Frank Gutch Jr: Beauty and the Beast…From the Starlight Hotel to the Big Shitty

You know that column I was going to write about the music industry and how, since the digital revolution, it has invariably shot itself in the foot (read, ass) at virtually every junction of the road leading to their current situation?  You won’t get it this week.  Oh, I wanted to write it and it will eventually see the light of day, but the coolest thing happened on my way to the forums.  I was sidetracked.

As much as I want to shed light on the mistakes made and the situations created by an industry hell-bent on destruction, and as much as I would not mind the attention I would get from a “Why The Beatles Remasters Do Nothing More Than Take Up Space” column (ten-to-one, I get more reaction from that one pseudo-headline than I have from all of my other columns combined), I can’t.  Not here and not now, because I have been dragged, kicking and screaming I assure you, from the negative into the positive by two musicians who, so far beneath the radar that their names are essentially buried among the white noise, have put musical meat on the table which the industry with all its deep pockets evidently cannot.

One is beauty and one is beast, as if one could use a single word to describe either.  In a music world of fads and formula, they stand above most and, in fact, stand at the top of my list.  One, Zoe Muth, is straight on country but not country of the Nashville or Modern  variety.  The other, Paul Curreri, not only pushes envelopes but shreds them to pieces.

You want the best?  I give you the best.  Pay attention.  Writing this column is not as easy as it sounds.

You Only Believe Me When I’m Lying…..

is the first track on Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers’ first and self-titled album, but that’s all I needed to know these guys were special.  I say “these guys” because as much as Muth is the voice and the songwriting genius behind the band, they are indeed a band.  To be sure, Muth could set out on her own at the drop of a hat but she didn’t and won’t.  Not for awhile and not until it is time for the band to dissolve.

She’s from Seattle and was teaching pre-school when she started hitting the open mikes and coffee shops to hock her musical wares.  That’s where the early fans found her and that is where Country Dave Harmonson found her.  Harmonson is not new to country, having spent the better part of 40 years smelling the stale beer and inhaling the cigarette smoke of the tavern circuit.  He was a veteran and if veterans don’t know anything else, they know music and what Harmonson heard definitely fit in that category.  Muth was rough but ready and willing and after the connection was made, they set about putting together The Lost High Rollers and as soon as Muth had the songs ready, headed into a studio.

What they came out with was a stunner.  Not only are the songs outstanding, the production is immaculate.  Muth’s voice, upfront and recorded to perfection, rings true on each song, from the Country & Western-style You Only Believe Me When I’m Lying to the lonesome and lost folk of Never Be Fooled Again, the former good enough to make you laugh and the latter to wring tears from a dry sponge.

I found her through Steve Hoffman’s Music Forums, a member having posted a link to her music.  Always ready for something better than the average, I followed the link and fell in love.  Then I backtracked to the Forums and read the comments.  I rejoiced with those who agreed with the poster and mentally threatened mayhem for those who didn’t.  They are lucky I am not a Vin Diesel.  Truth be told, I am not even much of an Elmer Fudd, but if thoughts could kill, the Forums would have been bloody hell that day.

I wrote a review and sent it to Muth and she wrote back, thanking me and saying she would keep me posted and, goddamn, a handful of weeks later I got this note saying they would be playing The Axe & Fiddle in Cottage Grove, a mere 60 miles away, and I went.  And I’m glad I did.  It was a great evening and even though the crowd was small, the music was incredible.

Not long after, Signature Sounds Recordings, who had been promoting the album as one not on their label but one not to miss, approached Muth and signed them for a second album.  The resulting Starlight Hotel made its way through the mail when it was completed with a personal note about another Axe & Fiddle engagement and this time the crowd was larger and I  had a chance to sit down with Muth and talk to the guys and have seldom had as good a night without the swilling of beer (I had to drive).  It was maybe two or three in the morning when I got home and I was so wired I couldn’t sleep, so I sat down and wrote a review.  If you’ve paid attention at all you know what I wrote.

Suffice it to say that I avoid any and all of those country gala affairs they broadcast these days.  I get that Kenny Chesney and Brad Paisley and Lady Antebellum are on top, though top means much less now than it did 20 years ago.  I get that Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood are fan favorites.  What I don’t get is how Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers are not.  And this, simply put, is why I hate Nashville.

Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers/Before the Night Is Gone video

Where Do Hipster Houseflies Socialize?

It’s a line from a Paul  Curreri song and the Jeopardy question to the answer “The Big Shitty”, Curreri’s latest album.  My first question was, will United Statesians turn away from such a title and my immediate answer was fuck ’em.  They have given Curreri little if any support over the past number of years and I am beginning to think the US the worst of countries when it comes to music (outside of producing it).  Toss a Pink Floyd box set their way, though, and watch the melee.  But this isn’t about my cynical views on the music industry or how a gadget-enthused public is slowly (?) being anesthetized  to robot status.  This is about music and, boy, does Curreri give it to us.

The Big Shitty is Curreri unleashed and let me tell you, when he unleashes he really unleashes.  The album is chock full of dense and intense, heavily layered layered guitar and percussion dominant and pervasive.  Vocals change with the track, sometimes chambered and sometimes not, but always leading the way.  This album, in fact, is the best example yet of voice-as-rhythm, Curreri singing and talking his way through some of the edgiest songs he’s ever written.  Actually, over the edge at times.

The album starts with the beat heavy Nothing’s Changed on the Dance Floor, laying down a groove and working it hard.  I could see this being the showstopper, five guitarists sharing riffs and a stage full of percussionists.  It gives way to a classic lesson in funk, The Big Shitty, and then the very Curreri Ju Ju with its slight leanings toward  the Third World.  Are You There Anymore is an out-and-out rocker and pulls out all the stops in the funky and jazzy Who Got Gang.  He really tips the manic scales with The Water Tower (Kill My Teacher), an off-the-reservation rant from the dark side and, man, I’m telling you, you have to hear it to appreciate it.  Andy Fyfe at Mojo gave it four stars and I agree with every word he wrote except that he started it with “Mr. Devon Sproule finds his true voice on album seven” and I think relegating Curreri to a Mr. (insert wife’s name here) is a bit too far.  Admittedly, Curreri’s wife, Devon Sproule, has a large following the the UK, probably larger than his, but he is no Mr.  He is a musician in his own right and, in my estimation, as good as anyone in rock today.

Like Fyfe said, this is Curreri’s seventh go-round and, no, he has not knocked the world on its ass, but that is more the problem of the world than Curreri.  He came from folk and blues roots and slowly developed until a style emerged and he has been playing in that style for years.  He learned finger-picking from good friend Danny Schmidt (as good a finger-picker as there is out there), soaked up all the roots he could and lived on the edge, as he has since birth, according to him.  He pushes more envelopes in a day than most musicians do in a month and is always looking for that something extra (My favorite story has to do with recording Little Grey Sheep with Schmidt and wanting to take a song and delete every third and fifth note or something like that— now that is innovation).

My unhappiness with the United States?  They bought Curreri and Sproule one-way tickets to Germany, or that’s what I think.  By not buying their albums.  By not attending their shows, or at least not enough of them.  By just not.  Both deserve better, so they went somewhere where it is hoped they receive better.

Now, I’m certainly not saying that everyone will get what Curreri is doing on The Big Shitty.  In fact, it is a solid winner of Linus’s “Several Hearings” award.  What I am saying is that it is one of the most creative and innovative albums of music I’ve heard in quite some time.  And don’t expect clean.  Curreri plays for effect and he at times layers so deep that it will take you several hearings to begin to hear them.  I think it’s genius, but like my friends say, what the hell do I know?

Paul Curreri/Poor Little Motorbike video

Paul Curreri/Hacket video

Research Turtles vs. Bright*Giant…..

I received an email from this guy who wanted to know why I keep repeating Research Turtles and Bright*Giant information all the time.  Well, Billy, I do it because if I won the lottery, the first thing I would do is set up a national tour for a Research Turtles/Bright*Giant double bill or a Bright*Giant/Research Turtles double bill, either one.  That’s how much I have faith in these guys.  So, thanks to Billy, here are the links again only this time how about some people following them and checking them out:

Research Turtles/Bugs in a Jar video

Research Turtles/Break My Fall video

Research Turtles/Listen Here

Bright*Giant/Listen Here

Bright*Giant/Sandbox video

Speaking of videos, Ollabelle just uploaded one from an older concert.  It’s a killer.  Check it out and then check them out.  Watch video here.

No Notes this week, but you can bet there will be twice as many next week.

Keep the faith.

We now have an email address where all of us here at Don’t Believe a Word I Say can be contacted: dbawis@rogers.com  Please use it to ask questions, tell us what you’d like to read about,  links you’d like to share,  and let us hear what you have to say.

Frank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.”

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