Frank Gutch Jr: The Future Takes Forever, The Past Is But a Click Away; Plus Notes

One of the jobs I have laid out before me is writing reviews, not just of music I love but books and  other things which give me delight. It is fun most of the time but lately I am beginning to wonder if I have not taken on more than I can handle. Mentally, I find my self flagging, stacks of CDs and numerous digital files and the occasional vinyl LP/EP, ready to review when I first received them, still there, not reviewed. I want to get to them but for some the words don’t come and for others there is just not enough time. The problem is the listening. I have always prided myself on listening to each album numerous times before putting word to paper, as it were, but if I continue that I will eventually either quit out of frustration or guilt.

I used to listen for pure pleasure, the days after the Army and thereon a succession of days filled with music and nothing else, the music pouring through my Sansui speakers courtesy of the Sansui amplifier I had bought when exiting the service, and the small number of turntables I have worn out. I lived for music. Next to the grocery store, my next most visited haunts were record stores. I woke to music and fell asleep to music and used it to set moods throughout the days (and nights). Then I began working in record stores and after a few years found myself going home at night and turning on the news because I wanted to hear voices talk instead of sing. I thought maybe playing an instrument might help (I was once a drummer) and bought a G&L (electric guitar) only to find that my fingertips hurt so much after three days that I couldn’t hold down the strings (my musician friends said keep at it and I would develop callouses, but found that my finger are not only notoriously uncallousable but made up, evidently, of nothing but nerve endings). I gave the guitar away in an attempt to once again balance my days. I thought it would never end for me, this gift of music but in a way, it did. Life got in the way and I turned my back for a time and my enthusiasm waned. But, as Scott Turow wrote in his excellent book, Ordinary Heroes, “It suddenly hit me how much I missed music, for which I once felt a yearning as keen as hunger.”

I found an urge to write about music, something I used to do out of frustration handed me by major labels and radio for which music was a commodity and little else. I could see the naysayers gathering, the ones who have stated that there is no good music anymore, that it had all been done— they were there long before the classic rockers took up the cry— and took up the fight. How about this, I would write, and listen to this, to little or no avail. Outside of a handful of old friends, no one seemed to care. Until one day, I received an email from a lady who had read a review I had written of Ruth Moody‘s The Garden stating that after reading the review she had immediately bought it for a friend and thanked me and all of a sudden all was right with the world— for a time, anyway. (If you are curious, you can read that review here) I have had others write, mostly to tell me I was full of shit (something I have never denied), but to realize that something I wrote actually allowed someone to find music they loved— that was gold.

See, the problem is that I take it too personally— overall, anyway— and that is not a good thing. I worry about what I write (fellow writer Pat Blythe and I are constantly lamenting the hours we put into each column, and trust me, it takes hours) and I worry about misspelling names (a credibility loser of the first water, but I am sure that Bruce Springstein really appreciated my review of that second album he had not realized he had recorded) and I worry that the words won’t be enough and I worry that people I see and hear putting their hearts and souls into their music will not find their audiences. I worry that I won’t get to those fans who really do want good music, who deserve finding the good stuff, but return to what they already know out of frustration when there is so much better awaiting them.

What is it like writing about music, ad infinitum? It is hard— really hard— but it is occasionally exhilarating and wondrous too.

Right now, it is hard. For the past six months, while the music has been plenteous and bordering on the superb (with the occasional breakthrough to that height), the writing has been sparse. I sometimes feel that I have used all the words at my disposal and cannot phrase things correctly or cannot convey in words what needs to be stated (thank the gods for audio and video files). I sometimes gush, pounding out six paragraphs of what seems like propaganda more than an honest review. I sometimes cower beneath the amount of work before me, my mind spinning while my emotions get the better of me, realizing that I am letting people down. Want to know what it’s like when that happens? I once spent eight months stewing over a review of Derren Raser‘s beautifully crafted Home In This Direction to realize the qualities he shared with Phil Keaggy were so evident. (Read the review here) Why I did not hear it, I have no idea. It bothered me.

It bothers me, actually, and I say it now only so you understand why I take time to talk about some new and not-quite new music you should know about. These are important to me. If you really love music they should be important to you as well. I’m not saying that you should read about or listen to everything, but you should read about or listen to something. So why not these?

Byron Isaacs – Disappearing Man— God knows I write about Isaacs a lot but until he is given the respect he is due, I will continue. He has a resume a mile long, having been a member of Ollabelle, Lost Leaders (with Peter Cole), and has toured with a few million artists including Tracy Grammer, Joan Baez, Amy Helms, and most recently, The Lumineers, to name only a few. He is much in demand as a bass player (do you know how hard it is to find a really good one?) and handles guitar like a pro. His songwriting style is unique enough to make him one of my favorites on all sides.

His new album, Disappearing Man, is not new. Well, not really. He actually recorded the songs quite awhile ago but felt like they just weren’t ready, frustrating co-producers Brian Cullman, Hector Castillo and myself to no end. He waited while we tapped feet and one day recently he just decided it was time to complete the project to his satisfaction. He headed back into the studio along with Cullman and Castillo and finished what he had started. We will hear the results June 12th, release day, though I hope he will preview tracks before then.

Though I should not say “we”. I have already heard the final mix and, what can I say? Even better than I expected. Like I said, he is a songwriter of note and is putting his best out there. There is a parallel between the solo stuff and Lost Leaders’ material, which completely thrills me because, for my money, the two Lost Leaders albums (Lost Leaders and Heavy Lifting) are two real favorites over the past few years (Seriously, they are exceptional!). Know what, though? I take that back. Isaac’s solo album is a tad smoother than that band, and maybe even more than a tad.

I can point to a few tracks right off— Summer, a floating and elegant acoustic song with just a touch of electric for effect, melodious and ethereal; Seeing Is Believing, a song of pure wonder arranged to make it even more wondrous; and Gypsy Wind, a cry from afar, a perfect ender to the album and another beautifully arranged gem.

God, but I want people to hear this album and not just hear it, but absorb it. The sounds, the arrangements, the performance, the songwriting— they add up quickly. Isaacs really outdid himself here, and he can thank co-producers Cullman and Castillo (who deserves special mention for his engineering) for a good part of it.

Like I said, we’re looking at June 12th here, so it will be a bit of a wait. I guarantee you it will be more than worth it, though. In the meantime, check out Lost Leaders’ site to stream the excellent Heavy Lifting EP (click here), while the first Lost Leaders is available through both Spotify and Apple. I freaking hate both of those sites, so you can imagine how much I love this music to even mention them. Many of you will love it too. It is good, good stuff.

Audrey Martells/Soul Survivor— I know I have written about Soul Survivor but only to a small degree. I planned to post a review on No Depression (and I will) but it’s like the world has aligned against me or something. When I’m ready to write, the words evade me. Not words, but the right words, for this is no ordinary album. This album has been years in the making. This album is the core of today’s Audrey Martells, quite separate from the one of the past.

You do know Martells, don’t you? Maybe you do without even knowing it. Martells (who changed her name to Martell for a short time thinking it might make life a little easier) is an actor/singer/songwriter from the New York area who put out a solo album on her own way back in, uh, 2005? My God! Has it been that long? Well, welcome to the second album, circa 2018.

Back in 2005, though, I received a letter from her asking if I would review her album (she had read my review of Gabrielle Gewirtz‘s impressive Wide album and had somehow liked what I had written. I said okay, she sent me Life Lines and that was that. Fan for life. I really had no idea who she was or what was on her resume but when I heard the album, I immediately loved what she had done. Later I would find out that she was much in demand as a vocalist, having sung alongside artists such as Celine Dion, Mandy Moore, Joan Osborne, and many others. She also did work as a vocalist on various commercials and put in time on the jazz club circuit.

Now, Life Lines was more Pop than R&B or jazz, so it was quite the surprise when I put Soul Survivor on. This was, wonder of wonders, R&B and jazz with a touch of Pop, exactly what I had expected on Life Lines. Jazz in varying intensities and rhythms performed by a topnotch trio over which Martells lay her remarkable voice. Beautifully recorded and arranged. Stunningly so, on certain tracks. See? I can’t even write complete sentences, it is so good.

Martells did not do it alone either. She has a magnificent trio behind her (Walter Fischbacher, Petr Dvorsky, and Ulf Stricker) and brings in the occasional help on certain tracks, including The Family Bullock (husband Belden Bullock and incredibly talented sons Nile and Cole).

The album should be available through the usual outlets (Amazon, Apple, etc). Life Lines is available through cdBaby as both a download and CD (click here).

Rita Hosking/For Real— Why is it that Hosking keeps putting out records and each one seems to get better and better? And why is it that at one time in the not too distant past she seriously (for only a few seconds, thank the gods) thought about quitting music? Well, not music as much as recording. She mentioned it, she did— once that I recall— and during those moments you could have knocked me over with a feather. Hosking? Quitting recording? Unimaginable!

Because Rita Hosking is one of those treasures you rarely find these days— a throwback to the days of the thirties and forties and Woody Guthrie and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and The Stanley Brothers and the like. Had Hosking lived then, John Lomax would have been on her doorstep, recording apparatus at the ready. Not to say that she is old-timey (though at moments she is) rather than pure in her approach to folk music.

She is of mining stock— in fact, recorded an EP 1,000 feet underground in the old 16 to 1 Mine in Northern Cal. I think that is taking acoustics a bit far, being a confirmed claustrophobic, but the idea was cool and the music turned out great. To think that her heritage is an American version of How Green Was My Valley freaks me out a little, but it is fitting that it is. She lives in the music. And I get lost in it.

If anyone can take me back to the days of John Lomax and field recordings, it is Hosking (and Tom House, whose catalogue of albums equals Hosking’s in terms of purity of intention). Her voice pure, she surrounds herself with like-minded and like-sounding artists, keeping it simple and sometimes backwoodsy while keeping it her own.

It is fitting that the family is included— husband Sean Feder on dobro, banjo and guitar and, on this album, vocals (I have wondered why he has not added more vocals to the previous albums) and daughter Kora Feder (an up and coming musician her own self) on mandolin and guitar (and voice). And there are friends. Hosking is always surrounded by friends. It is who she is.

One thing I have come to expect from her is one tune on each album which soars above the rest. This time around it seems to be the opener, If You Come Back Again, a song so pure you can drink it. Spring water for the ears.

Not all that long ago, it was Coyote, a lament for our animal brothers and sisters who have been so mistreated by man over the years. I don’t listen to it often, nor Steve Young‘s excellent version of Peter LaFarge‘s Coyote, because I end up crying on the inside. I used to think human was a good thing and perhaps the term is, but what we humans do… we are collectively the most cruel species on earth. I know because I hear the howls even when most of us do not. These days, even in my sleep.

Which is why I need to click back now and again. For self-preservation. And I did that this past week. I closed my eyes (it is a euphemism, I think, though I should look up the word to make sure… nah… screw it) and let the past take over. I needed it. A rest. And I got it. What I did was lock onto YouTube’s treasure trove of documentaries on rock music and the various scenes over the years and I am happy to say tha4t I have only scratched the surface. I made it through three before the guilt and the deadline for this column overwhelmed me but those three has me looking forward to more columns about what is readily available— at least I hope (Powers that be have a tendency to pull them now and again, citing copyright). Three fascinating looks at my life— or the music that made my life most enjoyable— over the years.

Rock Family Trees— The Birmingham Beat…

How the hell should I know there was actually a “Birmingham Beat”? I’ve heard the term but it meant nothing more than “Southern Rock” or “Grunge” to me. Birmingham. Was always Alabama to me. But guess what? There is a Birmingham in England and damn if they didn’t have one hell of a music scene. And this doc takes us right back to my childhood and my obsession with music.

Ah. But before we dive in, show of hands. How many of you remember the old Zig Zag magazines out of the UK? If you were into music back in the seventies, a decent number. If not, probably none. Thing is, the magazine was one of the most fascinating zines of its day and a lot of that had to do with Pete Frame and his “Rock Family Trees” spread across the center of the zine, Playboy centerfold-style. No naked model there. Just the incredibly cool graph which tied various bands together, following members from one band to another and laying out the chronology of it all. You know those obnoxious people who go to parties and are always pointing out that the guy fronting Phlegm Capsule was actually a drummer with Decrepit Vomit in his early days? That would be me and my ilk. And we more than likely found out about some of those connections by reading Zig Zag, paying special attention to those trees. Well, this film (and there are others) basically follow Frame’s Family Trees but do it in doc form.

So how thrilled was I with my first look at the series? Thrilled as hell! It was like reliving my past. Cool thing is, I didn’t have to argue with anybody! I just accepted that which I liked and disregarded the rest. Ha! I’m kidding! I learned one hell of a lot (but then there is so much to learn). Like I said, the only Birmingham I knew until then was in Alabama.

Well, I know a bit about the UK Birmingham now. The best bit. The music bit. I know The Moody Blues were from there, or at least came out of their music scene. Laugh if you will but I loved the early Moodys, the Go Now and Stop! Moodys. To me they sounded like a tamer version of The Nashville Teens and I loved The Nashville Teens. You want the story about Days of Future Passed and how it came to be, you have to watch this. No, I’m not going to tell you. You have to do some work yourself. Just let me tell you that the info is mindblowing. The Moodys had Denny Laine, of course, who would eventually join Wings. Judging by Laine’s comments about his tenure with McCartney and band, things were not as copacetic as everyone supposed. Then there was the Move/ELO/Wizzard setup. A bit of tension there, I think. I was never much of an ELO fan (I find Jeff Lynne‘s approach to music less than emotional, but you can think otherwise, if you want), but I did like The Move and Wizzard. Roy Wood has always fascinated me, the chances he would take with the music and the presentation of the band. The first time I heard of The Move came through, I think, New Melody Express, which posted an article about the band attempting to one-up The Who by destroying an actual car onstage. Now, that is entertainment, Skeezix! While I found the whole Jeff Lynne/ELO thing  as boring as I find their music, The Traveling Wilburys segment answered a few of the questions I had about their formation. Not enough to want me to share them with you, but it was interesting anyway.

Does anyone know that there are two ELO’s? I sure as hell didn’t. Supposedly Bev Bevan tried to keep the band going on his own but Lynne (and probably other band members) objected, so Bevan called it ELO Part II. Later, Bevan sold his half of the rights to the ELO name back to Lynne and called his band, from that time on, The Orchestra. Damn, the things you miss when you don’t pay attention.

I am not sure if the whole series of Rock Family Trees’ docs have John Peel narrating them, but this one did and he did an admirable job.

Rock Family Trees— The Prog Rock Years…

I laughed all the way through this one because the information was good and because it was presented with no holds barred. Not only did they go all the way to The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, they included such things as problems with the fiery costumes of hell that Brown donned at different times, the reactions of fans at the shows before diving into the meat of such bands as Yes. In fact, there was a lot about Yes in this segment, all of it presented by various members such as Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Bill Bruford and Rick Wakeman, whose battle with Anderson ended in Wakeman’s leaving the band.

I remember Yes. I remember Yes and Time and a Word but mostly The Yes Album which almost put me in a coma. I had never heard such music in my life (well, I had because I had heard this album a few times) until one night, maybe midnight or one a.m., it ripped through my skull like a jigsaw. Power, precision, creativity. Freaked me out. It wasn’t long before friends ca,e to me with Fragile, screaming about this new band Yes. I should have slammed the door in their faces. Fragile was okay, but The Yes Album kicked its ass up and down the alley and could do it night after night. That was the end of my fascination with Yes. As far as I was concerned, they became their own tribute band at that point. And I am God so it is true.

They bring up a number of other prog bands in the doc— The Strawbs, The Nice (precursors to Emerson, Lake & Palmer, to the uninitiated), and give space to Wakeman and his solo career. I saw Wakeman at the Hollywood Bowl in the mid-seventies when he presented his Journey To the Centre of the Earth. It was impressive, I suppose, but mostly I thought it ostentatious. A very ambitious project which had to be firing on all cylinders to make an impact. For me, it didn’t.

There is a very funny story Wakeman tells about his throwing Salvador Dali off the stage one night. I laughed out loud.

BBC and Early Heavy Metal…

When I was studying broadcasting at the University of Oregon, there was this saying that went around— “When you want it done right, you hand it to the BBC.” I slipped CBC in there as well because Canada was coming up with some fantastic films of their own. But it pretty much held true. Outside of the work being done by Edward R. Murrow and a few other personages, the BBC pretty much owned the documentary roost, so I was not surprised when I watched the entire BBC Proto/Early Heavy Metal doc in one sitting. Sure, they got a little involved in technical terms and, sure, they lost focus here and there, but it was interesting from both the standpoints of the music and the film. I mean, The Kinks? Blue Cheer? Certainly not on my radar except for maybe the definition of loud, but what the hell. They brought in musicians from bands I knew and admired (Edgar Broughton Band, Budgie) and bands I didn’t (Diamond Head) and somehow tossed the question of what comprised Heavy Metal/Hard Rock in for all. Judas Priest had entries as did Saxon and Iron Maiden and others. The editing was smooth and quick, the statements sometimes true and sometimes bombastic, the points applicable and not so much so. They even included a segment on some clown who brought guitars (obviously fake ones) into shows in the UK so he could air-guitar himself into a frenzy.

To my mind, they spent a bit too much time on Deep Purple, the hard rock years, while giving bare mention of the first three albums. In their minds, In Rock was the beginning of the band and the rest just warmup. You know what I’m thinking now, I bet. Yep. F**k them! Still, it was a doc on heavy metal, so I allowed it, but only this one time. Yep, DP was covered and then some, but the real impetus was given to…

Black Sabbath!!! (exclamation points thrown in only for effect). I can’t argue. Sabbath had a real impact on bands that followed and I truthfully did not mind them. They were hardly orgasmic, though, though many would argue. Lots of information about them and the history of the band, most of it relative and some downright fascinating. I don’t know. Maybe the true Sabbath fan already knows the stuff, but I didn’t, and seeing it in the form of a documentary not about them but about the genre made it easy to absorb. And they had the shots and the clips for eye candy as well. Bravo!

I have placed links to the docs here in case you might want to watch them yourselves. I enjoyed the hell out of them even when I didn’t agree, but why shouldn’t I? It was my past, my music. I loved those days. And I loved those bands. Little did I know that there was a hell coming in the form of disco that would set the world back a century, at the least. Don’t get me started.

Instead, what say we toss the topics aside and take a look at some…

Notes…

The Barr Brothers had this song a few years back titled Half Crazy that had me half crazy for a period of time. I heard it on the way home from either a David Bromberg/Ollabelle show or one featuring Marc Cohn, both at The Aladdin Theater in Portland. It was a long drive and I had The Verge on the radio and this choogling acoustic/vocal song came on and I couldn’t shake it. When I got home, I hit the computer and YouTube to find it was a preview track from a new album not yet released. As stoked as I was, I played the video numerous times before hitting the sack and, upon awakening, dove right back in. I was very surprised to find that the band had an harpist— hard to find them in rock music these days— and I became enamored. Her name is Sarah Page (with that little stroke above the ‘e’ which changes Page into Paj-ay). Recently, Page left the Brothers and is reaching into the void alone, or at least for certain projects. Here she is with the Brothers and on her own. Methinks there might be something happening here…

Here is Ms. Page post-Brothers, doing what she does incredibly well.

God, it’s like Christmas around here! Turns out Charlottesville’s Shannon Worrell and Kristin Asbury have placed their classic Lucky Shoe on Soundcloud so we could relive the past— one I missed. I’m listening now and am finally understanding why C-ville folk hold her in such high reverence. Impressive, indeed.

I really dig the way the drummer handles her sticks. If I could have handled mine as well, I might have been a contender too. This Way North.

I shouldn’t like this track by The Mammals, but I do. Maybe it has to do with the dirge-like tempo or the soft breathy voices.

Rita Coolidge is back and sounding good! Seen this one yet, Bob?

Nothin’ like a little Leftover Salmon

Bobby Gottesman is right. This new Lake Street Dive album sounds like it is going to be a good one. Love the voice.

I am new to Beatrice Deer but I see she does a little throat singing along with her rock tracks. I think I like her.

=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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