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Wonderfully All Over the Map – Glenn Mercer’s “Incidental Hum”

Glenn Mercer
Incidental Hum

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Allow me to put the last couple of lines of this review first: If you’re a Feelies fan, you’ll love this album. If you’ve never even heard of the Feelies, you’ll also love this album. There, now you can just buy it immediately (there’s a link down below this review) and be done with it, or read on and make it an absolute slam-dunk certainty that you’re going to buy the album. Your choice.

Rich and playful over fifteen all-instrumental tracks – twelve originals, three notable covers – Incidental Hum, besides being truly a solo effort, Mercer handling everything including production and engineering, is engaging and magnetic enough to pull you back from whatever amount of shying-away that phrase ‘all-instrumental’ might have triggered. Trust me, a couple listens (at most) and you’ll be shinning up the nearest flagpole so as to better broadcast the record’s merits as far and wide as possible. Though, considering Incidental Hum‘s travelogue nature – each of those twelve originals is named, and aurally designed to suggest, a different point on the map and even the three covers have a hint of travel to them in their own way – you may have to wait until you get your breath back.

Tapping his own experiences for motivation (back in the early 80’s he and fellow Feelie Bill Million did some film score work – Smithereens – that in turn led to off-shoot project the Willies) while drawing influence and inference from across his career – where have we heard the staccato clacking of those claves on “Kodiak” and “Moss Point” before? – Mercer indeed covers a lot of ground here, nimbly shifting gears from track to track. Opener “Hana” has a warm and salty slack-key vibe to it, the melody floating like a passing dream. “Cheyenne,” following, is grittier, more dramatic, Glenn’s guitar work (that instantly identifiable tone it so often has, clarion and clean-as-chrome) stretching into the wide-open spaces, while “Mobile,” quick on “Cheyenne”‘s heels, opts for a sweatier grind, the track’s jukebox cadence enhanced by a humid Hammond B-3 hanging above the proceedings and guitar leads goin’ off like sheet lightning. You get the idea and it’s a smart one rather brilliantly executed. Whether it’s the cowpoke-in-a-snowy-winter yearn haunting “Laramie,” the bright, out west drift of “Winslow” (where a man’s got room to slow down and think), the sand-kicking Dick Dale-isms of “Hermosa,” or the endless horizon and engine room rhythms evoked by “Kara Sea,” you’re there in spirit and the place is there in yours, and, as a bonus, there’s some wicked fine guitar work besides. Indeed, I believe it’s safe to say that armchair travel has seldom sounded this good.

Add in the covers – a goosebump-worthy take on “Over The Rainbow” (for which, think about it, that fretboard tone is ideal), a brief but shimmeringly groovy go at Eno’s “Here Come The Warm Jets” (Mercer repaying some influence debt) and a version of “Third Stone From The Sun” that places the out-there Hendrix psych nugget somewhere between a great lost gem of a Feelies out-take jam and a spacewalking blues workout (longest track on the album and a marvel) – and, well, you’ve got an album that goes beyond incidental and deep into crucial. If you’re a Feelies fan – oh, wait, yeah, I said that already.

[released Oct. 9th on Bar/None, get it – and I mean get ithere]