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Ed Kuepper / Raoul Graf | Smile...Pacific / Splinters (Hot)
On the inner sleeve of Smile...Pacific there's a picture of Wilhelm Kupper Kappele, presumably one of Ed's relatives, taken in Hamburg in 1932. A member of a jazz quartet- 2 violins, accordion and a curious double-necked guitar contraption- it's as if this snap of a bygone age acts as the launching pad for this album of meaty blues rock, with its toes dipped into another era. Along with the seductive lull of Get My Baby Out Of Jail, with its woozy horn section straight from a New Orleans funeral, Kuepper's umpteenth album since his mid-70's debut is dominated by bluesy reinterpretations of standards, like the swing of Pay Me My Money Down, a disjointed take on Fever and a sinister version of Sinnerman which opens the record and simmers with Kuepper's rolling mumble. The latter segues into the repetitious stomp of Baby Well I which, by the time Kuepper has repeated the line, "well I need you now/ that is why I'm hanging with you" for the 200th time seems to distinguish itself as a song that knows exactly what its heritage is, but does very little with it. Squeezing himself into such a well-thumbed blueprint as 'blues-influenced rock', it would certainly take something magical to conjure an album distinct from the morass of inspiration and hangovers of bad pub combos. He hasn't fluffed it, Kuepper is too much of an old hand to lose his way completely, but he won't have the audience baying to discover the secret of this trick.
The legend 'produced and arranged by Edmund Kuepper' reveals who the wizard behind the curtain on Raoul Graf's solo debut is. The two are reunited 15 years after Kuepper produced an EP for Graf's old band Bell Jar, and Splinters bears a lighter touch than Smile...Pacific that makes it a more appealing prospect. Even the relatively rocked-up numbers like Country Girl, with its dizzy organ swirl and dirty guitar fuzz has a gentleness that comes from Graf's likeable, subdued vocal. It's this vocal that, from the opening bars of first song Norton Street, immediately draws you in and remains the touchstone of a record that takes in the upbeat rock of Pretty Horses and California Switch, featuring the Belinda Carlisle-alike backing vocals of Rachel Holmshaw, intimate folk like Postcards from Melbourne and the mesmeric blues repetition of The River. Somewhere along the way though, things get stodgy and less interesting, reaching a nadir with the pointless 12-bar plod of The Answer Song, and you're left with the feeling that Raoul Graf's best is surely yet to come.

Martin Williams
CWAS #6 - Autumn 2000