A Masters of Reality Review More Than a Year in the Making

Pine!Chris Goss has been operating under the Masters of Reality banner for more than 20 years now, the band making its debut with 1988?s Rick Rubin-produced self-titled (aka The Blue Garden). Since then, Goss has proved the only mainstay, though for the last decade, drummer John Leamy has served as his creative partner in the band and there have been plenty of guests along the way, from Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri on 2001?s Deep in the Hole to David Catching and Brendan McNichol (both contributors to Queens of the Stone Age and other Palm Desert acts) on Masters of Reality?s latest, Pine/Cross Dover.

To say the album is long-awaited is an understatement. For more than a year, periodic release dates have come and gone with still no word as to when the record would actually be out. Goss, who initially pushed back the release because he wanted to keep writing, kept mostly silent throughout, leading to speculation as to the label situation with Brownhouse and Mascot Records. The upside is that although it?s only currently available in the US as an import, it?s still available. It?s been five years since Give Us Barabbas came out. A follow-up was long overdue.

And to that end, Pine/Cross Dover is an immediate success. Though opener ?King Richard TLH? doesn?t have the same striking sensation of ?The Ballad of Jody Fosty,? it also hasn?t had half a decade of me nerding out over it. Yet. One of the MySpace preview tracks for the album ? and for good reason ? it?s your quintessential latter day Masters of Reality track, with a lively rock progression and multiply tracked Goss vocals in the chorus. Of the two pieces of the album, divided in the track listing, liner notes and artwork as the separate entities Pine and Cross Dover, Pine strikes as the more straightforward. Even the darker, lonelier ?Absinthe, Jim and Me? is less druggy than the material on 1999?s Welcome to the Western Lodge, with a churning verse and distorted cabaret chorus. Likewise, ?Worm in the Silk? rests its head in a rich groove and hypnotic desert psychedelia.

Cross Dover!?Always? is the first of several highlight tracks, with more Welcome to the Western Lodge vibes and a showing of Masters of Reality?s grand rock side built up around a hyper-catchy chorus and a moment in the middle where the song stops and a harmonized Goss chimes in with, ?Nothing to add that is not sad.? Joining ?Johnny?s Dream? as a setup and lead in for Cross Dover, it?s beginning a transition without which the album as a whole would sound awkward and choppy. ?Johnny?s Dream? finds Leamy sticking mostly to his snare while Goss and Catching hold out sustained guitar notes as dreamy as the title would imply.

Cross Dover begins with ?Up in It,? another, somewhat surprising highlight. Darkly playful and driving, it?s Goss? vocals that make it a standout. ?Dreamtime Stomp,? the second titular allusion to dreaming on the record, could have been in Pine (to be honest, the two parts aren?t that disconnected sonically; the change is more atmospheric than anything else, and even in that, vague), boasting as it does a more straightforward take, dune-ready low end rumble and memorable chorus. ?Rosie?s Presence,? in contrast, comes on like far away interpretive barn blues, with a slide guitar presumably from Catching and an ending revolving around the line ?Tripping out on your love.?

The longest of the regular tracks — you?ll see why I call them that shortly — at 4:43, ?The Whore of New Orleans? takes on gospel traditionalism with a twisted Americana feel, coming on in three movements, two named, and a tale of broken will and ultimately a kind of chain gang spiritual. It stands as probably the best piece on the album until ?Testify? comes on. A personal favorite, it features a subtle guest appearance from UNKLE and opens with a foreboding riff (another guitar plays out like a siren underneath, or maybe that?s UNKLE at work), leading to catchy, near-Beatlesian psych and a match for ?King Richard TLH? in terms of embodying a piece of the band?s personality and Goss? personality as a songwriter.

Closer ?Alfalfa? probably would have worked better as a hidden bonus track, since it doesn?t really fit with either the Pine or the Cross Dover sections of the record, but it?s an enjoyable listen nonetheless and something different to Goss! All very exciting.end on: namely a 12-minute entirely improvised instrumental jam between Goss, Leamy, McNichol and guest guitarist Mark Christian. There is an immediate chemistry between the players, who according to Goss? liner notes had never been in the same room at the same time, but it?s an easy track to lose patience with if you?re not into jamming, hence it working better as a hidden track. Sounds like they were having fun, either way.

Masters of Reality have a long standing cult fanbase who will dig into Pine/Cross Dover no matter what, but for those unfamiliar with the band, Goss? songwriting is like a friendly hand welcoming you to the fold. Since most of the material here is straightforward pop as far as structure goes, there?s an instant familiarity with the songs that only enhances the strength of the album and makes it all the more of an enjoyable listen. The man is a luminary, and if it took five years to put out this record, it was worth the wait.

Masters of Reality on MySpace

Mascot Records

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