Frank Gutch Jr: It’s Thanksgiving…

 …and boy, do we have something to be thankful about!  2011 has been a killer year for music in spite of the negative press the industry has been given by a media focused on the apocalypse.  A killer year!  I ran a column on the best of the first half of the year back in June (read here) and as is my custom, I am ready to update.  Keep in mind that I am all about the Indies and my year runs from December to December so as to avoid the inevitable bottleneck come the first of the year (a trick I picked up from veteran writers who also wanted to skirt said bottleneck).  So, without further ado, let us dive into the albums and EPs which have made the second half of this year so memorable.

Paul Curreri/The Big Shitty—  If you read my column last week, you already know about Curreri and if you didn’t, you lose.  That is assuming that you really care about your music and are not caught in the great music rut of the 2000s, listening to the same old stuff over and over and imbibing in the Box Set Syndrome.  I have visions of walls of Beatles and Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin albums with the occasional oddity to break the monotony (See?  I’m adventurous.  I bought that Gregorian Chant album they played on NPR back in the late 80s, even though I haven’t played it since).  Sigh.  In the meantime, Curreri is putting out album after album of envelope-pushing music you have to actually listen to to get.  The new one, The Big Shitty, answers the question on the tips of everyone’s tongues, “Where do hipster houseflies socialize?”.  Winner of the Linus (thank you, Charles Schulz) “Several Hearings” award, which simply means that if you don’t give it several hearings, you’re going to miss how really good this album is.

Jim Allchin/Overclocked—  The first thing that popped into my mind when I put this in the player was Stevie Ray, the guitar having that screaming blues sound prevalent in albums like Double Trouble, but Stevie Ray it isn’t.  No, sir, it is Pac Northwesterner Jim Allchin and, man, does he have some licks!  The guy runs the gamut from solid blues to jazzy rock to fifties crunch and always with a flair.  Unlike most other blues-oriented albums, it is not all blues, either.  Allchin surrounds himself with one hell of a band and they are with him every step of the way.  The horns remind me of Chris Cain at the top of his game or The Muscle Shoals Horns and the rhythm section is as solid as it gets.  To put it succinctly, if Allchin wielded a knife instead of a guitar, there would be blood all over the room.

Paul Kelly/Songs From the South Vols. 1 & 2—  Of course, the biggest letters on the CD jacket spell Greatest Hits and that’s just what this is— Paul Kelly‘s greatest hits.  Kelly is a rocker from down under and tried to break into the US market back in ’88 with his band The Messengers on an album titled Under the Sun.  It received a bit of airplay but hardly enough to dent the charts and Kelly headed back to Oz, taking his music with him.  Lucky for us Americans, we can now redeem ourselves.  Kelly has put a two-disc package together that covers the years between then and now and it’s a monster!  This guy knew and knows how to rock and does it with a deft touch.  Not to be confused with the Paul Kelly from New York who puts together filmscape music which is also worth picking up on.

Jesse Dee & Jacquie B/Our Ghosts Will Fill These Walls—  I’ve heard the term “Americana” until I want to puke, which says more about a writers’ laziness than anything.  It seems that to be labeled such, all you need do is pluck a banjo string or add a fiddle or even just play an acoustic guitar. If you do any of those, you’re pigeon-holed, my friend.  Then along comes this duo (with full band, on this album at least) and the only word I can come up with to describe them is Americana.  Kill me with a spoon.  They have this loose, rhythmic approach on some of their songs which sound vaguely Dead and a floating cohesiveness on others which lean mainstream and weave it all together with a Jesse/Jacquie vocal combination which is quite captivating (I’m speaking of voices which complement each other without really blending).  Musically, they borrow from anything and everything, logging in two measures here which sound quite Twenties and harmonies there which sound Thirties but all totally today.  Forties?  Fifties?  Listen quick because they don’t last long and yet are integral to the songs like you can’t believe until you hear them for the tenth or twentieth time.  They live in the outback of British Columbia and live off of the tavern and bar circuit which spans from there all the way into Saskatchewan and beyond.  Moose Jaw?  Medicine Hat?  And all you thought they did up there was play hockey!

Green Pajamas/Green Pajama Country!—  Green Pajamas doing country?  What the…?  Let me put you at ease here, soldier.  This is no more country than is the Stones doing Wild Horses.  Sure, there are roots, but roots a genre do not make.  No, this is Green Pajamas doing Green Pajamas with a country twist is all.  Take a hint from the opening and closing themes which are more western movie-themed than twang.  Sure they give you a bit of twang, but they also give you that vintage Pajamas sound and if you know the Pajamas, you know that sound.  Up, down, happy, dark— they live on the very edges of psych— this time on the dusty confines of the Old West.  Hollywood did us no favors by boiling Western down to pap.  Cowboys and homesteaders had their dark sides too, which is sort of where the Pajamas go on  this, only they go there with music.  Want to hear something intriguing?  Check out Winter of ’23 and Why Good Men Go Bad.  Another notch in the Green Pajamas‘ gun.

Hannah Miller/O Black River—  If this album has done nothing else than rekindle my interest in producer/sideman Neilson Hubbard, it has done that.  I’ve been following Hubbard for some time and have yet to be disappointed in a project he has produced, this one included.  Not that Hannah Miller needed him.  The lady is loaded with talent on both the songwriting and vocal sides and after hearing this six-song mini-LP/EP, I wonder why we have not all heard more about her.  Her voice, while not sultry, leans that way and there is definitely soul in her heart.  The only complaints I’ve heard about O Black River is that it stays on the somber side.  Hell, that’s not even a complaint, rather egotistical imposition.  It’s called theme, folks, and you sure didn’t bitch when Pink Floyd did it.  Take my word for it, there is nothing to bitch about here, either.  It’s in my top picks for a reason.  It’s damn good!

J. D. Malone & The Experts/Avalon—  I liked what I heard of J.D. Malone & The Experts until I saw the video of She Likes and the like turned to love.  It is just the kind of up we need in a world ripped apart by partisan politics and corporate corruption and reminds me a bit of Richard Torrance & Eureka and Torrance’s excellent Belle of the Ball (Shelter Records, 1974).  Think Tom Petty on an upper.  And get this.  They include a DVD with the CD so you can see what I’m talking about!  It doesn’t get any better than that, does it?  Well, without Malone and crew showing up at your house to play for you personally.

Simone Stevens/Right On Time—  Simone Stevens is the voice of Fiery Blue, a trio comprised of songwriter Paul Marsteller, multi-instrumentalist Gabe Rhodes and Stevens.   I had thought that that was the extent of it— a pretty face, a good voice— but I was wrong again (I have been wrong a lot lately).  Unbeknownst to myself and a number of other people who have followed Fiery Blue, Stevens had been working behind the scenes on her own songs and her own direction and she lays it all out beautifully on Right On Time, a stunning collection of pop songs.  It takes me back to the days of Carole King and Megan McDonough and Joni Mitchell— the days when women were just beginning to break out as complete musicians.   It was simpler back then, the sings more forthright and true.  Stevens captures that on this album.  My favorite?  Right now it’s a tossup between ABC and Below Zero, but it changes with mood.

Lisbee Stainton/Go—  Lisbee Stainton completely knocked me out on her last album, Girl on an Unmade Bed, and she’s done it again.  She writes beautiful songs but what really cauight my fancy was one called Harriet which had the whimsy of, say, The Scaffold‘s Thank U Very Much or Hedgehopper Anonymous‘s It’s Good News WeekHarriet has the melody and the chorus and that almost funny way of presentation, the story being writing a song for a little girl just so she would leave you alone.  I don’t know if Go has a Harriet yet, but it really doesn’t matter.  I’ve heard enough to be impressed by another string of Stainton tunes if melodic and exceptional quality.  You don’t nail down tours with Joan Armatrading and Paul Carrack for nothing.

Laurie Biagini/A Go-Go Girl In a Modern World—  From the liner notes on the track A Go-Go Girl in a Modern World:  “Ever feel like you were born in the wrong decade, when all your tastes and interests are from a different era?”  Man, can I relate to that.  I always related to the early part of the 1900s, having been born not long after WWII, and my father said he wanted to be a cowboy.  Maybe it is inherent in us all.  For Laurie Biagini, it is the sixties mostly, and the sand and surf scene.  It is surf and sand and girl groups and California, though she lives in Vancouver B.C.  It is up sunshine pop and Beach Boy harmonies and innocence.  I remember diving into the surf with A Far-Out Place and wondering what she was doing in the Pac Northwest.  This kind of stuff needs sunshine!  Three albums in and she’s doin’ fine— she even updated the 409 to SUV status!

Rita Hosking/Burn—  If you like roots, no one has more solid roots than Rita Hosking.  Born of mining blood, she has spent a lot of her musical existence looking to the past and has, indeed, found inspiration there.  She has a lilt to her voice which I call “the high lonesome” and she pulls it out when she wants to emulate that ol’ train whistle and while I love it, I love what she has done on her latest album, Burn.  She has taken the best of the past and merged it with the present day and created a perfect setting for her voice.  Since hearing it, I have not been able to get Coyote out of my head and Crash and Burn paints as pretty a country picture as you could want (if you consider rodeo country).  Does that give you a clue?  Clue yourself in, then.

River Rouge/Not All There Anymore—  It took about three seconds for me to get into these guys, Black Licorice having that infectious Sir Douglas Quintet feel (She’s About a Mover).  From there, they took me on a ride on the River Rouge and I’ve been digging them since.  Head Rouge Andre Comeau evidently filled a slot on an earlier Real Life episode on MTV or something, but thankfully survived to make a real mark on the world, that mark being Not All There Anymore.  It is straight ahead rock with twists and as much as you might think that makes it boring, think again.  Mainstream rock is just as good as it ever was— when it’s good.  Comeau and crew are good.  All it should take is a cursory listen to Black Licorice and a deeper one to the title track (pay special attention to the ghostly choir).

Shade/One Last Show of Hearts—  Jane Gowan has a bit of Laurie Biagini in her in that she reaches back into the past to create music.  When she put together the Highway album with her band Shade, she caught me totally off guard and in a review I made a couple of comments I shouldn’t have without more hearings and, boy, did I learn something.  I learned that sometimes you need to hear something a lot before you really get it and that it doesn’t have to do with the complexity of the music.  I learned that Gowan is on to something and has this sound in her head that has to get out.  I learned that I love that sound (I listen to the Highway album in the car regularly) and that I want more.  Gowan gives us more with One Last Show of Hearts, a Highway of a different color.  More sparse, thanks to the two-person approach of Gowan and cohort Tim Vesely, but as good.  This is pop, my friends, honed to a shady edge.  I am surprised at how much I like this, but I do.  Gowan has a sound.  It’s way cool.

Bright*Giant/Kings & Queens of Air—  I know I included this in my best of the first half column as a “yet to come”, but it’s here now and it’s outstanding.  Des Moines’ Bright*Giant ups their game, kicking it into both high and low gears with their Yardbirds-like attention to feedback and electric skronk and minimalist approach.  While others are layering, B*G is minimizing.  You get bass, drums and two guitars, usually distorted— the bedrock of a rock band— upon which they lay a few extra vocals and one helluva a lot of attitude.  They even toss in a remix of a great track from their self-titled EP, Forget-Me-Nots, which is a definite plus (hear tracks from both the album and the EP here).  Landlocked and loaded.

Whew!  It may not seem like it to you, but that was hard work.  Think I’ll take a nap.  Must be the turkey.  Yawn….  Look, I’m not saying you will like these albums as much as I do (I never do because, strangely enough, music is personal), but I am saying these were the best I have found since June and are definitely worth a listen.  And my attitude is that if you don’t vote you still have a right to bitch, but if you don’t listen, you condemn yourself to nothing.

We now have an email address where all of us here at Don’t Believe a Word I Say can be contacted:  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.”

One Response to “Frank Gutch Jr: It’s Thanksgiving…”

  1. […] “They have this loose, rhythmic approach on some of their songs which sound vaguely Dead and a floating cohesiveness on others which lean mainstream and weave it all together with a Jesse/Jacquie vocal combination which is quite captivating”…read more […]

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