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Reviews - Gabriel Gordon - Dream Forge
What's the Frequency, Kenneth?
Thankfully, with the world wide web, there are new ways for musical
information to propagate. Through the magic of e-mail I obtained a copy
of "Frequency," a record by multi musician Gabriel Gordon.
With song writing that recalls the mellower side of The Replacements
and Paul Westerberg and the genre melding of innocent, less tripped-out
early Prince (he plays all the instruments, except drums on some cuts
and cello), Gordon bears a surface similarity to Lenny Kravitz-style
funky rock and roll. But with a more raw sound, and a healthy understanding
of later, R ‘n' B influenced Hendrix music, he comes off more authentic.
In addition, unlike so many of today's new bands, he paid actual dues,
and experienced music from inside by working with people like, Leo Nocentelli
(of the Meters), Shawn Colvin, and Natalie Merchant, who insisted that
he open her shows with a solo acoustic set. Variously, playing and doing
road managing and being a guitar tech, allowed him to experience and
learn various approaches to rock, funk, blues and folk-influenced styles.
The first song, "People of the World," shows an untrendy critique of
life today, and naive hopefulness, based in dreams of possibility. This
is a welcome change from pop music's idiotic sex and money fantasies,
and alternative/punk's sad-sack mix of unfocused anger and self pitying
naval gazing. The song starts with a Hendrix style rock/funk riff played
on acoustic guitars, in that old school T Rex style, with burning lead
guitar over top, and vocals that recall Funkadelic Parliament circa
"Maggot Brain.". This melding of rock and old black soul, tightly played
and well sung, but not plasticine and slick, is what Gordon's steez
is all about. This is what Dave Matthews would sound like if he wasn't
a M.O.R. mediocrity and afraid of offending the beery frat boys that
make up his audience (and, by extension, the record label):
"The long roads we all walk along
the dark evenings we stumble from
All the distant modes we find ourselves in
We're all related Children of the Sun."
Poetry on the page it is not, but it is good pop. Remember good pop,
those of you that are old enough? The loose, jamming quality of the
chorus, goes down smooth like whisky around the barbeque grill late
at night in someone's backyard.
"Frequency" throws down in an early Prince mode, with new wave rhythm
guitar and the rich, ever present acoustic guitar, complete with scrapes
and the sound of fingers sliding up and down the neck. This is what
some soulful, black rocker. The song "Standing on the Mountain" revisits
the rising, and hopeful sound of folk influenced psychedelia, ala Arthur
Lee/Love and Sly Stone. This influence is shown in the song's tasty,
imaginative arrangements, and singing. It begins with long, spacey,
horn tones, and then jumps into a nice groove, with several layers of
funky acoustic guitar strumming and ringing harmonic guitar tones, then
Love style high octave singing. Besides the funky drumming and bass,
he adds the surprising touch of hip hop, turntable scratching.
And in case there's any doubt that he can throw down without any frills,
he kicks it with guitar and voice only "Remember Me." The thing that
stands out most about this excellent tune is the pristine simplicity
or the melody and chords, and how they carry the poetry of the lyrics,
perfectly balanced, rolling like bicyclist on a long, winding incline.
Songs like this, simple, real and with something to say seemed to be
banned from rock radio, MTV, and the commercial music world in general,
unless the DJ slips on some old "classic rock" Lead Zeppelin or a live
version of "Jane Says" by Jane's Addiction (and probably getting on
the station manager's shit list because going away from the programing,
even that much).
The weakest cut is the radio conscious Angelika, with guest rock star
Natalie Merchant. The production, with a full-on band, is a bit too
AOR. But the song isn't bad. It makes me want to hear it with, say,
Gordon on dobro or twelve-string guitar, and a conga drummer. In fact,
if he's smart and sticks to his vision; if he stays away from the arena
rock pretensions of Lenny Kravitz, and the plastic production of Maxwell,
Gabriel Gordon could approach the spirit altar of Curtis Mayfield, one
of the original black soul guitar singer/song writers.
As if he knew that Angelika might leave the listener with the wrong
impression, he ends the record with the surprising "Window is Open Wide."
The drums play a loping, New Orleans funk groove, and the dark sounding,
chug-along bass and guitars are augmented by long solar notes from the
cello. The song actually stops for ten seconds or more and sports a
surprising flow in its lyrical narrative, from dark descriptions of
emotional drama and feelings of entrapment, to light and hope:
"There's a way
to get out of here
There's a way for me and you
There's a way on the whispering winds."
The music changes, too, starting with a soul/hip hop breakbeat it builds
with a repeated chorus that will sound like hippie-rock to the hipster-cynic,
but others will pick up on the black, soul harmonies, with imperfections
that make the singing real. With its absence of studio lacquer and gloss,
this song, like the others on the killer CD, remind one that there's
plenty of rich and fertile soil in rock's root and music's margins.
And like the song says, Gordon's musical "Window is Open Wide."
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