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Russell Gunn: Ethnomusicology Volume 2

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Russell Gunn’s Ethnomusicology, Vol. 2 is a study in unfulfilled expectations. On the album’s cover, trumpeter Gunn stares forlornly into the distance, perhaps because he has been painted in blackface and strung up like a marionette against the background of an American flag. The album itself, however, lacks any discernible antiestablishment content. The first two tracks feature a piano loop stolen from a Greg Nice song and lyrics that rapper “Gunn Fu” partially borrows from a D-Nice song, respectively; however, hip-hop style makes few incursions into the rest of the album, and neither do MCs with the word “Nice” in their names.

More seriously, despite the cover imagery and the liner-note quote thanking the Canadian indie label Justin Time for “letting me make the record I wanted to make” (both of which appear to refer to Gunn’s awkward dalliance with Atlantic for Ethnomusicology, Vol. 1), Vol. 2 shuns excitement of any kind, preferring to serenade the listener with mildly funkified versions of jazz classics.

Gunn rhymes over a reasonably invigorating version of Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy,” but elsewhere the results are embarrassing; the beat of “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Go-Go Swing)” lacks both bite and drive-which means it is not a go-go beat-and the track itself is a lackluster theme-and-improv. “Caravan,” “I Wish” and “Del Rio (aka Anita)” get similarly pallid treatment. Only two tracks (“Dance of the Concubine” and “Lyne’s Joint”) are originals from the barrel of Gunn, and both meander smoothly and without much incident.

Ethnomusicology, Vol. 1 suggested an artist who had begun to explore the possibilities of a new style, with occasionally exciting results; Vol. 2, unfortunately, features Gunn playing it soporifically safe. One hopes he will go back to advancing the state of scholarship if there is a Vol. 3.