When the needle hits wax it won’t be long,
You got your radio tuned but it won’t play this song.
20 years ago, Jalamanta was one of my favourite albums in the world. This is my third copy. Partly instrumental, partly vocal, but 100% Brant Bjork. It was his first solo album, and he played virtually everything himself. The laid-back desert vibes are perfect for a summer evening chill-out. Humid, sparse, exotic, varied compositions take you across a hazy landscape.
In 2019, Brant and engineer Tony Mason remixed Jalamanta, to take it the place they “always wanted it to go”. The remixes are largely subtle, just making the album sound bigger in your ears. The vocals might be a little less buried. It’s still raw, and sparse, and all the things you always liked about Jalamanta. Some songs have more noticeable differences. More guitar on “Toot”. Tracks tend to run longer than their previous fade-outs. But there are things I enjoyed about the original that aren’t here. The echoey lead vocal on “Toot” — “Cat scan, cat scan…” That echo is gone, maybe so the sonic field wouldn’t be too crowded with that louder backing guitar?
This remix will never replace an original, especially when it was one of my favourites 20 years ago. What is “Jalamanta” made of that makes it so tasty? Only the most basic of ingredients. Rolling bass and drums, simple unaffected guitar parts, and Brant’s laid back singing style.
Yeah, the man shakes me down and that’s why I’m broke.
The rich man’s got all the green but it ain’t the kind you smoke.
So we turn up the rock, and we roll it slow.
We’re always flying high, and the ride is always low.
Snakey guitars jab in and out of the speakers — one song is even called “Cobra Jab”. Other tunes are more aggressive. “Too Many Chiefs… Not Enough Indians” has a relentless and simple riff, with the snakey guitars carrying the melody over it like a wave. Brant’s quiet vocal is hypnotic. By contrast, “Defender of the Oleander” has a barely-there main riff while the snakey licks do all the brilliant melodic work. Brant goes for hypnotic again on “Her Brown Blood”, a speedy run through the desert, with a cool monotone vocal right in the middle of your head.
Whichever version of Jalamanta you happen upon, you are guaranteed an incredible listening experience. The new remix is certainly more three-dimensional, and will sound better on your big system. But you will lose some of the charm of the original. The 2009 vinyl used to be the way to go, with a beautiful full-colour booklet and Blue Oyster Cult cover “Take Me Away”. But now you can get “Take Me Away” here on CD, albeit remixed. Another bonus is exclusive to this CD — “Bones Lazy”, which segues out of “Defender of the Oleander” into the brilliant rocker “Low Desert Punk”. And with the title “Bones Lazy”, you won’t be surprised that it is “Lazy Bones” backwards! Like you’re watching Tenet. Cool though. Even though I knew what was likely coming, I felt like it fit right in.
Get a load of this, man.
Well I’m gettin’ up when the sun goes down,
And I shine ’em up and I hit the town.
Well I trim it clean and I roll it up,
And then I take it nice and slow…so what the fuck, man.
Jalamanta makes me feel that California sun way more than any Desert Sessions CD ever has. You can taste it. Let it sink into your lazy bones. And as great as this new CD is sonically, it also makes me want to hear the original. Nothing can truly upgrade a 20 years love affair with Jalamanta. As a complimentary piece, I don’t regret owning or listening to it at all. Hearing guitar parts that used to be beyond the fade is the kind of bait that we nerds line up for. The 2009 vinyl, with the gorgeous embossed cover and all that delicious photography inside, will remain my preferred way to experience Jalamanta. The 2019 remix will be the one to play when you want to examine it in more thorough detail.
(still) 5/5 stars
Original CD and vinyl releases seen below.