Oh, mother of Earth, the wind is hotI tried my best, but I could not And my eyes fade from me in this open country
Since 2006, The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project has been simmering in a slow cooker, ready at last to serve up The Task Has Overwhelmed Us, the long-awaited fourth volume in The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project series, on the 29th of September via Glitterhouse Records. The legend of Jeffrey Lee Pierce roaring out of the post-punk LA scene, wielding his volatile genius like a torch, is pretty much engraved in the annals of music history; this incandescent flame blazed in the public eye for a fleeting fifteen years before his premature demise in 1996.
Pierce’s tragic death ended the reign of one of America’s most influential songwriters of the late 20th century, but Pierce’s friend, guitarist Cypress Grove, has made it his mission to keep Pierce’s legacy alive and thriving. A staggering number of collaborators, friends, and fans of Jeffrey Lee Pierce and The Gun Club have taken his music and lyrics to new heights.
Cypress Grove, who accompanied Jeffrey during his final years of performing and on the 1992 album Ramblin’ Jeffrey Lee & Cypress Grove With Willie Love, became the keeper of a significant artifact. One day in 2006, while rummaging through his attic, Cypress stumbled upon an unmarked cassette. It contained intimate bedroom rehearsals for Ramblin’.
“Very vague but good enough to work from,” he says. “I had the idea of asking people who worked with Jeffrey, were friends with him or who simply admired his work to help me complete the songs.”
In the inventive process of marrying song concepts bereft of lyrics with words yearning for their musical counterparts, an innovative realm was birthed, an idea beautifully encapsulated in what Cypress Grove has so aptly coined “Frankenstein songs.”
“The Cypress Tape,” as it would soon be known, was destined to find company in a treasure trove of other unfulfilled song sources. These were gleaned from a diverse collection of tapes offered up by key figures in Jeffrey’s life who had come on board: Gene Temesy, the instigator of the Gun Club fan club in 1984 and the man who brought Pierce’s ’98 autobiography Go Tell The Mountain to light; writer-DJ-musician Phast Phreddie Patterson, and Jeffrey’s sister Jacqui. Jacqui contributed unfinished songs and previously unseen writings that she had unearthed following her brother’s passing.
“The source material for some of the songs was so vague that it could be interpreted in many ways,” muses Cypress, offering a glimpse into the enigmatic nature of these salvaged pieces. “There was no definitive or ‘original’ version. It was like trying to restore a painting where much of the material was missing.”
The newest contribution emanates from Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan, as he renders his interpretation of the classic “Mother of Earth” from 1982’s Miami. The original melody was replete with the resonant twangs of a sliding guitar and steady percussion, evocative of a spaghetti western, yet Gahan’s rendition pares it down to robust vocals with the occasional punctuation of piano, strings, and backup.
Though it may seem an eerie choice, it’s executed with exquisite finesse in Gahan’s profound baritone, ingeniously transforming the tune from a jaunty rhythm to a poignant dirge of lamentation.
Following We Are Only Riders, 2012’s The Journey Is Long, and 2014’s Axels and Sockets, The Task Has Overwhelmed Us showcases superb renditions of Pierce’s masterpieces from both his Gun Club epoch and his independent ventures, while concurrently breathing life into brand new compositions born from the bare bones of rehearsal drafts, unheard lyrical wonders, and songs that have solely graced the live stage.
The dazzling array of talents contributing to this work features the Project’s original, steadfast core including such luminaries as Nick Cave, Debbie Harry, Mark Lanegan, Warren Ellis, Mark Stewart, Hugo Race, and Cypress. In addition, The Amber Lights, represented by Mick Harvey and J.P. Shilo, grace the project with their presence, along with echoes of Jeffrey himself culled from original tapes.
This steadfast assembly is further enriched by the infusion of fresh talent in addition to Gahan, including Suzie Stapleton, Duke Garwood, Pam Hogg, The Coathangers, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Peter Hayes and Leah Shapiro, Jim Jarmusch, and more.
Across the span of eighteen melodious narratives, there pervades an atmosphere of rare, gleaming jewels, all painstakingly and lovingly chiseled by devoted admirers channeling the varying aspects or fragments of Pierce’s rebellious muse that sparks their creative fervour.
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