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Mike Keneally: Wine and Pickles

Few artists can make a coherent CD with outtakes from a decade’s worth of previous releases. But very few musicians are capable of the ambidexterity of Southern California multi-instrumentalist Mike Keneally, who refers to Wine and Pickles in its liner notes as “the album I didn’t know I was making over the last 10 years.”

A guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist in Frank Zappa’s final touring band, Keneally blends his former employer’s intricate compositional skills and cynical humor with the pop sensibilities and whimsy of Todd Rundgren. It’s a mix that culminated on Keneally’s fourth solo release, the 1997 opus Sluggo! The new CD’s tracks are outtakes from four subsequent Keneally efforts, plus various oddities.

Roughly half the material comes from either Keneally’s 2000 Dancing sessions (which used horns to flirt with big-band status) or 2003 castaways from his rocking Dog release, like the “Feelin’ Strangely/Li’l” medley. In the first half, Keneally moves from lyrical Armageddon to upbeat absurdity, singing, “I’m gonna kiss Boz Scaggs on the head tonight.” The instrumental coda features his ace guitar interplay with Rick Musallam, but was probably too light for Dog. Ditto “Bubble Creek,” a solo piano piece that shows Keneally’s keyboard prowess.

Dancing was one of Keneally’s most Zappa-esque releases (with instrumentation similar to the 1977 album Zappa in New York). Highlights include the anthemic “Backwards Deb,” complex instrumental “Selfish Otter” and Jeff Buckley-ish “The Endings of Things.” Random brilliance also appears in Keneally’s orchestral demo “4S” and “Inhale,” from Lyle Workman’s 2000 Tabula Rasa sessions. Workman can also play all instruments, which he does here, while Keneally’s voice soars to Radiohead-like heights. All of which makes Wine and Pickles not unlike the manically cohesive Sluggo! Perhaps that’s why these pieces were discarded, but they combine to create Keneally’s finest studio effort since.

Originally Published