Frank Gutch Jr: T Bone. Got it? He’s from T exas… Glenn Patscha To Release Ten Year Old Album Because It’s a Killer!…plus Notes
But before we get started, it’s time once again to plug one of my favorite bands of all-time— those crazy elementary school teachers who change into demonic rockers at night: No Small Children. Coming off of a successful run playing the title tune from the movie Ghostbusters II, they pluck another rocker out of the air and it’s a beaut! Lay back (if you can) and listen to what the percentage of us not tied to our iThings are hearing. I Feel Better!!!
I love these ladies!!!
That done, let us proceed.
I thought I knew Texas music. I really thought I did. I had read Chet Flippo‘s excellent piece on Texas in the March ’74 issue of Phonograph Record Magazine (“Texas Rock & Roll Spectacular”) and even saved it. I posted “An Illustrated Guide to Texas Rock” by Peter Green from that same issue on my wall and studied it (I mean, Doug Clark & The Hot Nuts were from Dallas? No one partying at the University of Oregon during my college days knew it, to my knowledge.). And I kept the Greg Shaw “Historical Supplement” where I could easily find it. Information, tons of it, from people who knew Texas rock, but my God, who knew what the future was going to hold?
Guy Clark had not yet made the grade, evidently, nor Space Opera, not all that new to the scene. Willie was there, though, and Doug Sahm and Townes and even Groovy Joe Poovey and artists enough to drain your bank account filling in your collection. But what was to come… I never even thought.
Guy Clark led that list this past year, thanks to Tamara Saviano‘s excellent biography, Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark, a personal in-depth look at Guy’s life (and music), top-to-bottom. A fascinating look at a musician I professed to know but found out only a couple of chapters in that I didn’t, it opened my eyes to Clark the man and helped balance that with Clark the musician and songwriter. The cool thing about the book was that it included so many artists attached to Clark in one way or another that it, in a way, was as much about Texas as Clark. I file it under way-beyond-a-biography in that the research and personal touches made it more personal than most biographies should be allowed. But what a read!
And here comes salvo two from the Lone Star State: Lloyd Sachs‘ T Bone Burnett: A Life In Pursuit. Published by the University if Texas Press in Austin, it is a perfect followup to the Guy Clark saga. A little less personal, thanks partially due to Burnett’s non-involvement, it still hits the nail on the head. This is a musician we should all know if only for his extraordinary paths he has taken. Like Clark, Burnett’s tentacles reach everywhere, but in a different way. Clark’s touched music and musicians on a very personal level, his willingness to help and work with others legendary. “Co-written” translated to “nice guy” and beyond. Burnett came at music and musicians from a slightly different angle. While he did collaborate with others, he became as big as life or bigger in the studio. He seemed to have that critical ear which sometimes gave direction to the directionless, though he was hesitant to get in the way. But what he knew and what he learned, that is what will become his legend.
My first brush with T Bone was his Warner Brothers EP, Trap Door. The kids working with me at Peaches Records in Seattle would not allow me ignorance and I have to say I became a fan. Of course, I already knew who he was, having been hawking records when the Alpha Band came on the scene. (He does mention Clive Davis, who signed the band to Arista for a reported six million dollars, comparing them to the Beatles (which makes me flash back to a NARM convention in San Diego at which I saw Clive walking with Dwight Twilley, his hand on Twilley’s shoulder, probably saying things like “Son, we’re gonna make you a star” or something similar. Note: This was the same Clive Davis who would not sign Space Opera because he did not hear a single and after the failure of the Alpha Band, chalked it up to their lack of a “signature song.”) Still, I never really attached Burnett to that band and the three financial disasters they produced. No, Trap Door was the one I took seriously, plus the next two. And it would be years before my appreciation of Burnett and his music (and production) would take hold. In fact, it took Space Opera (the band) and a real look at Fort Worth of the late-sixties and early-seventies for me to gain focus.
You see, I was given insight into T Bone Burnett’s world via Space Opera, three members of which were involved with Burnett’s project eventually yielding the Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit & Greenhill album, The Unwritten Works of… David Bullock, Phil White, and Scott Fraser, who would later join up with Brett Owen Wilson to form Space Opera, were in the studio with Burnett and a number of other Fort Worth musicians recording or working on the album. John Carrick, a Houston native and already established folkie was there, too. David Graves and Don McGilvray were there, though mostly involved in other projects. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall.
The first I’d heard of the album was on a Gilmore Girls episode in which a friend of the character played by Alexis Bledel mentioned it as the last album she needed to complete her collection of 500 must-have albums as compiled by Rolling Stone, I believe. I would have thought it artistic license if I had not later seen posts on the Internet about the album and the band. In fact, David Bullock himself had written to the shows producers mentioning that he was a member of that group.
When I finally heard the album, I immediately understood the hubbub. It is an intriguing piece of work, the songs folk and psyche and classical in nature and the production period but excellent in spite of the already antiquated equipment upon which it was recorded.
There are stories in the book relating to this period, though not as much as I would like. The thing is, with Burnett incommunicado, many of those stories remain hidden. Still, what a fascinating period of Fort Worth music history!
Sachs goes on to Burnett’s run with Dylan’s side project, The Rolling Thunder Revue, and continues from there. There is info on Burnett’s album Truth Decay and his deal with Takoma Records. His stint in Montana on the set of Heaven’s Gate, the movie. His stay at the famed Outlaw Inn in Kalispell. His work with Peter Case, about which he said “I remember him assaulting that acoustic guitar, just playing the shit out of it, knocking out those unusual but completely happening chords. No one plays like him.”
Throughout the book, Burnett’s Faith is analyzed. And there are the sections about wife Sam Phillips. There are tons of things I did know about Burnett and his cohorts over the years that they could… well, fill a book! And here it is!
One thing I really appreciated was Sachs’ tendency to review Burnett’s songs and albums. I had no idea he had released as many as he did and certainly did not know the reasons behind the myriad decisions he had to make on a daily basis. If Burnett had written it, I would say that it was a diary of a musician on the constant edge of madness. And it clears up so many comments wrongly applied to him over the years.
Sachs delves heavily into Burnett’s work on soundtracks and his move into acting. Sadly, he does not dwell upon Crazy Heart, the film he worked on with Texas guitar legend Stephen Bruton. For some reason, there is little behind the scenes info regarding the film or the music. Still and all, Sachs had his hands full covering what he did. And he did it well. Burnett’s is a career the size of Texas, after all.
Glenn Patscha: It Just Needs To Be Out In the World…
Some of you know Patscha from his work with Ollabelle, others by his work with the numerous musicians he has worked with in the studio or on tours. Most of you, though, do not know him and I point to the huge number of you who have just never had the chance to hear him. Fact is, Patscha is one of those musicians most musicians love to have around them. He plays various instruments, is an excellent arranger, and is very adept at putting together bands for specific tours or occasions.
And he has had the album to prove his worth locked in the vault since 2007. That’s right, almost ten years ago, Patscha has been sitting on a musical treasure. Possibly due to money restraints but more probably due to the chaotic state of the music business, he has withheld Songs From the Jefferson Highway from most of us but that is soon to end. Patscha contacted me a week or so ago. I’m ready, he said. The album will be available within a few weeks.
Is that good news? I think so. I wrote a review of the album eight or so years ago when Patscha’s good friend Brian Cullman pled my case and an album found its way into my mailbox. It took very little time for me to realize how truly special the album was. Being’s how Cullman also had a gem of an album at that time, I wrote this review. Two albums solidly embedded in my collection from that time forward. Two I refer to on a regular basis. You want good music? This is it. To wit…
Brian Cullman and Glenn Patscha— A Comparative Analysis
More two reviews in one than a comparative analysis, really. A simple, dry bonehead rundown of music in its most technical (read, emotional) aspects. If I was a mathematician, this would be numbers; a computer programmer, 1’s and 0’s; a baseball player, used husks of sunflower seeds arranged in flighty patterns. But I’m not. I’m a writer, so you’ll have to settle for a treatise on music released four years ago which somehow eluded all but a few and which has been bypassed by a world Cyrus-ied and Bieber-tuded and, yes, Katy Im-Perry-led to death. You may substitute Springsteen and The Beatles and Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd for the older set, but the idea is the same. No guts, no music. Or in the big picture, music which everyone has heard and hears whether they like it or not. No good music anymore? There certainly won’t be if people don’t start paying attention.
Example: In 2007, you missed Brian Cullman‘s All Fires the Fire and Glenn Patscha‘s Songs From the Jefferson Highway. Well, most of you did. I did too, but the musical gods have corrected that error by putting me in touch with Cullman who proceeded to browbeat me into submission (he sent me his CD). Not long after, before I could absorb that, he sent me a copy of Patscha’s album. Then he sent me a copy of Byron Isaac‘s yet to be released Disappearing Man, as transcendent an album as I’ve heard this year (and I’m hearing some absolute killers). Then he sent me copies of an Internet radio show he hosts, Songs On Toast, on which he takes us on world journeys through music. Listening to all of that sent me on a path tangent to the one I was on and I found myself ignoring what needed to be done and concentrating on what was. I was tired. I was burned out. I was listening for all the wrong reasons and, as a result, writing poorly. I needed a break. I didn’t know how badly.
I realized it somewhere around my fiftieth listen to All Fires the Fire and maybe my twentieth of Songs From the Jefferson Highway. I started listening and one day I looked up and it was two weeks later. I had been shuffling those two CDs into my player constantly during those two weeks, ignoring the stacks of CDs and music files needing reviews. I felt a bit embarrassed and more than a little guilty. Until, that is, I realized that I was feeling great! Unbeknownst to me, those two albums had served as a palate cleanser and music began sounding surprisingly fresh again. I began once again listening because I wanted to and not because I had to.
Because of that, and because I fell in complete love with both Cullman’s and Patscha’s albums, I am writing this. I don’t know how well these albums were received on release but I know it was not enough. Had it been, I would not have to search the Net so intensely for information beyond the sites hoping to make money off of the music. Had it been, I would have known the names and maybe the music and many of you would too. I have mentioned to more than a few people that these albums should be in a classroom as examples of recording, songwriting and arranging. They are that good. Let me explain why.
BRIAN CULLMAN/All Fires the Fire…..
I wish I had a wife or a girlfriend. Every time I put this album into the player, I realize that I am not enough. I prefer to think it is a result of the music rather than myself (though I do know that I could be more) for there is a humanity in Cullman’s music which is truly larger than life. It needs to be shared to be really appreciated. He uses universal themes, themes so simple and so large that you have to almost isolate yourself to even begin to understand— love, life, fear, loss. All bigger than myself and all somewhat beyond comprehension. They are subjects of a few million other songs, most mundane at best, but which he somehow makes new and fresh. It is the perspective, I guess, and I can’t tell if it is his or mine. It doesn’t matter, really. I only know that every song on this album strikes home hard.
Why? For one thing, Cullman not only wrote a whole album of exceptional and musically unpretentious songs, he made sure that song was king. Unless you’re a musician, you have no idea how hard that is to do. Every musician has a strength and sometimes more than one: voice, instrumental legerdemain, songwriting skills, performance ability, arranging, producing….. It is finding a way to balance the strengths and weaknesses which takes a musician to a higher level. Cullman simply buried his ego and found that balance.
On All Fires, he brings a sense of the fifties and early sixties to his music, but not the standard R&B or Rock ‘n’ Roll. No, he brings a sense of the orchestral and the romantic and the majestic. And the exotic. Somehow, he weaves magic into his songs reminiscent of Martin Denny and Hugo Winterhalter and Andre Kostelanetz, but on another level. “Somewhere Else,” for instance, is a celestial daydream complete with lap steel highs and woodwind breezes so exquisite that you can smell the South Seas and hear the waves lap against the beach. Is what I hear in “The Promise” a light shuffling samba? I am not well-versed in the Latin side of music, but what I hear in that song makes me think I am. It is astonishingly beautiful three in the morning music and leaves me practically breathless every time I hear it. And it makes me want to learn to dance. Really dance, not shuffle around the floor in a spasmodic craze. The fade-in on “The Secret Doors” is a high in itself, but when Cullman starts softly singing “The dogs are barking all night long, I hear them in my dreams, They chase the moon from Winnipeg, Down to New Orleans”, I get chills. Beneath is a muted semi-Native American (or maybe just native) beat and some of the most haunting lap steel I’ve ever heard helped along by slight guitar feedback, subtle electric piano with minor chord harmonic voices thrown in for good measure. Cullman sounds like a softer-voiced Charles Aznavour on “As a Man Gets Older,” an emotional look at aging which almost brings me to tears (the key word here is ‘almost’). There is truth in the song, Truth only an older man can perceive. Or maybe just an older person.
The piece de resistance, though, is the regal “No God But God,” a work so majestic it takes my breath away. The message in itself is moving, but you cannot imagine without hearing just how everything comes together. I have used the word ‘masterpiece’ in the past referring to God knows what, but this is truly a masterpiece and captures the message as well as I’ve ever heard it. And the arrangement? Whew.
Speaking of arrangements, we take them for granted until we hear an album like this. Cullman, Patscha and Hector Castillo pulled out all the stops making each and every song the best that it could be. The drums and percussion of Tony Leone are primo; the subtle vocals of Fiona McBain, crucial in their simplicity; the bass and especially lap steel work of Byron Isaacs, astonishing; the keyboards of Glenn Patscha, absolutely superb; and the woodwinds of John Ellis— without them, it would not have been the album that it is. Even Barry Reynolds and Oren Bloedow deserve mention, even though they only played on a couple of tracks. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a closet producer, that I always find places I hear differently or would have recorded differently. Not here. Hand me this record and point me to a studio and I would only hand it back. I wouldn’t change a note.
When I contacted Brian and told him I wanted to write about All Fires the Fire, he sent me this note: “One of the only reviews I’ve ever gotten described me as sounding like Dion on Quaaludes. Ouch.” I don’t know which album that person was listening to, but it sure as hell wasn’t this one. Cullman’s voice may not be perfect, but the music folds around it bewitchingly. I cannot imagine another voice on these songs. And I don’t want to.
GLENN PATSCHA/Songs From the Jefferson Highway…..
At first listen, it was hard for me to correlate Songs From the Jefferson Highway to All Fires the Fire. The sounds are different, the direction is different, the feel is different. About the only thing you could point to seems to be the bottom end— that deep, deep base (explained later) which gives both albums tremendous depth at just the right moments. Other than that, this could have been produced on a different planet. Almost.
Anyone up for a concept album? Because if this isn’t one, it sure sounds like one. Starting with the opening theme, “Jefferson Highway (Winnipeg to New Orleans).” A floating, atmospheric instrumental lays the groundwork and one can almost see opening credits on a screen. Beautifully layered and orchestral, it is a lead-in setting up a drifting yet powerful “Recipe For Life,” a work involved enough to make it more than just a song. That base? Here, it is a percussive effect strong enough to make a nose bleed, an explosion so different by what surrounds it that it makes you gasp. A perfect setup for “When My Baby Cries,” a combination of Beach Boys and 10CC pop, a perfect drink for a hot summer day. Make no mistake, this is a journey. Only the adventurous would follow a light pop song with the grinding and just short of sci-fi musical twist that is “Erase Me” (except maybe Canada’s The Beige whose El Angel Exterminador took me to a different universe on every song). Both eerie and somewhat chaotic, it is a segue to, of all things, a ballad of sorts. “Such Sweet Angels,” thanks in part to a semi-falsetto take on the chorus, is uplifting and alluring. Know what? He really should have put an Americana-ish song next— but wait! He did! “Rosalee,” in its odd country rock cloak, is yet another turn left and, man, Patscha’s semi-falsetto takes another song up a notch. The more somnambulant “Snow” is reflection in three-quarter time, a quiet intake of breath on a cold winter night, which gives way to a segue of the musical mind, “Lonesome Jesus,” with its electronically altered voices and heavy and plodding low-end piano chords. Listen loud on headphones and it is intensity squared. (At this point, let me state that listening to both the Cullman and Patscha albums on headphones geometrically enhances the musical experience. FYI.) “Crazy Jane” somehow makes me think Mary Jane and I don’t know why except that it (she) was the subject of so many songs of the late sixties and early seventies and I can’t seem to shake my past. The song itself reminds me a bit of 10CC in the early days— in feel more than in actual sound. The vocal harmonies at the end? Spot on and worth mention. Then it is time for theme and variation, prog fans, because Patscha combines the odd chord progressions and theme of “Jefferson Highway” to the mood of “Snow” and comes up with the cinematic “Interplanetary Salvation Army Band,” something the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band might have eventually progressed toward had they stayed together another decade or two— a skeletal structure of the unstructured.
Did I hear someone mention Pet Sounds? There is a bit of the same kind of music magic going on here. Close your eyes and you can hear it, the flow from song to song, the left turns and right turns, the common thread when there doesn’t seem to be one. I would say, like I always do, that ‘this is good stuff’, but to be truthful, this is better than good. This is first class. This is the kind of music music junkies search for.
AN ATTEMPT AT ANALYSIS…..
Sometimes I get too close to the music. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by people doing what I can’t and what most other people can’t. I am intrigued by the differences between the two albums which were, after all, recorded at the same time by the same people at the same studio. They should be Side A and Side B but aren’t. When I asked Cullman why, he said “We recorded our albums at the same time and co-produced each others’ songs. It was a fun way to work (we had ten days at Philip Glass‘s studio). We would take turns alternating songs and working with the same band—Ollabelle, more or less. For the first five or six days, it felt like the songs could be part of the same record. Then, they started to shift, to become very different.”
Very different. But the getting there was different. If, as some musicians believe, 90% of an album is preparation, why shouldn’t they be?
“Back in 1997,” Cullman continued, “I began recording an album in New Orleans (where I met Glenn). I had a great crew of people helping— Syd Straw singing with me, John Mooney on slide guitar, and a lot of the players now featured on TREME as my band— Raymond Webber on drums, Cornell Williams on bass, Big D on guitar. I never quite finished the album for a number of reasons (financial, emotional, personal). (Then) I shifted gears pretty dramatically and time slipped away from me. Early in 2007, I got a call from someone who had been a fan and supporter who now had a position at a small record label. He wanted to release the album I had made. I was flattered but uncertain about putting it out. I listened again and the songs were good and the recordings were good, but they felt like they belonged to a different time and were coming from a different sensibility. It led me to try and figure out what I would do if I recorded an album now (meaning then). And I started writing the songs which became the basis for All Fires the Fire. The first song I wrote was “As a Man Gets Older” and that set the tone and mood of the album. It seemed to all fall into place from there, one song following another until it felt like it was an entire statement.
“One thing I tried to bring to those songs was a sense of being grown up, of having to deal with the nuts and bolts of the world: mortgages and taxes and school meetings and leaks in the basement. Getting up in the morning knowing that you would have to get up the next morning. Those things at that time were new to me but were very much a part of the life and world I’d grown into and they needed to be acknowledged.”
Glenn Patscha’s take?
“I was a bit concerned in the beginning that because Brian and I are the best of friends, communication would be difficult in a new and different context, but it wasn’t. The idea was to go into the studio with a common cast of characters and differing visions for our own projects and work on both simultaneously. This took pressure off of making long-reaching choices based upon simple time constraints and it allowed us to have different perspectives of where we were at any time in the process.
“What I was trying to create was a memoir of my journey from Winnipeg to New Orleans and on to New York. For me it was like making an album, but not a record album— more like a photo album. Before we recorded it, I saw the songs as pieces I had written that I liked and wanted to record. It was only after the fact that I saw how autobiographical the record was. It hit me like a ton of bricks, to be honest. Dealing with everything from great loss to my travels to re-occurring ghosts from my past meant something completely different when I was done.
“Most of the music was composed beforehand but arranged in the studio. I like doing things that way because because I find that sonic context changes in every situation. I wanted to use what I had available rather than trying to overreach and then being disappointed with the colours. There are a few pieces that were created in the studio— “Lonesome Jesus,” an arrangement of an Appalachian folk song that I heard via my friend, John Ellis, and both “Jefferson Highway” interludes. Those are actually some of my favorite moments on the record.
“Working with Brian on his record was a really great experience. I think he chose to do something really courageous. Anyone who sings or plays knows how hard it is to come back after a long hiatus. I think that Brian’s songs and vision were strong enough to guide him to a great place. I watched him reworking songs, writing great lyrics and, as always, being committed to making the most honest record possible. It was tremendously inspiring to me. We have a common love for music in the moment— the salvation army band idea, for instance. And I love that there are glimpses of those rough edges in some of the songs.
“Part of why I jumped in to making this record was that I was exhausted by the process of recording the third Ollabelle album. We were all very tired. Tired of trying to move a mountain by committee and frustrated by the particularly challenging inter-personal time we were trying to work through. I wanted to make a record and throw every idea I had at the wall to see what worked. I wanted to create without the constant grind of the collective. I love Songs From the Jefferson Highway, which was the result. To be able to enjoy a record I have made is a tremendous step for me.”
I wondered. I hear a few things— themes, rhythms, chord progressions— which are common to both albums. Just a few, though. The ‘heavy bottom’, for instance. Both albums utilize overwhelming depth at points— on Jefferson Highway, most notably the percussive effects on “Recipe For Life”; on All Fires, the booming but smooth bass of “No God But God.” They both use “from Winnipeg to New Orleans” too. But each album is an entity of its own. From different worlds, from different people, yet recorded at the same place and the same time by the same people. I can’t help but be amazed.
And I still amazed. The albums have not only stood the test of time, they have remained as fresh and vital as they were when I first heard them in 2009. Great albums. Brilliant albums!
I will be reposting the review on No Depression sometime this week. It is not often I get a chance to relive music from the past which has never really been available before. Sure, Cullman’s album was released through a small label/distribution company in Europe, but nobody found it. Not really. And Patscha made his available but mainly to friends and a few people attached to labels. The labels did not bite (probably because they didn’t really listen) and the friends more than likely tried to spread the word but if you don’t have a hook it is an impossible task.
I will be passing along the release information when Patscha makes it available and I will be hammering Cullman, as I always do, to make his album available as well. In the meantime, there are a number of Ollabelle albums available through their Bandcamp page (click here). All Fires the Fire is available from Amazon (click here), but from outside sellers. Always beware, but better to have it than not.
Note: Cullman also has an album (Opposite of Time) and EP (New Year’s Eve) available.
This Just In: The Curtis Mayflower‘s Death Hoax…
I keep trying to think of a word which could describe The Curtis Mayflower but have not come up with one. They have elements of mainstream rock, are quite campy at times, border on the edge of some of Cab Calloway‘s cartoon music, have a definite blues base, overlay jazz when it is needed, but an overall definition of what they do… no. I have always liked it, though. I remember the first time I heard them— they had placed a few tracks on the Net, recorded live, and I was impressed. Live at the Dive it was called and I still pull it out for a listen when I am in the mood for a live recording. Good stuff.
Good enough that I have followed them through four more and am not ready to quit yet.
You can check out a couple of tracks off the new album and listen to the other four on their Bandcamp pages (click here). In the meantime, here is an earlier video and one from Death Hoax. Good stuff.
What can I say? These guys are trippy.
Know what? It’s time for some…
Notes….. I have had my head buried in a book the past week and have not had time to search YouTube for videos of promising artists nor have my friends been pointing out the good ones. As luck would have it, Down Under’s Anna Cordell is recording what she hopes will be a full album at present and she sent a link to a group, one of whom she is presently working (with). Obscura Hail. Shades of the sixties and groups like Harper’s Bizarre — or maybe not. There is something familiar and yet new to what they do. I believe it bodes well for both Anna and Obscura Hail that I have found this music. Intriguing.
Speaking of Anna, here is her latest video (to my knowledge), and it’s a beaut. Them Aussies have cool accents and a lot more, eh?
This just in— Radney Foster, formerly with Foster & Lloyd— is releasing a new album with book. Sycamore Creek is music and short stories packed together. After his last video, I am ready for anything he has to say. And if you missed it, here it is.
Donovan Woods has an EP on the way. I am beside myself. Really. Titled They Are Going Away, I am sure it will be another bona-fide winner. Here was my introduction to Woods, and what an outstanding introduction it was.
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.”