Essential New Music: Rhyton’s “Pharaonic Crosstalk”

Freedom, Kris Kristofferson once wrote, is just another word for nothing left to lose. Rhyton’s singer and string-bender, Dave Shuford, is serious student of mid-20th century country ’n’ western music, so he probably wouldn’t contradict the man to his face. But Rhyton’s music tells another story. Freedom, it suggests, means that you have everything to gain.

Or, at least, the chance to play anything you please. A random sampling of Rhyton’s discography will turn up psychedelic freakouts, Anatolian folk themes and an inside-out cover of Joe Walsh’s “Turn To Stone.” It’s enough to make you wonder if you’re hearing the same band. Pharaonic Crosstalk, the trio’s first recording in five years to manifest in the physical realm, heads in a few new directions, with the nimble bass of Jimmy SeiTang and propulsive drumming of Rob Smith showing the way. 

“LIT On The DL” starts with Shuford’s effects-shrouded voice casting a spell as funky as Dr. John’s socks. But just as you think the song’s going to end, the rhythm section kicks into overdrive, sounding for all the world like Flow Motion-era Can covering the Meters. The galloping tempo and snaky soprano sax of guest soloist Al Carlson on “Runnings (Out Of Dreams)” scratches the same itch as Sextant-period Herbie Hancock. And “Kabylian Peaks” plays out as a tug of war between the rhythm section’s rubbery groove and Shuford’s Aegean-scented mandolin. The band plays it all with a palpable delight that shines joy into the music’s darkest corners.

—Bill Meyer