The Freak of Araby
The Freak of Araby reminds me of my ten days in Turkey last year, touring around with an Istanbul native who is also one of my dearest friends, crammed into whizzing taxicabs and smoky pubs in which pseudo-mariachi bands crowded around our tables to encourage merriment. At midnight, we would stalk the city’s all-night, open-air diners in search of kebab and twice-baked potatoes. When something local wasn’t playing over the loudspeakers, it was a Turkish Shakira on a flat screen TV, showing a surprising amount of skin. East meets West, and in that context, I really preferred the former.
Sir Richard Bishop is an electric guitar master, and with his ensemble cast on bass and a variety of drums, his latest album is part homage, part bold move forward. Roughly half of the songs on The Freak of Araby are covers, though one would have to have a fairly well-rounded knowledge of Middle Eastern and North African music to distinguish between the remakes and the originals. Half-Lebanese, but of Detroit origins, Bishop has released a number of solo albums but is also well known for his previous near-three decades with Sun City Girls.
Bishop is at once a gypsy and a contained, methodical musician. While a six-minute song like “Sidi Mansour” takes time to devolve into its own little jam session, tracks like “Barbary” clock in under three minutes and never deviate from a predetermined end point. The album’s cover art—a lounging woman with one breast fully exposed—leaves a bit to be desired, but maybe you’re the type to buy a digital copy of the album anyway. This one is worth the purchase.