Frank Gutch Jr: They Come From Edmonton— Science Fiction of the Most Musical Variety… Plus Notes
They were Jesse Dee & Jacquie B when I first heard them— two waifs supposedly in the outbacks of the Yukon surviving by hunting and survival skills, living off the land, playing bars for beer. They ate raw meat, sometimes frozen if there was no way to thaw it (there evidently isn’t, on the whole), but skirted moose and squirrel out of respect.
They chopped wood (and even wrote a song about it) and sang for supper and paid their dues because everyone knows that if you do not pay your dues, you are not real musicians. And I have to laugh and backtrack on that statement when I think of all the supposed “real” musicians faking their ways through the Pop Charts. Real musicians are musicians from the inside, pure and simple. Some come by it naturally. Some find it along the way. Regardless of how Jesse and Jacquie came by it, they came by it honestly. You can tell when you hear them.
The song comes from an album titled Our Ghosts Will Fill These Walls (2011) and while I liked it I did not expect it to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship (apologies to Claude Rains and Humphrey Bogart). There were high points, more than I thought there would be, and a sound, thanks to Jesse’s guitar style and the way his and Jacquie’s voices blended. I thought there might be something great there but thought they needed time. Here is a little something I wrote in my review.
For example, there is this one song (Wells), a choogling little upbeat almost-ditty with this guitar riff I can’t get out of my head and it downright makes me happy and I feel myself breaking into a smile every time I hear the chorus, which is “Chopping wood” over and over again until the end of the chorus when they take it over the top with “Chopping wood, HEY”. If nothing else, it is the last hammer on the nail. It feels like The Dead only with tuned guitars and a better attitude.
They took that time and used it well. The next time I heard them was 2014 and the release of what would become my pick for the album of the year, a self-titled album by Picture The Ocean. Yep. They changed their name. Thing is, I wrote about them just in time because they were coming to Portland! So I caught the gig and wrote this:
With a nod to Neil Young: “’Live music is better’ bumper stickers should be issued!” God knows how few of us realize what we are missing out there these days. The bars and taverns and music listening rooms are being stocked with an amazing array of excellent artists and we are either sitting at home with our fingers up our ass or hanging out in some bar with no music beyond that hooked up to stereo speakers on walls, bitching about there being no good music. For all of you who do that (and you know you do), I have a finger for you and you can bet which one.
I drove somewhere close to ninety miles last Thursday to put things right with the music community— a little right, anyway. I know I don’t support music like I should, at least on the live side, and when I posted my little rant about Picture The Ocean in a review and then found out that a few days later they would be rolling into Portland, Oregon’s Alberta Street Hub for a pit stop, I was stuck. The words in my column were something like “if they ever come to your area, you have to check out this band. I intend to.” At first, I felt like I shot myself in the ass because a ninety mile drive (plus the ninety mile drive back) is not my idea of a good time, but I am always that way. Yeah, I’ll go turns into I think I’ll go turns into I might go turns into that was last night? Then again, something serious would have had to keep me away this time because PTO‘s new album (self-titled) had been getting an amazing amount of airplay at my house and I confess to being more than a bit smitten with the sound. Ninety miles is ninety miles, but spewing words and not backing them up would be a blot on my record. I drove.
It was a beautiful sunny afternoon when I headed north and by the time I got to the pub, I was high as a kite and drugs had nothing to do with it. It was a glad-to-be-alive day and the anticipation of PTO‘s show was palpable. I was wired. A musician named Ellis had booked an early show which had nothing to do with the PTO gig. I watched through a double-door and heard very little, thanks to music in the lounge side of the venue (the building is split in two, a listening room on one side and the lounge on the other), but it must have been impressive judging by the crowd’s reaction. The place was packed and I had no trouble hearing the applause after each song.
PTO showed and I flagged down Jacquie B, who had just entered with Jesse Dee and Matt Blackie. After a quick introduction, we headed out the back door to the outside area to talk and so that they could order some food. The talk was enlightening, to say the least. Their show two days before in Seattle had been canceled due to a mix-up. They were on their way to Spokane, Milwaukee and then Toronto, where they have a number of gigs scheduled at The Cameron House (6-8 PM on September 4th, 11th, and 18th— Aurora Jane will join them on bass). They are frustrated but not as much as myself by the problem of getting their music heard. And they live on the road. If you ever thought being a musician was easy, you can forget that. They spend so much time on the road that they no longer have a permanent abode, living instead out of their van and eating mostly fast food. Yeah, it can be fun, but not as a primary lifestyle.
When it came time for them to set up, I headed into the listening room with them, flashing my “I’m with the band” smile and claiming the end of the table at the back of the room which was not all that far from the front. I watched them pull out instruments and arrange them while talking with the opening act, Chris Bigley and Ben Cartwright, who play as a duo— acoustic guitar and pedal steel (which Cartwright exchanged for a resophonic guitar on the last track). The stage looked empty, small as it was, Blackie’s trap set taking up most of the space, bookended by Jesse’s and Jacquie’s amps and Jacquie’s keyboard. Cartwright set up his pedal steel in front of Jesse’s amp and Bigley sat just to the right of Blackie drums and in front. They were set.
Bigley and Cartwright opened the show with a number of folk/country/blues numbers, all sung by Bigley but accentuated by Cartwright’s soft touch on the pedal steel. Bigley falls somewhere between a country boy and Jackson Browne in his approach to his songwriting and his voice brought that approach home. Later that night when I got home, I tracked down Bigley’s Myspace page and listened to a folkie version of what I had heard— good songs but with a voice lacking the depth and emotion I had witnessed on stage. I have to admit to being impressed with his direction since then. It was a very good set.
The room held a little over forty people, most friends of Bigley or Cartwright. I don’t know if anyone was there for PTO but myself. If there were, they were well-camouflaged. The numbers had dropped to thirty or so between sets (it was a Thursday night, so I assume people had work the next day), but that didn’t stop the band. From the first notes, as roughly mixed as the first couple of songs were, they cooked. Jesse drove the band with his guitar, jangling with odd time changes and chord progressions. Jacquie’s mic was mixed way too low and Matt Blackie, as solid as he was, needed to get in the flow. By the end of the second song, they were on the same page and the real show started.
It never fails to amaze me when musicians become one with the music because that is when that “whole is greater than the sum” thing kicks in and, boy, was it whole! With the mix down (much praise to the sound man who really nailed it), the three became one and the fun started. I don’t know what it is that I love so much about PTO‘s sound, but it was overwhelming. When I mentioned it to friend and music writer Mark Tucker, who has heard the album, he said “that was my reaction when I heard (their music on) the link you sent. There is something indefinable in what they do.” Needless to say, I was overwhelmed to the end of their set. Shades of Alcoholic Faith Mission, not in the music or sound but in my reaction to it. I liked it so much that I plunked down the money for a physical copy of their CD. Digital was just not going to suffice.
I had planned on listening to the album on the drive home, but I didn’t. I didn’t play anything, in fact. There was still music playing on my ears and it felt good toodling down the freeway with PTO in my head. It was a night I am sooo glad I hadn’t missed.
I would write more later. In fact, on several occasions. Each time I listened, the music grew deeper— or my appreciation for it did. I began noticing the time changes and the stop-on-a-dime tightness and slowly came to really appreciate Blackie as a drummer and especially Jacquie as keyboardist. She had a touch and as much as I attributed much of it to Jesse, who has a real way with a song, it was Jacquie I was hearing. Jesse, off to the side most of the night with that big white— well, it looked like a Gretsch— made me a fan of the first water, having the ability to play with fervor or emotion or lightly dance fingernails across strings and create amazing effects. With Jesse, I again came to appreciate backstrokes. For the uninitiated, a backstroke is simply strumming strings from the bottom up and when done right and at the right time, it creates a whole ‘nother sound. Same chord. Different feel.
I have been on Jesse for a good two years asking for the next project. A couple of weeks ago, he caved and sent me files of Something Real. I am listening now. I have to say that this one is a surprise. It seems a step backwards in terms of style and production, but that might well be a good thing. As steeped as the world is in “Americana” these days (parentheses because I still haven’t figured out what the hell it is), maybe going straight acoustic is the key to success. Jesse and Jacquie have the voices and the tunes. What more do they need? As I listen, I am thinking that this, in fact, may be the album you should hear before listening to the first PTO. Less power, thanks to shedding bass and drums. Cleaner, thanks to its acoustic base. Simpler, due to bare-bones arrangements. Possibly even a bit more roots-driven, methinks. Maybe.
Whether it is Album of the Year material is, at this point immaterial. I was at least ten listens deep before the 2014 album made its point. I have only had time to listen three times to this one. Give me another couple of weeks. As for the initial impression, I am digging it. The songs are there. The feel is there. All that is left is for me to familiarize myself with the tunes. It is a process I shall enjoy, trust me.
On a side note, Jesse has recently decided to dive into the deep end and hold down a real job. He has taken over Listen Louder in Edmonton which does lighting, sound and setup for concerts and events. I’m not sure Jesse has ever held a real job. If he has, he has never told me about it. Then again, I am not exactly in his small circle of friends. He is smart to keep me at a distance. And I don’t mind, as long as he keeps getting the music to me.
Amy van Keeken and Colleen Brown—
Had it not been for Jesse, I might not ever have discovered the Edmonton music scene, as thin as is the ice at the local hockey rink. I have no idea about venues there but am well aware of the reference to hockey rinks as venues as presented by Dave Bidini in his On a Cold Road tome on Canadian rock. It is a picture of The North I treasure, the view of a lone hockey rink late at night, youth lined up to enter for an evening of rock music. With that in mind, I can practically breathe in the smell of ozone right off the ice. Or whatever that smell is.
Good ol’ Jesse. Had it not been for him I would not right now be listening to either Van Keeken or Brown, each with voices which fill the void and leave me downright giddy. How (and why) did I not pick up on these ladies? I will tell you what. Something needs to change somewhere. We need to find a way to shove aside the white noise (which for me is practically everything on radio and TV) for the good stuff. These ladies are it.
When Jesse posted a nod to van Keeken on Facebook, I took the leap and checked her out and was blown away by what I found. The earliest, 2013s So Long, captured me right off with its sense of pure folk, van Keeken’s voice beautiful and so magnificently understated. I practically cried through its five songs, not because of the emotion but because of the simplicity. I mean, you could have knocked me over with a feather. What, I thought, could she possibly do do top this? I found out when Live Right, six songs of exceptional Pop/Soul hit my ears. Again, pure and simple, but so full of melody and harmony and that feel of AM radio I wanted to laugh. God, but I feel sorry for the kids who missed radio at its AM peak, but you don’t have to go into the past to hear it. Live Right is it!!! All the way to Track 6, anyway. Black Mass I have yet to figure out. Opening with down-chords worthy of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins‘ I Put a Spell On You, it quickly turns into a cacophony of Disney on psilocybin and drones its way to a climax quite unexpected, voice fading into the ether and guitar chunking out feedback. Not feedback you would have heard at The Fillmore. Feedback you may have heard since, though.
This year, van Keeken decided to piece them together into a full album ON VINYL! I mean, if I didn’t already have a turntable and stereo system set up, after hearing this I would get one. And no, I didn’t tell vam Keeken that. She is reading it here, hopefully, along with the rest of you.
I did ask her for links to her music amd the first thing she supplied beyond the Bandcamp pages was a Soundcloud page and guess what? The first thing on that page was not really van Keeken, although she was involved. It was a live performance by Colleen Brown! What is it about the cool musicians that makes them plug everyone else’s music first? I’m not complaining, mind you. I dig it. It is how I am finding so much excellent music, not the least of which is courtesy of Ms. Brown.
She just finished a tour opening for David Celia and is settling back into life in Edmonton. What is it like being a musician in that fair city? Here’s what Brown said.
Edmonton’s music scene is hard to describe. On one hand there is a ridiculous amount of talent. Often rough-hewn but authentic, rather than being polished like a lot of bigger city talent, which is something I dig. What we lack is VENUES and a culture surrounding attending shows- which is one of the big pitfalls of a suburb-laden city, and perhaps also a pitfall of a big-money boom-town. In Edmonton sometimes we tear down buildings without realizing we are tearing down cultural institutions, and our musical communities flounder because of it. There are a number of people working to re-build in that sense, but it’s gonna take time. So I see a lot of work to be done on the industry side, with venues, with infrastructure to help artists be heard and build their careers, but I also see a tonne of opportunity, and some really dedicated humans already working to bring about positive change.
Hey! It’s Edmonton! Home of the Oilers and the Eskimos. The good thing is that they’re trying. Brown is beyond trying (whoops, that didn’t come out right). What I mean is that she has a real grip on her music. The first thing I heard in that live performance I mentioned earlier was a song titled Mountain Man and it went something like this:
There is something in the attitude and voice I really like. Here she is again, this time with all-(what are they? Hand puppets?) band:
I mean, those two tracks are pretty good, but you should take a little tome to listen to her Direction album. Click here.
I will hopefully devote most of a column to these two ladies in the near future. They are playing in a group together— The Secretaries (check out their “single” here)— and have a number of projects off to the side as well (van Keeken mentioned The Awesomes more than once).
Canadians of any real credibility knows who also lives in Edmonton— one of my favorites of the past few years, Chloe Albert. I think she gets embarrassed every time I mention her because I am probably over the top in my praise, but I think she deserves it. She has taken a bit of time away from her solo career to have a child but is hopefully ready to dive back in soon. I hope so, anyway. I know I have posted these videos a lot but the songs still play in my head on a regular basis. Just watch and listen.
This one makes me cry, it’s so beautiful. And one of the best examples of lyricism I can think of right now.
A little folk/soul to cap it off.
All of the above from Edmonton. And most of us don’t even know where it is. You can bet that on my big trip across Canada, if it ever happens, I will be spending a few days there. Just for the music, if nothing else.
I’m exhausted. Sometimes music does that to me. I do have some tidbits to pass along, though, so let us dip into a few…..
Notes… I have a friend named Ben who ran the Peaches Records store In Seattle. He and I share a lot of music (for instance, he was the one who turned me on to Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers) and I am afraid not to follow up on his suggestions. He was responsible for me finding Drivin’ ‘n Cryin’, Skye Paige, Shovels & Rope (long before they were called Shovels & Rope0 and others. He has been on me about a duo he caught at a bar in Charleston— Deering and Down. This video is quite a bit different than what I was expecting, but I love the deep echo and the flashback to the late-fifties and early-sixties. The more I hear it, the more I like it.
Speaking of the Shack Shakers, did I ever post the video for their new album? Here. Have a little Mud and be sure to turn it up!
Let’s call this Throwback Tuesday and slip in a track by Wendy Colonna just because I love the semi-soul approach she takes to much of her music. This from 2007:
I think that next to Patty Smythe, this is my new favorite lady of rock. Gabrielle Roddy not only fronted a band called Brass Bikini, a great name, but their first album was titled Tastes Like Chicken. Such are wet dreams made of. This, by the way, by way of Jaimie Vernon and the now restructured Bullseye Canada Records. Man, I cannot wait to see what other treasures Jaimie is going to uncover.
I write about Tom Mank & Sera Smolen a lot. There is a reason. Here is Tom and Sera performing at a house concert with a string of Ithaca musicians I am beginning to know well. The music! Listen to the music!
I was introduced to this song by The Carpenters through a very dear friend of mine, Nathaniel Koch (no relation to the dreaded Kick Brothers), who was one of the funniest guys I will ever know. We struggled through a number of years at Peaches Records in Seattle before he crossed the line to Tower shortly before leaving Seattle for Chicago where he unexpectedly died. Whenever I hear this song, I picture him in my mind’s eye, always laughing. He brought joy to so many. This version, by the way, is from Cult of Wedge, the instrumental force behind Maxi Dunn, a lady who is way above the norm when it comes to music. Peter Hackett, I thank you for this. (Disclaimer: Song written by Terry Draper and John Woloschuk and originally on Klaatu‘s 3:47 EST album.)
Here is the original version. ‘Nuff said.
And, of course, there is this. More than enough said. Sigh. Nathaniel, I hope you’re listening. Your friends miss you.
Because it is football season. And it is Jim Terr.
By the way, that Maxi Dunn I mentioned earlier. Here is a link to her latest single. Good, good stuff.
My buddy Stan Twist apologized this past week for not knowing about this. I understand why. After all, Stan IS Canadian! 1971. Jeez. How did I miss this guy?
I can envision Leonard Bernstein including this video in a segment about music making statements. From Wells Hanley, one of the many Virginians lighting up the world through music.
Shaun Cromwell has earned my respect and admiration via two primo albums and a series of videos recorded in his kitchen (his famed Kitchen Concert Series, of which they are so far nine). Take a listen (it is painless and in fact very enjoyable) and then head on over to YouTube and pick up on the other eight. You should, in fact, subscribe. He has promised one a week into the near future. This dude is seriously talented!
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.”