While the music of D. Charles Speer & The Helix has been known to me, I admit not really listening to their output prior to Leaving The Commonwealth. I much prefer my David Shuford as part of the free improv/jazz/noise juggernaut No Neck Blues Band, and was not too keen on exploring his work by blindly purchasing a CD or LP. Well it looks like I have some catching up to do now, since the second offering (Commonwealth) has pierced my veil of trepidation with a pedal steel armor piercing round. Where dissonance and free-flowing structures once reigned, thoroughly composed and expertly played country music now sits as king, all to great effect.

I'm not one for country on most days. Sure, some classics of the popular variety are inescapably in my range of likes (I admit an affection for Patsy Cline here), but I rarely visit the genre or its insidious alt- genre tagmate. For the most part, Commonwealth is a particular strain of the shit-kickin' rabble rouser that has been ditched in most modern country for Anatres assists and overcompressed drums. And it is glorious. Maybe it's some bizarre latent Southerner in me or some indication of the degree to which that Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands, Snake In The Radio has wormed its way into my vocabulary and tolerance (by the way, that album is fantastic, buy it). Opening song 'Razorbacked' bristles with live intensity and is underpinned by dueling steel guitar and dobro as well as classic bar room piano, a harkening to some sort of jangly honky-tonk history full of loose women and looser whisky pouring. Whatever is going on behind the vocals is always entertaining or serves its job so well as mood and music that it becomes a joyous romp to even begin to actually pay attention. Oh, there are some great hilarious moments to be had (unintentional or not) from the seemingly random insertion of the word "motherfucker" in 'Razorbacked' to the French sentences that are effortlessly throughout 'Le Grand Cochon'. Normally the bane of the liveliness of such a recording, an instrumental, near post-rock interlude, has its chance to serve an actual purpose and shine, here represented by the plaintive and obscured 'Alamoosook Echoes'. Where this album falls short may only be in running time, but at a hearty and well-rounded 45 minutes that's hardly a concern.

This is stunning. I had no thoughts on the band before, no indication of what was inside, no idea that Shuford was even capable of this kind of genre-specific writing and playing with such great success. No moment would ever hint that his main project is responsible for such fantastic (but, let's be honest, unapproachable) albums like Clomeim, IntonomancyRe: Mr. A Fan, and as a result the D. Charles Speer pseudonym has taken on a life of its own, like Chris Gaines, but not total and utter shit. I have been greatly surprised and actually rewarded in the process of listening to this album. I exhort Mr. Shuford to release more like this while maintaining the unwavering singularity and boundless freedom offered by NNCK. The division only makes both projects better. And holy shit what a great duo of bands to be part of.