The Phantom Tollbooth

Revelation Bell
Artist: Iain Archer
Label: Secret Words (indie)
Time: 7 tracks/34:15

Formerly known for his laid-back Cockburn-esque acoustic work, Iain Archer has taken the opportunity of this limited edition EP to mix in electric guitar and a band--Dan Kaufmann on bass and pas on drums. Iain co-produced this release with engineer/producer Dave Lynch (r:age, Halcyon Days) who is fast developing a good reputation for his experimental approach. The sound here is not stunning in its experimentation but is well-layered with a range of backing sounds which serve to support and emphasise Archer's dulcet Irish tones.

The songs are all new compositions, save "Flat Earth" which appeared on Archer's 1996 release, Crazy Bird. The sound here is more textured, and fits better in its new context than the original would have. I'm not sure that I prefer this version--the delicate acoustic work of the original was a great moment on Crazy Bird--but it is still a great song about trying to escape the limited ways of thinking we get stuck in.

Despite the slight change of musical direction, this album is still a mellow work. The songs are lyrically poetic and touching, and the range of sounds mean that this "difficult third album" (if you accept these music industry terms) takes a gentle route, preventing Archer's music from seeming formulaic but preserving many of his obvious qualities. This one will almost certainly be difficult to track down, but is worth the effort.

By James Stewart (9/16/1998)