Frank Gutch Jr: Goodnight Songs: A Grammy Teaser?; Lavacado Clears a Room; Three Albums You Shouldn’t Miss; Plus Notes…..

FrankJr2

Why am I the last to know about Margaret Wise Brown?  Chances are, if you don’t remember the name, you have heard her works, especially Goodnight Moon, a book written specifically for children and sandmen.  While I had not heard of it, everyone to whom I have mentioned it has, some making snide references to that rock I must live under.  Evidently my childhood was deprived— at least deprived of Ms. Brown and her wonderful works.  I am not taking it personally, though, thanks to Virginia musicians Emily Gary and Tom Proutt.  They contacted me awhile ago about a book they had recently been involved with, written by Ms. Brown, titled Goodnight Songs.

Goodnight-Songs-Margaret-Wise-Brown

The songs came out of a treasure trove of hidden works by Brown, prose and poetry in small bunches, hidden in a trunk in a barn for decades.  For childrens book afficionados, it is comparable to finding an unpublished work by Beethoven in a vault just discovered.  To make a long story short, there is a long story about this book and, hopefully, books to come.  Next week’s column will be dedicated specifically toward that story, in fact, because Gary and Proutt put the prose of Goodnight Songs to music and are presently pursuing a Grammy.  It is a process as was the creation of this book from the hidden archives and the souls of two dedicated musicians.  Have friends who have young children?  Check in next week and link your friends to the story.  They will thank you.

Lavacado Clears a Room!  And other tales of disbelief…..

lavacado

Lavacado, the trio of Seattle musicians which include ex-Son of Man vocalist Tal Goettling played Portland a little over a week ago.  They were playing The Hawthorne Theater Lounge, the theater being the old Masonic Temple back in the sixties which saw the likes of Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and even The Grateful Dead on their first go-rounds.  That’s what my friend Ellen said and who am I to question her, a lifetime resident of the Rose City, as the Chamber of Commerce is so ready to call it.  The Masonic Temple sounded ominous in the sixties and the Hawthorne Theater sounds ominous today, but the lounge…..  Let me say outright that it isn’t much of a lounge.  It is more of a bare bones tavern with cement floors and couches, some of which look like they belong in abandoned buses, and a counter in the back of the smallish room behind which are shelves of hard liquor reaching to the ceiling, or close to it.  The selections are good— I use Crown Royal as my yardstick because that was the only whiskey my dad drank while I was growing up (although there was a short time he could get whiskey called Park Lane which Dad said was even better, but I digress).  They had Crown Royal up there, easily distinguishable by bottle shape, and probably Maker’s Mark and the slew of upper crust liquors the people of today prefer.  Still, the booze is the most upscale part of the place, which is not to denigrate it.  The lounge serves a good purpose which is to give small bands a place to play and that night they had lined up a young Portland band named Sungold to open while members of Lavacado and a handful of people who floated in and out from the main theater to see the bands opening for The Sonics, who were the headliners that night.  I talked with some Sonics fans and enjoyed the conversation, but, like many people these days, they are living in the past, ready and willing to pay $ to see a band they wouldn’t have even thought of fifteen years earlier.  I often wonder why people want to see old-timers past their prime, but I have never figured it out.  The Sonics vs. Lavacado is a no-brainer to me.  I have a feeling it is a no-brainer for them, too, though from a different angle.

lavacadotoddtal

As I sat, I had a view through open doors of a girl across the street at a bus stop, sucking on a cancer stick in a sort of beat and every fourth beat took a swing from a bottle too.  I mean, she wasn’t smoking, she was sucking, and with a vengeance.  Perhaps smoking int time to music?  She did have earbuds in.  What the hell?  But it soon became clear.  A bus pulled up and stopped and when it pulled out, she wasn’t there.  Sucking like a Hoover?  I understand.  It would be a shame to only smoke fifty cents of a dollar cigarette before having to extinguish it.  For a short while, I thought she was playing Smoker’s Roulette, trying to conjure up a major league stroke.  And here she was just trying to get from here to there without popping a cork.

Sungold is one of those bands I see all too often, a band in need of direction.  Instrument-wise, they somewhat had it down, the sometimes complicated rhythms falling into disarray but not often.  The guitarists were a nice contrast to one another— one brash and in your face, the other using very few pedals or accessories and relying upon manipulation more than electronics.  The one without the electronics spent his solos squeezing solos out of an Orange amplifier which was buried next to a slot in the wall.  Because of that, the sound was muddied and in the background, even during extended solos which were the core of the moment.  I wanted to stop them and tell the guitarist to use his volume knobs on the guitar but who the hell am I to tell a musician anything?  I gave up my drumsticks years ago.  The lead singer’s voice was a problem as well.  His mic gathered all of the treble in the universe and occasionally split eardrums on the vocal slides.  He wasn’t bad.  You just couldn’t hear him well.  There were a couple of moments toward the end of the set during which things seemed to gel, especially on a semi-jam number titled “Giving It Up” I think.  They found a groove and worked it and I started thinking, as I do during all such sets, that I should become a band manager and help bands find a sound or negotiate a less-than-friendly sound system.  Did I mention that it was a very small room?  And that mixing in such rooms is always touchy, even for the pros?

Lavacado didn’t have to worry about it.  They plugged in and set their lasers on stun.  Song after song, the pounding rhythm section of drummer Todd Marvin and bassist Steve Rehnstrom kept the train on the tracks while vocalist/guitarist Tal Goettling steered.  The voice was Son of Man, the guitar Goettling-gunned.  Three man rock, locked and loaded and firing on all cylinders.  A little loud for the room, but what did that matter when the few hanging around exited, stage left— all but the few people who really did come to see the band.  Only Ellen toughed it out with me and she prepared for it, having listened to the tracks posted on the Net.  (listen here)  Going to a gig in a tavern unprepared is a fool’s errand, I always say.  It is hard to hear the song in a small venue when you don’t know the song, that’s all there is to it.

What started out to be a decent set turned into an outstanding set, thanks to a professionalism you see only from, oddly enough, professionals.  Had Lavacado been playing the big stage— the actual Hawthorne Theater— there is no doubt in my mind that whomever were there would have been impressed.

The guys told me that they were trying to figure out what to do with their music— release it, shop it, archive it for awhile.  Me, I’m always for release.  For me, Son of Man, while grunge-based, was much more than genre.  I would have loved to have had access to their entire body of work.  To my knowledge, certain tracks were lost and may never be recouped.  Sigh.

Seattle, Lavacado (and Sungold, by golly) will be playing your town on Nov. 15th.  I don’t have the venue, but I will.  Stay tuned!

Steamrolled and Loving It:  The Barr Brothers, The Winterpills and The Big Bright…

Was it Yogi Berra who said it was like deja vu all over again, or was it one of those other brilliant icons from the past— Shakespeare or Einstein or maybe Patti Smith?  I have lived long enough now that I should have experience a deja or two and a few vus as well, as I did last Saturday.  When I lived in San Diego in the mid-seventies, see, I had this roommate, Rickie Lee Johnson, and Rick and I got along famously.  He is one of maybe three people in my life with whom I have never argued or wanted to punch out and that’s saying something, my personality in those days being of the gasoline can with lighted match in close proximity variety.  Rick had called and said he was headed to Portland for a conference and asked if maybe we could get together.  It might not have happened, me being more attuned to deep dank caves and frozen dinners and isolation— the perfect Petri dish for creativity (or so I like to tell myself)— but it was Rick and if I can’t pull myself out of a hole for one of the best people I know, what good am I to the world?   Come on ahead, I said, and early Saturday afternoon he called and said, voila!  I’m in town.  A quick shower and shave later, I was on the road, heading north, radio blaring and the sun in the sky.

 verge

I have this subscription to XM/Sirius radio which my sister and brother-in-law take care to keep current, and I listen to only a few stations— Classic Radio, a classical station, BBC, CBC3, and Canada’s The Verge (for some odd reason).  I clicked the radio on and Classic Radio was down, some repeated robotic messenger explaining that the station was not scheduled to be on the air at that time (had Mr. XM or Mr. Sirius been within striking distance, I would have run them down, me needing my radio fix for the drive).  So I channerl-surfed.  Nothing on BBC except the news which gets recycled on a constant basis and some drivel about football (soccer, to me— along with golf, a sport which was designed for Petri dishes or for people who take particular pleasure in watching paint dry), CBC was on an electronic kick (swear to God, at times on that station you can hear a whole hour of music without hearing a guitar or actual drums), the classical station was playing the typical classical (I often wonder why, with the vast amounts of composers to draw from, classical radio insists on playing the same pieces by the same composers over and over and over and over again, ad nauseum— probably the same reason community theater finds it necessary to showcase Our Town every damn year— sigh).  So I settled on The Verge because, shockingly enough, they were on a real music kick at that moment.

If you’ve never experienced real rock radio, this is about as good as it gets these days, besides the handful of Internet radio stations which delve into various genres which the fervor radio used to build its empire.  I’m not sure if The Verge plays only Canadian artists and labels, but it seems like it.  When I listen, I maybe have heard of one out of ten of the artists they play and find myself at times overwhelmed with pap (eighties-sounding electronica worthy of the early MTV-generation— Boy George or Wham or A Flock of Seagulls sound-alikes (kill me with a spoon), but Saturday was an exception.  Well, it might have been an exception.  I couldn’t tell you any of the artists names because early on, a song came on which caught me by surprise and I soon found myself pulling off the freeway onto an on-ramp so as not to cause an eleven care pileup just so I could find out who the hell was playing.  I had found, through the wonders of modern radio (in the olden days, we sometimes had to wade through four or five songs and hope the DJ would recap the song selections) while in today’s world, the songs are sometimes magically listed on the radio screen, a term back then I thought would never exist)— The Barr Brothers.

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Something told me they were major label, that the money guys had co-opted this talented bunch of musicians, but I did not care.  I had listened to a song which grabbed me by the ‘nads and wouldn’t let go.  By the time I had gotten to Portland and picked up Rick, the itch to hear more of the band was out of control.  Rick and I headed over to a  McMenamin’s Pub for dinner and an ale.  Afterward, I asked

him if he would mind stopping by Music Millennium so I could see if they had the album or CD.  He was all for it and was suitably impressed, having spent much time in San Diego record stores when I was there and, in fact, working for me one Christmas when I needed extra help.  He dug the Millennium (who would not?) and we finally tracked down a CD by the Barrs, but not the one I wanted.  Thing is, I was so gone by then, it didn’t matter.  I bought the 2011 self-titled CD and was glad to have found it.  So after taking Rick back to his hotel and hitting the road back down the valley, I slipped the VCD into the player and settled into what became a very, very enjoyable ride.

barrbrosFunny thing about genres— no one agrees on them anymore.  The CD was stocked under folk, but this was rock with acoustic twists and I wanted to bang my head against a wall because had I not asked the guy behind the counter, I would never have found it.  And not finding it would have ruined my evening drive.

I looped the album all the way home, enchanted by the melodies and harmonies and the drifting of sounds and styles.  The song I had heard on the radio was a blues-roots track, instruments meshing a rhythmic and trancelike road over which the vocalist trod, not dancing but almost.  The songs on the album I was hearing were more Hem-like, smooth and flowing and melodic and downright beautiful.  Not all of them, I found as the album progressed, but enough so that the theme was set in my mind.  There was a Simon & Garfunkel edge to their songs that I loved and yet they moved in their own path.  And there was this one song—  Give the Devil Back His Heart.  Riding the backs of a guitar riff on a mission, it choogled and danced lightly through the speakers.  I looped it a few times before moving on.  It was the closest thing I had heard to the track on the radio.

That track on the radio, I later found out, had not been released to the public yet but was being previewed on radio.  That song will be the third video below.  The first is the opening track of the self-titled album.  The second is another song off of the new album, titled Sleeping Operator.  Major label or not, these guys are excellent.

You’re welcome.

winterpillsI can’t even remember how I came across The Winterpills, but it was a good day the day I did.  A great day.  The first music I ever heard from them was from their Tuxedo of Ashes EP and I was bowled over.  I knew there was music out there like this, what I would end up calling folk/psych, but had no idea it was this good.  There was a real folk edge to the songs, a beneath-the-surface aura which crept under my skin and made me shudder.  The floater Are You Sleeping (cinnamon, cardamom, lithium)? totally disarmed me, the light rocking Feed the Spider armed me, Hallway (the top of the velvety stairs) made me shudder and by the time the outstanding The Ballad of the Anxious Decoder began, I was buried in Pilldom.  I didn’t care what else they had to offer.  I was sold.

They have a number of albums available, each good on its own terms, but the new album (Echolalia) is unique in that it is comprised of covers of the music they like, they being pretty much Philip Price and

Flora Reed at this time.  A perfect time for a side project under the Winterpills umbrella, methinks.

What they have done is taken twelve songs they have loved and even played over the years and arranged them to their liking.  I think it’s a gutsy move, but they pull it off with aplomb.  Dig this lineup of songs and artists:  One Day (Sharon Van Etten), Time of No Reply (Nick Drake), From a Shell (Lisa Germano), Open Your Eyes (Jules Shear), Learning the Game (Buddy Holly), We’re the Same (Matthew Sweet), Bye Bye Pride (The Go-Betweens), Museum of Flight (Damien Jurado), Train Running Low On Soul Coal (XTC), A World Away From This One (Mark Mulcahy), The Wolf Is On the Hill (Beck), and Cry Baby Cry (The Beatles).  Obviously, they thought nothing of the list, but I would be extremely leery of covering, say, Nick Drake or Buddy Holly, even though they have been covered successfully by others.  I love their inclusion of XTC and Jules Shear and Matthew Sweet, three artists/groups embedded in my collection.  The real surprises for me, though, were The Go-Betweens‘ and Beck.  I had heard the songs before, but Philip and Flora brought new life to them, or at least my ears thought so.  I hate covers, or so I thought.  This album has made me regret some of the statements I have made regarding cover songs in the past.  Methinks I spoke too soon.

bigbrightOf course, it was The Big Bright which cracked the jar.  I was perfectly comfortable in my jar, lid solidly in place so no covers could get in, and Glenn Patscha knocked loud enough to crack the glass and let the music in.  Patscha and fellow Ollabelle member Fiona McBain joined forces with singer Liz Tormes to rearrange their favorites from the eighties and caught me with my ears/pants down.  Titled I Slept Thru the 80s, the trio takes you on a somnambulant carpet ride through hits of that decade, placing the songs and themselves somewhat in sleep mode.  The idea was (still is, if handled this well) brilliant and the results topflight.

Don’t get me wrong.  I still hate covers— the covers which are not well thought out or which are attempts at recreating half-assed that which has already been created.  I hate tributes.  I hate anything that gets in the way of the music— the original music.  And I am none too fond of people who prefer crap versions of older songs to new and original music.  But when done with taste and a passion which you can hear in the music, I am all for it.  I am all for cheap beer and barbeque, too, and if you know anyone who makes an excellent fruitcake, have them send me one.  I know.  Fruitcake is a joke at Christmas time but you know what?  One Christmas I had Music Notes smallfruitcake which made my taste buds dance.  But enough of that.  We are nearing the end.  I can tell because I hear the sound of impending…..

Notes…. Fall is here and my buddies The Curtis Mayflower are kicking it off in fine fashion.  Here is the new video and single.  You’re welcome.

In keeping with last week’s notice of The Green PajamasHappy Halloween album, my buddy at Green Monkey Records, Howie Wahlen posted this just yesterday.  No, it’s not a Halloween song, but one of those buried tracks which Howie somehow managed to sync with old film footage.  Jangly, sweet power pop from the eighties.

My buddy Phil the Tremolo King made such a racket about Cassette Store Day that he caught my attention.  Out of pure fear, I give you a live version of a song which was a hit when I was young, written and originally recorded by jazz clarinetist Sidney Bechet.  Phil told me to warn you that this is as lo-fi as it gets, but it sounds pretty good to me.  He has other videos on YouTube you should check out as well.  I give you, as he is known on the social media sites, philthetremoloking:

Anyone hear of Little Annie?  I hadn’t until this morning when I stumbled upon this video put together for her PledgeMusic funding campaign for her new album.  Normally, I would have scrolled on past, but this one was created by one of my favorite artists, Paul Curreri, who has stepped into the creator’s chair for various video projects.  He stretches the limits here, as he has done with most of his projects (the guy is a freakin’ genius), and shows in three-plus minutes why we should care about Annie.  Did he nail it?  I can only speak for myself and I am impressed not only with Curreri’s work but the envelope pushing by this not-very-well-known-but-just-might-be-in-the-future artist.  Not for children or neocons.

And remember, next week is Margaret Wise Brown week.  Tell all your friends!

=FGJ=

Frank’s column appears every Tuesday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

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.” 

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