Frank Gutch Jr: Are You Stuck In a Musical Rut?… All the Cool Bands Redux… The Emily White Debacle… Jon Gomm Storms Canada (Soon)… and Notes

Here we go again.  I had an outline for today’s column all laid out, basically explaining how the major record labels are responsible for their own impending doom (will that column ever be written?), but I tossed it aside for the present.  I tossed it because I have been listening to music for the past week and am overwhelmed by the outstanding music out there that people refuse to hear, all the while complaining that “there is no good music out there anymore.”  I know I run the risk of having the people who read what I write ignoring my future musings what with my obsession with new music, but I’m beginning to not give a crap.

This week has had me inundated in music that not only is good but is as good as any music I’ve heard, and that includes The Beatles and Springsteen and every other superstar artist/group you can think of.  I firmly believe that it is time people stop comparing today’s music to that which has already gained classic status in their heads and begin listening to the music that is right there in front of them.

Let us start with my latest discovery, one Dan Miraldi, who has done something that few can do.  He has taken practically every pop lick there is and put them together into not just some outstanding songs, but into an outstanding album.  Hear me here.  Out.  Standing.  Do you have any idea how many outstanding “up” albums there are out there?  Not enough, I can tell you that.  If you don’t know what “up” is, substitute “feel good” or even “sunshine”, though that last term has been somewhat co-opted by genre nitpickers.  But you hopefully get the idea.

Miraldi, fronting an exceptional band calling themselves The Albino Winos, has put together an incredible array of originals which, in a way, aren’t.  Now, I know what some of you are thinking.  Nothing original.  Not a note which hasn’t been played before.  Well, guess what?  You can put that tag on everyone, Beatles included.  What?  You think one note on any of their albums was original?  Then you’re delusional.  What was amazing about The Beatles was how they wove those unoriginal notes into sounds which even the tone deaf couldn’t help hearing.  It is magic, of a sort, and Miraldi weaves it, too.

The very first thing that went through my mind upon hearing him, in fact, was “nothing original.”  It didn’t last long, though.  One time through Sugar & Adrenaline and I found myself listening to it again.  Then again.  And then again.  I have never been into drugs, but perhaps this is what it’s like.  I haven’t stopped playing this the entire weekend, recycling it beneath a string of writing and household projects, and even though it still sounds like so many things I’ve heard before, I can’t stop listening.

My favorite songs are varied depending upon energy and mood but I can safely say that there is not a clunker in the bunch.  For the smoother side of rock and pop, Helen of Troy (“Helen of Troy, I’d start a war for you/And Cleopatra, I’d burn Rome down too”) absolutely floors me, the chorus and harmonies totally ear-catching.  Then there is The Many Shades of Blue, starting off folk-like with beautiful verse and giving way to a totally different movement which ups the ante manyfold.  Did I mention outstanding?  Set yourself because Vampire Girl is straight ahead rock and roll with a New Wave twist and a guitar break which is all too short.  Road Warrior is as up as it gets, part Marshall Crenshaw and part John Denver with a slight touch of Del Shannon.

And if that isn’t enough, Miraldi dips into Costelloland, coming up with the very Elvis Costello-ish Record Collection, a pop/punk homage to the importance of such a thing (record collection, that is).  I can see Miraldi (or Costello) with hands palm up, going “Get laid”, “Music”, “Get laid”, “Music”, looking at each hand in turn, because this song is my life in a nutshell.  And I, like Miraldi, chose my record collection more often than not.

Miraldi has a real winner here and a certain amount of credit belongs to Dave Douglas at Danger House Studios in Cleveland Heights.  The album is masterfully engineered.  And Miraldi?  I hope you’re taking care of the Winos.  That’s one hell of a band.

It was just last week that I was doing the same thing with Mark Bates.  He is not as rock-oriented as is Miraldi and crew, but he has a real touch with his songs.   More of an Elton John/Jackson  Browne feel to his writing.  Rather than go over it again, you can read my review of his Night Songs album here.

Just before that, it was Steve Katz.  I don’t know what it is, but for well over a year, I have found male singer/songwriters at a premium and here in the past few weeks, I found three of the best I’ve heard in what seems like forever.  Katz splits the difference between Miraldi and Bates, I think, and stretches the boundaries with an exceptional jazzy track from the lounge side, Barricades.  Killer stuff.  Again, I give you my review, which has links to a site where you can preview the music.

If that doesn’t help get you out of that musical rut, maybe one of these will.  Here is a list of artists and albums which transcend that same-old you’ve been tied to these oh-so-many years:

Ophelia Hope—  This album is unlike any I’ve heard in recent years.  There is a definite Sandpipers/Burt Bacharach edge to these guys, but they are way more than that.  Toss in a touch of Singers Unlimited and a sprig of early Simon & Garfunkel and a few hundred other artists and you might be close.  Their one self-titled album is one I come back to whenever I need to hear something fresh.  I’ve heard it well over a hundred times and it hasn’t even begun to get old.  Listen here.  By the way, they are based out of Norway.

Alcoholic Faith Mission—  Mo-o-o-m!  He’s at it again!  And I am.  Truth be told, I can’t help it.  Ever since seeing these guys live and immersing myself in their latest album, Ask Me This, I have become Don Quixote, tilting at windmills.  Ask Me This may run away as my pick for album of the year, it is that good.  If you don’t believe me, tell me why not.  I won’t listen, but it will at least give you something to do whilst listening to Dark Side of the Moon for the umpteen-millionth time.  Stream it here.

Nick Holmes—  If I had my way, I would plug Holmes in every column I write, but then I’d probably be arrested or booted off the site.  Holmes caught my attention back in the early seventies with his work on the famed White Elephant album.  His first solo album, Soulful Crooner, proved his worth and he has been playing and recording ever since, though somewhat under the radar.  A voice and style like no one else I’ve heard.  Here is a link to one of his “lost” beauties— Low Ball.  Listen closely.  And more than once.  The guy has the goods.  And if you’re interested, here is an in-depth piece I wrote about him not too long ago.

The Grip Weeds—  I had no idea these guys were as powerful as they are.  If you like retro-sixties rock/psych, you should love these guys.  They have just released an album recorded live (Speed of Live) which completely freaks me out.  They even do a version of The ByrdsEight Miles High.  I love that jangly guitar sound and these guys do it as good as anyone.   Listen here.

Old Californio—  They are out promoting the hell out of Sundrunk Angels, are heading my way and I’m psyched.  They have country roots (but more of a country rock sound) and mix a bit of Brit Rock in for good measure here and there.  Here is a link to earlier recordings, from their excellent Westering Again album.  Start with California Goodness.

Bright Giant—  I’ve been rocking since I was a kid, but nowadays I think I’m more of a closet rocker.  After hearing these guys, though, I think it is more of a dearth of the harder rock bands.  At least, the ones I have access to.  Bright Giant found their way through the fog, though, and quite readily.  Hear them here (and start with Women— it’s a killer).

Research Turtles—  Yeah, I know.  I talk about these guys way too much.  Or maybe not enough because I’ll wager that only a few who read this have taken my advice and listened.  These guys are at the top of my list for bands worthy of fame.  Good solid pop rock.  Listen to them here.  And pay no attention to the free download.  There is a glitch.  I’ll mention it to them.

Winterpills— Psych rock?  Folk/psych?  Just psych?  Depends on who you ask, but this is the smooth vocal side of the genre.  Think early Simon & Garfunkel.  Spacey.  Beautiful.  Their Tuxedo of Ashes EP is a stunner.  Listen to them here.

C-Leb & The Kettle Black—  If you want to rock out with a lot of slide guitar surrounding music on the Black Crowes and Wet Willie side of things, here is your band.   Turn it up and it is Shock and Awe.  Hear it here.  Then get it over with and buy the damn thing.

Tom House—  There isn’t anyone out there doing what House is doing, or maybe I just mean not as good.  If there is anyone, I don’t know who they are is what I’m saying.  House lives in a world all his own.  He is a trailblazer in reverse.  If he’d recorded Winding Down the Road in the sixties, he would be an icon today.  Thing is, it doesn’t matter when he recorded it.  It is an album just waiting to be discovered and treasured.  Music from the crypt.  Hear Tom here and, seriously, show some respect.  He has earned it.

Ted Pitney—  Here is a guy who flies under the radar and I can’t quite put my finger on the reason why.  He is a monster songwriter and put out an EP which is as good as anything out there (The Genesee EP).  I first heard him on Sarah White‘s outstanding Sweetheart EP on which the two voices offset each other beautifully. Hear him here.  If you like music at all, you’re going to like him and maybe, as in my case, love him.  Another Charlottesville musician (they’re all over the place, I tell you).

And I haven’t even scratched the surface.  Not even breathing hard.  Tell you what.  If you don’t follow at least one link here and I meet you in a bar somewhere and you bitch about there not being any good music, I’m gonna bust a bottle over your head.  Maybe even dig that jagged edge into your carotid.  But probably not.  Just don’t expect me to buy you a beer.

So You Think You’ve Seen All the Cool Bands, huh?

Hey, it’s a good phrase but is as ridiculous as they come.  All the good bands?  I’m assuming that people who actually say this either have a lame sense of humor or are deaf because we are surrounded by artists and bands as good as any since the beginning of my attachment to rock music, which dates back to the early fifties.  That musical rut?  It belongs to people who wear that T-shirt as a statement..

There are times I want to carry a gun around with me to put these people out of their misery.  The ones who say that The Rolling Stones are the best rock & roll band in the world, that nobody can touch Springsteen when it comes to live shows, that there will never be another Beatles or that rock & roll lived and died with Elvis (who, according to most of them, is still alive and slipping in and out of various public venues at will)…  People, when they say Elvis has left the building, it means that he is dead, and what’s with all these birthday greetings to people who also are long past dead?  Don’t get me started).

Well, I’ve seen plenty of good bands, but I know there are more out there I would love to see.  Old Californio, for one.  They’re coming to the Axe & Fiddle in Cottage Grove, Oregon on August 31st and you bet your ass I’ll be there.  It’s a bit of a drive, but the opportunity to see these guys warrants a drive, if need be.

Is C-Leb & The Kettle Black playing anywhere close soon?  After hearing their new album, they’ve jumped to the top of my list of bands to see.  Every once in awhile, I need to recharge these old rusty batteries and the way those guys rock, they could do the job.  Maybe it’s time I visited Seattle, eh?

I saw Mist and Mast a couple of summers ago and loved it, though it was a bit loud.  They have reformed since then and Jason Lakis has a new lineup.  I wonder how many hours it would take to drive from here to San Francisco…..

I’ll bet hardly any of you have seen Alcoholic Faith Mission.  All the good bands, my ass.  You’re old and you missed one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen.  Better hope they make it to the States before you die or I’m taking that T-shirt away from you.

I want to see The Dixie Bee-Liners.  Bad.  But they keep themselves pretty much on the East Coast, having built up a strong following amongst the bluegrass crowd (though what they play steps way beyond that genre).  I want to hear Brandi sing lead and Buddy and Lauren sing harmony on any songs they want to play.  But I especially want to hear Heavy.  It is a thing of beauty.  Here is the video.

Know what?  I want to see Dan Miraldi & The Albino Winos.  Something tells me that they can put on a hell of a show.

All the best bands.  Three lifetimes does not give anyone enough time to see all the best bands.  Unless they’re idiots and limit themselves.  That’s my new policy.  Anyone who limits him-or-herself is an idiot.  Especially when it comes to music.

The Emily White Debacle…..

Have you been following this?  It’s all over Facebook.  To be fair, the vast majority of my “friends” on FB have some connection  with music and of course they would follow something like this.  I think.

This young intern at NPR, Emily White, writes a blog about music (read it here) and how she has only owned 15 CDs in her life and embraces “the cloud” and all of its digital wonders and how if she lost her whole cloud today, she could pretty much fill the holes without much of a problem and with little money.

Well, this David Lowery guy decides that what she wrote is just plain wrong and goes into detail as to why.  Basically, he says “you’re stealing, Emily” and runs down the reasons one-two-three, utilizing a whole string of ethical arguments we’ve all heard many times before.

Well, this morning, Emily White at Whitesmith Entertainment jumps into the fray with this little item, defending Emily White 2 (whom she refers to as Emily White Too, thanks to a fellow worker) and laying into anyone who still thinks in terms of the major labels and the stranglehold they have had on music for decades and decades.

What is interesting about this whole brouhaha is that this is the first time in years that I’ve seen the whole artist vs. industry arguments kicked around with such fervor (if fervor can be interpreted by how many people “share” a post on FB).  Practically every musician and/or PR person I know shared the Lowery post and for good reason.  Fair compensation for intellectual property is at this time a hot button issue.  We’re looking at a tremendous shift in power.  Major labels have bought into this whole “subscription-based” digital distribution system with actual cash.  Did you know that the majors own a huge percentage of Spotify?  Anyone want to bet on how much they might own of the other “subscription” sites?  But back to the matter at hand.

Now, Emily White Too is not stupid.  If you read what she really says, she is laying out her world (i.e., the present) and not making an ethical statement.  She has always had music handed to her.  It is part of her life, like pizza and McDonald’s.  You can’t blame her for assuming that what has always been there will always be there.  David Lowery, in fact, goes out of his way to let Too know that he doesn’t single her out out of malice, that his points are a natural result of Too’s comments and not a storming of the gates.  And then goes on to storm the gates.  He has to.  He is defending his world, the one in which one gets fair compensation for goods and work.  It has nothing to do with Too.  It has to do with principle.

Which makes Emily White (One)’s statement all the more important.  As much as I hate to admit it, this is a Brave New Musical World.  The paradigm has been tipped on its ear.  The landscape is digital now and sharing is a part of digital and we might just have to get used to it in some way, shape or form.  Emily White One, to my knowledge, prefers to duck the issue and work with what is.  She has structured her whole business toward making the biggest impact for her clients today and that means working around the existing negatives and not through  them.  Simply put, she accepts that the business as it is is and finds ways to market the artist and his/her music.  Creative ways.  She’s evidently good at it.  I’ve seen what she is doing and has done with Sydney Wayser and Brendan Benson.  I’m impressed.

There are those, however, who choose not to deal with parts of the business as it is, specifically the whole “subscription” system.  Among those is, and I use him as a prime example, Jon Gomm.  I give you a link to my very first column with DBAWIS so you can understand why he decided to pull his songs from Spotify.  I have yet to find someone who has said it better.  Read it here.  Scroll down.  It is toward the bottom.

Speaking of Jon Gomm…..

He’s kicking off his too short Canadian swing in Halifax at The Carelton, Wednesday, August 1st.  I suggest if you’re in the area, you seriously consider catching him.  He has wowed crowds wherever he has gone.  The guy is a guitar wizard.  (An Aside:  I see that Dala is also scheduled to perform there July 2nd and that Amy Campbell is playing a CD release show there on July 22nd— both highly recommended).

After Halifax, Gomm moves to Hugh’s Room in Toronto on August 2nd, will play Waterloo, Canada on the 8th , will play a set at 3 PM at Festival Jazz Etcetera de Levis at Levis, QC, Canada on August 11th and will finish off the Canadian leg of the tour at L’Astral in Montreal on the 12th.

Seriously, music fans, get your tickets early.  This guy plays like no one you’ve ever seen or heard and when the word gets out, tickets are going to go fast.  Only people in The States are stupid enough to pass up a guy like this.  Of course, it gives them a reason to bitch later.  The good ol’ American Pastime.

Check Gomm out at jongomm.com.

Notes…..  It freaks me out when artists and musicians so well known in Canada can’t get a cup of coffee here in the States.  Such it seems to be with one Royal Wood, a singer-songwriter of no mean talent.  He has a handful of EPs and albums out and is readying a new one, We Were Born To Glory.  I tell you, this guy has beaucoups talent!  You can check him out here…..  Hannah Miller, of O Black River fame (well, it is an EP which deserves fame as far as I’m concerned), has just released the third EP in a trilogy, Doubters and DreamersYou can listen here and when you’re done, check out the video of O Black River.  It’s a beauty….. Man, music (and life) just keeps getting better.  The Shoes are releasing a new album in August.  Not only that, but I just checked out their website and found that all of their previously released albums are once again available.  It might not mean much to you, but it makes me damn happy….. Drew Gibson is finally starting to get the respect he deserves, having released one killer of an album in The Southern DrawHere is a video from that album, a song called On Sunday.  I suggest checking it out.  The man has the goods…..  Amy Campbell has a handful of tracks from her new album posted for listening.  Campbell puts out too little, to my mind.  You can check her out at this link…..  This by way of Noise Trade:  Two girls from Albuquerque who sing in the folk/pop vein of Canada’s DalaPoema.  One of the girls has a voice very reminiscent of Piefinger‘s Jana Carpenter and if you’ve not heard of Piefinger, you’ve missed one of the more unique voices in music.  Might be a little poppy for some, especially with the lush production values, but I like it.  Sometimes lush equals smooth.  Listen here…..  I had not heard any recent music out of The Czech Republic until I stumbled upon an excellent EP by Eva Turnova a couple of years ago.  She stepped out of her comfort zone she shared with Plastic People of the Universe to record the moody but very impressive Happiness Is a Learned Condition EP (read my review).  Since then, the Czechs have given us The Cell, a knockout Southern Rock ensemble, and now, Marketa Irglova.  Irglova has a sweet, piano-backed voice which made The Swell Season a band of cult status (evidently, my head was again buried in the sand) and on this free live recording, makes a mark.  You can download it here…..  Why has nobody told me about Quiet Company before?  Next to my buddy Howie, I am the biggest pop fan in the world (okay, not even close, but I do dig pop and power pop more than most) and someone should have mentioned these guys.  Freakishly good melodic pop with power around the edges and a nice anthemic touch to the choruses here and there (they call them sing-along and stack voices like Lincoln Logs).  You can download a free sampler on Noise Trade or, better yet, visit their bandcamp site which has links to their entire catalog.  Good stuff…..

Frank’s column appears every Wednesday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

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.”

5 Responses to “Frank Gutch Jr: Are You Stuck In a Musical Rut?… All the Cool Bands Redux… The Emily White Debacle… Jon Gomm Storms Canada (Soon)… and Notes”

  1. fantastic column as usual Frank! oddly enough Steve Katz had just reached out to me to write about him a couple of days ago. I’ve directed him to your review. Another list of music to check out again!

    • Katz is a good man and his ‘Barricades’ EP is very impressive. Small world, eh? I need a link to your “real” writings, or do I have to get them one at a time as they are posted?

      • links are in my bio and i think in the first paragraph of my column this week. I told steve we know each other and he was so surprised! very small world indeed.

  2. Martin Melhuish Says:

    These debats always cough up the odd howler. Sorry Frank, but I reckon you’re it this time. You make the point that ‘Emily has always had music handed to her [not sure who the benefactor might be]. It is part of her life, like pizza and McDonald’s. You can’t blame her for assuming that what has always been there will always be there.’ I read that as free music is part of her life like pizza and McDonald’s. Right. Go to your local pizza chain and tell them that you love their stuff but you have no intention of paying for it. “I mean, what’s a pizza? A little dough, some cheese, pepperoni… give me that pie and put a lid on it!” And, ah yes, that philanthropic worldwide corporation McDonald’s. “That’ll be a Big Mac, medium fries and a drink… how will I be paying for that? You’re joking, right?! Bite me!” Silliness!

    • Ach! Caught again. I could have written that better, for sure, Martin. My point wasn’t supposed to be about getting things for free, though that is how it sounded, I suppose. In my head, it was a statement of the difference in cultural values. The fact that each generation has its own set of values and that we have to adapt or (like Howard the Duck) live in a world we never made. Lowery comes at Emily Too from his cultural values, but I find that youth these days have no concept of the world in which we grew up. We have to look at their world from a new set of values to really understand, is what I meant to say. Does that make sense? Again, in my head it sounds right, but then so did my original post. Sometimes my thoughts run away with me, thanks to my caffeine-infused desperation to meet the occasional deadline.

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