Frank Gutch Jr: If Nothing Else, Today’s CDs Are Tomorrow’s Collector’s Items….
And if you don’t think so, just look at the past. What do you want? 78’s? 45’s? Disc cylinders? Vinyl? Oh, so you think that CD’s are different? I hate to tell you this (actually, I don’t), but no, they’re not. You who are so anxious to kill the CD format shall suffer the same fate as those who killed (or greatly wounded) vinyl and every other outdated form of getting music. You shall be committed to the hell of limitations beyond your wildest expectations placed upon you by the technocrats who toss out updates and new formats like acid at a Grateful Dead concert.
This, of course, does not apply to Led Zeppelin freaks or Dead Heads or Beatles fanatics. The music by those and their like will be money makers far into the future and one thing the bureaucracy does not want to do is separate themselves from easy money. No, you will forever have that music, regardless of format. But if that is what you want, you’re done. You are no longer musically viable. Your past will always be your present. No matter how many times you say that there is no good music anymore, it shall be that way purely because you have stopped looking. That fork? It’s permanently stuck in you. I hope it hurts.
Why do I think CD’s are collectable? Isn’t collecting a numbers game? Well, the numbers are certainly in our favor. Many artists worth hearing today are either not pressing CD’s in huge numbers or not pressing them at all. Will that make a difference in the long run? You bet. If the music is there. If the package is unique and/or exceptionally well done. If someone jump starts the process. If you want an example, you need look no further than Big Star. Writers like Greg Shaw, Ken Barnes, Jon Tiven, Bud Scoppa, and Alan Betrock were planting mental seeds about them long before they were considered acceptable, not to mention worthy, by the general public. Articles and reviews peppered zines like Fusion and Phonograph Record Magazine and Bomp and BAM until the music fans, if not the public, began taking note. When That 70’s Show used Big Star‘s In the Street as its theme song (the first year as recorded by BS themselves), and you have a collector’s dream. Kids = sales = collector’s item. And don’t forget what Volkswagen did for Nick Drake years after his death. What was it? An overnight success? Drake is making more money after death than he did in his entire existence as a living and breathing musician. To go along with that overnight success, he gets the bonus of being instantly collectable.
Do you have to hit it big to be collectable? Let’s look at the numbers. For a major label act, you’re looking at thousands if not millions of CD’s printed, but if the act clicks with the public even that won’t be enough. Think Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and Pink Floyd. For the deep indies, though, you might be looking at as few as a hundred, if that. Who knows? It depends on the artist and the financial resources available. It depends on distribution and critical acceptance. It depends on touring and live gigs. It might even depend on radio, if radio has any legs these days. The thing is, it depends. That alone makes today’s music a treasure hunt. You look under that certain rock and you may find today’s Butcher Cover even though you might not know it for years.
The music is the key, of course. A friend of mine used to say that great music never dies, it just lays awaiting discovery and, man, when you turn over a rock and find it, it is a thrill! So without further ado (and because my space here is limited), let’s go over some of the treasures I have found, any one of which could very well be a much sought after item….. and you can consider this installment two of my you-can-pry-this-music-from-my-cold-dead-head series. This is music I do not want to live without.
Jess Pillmore/Reveal— God knows how many copies of Reveal Jess printed up, but I guarantee it wasn’t enough. She had two CD’s to her credit (Promo and Slightly Skewed) when she headed in to the studio with partner-in-crime Dan Phelps back in 2005 and both albums were good, but even they had no idea that what they came out of the studio with would be a giant leap for musickind. One thing that might have slowed sales might be the fact that Jess is all over the place in terms of style— she is incredibly adventurous in her writing and choices of songs— but sales are nothing to a collector. This is music from another dimension– straight rock but not. Phelps is a sideman/producer whizz on this puppy and you hear it at every turn. Songs range from the intense depth of the dark side of relationships (Open My Mouth and Don’t Show Me) to the almost dissonant rock of The Real Me and When Your World Changed to the stunning jazz/blues/rap masterpiece (that’s right, I said masterpiece), Atlanta. This is not just good stuff but in places is great stuff. Listen to the musicianship, the arrangements, the production… Whew!
Amelia Jay/Like a Kite— Okay, I’m cheating here, but only as regards prying music from my head. I included this album in installment one but I don’t apologize for including it here. It is one of those albums that can haunt people— the songs beautiful and floating and sometimes downright eerie. Songwriters and performers Mitch Dalton and Jeanette Beswick stack one great song on top of another, stepping in to Hem territory in terms of vocals. Of all the CD’s I have in my collection, this more treasured than most. I am greatly saddened that more people did not get to hear it. And it’s a sure bet that this one is a future collectable because it was collectable the day it was released. Extremely hard to find and probably printed in a very minute quantity. I mourn the loss of this group. Greatly. But hark! A little bird just flew in and told me that Mitch and Jeanette have joined a new band known as Victory Garden! Perhaps all is not lost. You can check out their Facebook page here.
Tom Mank & Sera Smolen/Paper Kisses— I could have included a number of Mank & Smolen albums here, but Paper Kisses stands out. Mank has a real touch when it comes to writing, his voice is perfect for his style (kind of folk/jazz/blues) and on this album, he solidified what I consider the Mank Quartet, of sorts. On the previous album, Where the Sun Meets the Blue, Mank had recorded tracks at Julie Last‘s Coldbrook Studios, utilizing the voices of Last and Kirsti Gholson. There was something about the combination which caught his (and my) ear to the point that he wanted to explore further. When Paper Kisses became a reality, he furthered the connection. Mank, Smolen, Gholson and Last. It is a magic combination. I just looked at the jacket and saw that it was recorded in 2010. That is too long for this music to go virtually unnoticed. It won’t be forever. Twenty or thirty years from now, certain people will be willing to kill for this album.
Before there was 49 Stones, there was Emma Jo & The Poets Down Here. Same personnel, different time frame. There came a point in the band’s existence that they felt the need to both change the band name and re-record their album. If I recall, they found a producer in Texas and headed down there to record as 49 Stones (the band is from Missouri— somewhere around Kansas City, maybe?). The songs came out crunchier, more rhythm-driven. But here they were, sitting on top of the first album under a previous name titled The Indigo Sessions. A solid CD. These kids amaze me. Four people who have been together for, what, four or five years? Maybe more? And they’re still hammering it out. Someone will hear Crowded in the future and wonder why, as do I, that these guys weren’t more well known.
Morwenna Lasko & Jay Pun/Chioggia Beat— There was something very familiar about Lasko & Pun the first time I heard them. It took me a year, but I finally figured it out. They at times remind me of ex-Sojac guitarist Cam Newton— jazzy, rhythmically out there, smooth. When I finally got a chance to revisit Newton’s excellent Welcome Aliens (subtitled Party Music For the First Authenticated Landing), I was shocked at how near and yet how far apart they were, musically. Chioggia Beat is jazz/third world/soul/R&B/Windham Hill with acoustic guitar and violin. This is two people sounding like more (The album has a band lineup but I’ve seen them play live. When push comes to shove, they really don’t need anyone else). This is musician’s music— just far enough outside the norm to excite but within the accepted framework. Is this going to be sought after in a couple of decades? No doubt in my mind. And if you want a tip, here’s a good one. If Lasko & Pun play anywhere near you, don’t even think about it. Go. They are that good.
The Soundcarriers/Celeste— You want psych rock? These guys play it. A very surreal kind of psych. Lots of floating harmonies with pounding rock backbeat. This is the kind of stuff you might think would be used as background in a Sixties’ art flick— stoned people dancing, lights flashing, acid-induced, marijuana-fed. Black light posters coming alive. Late-Sixties. Johnny Mann Singers on drugs. I could talk about this incessantly (I did actually write a review which did just that, to a degree) and love it right down to the Columbia label and jazz label knockoff graphics. Put these guys in black turtle-neck long-sleeved T-shirts and place them on stage in a Fifties coffeehouse and you only begin to understand. Comes complete with flute solos and odd sound effects. You don’t even have to wait. It’s practically a collector’s item right now.
Gigi/Gold & Wax— That would be Ejigayehu “Gigi” Shibabaw to the uninitiated. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard her, too. I was driving home late on a Saturday night, rain coming down in sheets, listening to the local NPR station. I was leaning over the wheel to see the road when this music oozed from the speakers, a cross between British bands If and Riff Raff with a female vocalist waxing foreign. It didn’t take much to realize that it was about Ethiopia if not Ethiopian, Haile Salassie being the only words which registered, and I listened closely— very closely— for fear of not hearing the artist’s name. In fact, I did not hear it, but I logged the time and immediately sent an email to the station upon returning home asking who had sung the song at the recorded time. The email came back, Gigi, and I ordered the CD that day. When it came, I expected a halfway decent album with this one If-like gem of a song. What I got was an album beyond my greatest expectations. Gold & Wax is packed with exceptional music and sounds, front to back. A bit Pop, a bit jazz, a bit Ethiopian and a whole lot of musicianship beyond the pale. This is one of those albums you hold up when people ask what a complete album is. This is the one you put on when you want to hear arrangements, when you want to hear a band running on all cylinders, when you want to hear music from the heart. There is not only not a bad song on it, there is not a bad note. It may not be for everyone, but it should be.
OAMI/Day In the City— This is one of the many albums for which I can thank the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange. When I decided it was time to reacquaint myself with the writing game, FAME was the first site to give me a go and Oami was one of the first bands I discovered on their list of albums to review. Fronted by Tomer Oami, the band is a seemingly nondescript bunch, choogling out rock with the ease of a Zamboni laying down layers of ice between periods of a hockey game. I could sit in the stands and watch the Zamboni all night long and I could sit all night listening to this album over and over too. It soothes my soul. Of course when it comes time to describe the music, words fly out the window, but it has been my experience that for every album I like this much, there are at a minimum a handful of people out there who would like it as much. When it comes to collectables, it only takes a handful. Hear that, Tomer? You’ll have your day. Swear to God. As regards the number printed, it is a mystery. All I know is that it is hard as hell to find and was even when I got my copy back in 2005. That spells rare, as far as I can tell.
Old Californio/Westering Again— If there is anything I like better than a good country rock band, it is a good country rock band with their own sound and Old Californio fits that bill nicely. At first listen, you might not think them anything special, but then you would be wrong. For one thing, Rich Dembowski is a songwriter of the highest caliber. Add to that three musicians besides Rich who play like a well-oiled machine and you have a formula for success. Unfortunately, success these days has little to do with songwriting or musicianship. Thus the band labors in obscurity in most areas outside of Los Angeles proper. Won’t matter in a couple of decades, though. Not only will music fans find them, they will find excellent hand-crafted packaging. That’s right, to support the excellent country rockin’ Westering Again, the band processed a string of hand-stamped album covers that are worth the price alone. I handle all of my CD’s with care and respect, but I pay close attention to how I handle this. Oh, and if you want my opinion, all three of the Old Californio albums (Along the Cosmic Grass, Westering Again, and Sundrunk Angels) are sure to be hard to find and much in demand in Futureworld. The songs are familiar enough and yet have that non-formula sound that will have a lot of people wondering how they missed them the first time around.
Maggi, Pierce & EJ/The Silver Album— Oh, Lordie. How to explain Maggi, Pierce & EJ. Few bands have affected me the way these guys do. They can do anything. They could, anyway. They refuse to say it but they are toasted on one side, a polite way of saying that they still hold the hope that they might reunite in the future, if only for a short time. That time is passing, though, and Maggi & Pierce have taken to the road as a duo under the name Hymn For Her, gaining fans everywhere they go. No, they don’t play folk. They play everything from crank-it-out Led Zeppelin covers to some of the damnedest shit-kicking mountain rock you’ll ever hear. Still, I long for the old MPE Band, as they are known on the Net. Did I mention that they could do anything? They did on The Silver Album (copies still available, sports fans), from the raucous cowboy rocker Yippe-i-a to the superbly arranged Pocahontas, Illinois (which, contrary to popular opinion, is neither about a town in Illinois nor an Indian maiden, but about a dog— Pokey, to be precise— listen to the lyrics) to the pounding (no pun intended) and irreverent tribute to masturbation, One Hand, which will have future collectors beside themselves with joy should they happen to stumble upon it. And that’s just the rock side. They Americana-ize, folk it up and throw in a little space and jazz besides. Like I have always trumpeted— they are the Gruppo Sportivo of the 21st Century— and if you don’t know who they are, they are the collectable of today. You can quote me.
If I had kids, I would right now start putting together a music kit for their tomorrows. I would toss in one of each of the aforementioned artists and at least one of their albums along with a string of others and tell them to hang on to them. If they were truly my kids, they would start listening immediately, but if not, they would have one of those treasure chests you only read about in the occasional article. And, no, not the one about the Beatles collection. That’s too safe. Music is excitement. Music is adventure. Music isn’t the same old. Not for anyone with my genes, I hope.
So You Think Music Is Not a Miracle…..
I do. Think that music is a miracle, that is. And so does Blue O’Connell, who has had to hurdle her way over a major obstacle— hearing. She calls herself a Certified Music Practitioner, which I think means that she uses music to heal the heart and soul. If not, that is what she does— by example if nothing else. Until she had a Cochlear Implant awhile ago, she could not hear music beyond the seventh fret of her guitar and was thus limited. Still, music was so much a part of her life, she decided that the chance to extend her hearing was worth any risk involved.
She was not deaf, my friends, but her hearing was impaired enough to make a real difference. She worked her way through thirty years as a guitarist and musician and laughed her way through more as a listener and has come out an artist as much as a musician. Though she works in music, her real joy is through her own music. Her songs are full of grace and are inspirational and in a natural way. You can check out her music at her ReverbNation page where you can find a link to her new CD, Choose the Sky.
Notes….. New group I’m listening to, Filligar, has posted a link to live sessions they have been recording of cover songs. These guys have a nice touch. Listen here. If you like that, you might want to check out their other Soundcloud offerings. I plan to work my way through them soon….. Sinking Creek has surfaced once again, this time with a video of a new track, Road To Disaster. It’s a flashback to their Fast Asleep album of a couple of years ago (read my review here) and the old Western scenes they use as graphics are a hoot….. Speaking of videos, Charlottesville’s Sons of Bill reposted one of theirs on Facebook recently that shows how very far they have come. It is a Music Fog production (you have to check Music Fog out… they have a plethora of exceptionally recorded videos available on YouTube) of a track from their recently released album, Sirens. If you like a bit of a country tinge, these guys do it right up there with the best….. At the risk of sounding like a broken record (and beating a dead horse), I have to point once again to Freedom Hawk and the video of Stand Back from 2009. I have watched and watched and want to watch again. I love the song and the girl’s eyes. Watch it here and tell me if I’m insane (more than one person has labeled me so)….. Sage Run reminds me so much of Winterpills in places that it sends chills up my spine. This is the kind of music Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree fans should understand right off the bat, what with their ethereal and almost minimalist approach to folk/psych/space. And if you like it and haven’t heard Winterpills, it’s high time you did. Their latest release, All My Lovely Goners, has been wiping me out since first listen….. If you didn’t notice the news above that Amelia Jay‘s Mitch Dalton and Jeanette Beswick have recently joined with others in a new band known as Victory Garden, I afford you this second chance. Few albums have stuck to my musical ribs like AJ‘s Like a Kite and I look forward to hearing what direction they are now taking.
Next week, who knows? The music is coming hot and heavy these days. Perhaps a quick rundown of the best of the year thus far? Or not. I guess we’ll both find out then…..
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.”