Frank Gutch Jr: It Is Catch-UP Time Again, But First, Let’s Talk Petunia (In a Viperly Sort of Way)… Plus Note(s)
I don’t know if it’s music or it is just the way things are and I just miss it all the time, but there is a tsunami of music headed our way and I can’t keep up. As many videos and songs and albums as I can find, there are mountains awaiting to be discovered on what seems a daily basis. I don’t know what to do. I’m drowning and I’m on the freaking shore. So set yourself. We are going on a little ride which might be a long one because I am going to pack as much as I can into one column if for no other reason than to ease my conscience. That’s right. It bothers me when so many musicians cannot even scratch the surface— the good ones anyway.
I stumbled upon an intriguing video featuring a guy named Petunia a couple of days ago. I have often wondered about him. He is an odd and quirky sort of fellow, as far as I can gather, and at times plays odd and quirky music, but I have always liked him. Growing up, Dad had a few 78s laying around which I always thought odd (although maybe I mean to say that you would think odd)— Homer & Jethro‘s Pizen Pete, about a gunslinger who gets hanged and shoots up the town because “they stretched his neck and now his shirts don’t fit,” a whole string of Six Fat Dutchmen 45s (yep, even before Frankie Yankovic and Weird Al Yankovic, the accordion was a weapon of music destruction), and a whole shitpot of parodies to tickle the brain from Yes We Ain’t Got Bananas to Phil Harris‘s The Thing to oddball tunes like Mairzy Doats, which had a screwy chorus my mother used to love to sing to us kids when we were little. Those 78s, though, had the oddest of the odd, songs which came from another planet, I guess you could say, full of phrases and words which reeked of swampland and the backwoods. Those kinds of songs, it seems, are fodder for Petunia’s step off the beaten path to where it may seem that there is no path at all. For instance, hewre is the first thing I ever heard from him and his group, an exceptional bunch of players who tour as Petunia & The Vipers:
I loved the song and was ready for it, having grown up on Pee Wee King and The Light Crust Doughboys and a string of swing and boogie bands who stretched the boundaries of what was then called Hillbilly Music, later to be changed to Country & Western. It sounded old and dated, especially on those thick and scratchy 78s, and there was lots of yodeling and call-and-response and strange sounds emanating from certain instruments at the strangest times. Petunia lives somewhere in that pool but I’ll be damned if I can figure out where that is because it keeps changing, as Washboard Hank says in this little biopic look at Petunia which features Petunia’s own Mom and Dad who evuidently aren’t quite sure about him (or maybe it should be his music, parents being accepting of their offspring who don’t come home to live or keep asking for money).
Well, here he comes again, ol’ Petunia, and he has a new album which defies gravity here and there, something for which he is becoming known. The album is titled Dead Bird On the Highway and is a continuance of what I think is a calling. Dredging the past and making it new. Here is a track from that album.
What he is doing is not necessarily new, though I think he brings a real perspective to it. What he is doing is stretching boundaries and I can’t help but think ol’ Hank and the Skillet Lickers and all of them old mountain boys would approve. He may be only for the adventurous, but what an adventure!
Gileah Taylor/Songs For Late at Night Vol. 2…
I have heard just about everything Gileah has recorded except for her very first album which I believe was out of print when I found her. I was impressed from the very beginning. Her voice, her confidence, her faith in God and her fellow man and her love of family makes her much more than a musician. Perhaps she is a humanitarian of music, if there be such a thing. She lives by melody and harmonies but more importantly sings from deep within. The new album delves a bit more into soothing electronics and straight acoustic guitar than he previous albums but it is all quite impressive. Favorite track for me has to be Side Two, Track One: John of the Four Track Heart which bowls me over with its anthemic sound. She has yet to release a video for Songs For Late at Night Vol. 2, so let us take a listen to one from her last album with husband Chris titled Chris & Gileah.
Charlie Faye & The Fayettes/Charlie Faye & The Fayettes…
Fans of the sixties girl groups should be all over this one. I remember Charlie Faye from a number of years ago, having been handed a CD titled Wilson Street. Though promotion was coming out of Nashville, the sound was strictly Pop and I loved every moment of it. It wasn’t as much girl group as it was just Pop, but Faye has corrected that with this gem recorded with the Fayettes: BettySoo and Akina Adderley. The songs are upbeat and soulful and everything you could want from a girl group. Indeed, if the production was a bit less, you might think most of the songs recorded back then— maybe a remaster could have modernized the sound— but it is the heart and soul of the singers who bring it back. I like most albums like this, having a special place in my heart for the music I grew up on, but this is among the best I have heard yet. Bee-yoo-ti-ful stuff. By the way, it doesn’t hurt that BettySoo is here. I have followed her from 2009 on, having picked up on Heat Sin Water Skin, another album which turned heads. While I don’t know Akina Adderley outside of this new album, researching her gives me something to look forward to. Here is the magic gate which will open if you click here.
The Silver Lake Chorus/The Silver Lake Chorus…
Okay, I’m cheating a bit here but I just found these guys and maybe the album is approaching the one-year mark but it is new to me. My favorite time of year to wrap myself up in music performances on television is Christmas. Public Broadcasting runs a few Christmas choir programs, a couple of which involve a number of choirs and choruses from all over the world. I love the choir effect— the sound so true that voices become a soft organ in themselves— and I love the songs brought out from the closets at this special time of year. Excellent songs. Songs which do not seem to have anything to do with Christmas but which have a religious feel to them. When you really think about it, most of the music written has been to God and not to Santa—- at least, the choral pieces. And while The Silver Lake Chorus are not Christmas-centric, they are choral-centric and that is good enough for me. I was floored enough by this video that I feel the tingle run up the spine more than a couple of times. Outside the realm of mainstream, I suppose, but impressive enough to make me stop the presses and write this. Here you go. And if you want to know more, click here.
The Way Down Wanderers/The Way Down Wanderers…
I can hear my dad now. “Buncha goddamn hippies!” But he wouldn’t mean it. There may be a little too much rock in the song Wildfire but he would love the harmonies and the sound of the banjo and the freewheelin’ sound as the band sped through the song. This album is full of similar tunes, all worth hearing, some more and some less, depending upon the ear. These guys drag me back to the early seventies and bands like Cat Mother and Wheatfield, a band out of Eugene and Portland who had roots based in what I called the brown-rice-and-vegetable scene of the day. At first, Wheatfield was just another folkie band but as they added members, they became much more. Had they lasted long enough, they might have become a version of these guys, though maybe less, A lot of talent here. I can smell the patchouli every time I hear this. Can you smell commune? I like it. Here is their webpage.
Waydown Wailers/Empty Promises…
These guys spent a portion of this Spring playing the bar version of the NCAA Tournament. Someone in Upstate New York lined up a bunch of bands and faced them off against one another at various bars and taverns with only the winners moving on to the next bracket. They made it to the quarterfinals before being slain in what I can only imagine was a bloodbath of rock ‘n’ roll. Whoever beat them either had one hell of a night or the tournament was rigged (sound familiar?). This album is roots deep, most of it blues and rock. I need a good album like this once in awhile just to keep the blood pumping. Nothing like a slide guitar to wake you up after your tenth beer. For more info, click here.
The Vogts Sisters/Homeward…
When I was growing up, we had a small cache of records that Momma and Dad had accumulated and when radio reception was poor, they would reach for a 78 or 45 to entertain us all. Among those records were the likes of Hank Williams and Hank Snow and a plethora of semi-Country & Western artists and even the occasional vocal bluegrass artist or group like The Blue Sky Boys and he Delmore Brothers. When rock ‘n’ roll came along, I left Dad to revisit those records while I became enamored with the pre-national-hit Paul Revere & The Raiders and the rockers of the day. Still, I would hear, on occasion, the old records that Dad would ask for (he was as afraid of the record player as I am of computers) and Momma would put on for him. And I yearned for the simplicity of that music and the calm it gave me. In later years, we would sit down together in the living room and listen to Seldom Scene and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver with the same appreciation we had for those early records. That same calm comes over me when I hear The Vogts Sisters, two young girls who have moved a bit beyond their Country/Bluegrass roots on their new album, Homeward. Out of necessity, I believe, because the girls are growing as youth is wont to do and the music is following suit. Beautiful and honest songs and two unaffected voices are carrying me away this past week. I loved what I believe was their first album, My Own Dixie, for the same voices and the same reasons. Homeward is a more mature but equally as gracious an effort. If any album of the past year says less is more, this is it. You can purchase it (or sample the songs) here. And check out this performance of the duo performing a Johnny Horton tune I remember from my youth, When It’s Springtime in Alaska. I would love to link you to a video of a song from Homeward, but not all musicians have the money to fund such projects. And the album has just been released. Perhaps in the near future?
Jeff Ellis/Modern Time Blues…
I am not really sure how I came upon Jeff and his music but I have been following him closely from then on. He is one of only a few musicians I listen to for the content beyond the art and craftsmanship it take to put together something beyond the norm. He worries as much as do I about the future because he has two children who have a future too. And he does what he can and more to raise consciousness to a level we need to prevent the destruction we seem hell-bent on carrying through.
There are roots in Jeff’s music as deep as any. And there is a bit of the old folkie in him. His songs vary greatly, from almost hard rock to acoustic pop, but he is true to his music at all turns. Some are wishes, some are truths, some are stories. But they are all close to his heart. Listen to this. This is a classic example of lyrics and their importance to song.
On Modern Time Blues, Jeff steps back into his role as rocker-with-band. One hell of a band as far as I can tell. Adapted to the song. It is a damn good album, too, as can be attested here. The shot across the bow.
I assume that the new album will soon be on cdBaby, but you don’t have to wait. Contact Jeff here (he would love the response, I am sure) for purchase information or just to say hello. Trust me when I say that this guy is going places.
Hymn For Her/?…
What? Again? Yeah, I write about these guys a lot but it doesn’t do me much good. They still won’t return my calls or give me information, such as what their soon-to-be-released album is to be titled. I’ve known Lucy and Wayne since before they were called that and backed their previous band to the hilt. But getting information out of them regarding this new album is like pulling teeth. To avoid the questions, they even set up a European tour, which I think a mite excessive, but what do I know? Only that famed producer Mitch Easter has a hand in the new project and that release is imminent. Thing is, these two people make music like they are five and pull it off in their live performances. Entertainment and music in the same package. Who woulda thought? Keep up-to-date by signing on to this page.
Stephen Young & The Union/Whatever They Are Going to Call It…
Talk about hubris! I spent a whole weekend hacking into Stephen Young & The Union’s system to download their demos they are readying for release and they didn’t even give me a title! So I am calling it Whatever… because that’s just mean! Okay, I didn’t hack in, but I begged a lot and Mr. Young his very own self sent me a passel of acoustic demos (voice and maybe two acoustic guitars) which gives me a preview of what will be. I am not only happy, I am stunned, much in the same way I was when I heard Eagle Fort Rumble the first time (and the second… and the third… etc.). There is something very American about the music they play, but that is probably more my tendency to live in the past than anything. There was a time that you could pretty much identify the country of origin by the music but I’m thinking those days are past. But the truth is, music this good does not need a country. Wherever these songs came from, they came from a very good place. Listening to these demos is a relief, of sorts, because I love Eagle and was hoping for more, but only to a degree. I want to hear progress or a sideways jump or something usually, but if my ears and my brain tell me anything, this is Eagle Vol. 2, which thrills me to death. Excellent songs as an acoustic set (perhaps they could save this for a giveaway “unplugged” album upon release of the final mix) and every bit as worthy of a listen as was the first album (which, incidentally, knocked me on my keister). Take a look at the videos below to see what you may have missed (album still available). To learn more or to just follow the band, click here. Oh, and they are Irish, FYI.
Dave McGraw & Mandy Fer/off-grid lo-fi…
Finally! I had the great fortune a few months ago to see Dave and Mandy at a house concert in Eugene (a killer show, btw). During that performance, they played a few tracks from their impending release of an album recorded somewhere in the San Juans, instruments and voices straight into mic and machine. Nothing fancy, they said. Live and not necessarily in color. Mandy skewed the announcement by bringing out the dreaded banjo and making a joke, then proceeded to play it as much as a rhythm instrument as a banjo. I had never really thought of banjo as a substitute for rhythm guitar but there it was and it sounded good. Well, the album is almost to its release date (June 24th) and they have put together this little video to announce it. Here is a small taste.
I make no apologies for plugging these two as much as I do. They have a sound which strikes a chord with me, an amazingly positive attitude, a shitload of talent and a real appreciation for their fans. If you ever get a chance to see them live, do so. And take a friend or two. They put on an excellent show. Here is a video of a track from their last release, Maritime.
These guys are worth following, trust me. You may find them here.
Valerio Piccolo/Poetry Notes…
I know a few people who grew up in Italy (or, as they would say it, Italia). They are an odd lot and as a result, I began to look upon Italians as such. I did not look down on them or anything but they cling to their culture with a tenacity us Americans cannot understand. When I was younger, I felt the same about their rock/jazz music— progressive bands such as PFM, I Pooh, and Maxophone playing music with a feel and sound all their own. The progressive stuff that many of my friends just could not get. Well, here is the latest in the Italian music sweepstakes which has been going on in my head for decades… Valerio Piccolo. One thing you must understand to appreciate him. His main language is Italian. For years, my Italian-born friends would try to tell me things and end up throwing their hands in the air and saying “It just does not translate into English.” I am not sure if this translates as well as it should but the music is plenty good. The videos below will give you an idea.
Suzanne Vega evidently gets it, though. Here is a song Piccolo and Vega share. While I am sure it is not on the new album, it should give you an idea of what Piccolo is about.
The more I hear this guy, the more I like him.
The Minnows/Druid Stew…
Which is not the name of the album at all, but again the music forces prefer to keep information from me so I make up what I have to. Ireland again. Michael Rafferty has been telling me about a new album for what seems like a good ten years but I have yet to see it. I have heard parts of it, though, and I can tell you that it is another triumph for the band, the songs I have heard being among the best of this year. The problem with these guys is that they have lives and jobs and pressure and like that and getting together is a problem. Well, boo hoo. I’m looking for a Minnows fix and they’re all self-involved. Well, I can afford to fly to Ireland to set them straight so I think I will just write lies about them. That’ll teach the bastids. Except for this, the first song from the new album. I dig the song but it is the way the song and the video work together which makes this one work. It is heartbreaking. It makes me yearn for the new album. Ladies and germs, you may have seen and heard this before, but it won’t hurt you to watch/listen again. And when you’re done watching, head to The Minnows’ website or YouTube to discover more. One of my favorites of the straight rock bands.
I will end this with an EP by one Lasers Lasers Birmingham, a band fronted by one Alex Owen, who has a touch for what I call West Coast Country. Los Angeles— indeed, the whole West Coast— has been building a scene centered on country roots and promoted by bands like Old Californio, Nocona, I See Hawks in L.A., and artists such as Grant Langston and Rich McCulley, among others. The big difference, as far as I can hear, is that West Coasters have a tendency to play down the twang (well, there is Dave Gleason, isn’t there?) and amp up the smooth. LLB jusgt released a four-track EP titled Royal Blue which makes me think they will be the next band to watch. Smooth, beautiful harmonies meet country roots, if you will. You can listen to the track on the band’s Bandcamp page by clicking here. Don’t miss it. It is smo-o-oth.
Pickings are a little slim this week partially because of the subject matter and I should change the name to Note but what the hell. Here is this week’s…
Note(s)….. Good news, sport fans! Winterpills, like Bernie Sanders, are not giving up on us! They released their Love Songs album not all that long ago and are slowly giving us the good on video. The sound just unique enough to be Winterpills, the harmonies downright gorgeous, and the writing and performance stellar, as always. These guys have been at the top of my list of bands to watch for a long time and they have yet to disappoint. I love this!
Frank’s column appears every Tuesday
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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.”