Calling Up Spirits (Beggars Banquet)
Dick Dale

By Bob Bahr

What's the correct direction for a Dick Dale record? Give the people what they want, and you end up with classic surf rockers "Nitrus" and "Gypsy Fire." Give Dick Dale what he wants, and you end up with him singing "Fever" and the political sermon "Window." Perhaps the fairest and best option is the path Dale took — including both kinds of songs on this album, Calling Up Spirits. Dale gets to satisfy his need to sing and to spread a message about respecting the indigenous people of the world, and those of us addicted to distilled, potent surf guitar get our jones satisfied. It makes for an essential Dick Dale record, but not an essential record in the grand scheme of things.

Five great songs featuring outstanding surf guitar performances anchor this disc. Critics could say that "Nitrus" is a slight reworking of the riff from 1993's "Nitro," and they might be right. But it's the playing that makes either song worth listening to. The same holds true for "Catamount," which features a blues lick moving along a blues progression. That may sound safe as a suburban street, and it is, but it's made raucous by splashy drums and the reverb tone of Dale's Fender guitar. The musical approach that Dale has espoused, exemplified most strongly in the simply thudding drums, communicates a purposeful primitivism that must be embraced by the listener if Dale's music is to be enjoyed.

One doesn't deviate too far from the rules of surf rock. Dale's stretching of the genre amounts to mild twists on classic formulas; "Bandito" spices it up with a strong Mexican/Spanish guitar flavor, and "Doom Box" takes a perfectly good (and perfectly boring) surf guitar riff and upends it, rendering the rhythm asymmetrical and atypical.

Lest you think he is totally bored with his genre's forms and conventions, check out "Temple of Gizeh," the album's musical centerpiece. The attack of the tremolo, reverb-drenched guitar is familiar, but this tune is relatively sparse, with a vaguely non-Western feel and an exploratory spirit that leads the composition away in new directions several times in the course of its six-minute run. Sounding like a showcase for the quartet's musicianship and ideas, "Temple of Gizeh" is, in the mind's eye, primitive jazz played by wise elders of another genre. On Calling Up Spirits, Dale is joined by Del-Tone bassist Ron Eglit and a pair of drummers who double on percussion — Scott Mathews and Prairie Prince.

The rhythm section steals some of Dale's tribal thunder on "Third Stone from the Sun," a tribute from one loud guitarist to another. Jimi Hendrix's tune has a melody irresistible to guitar players, and Dale and band work through it with neither constricting reverence nor anarchistic abandon — just a sense of fun. Below Dale's prominently mixed guitar, Eglit and the drummers sit back in a relaxed groove, until Dale ends the performance by assertively restating the melody with some solemnity.

Two other songs deviate from the mold: "Calling Up Spirits," with its appropriately tribal rhythm that hits you in the gut, and "Peppermint Man," a bouncy, B-3 stroked tune that injects a little '50s feel into the album.

The album departs on a beautiful, exciting note with "Gypsy Fire," an exotic surf guitar tune with a cleaner, lighter feel than most of the rest. When it's finished, one is thankful that Dale is still willing to endure the slings and arrows of the outrageous music business, because no one else in the world can make a Dick Dale record.