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Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Co.

There was a time (before Queen emblazoned every album with the bold and snippish pronouncement "No synthesizers!") that synths were actually valued tools for enhancing the rich and exotic texture of music. And there was a time before that when synths existed only in the minds and hands of the men and women who were the first to construct and perform with them. Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Co. is a relic of that innocent and exploratory era.

David Borden, the brains behind Mother Mallard, was the earliest acolyte of Robert Moog, the father of the modern synthesizer. Moog's initial prototypes were impossibly large and complex; Borden was Moog's guinea pig in piloting the bulky and unwieldy first attempts. The first album in this series, 1970-1973, consists of Mother Mallard's earliest archive recordings, and upon its original release, showed the tentative first steps of the new medium. Like a Duck to Water documents the second, more confident phase of Mother Mallard's existence, as Linda Fisher departed and Judy Borsher joined Borden and Steve Drews in their electronic voyage of discovery, a journey that set the stage for the development of electronic music as a genre. Both albums are exercises in tonalities and finding the warm heart of what came to be perceived as a cold musical expression.

It's difficult to listen to Mother Mallard with innocent ears after nearly three decades of Philip Glass, Brian Eno, Walter/Wendy Carlos, Tangerine Dream, Larry Fast, and mall music. The tentative steps taken by Borden and his brave electronic pioneers will either sound quaint when measured against the musicians who climbed to higher ground because of Borden's work or banal by association with the ham-fisted practitioners who forced Queen to trumpet its distaste for the device on every album. As so often happens, the machine bears the blame for its handler's ineptitude. For people who can transport themselves to that magical moment when synthesizers sounded like the breath of electronic angels, Mother Mallard's mid-'70s archive will be a thrilling listen. For those who can listen only from a contemporary perspective, this could be one lame Duck.

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Brian Baker

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