“I turn words
Into riddles and games
Hiding the meaning
By shading the same”
Be As Good To Others As They Are Not To You starts as a mystery. A piece of tangible vinyl with often transient and evanescent content; sound appearing and fading such that you can lose certainty as to whether it emanates from the record or from out in the street. The music measured and atmospheric; a rural psychedelia on the cusp between folk and country; gnomic lyrics, meditating on loss as a stage in the cycle of nature, with a strong impression of a patient, unforced gestation.
The sleeve has a stark beauty; the front being a fine piece of John Hurford frontier art, akin to that of Jeff Horsey’s Rattlesnakes And Heartstrings. There is no legend and nothing on the spine either. The back shows two rustic, bearded gentlemen with small guitar, a pump organ, and an ancient zither; there are song titles but they’re barely decipherable.
This pair are Jens Unossun and Arne Jonasson. Jens is a founder member of The Spacious Mind, a notable Swedish ensemble who, for nigh on three decades, have been releasing memorable psychedelic music. They famously accompanied Tom Rapp, of Pearls Before Swine, at his Terrastock appearance in London in 1999. Jonasson is a regular collaborator with Jens on such side-trips as The Holy River Family Band.
They’re the sole performers on six of the eight tracks here; Jens singing and playing keyboards, Arne on various stringed instruments, and both adding percussion. The other two – ‘Sweet Home Blues (Redneck Dumbfuck Blues)’ and ‘Green Was The Day (Bottom Of The Well)’) – see them joined by the Head Country Hoedowners – Snosun and Aarnson Jones, Black Owl, and Dave Hell – and the presence of these acclaimed purveyors of outlaw mutation boogie signal changes in mood. The Jones Brothers also serve as producers and arrangers.
All information is gleaned from the album’s insert which along with the lyrics features photos galore of Jens’ rural abode and lifestyle – in the main image he’s wielding an impressive looking implement, possibly a scythe; like the songs they’re full of animals.
Witness the opener ‘Horse Blues’, carrying a distinctive Garcia/Dead ambience of gentle build before the soft near-spoken vocal arrives: “Out in the woods I was kicked by a horse”. It’s a song you need to lean into to catch all the brief skitters and resonances, of foxes, ghosts, trees and poets. Then follows ‘Sweet Home Blues (Redneck Dumbfuck Blues)’; here an opposition is drawn between living in harmony with the natural world, and wrecking and exploiting the land for profit. There’s more than a bit of underlying, restrained anger, and intimations of savagery in the incisive, insistent guitar and the rampant cymbal-heavy percussion.
‘Owl Fox Sing’ reasserts more gentle textures, and settles again to change in continuity in the ramble of strings and reassuring organ, while ‘Snake Mountain Love & Death Chants For All’ takes pace from elements of incantation and spell. The gently meditative ‘Be As Good To Others As They Are Not To You’ launches from thoughts on Jens’ recently deceased father into a wider sense of dissolution.
When The Hoedowners return on ‘Green Was The Day (Bottom Of The Well)’ – a rich brew with prominent cowbell – a guitar gradually starts intimating its presence before, as the song edges to its conclusion, majestically imposing itself. There’ll be more magical guitar amongst the tick, brood, and shudder of ‘Linnet Blues’ before the spare ‘Post Scriptum’ concludes the set in one further declaration of dematerialization.
With Be As Good To Others As They Are Not To You it sometimes appears the less you listen the more you hear, and it’s certainly too stately an album to leap into and expect instant gratification, but give it the time and it surely works its spell.