No creative fatigue from wildman Reaks

The cover of Compassion Fatigue 1-8 by Ashley Reaks.
The cover of Compassion Fatigue 1-8 by Ashley Reaks.

Review by Graham Chalmers

Compassion Fatigue 1-8 (album)

Ashley Reaks is the single most talented musical figure I’ve come across in Harrogate* in the past 25 years.

And I know exactly why this creative wildman is not as close to being a household name as his talent deserves.

All it takes is a few listens to the latest album by this now London-based artist, filmmaker, musician and poet.

Never one to take the easy road, Reaks has opted to set himself some strict parameters for Compassion Fatigue 1-8.

“The album came from an idea where the first song would be one minute long and in the key of A, the second song would be two minutes long and in the key of B - and so on.”

As recorded with sparkling warmth by Dan Mizen in his Harrogate studios, Active Audio and Mark Bhalla at Ocean Studios in London, the result is an ambitious amalgamation of different musical styles.

Always one to confound expectations, this impressive but provocative collection of eight tracks begins in vaguely post-punk mode, veers temporarily into jazz, prog and minimalism and ends in an epic flurry of full blown World Music.

The musicianship is superb throughout, from Reaks’ own multi-instrumental skills to cameos from guitarist Nick Dunne, sax players Dave Kemp and Ian Peak and drummers Mark Law and Dan Mizen.

Three things bring consistency to this amazingly creative melting pot.

Strongly melodic pop hooks.

Strongly percussive rhythms.

Strongly transgressive lyrics.

The latter is the main reason why most readers probably haven’t heard of Reaks.

Despite his lengthy pop pedigree, Reaks is a true disciple of Dada, as opposed to a mere badge wearer,

And his bold as brass attacks on society’s hypocrises tend to combine witty surrealism with downright obscenity.

It says a lot that in this supposedly liberal day and age, a lot of Compassion Fatigue is still too rude to broadcast.

Which is a great shame. For the album is worth buying for track eight alone, Disconnected, when Reaks creates a wonderfully powerful Eastern-flavoured improvisation with the incredible vocals of Norway’s Leeds-based singer Maria Jardardottir.

For eight minutes duration, obviously.

* This isn’t meant as a back-handed compliment