With Mother, Xylouris White have created what might best be described as a musical representation of Greece as it exists in our collective cultural imagination. It isn’t the sound of a modern land filled with megacities, crowded beaches and tourist-filled nightclubs, but of an ancient land built on myth and legend, and filled with truths so profound and universal that they could only be delivered in fable and parable. It is the sound of a world where the line between man, god and beast becomes blurred; a world where the dawn of civilisation existed alongside Dionysian bacchanalia; a world of sand and rock, sea and mountain, wind and fire.
A collaboration between New York-based Australian drummer Jim White of Dirty Three fame, and revered Greek singer and laouto (Cretan lute) player George Xylouris, Xylouris White blow apart our expectations of the power a simple duo can muster, and of what world music can be. In fact, since the release of their debut album Goats in 2014, Xylouris White have been pushing the boundaries of their musical relationship and free-wheeling approach, sometimes reaching into the realms of free jazz, ambient and experimental while still retaining their earthy and undeniably Greek core. Xylouris’ laouto roars like thunder or caresses like rain, sometimes falling away into a mere ghost-like presence and sometimes charging over the top of everything else, driving their sound forward. His voice is sometimes a whisper, sometimes a rumble, sometimes a wail, sometimes a howl. White does what he does best: he walks a line with his drumming and percussion, achieving a perfect balance between melody and rhythm, between accompanist and leader, between control and freedom. In Xylouris, he seems to have found the perfect collaborator, the border between his drums and Xylouris’ laouto often becoming indistinct.
Opening track ‘Achilles’ Heel’ is a brooding affair, Xylouris’ low moan evoking a cold wind on a lonely mountain top, his gently plucked laouto and White’s rickety percussion summoning a sound more akin to that of rain and skittering stones. ‘Motorcycle Kondilies’ moves with a purpose, White’s tick-tock drumbeat combining with Xylouris’ cyclic laouto riff to create the sort of song that might be played at a gathering in a lonely forest or on an empty beach. ‘Lullaby’ might have been beamed to us from the distant past, such is the rawness of its sound and the almost-improvised approach of Xylouris and White. ‘Daphne’ is as eerie as anything I’ve ever heard, a spidery laouto riff and stop-start percussion slowly evolving into something frenetic and overwhelming, the end result being the stuff of nightmares. And these barely scratch the surface…If you’ve got even the slightest affection for world music, you need to rush out right now and get yourself a copy of Mother.