Monday, December 7, 2009
Ice Skates With Arms
A very good friend recommended this to me last spring as something he had been recommended - but hadn't heard, and so I picked it up on a lark as I had never heard of it before either and was enchanted by the awkward name. The jacket furthered my anticipation, which had guessed that the musical product would be some kind of scuzzy bar-wave along the lines of Ghostdance, or maybe at best an arty 80s DIY tinker-fest like the Department Store Santas. To my surprise, the needle dropped on 'Buy This Album and No One Gets Hurt' and it was pure and unadulterated acoustic folk music. The first choruses unwound, "You've got money, you've got time..." and things seemed to click into focus. Strong agile vocals that weren't pretentious, or shy, but strangely ambitious - stoned, no doubt - but clear and with a kind of forthright deliverance rare in private press folk records. Then I noticed the guitar playing - swift, earthy, finger-picked licks darting all over the place yet actually quite immaculate. What looked like a total low-ball amateur hour something or other via the jacket gradually knocked me on my ass by the end of side 1. All original songs, and really good ones! The kind of stuff guys spend months and months trying to get right for some stupid coffee-house performance and these guys just completely nail it in this off-hand manner that speaks to true musicianship and class. Lyrics too were jumping loudly out of the woodwork, and right off the bat... "I checked the time, the time checked me..." and I thought, I feel like I know these guys! It's a weird beautiful sensation, I only get now and again, and I was jumping all over the place by the time I got around to spinning it a half dozen more times. What's impressive about the Ice Skates is that they eschew alot of potentially disastrous camps for folk musicians at the end of the 70s... this record could just as easily be yet another vaguely hippie-ish knock-off, or an agitated acoustic punker, or worse - some kind of John Cougar Hometown Hero crap. Yet the more I played the Ice Skates the more I was struck by how little folk music actually sounded quite like this without devolving into tired emotional cliches or bland hooks. There was truly something special in their grist, and that golden sparkle of the knowing how good it is without it dripping all over into the sauce. It's simple stoned-ass beautiful losers-play-ball folk music and I think it's one of the better straight up acoustic records of the 70s, by anyone. Seriously.
There's nothing really experimental or edgy about any of it, and yet it rules so concretely for just that reason - that, and the fact that they could actually write songs. Side 1 closes with a 6-minute guitar instrumental, but other than that every other cut is a piece of delicately worked song-craft, 7 wonderful slices of hazy late-night air from a basement or back-porch just the other side of over there. I don't know much about the Ice Skates, other than a few tid-bits care of Dante Carfagna, an old friend of the group who sold their records out of the Kansas City Music Exchange in Missouri. Apparently they performed in other capacities on CD, and are still playing in the KC area now and again, though probably not under this moniker! Having said more than enough I'm gonna turn you over to the endlessly flaxen and highly vaporous strains of Ice Skates with Arms. I hope you dig them, too.
Note: I've been asked to remove the download link. Here is a small taste, and hopefully this will see a proper reissue sometime in the near future.