Rock and Reprise.net
A guy pointed out to me the other day that the West Coast is developing an alt.country scene. I asked him where he's been. Country music is the one genre which might change in form a bit and in popularity a lot but has always been there, at least since I was a kid. Call it Hillbilly, Country & Western, Country or alt.country, the roots are the same and while fickle fans bounce from heavy metal to disco to pop to dance, it lives. It is the cockroach of all music genres, at least here in the States, and the West Coast has as good a scene as there is out there, though less visible. Ask Buck Owens. Ask Jimmie Rivers. Ask Dave Gleason. Dave Gleason? How'd he get in here? That would be funny if you knew anything about The Resurrection Band, whose opening track on one album featured the ravings of a manic disc jockey looking for the next track to play, but you obviously don't. The things I do to educate the masses... sigh.
But about Dave Gleason. The other day his latest album, Turn and Fade, magically appeared in the mailbox and the name struck more than a note because a few years ago a good friend had handed me a copy of an earlier album by a band called Dave Gleason's Wasted Days (multo thanks, Ernie--- and you thought I wasn't paying attention) which I played a few times and liked and threw on a stack to be visited later for some reason. Ernie made the mistake of mentioning Gram Parsons in relation to the album and a couple of times through, I didn't think so and, well, let us just say that by the end of this piece, I will eat crow.
Where were we? Ah, yes, Dave Gleason. Turns out ol' Dave has had his grip on the country 'nads of the West Coast for some time. Since his wasted days, in fact. Not that he was burning up the charts with his handful of releases, but he was burning through the bars and honky tonks and the occasional music festival friendly toward the 'alts'. He was honing his chops and paying his dues and here he is again, knocking at the door of fame and fortune (which in his case will more likely be the swinging doors of a saloon).
What's he got? Glad you asked. He's got three legs of Old Californio, to start with, and if you don't know who they are, you should. He's got Chris Lawrence, whose guitar work is surpassed only by his expertise on pedal steel. He's got Cindy Wasserman supporting him on voice and, of course, Debra Tala on accordion and voice. And how can we forget Shawn Nourse and that impressive array of tambourines? I know! Tambourine! Who knew?
But what he mainly has is a twangy touch on guitar, an imperfect voice (perfect for the sound, though) and a suitcase full of songs ranging from straight-on rockers to shitkickers and beer swillin' ballads. Not just songs, but damn good songs, and they line up one after the other like ducks on a pond. The most impressive, after only a few listens, is the cry-in-your-beer classic If You're Going Through Hell (Gawdamn you to hell, Dave Gleason! How hard would it be to include a lyric sheet? I had to pause the music to get these lyrics!), complete with a chorus of
you're going through hell
and it comes with a side order of pedal steel good enough to make you cry. Gleason throws in a couple of instrumentals, some kind of hybrid of country and pop, and one long alt.country rocker (Pale Blue) with one of those jams which you wish could have been longer, it flows so well. He mixes folk, country and rock in Radio 1965, the rock being a vaguely Brit Rock twelve-string riff which weaves its way through the twang. Tonight is the song you want when all you want to do is lean against your girl or even just the girl you're with, the accordion taking the place of soft background brass and doing it with class.
I assure you that if you play this puppy enough your favorite will depend upon mood and exposure because there is not one bad track in the bunch here. Of course, should your head not lean toward twang, well, I feel sorry for you. If it did, you see, you would find some fine, fine music to occupy that empty space between your ears.
Ernie, this is for you. Remember when you handed me Midnight California and said you thought I might like it because it kind of sounded like Gram Parsons? Well, I didn't hear it and while I liked it, it somehow got buried beneath a mountain of CDs needing immediate attention and what has it been now, three years? Four? Well, I'm snacking on my first helping of crow here, starting with a wing, and have to say that I finally understand. You didn't say it would sound like Gram Parsons, did you? You said that there was something there that reminded you of Gram Parsons and I hear it. I first heard it while negotiating Santiam Pass on my way to Eastern Oregon and, damn, it hit me so hard I let it play three times before ejecting it from the player. Since, I've played it numerous times and it gets better with each listen.
There really is something different about country on the West Coast, isn't there? I remember the days of Dillard & Clark and The Flying Burrito Brothers and Steve Young, the early days, when country rock was a term few understood. I remember the sound and the feel and it was different. I suppose if it hadn't been, those artists would have been much more successful, but how cool was it that the people who really got it had a chance to share with the few instead of the masses.
I get that Dave Gleason's Wasted Days were a band living in a place few have inhabited. I get the almost Ed Black touch Joe Goldmark laid down and I get the raw but smooth background vocals. And I get the twang. But what I really get, once again, is that Gleason is one hell of a songwriter and knows how to fit a song to his voice and vice-versa. The smooth country-rockin' vocals on The Only One is only one example of an album full of surprises. The songs stack up one on the other and it is as good a ride as you said, Ernie. I dig it.
Yep, there is such a thing as West Coast Country, all right. Midnight, California is packed with it. It ain't shitkickin' and it ain't rockin' and it ain't Nashville--- it's West Coast. And Dave Gleason plays it as good as anyone and way better than most.
Tip o' the hat, Ernie, and thanks.
Frank O. Gutch Jr.
Supporting the Indies Since 1969