To call Sir Richard Bishop a versatile musician is something of an understatement. Throughout his extensive discography, he’s covered more ground than most musicians could possibly fathom. As a member of Sun City Girls, he delved in psychedelic, experimental rock, while as a solo artist, he’s gone from John Fahey-style compositions, to Django Reinhardt-esque gypsy jazz, to extended raga, to completely free-form recordings. He’s the kind of musician that rarely does the same thing twice, and if there’s a common thread running through everything he’s done, it’s that it is always something new and different, and it is most certainly impassioned and powerful.
On Bishop’s latest album, the cleverly titled The Freak of Araby, the guitarist turns his hand away from the flamenco and gypsy jazz styled Polytheistic Fragments toward the music of Lebanon. Bishop, who is part Lebanese, himself, has crafted an album comprising one-half traditional Lebanese compositions or covers of classic Lebanese songs, and one-half original songs inspired by Arabic heritage. What’s most intriguing about this set, however, is that it’s Bishop’s most accessible set to date, primarily offering up instrumental pop songs that take a drastic turn away from his lengthy improvisations of albums such as While My Guitar Violently Bleeds.
The Freak of Araby opens with a solo Bishop composition titled “Taqasim for Omar,” a tribute to Egyptian guitarist Omar Khorshid. It’s an intriguing introduction to the album, a mysterious and sparse track that serves as a bare and curious lure toward the more celebratory and upbeat tracks that lurk deeper inside. Only one track deeper, Bishop and drummer Mohammed Bandari kick off “Enta Omri,” a track that’s still somewhat sparse, but gradually finds more layers of instrumentation piling on, from Ahmed Sharif’s bass to Rasheed Al-Qahira’s guitar accompaniment to Abdulla Basheem’s hand percussion. “Barbary,” another Bishop original, is genuinely catchy, and with “Solenzara,” presents a series of tracks that recall ’60s surf music, or more accurately, reveals how strongly Middle Eastern music has influenced a uniquely Western genre.
Sir Richard Bishop isn’t a stranger to strongly melodic forms of music, as the aforementioned Polytheistic Fragments certainly found him reveling in tuneful, accessible compositions. With The Freak of Araby, he’s still creating music that’s driven by mood and atmosphere, but each song is tight and concise. Calling Araby one of Bishop’s most compelling almost seems futile; try finding something he’s done that isn’t compelling. But as one of his most melodic and linear albums, it’s certainly his most immediately delightful. A Sir Richard Bishop pop album (sorta), who would have guessed?
John Zorn – The Gift
Omar Khorshid – Belly Dance With Omar Khorshid
Six Organs of Admittance – Shelter from the Ash