Frank Gutch Jr: Too Good To Miss: Phoebe Bridgers, Kora Feder, Audrey Martells, and Jim Page, with Sidebars on David Bullock (Space Opera) and Jane Gowan (The Real Shade); Plus Another Weekly Dose of Notes

I think Phoebe Bridgers was twelve when I first heard of her.  I had just discovered Kim Grant, then cranking up Grand Ole Echo shows in L.A., and those shows quickly became legendary to me.  She (and a colleague, whose name escapes me at this moment) was booking everything below the radar in L.A. and many of those became inspiration for columns or reviews— Old Californio, I See Hawks in L.A., Pi Jacobs, Little Lonely, and so many more.  Occasionally she would mention Phoebe in her newsletters— mere mention of a young girl threatening to become a serious musician.

The next few years I would get the occasional glimpse— a picture (usually with guitar) or a rough but impressive live video.  I don’t think I ever hesitated to mention her as a musician to watch back then for beneath that child-infused voice and teen angst lay a real talent that, given the chance, would break out.  It was slow going, the communication between the wilds of Oregon where survival meant fighting black bear and mountain lion and the big city life of Los Angeles, but word got to me on occasion and on occasion I pulled harder for her to be heard.  And, on occasion I would hear from a convert.  Who is she, most would ask.  I knew it was a matter of time.

After hearing her latest venture, Stranger In the Alps, there is reason to believe the time has come.  I thought perhaps it had come a couple of years ago when Ryan AdamsPAX-AM Records signed her and released the Killer EP, but while making inroads, it did not shoot up the charts as I had expected.  From 2014and PAX-AM:

There had always been, as long as I can remember, that combination of depth of lyrics, melody, and maturity with a splash of teen angst here and there.  Listen to what two years can do.

There is a balance in the song maybe missing before, though I had not noticed it.  A friend who had spent part of an evening not long ago pointed it out.  And he may be right.  I mean, the subject matter, the emotion, the feel… maybe…

The lyrics maybe fit the music better.  I don’t know.  She has always sounded like this to me.  And I am floored.  Any time during the not-so-long-ride which must have seemed forever to her, she could have quit.  It isn’t easy. But she persevered and I respect her for that alone.

The world can be so quiet when she sings…..

Finding Kora Feder was just as easy.  I happen to be a big fan of her parents, musicians Rita Hosking and Sean Feder and one day she just appeared.  Right about the time I found Paige Anderson & The Fearless Kin, in fact.  It seems there was a connection between the Andersons and Feder, possibly nothing more than school or age-related activities.  One day, Hosking had posted the first ever video I had seen of The Kin.  Practically the next she posted one of her singing with daughter Kora.  Not that I have it right, it just seemed that way.  I hear their voices together and I feel all is right (and wrong— listen closely to the lyrics of this song) with the world.

Even two years before I heard something special:

At the time, I thought Kora Feder would be another purveyor of the folk mystique, like Mom and Dad, but no.  She has her own path to travel.  She is young and her dreams are huge and bold.  She gained a degree in Global Studies, whatever that is, and spent a bit of the past few years trekking through China, India, Thailand, and Italy.  They probably had a course like that at Evergreen State College in Olympia when I was young, but we considered such colleges superfluous, fielding classes like Survival 101 and Basic Rock Climbing and Recycling Nuclear Waste.  Superfluous, huh?  We were tools.  Like my Broadcasting degree is worth anything now.

The thing is, with all of her books and computer programs and whatever else she needed for travel, she took her guitar.  Every once in awhile she would record a song in what I came to call The Bathroom Sessions, referring to the fact that she set up wherever the acoustics were good (many musicians do it) and two automatic places were the bathroom and the kitchen.  Out of those sessions, the little acorn grew.  This year she released a five-song EP, Marigolds, which is folk pop of the highest order.  First, a bathroom session:

The final cut, which brings tears to my heart:

How can one so young be so much older than myself?

To hear or buy the EP, click here.

Have I not told you of the one excellent Audrey Martells album?  Titled Life Lines, it is one of those almost perfect true indie albums I would occasionally run across back in the early 2000s when I was just getting back into writing about music.  This was my review.

“We didn’t set out to do a rock record. We wanted to deliver songs that spoke to real people, young and old. Songs about real life. I wanted the delivery of my melodies to be simple, so I didn’t do a lot of riffing because sometimes I think that just masks a melody that’s not that strong to begin with. And somehow, the result was a rock-sounding record.” — Audrey Martell

If that sounds like an apology, don’t believe it because what Audrey Martell came up with on Life Lines isn’t just rock. It’s pop-rock of top quality, presented beautifully and simply. It is no less than twelve well-written and magnificently performed statements from the pen and voice of Audrey Martell and the instruments and knob-twisting of cohort Mattias (Mat-TEE-us) Gustafsson, half of which deserve, hands down, hit status. It would be a triumph for a major artist with a major label. For indies Martell and Gustafsson, it is monumental.

They pieced Life Lines together over three years, creating songs and bits of songs on the fly in the studio until a completed work emerged, which basically meant three long years of frustration and exhilaration and depression and pure joy before they came up with this, uh, finished product (which is how a major label would describe it, but a work this good is more than product, it is almost a living, breathing entity in itself). Such hard work would be nothing without the tunes and the chops, though, and they deliver both in quantity.

“Red” kicks the album off with a straight ahead rocker complete with killer chorus and harmonic layers of Martell backing her own fine lead voice , a combination heard throughout the album. Add Gustafsson’s unerring sense of touch (he plays everything except the bass here, that provided by one Sola Van Motman) and it sets a perfect pace. “Wash Me Down” rides the rapids in what I can only assume is a modern version of funk— harsh and chunky rhythms of attitude held together by pounding bass— perfect underpinning for Martell’s upfront and forceful vocals. The crunching guitar riffs grind home the dumbing down of the listening public which seemingly now prefers beauty (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) to real musical talent, the theme of the song. If the beginning of “If God Is a Man” does not convince you of its Top 40 potential, the chorus will. A light rock ballad, uplifting melody and excellent production take it up three notches and gives Martell’s voice a chance to show its true potential. “Caution” rides hooks like a cowboy rides a horse and while it rocks, the production takes the hard edge off, which could allow it to cross over on any pop playlist. You have to listen to the production and the guitar break to appreciate it, but this one is a step up the depth ladder. If the album has an obvious showstopper, it is “Heaven Is Hell,” a haunting ballad which sends chills down the spine. Martell wraps herself around this one and lightly shreds her voice for effect which, along with beautiful wall-of-sound accompaniment, can easily take a listener to that other dimension. Then, it’s back to light pop with “World of Indifference,” a rhythmic and melodic look at, what else, this world full of just that. The use of the “I have a dream” line from Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous speech sounds like it was recorded specifically for this one moment, eerily so, yet its inclusion makes the song’s theme that much stronger. “Tattoo” speeds things up and maybe it doesn’t have that Top 40 feel, but there is more here than first meets the ear. Of course, you don’t realize it until you hear it reverberating inside your head in an endless loop. The chorus carries “Fractured,” and it seems to be a trademark of the Martell/Gustafsson style. All of the tracks have choruses which catch the ear, thanks especially to Martell’s flare with lyrics which at times is nothing short of masterful. Acoustic guitar lays the foundation for the softer “Never Looking Back,” a beautiful song made even moreso by a simple but fitting arrangement and Martell’s distinct phrasing. Another candidate for the hit list. Speaking of hits, “Casanova” has all the ingredients— hooks, rhythm, arrangement and, as always, that voice. A true upper. “Can’t Break Me” uses beat and minor chords to full effect in a dance of instruments and vocals. Great upbeat but light tune. The album is capped off with the simplest of all the songs here, “Slip Away,” which features just voice and acoustic guitar, a beautiful wind-down as well as chance for Martell’s voice to once again shine.

It would be so easy to point to the voice as the main ingredient here, or the production, or the at times flawless instrumental backup, but no really good album is ever that easy. There are constant surprises, even after numerous listens. A guitar lick here, a vocal moan there, an odd chord change. And simple as it all seems to be, there is so much here that it is impossible to absorb in only a few hearings. That used to be a good thing. In the old days, we called it getting your money’s worth.

You can get your money’s worth by logging on to www.cdbaby.com/audreymartell and sampling what has been made available. Those few minutes could add a real gem to your collection, and a gem that not everyone has. To some, it would be worth it for that alone.

It should be stated here that neither Martell nor Gustafsson are new to the game. Martell, under the name Audrey Martells, has appeared as background vocalist on numerous projects and has had songs recorded by others as well. Should you feel compelled to research, and why should you not, more info is available at www.audreymartell.com. Gustafsson has had his hands in a few pies too, claiming the Backstreet Boys, George Benson, Katelyn Tarver and the much overlooked Abigail Zsiga among his credits. A multi-instrumentalist, he owns and runs Love Child Studios in Jersey City where this was recorded and has started Love Child Records with Martell, ostensibly to promote this CD, but this could be only the beginning. More info is available at www.mattiasound.com. Happy listening.

I repost this because Martells has a new album out, or coming out, and I’m freaking out.  I have practically stalked Ms. Martells since writing this review way back in 2005 or so, sending her notes on occasion to let her know that if and when she recorded again, I wanted to know about.  Yes, she is that good.  I hope she will forgive me for posting this personal note I received in early September.

Just a heads up that this is a jazz-based album specifically geared towards my audience in Europe . We have taken some of the songs on Life Lines and mashed them up and of course written some new ones. It is very different than Life Lines but i had lots of fun doing it and recorded and arranged all the vocals myself in my own studio. We recorded the band live in Hilden, Germany.

She didn’t have to tell me anything.  I have heard here voice and have heard her music.  I don’t need convincing.  I’m sure whatever she has come up with will be well worth it.

The first time I heard these songs, I almost cried.

Be assured that I will fill you in on the new album.  I don’t even know the title.  At this point, I don’t care.  I just want to hear the music.

When I first got to Seattle back in the late 70s, Jim Page was busking.  Yep.  Walking the streets with guitar in hand and songs aplenty, many original.  He would sing for anyone anytime and though he had a natural bent toward folk music, developed a style all his own that eventually had me convinced that the world would be a better place if everyone could hear his wit and wisdom in song.  God knows how many albums he has recorded, but only a handful are readily available now.  One that isn’t he recorded around 1980 and released on Jerry Dennon‘s Music Is Medicine label.  It is packed with the kinds of songs I expected him to perform after meeting him and noticing a political bent and sometimes searing wit.

Two songs stand out for me— one titled Hiroshima Nagasaki Russian Roulette, the other, Runaway Shah.  Most people today, unless they are well-versed in world history or at least American history, don’t even know what a shah was.  Well, let me say that he was a politician, brutal and rich, in Iran.  There may have been more, but the only one I knew (of) was named Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and brutalized his country from September of 1941 until February of 1979.  Most of us knew him only as the Shah of Iran.  Many of us knew him as a brutal and malicious dictator, too.

Well, the Shah didn’t set too well with Page and he made that point with Runaway Shah.  The guy was deposed, see, and did not have anywhere to go, poor devil, so Page took it upon himself to ridicule his situation.  It was a song worthy of Bob Dylan.  This is what protest is.  In spades.

Page is the kind of guy who used to raise hackles on my neck with songs of truth and, to me, there are fewer truths bigger than the jailing and perpetual captivity of Leonard Peltier by what I consider a fascist government.  I think both Jim Page and I agree that he is a political prisoner and the situation a black eye on the face of America, but…

There are no videos yet that I can find of Page’s new album, A Hand Full of Songs, which is why I posted the ones above.  This new effort is less political and more folk.  Beautifully recorded, it shows Page at his vocal best with a side of picking to please the musical palate.  Check it out.  Search on the Net.  If you get a chance to hear him live, don’t hesitate.  He is one fine entertainer.  Not only that, he is a great guy.

Jim, if you happen to read this, don’t let it go to your head, but you were always among my favorites back in the old Seattle days.  I hope you are well, my friend.  I love the new album.  Just thought you might want to know.

David Bullock, Texas boy, co-founder of rock band Space Opera, is back with a song titled Summers and it is a production delight.  His voice intact, his musical style somewhat unchanged from his SO days, he headed into the studio with an epic song of summer and came out with a beauty.  This one came out of Holland, of all places, and was put together with the help of producer Eric Van Den Brink.  If you have not heard Bullock’s In the Waking World EP, you should check that out as well.  For one thing, he does a cover of his own Blue Ridge Mountains that he recorded with SO back in ’72 or so with his daughters singing backup.  It is excellent!  Four other songs reflect lightly on the musical style of SO and even Whistler Chaucer Detroit & GreenhillYou can sample Summers by clicking here.

Jane Gowan is throwing a monkey wrench in my data program by changing the name of her band from Shade to The Real Shade.  I understand it, what with the Net being overloaded with searches for anything shady, but damn!  The good thing is that she is steadily working on that new album she promised me a few thousand years ago.  But I am going to do her a favor.  No, I am going to do you a favor by posting two tracks— bookends, actually— of two of Shade’s earlier songs.  When the new ones are available, I will be posting links to those as well.  Hopefully they will be ready around Spring.  It will be titled Horizon Diaries.

Wait!  What’s that I hear?  I think they’re…

Notes…

I should not be surprised.  No Small Children has, since inception, had our back.  Here, they gather many of the best of the anti-orange asshole postings of the past year or so and put them to a rock ‘n’ roll beat.  Jerk Song says what we all feel (those of us not psychotically bent, that is) and deserves a world tour on its own.  Jerk is such a benign term, though.  Perhaps if we put our collective minds to it, we could come up with something more apt…

I am surprised at this, though.  I knew Devon Sproule was a musician of the utmost caliber, and I knew that Paul Curreri was a filmmaker of repute, but I had no idea Devon could paint pets like she does.  Know what?  I don’t even have a pet and I’m thinking of having her paint it.  Take a look at these pets and the likenesses thereof…..

This is real!  Pet owners who love music might well take it upon themselves to have pet portraits done.  I have albums by Ms. Sproule— quite a few of ’em.  But I have no paintings of my nonexistent pet by a musician I like.  And I really like Devon Sproule!

Tonight, for the first time in a long time, I tried to break down musicians of the folk tradition.  There are few of the old-timers left, really, but there are a few of the younger ones picking up the slack.  I look upon Rita Hosking as an important link.  She is green (politically and socially, not in color) and honest and historical at times, to a fault.  She cares about the music she sings and writes as much as she cares about the future we are leaving our children.  I do not think I am stepping over the line by saying that she will be remembered in the music history books— the important ones— as a caretaker of the folk genre.  You can’t write or sing songs like this without making a mark.

Clara-Nova is back with a very cool video which they say was filmed completely by drones.  One of these days soon a Sydney Wayser-related song is going to blow the Net apart and I will not let you forget it for a long time!

Danielle Juhre?  Normally I don’t listen to music like this but the whole thing sucked me right in, starting with the voice.

=FGJ=

Frank’s column appears every Tuesday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

dbawis-button7Frank 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 Frank bottle capone 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.”

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