Although Merrell Fankhauser requires no introduction, I’ll go ahead and share some of his accomplishments anyway for the newcomers reading this.
Starting life in the early sixties with the Impacts, who hailed from Southern California, the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist went on to play in a number of equally celebrated bands such as Merrill and the Exiles, Fapardokly, HMS Bounty and MU. He’s also had an acclaimed solo career, and one of his most recent bands, Fankhauser-Cassidy, included the late great Spirit drummer Ed Cassidy.
Covering everything from surf rock to British Invasion styled pop to folk rock to psychedelic exploration to blues to progressive rock, Merrell has mastered each genre with remarkable insight and intuition. By splashing his own unique take across the landscape, he creates sounds that are exciting and original.
Merrell’s latest offering, “Area 51 Suite” draws inspiration from Area 51, an army base located in the Nevada desert where it is widely believed objects and possibly even entities from outer space exist and are hidden in secret chambers. A double disc selection, the project does a brilliant job capturing the mood of its subject. Shadowy contours converge with a sense of mystery and mystique, making the listener feel as if interdimensional beings are peering at them either through the windows of airships or behind the hungry shrubbery dotting the dry terrain.
Dominated by instrumentals, “Area 51 Suite” flows and flourishes with gripping gestures. Both “Crash Landing” and “Aliens In The Mist” rumble and rustle with reverb-rigged surf rock currents, while “Area 51” slithers and slides with caution and anticipation to the sparkly finish of tingly melodies and picturesque textures. Stitched of warm and solid riffs, “Signals From Zoran” melts and mushrooms into a thrilling crescendo, where “Bimini Road” and “Stardazed” favor a slower and soothing approach devised of honey-drenched blues and tropical island influences. Whiney country flavored licks, complemented by the whistling toot of a flute, steer the point home on “Cocktails In Space” and “Lost Continent Blues” mixes jazz, rock and blues into an unconventional brew of freewheeling frolic. The reggae-infested “Alien Talk” and the polished pop rock fixings of “Calling From A Star” are the two vocal tracks heard on “Area 51 Suite,” and as an additional bonus, there’s “Extra Televisual,” an entertaining film starring Merrell, friend and aliens.