Frank Gutch Jr: Kate & Ruth Brian Cullman Stu Nunnery Bill Jackson No Small Children — Plus Notes
Please allow me to start this column with an aside. Each year, I compile a list of albums I consider the best. Last year, I picked Lost Leaders‘ self-titled album because it had that indescribable something which made me come back to it again and again. I mean, I love this album!!!
The main musicians in the band, Peter Cole and Byron Isaacs, recently overwhelmed with other projects, have finally decided to make the band a priority. I mean, not since Research Turtles and Bright Giant have I loved a band so much. Here is the first real look at the guys behind the band. Watch it. Listen to what they say. Listen to the music in the background. If the album had been released in the early seventies, these guys would be superstars today. They are that good!
And now back to our regularly scheduled program….
Which this week will revolve around a small group of musicians I have and have not talked about before but are deserving of way more attention than the world, at this point, is giving them. I am constantly maddened by comments relating to the lack of music in this day and age, usually pointing toward the Golden Age (the late sixties and seventies) as the peak of modern music. Again and again I hear “There is just no good music anymore” and I can’t help but feel sorry for those saying they want good music but refuse to hear it. It surrounds us all, every day, and yet they (on the whole) wrap themselves in the past, citing The Beatles and Led Zeppelin and whatever craze of the moment from the past as evidence. When I discuss music with those people, they mostly wrap themselves up in a cocoon and think me, if not call me outright, elitist, thought they usually do not use that term. Perhaps I come off that way but I don’t mean to. I just want them to know that the music is as good and even better in places as it used to be. I want them to enjoy music for the music’s sake and not as nostalgia.
So this week, I will be looking at musicians I have found are going and have gone beyond the pale with their music, who take what they have to a whole new level, every bit as much as the musicians of the past. Don’t read further if you don’t want to but let me say that if you really are looking for that special musical something, you owe it to yourself. Sometimes finding that special artist is as simple as opening your mind and listening.
Start with this, a seventeen minute ABC Australia radio interview with two ladies who will soon be setting Australia (and the US, I hope) on its ear with music straight out of the trad folk movement of the late sixties and early seventies, Kate Burke & Ruth Hazleton. They say more in seventeen minutes than I have written in the past year.
I assume that the vast majority of you missed the Great Folk Revival of UK folk music in the late- sixties and early-seventies. Let me tell you, you missed something. You missed Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span and Pentangle and so many others, some of which spawned individual performers the likes of Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson, Linda Thompson, Maddy Prior, and June Tabor, to name only a few. My head spins at the number of folk artists riding the wave— Planxty, Oisin, Ossian, and a few thousand others. Okay, not thousands, but plenty.
Kate & Ruth slide seamlessly into the category, if category it be. They sing (and write) as if they lived under sod roofs, worked the fields out of necessity, suffered the punishments which then were everyday. As if they did not have running water and indoor plumbing and the medical miracles most of us enjoy today. As if the potatoes were rotting and everyone was starving. As if life itself depended upon each step they take.
It did, back then, in the past. And Kate & Ruth bring that past into the present. It is not just the music, for them. It is everything the music represents. They don’t include Katy Cruel on Declaration just because it is a captivating song. They include it because of what it is and what it was and where it came from. As ABC Australia interviewer put it during the interview linked above, Katy Cruel was a song with Scottish origins sung by marching soldiers during the American War of Independence. That’s Katie Cruel, made famous by the American folk legend, Karen Dalton, and the English singer, Linda Thompson. I don’t know about famous, but more people know the song today than in the past.
I have a constantly evolving spiritual life, she pointed out. I come from a Catholic background. When I was about thirteen, I discovered science. It wasn’t that I didn’t completely believe in God anymore. I just didn’t feel the need to. But I feel a great affinity with the spirituality present in folk songs. Songs like Father Adieu, which is on our new album, is a song about eternal love, I guess, between family members, and that is something that is so strong. I guess it is in the framework of religion. It talks about “I’ll see you in Heaven.” But all the resonance of that is so true to someone like myself who doesn’t have essentially religious spirituality. But I think those things are common throughout humanity. I think that being able to accept the spiritual side of yourself when you are not religious can be quite hard. I feel very lucky to have the music to help me do that. It gives you a sense of commonality with people, a sense of camaraderie— a sense of belonging and love, I guess.
Ruth, on the other hand, was the daughter of a Baptist minister. I grew up in the Church. Dad was a pretty radical Baptist, I must say. At this time of year when I was a child on a Thursday night we would hold the Seder Feast, from the Jewish tradition, and he had very Buddhist ideals as well. Neither of my parents go to church anymore and I think that is more about institutionalized religion. Me, I guess I am still very aware of tradition and the importance of tradition in the ideals of most religions— the whole “love thy neighbor” and the general things which make us all human beings. I’m not sure where I stand religiously. I guess, but music is a way, I think, of talking about community and upholding those kinds of values and ideals and exploring human beings and living on this great planet. So the church, when I was growing up, was where I started to sing music. It still has that resonance— singing big harmonies and it does remind me of church even though I don’t attend church or have no specific religious beliefs anymore. It’s still a very spiritual part of me.
You can tell both in the meager originals (they each give us one on the new album) and the choices beyond. The music deeply rooted in the past but with modern twists, they touch upon subjects such as domestic violence (Bleezin’ Blind Drunk), restrictive public morality (Waly Waly), virtually necessary migration of men from the peninsula of Cornwall in the 18th and 19th centuries (Dean Younk a Gernow (Young Man of Cornwall) and more.
I talked with Ruth not long ago. We talked of culture and historical preservation and the politics of the four English-related countries (UK, US, Canada, and Australia). We talked of the struggles of anything arts-related in this day and age. We talked of many things and I could not help but notice how far apart we are culturally and yet how close. It is more than the music we share, though that is a large part of it. It is a commonality, of sorts. A humanness that we all share, or would share if the world did not get in the way. Declaration, I think, breaks down some of those walls.
Ah, the power of music.
Brian Cullman knows. He has been living it for awhile. Since 1970, at least, when he played a gig just before Nick Drake, who was trying to live it too.
His shyness and awkwardness were almost transcendent, he was quoted as stating. A tall man, his clothes—black corduroy jacket and pants, frayed white shirt—hung around him like bedclothes after a particularly bad night’s sleep. He sat on a small stool, hunched tight over a tiny Guild guitar, beginning songs and, halfway through, forgetting where he was and stumbling back to the start of that song, or beginning an entirely different song which he would then abandon mid-way through if he remembered the remainder of the first. He sang away from the microphone, mumbled and whispered, all with a sense of precariousness and doom. It was like being at the bedside of a dying man who wants to tell you a secret, but who keeps changing his mind at the last minute. (From an article published by The Atlantic on Nov. 24, 2014 by Jennie Rothenberg Gritz)
Cullman put his musical career aside for awhile to concentrate on writing. You can understand why.
Cullman is a private man, though maybe not to the degree Drake was. He overthinks things but only because he wants what he does to be as close to perfect as he can make it. On a good day, he might admit to having an artistic sensitivity but would deny it later. He has surrounded himself with achievers (what others might call overachievers) and revels in their accomplishments as if they were his own. Though he might deny it outright, he is an artist, both musically and with the written word. I do not write this to measure importance. I state it as fact.
We met through a piece I had written on Nick Holmes, a musician in whose successes we both rejoice. He sent me an email and I responded and a friendship was born. At first, it was all about Holmes for I knew little outside of two albums, one solo and one with a band called White Elephant. Then, it expanded to a few of his friends— Byron Isaacs, Glenn Patscha and, eventually, Ollabelle, the band with which they play.
I didn’t even know Brian had recorded anything until either Holmes or Isaacs mentioned it. When I asked, Brian admitted to a couple of projects and, at my insistence, sent me copies. One disc was a compilation of music for films he had recorded, the other a 2007 album titled All Fires the Fire. I enjoyed the film music but I became obsessed with All Fires. There was an immensity to it which overwhelmed me, something orchestral and symphonic even when the orchestra was not there. I have been awaiting something new since. On occasion, Brian would honor me with what he would claim was a “rough demo,” though I heard nothing rough nor did they ever sound like a demo. Until recently.
A few months ago, I received a file of what was/is to be the long awaited Brian Cullman followup which he has titled The Opposite of Time. Upon listening, I heard the basic sound from All Fires, twelve tracks worth, and I was happy. The more I listened, the happier I became. I began to realize that if this album had anything over the previous, it was that Brian could take this one on the road. I mean could it be that after all these years?
It could be. Not only will Brian have songs which can be arranged for touring band, he has already put out feelers for that band. And, get this— he is working on a freaking video! And if you are wondering why that is good news, it is because I have been telling him he needed to do it since hearing All Fires. I mean, I knew that touring that album would take a bundle of money and a small town of the best there is to pull off, but this— this is doable!
I will be writing about Brian and his new album when the video is done. I wish I could put some of his new songs up for you to hear. The two videos I am posting with this are very early tracks and are not really close to what he is doing today but they should give you an idea. What you will hear on the new album will be a much more mature Brian, a man more in tune with the majesty of what this world is really all about. Coming soon. Don’t miss it.
I could tell you a long story about Stu Nunnery and I am planning to do that, but Stu keeps setting things back. He’s a busy man, what with re-releasing his classic 1973 solo album and being a conduit for so many regarding hearing loss. You see, Stu had a real chance to make it back then. His solid self-titled album suffered mainly from a small independently-distributed record label, Evolution Records, and lack of any real budget for promotion. The airplay was there (it was released during the boom of FM Underground), the critics were there, but the sales weren’t. It happened to all too many back then.
The eventual failure of the album did not stop him. What stopped him was his hearing. Not long after he left the album behind to record new songs, his hearing began to fail and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand what hearing is to a musician. Stu had to stop playing and spent his life doing a number of other things to survive, acting among them. But he never gave up. His dream was to make it back into the studio some day.
Well, that day is now, I guess you could say. Stu has been working with a hearing aid company and at least one hearing specialist who has found a way for him to regain a portion of what he has lost. His first move toward a reinvented music career has been to re-release the old album. He made sure it met the standards of today, transferring the original tape and having it mastered for CD. The sound is excellent, the music as good as it was when it hit the streets in ’73. Stu has titled this one Deja S2, it being the second time around.
When I look back to my younger days in music, I look first for names. Reading the list of artists on this album makes my head spin. First, I noticed the name of Paul Griffin, who arranged the songs on the album. I am on a quest to have arrangers added to the Grammys as a separate category (unless someone has already done it). More and more I am convinced that a good arranger is the difference between good and outstanding. Beyond that, here is a list of sidemen: Elliott Randall, Buzz Feiten, John Tropea, David Spinozza, Hugh McCracken/guitars; Rick Marotta, Allan Schwartzberg/drums; Stu Woods, Andy Muson, Kirk Hamilton/bass; Eric Weissberg, Kenny Kosek/fiddle. Whew! That is a monster lineup and they did their jobs well.
In the near future, I plan on cornering Stu and finding out the real story behind his long journey and exactly what miracle occurred to bring him back. And I think Stu would want me to pass along the message to people with hearing loss not to give up, to keep researching and trying. And I know he would want you to be careful with your own hearing. A lot of problems with hearing are preventable.
You can follow Stu’s journey from here on out by clicking here. (And there will be more about Stu later)
I could have talked about Bill Jackson right after the piece on Kate & Ruth, because Bill and Ruth are somewhat of an item. In fact, Bill is the reason I found Ruth. A number of years ago, I reviewed an album of Bill’s titles Steel + Bone for the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange, a website for which I used to write. The hook slipped right into my mouth and before I knew it, I was hooked. I thought I knew my roots music but had not even considered that of Australia. I mean, so many countries come with the “traditional” music— not really considered roots when I started working in music, but it was exactly that. The thing is, what came before in Australia is pretty much new to me. I mean, I knew a bit about the UK and Canada, but the real past of Australia somehow remained past my purview, should we say? Bill changed that for me. In one album, I realized how little I knew of what they call down under. I have followed Bill religiously since, delighting in the story of the CSS Shenandoah (Yes, Australia did play a very small part in America’s Civil War and in fact has a “society” which meets regularly to remember it) from his Nashville Sessions EP and the stories from the followup, Jerilderie.
Bill recently released The Wayside Ballads Vol. 1, more Australian tales from the outback, as it were, and is presently fundraising for a trip to Nashville to record Vol. 2 with Thomm Jutz producing. You can read a review of Vol. 1 on No Depression by clicking here.
The cool thing about Bill and Ruth is that they are both so tied up in history. History and music can be a magical combination when done right and each of them have their own angles and a burning desire to get it right. Here is a look at Bill’s plug for his fundraiser, which you can access by clicking here.
I am going to finish this with a simple nod to one of my favorite bands of the day, No Small Children, three ladies who really know how to rock it. The only time I have had the pleasure of seeing them play live, they blew me off of a bar stool with some of the best wall-of-sound music I’ve ever heard from a three-piece. Their new album, Hold Tight I’m Flying, is another in a string of powerful and excellent projects. I mean, the cover alone is killer.
I heartily suggest you plug in. The web address is on this shot of the girls in actual combat dress (meaning that these ladies always dress up to play).
If you want to hear what I mean when I say they are powerful, check this out (and turn it up):
And, for a one-two punch, let me follow it up with Adam Marsland‘s plug for his Karma Frog label. First up is Summer’s Children and knowing Marsland, there will be lots to follow. My buddy over at Green Monkey Records, Howie Wahlen, turned me on to Adam a few years ago and I have been following him since, as he is part of the core of the L.A. Pop scene which includes Evie Sands, Anna Maria Rosales, Rich McCulley, and Teresa Cowles, among others. Here’s his first promo video.
More Fort Worth history— The Loose Ends was evidently a loose combination of musicians who hung out with T-Bone Burnett at Sound City Studios in the mid-60s, sometimes utilizing the talents of David Graves and Don McGilvray (The Mods). The name Burnett used on various projects they placed with labels seems to be “Bone” or something with T. Bone, in this case, “John T. Bone.” I am surprised that Burnett has not seen fit to put together a historical volume of various tracks recorded at Sound City during those years. It would be fascinating.
You’ve maybe heard me talk about Skyboys, the country rock band which was packing them in at taverns across the Seattle area when I first arrived there (1978). Well, I have been in pretty much constant contact with Tom Kell, a member of that band, who recently referred to a gig he had played long before the Skyboys at which the headliners, The Turtles, made a major impact. This is only one reason why Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan were freaking cool.
When I was in college in Ellensburg, Washington I had a folk-rock band (meaning we were doing mostly Byrds and Bob Dylan etc)…I was writing a bit back then so we mixed in a few of my songs throughout the shows and we mostly played on campus at after-hours coffee houses and the like…whenever a “nationally-known” band came to our university, we were often asked to “open” the show (embarassing now as I think about how mediocre we must have been in those days)…but still…we happily took each one and became known a bit around CWSU….(this is years before the whole SKYBOYS era of my life)….one day “The Turtles” of “Happy Together” fame came to our school and again, we were asked to open the show…it was a huge crowd for our little univ. and we were playing our mediocre set as well as we could in our mediocre way LOL….but in the middle of our version of “Turn, Turn, Turn”, the Turtles themselves (the two main singers) walked out of the wings and joined us….suddenly we sounded a thousand times better and I was instantly goose-bump covered.,..they sang two or three songs with us to close our show….it was at that moment I learned “the difference”…you have to be good…you can’t just be okay…..just sayin’
That, sports fans, is pure gold. Kell knows it and so do I. BTW, that’s Kell on the left in the picture below.
Tom Mank should be a household name by now but you people are too busy bitching about music to listen. He normally plays as a duet with cellist/wife Sera Smolen, but is always ready for a musical adventure. Here, he teams with with Smolen, Terry Burns, and Ron Kristy. Good stuff. When Tom and Sera stopped by this past Spring, they played a number of excellent tunes in my living room and I believe this was one of them. Quite a thrill. By the way, Burns and Kristy are working on a new album as I type. After hearing their last, I guarantee you I will be all over it. Film at eleven?
Those who have not heard Burns & Kristy, here is a treat.
‘At freakin’ Danny Schmidt. He sets the bar so high I can’t see over it. While I (and I am sure you, too) am inundated with news of killings and shootings and open carry and all of the bullshit which surrounds it, Danny writes an outstanding song, puts it on his new album (Owls), then teams up with Paul Curreri to put out a video which says ‘enough!’ in no uncertain terms. I don’t understand this country anymore. But I do understand this.
Trouble down under— Seems like a string of artists and bands are calling for anti-Muslim rallies put together by Reclaim Australia to stop using their songs. Midnight Oil recently released the following statement… “Midnight Oil does not endorse Reclaim Australia in any way. “We ask that no Midnight Oil songs are played or used by the organisation. We are in favour of a tolerant Australia, made up of many cultures.” Bet they don’t even pay royalties. Other bands have jumped into the fray, also requesting their songs be pulled from the hatefests, including one of my favorites from the eighties, Goannna, who were signed to Atco in the States, though you probably would be hard put to find anyone who worked for that label at that time who knew it.
Seems like only yesterday I headed down to Sam Bond’s Garage in Eugene and caught the newly renamed Crushed Out. Indelibly printed in my mind was the “freak out” during which Frank took his guitar on a wild chaotic journey whilst Moselle surfed the drums. I was lucky to get out alive.
Remember when I wrote that Kate Burke & Ruth Hazleton‘s new album Declaration was a flashback to the late sixties and early 70s trad folk movement? Take a look at this video, shot by Bill Jackson on one of those phone thingies at Burke and Hazleton’s album release party— down under, of course.
I call Tom Dyer a madman because he will do anything, even re-imagine Pac Northwest hits in his own image. Here he is, doing a standard Jimmy Hanna & The Dynamics‘ track from the sixties. Ready? Busybody, everybody! From his brand new album, History of Northwest Rock Vol 1!
The other day, Michael Fennelly and I got into a conversation on FB about a Les Paul guitar he had had customized into a 12-string. I’ve been around guitars most of my life and could not imagine it, but Red Rhodes could— you know Rhodes, right? Played steel with Michael Nesmith for years? Anyway, Rhodes took the challenge and Fennelly said it was a beautiful sounding solid guitar and linked me to this video. The song is from a band Fennelly was in after The Millennium and Crabby Appleton known as Big Shot. That is one sweet sounding guitar.
Fur For Fairies is a collaboration between The Green Pajamas’ Jeff Kelly and wife Suzanne, who in this episode has drugged Jeff senseless in an attempt to learn about his past.
And this just in, a preview of next week’s column which will be… but that would be telling, wouldn’t it? http://www.inmusicwetrust.com/articles/29r35.html
Frank’s column appears every Wednesday
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“Frank 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.”