Frank Gutch Jr: Albums You Should Not Have Missed (But It’s Not Too Late)— A Recap, Plus Notes You Should Not Miss (Spoiler Alert: Videos Involved)…..

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I present to you music I have loved over the years and have written about but only a few have found.  This is about music by artists who deserve more than they have gotten and are consigned to live in the shadow of what they should have been.  In many ways, I wish they could have recorded back in the seventies when the music business was a real center of the public’s attention because had they, some would be stars of today.

I am lifting these clips from previously printed pages and printing them as printed then.  I am afraid that if I wrote about the music today, I would be even more enthusiastic, possibly to the point of what some of you might consider absurdity.  Set yourself.  If you have heard of any of these musicians outside my purview, I owe you a beer.  Let’s get started:

You remember the episode of M*A*S*H where Charles Emerson Winchester (the Third) tries to allay the anxieties of the concert pianist whose right hand was permanently damaged? Do you remember where he tried to explain how much he himself wished he could play, something to the effect that “I can make my scalpel sing, but I can’t play”, referring to the piano? When I saw that I thought, that’s me! I have every bit as much music in my soul, but I can’t play a lick. It’s a tragedy, really, or would be if there weren’t so many real tragedies out there. I mean, I’m air-guitar-ready, hands and arms and legs in just the right positions to make a musical point. But I can’t play.

Paul Wittgenstein

This is the guy Ravel wrote the Concerto for— Paul Wittgenstein

Of course, it didn’t stop me from making music a huge part of my life. As a child, I sat in front of the parents’ console, ear planted against the one ten-inch speaker, soaking up the vibrations of everything from Hank Williams to Enrico Caruso to the Six Fat Dutchmen to Tchaikovsky. Like I said, it was in my soul, and maybe in my genes.

It still is, and the great thing about it is that it is as exciting and wondrous as it ever was. It’s a bit harder to find things to vibrate the strings, you understand, but it’s out there, and in great quantity. Allow me to run down some of the best albums I’ve heard over the past decade or so and explain how we made our acquaintance.

Tom Mank & Sera Smolen…..

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Years ago, I almost passed on Mank & Smolen‘s Where the Sun meets the Blue because it didn’t really fit my style, or so I thought. A good friend sang Mank’s praises but couldn’t really pinpoint a genre, though I do remember mention of Dave Van Ronk. I pictured folkie blues in a smoke-filled coffeehouse amongst talking and laughter and the clinking of glasses. Man, was I wrong! On that CD, Mank channeled different influences on every track, the most notable being Gil Scott-Heron on an amazing political piece, Keep Crossing That Line. It was a kind of jazz blues, but it was neither jazz nor blues, though it had a Revolution Will Not Be Televised bent. It was just out there.

I wrote a favorable review and when Mank emailed to thank me, he asked if I might like to hear his earlier album with Sera titled Souls of Birds, which he claimed many fans like more than Where the Sun… I couldn’t imagine an album recorded three years earlier trumping that one and, again, I almost passed. I’m glad I didn’t.

Souls of Birds is neither better nor worse, but it is less adventurous and, as a result, more accessible. The 60s folk scene is all over the album, but it is far from derivative. Mank is a monster songwriter, right up there with the best, and can paint musical pictures like you can’t believe. His voice has an underneath-a-streetlight-late-at-night aura to it that is entirely disarming at times. And Sera Jane Smolen? If you want to hear what difference a cello can really make, this will show you. She is nothing short of masterful, playing everything from standup jazz bass to flowing classical-oriented movements, all on cello. I can’t say enough about her playing, but enough is enough.

By the way, if you’re fan of folk/psych, Big Red Moon is as good an example as I’ve ever heard. Close to 11 minute’s worth. Do yourself a favor. Check it out.

Mank & Smolen, since this thumbnail review, have released a handful of albums, each better than the one previous.  You can check out their webpage here and their videos on YouTube.  In fact, here comes a video now!

Gigi Shibabaw…..

Known mainly and simply as just Gigi, Ejigayehu Shibabaw hails from Ethiopia and probably suffers from marketing as much as lack of exposure. Her labels file her under World and Ethiopian or African music, but she is way more than that, at least on Gold & Wax. She has a pure sense of melody which makes her pop as much as anything, yet the rhythms and jazz-tinged backup belies that description. It is a world of music, for sure, and I cannot imagine anyone not being impressed.

I was driving home late one night when a local NPR station played a song titled Salam and it totally knocked me out. I am a big fan of Britishers ‘If’ and Zzebra, a band which included ‘If’s original guitarist, Terry Smith, and what I heard was a hybrid of the two with female vocals extraordinaire. I repeated the name of the song until I got home so that I could email the station for information. The reply came and I ordered the CD forthwith. I was not disappointed. It’s like nothing else in my collection and, as important, my friends love it as well.  Thank you, Ethiopia!  (I like your coffee, too)

Devon Sproule…..

Devon Sproule and Danny Schmidt were my introductions to the incredibly vibrant music scene that is Charlottesville, Virginia. The more I hear from there, the more I am convinced that the area is a music mecca. The CDs arrived in the mail simultaneously and it was the proverbial one-two punch. Danny’s Little Grey Sheep was solid and Devon’s Keep Your Silver Shined was, well, Devon.

People in Charlottesville love Devon Sproule and I now know why. The more I listened the more I wanted and it wasn’t long before she dominated the CD player. She has elements of folk and jazz and blues and a whole range of other influences, but what it comes down to is that she’s Devon. Her childlike, unassuming voice puts you at your ease, her songs are simple and direct and make no mistake, when she plays she is a member of the band. Wait till you hear her jazzy guitar on Stop By Anytime. It’s amazing.

Devon has put out a few albums since the time of this album and video and it would be unfair for me not to post something more current.  Here is a song from her latest album with Mike O’Neill.

Kane Welch Kaplin…..

I remember Kieran Kane from The O’Kanes’ first album for Columbia Records years ago. The guy was a topnotch songwriter and had a nice textured voice. The label kept saying they were country, and they did have a country twinge, but they did not quite fit the niche. Getting Conway Twitty and Willie Nelson fans to listen to The O’Kanes sounds totally workable these days. Back then, it was a tough sell.

Today, Kieran Kane shares the stage with singer/songwriter Kevin Welch and master musician Fats Kaplin, with help from Kieran’s son Lucas. They call what they do ‘groove roots music’, a way of saying that they play what comes naturally. It is a hybrid which reaches back to the old blues and folk and rock roots and, no, it doesn’t sound authentic in terms of those genres. It is, however, authentic. Kane and Welch reach deep for their songs, laying themselves out for all to see and hear, and while they may not always be pretty, their music is. They don’t have to sell their songs. They sell themselves.

While Kane Welch Kaplin is their third album, one gets the sense that it is the first as a bona fide band. They have obviously reached a comfort zone, and having the light shuffling rhythms of Lucas Kane and the expertise of multi-instrumentalist Fats Kaplin shows you why. ‘Groove Roots’, indeed.

Audrey Martells…..

A couple of years ago I opened my inbox to an email from Audrey Martells, who had read a review I’d written for the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange. She asked if I would write a review of her new CD, Lifelines, and I was reluctant. Writing on assignment is one thing, but writing at the request of an artist can be brutal. Still, she seemed such a nice person (and mildly persistent), so I relented. I am glad that I did.

Unknown to me, Audrey had a track record as a background vocalist with some of the biggest names in R&B, Luther Vandross and Mary K. Blige to name two. Her credits were in fact as long as my arm but truth be told, her resume (impressive as it was) was superfluous. One time through the album convinced me that Audrey Martells was special.

She had headed into the studio with producer Mattias Gustafsson to ostensibly lay down modern R&B. What she came out with was an R&B/Pop mix that steamrolled me. I figured she had a decent voice, having sung background on some outstanding tracks, but I had no idea. It is magnificent. Add to that the stunning songs which came out of the Martells/Gustafsson collaboration, the immaculate production, and Gustafsson’s unerring touch as musician (with only a few exceptions, he is the backing band) and you have to wonder what it takes to make it these days.

Half the songs on this album could easily have been hits, but weren’t. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t deserve it. Absolutely outstanding stuff here, especially the ballads. If this is what they played on radio, radio wouldn’t be dying.

Kirsti Gholson…..

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Kirsti Gholson is one reason I love the CDbaby concept. In the old music industry, when the major labels passed on an album it was more than likely consigned to purgatory. One wonders how many good albums were thrown into the incinerator by a system dominated less by music than money. But I digress.

Working late one night, I logged into CDbaby’s inventory and began searching. Somehow I came upon Kirsti’s 2001 self-titled solo album and, while reading comments posted by friends and fans, decided to sample a few tracks. It didn’t take much. I ordered it, something I seldom do due to my self-imposed poverty line (writers don’t get paid as much as people seem to believe and, for some ungodly reason, I want to write). It turned out to be one of those gifts to myself which I will never regret.

If you recognize Kirsti’s name from the earlier picture of Tom Mank and Sera Smolen at the beginning of this piece, you get a gold star. She is, in fact, a reason I embrace those artists so wholeheartedly. She is under my skin. Well, her music is.

I give you Strange and Marvelous, a song which is, ironically, both strange and marvelous. Strange in that Gholson combines her beautiful, airy voice with harmonies all her own, right down to the stunning aah-aah-aah’s at the end. Marvelous in that my heart beats faster every time I hear it, it strikes so deep. This is music which turns my bad days good, my hectic days mellow.

There are other great tracks on this album. I Got the Message has a light top ten flavor to it. Ways To Kiss the Ground is a beautiful song as well as being a production masterpiece. This Is Your Home (Circe’s Song), the favorite of some commenters on CDbaby, has that Gholson flair. I could go on, but this is neither the time nor place. This is not a review, but a heads up. So… heads up.

Antje Duvekot…..

Like Mank and Smolen’s albums, I almost passed on Antje Duvekot’s Big Dream Boulevard. Close call. Duvekot is so far ahead of most folk rock artists, it’s amazing. When the really good ones come along, they’re easy to spot. That’s why I mark Duvekot a name to watch. She is on her way up.

Her music has a commercial quality which is not at all commercial, if that makes any sense.  Hooks, melody, harmonies. Add to that a voice all her own, a perfect mid-range vibratoed breath of fresh air, and you have a combination hard to beat. If she wanted to, she could sell pollution to an environmentalist. Lucky for us, she doesn’t.

This song is as deep as songs get.  My mother was suffering from Alzheimer’s the first time I heard this, though suffering should not be the term because she was happy and I thank the gods for that.  I suffered, though, because watching someone you love slip slowly away from you is not an easy thing.  I cried a lot during those days and I could only listen to this once.  As beautiful as it is, the pain was too much.

Duvekot has grown since those early days and has become a full-fledged folk artist.  I saw her perform twice and was impressed both times.  This video is from a later period.

Greg Laswell…..

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Is this guy big yet?  He wasn’t when I wrote this.  Regardless, he deserves to be.  And I stand behind every word.

Being a celebrity, or in Greg Lawell’s case being associated with one, is both a blessing and a curse. Celebrity exposes one to a wider group of fans, true, but it also exposes one to scrutiny. Since Laswell started dating Mandy Moore, his music undoubtedly found new ears but one wonders who’s listening. Critics have spent more time debating Moore’s taste in dating partners than discussing the projects and talents of either.

Laswell was mostly unknown and struggling when he recorded Through Toledo. When his wife left him, he locked himself in a darkened bedroom and suffered. What is the saying? Sometimes out of suffering comes good things? So true. When the bedroom door opened, Laswell re-entered the world with a briefcase full of astonishingly good songs and the urgent desire to lay them down. Maybe it had to do with putting things behind him. Maybe he just knew what he had. Regardless, this under the radar album is amazing.

There is a bit of Jackson Browne in Laswell, except more. He somehow reaches into that private place we all go at the worst of times and creates magic. The songs, the harmonies, the feel— they’re nothing unique and yet they are. This is music you have to hear to understand. Not many artists can pull off a wall-of-sound downer, but Laswell does it with delicate touch and power to spare.

This album is pure genius. It is also a personal track record of emotional destruction and recovery. I will never drive up San Francisco Bay again without hearing Through Toledo in my head.

Carrie Biell…..

carriebiell

Now and then I get stopped in my tracks wondering where Carrie Biell is.  Last I heard from her, she was singing on a session with Glowfish

Carrie Biell is one of those artists you have to virtually drag your friends to see, yet when you do, they end up dragging their friends. Her voice mid-range, a bit husky and breathy, she creates an environment with her phrasing that is hard to resist. Ringing is rin(hard ‘g’) in(again, hard ‘g’) and h’s are forced and at times she breathes rather than sings, but what breathing!

When Your Feet Hit the Stars is not her first album, but it has to be her best. To be honest, this album hit me so hard I’m afraid to backtrack. Biell’s life has not been easy. She was born to a deaf mother who soon began losing sight as well. When you’re someone’s eyes and ears, you become close. There is that bond which goes way beyond. Her music seems to come from that same place, or one as deep.

She inhabits her own corner of the world in which Neko Case, Cat Power and others live. It is an almost secret and alone place and there are moments when you feel like you are intruding, but that is the magic. This is not just music by Carrie Biell, it is music for you. It really does feel that way.

I know.  It ends abruptly.  But this is Carrie at her best.  Play it again.  Turn it up.  I really miss this girl’s music.

Jess Pillmore…..

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Jess Pillmore came my way through her father, Bill Pillmore, who was a founding member of country-rockers Cowboy. I tracked Bill down for an interview and he happened to mention that his daughter had an album in the works. He promised that as soon as copies were available, he would send one. He did.

Jess Pillmore’s Reveal was and is my choice for album of the year in 2005. Her previous album, Slightly Skewed, was a solid folk rock effort and a good album, but I’m still trying to figure out how she got to Reveal from there. It is a huge step forward. Huge.

I credit Dan Phelps for part of that.  He worked with Jess preparing for the recording sessions and did a masterful job of producing. He also cornered drummer Matt Chamberlain and bassist Viktor Krauss for a few guest appearances, most notably on the jazz-rapper Atlanta. That one will be an automatic for a Krauss retrospective one day, I am convinced.

Maybe his most important role, though, was forcing Jess to find her voice. Every track comes from a different place, some from opposite ends of the spectrum, and Jess had to really work to get it right. She did. Front to back, this album is pure adventure.

As adventures go, these artists have provided me with a few.  One of my favorite adventures, though, is to dig through the muck to find treasures, which I post in…

NotesNotes…..  I admit freely that I have had a crush on the voice of Sunday Lane for quite some time (she’s a hell of a songwriter, too).  When she teamed up with Jessy Greene to form Fauntella Crow, I was doubly struck.  Another song and video added to my collection.

 

Little Lonely is slowly getting caught up with her videos from her recent album which I hope means that she is working on a followup.  Here is her latest vid, a song called Carnival King:

File this one under “…sometimes the bear eats you.”  Band Secret Broadcast is filming one of them band in the van things when they get pulled over by the cops.  Bet if Republicans were recording in their van they wouldn’t get pulled over.  Bummer about this is that all of my DBAWIS buddies have been telling me to listen to these guys and I’ve “been too busy”.  Too busy for good music?  Crapola, is my life spinning away from its original intent?  Time to reevaluate.

I am really digging Rebecca Pidgeon‘s new album, Bad Poetry.  There is a bit of a retro feel to parts of it which intrigue me.  Here is the latest video from the album.

And because whoever put Pidgeon’s video together included the kid with the whiplash ribbon thing, I can include this video of lunacy provided by none other than The Weaver Twins.  It’s called theme and variation, dipwads.

I started my “career” as drummer with Sweet Home, Oregon’s music department, playing bass drum in the junior high band when I was in the fifth grade and working my way up over the years to be  head drummer and student conductor of the Sweet Home Union High School Band.  Did I think I was hot stuff?  It was Sweet Home!  We didn’t even know what hot stuff was!  But I had one hell of a good time and even played in a couple of rock bands which might have been decent if we could have scored equipment enough so our guitarists could have plugged into their own amps.  That little Silvertone amp of Bill Johnson’s got overworked like you could not believe, always having two cords running into it at all times.  I had a great time in all of the bands I played in, so you can imagine my surprise when a recording of Sweet Home High’s concert band showed up on YouTube playing, of all things, Hair.  Yep.  The song that made The Cowsills famous done in marching band fashion and without, thank the gods, that embarrassment of John Travolta.  For those who actually like watching halftime shows, and I’m not talking about the ones with costume malfunctions and rock bands who lower themselves to play award shows and, um, football games, here is the 1971 version of a band I played with for four years (and got kicked out of twice).  BTW, our band was half that size and we didn’t wear informs.  Hell, we could barely afford white shirts and black pants.  As for shoes, thank the gods for Converse.

I have been jonesing for psych these days and stumbled on this while searching the web.  Stuff like this is one reason I loved the New Wave and Power Pop movements.  A little Tamborines, anybody?

I can’t help but wonder how much really good stuff is out there that I’m missing.  I missed Green & Yellow TV, for instance.  Sheesh.

Speaking of bands I wish I could have seen live, one was Stealing Jane.  Unique sound and people have told me when they got to jumping, they shook the whole building!  Frontman and voice Bryce Larsen, by the way, is still putting out the music.  And it is good!

And who would have thought that this…..

would become this…..

Damn, I love those girls!

…And that about says it all!

=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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