Frank Gutch Jr: 2013— A Look at the Best, plus Notes You Can Take To the Bank…..

FrankJr2After ending this last year cranking out two long columns about musicians we lost, I feel the need to counterbalance.  While I know that death is a part of life (indeed, life = death according to the laws of nature), it was not all that much fun to dig through the past year searching for musicians recently passed.  It was, in fact, a bit of a downer.  Reliving the news that I knew was not half as bad as discovering the news I had missed.  All too many musicians I admire tripped off this mortal coil without so much as a thank you, Frank, it’s been fun, and I was more than a little unsettled with each discovery.  But the past is the past, whether we like it or not, and it was not all bad.

2013Indeed, 2013 was one banner year for music in spite of the various pundits who claimed it wasn’t.  New bands popped up which filled the voids left by others, new music was better than ever and my mind was blown on a constant basis.  You don’t think it was a good year, music-wise?  Well, grab onto my robe and let us take a bit of a jaunt through the ghosts-of-music-recently-past.  If you caught any of these artists or albums, you’re strides ahead of most.  If you didn’t, open up those ears and take a look at what 2013 gave us.  You might just be very pleasantly surprised.

I could not possibly start this without a serious nod toward Sweet Relief and Sheldon Gomberg, who tossed us all a bone in the name of charity.  Sweet Relief III is the third in a string of charity albums from that organization, the first being a fundraiser for Victoria Williams, who had racked up serious bills during a battle for health.  Victoria reached out to friends and musicians, hoping to get them to help her put out an album of her songs, their versions, and was overwhelmed.  The second involved the songs of Vic Chesnutt, the proceeds going to Sweet Relief’s general fund.  The title was apt— Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation.  Release dates on those, according to Wikipedia, was 1993 and 1996, respectively.

Sheldon Gomberg, after asking for and receiving help from the organization, decided payback was in order and offered to put together a third album, last year’s Sweet Relief III:  Pennies From Heaven.  Gomberg asked friends for help and over a period of a year to a year-and-a-half, pieced together an excellent collection of artists recording songs of their own choosing.  The album ranged from Tina Schlieske‘s excellent cover of the Joe Cocker version of With a Little Help From My Friends (with scrutinous attention paid to what I assume is a Leon Russell arrangement) to Ron Sexsmith‘s outstanding take on Pennies From Heaven to Jackson Browne‘s nod to Warren Zevon on Zevon’s Don’t Let Us Get Sick.  The lineup alone is amazing in its combination of  musicians-as-stars and musicians-as-musicians.

If you know little or nothing about Sweet Relief as a charity, I suggest you head to their website to scope out all of the good they do within the community of music (click here).  And you can bet that every time I see or hear about Sheldon Gomberg, I will remember this most of all.

No Small ChildrenIn my little corner of the musical world, thousands upon thousands of hungry fans are flocking to the No Small Children website to pick up on one of the best options for good music out there, but then my world is evidently a fantasy world.  These three ladies, teachers by day, spend their nights plugged in to some of the best music I’ve heard in some time.  This past summer, they regaled the world with what should have been the anthem of the summer, Might Get Up Slow, and most of the world missed it, probably too busy twerking or reposting the Miley Cyrus hammer-licking video, ad infinitum.  For myself, this band is one of the most consistent of all of the bands I’ve heard and this song makes my face hurt from the smiling and outright laughing (good music makes me do that sometimes).  They have a number of songs posted for downloading individually, and an EP titled Dear Youth (click here) which knocks me out every time I hear it (click on Mystical and turn it up loud to understand— and play it for the people in your life who think they don’t matter).  Full album coming soon.  Stay tuned.

I found Tamikrest through friends Gary Heffern (SD’s The Penetrators and Finland’s The Beautiful People) and Chris Eckman (Seattle’s The Walkabouts and the world’s Dirtmusic) and became so enamored by the band’s abilities to absorb genres that they quickly became a favorite.  In fact, Chatma holds down my pick for Album of the Year in 2013, their music an amazing conglomeration of so many styles played so well.  They are from Mali, a country torn by war, and use their music as a way to gain attention to that country’s plight.  Definite African/Middle Eastern influences join with rock, blues, jazz and other genres to make truly international music.  These guys blow me away.

Ah, yes.  Dirtmusic.  Dirtmusic was my introduction to Glitterbeat Records, the label for which Tamikrest records.  Dirtmusic is in fact the musical home of the aforementioned Eckman, Chris Brokaw, and Hugo Race, or that’s how it started.  I have a feeling that the band will end up being a revolving door of musicians moving in and out, depending upon time restrictions and a whole lot of other factors.  Read about the band here, then set yourself.  This is the video of Troubles, title track for their latest album.

And I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t pass along a video from Eckman’s own brand new solo album, Harney County (which is a very lightly populated county in the State of Oregon).  I’ve been in Harney County.  The music fits it perfectly.

Never heard of The Incurables?  I’m not surprised.  But their The Fine Art of Distilling album hoisted my Power Pop-loving heart to new heights.  Track after track, many worthy of the status of those from Big Star or The Shoes or The Records in terms of the popness in my genes.  I fell in love with this album after working my way through, track-by-track, and then doing it again and again.  Head Incurable Jimmy Griffin floors me with his way around a pop tune and his ability to put together just the right players to make it work.  I don’t think there is a better song to start out such an album with than the powerhouse 16 Lines and Fall So Hard is a stone classic.  A solid #2 pick for the year.  This video is a bit rough, but some bands cannot afford to spend thousands for the quality sound we have come to expect.  Turn this sucker up and you’ll hear what they can do.

The Toniks hold down the last slot on my Top Three, and I stop at three because the above artists and this band released albums which deserve to be separated from the others.  They are exceptional for one reason or another, The Toniks because of their astounding arrangements.  Vocally and instrumentally, they bring back the best of British and American Pop of the sixties.  The studio sounds.  The harmonies.  The orchestral sensibilities (though I believe most of theirs is courtesy of synthesizers).  So well done that they take me back to the late sixties and early seventies when those sounds reigned on AM radio.  Oh, they crunch, too.  Scapegoat and Figure It Out rival The Incurables’ output of Power Pop, but the band’s sweet Pop sound is one few bands can replicate in this day and age.  Here is an example:

Does anyone know that The LeRoi Brothers are still together and if you do, why didn’t you tell me?  Yep.  Still going.  Singer Joe Doerr also sings in a band called Churchwood, though, and that is where most of his energy has been going.  Churchwood is one of those southern smokin’ hot bands which lives on the insane side of the musical tracks, preferring to entertain as much as play, and boy do they do a good job of it.  Think tamed down Legendary Shack Shakers or maybe just the Shack Shakers without snakes.  They rock.  They roll.  I would not be surprised if they didn’t earn most of their money selling medicines to cure your every ill.  You want a taste of what they can do?  You asked for it!  From their album, Churchwood 2!

Chicago’s Filligar (pronounced Fill-a-grrr) sent me files of their latest album a few months ago and I just now got around to listening.  If it wasn’t such a find, I would be pissed at myself for waiting so long.  These guys are mainstream rock and there just aren’t that many mainstream bands who can really pull it off these days.  It’s been done to death, you know?  But when it’s done as good as it is on Hexagon, you gotta believe!  I first heard them a couple of years ago when I downloaded a free copy of Noise, I believe it was.  Good stuff, but Hexagon is even better.  Way better!  One reason I am including their videos here.  Watch, listen and learn.  First up—

To be followed by—

Now, that’s a one-two punch to grip your ‘nads, nez paux?

I had a friend once tell me that Maxi Dunn didn’t have talent.  He is no longer my friend.  It’s cool.  He was a one trick pony, anyway.  Zeppelin, AC/DC— you get the picture.  For my money, Maxi is one of the most talented musicians going these days.  She may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who loved and love the music of Cilla Black, Petula Clark, Sandie Shaw and the like, Maxi is a godsend.  I would buy her albums for the arrangements alone, they are that good.  Not to take anything away from her as songwriter.  She keeps getting better with every release and her latest, Edmund & Leo, jumped into my Top Ten upon release and has stayed there.  If you don’t get her, you’re just plain not trying.  Allow me to enlighten:

The majesty of it!  Full-on production values which floor me every time I hear this, and this isn’t even my favorite song on the album!  (though it is a damn good one)  Mention goes to Peter Hackett as well, for his multi-instrumental effort here.  Magnificent!

Ollabelle‘s Glenn Patscha and Fiona McBain have joined up with singer Liz Tormes to form a side project of worth, The Big Bright.  They joined forces supposedly because they share a love for 80’s New Wave and Brit Pop, but it is what they have done with it that makes it worthwhile.  On their new album, I Slept Through the 80’s, they trip the folk/psych fantastic, covering songs like The BanglesWalk Like an Egyptian and Echo & The Bunnymen‘s Ocean Rain only through somnambulistic musical dreams of a sort.  This is not something one would imagine (except for The Big Bright) until you hear what they do with the songs.  They call them “new wave nocturnes” and I have to admit, they’re far from what I would have imagined.  This is beautiful stuff, regardless how I felt about the original songs.  Ethereal.  Floating.  Beautiful.  Very Winterpills-like in places.  These aren’t really covers.  The songs have never sounded this good or this fresh.

I’ve been trumpeting the UK’s Lisbee Stainton for some time now and her latest album, Word Games, makes me beat the drums louder.  She has one track, Pulse, which almost makes my heart stop, it is so intense and beautiful, but there is no video of that which I can find.  I will happily settle for a live version of the first track (and single) from the album, Red Dog Running, live though it may be.  Lisbee is a folkie in a very Pop way but has the ability to go anywhere she wants (though I have yet to hear her rap).  Listen to this, then search for Pulse somewhere outside of Youtube.  This lady has talent to burn!

Arborea is not as much folk/psych as they are futuristic renaissance music, borrowing from the past but looking to the future.  Buck Curran is a connoisseur of the music of the acoustic past masters such as Robbie Basho, John Fahey and John Renbourn and is himself at the very core of the arboreal aura, if you will.  Shanti is without a doubt the voice of the group and for the first time, on 2013’s Fortress of the Sun, is captured as she should be, her voice clear and free of the deep breaths necessary to fully define her lines.  Their past albums were good— very good, in fact— but Fortress is the mother of all their albums, from start to finish.  A sledgehammer to the heart.

Tom Mank could have been a baseball player had things worked out but I’m glad he didn’t make it.  If he had, chances are he would never have really given music a chance and that would not have been fair to us.  He is one of those hidden treasures, holing himself up in Ithaca, New York with wife Sera Smolen and playing music to (almost) his heart’s content.  I don’t know Tom, but I do.  I know how much he invests himself in his music and in his friends’ music.  I know that he is a good, good man and one talented sonofabitch of a musician.  And I love his music.  Every time he and Sera release an album (there has never been a question of each recording separately except for the occasional tune), I get nervous because Tom has gotten better with every album and I worry about that jinx so many musicians talk about, but he hasn’t let me down yet.  Tom lives the folk/blues and would have fit perfectly into the old New York folk scene of the sixties.  Here, he and Sera and friends (Andrew Hardin and Jeannie Burns) perform a live version of a song from Tom and Sera’s new album, Swimming In the Dark.

I lived in Seattle when Red Dress hit the scene and it was disturbing to see a band that good rejected by the labels at the time, but Head Dress Gary Minkler was never one to let go.  He hung out, biding his time, putting in time on Planet Earth until he decided he was in the right place.  That place saw the formation of a new band calling themselves The Gary Minkler Combination who very recently released Little Trailer Ruby, the album I had hoped would come out of Minkler many years ago.  The man is a wildman and so full of talent it astounds me and The Combination were magnets to the cause.  An exceptional and creative album.  Here, Gary does the title track with some of the best musicians Seattle has to offer.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

All I really had to know about Erin Lunsford I heard on an old Gigdog Charlottesville video a friend from C-ville had linked me to.  I was sold from the first note out of her pretty little mouth, her voice harsh and soft at the same time and soul seeping out of every pore.  Sure, it was a bit rough, but I’ve heard enough music in my life to know good when I hear it.  Erin was good.  She is headed toward great.  Last year’s EP put out under the name Erin & The Wildfire reinforced what I thought about her first EP.  Her voice is excellent and genre-less.  She is as comfortable with Country as she is with Blues and Pop.  The dark horse and surprise of 2013.  And the band is pretty damn good too.  You can hear the new EP on the bandcamp site (click here, you won’t regret it), but for your viewing pleasure, check out a video of a song from her first EP:

Hymn For Her are basically two legs of a tripod band out of Philadelphia known as Maggi Pierce & EJ.  Maggi and Pierce have been playing together for well over a decade (in fact, I think it’s approaching two decades) and are not only massively talented, but have one bizarre sense of humor.  They have put a number of videos together themselves (it ain’t easy, folks) and have three albums to show for their efforts.  2013’s Lucy & Wayne’s Smokin’ Flames is a vinyl bed of coals as they trip all over each other trying to outdo one another— on video and in the studio.  One of the best live acts I have ever seen, thanks not only to bottomless talent but to both’s affinity for the cigar box guitar (they make it smoke, hence, the smokin’ flames).  And the best part is that the album is available on vinyl!  Here’s a taste (don’t listen late at night in a dark room):

I dig the blues but lean more toward the rockin’ and electric blues, a la Stevie Ray Vaughan and The Nighthawks, and Jim Allchin scratches that itch.  On this past year’s Q.E.D. he dives into a variety of styles and pretty much nails them all.  If you like guitar, you should love this.  If you love blues guitar, you will.  I give you two trailers put together to promote this video rather than a full video.  They say what needs to be said.

On the complete other side of the coin, there is Rita Hosking‘s Little Boat EP, a more commercial effort than in her past and an effort worthy of inclusion among the best.  Rita has this folk/country/blues thing going on which is very reminiscent of the best of the old timey artists, and when she lays her head back and wails, the coyotes join in.  Here are a couple of examples— the first from her new EP, the second from her last album.  Shivers down my spine and tears in my eyes…..

I have not yet been able to write about Rita Hosking without including something about Paige Anderson & The Fearless Kin.  It was Rita who turned me on to the Kin and I owe her a deep gratitude for it.  The Kin has carried me through some down moments in the past year or two, bringing back a warm feeling I had when I was a youth and gathered solace from groups like Blue Sky Boys and Jimmy Martin & the Sunny Mountain Boys.  Paige has promised us all some new tunes after the first of the year and, well, it is after the first of the year, Paige.  Here is an example of what we will be hearing.  Listen to the interview in the second part of this video.  A little history behind the people and the music.

They always say that there is a little truth in every joke and my buddy’s always telling me that Nick Holmes could fart into a microphone and it would be in my Top Ten and I have to admit, there is truth in that.  Like any dyed-in-the-wool Zappa fan with Zappa, I soak up anything and everything Holmes-related.  (Here is one of a handful of pieces I have written on Holmes over the past few years)  Here’s the thing, though.  I have vetted every single second of Holmes’ new album Sonar and cannot find anything remotely sounding like a fart, except that one place…..  I jest, of course.  Holmes has a handful of albums I listen to when I need my batteries recharged.  He has a voice like no one I’ve ever heard and knows his way around a song.  I wish he had a video— wait!  He does!  Why, that SOB didn’t mention it at all!  Why, I oughtta…..  Well, I take solace in the fact that it exists.  Ladies & Germs, Time Takes Time from Holmes’ latest album, Sonar.

I bumped into The Curtis Mayflower through supergroup (well, I think they’re a supergroup) No Small Children who have East Coast connections (The Mayflower lives in Massachusetts or Vermont or one of those other east coast places us Westerners only know about through Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire movies).  First thing I thought was, they sound Left Coast to me.  They put together a stew of blues, rock, jazz and a few other influences and came up with a solid winner in Everything Beautiful Is Under Attack.   Supposedly, they recorded every song in one take, but they had to have touched up a note here and there.  Here is the story of the band and the album in a six-minute video— the background music is from the album.  Enjoy.

Last year, one of my favorite musical projects came courtesy of one Ben Darwish and his group, Morning Ritual.  Titled The Clear Blue Pearl, his musical vision was of a world slowly becoming devoid of water and people’s search for it.  Not far from what’s happening right now, wouldn’t you say?  Darwish gathered a few exceptional musicians around him to record the epoch, most specifically Portland, Oregon’s talented The Shook Twins.  It is done so well, it gets better with each listen.  Here is a video from that project, followed by a live video of a song not included on (and probably not written for) the album.  Mark my words.  This will grow on you.

I can’t believe I’m even writing this, but let’s talk Paul Revere & The Raiders.  Or, more specifically, Mark Lindsay.  If you would have told even 20 years ago that I would be placing a Raider-related album into my best of any year, I would have tilted my head like those dogs when they seem to not be able to believe man’s stupidity.  Well, ol’ Lindsay came out of the woodwork this past year and put out an album I can’t believe he did.  The voice has to be gone, right, especially after that throat operation he had to have during the Raider’s heyday years?  Not at all.  It is not the old Lindsay voice, to be sure, but it is a voice equally worthy, having a slightly different tone and edge.  He sounds good, as a matter of fact.  The songs?  Better than most and some downright first class.  The execution?  Here’s where the album shows its strength.  Solid rocking and smooth sailing— they cover it all.  You don’t believe me?  Well, take a gander at this!  Then head to Bongo Boy Records to pick up on other projects they have on the clothes line.  Lindsay’s album, by the way, is titled Life Out Loud and is in my Best of roundup for a good reason.

Ever hear of The Abramson Singers?  Neither had I until I saw this vote-for-a-band-to-play-Lilith-Fair thing a couple of years ago.  The song was Fools Gold and I became enthralled with the lo-fi aspect of the recording and the voices.  Beautiful stuff.  Well, Leah Abramson and crew are back, this time with superb production and a slew of songs which caught my ear.  The album was past its due date when I finally heard it, so I must thank Devon Leger for bringing it to my attention.  Here is a song from the album, Late Riser, which has me wondering about boys and crows.

I always try to start or finish columns like this with something from Laurie Biagini because she is to me what the indie movement is all about.  She started from scratch and worked like a dog to get where she is with her music (but wait!  Do dogs work?).  Where she is is within a world of her own construction, a world of girl group sounds and deep production and stacked vocals and surf and sand and sixties music values I grew up with.  If you’re a dinosaur like myself, you can’t help thinking Annette, The Partridge Family and Beach Boys.  Sit back and take a wild ride on the set of Biagini’s latest and, to my ears, best album thus far, Sanctuary of Sound.

I know I’m missing someone.  I always do.  But there is so much good music out there, Music Notes smalldon’t you know.  Hey!  Tell you what.  Pick up on a few tips in this week’s

Notes…..  Not too long ago, Sean Kelly of The Samples sat in his room and thought, you know, what this world needs is a little retro protest music, and he wrote Fukushima.  And he nailed it— tight.  Welcome to 2014, Motherf**kers!  “Where you gonna run when the walls come down…..”  From their new CD, America!

Here is an update of what a musician makes from the digital streaming “services”:

From an upcoming album— a video of Alialujah Choir‘s From the Ground:

It’s January 1st and the start of another outstanding year in music.  One of the bands we hear way too little of, Era For a Moment, has finally emerged from the woodwork with this teaser.  Power rock is sometimes music to my ears.

Coming soon— a cassette-only release of the new album, Buds, from Charlottesville’s Big Air.  Their label, WarHen Records, plans on a limited release of the cassette and there is a bit of talk about a vinyl 45.  From the label:  “Look for BIG AIR’s self-released cassette “BUDS” in January! Recorded in one day, summer 2013 in the Jefferson Theater by ex Fire Tapes drummer Mark McLewee, Corsair bassist Jordan Brunk and Yours Truly, with additional recording done at Tabby Road Studios. Mastered by Patrick Haight at Spot On Sound. BUDS will be limited to 100 tapes, with only a handful available through the WarHen store!

WarHen007: BIG AIR – TBD
BIG PLANS for BIG AIR vinyl. 2014 = The Year of the Hen and The Year of the AIR. STAY TUNED!”

In case there were any doubts, The Grip Weeds want everyone to know that they are back in the studio working on new and original songs.  If you doubted it, here it is in B&W and technicolor!


I first saw Anastacia Beth Scott at the 2009 Sisters Folk Festival and the tent was packed with followers because she was the local girl-made-good, ready to make her mark on the world of music.  She impressed me enough to mark her name and I have been following her music since.  She just recently completed a video directed by Tim Cash of Far from Earth Films that I think you should see and hear.  It is worth it from the standpoint of scenery alone, though I think Anastacia is finally finding her true voice.  Check her out.

Gawdamn!  No Small Children‘s Lisa Parade and Joanie Pimentel have done it again, this time with the help of Bruce LawrenceTree Amigos rock out on a choogling groove track titled Need Someone.  Outstanding!  Hear it here!!!!!

Few musicians have impressed me over the years as much as Seattle folkie Jim Page.  I ran into him while working at Peaches in the late seventies and have followed him since.  He used to stroll the streets of the outdoors fests, singing and playing his guitar, and gained a reputation as a “street singer.”  Later, his incisive wit in his songs made him a favorite in Europe.  Here he is just a few years ago at Gasworks Park in Seattle singing about, d’uh, Gasworks Park.  This guy is one of the reasons I really loved Seattle.  Music everywhere.

File this under “Jesus Christ!” (with a shake of the head).  While scouring the Net trying to find a reference to the arranger of Joe Cocker‘s version of With a Little Help From My Friends, this caught my eye and dragged me 30 feet, at the least:  “For my money, practically anyone could beat the Animals at their own game — Santa Esmeralda did a much better version of “Misunderstood” than they ever did. (DBW).”  I have no idea who DBW is, but there is a person with no soul at all.  I mean, Santa Esmerelda?  Is that clown serious?!!!  May he be consigned to Disco Hell!  The Animals rocked!

I would play the S. Esmerelda version for comparison’s sake, but I just had lunch.

I want to cuss and swear every time I think of the music biz and how artists get bumped around and tossed aside by a public more sensitive towards their smartphones than the music they hear on them.  Artists like Sydney Wayser who has done all right but who is nowhere near as known as she should be.  I have been following Wayser for years and appreciate the fact that she is making inroads, but goddamn!  The crap people listen to while ignoring her!  Whew!  I think I feel a little better now.  Anyway, Wayser has been working on a new project/band of late and here is the first video I have seen which shows her and the band in their true setting.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Clara-Nova, and beseech you to check out Wayser’s earlier solo work.  Start here.


Frank’s column appears every Tuesday

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DBAWIS_ButtonFrank 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: 2013— A Look at the Best, plus Notes You Can Take To the Bank…..”

  1. Michael Adams Says:

    MajoR YeS

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