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Art & Language/The Red Krayola: Baby and Child Care *

Album Notes

When he wasn't busy with his many musical projects in the '70s and '80s, guitarist and songwriter Mayo Thompson was part of the celebrated British conceptual art collective Art & Language. Given Thompson's creative restlessness, it's not surprising that his partners in Art & Language became part of his musical efforts, most notably his shape-shifting group the Red Krayola, and they've teamed up for several albums since 1976's Corrected Slogans. Arriving in 2016, Baby and Child Care is a project that Thompson chose to revisit after it sat in mothballs for more than three decades. With the Red Krayola creating the music and Art & Language members Michael Baldwin and Mel Ramsden penning the lyrics, the material was recorded in 1984, but for unknown reasons the results didn't emerge until Drag City issued the album in 2016. (There are a few moments when one can hear damage that occurred to the tapes in storage, though they don't seriously mar the experience.) The album purports to be inspired by Dr. Benjamin Spock's famous book on the mysterious art of raising children, with Baldwin and Ramsden's lyrics taking a surreal, sunnily distorted view of the book's advice, while the Red Krayola conjure similarly arch but playful sounds that weave in and out of the narration. Thompson was doing double duty in Pere Ubu and the Red Krayola at the time, and he brought Pere Ubu's synthesizer player, Allen Ravenstine, along for these sessions. The thrust and parry between Thompson's guitar and Ravenstine's clouds of sound is the most rewarding thing about Baby and Child Care; while the tunes they're built around are well crafted, for the most part the performances are more interesting than the music itself, and many of these tracks would likely have worked as well as instrumentals. Thompson and his collaborators may have sat on Baby and Child Care for 32 years because it's good but not up to the level of either party's best work, but anyone with a taste for Thompson's musical world-view will find this pleasurable, if not always revelatory. ~ Mark Deming



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