The Last Fret (Smarten UP! & Get to the Point)
Electric and acoustic bassist Wendy Atkinson bills her third solo effort as another “experimental” undertaking, and so it is: if you’ve heard the bass sound like this before, you’ve probably got rather left-field tastes. And yet Atkinson is an exceptionally friendly experimentalist, certainly not one to be afraid of.
Consider “Play Along”. A plucked electric bass sets the mood with a jaunty eight-note riff that’s pedestrian only in that it moves along at a comfortable strolling pace. Above that, there’s a bowed upright pretending to be a bass clarinet, all breathy baritone humming, and a cloudy, continuous pedal tone: it’s quite pleasant—until the walking party falls into a sinkhole and flails around for a bit, before climbing out and continuing on its merry way.
Several of The Last Fret’s 15 brief selections follow a similarly descriptive path; Atkinson has a gift for establishing a sense of place with fairly minimal means. But the record also branches out through the audio-verité travelogue “Hebron Birds”; the watery fake electronica of “Vancouver Winter”; and the spoken-word excursion “Ukulele Shock”, with guest guitar from Mecca Normal’s David Lester, who’s also the bassist’s partner.
On the latter, Atkinson reveals how she grew up with a ukulele-playing single mother—and how she had a rude surprise when she first heard Bob Dylan sing “Blowing in the Wind” and realized it wasn’t one of mom’s originals. It’s light-hearted, charming, and brief: words that, save for a few darker passages, could easily describe most of The Last Fret’s 37 minutes.