Frank Gutch Jr: 2014 – A Look Back…..

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One hell of a year for music.  Not so much for musicians— at least the musicians no longer with us.  Hard to balance a year like that, pluses and minuses popping up like ads from a virus, canceling one another out or piling one on top of the other ad infinitum until the system collapses from the weight.  We all felt the weight whether we all know it or not.  So many musicians now on the other side but, lucky for us, so many new musicians taking their places.  Jesus.  My head spins.

Did you see the list of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees for 2015?  Freaking pathetic!  Not that the inductees themselves suck, but you would think that supposed experts could do better.  There are loads of exceptional artists and groups out there but you wouldn’t know it by the list.  Who the hell manages the Hall anyway?  Probably the same idiots who keep Pete Rose out of the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Maybe not idiots, but I can’t think of a word more demeaning than that right now.

johnfryMy God, but the people we lost!  Paul Revere, Jack Bruce, Johnny Winter, Pete Seeger, and the list goes on and on.  I plan a future column to cover as many as I can (it is my way of cleansing, I suppose) but will not go into it here.  It is depressing.  For myself, it was all brought home by the passing of John Fry at Ardent Studios/Records.  Ardent has been crucial to my growing fanaticism for the Indies over the years, Cargoe and Big Star being two of my most prized “unknown” bands until Big Star finally broke through.  I feel a personal loss.  Fry was really one of the good guys.

Allow me to butcher a few of Shakespeare’s words when I say that I am not here to bury 2014, but to praise it.  As I stated at the end of 2013, music just keeps getting better in spite of what so many people seem to think and 2014 proved it.  I am once again amazed at the plethora of good music hidden behind the facade of the music business which exists at present.  Music which blows the crap out of the offerings of many of the automatic Grammy nominees.  What I said about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?  Apply it to the Grammys as well.  They suck.

dixiebeeliners2As if to counterbalance my frustrations, I just found out today that The Dixie Bee-Liners released their new album on January 1st.  The first shot across the bow of 2015 and one hell of a shot at that.  For those unaware, the DBLs are a personal favorite of mine from a number of years ago.  I caught up with them with the release of their second album, Ripe, and was sufficiently pleased to follow them through their third, an excellent opus titled Susanville.  Two fine albums sprinkled with folk/bluegrass/Americana flavorings and creativity to make it seem like none of those except in places.  Brandi Hart and Buddy Woodward were the core of the band and they evidently have found it necessary to part ways, so this will be the last album from them barring posthumous releases or a reformation, which is not right now in the cards.  I won’t say that it is no big deal because I really love their music but both Hart and Woodward are loaded with talent and will find their own ways from here on in.  I have been listening to the new album, titled Through My Screen Door: The Final Sessions of the Dixie Bee-Liners, and am suitably impressed.  I did not expect less than excellent and they came through with their usual flying colors.  You can preview the album here.  It’s worth the time and effort, trust me.

This will be the year of anniversarial activity at Bullseye Canada Records, Jaimie Vernon having announced a 30th Anniversary celebration of sorts.  Mentions of possibly a box set covering those years and (I hope) more reissues of past product in digital form have me salivating.  You will read more about Vernon and Bullseye in this column.  One 2014 Bullseye release has deserved a very special mention.

Sturgill SimpsonBut about 2014!  My God, the music!  There was tons of it and, as usual, my favorites were somewhat (or totally) overlooked.  I got blindsided by a few.  Writer Jim Caligiuri tossed an album by a dude named Sturgill Simpson into the mix and it bent more than a few brain cells.  Someone referred to the album as “Waylon Jennings on acid,” but I don’t hear it quite that way.  Simpson does bring a lot to the ears in a retro/crazy-ass country-but-not-country way and I dig it and thank Mr. Caligiuri for it and a few hundred other artists he has turned me onto over the hotsprocketsfew years we have known one another.  Bobby Gottesman over at I Can’t Believe My Earz threw a strike by pointing toward  a UK band calling themselves The Hot Sprockets.  They freaking rock.  In fact, Bobby’s Top Ten rocks, so I recommend you going there too.  Click hereDBAWIS writers have me scrambling to catch up, especially Bob Segarini, Jaimie Vernon, and Darrell Vickers who stuff my inbox with links on a regular basis.  Here’s a tip.  If you’re on FB and want links to sometimes exceptional and always entertaining music, sign on with Radio Vickers.  Not only does Darrell do yeoman’s work uncovering the old stuff, he is way ahead of the curve in finding new music worth picking up.

Musician Jaimie Vernon (not to be confused with writer Jaimie Vernon, though he is one and the same guy) totally caught me by surprise earlier this year by “reissuing” his most excellent concept album, Nightmare @ 20,000 Watts: The Ice Flow Show, which is a simulated last broadcast of jaimienightmareterrestrial radio as we know/knew it.  I could go over this again, but I have been writing about it (and listening to it) since Jaimie first presented it.  It is one of the coolest ideas I’ve ever heard and has been pulled off with aplomb worthy of the best radio broadcasts during the medium’s heyday.  Suffice it to say that this one is, by default, one of my favorite releases of this past year (and 2008, which Vernon claims was its original release date).  You can read what both Bob Segarini and I thought/think of it by clicking on this link to a past column.  Jaimie, you knocked this one out of the park.  In future moments of drunken stupor, you can bet I will be talking about this and yelling, “Hey, I know that guy!” though I am sure that unless equally inebriated, no one will believe me.  If any of you want to hear something incredibly cool, click on the album title link up above and be amazed.  Presented by Bullseye Canada.

barrbros2May the Indie Gods forgive me, but for the first time in a long, long time I actually must pay homage to a Major Label act, that being The Barr Brothers, who waylaid me before I knew they were major label. I seldom listen to anything from the big corporations, but this sneaked by me courtesy of The Verge, my choice of rock radio worthy of the occasional flyby. Whilst driving the tunnel from Portland through the Willamette Valley one night, I heard a song which almost had me driving off the road. Turns out it was The Barr BrothersHalf Crazy and it floored me, the rhythms fresh and the feel refreshing. The song was just released, the album soon to be and all I knew was that they were from Montreal (Thank you, Mr. or Ms.Dee Jay) and ready to rock the world the way they were rocking me that very moment. I marked the name in my head and as soon as I got home, I searched the Net and found out that they had an album to be released in the near future.  A quick trip to Portland’s mecca of music, Music Millennium, and I was in possession of their self-titled CD which I used as soundtrack for the trip home. I was freaked out. I had found them in the folk section. All I could think that whoever categorized it must think that every record which utilizes acoustic guitar is either Americana or folk. Wrong. These guys are as rock as the Plymouth, as the videos below will attest. No, Sleeping Operator is not my pick for Album of the Year, but it is damn close. Easily among the best for those not strapped into the mainstream, whatever that is these days. The album from 2011 rocks too. Are these guys signed to a label in the US?. Do they even do that anymore?. They should be. They are in Canada, a country on the verge of kicking the US’s ass when it comes to music these days.

Here’s one from the band’s first self-titled album.

There should be no surprise in my including No Small Children‘s Trophy Wife among the best.  I first found Lisa in a band called Lisa Parade, followed by her previous conflagration, Heidi.  Both impressed me greatly, but when Lisa joined with sister Joanie and drummer Nicola, I was swept away.  A power trio without boundaries, they are fearless and more accomplished than I could have imagined.  How fearless?  They have taken to the streets to win people over, one at a time.  Watch these:

I have also been forced to admit the worth of covers, though only if they bring something new to the songs.  Last thing I think worthy is Heart playing Zeppelin or any of those other sappy nods to the same old same old.  The Winterpills avoided this through the magic of arrangement.  I love arrangers when they have it together and am lobbying to have arrangers as a category in every awards show I hate (I hate them all) and the duo of Flora Reed and Philip Price, or maybe the whole band because these songs are favorites the band has slipped into various concerts over the years, do as good a job as I’ve heard.  They cover a wide variety of tracks, from Nick Drake‘s Time of No Reply to XTC‘s Train Running Low on Soul Coal to Beck‘s The Wolf Is On the Hill and do them all with a real understanding of the songs covered.  I don’t understand why these guys are not superstars.  I really don’t.

Here is what I wrote in an earlier article:

What did I write before about this album?  To paraphrase, “Twenty years ago I would not have even considered an album of covers as anything more than filler.”  Was that me?. I guess it was. How times have changed. The Winterpills have changed them.  The band, in a state of limbo for the past year or so while individual members work on other projects (like families and life), boils down to Flora Reed and Philip Price on this album. I would say that it was to keep their fingers in the pie, so to speak, but for the result.  The band has been together for a number of years and has performed (I assume) hundreds of times, each time working out a version or two of the different songs they admired.  They honed it down to the songs here and put an album together.  Songs originally by ? suddenly altered by ingestion of a Winterpill.  It couldn’t have worked out better.

Chris and Gileah‘s self-titled album convinces me that vinyl is back with a passion. I mean, it makes me WANT it to be. I have loved Gileah Taylor as a songwriter since her first real album, The Golden Planes, a number of years ago and she just keeps getting better and better as the years pass by. This self-titled album is packed full of sweet music and even sweeter harmonies, good enough to get the big thumbs up from music writers Jaimie Vernon and Mark S. Tucker, two of the few I trust implicitly. You might want to pick this one up on vinyl. The gatefold cover is a delight and the pressing immaculate. Beautiful, beautiful stuff.

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New American FarmersThe Farmacology Sessions was a very pleasant surprise. I liked the first Farmers album. Not enough to place it in a Best of category or anything, but I liked it. The flavor was maybe a bit too acoustic to really get my juices flowing. Lucky for me, they took a different approach this time. Don’t get me wrong, they still have that acoustic/folk/country edge to their songs, but they have honed it down and added little touches which place this one on a totally other level. The album starts out innocently enough, Down at the Pharmacy a country-ish beauty of a song (special mention goes to Dave Zirbel for his pedal steel presence), but it takes off in another direction from that point on. Touches of Donovan (okay, only on Aiming For the Daylight, but impressive enough to mention) and late-sixties/early-seventies psychedelia and a bit of rock ‘n roll tossed in for good measure are all I need to regain my old hippie form. God, but I loved the early seventies and its music!. Tons of creativity, tons of great music, tons of the nefarious weed. This is the kind of music I would sit after smoking a fat one (which wasn’t very often, I tell you, mainly because I couldn’t roll worth a damn). I would list a few hundred bands which should have made it during that period, but I don’t have the time. New American Farmers should have been there. They would have fit in perfectly. A big big plus, having the sixties-influenced Rain In the Summertime on the album (think Monkees). Folk Rock!. I love it!  If you want a vinyl copy (and if you love good music, you do), you had better hop on it.  Very, very limited quantities.

Finally, someone to compare with Charlottesville’s Carl Anderson and Ted Pitney. No longer technically from that city (Anderson now resettled in Nashville and hoping for the big break which hopefully will come, Pitney ensconced in Colorado and living the dream), they caught my ear and as Emo Phillips would say, dragged me twenty yards. Joseph LeMay is dragging me a bit further with Seventeen Acres, a remarkably well put together collection of who and what he is— a talented, talented man. He has a bit of Anderson, Pitney and a touch of Jackson Browne here and there and it carries him far. An outstanding collection of songs from a musician who really deserves a major label shot (though I shudder when I say that because of my disgust for the majors and their attitudes toward the very people who have made them a success). Mainstream, but the best side of mainstream.

WTF?. I fully expected Sage Run‘s The Beginning and End of War to be on everyone’s 2014 Best of lists. Another concept album, this one wrapping sageruncoveritself around The Civil War, but why stop there?. Good old mankind has done itself proud with a string of worthy wars with which it can define itself. So Sage Run does just that. War, amplified and glorified, soldiers used and abused, follow me, boys the battle cry of all but the ones who start the damn things. My first time through, the gut wrenched and the attitude toward it hardened. I sat through Viet Nam, frozen at Fort Lewis because I pulled no punches and was marked a political dissident. I hated war then, I hate it more now. Very few conflicts have been started which could not have been resolved, but when the assholes who start them do not have to fight, what is there to stop them? The album?. Musically, it is topnotch. Ideologically, it should have happened decades ago. A favorite on many levels.

Irish boys The Minnows have pretty much lived on the graces of one album, Leonard Cohen Is Happy Compared To Me, which doesn’t mean that is all they have recorded, just that that album has been their fallback. Until now. True, this is a live album and contains a few tracks from the “Cohen” work, but it lives on its own merits. In the first place, the recording is outstanding— the handclaps and references to the crowd the only things separating it from studio album status— but the de songs, boss, de songs!. I have it call this mainstream because it is no more than rock with smooth twists, but what twists!. Sometimes a band relies on how well they do it rather than what they do. The Minnows do it well.  A class album!

Know what?  The more I listen to The Hot Sprockets, the more I like them.  Yep.  They just jumped into my Best of 2014.  Right this moment.  I dig their tunes.  And I dig their sense of humor.  Dig this:

Damn Bobby Gottesman!  Scoop me on these guys, will he?  Why, I oughtta…..

Now, I know all of you are on the edge of your seats wondering what delicious gem I have chosen for this years best.  First allow me to tell you what my criterion is.  It is simply the album I listened to with the most regularity, or the most often.  And that album is— drum roll, please— Lost LeadersLost Leaders is a duo/band consisting of the core of Peter Cole, a New York musician of dubious fame, and Byron Isaacs, a guy I won’t badmouth here because he is, as they say in certain circles, connected.   For instance, he is/was connected to Levon Helm and Helm’s daughter Amy.  He is/was connected to Ollabelle.  He is, in fact, like all members of Ollabelle, much in demand as a studio and touring performer.

I kid about Cole’s fame being dubious.  He almost made it once.  He told me himself.  And this album proves his worth.  It is packed with songs which could easily have come out of the early seventies when songwriters were beginning their trek to status of singer/songwriter and when bands cranked out album after album which were ignored and are just now being discovered, Big Star‘s #1 Record and Radio City being two obvious examples.  Lost Leaders runs the gamut of sounds from smooth folky pop to long and rocking jams.  I’ve been listening for months and still can’t get enough.  They have recorded a number of videos, many of which you can see here, but just for effect, let me show you these:

I have a long list of Honorable Mentions as well, the difference between them and the picks being my mood and pure arbitrariness, if that is a word.  Like I’ve said all year, this has been a monster for music.  Let’s get started.

Lavacado/Lavacado—    I don’t apologize for this one.  Had they done a bit more publicity-wise and had they played out a few more times, they would easily have made my top picks list.  Lead singer is former Son of Man lead vocalist Tal Goettling and the rhythm section is the powerful combination of Steve Rehnstrom (bass) and Todd Marvin (drums).  The guys in the rhythm section have played together so long they finish one anothers sentences (and meals).

Social Strife/Social Strife—  I’m guessing on this one because The Strife, as they are wont to call themselves, have had a bit of a struggle getting things running, though they are running just fine now.   I heard about them late in 2013, Bobby Gottesman (again) putting them in my ear.  I liked what I heard— a bit of Era For a Moment in their sound— but what really sealed it was singer Sean Farro‘s unflagging attitude toward other musicians.  This guy wants to help other musicians almost as much as do I and that counts for a lot.  It made me listen.  I’m glad it did.  They are a hard rocking bunch, The Strife, and are not as punky as they might have you believe.  They do have a crunching hard rock edge to them, though, and it works for me.  You can scope out the songs on their Reverbnation page (click here) and hear what they have to offer, which is one lotta rock!  For instance—

Churchwood/3—  Another damn Texas band (the whole damn state must play an instrument!) and one to think you been bit by a snake.  A lot of talent here and they show it at every turn.  I would love to see these guys live one day.  Singer Joe Doerr spent time with The LeRoi Brothers, if’n you want some credentials (and they have more than that— I am just too damn lazy to do your homework for you).  Damn fine band, though.  Damn fine!  This make your beer curdle, for instance—

Madmen C-Leb & The Kettle Black almost slipped one past me this year.  I sat around waiting for a new album after hearing their first killer effort almost a couple of years ago now and it didn’t come and didn’t come and didn’t come.  I figured those clowns would let me know as much as I loved the old album.  So I sent them a message asking when it would be ready and they said, acting surprised, that it had been released six months earlier.  Aaaarrgghh!  True to form, though, it was worth waiting for.  Some good rockin’ stuff.  And yes, it is available on vinyl.

Anna Maria Rosales has paid her dues playing with a circle of musicians in the Los Angeles area comprised of Rich McCulley, Adam Marsland, Grant Langston, and Evie Sands, to name only a few.  I’ve seen a few videos and she always had a bass in her hands, but maybe that was because there were so many guitar players that the room sank on one end.  She proved she was more than a bass player and a backup vocalist this year with her first solo album, Washed Up On Your Shore.  She co-wrote the songs on the album with a string of A-1 songwriters and the resulting album made many of us believers.  I expect great things from her and here’s why—

Saw Mad Anthony once.  I will take friends next time.  This trio is quite unlike the other bands I have had the pleasure of seeing.  All three have styles which are quite different and they probably should not work together as well as they do, but they do.  From Cincinnati, of all, places (which means I’ve never been there, I suppose).  If you ever want to see something unique, catch these guys when they come through town.  The album, by the way, is titled Sank For Days.  So is the song in the video.

A few years ago I happened upon an album by a band named Fisher.  They called themselves that because the lead vocalist was one Kathleen Fisher and the core of the band was herself and her husband, Ron Wasserman (the guy behind the music for them crazy Power Rangers).  I was quite taken by the voice and the music was very impressive, indeed.  That was awhile ago and when they mentioned they had a new album on the way, I knew it was going to be good.  It is actually better than good.  The vocals are somewhat the same (I love Kathy’s tonal qualities and her style) and the songs are excellent.  Unfortunately, Kathy and Ron have very busy lives and haven’t delved into the video part of things for their latest album, Fisher 3, and I kind of hate to do this, but I am going to give you a video from eight years ago.  This will give you an idea of what they do, but many of you probably already know.  This was a hit.  By the way, you can listen to samples of the new album on their CDBaby page (click here).

I’m liking the new Jubal Lee Young album a lot, too.  There is just enough of his father’s voice in the boy to give many of Jubal’s songs lift and I can’t help but think that he is really getting the hang of writing and performing.  Of course, I say that about every album he puts out.  He just gets better with age.  Here’s a sample.

I know I’m leaving somebody out.  I always leave somebody out.  Then I feel rotten for days.  Check with future columns.  I usually try to make up for it when I become aware.

2015 is looking to be one hell of a year already.  Not only did The Dixie Bee-Liners light up the New Year, but there are projects coming out of the woodworks.  Here is a list of musicians who have told me they will have albums out this year— Caitlin Canty, Drew Gibson, Old Californio, Carleigh Nesbit, Shade (or it may be a release by Jane Gowan, who is in effect Shade), Brian Cullman getting bits of the rough mixes in recently), Arborea, Alcoholic Faith Mission (an excellent band out of Denmark), and Jeff Ellis.  From what I’ve heard from each of these artists, this year is going to maybe top 2014.  Like Segarini says, it just keeps getting better and better.

Next week, musicians we will miss— a rundown of musicians and music people we lost.

=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.”

2 Responses to “Frank Gutch Jr: 2014 – A Look Back…..”

  1. Another great column Frank! So glad to see some cancon on there yet again, you do Canadian music a service by casting the light of your good taste northwards. can’t wait for the next!

  2. We miss you, Nadia!

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