Frank Gutch Jr: Sometimes it’s About the Music and Sometimes it’s ALL About the Music….
…and today, I’m in the ALL state of mind. What got me into this mood were two CDs I received in the mail fairly recently: Winterpills‘ All My Lovely Goners and Lisbee Stainton‘s Go. I am reluctant to say that I receive albums like this all the time but the truth is, I do. Maybe not this good and maybe not with regularity, but I get them all the time. There is so much good music out there that I can’t even begin to keep up, and that’s with my ignoring the major label, who hardly need my help to spread the word. Are these two special? They must be because I don’t think I’d feel right if I didn’t write about them quickly and in depth. This is the quickly. I shall save the in-depth for reviews.
I first heard Winterpills about a year ago when the Tuxedo of Ashes EP shouldered its way into my mailbox and my head. Evidently I took a road trip and Tuxedo came along. It stayed in the CD player the entire drive and then inhabited my computer for a couple of days afterward and, come to think of it, that road trip wasn’t ‘evidently’ because I remember being buried by the tone and feel of a band I’d never heard and had heard little of. Buried. I listened to nothing else for days.
Tuxedo was only six tracks long and I listen to music all day and sometimes long into the night, so you can imagine how many times I heard it during that period. The ‘pills had hacked into my system and was controlling my every move. Reviews had to wait. Food had to wait. Sleep had to wait.
You see, Tuxedo tapped into period of music I loved but had almost forgotten about: mid- to late- sixties and early seventies folk/psych. Oh, we call it folk/psych now, but back then it was just psychedelic or folk or, as in the case with Simon & Garfunkel, just damn good folk rock. There wasn’t all that much of it out there (at least, that we could find), but it was there and, in some instances, dominating. Simon & Garfunkel were, of course, the top of the heap. They crept into public consciousness with songs quite beyond the norm— Sounds of Silence, Parsley Sage Rosemary & Thyme and a few others. Radio jumped on them early on and S&G became a sensation. (Kids, you have no idea of the power of radio on those days) Not so sensational were those delving into the genre but not hitting the heights (though many of them were shockingly good) like Peanut Butter Conspiracy, The Id, and even a handful of doing-this-but-not-sure-what artists like The Cyrkle and The Arbors and others. Others took psychedelia into the realm of rock and even hard rock and made a big splash but the rock side of psych was not the folk side of psych and there was something about the folk side which touched a cord (or, in this case, a chord). It didn’t hurt to be passing around a joint at the time, either, though that was hardly necessary. The music was enough.
Tuxedo was enough for me, or so I thought. Until the copy of Lovely Goners appeared. I loved the melodic flow of Tuxedo, the haunting and sometimes spine-tingling melodies and harmonies which floated me out into space while forcing a look inward. But I soon found that Goners had those moments as well and stretched the boundaries further. Spliced between glorious moments which could be an advertisement for LSD are spacy and freak-out moments worthy of The Byrds or Providence’s Knitting By Twilight and Incandescent Sky. Perhaps not as intense but certainly within the creative cocoon the ‘pills weave.
If you decide to take Winterpills (may cause palpitations of the heart, frequent dizzy spells and searching in the soul), you might want to start with Tuxedos‘ Are You Sleeping (cinnamon, cardamom, lithium)? But it really doesn’t matter. The tracks stack up well against one another and are perfect for a magic carpet ride of mental proportion. As for Goners, give it time. Start from the beginning (with special attention to the ethereal Pretty Girls or Sunspots (Ruins) if you need a melody or harmony fix) and work your way through. If you love psych at all, you’ll be repeating the album and more than likely getting more out of it with each listen.
Via Signature Sounds, always working to attack music from the music side. I love this label. Home of Zoe Muth & the Lost High Rollers, Eilen Jewell, Joy Kills Sorrow, Crooked Still and so many more…..
Lots of people in Europe know Lisbee Stainton, though she is hitting the brick wall in the States. No surprise there. Getting people to listen to anything new in the States takes the Interweb and an act of God, it seems. After hearing Stainton’s Go, though, I’m convinced she has a fighting chance. I stumbled upon her through a search on the Web just as her Girl On an Unmade Bed was hitting the streets (are there ‘streets’ anymore?) and found songwriting of the topmost quality and a girl who knew how to put songs across. Good? Oh, yeah. And then some.
So when Go was being recorded, I waited anxiously and not with little consternation. Unmade Bed had become such an important part of my rotating playlists that I worried about Go making the cut. I know artists who would kill to have made such an album and I know artists who have made such an album never to have the muse visit again. When Stainton posted the title track on the Web, I was impressed. Go was a virtual extension of Unmade Bed and I dug my heels in to wait for the full album.
When that full album came, I was rocked on those heels. As much as I loved Unmade Bed, I found myself loving Go even more. The difference? I would say the songwriting, but I couldn’t say that the songwriting was better (though definitely as good). I would say the vocals, but not just the voice. The voices. I would say the production but the production on Unmade Bed was stellar.
So what separates the two albums? Time. And place. And depth. That depth comes from a superb set of arrangements, each fitting its song to a ‘T’. While listening the first time through to the title track, I was intrigued by its folk/jazz leanings, especially with its slight R&B background vocal sound. That intrigue became fascination as the album progressed. The songs slowly changed from just songs to compositions. By the time I reached Sleepwalker, I was entranced. After hearing Sleepwalker, I was convinced. This is a Lisbee Stainton on a higher level. Performance? Outstanding. Arrangements? Topnotch. Production? Whew! And it gets better with every listen— my yardstick when it comes to music.
Did I say two albums? I misspoke. Three. Tom Mank, himself a righteous musician of consequence, had just completed a short tour of The Netherlands and Belgium (his European homes away from home) and brought back a few copies of friend Marijn Wijnands latest album, recorded with her band Ma Rain. He sent me a copy. Tom had mentioned Wijnands a number of times over the past few years and I politely let him mention her, but….. a) I was too busy; b) I’d heard them before and wasn’t that impressed; and c) I had my own artists to plug. If it had been someone else thinking those things, I would label him a pompous twit. One listen to the album humbled me. One serving of crow, please, medium rare.
Glory Runner makes me want to revisit Ma Rain‘s two previous albums, Harbour (2007) and Paper Wall (2008). As I’ve written, albums this good do not occur in a vacuum. I need to go back, to see where this came from. The Ma Rain on Glory Runner could not be from The Netherlands. They have to be American. The roots are there. The sound is there. You just don’t get clearly American music from Amsterdam, for chrissakes. Not possible.
Man, do I have a lot to learn. Though these guys sound like they live in San Francisco or Austin, they are indeed from Amsterdam. The boundaries have been more than obscured, they have been obliterated. And I have been exposed as a music bigot. I used to be able to point to artists and say ‘American’ or ‘not American’ with a degree of certainty. Those days are gone.
From the very start of the upbeat rocker Wrecking Yard to the last notes of Honour, I was schooled. I am still being schooled. Every time I hear the album, I shake my head. Amsterdam, I’m thinking. Sonofagun. The dirge-like rhythm and feel of Chariot, a consummate tear-jerker without twang, sounds like Nashville— all it needs is a little Floyd Cramer piano. Proud & Fierce is attitude in a spray can, its R&B background voices straight out of the playbook of The Staple Singers and, man, don’t let the bluesy intro to The Glory Runner fool you. It is as Americana as it comes.
Performance? Mank says that Ma Rain is comprised of the best musicians The Netherlands have to offer. If he’s wrong, he’s not far from wrong. That is one hell of a band.
Cold, Dead Head…..
No, not The Grateful Dead, my friends. This is the first installment of the You-can-pry-this-music-from-my-cold-dead-head thread. Music I love so much it has become part of my DNA. Songs which transport me to a world in which the Tea Party and idiot politicians do not exist. Songs which have struck a cord so deep within me that they will never let go. If there is a heaven and I make it there, I will know because these songs will be there with me. If not, well, welcome to hell, Frankie…..
You know who would love Ophelia Hope? Gene Puerling, the man behind The Hi-Lo’s and Singers Unlimited. Know why? Because of this band’s exceptional songwriting, arranging and production. It’s jazzy, bluesy and meditative all at the same time and gives me the same headrush I get when listening to jazzy, bluesy and meditative Singers Unlimited recordings. I wanted to find a posted copy of Whatever… (love is) for you to hear, but the three posted on the band’s MySpace page will do. Pick one. They’re all good…… (Norway)
Ever hear of Ted Pitney? Ever hear Ted Pitney? Too few have and it’s a goddamn shame. His Genesee EP knocked me for a loop and I haven’t recovered. He’s a semi-folkie but way beyond the norm. He writes and sings right up there with the best. He is the best. His projects come way too far in between (he also played for a time with King Wilkie) and I anxiously await the next. Here is October Fire, a song I can’t get out of my head. I absolutely love the harmonies. Listen here….. (Charlottesville, VA)
I am constantly amazed that a musician like Lisa Parade remains somewhat undiscovered, especially after two excellent albums. She has a touch with pop rock (Girl having that Michelle Branch sense of melody and song construction), trip-hops with the best (Beautiful Possibility 2) and pretty mich slams a home run with everything she touches. In my head, she is a major, major talent. If that doesn’t pique your interest, take a listen to these….. (Los Angeles)
I spent a good two months absorbing every note Mist and Mast played on their outstanding Action at a Distance album and for good reason. I’m a guitar guy and these guys are a guitar band. Maybe not like other guitar bands because lead Mist Jason Lakis doesn’t write or play like any musician I know of. This won’t be on a lot of people’s priority download lists, but it deserves to be. And it’s freakin’ Free! Set yourself. It’s another winner of Linus’s “several hearings” award, presented to albums you have to hear multiple times before you even begin to get them….. (Oakland/San Francisco)
Jill Stevenson recently returned to Colorado after a stint in New York City chasing every musician’s dream. She put together a band there and released one EP, The Jill Stevenson Band, as well as an EP which featured Adam Widoff, Where We’re Not, which features an excellent cover of Dylan’s Girl From the North Country alongside five exceptional originals. She is currently working an on new songs and hopes to have a new album ready soon. Click on the links to listen….. (Denver CO)
I am neck-deep in Vancouver, BC music. It seems like every week, I hear of another BC band trying to conquer the music world: Redgy Blackout, Jesse Dee & Jacquie B, Laurie Biagini, and many more. One of the fringe bands (and I mean fringe in the sense that they stretch the limits more than most) are The Beige, whose El Angel Exterminador album to this day freaks me out. One listen to the dark and minotaurish I Got a Job in the Belly of the Beast and the melodic and beautiful The Exterminating Angel should convince more than a few people that these guys are serious musicians. Serious. I mop my brow every time I listen to them, they’re that good. It’s music for musicians….. (Pssst! In case you didn’t read the whole post, these guys are from Vancouver)
At times, people can be downright genre-challenged. Such is the case with The Dixie Bee-Liners who are constantly being referred to as bluegrass. I know they play bluegrass and do it quite nicely, thank you, but they are so much more. You don’t have to go any further than this video of Heavy, a track off of their incredible Susanville album, to hear it, either. This is what’s known as a genre-bender, folks, and these guys bend and twist until I refuse to accept any definition of their music beyond exceptional….. (Bristol VA)
Ever think that certain things happen for a reason? I do. I happened to attend 2009’s Sisters Folk Festival to mainly see Danny Schmidt and Antje Duvekot and while stoppi8ng by the coffee shop for a caffeine boost happened upon a musician who stopped me in my tracks: Shaun Cromwell. He was not a featured performer nor was he afforded a main stage anywhere but he did more through the tinny little PA system than those playing the main stages did. The guy definitely has a folk roots bent but when he steps beyond, he really steps beyond. Just check out I Am Undone, a duet featuring Devon Sproule, and if that’s not enough for you, check out the video Devon put together whilst imprisoned in a plane. Damn! I’m pissed! They pulled the video from Youtube. That sucks! People need to hear this guy and the video was really cool. Oh, well….. (Los Angeles)
Eva Turnova at one time played with Plastic People of the Universe and maybe still does, but I found her through her EP, , which a bit out there, is damn impressive. Her music a bit progressive, a bit dark, and I love it. I need something to chew on now and again— something with substance. I chew on her EP a lot. You know what’s really cool? While researching her for this column, I stumbled upon a video of Plastic People and the song they started off with was a Gruppo Sportivo song (at least, I think it was— unless GS played a cover) and that alone makes Eva someone special. I want to call someone and tell them but I don’t know anyone who reveres GS as much as do I. But this is about Eturnity— Eva Turnova— and I don’t expect everyone to get this. Those who do, though, are in for a treat. Here she is….. (Prague, Czech Republic)
Who is…? I was driving home one night and it was raining like hell and the wipers were trying to remove the rain but it wasn’t happening fast enough to see well and I damn well needed something to distract me from a tenuous situation, so I turned on the radio. The local DJ on Oregon Public Radio was entertaining himself (it was Saturday night) and me and a few other people by walking his way through a series of electronic and third world albums and the sound, for some reason, kept me focused. Until I heard a sound which went right through me. At first, I thought it was an If track I had somehow missed or which had recently been uncovered, lost in some vault somewhere, but when I finally heard the voice, I knew it wasn’t. The vocal was female and while the backing band could have easily been If, the voice most decidedly was not. I waited until the end to hear who it was and all I got was “Salam”, the title of the song. I repeated it over and over to myself and when I got home, some half an hour later, rushed into the computer room to pound out a message to Oregon Public Radio to find out who it was who played the song. A day later, I received a response from that night DJ stating that it was none other than Gigi Shibabaw and the track was from her Gold & Wax album. I ordered it and when I got it, was I surprised! I expected a few decent tracks and a lot of filler (well, to my ears) and what I got was a stirring album of supposedly Ethiopian music but which was really rock music with an Ethiopian base. I was totally hooked. Not a bad track— no, not a bad note on it. This one was so good that I didn’t go on a tirade, turning my friends onto it. I was afraid that being’s how the music was so special to me that I would not risk friendships. I would only pass the word along to really good friends and only those to whom I knew it would be received in the spirit given. You know what? The few I turned on to the album loved it too! To a person! You don’t know how good that makes a guy feel, to pass along special music to special people and have it accepted as their own. Look, I’m not a third world kind of guy, but this lady blew me away! You can hear a little on her Myspace page, but Jerusalem is the only track from Gold & Wax. No biggie, though. All of the tracks are excellent.
Enough rambling for now. How about some
Notes….. Charlottesville’s Sons of Bill have spent the past number of years touring the East Coast and building a following which now seems to be building on its own. After a couple of tours in the Deep South, they have bases out of which to work (Austin being the most notable) and seem ready to raze anything in their path. In March, they will release Sirens, an album they claim to be a breakthrough in terms of capturing their present and future. Here is a video, a “making of”, in which they speak of exactly that. It includes a link to a free download of a track from the album. I suggest you take a look and listen and follow through on the download offer. And catch these guys when they come to town. Their show is something to catch, judging by their packed houses….. Lake Charles’ Research Turtles continue their guitar-smashing ways, this time caught at LC’s Luna, evidently the place to be whenever the turtles and their alter egos The Flamethrowers play. I’m still not sure about the destruction. Perhaps it reverts back to Judson’s old band, The Destructicons. Catch the video and the link to a free download of the band’s excellent Mankiller Pt. 1 of 2 EP. Free is a hell of a price for major league pop/powerpop/rawk. And stay tuned for a full-on rundown of the history of the band, being currently pieced together, sort of a which came first, the turtles or the egg kind of thing….. As if genre-bending was really a verb, Los Angelesian Walter Spencer dives in with his own demented and sometimes hilarious old-timey/punk, right up there with Uncle Sinner‘s swamp gas/mountain music to my ears. If you like incredibly twisted backwoods music, check him out at his reverbnation page. It’s something else….. And you might as well check out Uncle Sinner while you’re at it. Sinner and cohort Fuller Vengeance make swamp gas perfume worthy of classic horror B-movies….. Remember this name: Tim Matson. This past Christmas, my brother-in-law brought me a page ripped out of a SoCal magazine/paper called Easy Reader/Beach, which is evidently a monthly collaboration between two zones/papers, Easy Reader and Beach. This page had a number of selections of local artists (meaning somewhere in the L.A./Torrance vicinity) and I thought it might be a lark to check out the music, artist by artist. While there were a few worth checking out, there was one heads and shoulders above the rest. That’s right. The aforementioned Tim Matson. The man has a hard-edge to his acoustic-oriented folk music because of writing style and voice and caught my ear immediately. There is a seventies folkiness to him not unlike Tom Rush or Tim Hardin or even Gordon Lightfoot while not sounding like any of them. Check out Psalm 40 and Bound To the Grave to hear if I’m right. This guy has the goods. Thanks to writer Jeff Vincent for the fingerpoint…..
God knows where we’ll go next. I would love to continue razing the major labels a new asshole, but I don’t know if I have the energy. Seems kind of redundant, anyway, giving assholes another one. I guess you’ll just have to tune in next week to see if I have anything new to say… or to say at all…..
Frank’s column appears every Wednesday
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“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.”