Frank Gutch Jr: Music Reviews On the Fly (and these are real beauties); Crushed Out Makes Their Move; Plus Notes
I review lots of records on a consistent basis and pretty much have a policy of giving each album/EP its due. Usually that means a solid ten listens all the way through with extras for the songs which strike home. The reason? I once listened to an album a couple of times and sent a note to the artist explaining why I could not give it a straight-out five star review. It was possibly the most pompous note I have ever written and one I wish I could have taken back. Ten or so listens later, I gave it that five star review I had so bombastically refused and pledged to give every album from that point on a fair chance— a real fair chance and not one based upon a needledrop (a term which refers to radio in the sixties and seventies when the single was king— disc jockeys and music directors would listen to the first few seconds of each 45 submitted for airplay to “weed the crop”, i.e. to eliminate the clunkers). What? You didn’t think the records charted themselves, did you?
I have carried the guilt of that around with me for years and at times it seems oppressive but I believe it has made me not a better writer but a better listener of music (I was going to say critic, but that implies critiquing and that rhymes with boutiquing and that makes me a fool). I write about music because I love it and I want people who also love it to hear what I hear. It is so hard sometimes to find the really good stuff judging by the numbers of people who claim there isn’t any new or good music out there anymore. It is there. You just have to search for it.
This past couple of weeks have needed no searches. A handful of exceptional discs have found their ways into my possession. I know this because I needledropped. I didn’t need more to hear the quality in the music. I knew right off.
So let me tell you about a few new releases which have with virtually no effort convinced me that they should be heard. Starting with…..
JOSH FARROW/Trouble Walks With Me…..
Holy mackerel! I search hard for music like this and I all too seldom find it and yet there it was in my mailbox. Nice cover, I thought, but the purple-hazed look in this guy’s eyes had me wondering. Maybe too hip. Maybe not. Christ, I need a vacation. Who makes judgments like that? I’m turning into Dave Marsh, for chrissakes!
Surprise, surprise! The one-sheet (that sheet of paper which gives you the lowdown on the artist) was actually one sheet! Lately the PR firms have expanded their thinking making them two, three, or more sheets of promotional detritus. Truth be told, I seldom read them anymore, fearful of the information bringing on real prejudice (think, “who are they trying to kid?”). It is a tough world out there, sports fans, when it comes to promotion. So when I slipped the disc into the player, I set myself in neutral mode and hoped for the best.
And I got it. Josh Farrow reaches back to the early days of the singer/songwriter, or at least the days they started recognizing them as such. I hear songs as songs written for a moment in time and presented with no pretension to anything else. One rocks, one rides a groove, one reaches to the depths. One after another, the songs of Trouble Walks With Me make their statements, much as did Elton John and James Taylor and Long John Baldry and so many others who became known for their abilities shaping music to the culture or even shaping a bit of culture itself. You won’t find anything heavy here unless you deem the structure of a really really good song heavy. You won’t be digging deep into any genres either, though there are influences. Chances are, you won’t even notice anything but the music and how easily it washes over you. This guy is good. This guy knows how to write. And his voice is as pleasant as they come. Here is a live version of Before You Leave. Imagine it with a soft, smooth country-ish background and a female background vocals smooth as a baby’s skin and you’re close to the studio version. The lady’s name is Melissa Mathes, by the way, and the song is a heartbreaker.
Farrow is hardly all ballads and smooth rock. He strikes a groove on some songs and rocks a bit on a couple of others. Whatever he does, though, he does well enough that he might well be one of those artists headlining festivals he has only been visiting up to now. In case you haven’t noticed, I seldom write about artists who have a real following. I have a feeling that this may be my only chance to write about Farrow.
And this is a track evidently from an earlier EP which is on the album, though it may be a different version.
DEAD HORSES/Cartoon Moon…..
Me, pass up on an album titled Cartoon Moon? Not a chance! Of course, the cover helped, a beautiful illustration of a tree over the moon, and the name (Dead Horses) curious. I don’t know what I expected, maybe another one of those “Americana” or “Alt” bands we hear so much from these days. Another decent band with a banjo thrown in for good measure and maybe even a fiddle or mandolin in places. If it wasn’t for Sarah Vos, that might be what it is (but it’s not).
Don’t get me wrong. Vos is not everything here but she is the source of voice and song. The voice, a cross between male alto and female tenor which could be a plus or a minus. In this case, it is huge plus and I chalk it up to Vos’s exceptional songwriting. She has this uncanny way to turn a standard chord progression into something fresh and beautiful. It is simple, really. Just turn right or left at the exact moment to make a good song better. She does it consistently and with deftness. One chord and a verse or chorus becomes music magic.
Credit the lyrics too. No cringe-worthy moments here— no rhyming you and blue or fool and cool. Want to know when it is done right? When you don’t even notice. While this was supposed to be a needledrop, I circled the field for a second listen, the second time just for the lyrics. Either Vos has a real touch when it comes to matching the right words to the music or she puts in yeoman’s work getting them just right.
I checked out a few reviews of their earlier work. Evidently they have changed a bit for Cartoon Moon. Having heard only this album, perhaps it warrants me doing some research. In fact, I believe it does. After all, the fun is in the journey.
MORWENNA LASKO & JAY PUN/The Hollow…..
A few years ago I drove hundreds of miles to see Morwenna Lasko & Jay Pun perform in an old church building in the middle of Eastern Oregon. It was worth every mile. The building, ancient by today’;s standards, had been gutted and separated into two large rooms— the one on the right housing the heating unit (a large wood-burning stove), the left containing benches and seats with a small stage to the front. There had to have been electricity though I honestly do not remember, the lighting being low and very basic, concentrated on the artists. It was a night I will not forget, everything adding up to more than just the music. It was, and I do not use this lightly, an experience.
I discovered them when I virtually tripped over Danny Schmidt and Devon Sproule and discovered a music scene crawling with world class musicians and artists– Charlottesville VA. When researching, their names kept popping up until I became so intrigued I had to know who they were. I found out and have followed them since, delighting in their conjoined abilities and their trailblazing attitude toward music.
At their core, they are guitar and violin. Outside that core, though, all bets are off. They play in varying combinations with some of the best artists available and the direction seems to change with the wind. At times, they show roots which, if you can imagine, do not really exist even though you think they must. They draw from all genres and slip in and out of them with ease.
On The Hollow, the band consists of Lasko, Pun and longtime C-ville Devonne Harris, who has played drums on many projects originating in that city. Add Pete Spaar on bass and you have quite the quartet. Seriously. Four of the best the city has to offer in one band is a deal you should not refuse. All four are at their best on the album and their best behavior too. Totally solid and ready to storm the world. Listen to these to get an idea…..
And I would be remiss if I did not include their tribute to one of the most loved of the C-ville musicians, may he rest in peace, Leroi Moore.
JJ THAMES/Raw Sugar…..
Damn! I must be in a real seventies mood because here comes JJ Thames and a whole lotta blues and soul and I’m digging it. First track and I’m groovin’, vocalists Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons helping JJ lock down a funky groove with smooth band and strings background which made Philadelphia a soul powerhouse in the mid-seventies. Probably a few other cities as well. It is a perfect lead-in to a series of tracks straight out of the past but rooted in the present.
This isn’t JJ’s first time out and I have to kick myself for not paying more attention because hers is a voice not dipped but immersed in soul. And producer Eddie Cotton knows how to bring it out. He plays on it and I assume put the band together, as good an R&B band as I have heard in quite some time, thanks to some keen arrangements. He even strokes a few strings on guitar to make sure things sounded just right.
You want lounge jazz, funky soul or ballads worthy of the big band era, you get it all in this album, which is my cue to load up a video to prove my point. I am going to cheat a little here by putting up a video from an earlier album first just to let you hear what a wonder this lady is. This song is a time capsule. Take a listen to this.
And a track from Raw Sugar…..
And just so you know she is on one trick pony, here’s a little JJ live for you…..
JERRY CASTLE/Not So Soft Landing…..
Like I tried to say, it has been a very good few weeks and this is one reason. I had never heard of Jerry Castle and, again, I wonder why not. He has been around for years, first as a member of Toast (never heard of them either) and after as a solo artist. He has three albums to his credit before this one and I cannot believe after hearing Not So Soft Landing that they made no impact. The guy not only knows how to write a solid mainstream song, he has the goods to put them down in their best light.
Mainstream rock seems to be the lost genre these days, partially because everyone maybe is earching for that gimmick or focal point which will make people listen. Damn hard since the gutting of the music industry (self-imposed, by the way). There are just too many artists. You can’t see the forest for the trees. They say. Whoever they are. Truth is, a good song is a good song and you don’t really need to be plugged into a TV ad or a movie. It helps, but you don’t need it. All you need to do is try to find what tickles your fancy. Most people are not. Trying, that is. Most are happy with what they have, evidently, even if new music is standing right next to it and is as good. Does good music need a history? Do Artists? Myself, I am tired of people giving albums the thumbs up before they are even released just because the wrinkled old prunes were at one time at the top of their game. Not when musicians like Castle and Josh Farrow and Dead Horses are being pushed to the side so that certain Artists Who Shall Remain Nameless still ride the gravy train. Fuck the past. They had their days.
And if music counts for anything, Castle will have his now too. First time through, I knew there was something special here. First track, Ride, was impressive. Track two, She Kills, the same. In fact, I am now eight tracks in and am thinking of this was the eighties or the seventies all over again, this album would be climbing the charts like gangbusters, bullets flying everywhere. This is certainly not country but I cannot believe that country fans would not be all over this. Rock and Pop, the same. Hell, these songs are good enough to transcend all genres— okay, there might be a few so deeply embedded into, say, EMO or rap who might not get this, but if you like good old mainstream rock…..
There is a bit of Neil Diamond in his voice and even in some of his songs but that is just coincidence. He just happens to live in the same territory (or on the fringe of it) and knows his way around a hit song. That’s right. I said ‘hit.’ If AM radio still existed, more than a few of the songs would have a good chance of being singles and, yes, they are good enough to be hits.
But why should I sit here gabbing when I could show you? Allow me.
Both from the new album. The eight others are in the same ballpark, too. I tell you, this guy knows his way around a song.
THE GREEN PAJAMAS/If You Knew What I Dreamed…..
One thing I have always liked about the band is that their members really care about their fans. Really. They have gone out of their way the past few years to make their older albums available (even the exceptional All Clues Lead to Meagan’s Bed which I had tried to find for so long) and even went out of their way to make sure vinyl would be available for the latest release (or should I say re-release), If You Knew What I Dreamed. The new album is a chopped down version and remixed version of the 2007 album and is worth it for the upgraded sound courtesy of Green Monkey prexy Tom Dyer. The original release had sixteen tracks but the powers that be decided on eleven for whatever reason. Doesn’t really matter. You can still download all sixteen tracks here. And here is the link for the new release. Hell, if’n I was you, I would download them both if for nothing else but comparisons sake. For more information, I suggest following this link. I know everyone is always using the phrase “most underrated band” but in this instance I believe it to be true. These guys should have been superstars. In my world, they are.
CRUSHED OUT/Going For the Gold…..
Back in the Stone Age, my good friend Randy Burns of Skydog Band fame sent me a note and a link to music by one Frank Hoier and I took the bait. One click later, I was on the Net asking Randy where he had picked up on Hoier to which he replied that he just happened upon him at one of his gigs. The linked album was all Hoier and nothing but Hoier and I found it creative and moving and became a fan. Not long after, Hoier teamed up with drummer Moselle Spiller to form Boom Chick before changing their name to Crushed Out because another band had already claimed the other name. By the time I saw them, they were solidly in their CO phase, Frank choking notes out of the guitar and Moselle surfing the drums. Seriously, she rides the drum set. Downright freaky and pretty cool as far as I’m concerned.
Well, they’ve released a few albums and are getting ready to spawn another, this one titled Alien Ocean and I thought it necessary to give you a heads up. This time around they are pulling out the stops and releasing the album in all formats (and, no, Jaimie Vernon, they are not releasing it in 8-Track). My favorite format has always been, of course, vinyl and they are pressing a few for the front end of the push. To make sure you get a copy, you can pre-order via their Pledgemusic page which you can find by clicking here. In the meantime, I suggest you take a listen to the first track. It is definitely a step in the right direction. Oh, and if you get a chance to see them live during their next tour, don’t miss it. Frank can be a madman on the guitar and when Moselle surfs those drums, whooee!
And on that note, let us hit the…..
Notes….. Of all the Seattle record labels which have existed from time immemorial (meaning the fifties, when rock started dominating the teen scene), Green Monkey is one of the best. Maybe THE best, though it is hard to place any label up against the likes of Seafair Bolo, the Jerden stable of labels, or Etiquette (not to mention SubPop, so I won’t). Just this past week, Green Monkey plugged a classic video of The Purdins‘ Dazzling Bag of Paint Chips on YouTube and I found myself shaking my head all the way through it. It is an outstanding track but with the video is an eye-opener. Be sure to read the “liner notes” to realize just what a monumental task making this video was. And you think music and videography is fun….. Leave it up to GM to back the good stuff when they are not making it themselves.
Why Angharad Drake is not sweeping the international music scene is beyond me. She, along with Kate & Ruth and Anna Cordell and a host of others are building a scene in Australia to rival anything we have in The States. Take a listen to these and tell me they are not among the best songs out there. Absolutely astonishing talent!
I first heard Tom Pacheco back in the early seventies when I happened upon a Pacheco & Alexander album— their first, in fact. They were young and somewhere between the folk and singer/songwriter genres but unique, in a sense. Something about their voices. Here is a track written by Pacheco and performed by a chorus with strings and exceptional guitar by Kyoji Yamamoto. Dave Pyles who used to run the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange (FAME) passed this along. Dave is only one of a very few who knows Pacheco and his worth to music over the past decades. Thanks, Dave.
If you remember the piece I wrote on Boise/Portland/Eugene’s legendary band Notary Sojac, you might remember my praising the band’s signature tune, Carolina. Okay, it wasn’t their signature tune but it was the track which sold me on the band— enough so I have carried the legend with me to the present day. The sound is a bit rough but if you listen hard you can almost hear what I meant when I compared them to some of the best jam bands of the day. Ladies & Gentlemen, I heard this performed many times back in ’71 through ’73 and I never heard one version played the same way twice. I only wish you could see them perform this live because I have to tell you that when they were on (which they usually were), they were one of the funnest bands I ever saw or heard.
You want improvised? Back in ’73, Sojac played a continuous two hour improvised set and luckily happened to record it. The music came from the universe (I think it was a universe) of Zoid, a magical mental/musical place that these guys actually built if only in their minds. While it is only for the adventurous, the adventurous should have a good time trying to figure out just what the hell planet these guys lived on some of the time. Here it is. The Return of Zoid.
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.”