Frank Gutch Jr: The Best of the First Half of 2013,
Jesus, is 2013 great or what? I’m dancing, crying, thinking, sweating, burping and bopping thanks to a handful of musicians who have me freaking out, they’re so good. I know I said 2012 was good. And it was! Hell, it still is, musically. Musicians put out some of the best music I’d heard last year, but goddamn it, 2013 is smokin’ hot! Seriously! And excuse me for a sec whilst I dance the happy dance. You see, No Small Children‘s anthemic Might Get Up Slow is playing right now and will for a few times more because I need some uppers! Shee-it, this is good! In another time, this would be topping the charts and rocking kids out! Even famed ex-radio disc jockey Robert W. Walker sez “Fuh-reeking great!” Jeez, I’m sounding like Barnum & Bailey here, but sometimes you have to let loose, you know?
I let loose with these ladies the first time I heard them. The first salvo of Wenches & Bitches did it. Three-man (er, woman) rawk it is, straight out of the heavy metal songbook— or not. Hard-drivin’ rhythm guitar, great hook and everything else you need to bang your head. Hell, the song screams wall of sound. Turn it up! You want wall of sound? Catch the chorus of Mystical. Makes you wish that radio is what it used to be. What the hell is Mystical? Rock ballad metal? Not too many bands doing stuff like this anymore. Want a little fast-paced punk with a pinch of humor? Salad is fast, crunchy and funny as hell— a theme for those always on/not on a diet. Even has a bit of a Shangri-las break which is way cool. It may not be as angst-ridden as Sex Pistols or even The Zeros, but I’m Irritated makes its point in punkish fashion and Dear Youth is an honest musical retort to people who think aging is a sad thing, Lisa Parade singing (and loudly) “Dear Youth, you got it all wrong / Who knew that I could ever feel this strong / I’ve got a job and a car and a home of my own / Understand my own voice through an honest song / Dear Youth, I’m good with the way that I am / Who knew that forty-two could be so grand / I’ve got no fixer-up boyfriend to hold my hand / I’m in bed before ten, you wouldn’t understand.” Screamed through a PA system at full-volume with a trio of maniacal ladies pounding their instruments like crazy? Yeah, the young would get it. They might even like it. I sure as hell do.
If they do have a song that is hitbound, though, it is Might Get Up Slow. Like Robert W. says, it is “fuh-reeking great!” The rhythm alone will have you dancing. Songs like this you have to hear to believe, especially in this day of musical overkill. And, yes, I’m gonna be a nice guy. You can listen to it here. Don’t say I never gave you anything. And by the way, that incredible soulful voice at the end? That is Lisa’s amazing sister and the bass player of the band, Joanie Pimentel. Whew! And I couldn’t possibly not mention the pounding rhythms of drummer Nicola B. Without her, the children would be a lot smaller. Oh, and just for your information, these ladies are teachers by day. God, but what I wouldn’t have given for teachers like them.
Maxi Dunn/Edmund & Leo— What? You thought that just because I have written about her before, I wouldn’t again? Good is good and great is great and this is one or the other or maybe both. Oh, it doesn’t make me want to vault the desk and dance, but that doesn’t mean anything. Dunn has a whole ‘nother mindset to her music. She has visions. And, no, I don’t mean she’s having visions. She just thinks differently when it comes to music. She thinks in terms of the orchestral and the majestic and the choral and yet hangs on to the core of Pop— that sense of melody or harmony that we all love. I mentioned in the review I wrote for Edmund & Leo that she has OCD when it comes to her music, a free but meticulous freedom. The production and arrangements on the album are amazing when you listen closely, voices and instruments popping in and out of movements at will, all to the best effect as far as my ears can hear.
Dunn has a number of albums out, all leading to this one, each moving a step forward and each an important step. More than once while listening to Edmund I wondered about her progression— whether she would take it one step further or whether she would take a tangent direction— a full-on concept album or maybe theater music. She could do it. She has the vision and the talent to pull off something of the nature and grandeur of Broadway or even a motion picture. But I don’t know if she looks at her music that way. I think the songs just happen and she has only so much control. It is while the song is being recorded that her control takes over.
A word about her collaborator, Peter Hackett. He has his own project, The Cult of Wedge, and to that he gives much of his energy, but you can tell how much he puts into Dunn’s albums. On this one, he strapped on multiple instruments and layered them to perfection while Dunn was stacking voices upon one another. You really have to listen close to catch the nuances of the songs. It’s an adventure.
Norrish Reaction/Norrish Reaction—
Like sixties and seventies psych? Folk rock? Pop? Straight rock? You could throw in a few more genres, put it in a mixer and you might come close to Norrish Reaction, yet another of the Seattle entries into the album of the year pot. Unlike many bands attempting to lean on the past, this band digests the period rather than copies it, coming up with an incredibly fresh… not sound, but feel. I wish I could point to a few superstar bands of the past for comparison, but I can’t find a single one that will do the job.
Thank the gods! I am so tired of the rehashed look into the past with nothing to back it up that I could puke. This whole cover and tribute thing has got my goat. But everyone is doing it. It’s co-o-l, I suppose. To them. It’s not much more than buckets of vomit to me. Well, I shouldn’t put it that strongly. Let’s just say that fifteen musicians of stature playing Journey is not my idea of music, and it still isn’t when they play anyone else, Big Star included.
That’s one reason I love this album so much. Norrish Reaction is not playing someone else’s music nor are they paying tribute unless it is to the spark within them. The musical spark. The same musical spark that Zeppelin had when they started. And the Stones, even if the Stones did rely a lot on classic R&B tunes. Old bands are old bands for a reason and that reason is that they are old, people! Not the musicians but their music. I will take a Norrish Reaction to any one of your star-filled stages rehashing music which is not theirs, whether it influenced them or not.
These guys are original. These guys have the spark. And this album, as much as I have listened to it (and I have listened to it a lot), has not even begun to lose its edge. This is music. This is what you should be listening to. (listen here)
Transmissionary Six/Songs: 2002-2012—
I know Terri Moeller‘s music well. For the longest time, I thought there was way too little, but that was before I discovered The Transmissionary Six. The Six, it turns out, is one of Moeller’s side projects— or was when The Walkabouts were making a run right after the turn of the century. Seems like she had found common musical interest with Paul Austin, a guitarist of some talent, let me tell you, and put together The Six. Why The Six? I’m not sure. Maybe there were six when they recorded the first album. Maybe they thought they were a real band, ready to stick it out to the end. At this point, it hardly matters. Over the years, they have become essentially two with a revolving door of musicians. And that is not to denigrate those musicians’ contributions. Without them, The Six would not be who they are— at least, their albums would not be.
That’s right. Albums, in the plural. They’ve had how many— seven? Please tell me how I missed them. I have been following The Walkabouts since they walked about Seattle. To me, they were always a band, even when in limbo. How did I miss the individual members and their “side” projects? I have no idea, but this is one side project I should have caught in its infancy. Better late to the party than to have missed it altogether, I always say, so this retrospective is right down my alley. You could hardly call it a “greatest hits” because, let’s face it, they have had no hits. But it is a solid compilation which could easily stand on its own as an album. It feels like it. It sounds like it. Thanks to Moeller’s and Austin’s songwriting. Thanks to Moeller’s dusky voice and Austin’s class guitar.
Now that this is compiled and released, Moeller will head back into the studio to complete her second solo album (as Terri Tarantula). I’ve heard one track, thanks to Youtube. (click here) I’m salivating for the rest. (hear The Six here)
Rita Hosking/Little Boat—
I could write a novella about Rita Hosking. Of miner’s stock. Tied spiritually to the land. Mother, wife, musician, music fan. I won’t say that Rita was born out of time, but I lean that way. She sings so much of what was (and maybe still is and we can’t see) that she takes me away at times. She captures the distant past so well. She captures so many things.
Little Boat is different from her past albums in that she does not look at the past as much. There are no miner’s songs, no looks at specific historical instances or people. This time around she has keyed on the personal. The emotional. Songs to make you feel as much as think.
I have never heard anyone who gave me the shivers down the spine like Rita. She has a voice which carries so much, with an ability to break free, and yet she breaks free so seldom. I liken her vocal choices to Phil Keaggy’s choices on guitar during his Glass Harp days, his solos so short and succinct that they leave you yearning for more. Rita’s voice is like that. When she hits the high notes, it gives you a thrill, but she saves those moments carefully.
I have to say that this is Rita’s most accessible album yet. In steering clear of the obvious— the storytelling and the steep bluegrass and leaning heavily in one direction or another— she has given us an album that is just plain pleasant as well as being damn good.
Beautifully engineered and produced by Rich Brotherton, who also lends some valuable instrumental help. (you can listen on Rita’s website)
Jeff Finlin/My Moby Dick—
I class Finlin amongst the real class acts who will transcend genre as years go by. His lightly gruff voice and songwriting put me in mind a little of Tom House in that he comes off as much poet as singer. Of course, he is a poet with a band here. No sitting on a stool in front of a mic with an acoustic guitar for him, though when he does that I’m sure it comes off just fine. Nope. This time he rides a wave of heavily reverbed electric guitar with a side of electronic keyboard and piano. For the songs on this album, he could not have chosen better.
The reverb gives the album a surreal feel, as if it was recorded in black and white, as if the guy who plays that electric guitar has a cigarette at the end of the neck with smoke curling up, highlighted by a lone light from somewhere you cannot see. This music should be played in dank, dusty and dark places. It should be listened to there, also.
When Keith Morris turned me onto Tom House a year or so ago, I knew I had found a true original. When Ash Ganley pointed me toward Jeff Finlin, I felt the same. I have listened to Finlin’s The Tao of Motor Oil many many times, always in the light. I look forward to hearing My Moby Dick a few hundred times too, only I will pick the times carefully and there will be no light. With music like this, I simply don’t want the distraction.
The Incurables/The Fine Art of Distilling—
Know what I printed when I wrote the review for this album? “You can grab onto the standards. Everything Pop has to have a bit of The Beatles in it, doesn’t it, and isn’t that little bridge straight out of ELO? Do I hear early Hollies in that bit of vocal background, and why do I get the feeling that I am hearing the ghost of John Lennon here and maybe Pete Ham there?” Damn, I wish I’d written that. Wait! I did write it it! And I still believe every word of it.
Listen to this album closely and it will begin to wrap its blanket around you. It is late Beatles and ELO and Pete Ham (Badfinger) and so much more. The songs are Classic Rock ready, though they would have fit nicely on AM radio back in the day. Derivative? What the hell does that mean? All songs are derivative to an old fossil like myself. I’ve heard it all, it seems, but unlike those who think hearing it all means that there is nothing left to hear, I welcome more. As long as it is good. As long as the combination isn’t soulless and (kaff!) copied.
The Incurables don’t copy. They create. Maybe I could point out a few measures that sound like Lennon and maybe a few that sound like Badfinger, but that isn’t a deal-breaker. What would make it a deal-breaker is if they copied the notes or, worse yet, the whole song, without understanding. What is understanding? Understanding is welcoming the influence— embracing it while making it your own. A buddy of mine who loved to laugh as much as did I once said “Comedy isn’t the lines you deliver, it’s how you deliver them.” Makes sense to me. Nicely delivered, Incurables. Very nicely, indeed.
Laurie Biagini/Sanctuary of Sound—
Laurie makes me laugh, and I say that with the utmost respect. She is one of the most unassuming and humble people I have ever “met” and also one of the most positive. I suppose she has moments when it comes to her music because it isn’t easy being a musician these days. The business was bad enough in the good old days, but now that you pretty much have to do everything yourself or accept the fates of the musical gods (which is inevitably a life of obscurity), it can wear you down fast. I’m sure she very occasionally wonders if this whole recording thing is worth it. Like I said, we all have our moments.
Laurie has carved out a niche few seem to want to fill these days— she is all “sunshine pop” (kind of a cross between bubble gum and pop), surf, girl groups. When I hear her music, I dream of beaches and Beach Boys and woodies (the cars, bonehead— get your mind out of the gutter) and bikinis (God, but I love bikinis!). Her music smells of AM radio, a world the young will ever know and I feel sorry for them.
Laurie bought a guitar and has been teaching herself how to play. Until recently, she was all about the keyboards, but when she got that guitar it must have felt like Christmas because she was all over social media with pictures and the trials of learning a new instrument. Like I tell everyone, I’m just glad it wasn’t a cat. I’m beginning to hate cats.
Listening to Sanctuary (to get to the album part of this), I can hear that Laurie has learned her lessons well. Her previous three are solid albums and I love them (especially on a nice drive to the Coast on a warm, sunny day), but Sanctuary stands above. The vocals are exceptional, especially the deep harmonies, and the recording and mastering are as good as I’ve heard. You know, the only thing missing is a sax. Put a sax solo here and there and this would be perfect. Ask Moondoggie. He knows.
A special DBAWIS commendation has to be awarded for Sunset, a stunning song co-written by Laurie and master guitarist Vinnie Zummo. Every time I hear it, it’s 1964 all over again.
Morning Ritual/The Clear Blue Pearl—
I found this because of The Shook Twins, a Portland duo whom I heard on a “podcast” whilst searching for the music of Elephant Revival, with whom I confess to having an obsession. During that search, I just happened to find music recorded live at The Oregon Country Fair which included the Shooks, Elephant, and The BrownChicken BrownCow String Band (listen here) and I was impressed. Impressed enough to want to scope out Morning Ritual some months later.
Morning Ritual is The Shooks and one Ben Darwish joined on the recording by Bill Marsh, Sam Howard and Russ Kleiner. The Clear Blue Pearl. The story is a fascinating look at the future or the past, take your pick. In a time of intense drought, a man and wife are forced to leave their home in search of an aquifer, underground but close to the surface. They find it, all right, but realize soon that they are then on unstable ground.
Does anyone smell sequel? Indeed, Darwish has set himself up for a fantasy trip of Star Trek proportions. And the amazing thing is that the world may be experiencing something of these dimensions in the future. Water is slowly becoming a commodity worldwide which means that it will not be long before Wall Street speculators and others of their slimy ilk are out to turn it into sellable goods, claiming ownership or at the very least, a “mineral rights” guardianship of sorts.
Darwish has struck at the core of the future, whether he realizes it or not. Already, some clown who works for Nestle Inc. tried to convince the powers in Europe that water is not a right, even though everyone knows without it we are dead. Had it been the United States, I would not put it past the asshats on Wall Street and on Capitol Hill to deliver the goods for a small cut. The story reeks of conflict. I would not at all be surprised to see Darwish take this project further, possibly involving a dwindling population and a return to a more primitive state.
Musically, it is as fascinating as the story. Involving The Shooks was a stroke of genius, the girls’ siren voices providing a chorus-like offset to Darwish’s male-as-leader viewpoint. The fact that the band is as much orchestra as band is crucial to the flow of the story, the musicians digging deep for soul, jazz and even classical influences to bring everything together. Still, it is the Shooks’ beautiful and sometimes eerie voices which do it for me.
As concept album, The Clear Blue Pearl is as viable as anything I have heard recently. The subject matter alone piques the interest, but Morning Ritual handles it well enough to make it that much more. A must for people who want real meat with their music. (listen here)
Eric Lichter/Elks In Paris—
I know, I know. This album was released last year, but it was toward the end of the year and I allowed it to be buried unceremoniously and unfairly. By all rights, Elks In Paris should have been in my Top Hits of 2012. My bad. As a result, I owe Lichter. And the album deserves more.
When I finally got around to giving it its just due, I missed the point anyway. I listed Lichter as a drummer, period. He set me straight, telling me he had gone beyond that years ago and had been playing various instruments since the old days spent with Seattle band The Life.
Truth is, even though I missed on the musical progression of Eric Lichter, I did not miss on the musical quality of this album. Lichter is a good songwriter and more than good on some tracks. And choosing to work with Ken Stringfellow proves him intelligent as well. Of all the producers I can think of, Stringfellow is the only one who comes to mind as being able to pull off many of the songs as well as he did. Well, himself and Lichter. This album is not one of those I’ll-send-you-my-songs-and-you-figure-out-what-to-do projects. The songs were obviously worked over and honed to virtual perfection. You can tell there was a teamwork thing going on.
Eric, if you’re out there, my apologies. I live in fear of doing two things: spelling someone’s name wrong and leaving someone or some album out. I think I got Lichter right. As for the other, I hope this makes up for it.
Jim of Seattle/We Are All Famous—
As opposed to Jim of Toronto and Jim of Chicago and all of the other Jims out there, eh? Don’t ask me why he chose to record under that name. I thought maybe he was raised by wolves and that’s the name others chose for him or something, but no. Jim chose it for himself. And just so you know, he does have a last name. A real one which does not involve Seattle, in fact.
When I heard this, I first thought, what the hell? This guy’s nuts. Not only is he all over the place musically, but he doesn’t know how to put together a concept album, for concept album was what it was, for sure. Only it wasn’t. It was put together like one, each song taking the album in a different direction as if weaving together a tale, but there was no tale. When I mentioned it, Jim sat back on his throne and clapped lightly because he had wondered whether anyone would notice it. He spent a lot of time arranging and rearranging the songs and the sequence of songs to give just that aura. He wanted people to hear it that way. I did, but I am sure others have too. It is hard to miss.
When I say “all over the place musically”, I mean that this guy threw in everything but the kitchen sink. He has rock, classical, jazz, blues and a whole string of influences, some taken to extremes. For instance, the circus music. Who would throw in a song sounding like circus music? He did and it was partially that which led to the concept album thoughts. I almost got dizzy listening to the changes from song to song until I started hearing what he was doing. At that point, the music began to string together, the songs either flowing together or fighting each other as the album progressed.
I applaud Jim (of Seattle) and his efforts on this album. He put a lot of thought and heart and soul into We Are All Famous. A lot. And you hear it track after track. (stream it here)
Let me throw in a caveat here. You have to be musically adventurous to really get this album. Jim isn’t Journey nor is he McCartney. Neither of those acts have enough chutzpah to pull this off. They don’t even come close.
The year’s not over and already I have albums queued up for the final year end tally. I just received a copy of Arborea‘s Fortress of the Sun which I am sure will be in the running. Next up on my playlist is Rich McCulley‘s The Grand Design. New American Farmers‘ Brand New Day is starting to make an impact. UK’s The Soundcarriers have sent their latest which I should receive soon (I have not heard anything of theirs I didn’t really like). The Honeycutters are readying a new one and I have yet to hear the new Erin Ivey or Emily Wolfe. What I heard of My Jerusalem‘s latest was very impressive and they are bookmarked for listening. See? The problem is not the music because there is plenty. The problem is finding the time to listen. Speaking of listening, I was just notified last week that one of my favorite all-time bands is releasing their one and only studio album. Keep reading and learn…..
Notary Sojac— Forty Years After
Man, I’m livin’ the dream! One of the bands I have talked most about over the past 40+ years is Notary Sojac, rock legends in my own mind. Almost 40 years ago, these guys traveled to Tioga Studios outside of Coos Bay, Oregon and recorded a full album only to have it tied up due to circumstances beyond their control. The band just announced last week that they have found the tapes, cleaned them up and will be making them available through CDBaby starting this week—- download only! This will be added to their live album which has been available as a double-CD and download for quite some time. Coming soon, a full column on Sojacary and its effect on (my) modern life! Check out the live CD here.
Notes….. Years ago, I found Linda Draper tucked into a sampler disc in a Pop Culture Press zine. I fell in love at first hearing. I have followed her since and she just gets better and better with each release. Here is a link to a Relix Magazine page which showcases her latest video— Hollow. Good, good stuff. Click here***** Man, there are so many good things happening on the music front, it’s getting hard to keep up. I believe I mentioned Gileah Taylor recently— how much she has impressed me over the handful of years I’ve known her music. I just received a note from her that she and her husband, Chris, have just finished day three of recording their new album. Mark the names: Gileah & Chris Taylor. I have complete faith that what comes out of the studio will be well worth hearing and will keep you posted. In the meantime, here is a link to music Gileah recorded with two ladies during her Ghost Train sessions. Just to whet your appetite.*****
Frank’s column appears every Tuesday
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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.”