophone, limiting syncopation to 10 percent, etc.). Violation could put you in a concentration camp.
Rules are certainly something Marsh doesn't adhere to as his music jumps all boundaries and limits. And the focal point of it all is some stunning violin work.
"It's really important for me to present the violin in a lot of different styles," Marsh said. "It shouldn't be stereotyped as primarily a classical instrument because it's capable of such a wide range of emotions."
"Shaking the Pumpkin" is an ambitious effort, and Marsh pulls off what could be one of 1989's best albums when all is said and done.