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Bobby Brown, "The Enlightening Beam of Axonda"

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The California of the 1960s was a breeding ground for eccentric characters: psychedelic prophets, cult leaders, crank scientists, charlatans, fringe artists, bizarre self-taught musicians and psychotic burnouts. Some individuals, it seems, were able embody all of these archetypes at once; and of these, at least one managed to record and release an album. Bobby Brown's 1972 LP The Enlightening Beam of Axonda is a holy grail for collectors of rare psych, and one of the most idiosyncratic works to emerge from the West Coast petri-dish of psychedelics and self-motivated outsiders. Akarma

The LP was originally issued in a small run on Destiny Records, and today trades hands for absurdly inflated prices, which makes this deluxe digipack CD reissue on Italy's Akarma label a particularly welcome release. Bobby Brown has the misfortune to share a namesake with the notorious R&B artist and Whitney Houston/crack abuser, making Google searches problematic to all but the most persistent. This Bobby Brown was a blonde, blue-eyed flower-child surfer from Sacramento who traveled up and down the West Coast throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, performing live at acid-drenched beach parties and hawking his records from the back of a van. Brown played more than 50 self-built instruments — harps, bells, zithers, woodwinds, sitar and percussion — all arranged into an ingeniously constructed series of cross-triggered racks that surrounded him during live performances, making it possible for him to play several instruments and sing simultaneously. His voice stretches across six unusually expressive octaves, vacillating lysergically one moment and perfectly mimicking the sounds of a theremin the next. It's tempting to try to fit this "Universal One Man Orchestra" into a framework including other outsiders such as Harry Partch and Moondog, but the Axonda album resists such easy categorization. It's a concept album, relating the journey of a spiritual adept named "Johnny" from his pastoral Hawaiian home, across the globe and eventually into the cosmos. Johnny makes contact with the God-machine Axonda and its clear beam of consciousness light, which reveals to him the future of mankind — the reconciliation of all world religions and a merging into pure, perfected Godhead. It's undeniably hokey and quite often banal, but Bobby Brown's sincerity sells it, hypnotizing with trippy, beatific melodies and an unorthodox marriage of exotica, island music, Indian raga and African rhythms. Brown's speaker-vibrating bass and oceanic tenor coos perfectly express his impossibly utopian philosophies, coasting along with multi-tracked instrumentals and overdubbed vocals, pausing between songs for spoken-word narrative transitions. Brown's painstakingly scribed liner notes are reproduced in this edition, full of hilarious boasts about his explication of the fictional scientific concept of "the Bray" — "an original contribution to the field of Religion & Science...not yet discovered by other humanoids" that will one day "lead to the most significant change in the history of humanity (plus total religious unity)." Perhaps Bobby's ambitions were ultimately unrealistic, but The Enlightening Beam of Axonda is an original and uncompromising work of art, and a valuable contribution to the field of outsider art. 

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Last Updated on Monday, 20 June 2011 04:14  


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