Review Summary: Take these broken wings and learn to fly.
-- Let me preface by saying I wanted to give this review a thematic parallel between the title and its ties to the music, creating a picture of the African American experience - particularly of the black woman - and aligning it with this cacophonous, discordant, and inaccessible album; I feel the connection is important and should be greater touched upon. But because I’m a white man from the burbs, I decided to keep these indulgences limited to this preface. --
Sonny Sharrock was a free-jazz guitarist who hit his prime alongside his genre in the ‘60’s-’70’s. In this album we see his twangy, oft-tremolo play style paired with his then-wife’s senseless operatic hollering as well as spiritual jazz influences. This mosaic crafts this album to be something modern listeners could akin to an amalgamation of Godspeed You! Black Emperor guitars (particularly F#A#) and The Great Gig in the Sky, backed by maddening free-jazz. If a picture formulates in your head from this combination, surely this word should again arise: inaccessible.
For most of the album (“Black Woman”, “Peanut”, and “Portrait of Linda…”) there is a clear theme woven through the music via the combination of sounds mentioned above. Consistent clash. Senseless opera, twangy western guitar, and free-jazz backing. In almost any other context under any other guitarist, the leads would sound out of place. In this album, rather, it creates a distinguished, one-of-a-kind atmosphere truly American in joy and fervent in African American pain and reckoning.
Between these songs is the dichotomous pairing “Bialero” and “Blind Willie”, representing two opposing sounds also upholding utmost conventions compared the rest of the album. The former is a traditional song and is as operatic as the album gets. The latter, the low-point of the album, is Sonny adopting a twangy, acoustic, and bluesy chord progression that is quite enjoyable!, yet does little in variation… making this song - the shortest of the album - feeling like the longest and most maniacal. It does however, serve as a nice break between the austerity of the rest of the album and the meltdown that is to follow: the closer “Portrait of Linda in Three Colors, All Black” - which, like the song’s title, is an excellent close.
The album, like the bulk of free-jazz, leaves the listener with something to be desired. It creates an unforgettable setting and experience yet does little to venture to its full capabilities. Here is where the break between listeners unfolds: for those content with free-jazz and its tendency to leave composition unanswered, this album presents a unique take only the Sharrocks could present. For those insatiable, the album presents to you that same Sharrock-unique sound, but you are left disappointed that the composition underneath is not quite as breathtaking.
For that, I leave this album a 3.5/5 as I, to my chagrin, fall into the latter category and wish I could see deeper in the content the same amazement the Sharrocks’ performances lead.