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Pelt: Ayahuasca

Pelt -- Ayahuasca Recorded live in various locations

Reviewer: Jeff Breeze

Nestled in the backwoods of Virginia, something is certainly brewing. Eighty years ago these guys would likely have been working moonshine stills, and trying to import the raw materials to produce absinthe or other more hallucinogenic beverages. Actually, Ayahuasca comes from the Quecha -- aya is spirit, huasca is plant. The plant is one of the primary components in a beverage that also bears its name which is common to a few areas of South America. It's a magical/medicinal drink that is used in ceremonial settings and produces mental, physical and spiritual effects in those who consume it.

What Pelt concocts is a blend of all of that, except nowadays the result manifests itself in the sonic realm. The bearded trio of Jack Rose, Mike Gangloff and Patrick Best embraces the seclusion of the backwoods as it gives them the opportunity to create without interference where they don't want it to be, while bringing to the sound the influences they seek. What the band is brewing musically has been fully embodied by the traditional drones of both The East and Ireland. On Empty Bell Ringing in the Sky, the band had developed its infatuation with both Tibetan bowls, and the hurdy gurdy and manufactured some of the most time-displacing music imaginable. But Ayahuasca reveals that those creations were not the end of the line by any means, but merely a stepping off point for where they are heading.

This time the convergence seems to bring direct elements of the regional heritage into what the group produces. It yields an amazing meld between Appalachia and Himalaya -- Himalachia? Appalaya? This certainly is a genre which defies ready classification.

The record kicks off with two seemingly epic drones, but when the third tune kicks in, you realize that something different is certainly at play. A finely picked banjo lain atop bowed acoustic guitar reveals the familiar folk song "The Cuckoo" (this song appears on the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music in a more standard form). This idiom is further explored as the band follows with its own version of "The Deep Sunny South."

But it's at the end of the first disc of this set, when Pelt kicks into the first part of its "Raga Called John" that all of this sonic alchemy finally congeals. A tribute to the recently departed John Fahey, the band throws in everything (including esraj, electric bowl, dulceola, tanpura, chord organ, concertina, Buddhist cymbals) atop a beautifully picked folk melody that Rose plays which provides the framework for the track.

The second disc follows handsomely with more elegiac and discordant drones constantly shifting and readjusting themselves and two more parts to "Raga Called John." For those seeking a spiritual reconfiguration, Ayahuasca provides a most fitting soundtrack.

Nov. 6, 2001