Frank Gutch Jr: Byron Isaacs: The Disappearing Man; Dumpster Diving (The Album Chronicles); and Notes of a Lugubrious Nature (Or Maybe It’s Luxurious… Damn it! Where’s My Dictionary?)

 Byron Isaacs is the kind of guy that makes you want to shout, Hey!  I know that guy!  I do, you know.  Well, not know know him, but know him.  Know his music.  Know his professionalism and his makeup.  Know his importance to the world of music.  Sure, I only met him once, but that once was enough to tell me who he was and is.  I mean, I know him.  Get it?

I would have to explain the whole degrees of separation thing for you to understand how we met.  What the hell.  I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version.

I had been a Nick Holmes fan for years, having found him through the experimental band (of sorts) White Elephant and his most excellent first solo album, Soulful Crooner.  In carried those albums wherever I went back in the day and always talked Holmes, maybe hoping that I might separate Holmes fans from the herd (and I did, though not often enough for my liking).  As has been my wont, I would occasionally go on a rant and one day I did it in writing.  I posted a piece on the Net— not just any piece, but a piece explaining why Soulful Crooner was as important to me as The BeatlesWhite Album or Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon or any of a plethora of albums supposed music fans point to as benchmarks in rock music history.  A piece placing Holmes among the giants, if you will.  (You can read it here)

It was just a rant.  I have been rooting for underdogs so long that I occasionally forget that most people are not obsessed with music.  I tire of the mundane and take out my frustrations by browbeating Led Zeppelin and Beatles fans— you know the ones.  Those of the there-isn’t-any-good-music-anymore brigade.  So I posted it and was done— at least until the next time.

A couple of weeks later, I received a message.  Great piece, it said.  I, too, am a Nick Holmes fan.  But I know the guy.  Would you like me to see if he might talk with you?  Would I?  I couldn’t respond fast enough.  And that is how I came into contact with Nick Holmes, a musician I had wondered about for decades…

The guy who sent the message turned out to be Brian Cullman, an exceptional musician in his own right.  We struck up a mutual acquaintance and it soon developed into a friendship.  I mean, I have never met Cullman but we now consult one another regarding music on a constant basis.  I have and love his albums and have become addicted to his writings for The Paris Review.  (Check out this one, written about the legendary Giorgio Gomelsky)

Brian Cullman was the guy who turned me onto Ollabelle.  I had heard the name but had not taken the bait but when Brian mentioned them, my ears perked up.  They’re really good, he said, and it wasn’t more than a couple of months later I got a message saying that they were coming to Portland.  Would I maybe want to be put on a list?  Would I?  So I was.  David Bromberg headlined, Ollabelle (minus Amy Helm, who could not travel because of a new kid in town) opening.  Of course there was a snag (there always is) and the people at the Aladdin Theater had to go backstage to get confirmation, but they came back with a pass and all was well.  (Here is what transpired)

That was my first actual contact with Isaacs, as well as Glenn Patscha and the other  members of Ollabelle.  It was the beginning of a friendship which is taking me along a path I would not have found otherwise— a path of live shows and studio work and the trials and travails of today’s working musicians.   It is an education.

I was allowed in on the early recordings by Isaacs of a solo nature under the provision that I not write about it until given permission.  I received the tapes as they were being constructed and as they were being remixed or re-recorded.  Cullman, who produced, sent personal notes, some about the positive work in the studio, some about the frustrations regarding Isaacs’ hesitance to pull the curtains on the project.  There was shopping labels and lots of discussion and consternation by all, each person involved trying to figure out the best way to approach marketing and sales.  The project waned.  Cullman was somewhat happy with the album and Isaacs was, too, at first.  But the marketing… it was an enigma.  So they sat on it for what seemed to be a thousand years until I finally decided to at least let the fans know.  They may have seemed few but I guarantee you that there were way more than it seemed.  I wrote this in a column dated June 9, 2015.

Byron Isaacs of Ollabelle and Lost Leaders fame is taking a century or two to get his (solo) album to us.  In case you don’t know, not only is Isaacs involved with those two bands, he was also a member of Levon Helm‘s band for a number of years and plays with the Amy Helm Band whenever she goes out on the road (and he’s not booked). I have heard tracks from his impending album and can attest to its classy Isaacness. And he’s a really nice guy too.

When it was posted, I awaited backlash from Isaacs for mentioning said album but it never came.  Perhaps he too was frustrated at the lack of progress for what was deemed by some of us a completed album, in spite of his own objections.  He was telling us it was not done yet but we had stopped listening.  To put it crudely, I was just about to the shit-or-get-off-the-pot frame of mind.  I mean, he had nine songs— good songs— and maybe I was anxious to get them out of the gate too soon, but… Yes, I was.  Too anxious.

Meanwhile, Isaacs was trying to get Lost Leaders off the ground, a project he had started with Peter Cole, a musician  theretofore unknown to me but who has since become a leader, and maybe lost in this world of musical chaos.  Again, frustrations with this band— the inability to get anyone to listen, especially in the light of the excellence of the music.  That first album, to me, is one of the best I had heard in some time and was far and away my favorite of the year (2014).  Reviews were good and they had positive reactions, mostly from the East Coast (they are based out of New York), but there was little visible action.

I suppose I backed off on Isaacs’ solo album hoping that Lost Leaders might take off or maybe not.  I don’t know, but I finally accepted Isaacs’ reluctance to release it and put my energies behind that first album and then the followup EP, Volunteers.  They weren’t just good to me.  They were a flashback to the early seventies and I could not believe that people weren’t hearing it.  I began questioning my ear and, truthfully, myself.  A guy I worked with once told me that if everyone else was saying something and you were saying the opposite, then who was probably wrong.  Boy, was that a crock of shit.  I have always known that when you are right, you are right, and I am damn well right about Lost Leaders.  I have faith that both the album and the EP will be given a second life and will prove that the band is everything I have said they are all along.  Still, there is the reality of today…

Ah, today.  The reason for optimism.  Isaacs has finally given an okay to write about the solo project because it has been remixed!  Isaacs went back into the studio with co-producers Cullman and Hector Castillo and Isaacs has signed off on it.  It has been completed!  No videos or audio tracks for streaming yet, but I have heard it and, once again, I am eating crow.  What I heard as a completed album could have sufficed, maybe, but the redone album is strides beyond!  The sequence is  the same and the songs are the same but the spirit has changed.  The songs flow smoother, the vocals have a rejuvenated feel, and the arrangements, while pretty much the same, seem to give the songs new life.  This, I think, is why Isaacs wanted to wait.  Maybe it didn’t feel right to him.  I get it now.  The sound or the feel in his head and his heart was not what he wanted it to be.  And the rest of us, not knowing what he wanted, were happy with the original mix.  Hell, I am still happy with it, but I cannot deny that the new mix places the album on a different level.  And if Isaacs can stick to his guns, so can I.

This will be out soon enough (or I will walk back to New York and find out why), but you guys need to get it together too.  Backtrack on Isaacs.  Listen to Ollabelle or Lost Leaders.  Catch The Lumineers on their next tour (hopefully, Byron will still be playing bass and singing with them).  Look for his name.  He just finished a recording project with Jenny Allinder which should be available soon.  His name is all over a number of albums— search his name, for Chrissakes.  That is how you don’t get left in the dust, musically.  Be active.

But what the hell do I know, eh?  (I put “eh” behind a lot of phrases just to keep you guessing whether I am Canadian or not)  Well, I can tell you this much.  I know Byron Isaacs and I know his music and I believe in him as much as you believe in what you choose to listen to.  I will keep you posted on the new album.  You need to get out there and find new music yourselves, though.  It’s not like I am putting bands together myself.  Other people are where I find my favorite stuff.  Like Brian Cullman.  And Eric Apoe.  And Wayne Berry.  And Sam Berger.  And Gary Heffern.  Without those guys, I would be lost.

It Is Called Dumpster Diving…

…and I have been doing it for years.  No dumpsters have ever been hurt during this activity and no diving equipment is needed, which might have a few of you scratching your head.  Basically it involves (usually) record stores (though I have done it in appliance stores and the like at times) and records (though the format is relatively unimportant).  It involves finding music whenever and however you can, hopefully unknown and excellent.  I wrote a piece on 45s (you know, the little record with the big hole?) some time ago (you can read it here).  Today, I will concentrate not only on the present but the album.

I don’t think I have had a better conversation recently than one I had with Darrell Vickers, who has spent as much time as myself in the various thrift shops, used record shops and import record emporiums (or would that be emporia?), a year or two ago.  We had the fortune to have haunted various Los Angeles record shops, probably ten years apart, and not only enjoyed it but reveled in it.  There is nothing quite like walking into a dusty shop, record bins packed to overflowing with open boxes or crates down below.  With no thoughts of cleanliness (the more dust, the better chances of finding a rarity because it meant the records were seldom picked through), we dirtied our hands and fingers, finding the oddities and carefully removing the album from the cover to check condition.  What a thrill to find the oddball early Ken Nordine album or the rare Julie London or the even more rare Don Meredith disc.  How about the first album by Kenny Rankin (I found it for Robert Redford once— no story to it— he wanted it, I found it)?

I spent years scouring stores and bins for whatever I could find.  I had a promo Mudcrutch white label promo 45 before anyone knew who Tom Petty was as well as 45s by Uncle Jim’s Music, The Choir, and many other bands people paid no attention to back when they were released.  Hell, I had 45s which weren’t released except as promos— 45s which would sometimes show up on albums on different labels (as with Mike Berry‘s cover of Elvis Presley‘s version of Don’t Be Cruel, originally on 45 on MCA, later released on Berry’s Rock’s In My Head (Sire).  Man, I had lots of things no one cared about until one day, someone did.

I was no hoarder.  I did not collect just to collect (though I was on a kick once, trying to collect every Arista 45 ever released— don’t ask me why), I collected for the music.  When something intrigued me, if I had the money, I bought it.  Sometimes the intrigue turned into a gem, as in the case with Mudcrutch.  I had no idea who they were or that Petty had anything to do with it.  It was a dime!  I wasn’t arguing over a dime, for Chrissakes!  Most time, though, the finds were commons— as in baseball cards— cards so common of average players that they would remain worthless unless they were involved in future murders or became movie stars.

My rule was and has always been if someone else wants it more than I did, other than just for money, they got it.  They had to jump through hoops to get it, mind you.  I made the mistake early on of handing a copy of the original Cargoe album to someone who just turned around and gave it to someone else.  I wanted to make sure the person I handed it to really wanted it more than myself.  That was all.

It was a passion.  You should be able to relate.  You loved piggy banks and I had one you treasured… you get it.

Thing is, I’m still doing it.  Not with record stores or on collector’s sites but on the Net.  When I first started writing reviews again, around 2000 after a 20-year layoff, I was constantly on the lookout for the new and unknown— or lesser-knowns, if the record was that good,  I wanted to write about the bands no one was finding.  The artists deserving attention and receiving little to none.

I stumbled upon this website, thanks to Bill Pillmore, a co-founder of country rockers Cowboy.  He had found a music review site called the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange and thought I might be interested.  I immediately contacted site head Dave Pyles and began a journey which got me deeper and deeper into the real music— that of artists who recorded not for money but for music.  Through that site, I learned how important music was to certain musicians, how hard they worked to get it recorded and marketed, how they struggled getting people to listen.  I learned of the emotional toil of the process and met many who could not stop writing or recording because it just meant that much to them.

As a result, it began to mean that much to me, too.  God, some of the music I heard when I started.  That of Gabrielle Gewirtz who recorded under the name Gabrielle, Audrey Martell who now records under her original name Audrey Martells, Maggi Pierce & EJ (two of whom are now Hymn For Her), Devon Sproule, Paul Curreri, Keith Morris who eventually formed the band Keith Morris & The Crooked Numbers, and so many more.  I rediscovered artists from the past— Stu Nunnery, Michael Fennelly (The Millennium, Crabby Appleton), Jim Post, Jim Page, Danny O’Keefe.  I immersed myself in their worlds and learned more than I ever thought possible— about music, about the music business, about the creative process.  It was FUN!!!

I would later find that CDBaby had a new release page, one which posted new stocked or restocked CDs, sometimes with vinyl releases too.  Then came Bandcamp.  Man, I was in heaven.  Once or twice a week I would scroll through numbers of pages and find albums to write about.  Maybe the percentages of really good music was small, but there was lots of it!

Which I am doing today.  Two weeks ago, I tripped through Bandcamps’ new releases.  Here is what I found.

Jeremy Enigk/Ghosts—  Another Seattle artist.  Why am I not surprised?  The city is a magnet to musicians and artists of all kinds.  There is a pop sensibility to Enigk’s music I find both anthemic and intense.  Perhaps it is the way the album is recorded— the base very dense with heavy guitar and keyboard strokes and vocals stacked to the ceiling.  When it comes to a peak, it really peaks, much the same way as does Greg Laswell at certain moments.  Very well-written songs, excellent mix of acoustic and electric.  I really like this guy.  Available on vinyl too.

Tomorrow/Live Recordings: 1967-1968— I used to have a 45 of My White Bicycle (at least, I think I did) back in the late 60s and hardly played it.  I always wondered what the whole album sounded like and now I know.  This “Live Recording” is actually some sort of radio aircheck with disc jockey comments at beginning or end, or recorded that way to simulate such.  Big claims to fame were guitarist Steve Howe, who would leave the band to join Yes, and Twink, who helped The Pretty Things complete the classic S.F. Sorrow.  For the 60s psych freak, definitely.

Bucketheadland/The Squaring of the Circle— Jesus!  Is this Buckethead?  I would not be at all surprised.  The album is chock full of screaming guitar I have learned to expect from him/them.  I have no idea who or what Buckethead or Bucketheadland is/was but I have never been disappointed by the guitar.  And you gotta love a guy who wears a bucket on his head.  Right up there with Paul Revere’s revolutionary war costume and Devo’s plant pots.  The album(s) listed were or are Squaring/Far which, so it seems are two separate projects.  Perhaps two EPs conjoined?

The Jim Mitchells/Love Hypnotic—  You dig sixties pop/psych you should get a rush out of this.  Only two tracks available for streaming but I get huge whiffs of spliff listening to this.  What I call SoCal Psych— very pop-oriented with psych edges.  Really dig the Farfisa sound on the second track.

Wobbler/From Silence To Somewhere— Holy shit!  Prog!  Sounds very much like something Italy’s Maxophone would be doing if they were still playing.  Powerful and driving at certain moments, floating and theatrical at others.  I surrounded myself with music like this back in the 70s.  Pretty damn impressive.

Are you paying attention?  If you want the really good stuff, you have to search for it!  Well, maybe not you, necessarily, but it would not hurt any one of you to expand your horizons by letting someone else do it.  Plug into the people who do search and cherry pick from them.  They don’t mind.  Hell, they would more than likely be thrilled that anyone cared enough to share the journey.

So, that is how I find some of the music I love.  I do get asked that question on a regular basis, mostly by musicians.

Upcoming Projects You Should Know About…

Nashville’s (formerly Charlottesville’s) Carl Anderson is working on a new album.  Should be released sometime soon.  If you haven’t heard Carl’s earlier albums Wolftown or Risk Of Loss, you’ve missed two beauties.  He’s been working his ass off and has made inroads into the musical high society of Nashville.  The boy makes me proud.  Seriously.  Here is a track from Wolftown just so you can hear what I am talking about.

I will be writing a lot about Birch Pereira & The Gin Joints, for sure.  Working out of Seattle, they have an amazing fifties and early sixties bent toward their music but not like you would expect.  Their roots are more rock boogie, swing jazz and blues oriented.  Smooth sound and very very impressive songwriting and performance.

April 6th is a ways away but you should mark it on your calendar because that will be the day Phil Madeira‘s new album will be released.  Titled Providence, it will feature Phil alongside John Scofield and The Red Dirt Boys.  I remember Phil playing keyboards with The Phil Keaggy Band back in the late seventies, but he had been around a bit before that and has been playing ever since.

I thought I recognized the name Jay Starling when the notice of Love Canon‘s signing with Moonstruck Management, but I was thinking of his father John, who spent time with Seldom Scene.  Still, that’s a heck of a musical legacy and, hell, he’ll have Virginia’s Andy Thacker to help him along.  I expect this, their fourth album, to be way above the norm.

Jeez, I know I’m forgetting someone.   I’m always forgetting someone, bu I suppose it can’t be helped.  Perhaps I can be replaced by one of those human-like robots everyone is talking about.  That’s okay.  You have some videos to watch anyway.  Pop quiz next week.  Here are this week’s…

Notes…

Here is something I have been waiting for for a few years— a new Shade alb um.  They’re calling themselves The Real Shade these days, most likely to make it easier to find them.  Fine by me as long as they still have that same sense of pop music.  This is short and sweet, much like some of their music in past years.  March.  Yeah, I can wait a couple of months longer, but I was beginning to think this would never get here.

Here it is.  New video from Seattle’s Moon Palace.

So this is Fruition…  There has been a lot of publicity surrounding these guys for the past few months and I heard most of it, being from Oregon, but even with the hype, I am impressed.

I had not even heard of Fernando Perdomo until a couple of months ago and now his name is showing up everywhere.  Shades of the seventies.  I will bet that he is filling up his studio card fast.  If I was recording an album, I might well want to have him play on it.

Shades of The Peanut Butter Conspiracy…  The Loons:

Felsen, out of the Bay Area, planted a few tunes in my head over the past week or two.  Their latest album, in fact, is one of this year’s dark horses, laying out smooth melodic tunes with understated vocal harmonies and topnotch instrumental acumen (the album is worth it for the lead guitar alone).  Titled Blood Orange Moon, it contains the smoothness of Godley & Creme in places with a folk/psych bent.  Here is a live version of one of the tracks— Private Airline In the Sky

For those who have blank looks on their faces when I mention Gary Minkler or Red Dress, this is what I’m talking about…

Clara-Nova, formerly Sydney Wayser, has a new track I normally would not be that impressed with because it is so electronically-based, but guess what?  The recording is so good and the melodies/harmonies so well done that I am impressed.  I don’t know what it is about Sydney but she continues to break down my biases.  Take a listen…

If you like straight folk/country, Alice Wallace has some music for you.  This is a 38-minute live set which has me wondering who she is.  She works alongside Calico the Band.  I should have known.

Here is a pretty interesting look at the new album by Sarah McQuaid.  It has me hearing her music a bit differently.

New from The Naked Sun

Here is a video from a band I keep tellinbg myself I need to listen to, don’t ask me why.  I think it’s because I dig the band name— A Hawk and a Hacksaw.  Here is a short sampler of their music…

=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.”

One Response to “Frank Gutch Jr: Byron Isaacs: The Disappearing Man; Dumpster Diving (The Album Chronicles); and Notes of a Lugubrious Nature (Or Maybe It’s Luxurious… Damn it! Where’s My Dictionary?)”

  1. Peter Montreuil Says:

    Well done, Frank!

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