Peter Ulrich doesn’t have the quickest album turnover averaging an album once every seven years. However when an album does appear you can rest assured that it is going to be something quite special indeed. Joining forces with plenty of other artists and collaborators this time Peter brings friends and with it, his third studio is his most diverse yet.
Opening with “In This or Other Skin” we are treated to a wonderfully ramshackle gypsy folk track that bounces and traipses over the land with purpose and flair. The vocal duties here have a worldly quality to them and are not led by Ulrich himself, whom provides many of the gazillion instruments you’ll hear throughout the album. It’s a wonderful way to open the album before things take a Georgian/Indian twist with some imaginative cross culture blending. Ulrich provides a background mantra that breezes over organs and eastern percussion while a sitar provides a Raj of sorts and female luscious vocals power through over the top of it all. It’s such a unique take on things and introduces you quickly to that fact that although no two tracks cover the same ground at all, they all feel strangely connected like everything is taking a journey.
Moving to a broken down cabaret rock track we have Ulrich finally take the lead vocal on “The Secret Gardener” which has a secret rumba flicking back and forth behind the scenes as the you are seduced into the brass and the boozy pow-wows of the backing vocals. It reminds me of a track you’d play in a film when you do a final montage before the lead protagonist meets the baddie for the final showdown. “Dark Lover” then takes on a spiky Persian/Greek banjo track which is short but very complex in its make-up. There’s some wonderfully elaborate plucking that walks a fine line between Country Joe and Greek plate smashing and the vocals here are deep and sensual. It allows the mellow acousti-delic “Starship (Golden Eye)” which follows to effortlessly transport you on a trip well away from this Earth. It reminds me of some of Bowie’s more trippier mellow moments yet it still has an otherworldly quality that could equally channel Lorenna McKennitt if she dared to do an album on hedonism. “Children of the Rain” then tightens things into a powerful acoustic cry in celebration and warning for the rainforests. In a clever twist the vocalists sing very much like an African troupe and its all the wonderful percussion that Peter Ulrich is renowned for, it turns a catchy folk track into something that is utterly mesmerising.
“Drug of War” changes political assault towards war and deals with the after effects of war survivors whom are still scarred internally. It’s a catchy acoustic guitar led track with some nifty use of thumb pianos and some excellent mirages of backing vocals that echo softly and interact with each other. The absence of a proper bass here means that actual the male lead vocal becomes the lowest pitched instrument and it makes a stark and emotional impact on the song. “Hanging Man” continues the slide towards baroque pop with a strong production change where all the instruments are brought close to the ear with little reverb. This makes the Irish flute embellishments all the more haunting as the track haunts you upon each rolling beat as you march in the funeral line. Continuing the theme of loss and death “Fanfare for the Lost Tribe” turns to brass and monotone Native American chants and percussion to give and upbeat blessing to the departed. It has such an unusual mix to the track it takes a few listens to really feel each rhythm and level of energy. Then it will all hit you at once and it clicks magically.
“The Desert” returns to more ethnic roots giving us a psychedelic Indian rock track. There is so much going on with so many different instruments from different time periods and cultures pushing for your attention – it’s like an assault of the senses. The chorus is like a pill of euphoria and I challenge anyone not to get lost in the dizzy heights of it. “Love’s Skeleton” is a great ode to the everlasting love that remains after death. Things start to run full circle with a return to gypsy folk – that magical bounce and some big choruses as the track transitions constantly between tuned percussion and shout out loud questions of the world over meandering guitar riffs. It’s very much like the album comes together in a huge explosion of what has come before it and its spellbinding. “Tempest” is the track that closes the album however, with a welcome return of the hammered dulcimer in parts and only the second track Ulrich leads the vocal department. It feels like a sea shanty in places and a soaring bird of freedom in others. It always feels like it’s constantly driving forward towards a beautiful conclusion.
Quite simply “The Painted Caravan” is utterly phenomenal from start to finish. Peter Ulrich and his collaborators (mainly Trebor Lloyd, Sara Wendt, David Steele and Anne Husick) have pulled out all the stops, said goodbye to any conformity and became trailblazers and pioneers of musical art. Easily a contender for album of the year – if you dare to try music that will attack and soothe all your senses – this is your medicine.