Review: Number Three Combo – Retrofitting (released May 15, 2017)
On their first release, Retrofitting, Number Three Combo explored a sound utilizing acoustic instruments like guitar, flute and hand percussion, with occasional synth to create both folky songs and more cinematic style soundscapes, often with a Middle Eastern flavour. On their second album, 2016’s Solarium, they explored similar territory, but they replaced the acoustic guitar with synthesizers for a much more electronic album. For Resurfacing, which is their final release, Number Three Combo shake it up again, this time producing a more traditionally song based album, without sacrificing the elements developed on the first two recordings. Returning for this outing are ex-Black Sun Ensemble members Eric Johnson on guitar, keyboards, and vocals and Joe E. Furno on flute and vocals, joined again by Cobracalia’s Carl Hall on djembe and dumbek. Assisting them on this album are former Cobracalia/Muddy Bug drummer Darin Guthrie and bassist Zac Seasley.
The album opens with the title track, a brief percussive instrumental echoing the more cinematic elements of the previous albums. It’s followed by The Diamond Mine, which is probably the closest thing to a Black Sun Ensemble track you’ll hear on this album. For those unfamiliar, it has a bit of a Kashmir vibe. With its heavy riffing, the Zeppelin influence is heard again on one of the tastiest tracks on the album, Killing Time, but this time the music also has a bit of Tull vibe to it as Furno rocks out like Ian Anderson on his flute. But after that, the album takes off in many different directions. There are the rockers, like the slow and bluesy Heavy Is the Hand,
the Stones flavoured teen high school stomp of Friends, and the rollicking yet strangely moody and spacey Fog and Steam. Laziness Is Next to Godliness, the longest track on the album at just over 6-minutes, returns to the more cinematic sound of their first two releases, with an atmospheric instrumental excursion in three distinctive parts that magically come together as a unified whole. You’ll also hear stirring ballads like the lovely acoustic and quite spacey Band Blues, the moody and fatalistic Not for Long, and the haunting Walking in the Air, a cover of a song from the popular UK children’s holiday classic The Snowman.
Speaking of covers, I like that the band choose less obvious tracks to cover. Sure, everyone from Tom Petty to Haim have covered Fleetwood Mac’s Oh Well (Part I), but few if any have covered the lesser known Oh Well (Part II). The song dates back to 1969 when it was released as a single, with Part II as the B-side. Both parts were later added to a revised version of Fleetwood Mac’s 1969 LP Then Play On (also released in ’69). It’s a perfect choice for the band to cover as it delves into both traditional blues rock and classically influenced cinematic music. They preserve the bluesy vibe of the original Part I, but give it a bit of progressive edge with Furno’s furious flute playing and Part II is a beautiful and quite stately, acoustic meditation that adds soft synth swells for a haunting atmosphere. The album ends with Let It Play to the End, a rousing, melodic and joyous rocker (another of the truly standout tracks on the album) that segues nicely into the short final piece, End(less), a slow, swirling ambient fade out.
Over the course of their short career, Number Three Combo have left a legacy of fascinatingly varied musical ideas that nonetheless draw on the core power of the three main members giving it all a distinct and unique delivery. Resurfacing is less a summation of their sound, but more an addition to what had come before. But with songs like Not For Long and Let It Play to the End that echo the closing out of a story, Resurfacing is a fitting final chapter to the band’s saga, and just an all-round great listen.