Music News

Pedal Steel Transmission

Drummer Don Ogilvie has taken a pretty bumpy path through the music scenes of Denver and Chicago over the past twenty years. He started out in numerous noise bands in suburban Illinois in the mid-'80s, including a short-lived combo with Todd Rittman -- later of U.S. Maple fame -- called Butthole Zydeco, in which Jim Croce lyrics were sung over renditions of Butthole Surfers songs. After moving to Denver in 1992, he played in the Felt Pilotes, a quartet whose raw, tender folk pop wound up becoming one of Colorado's great lost musical treasures, and pounded the skins for Crestfallen. When these groups broke up, Ogilvie moved back to Chicago, where he eventually hooked up with Dan Schneider, Gary Pyskacek and Bryan d'Ouville to form Pedal Steel Transmission.

Steeped in classic rock, post-rock, prog, country and jazz, Pedal Steel's first release, In the Winter It Makes the Dead Grass Look Green, was one of those proverbial top-ten-albums-of-the-year-that-you've-never-heard. The sound was ambitious, thrumming with ornate arrangements and gently unfolding emotion. It had the look, the feel and the funny smell of a concept album, only it didn't suck; even the distended, Yes-like triptych that closed the disc was over way too soon. So how in the hell do you top that? Easy: specialize. With The Angel of the Squared Circle, Ogilvie and company have scaled back their sweeping panorama, zooming in on some of the more scenic points of interest. The track "Amy" is a delicate, deadpan country rocker that might just be a bootleg of that jam session between Gram Parsons and Velvet Underground that never happened. "Waiting" is pretty much the same; just substitute Calexico and Love in that equation. Pedal Steel's early penchant for digital echo has also been eclipsed by organic washes of old-fashioned psychedelia; by the time the last few minutes of the album's closer, "Baionette," rolls around, it's melted down into a shimmering, stabbing, space-blues spasm similar to that third record of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass that nobody ever listens to. Granted, it's not quite as innovative as "Time in a Bottle" recited karaoke style over "Sweat Loaf," but it'll do.

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Jason Heller
Contact: Jason Heller