I got my first taste of Comus not too long ago. Comus, for those of you who don’t know, was a band that released two records in the early 1970s. I have never heard the second one, To Keep From Crying, and by some (but not all) accounts it’s not worth hearing. But I recently picked up a CD reissue of their first LP, First Utterance, and it’s been burning the proverbial hole in my stereo ever since.
So what’s special about it, you ask? Well, uh, I dunno how to answer that exactly, but I guess I’ll try (since that’s probably the whole point to this dang blog thing). I didn’t know a damn thing about Comus before picking up the CD, besides the name, but in searching around on the ol’ InterWeb, I see that:
“In Greek mythology Comus is the god of revelry, the son of Circe and Bacchus. Comus is also the title of a dramatic poem by the renowned 17th Century English poet, John Milton, and the poem’s central theme – female chastity tempted in the archetypal ‘wild wood’ of moral perplexity by the demonic enchanter, Comus – sets the tone for First Utterance, especially ‘The Song To Comus’.”
That’s from this exceptional short essay on Comus: A Million Fleshy Things: The Songs Of Comus – by Chris Blackford, which prolly provides more information than I should attempt. Needless to say, tho, I do know that First Utterance is an absolutely engrossing listen. But it’s not the easiest thing to get into at first. The singing on the first song by Roger Wootton, “Diana,” may be enough to turn people off, and I have to admit that when I first heard him squeal out a gutteral “Di-ane-NUH!” I was a little non-plussed. However, it’s grown on me, and is now one of my favorite songs on the album. It took me a little bit to realize, but what’s so great about Comus is the way they combined complex British folk melodies and harmonies with a none-too-subtle edge of dark, almost macabre lyricism. Plus the playing is just super-tight too, and the instrumentation is varied. But yeah, the voice, it’s an acquired taste. But then again, there’s also Bobbie Watson’s contralto (at least that’s what I think her range is) to play off Wootton’s growls and faux-Elvish-ness (that’s elves, not Elvis)…