Frank Gutch Jr: Dave McGraw & Mandy Fer, Danny Schmidt, and Susan James— I Can’t Stand the Silence; plus Notes (and an apology to David Olney)…

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I am being steamrolled.  It is a conspiracy, or maybe just the herd instinct.  What is the herd instinct?  That is the terminology we used when I used to work in retail records when for half an hour people would mill around the store until one came to the register, at which time those remaining followed.  We would check out three people in half an hour and suddenly there were fifty people standing in line.  Today it would be called WTF?  Then, we chalked it up to the herd instinct.

Anyway, after a decent Winter of album releases, all hell seems to be breaking loose.  While I wait for Picture the Ocean, Stu Nunnery, Bill Jackson and a handful of others, a few solid albums passed through the player— by Ryley Walker (John Martyn and Nick Drake fans, take note), The Honeycutters, Kip Boardman, Wrinkle Neck Mules, Lines West and Brock Zeman, to mention only a small percentage.  But this last month…

This last month, three came through which pretty much stopped me in my tracks.  I didn’t know they would but I put them in the player and when the dust cleared,…  Let us just say that I am still recovering.  If it had been a cage fight, I would be dead.  But what a way to go.

Dave McGraw & Mandy Fer

mcgrawfermaritime

I’m in love!  Again!  Swear to God, it happens every time I hear a lady play electric guitar.  I mean, really play one, not just strum.  Mandy Fer plays one and she plays it very well.  Very well!  She, in fact, knocks me out.

Her actual last name is Ferrarini, but she, like ex-Cowboy member Pete Kowalke, probably changed it to prevent tongue damage (or brain damage).  Funny how a name like Ferrarini (See?  I just said it and it was easy!) can get peoples’ knickers in a knot.  (For the nomenclature challenged, you can call me Ray.  Get it?)  His last name is McGraw, as in Quickdraw (What?!  You’ve never heard of Quickdraw McGraw?  What the hell are they teaching kids these days, anyway?).  Together they are simply Dave McGraw & Mandy Fer.

They live somewhere on the San Juan Islands, north of Seattle and south of Victoria B.C.  They say they had to record the new album, Maritime, on the island— for the feel.  They claim there is an aura there (my word, not theirs) and they wanted their new songs to reflect it.  They recorded in a house in the woods with friends, outstanding musicians all, and what they laid down…

But before we go there, I would like you to hear this:

A lot of folk, a little jazz.  Done so well I wouldn’t even begin to categorize it.  I have always said that music, when it hits a peak, is just music.  No categorization necessary.

In fact, many of the songs on Maritime are transcendent.  Helicopter, the opening track, rides a vocal arrangement and chord structure quite unlike anything I have ever heard.  Well, not anything.  Let me just say that I am hard pressed to come up with a comparison at the moment.  And that the vocal arrangement is quite exceptional.  It pretty much happens on the rest of the album too.  Odd chord progressions tied together with juxtaposing moments of major chord magic.  Voices flowing and swirling around one another to create something not unusual but not the norm, either.  Electric guitar softly picked to bolster music into another realm yet able to push what could be another folk song onto the rock and roll stage.  Songs constructed so beautifully that you cannot help but be taken away.  Lyrics of substance.  You could have knocked me over with a feather when How the Sea took a jazzy turn and didn’t stop.  I had to laugh, it was so natural yet totally unexpected.

Intermission.  Here’s one of their tamer efforts (not on the new album):

I know why they live on the islands.  Have you ever seen the islands?  Last summer, I took the ferry to Victoria and, man, was I envious!  Islands, a bunch mcgrawferseriouslyof ’em, some fairly large, some smaller.  Many were inhabited and were absolutely beautiful!  Very little in the way of density unless you count the trees and brush.  Or rocks.  There were plenty of large rocks here and there.  Kind of hard to get around unless you have a boat, but why would you care unless there was an emergency?

The music is a reflection of the islands, or the island lifestyle.  Slower, maybe, but maybe that’s not it.  Lesser in intensity, that’s for sure.  But the feel!  When I listened to the album, I wanted it to go on forever!

If you want my opinion, this is it.  Dave and Mandy have been working for years toward this.  Success.  I can smell it but more than that I surely can hear it.

Dave McGraw has made it into my songwriters Hall of Fame— probably as Male Vocalist, too.  He has that texture and way of phrasing that separates him from the pack.  Mandy Fer?  Now firmly ensconced in my Female Guitarist Hall of Fame.  Firmly.  Perfect vocal foil for McGraw, and vice-versa.  You have to hear them to understand.

Danny Schmidt

Who?Danny and I go way back.  2008, to be exact.   He had just released an album titled Little Grey Sheep which blew me away, so I set up an interview.  While driving from Austin to, I believe, Dallas, Danny schooled me (on the phone, of course) on everything indie, from writing to recording to playing to touring.  He talked freely about the business and the art of music and why he almost hung it up and why he didn’t.  It was Danny who convinced me to not write a big article on him but to write it instead on Charlottesville, the music scene which launched him into the real world of music.  C-ville.  The stories I could tell.  Don’t get me started.

Danny is among the intelligentsia of the music set.  He writes and plays music but he also studies it— that of himself and others.  He is not an off-the-cuff writer, though he probably has the occasional epiphany of song.  Mostly he works lyric and song until it is damn near perfect and I make that statement from close scrutiny of his various albums.  A lot of blood sweat and tears has gone into everything he has done.  You can hear it.

He outdid himself with his latest, Owls.  Danny normally wraps himself in a cloak of folk, or has.  This time around he stretches his wings.  A bit of country rock here (real country rock and not that fake stuff bands like to call “alt.country), a bit of rock, always the bedrock of folk.  The thing is, this isn’t just a collection of songs.  Danny made sure of it.  He dug holes and planted songs of worth.  You will not find one Louie here, let alone two.  (See what I did there?  I slay myself)

Danny is also offering an acoustic demo album of the songs which ended up on Owls.  This is akin to fan club stuff and I have listened to it, as well, and give it a good recommendation.  It is well recorded, just without complete band and bells and whistles.  Very cool.  (You can listen here)

Susan James

optional front cover2Talk about taking a left turn!  Last time I saw a James album was awhile ago.  Highways, Ghosts, Hearts & Home was a comeback album for her, she having taken a number of years off from music to live outside the bubble.  I was impressed.  Half of the songs leaned toward country, but in a Pop way— half leaned toward Pop in a Rock way.  Solid stuff.  I could have done with more of the same.

Wait!  Brain fart!  The last album I heard was Driving Toward the Sun!  You can keep the leaning toward Country description, though.  A little.

Except Susan James isn’t having any of that anymore.  She dips her wick here in, of all genres, folk/psych/pop!  I mean, I wouldn’t have thought of it but when I heard the first track, Poseidon’s Daughter, that’s what I heard.  Floating Psych/Pop with deep background harmonies, similar to what they once laid down back in the late sixties.  Beautiful, but unexpected.  An anomaly, right?  I mean, it sounded closer to The Millennium than earlier Susan James.  I listened on.  Track Two— Awful Lot.  Orchestra?  WTF?  But it’s nice.  In fact it’s good.  Damn good.  I don’t understand.  This was never a direction James had pointed toward.  This is more a light-hearted Ophelia Hope than anything.  Track Three will surely find Susan back to normal.  Then again, I’m really digging those stacked harmonies on the background vocals.  Hey Julianne.  Huh.  Could it be that she has thrown all of her psychedelic marbles in one basket?  True, it’s more of a Hollywood basket, the arrangements more orchestral than rock, but what the hell?

(This is damn cool, but this is not what she does on the new album.  Wait!  Did I see the number correctly?  This video has only been watched 185 times?  Must be a typo,  This is an outstanding song!)

At least this video has had more than a thousand views.  I don’t understand it.  I loved this album!

I’m ba-a-ack!  And I stuck with it.  Pure psych, front to back.  Done so well that I’m actually quite impressed.  Thrilled, in fact.  No band to speak of.  All studio susanjameswork, I assume.  Produced by Susan, string arrangements by Sean O’Hagan, instrument arrangements by O’Hagan and James, vocal arrangements by James.  Damn!  I’m impressed!  Really impressed!  I do believe that Susan James is onto something.  Not that I would like her to continue in this path (unless she comes up with a fantastic concept in which to wrap her music), but this may be the best one-off album this year.  Or maybe this decade!

Psych/Pop fans are going to hate me for this.   Sea of Glass is not scheduled for release until June 16th.  Truth is, I didn’t want to wait that long to write about it.  Kinda cheating, I know, but it will be worth the wait if you love the major labels’ side of psych.  Ms. James, put out a vid.  I will watch it 185 times, myself.  That’ll show those YouTubers.

Know what?  I’ve done my job.  I’m quitting, and before you pop the cork, I’m not quitting forever.  Just on this column.  Oh, I’m not letting you off that easy, though.  People who know me well know that I seldom end without some

NotesNotes…..  Try to do something for somebody.  It seems that in my attempt to help a few baseball fans find music far to the left of Centerfield and tunes of that ilk, I fed you a line or two which didn’t hit the bullseye on the old Truth Chart.  It’s not like I lied.  I just didn’t get things quite right.  Being’s how it had to do with David Olney, I thought I’d better attempt to set things straight— or maybe let Olney’s PR maven Mary Sack do it for him.  From Ms. Sack…

Not sure if you knew that I have managed him (Olney) for many years now. He mentioned some confusion over FB communications with you regarding his various tunes about America’s pastime. After reading your blog, I see what may have happened but am not sure where the wires crossed.

David Olney recorded a song called “Baseball” (with a spoken word lyric about “Is this baseball, or is this Greek Tragedy?” — pure brilliance IMHO), which is featured on his Real Lies album that came out on the Philo/Rounder Records label in 1997.  Oddly enough, there is a cool signature Olney song called “Basketball” on that album as well. That song was previously unavailable to stream online and recently shared via David Olney’s social networks via SoundCloud as part of an Opening Day celebration.

oldizThe David Olney & John Hadley 2009 Deadbeat Records release of  Ol’ Diz: A Musical Baseball Story is a collection of original songs composed to complement a one-man play written by actor and former congressman Ben Jones. The music has been  performed publicly along with the presentation of the play at least twice (once in Nashville and once in the greater DC-area). While the CD and iTunes and Amazon download offerings of this music collection have been available since 2009, the direct-from- David Olney BandCamp download had not been available until this month. Here are a couple of links that reveal more on Ol’ Diz…:

http://davidolney.blogspot.com

https://davidolney.bandcamp.com/album/ol-diz-a-musical-baseball-story

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tVPTqwIwiQ

My apologies for any confusion this might have caused.  I recommend that any fans who like a little music with their sports  click on  all three of those links.  I consider David Olney to be one of the best of the songwriters in this day and age and believe that by doing this I am doing you all a favor.  Thanks to Mary Sack for setting me straight.

If you haven’t heard the name Lawrence Bray, you haven’t been reading my columns closely enough.  A number of months ago, I was raving about this guy’s sense of Pop (I love a good hook or major chord progression when it’s done right) and here comes Mr. Bray with another beauty.  It’s titled Behind My Eyes and I find his mix of major and minor chords mesmerizing.  Dig this.

Shades of Brian Protheroe‘s Pinball.  I like this one too.

The latest news from the digital streaming unit is this, courtesy of musician Elliott Randall, who hates the streaming thing as much as do I.  Business elliotttandallInsider posted this little piece about rich fat fucks and how they are making a ton off of something they should not (and in my opinon, don’t) own— music created by musicians and songwriters who are seeing a pittance while these assholes build mansions.  I’ve heard the arguments before.  It’s just business.  They have a right handed them by the record labels.  The one I love the most is that they are helping spread the music.  What a crock!  These fucks are stealing money from the artists, major labels included!  I even have musicians telling me that it is the way it is and what the hell.  Well, fuck them too!  Time to put it to the legal test but not through the legal system.  Time to let the people decide.  Read this piece and tell me, when you see the fucking shit-eating smile on that fatass’s face, that he is doing something other than being the greedy fat fuck he is.  May he get his in hell.  Seriously, though, are there so few of us who care about the inequities in this digital streaming situation?  Read here…..  Now, back to your regular programming.

phoebebridgerskillerI found Phoebe Bridgers through Kim Grant and knew there was something in her.  She was very young and raw, but the attitude said to me that she was not going to give up so I stayed with her.  Through numerous individual songs posted on the Net.  Through working with a pretty decent band called Buster.  Through more solo work.  Well, the work is paying off.  Phoebe just signed a deal with Pax Am Records, a new label which has some ties to Ryan Adams, and is releasing a three-song package today.  Three songs— Killer, Georgia, and Steamroller— all produced by Adams his own self.  I had heard Killers a couple of years ago and have since been awaiting a followup when I stumbled upon Pax Am.  This could be her big break.  I hope so.  She has worked hard and deserves one.  You can listen to a few of her earlier works by clicking here. 

This, just because I am in a good mood.  You’re welcome!

=FGJ=

Frank’s column appears every Wednesday

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.”

One Response to “Frank Gutch Jr: Dave McGraw & Mandy Fer, Danny Schmidt, and Susan James— I Can’t Stand the Silence; plus Notes (and an apology to David Olney)…”

  1. Blasted again! Susan James emailed me and said I had it all wrong about her upcoming album, The “no band to speak of” is actually a full lineup. Somehow I missed the attachment which gave attributes. There is a list of artists who played on each track. Apologies to the musicians involved and to Susan for the error(s). Cool thing is, not only were there musicians crowing the studio, the strings were actually strings and not just a synthesizer. No wonder it sounded so good. Anyway, here is a list of artists and the instruments they played— Susan James/vocals, electric & acoustic guitars, nylon string guitar, mellotron, synthesizer. Jason Chesney/bass. Christopher Allis/drums, percussion, tambourine. Sean O’Hagan/keyboards, wurlitzer, rhodes, electric & acoustic guitar, nylon string guitar, harpsichord, electric piano, Itlalian Darting organ. Dominic Murcott/marimba. Nick Squires/cello. Ruth Funnel/violin. Jeremy Isaac/viola, violin. Cindy Foster/violin. Rustom Pomeroy/violin. Patrick Roberts/violin. Finn Peters/flute, cornish pipe. Stefan Langford/trombone. Fulton Dingley/synth keyboard. Trust me when I tell you that when you hear this album, you will be appreciative of every last one of these people. Thyey did a masterful job.

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