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(Frankly Mills As broadcast on WVIA-FM 1/16/2002)
The different variations and permutations in the configuration of rock bands helps keep the music interesting. Sometimes a group can be distinctive for its material, or for its instrumentation, or for the sound of the lead singer's voice. This week we have another noteworthy variation that combines a number of worthwhile ingredients in one group who make for pleasing, intelligent pop-tinged rock. The group is called Gladshot, and their debut CD bears the title Relic.
Most bands have a single composer and essentially a backup band, or else work as a kind of musical collective. Gladshot formed from the combination of two previously individually-operating, and acclaimed, New-York-based singer-songwriters, a man and a woman -- a guitarist and a keyboard player respectively -- who have pooled their talents with the help of a sympathetic band. The collaborate in composing, but also include individually-written pieces, all marked by literate lyrics and tuneful compositions.
The principal members of Gladshot are Mike Blaxill, the guitar playing half, and Debbie Andrews, who plays the keyboards, mostly a vintage Wurlitzer piano and Hammond B-3 organ. Blaxill toured the country as a solo singer-songwriter before settling in New York, where he attracted attention performing at the Bitter End folk club, and winning an award from the BMI organization in 1996 for the "year's most promising singer-songwriter." Debbie Andrews has a long performing career, going back to her appearance on Broadway at the age of 16, playing Crissy in the production of "Hair." She is classically trained on the piano, and also schooled in jazz, winning a jazz fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. They combine their respective musical attributes -- Blaxill's folky and rootsy influence, with Ms. Andrew's jazz background with its harmonic sophistication, to create music that bears an outward resemblance to a kind of Sixties-Two Thousands pop hybrid, but has a surprising degree of depth and staying power, making it more than just attractive pop.
The rest of the group varies on the CD, but since the recording, the band has settled into a fairly regular lineup including guitarist Mike Daly, formerly of Whisleytown, drummer Brian Delaney, who played with Blood Sweat & Tears, and bassist Joe Quigley, who was part of Lisa Loeb's band. All but Quigley are regulars on the session.
The songs on this fairly modest-length CD get right to the point, and do it with a nice combination of pop melodicism and instrumental tastefulness. The opening piece, Girl on Empty epitomizes Gladshot's sound, with the joint Blaxall-Andrews composition sung mostly by Blaxall, but featuring Ms. Andrews' decidedly retro electric piano sound, and her supple backing vocals. <<>>
Ms. Andrews does the lead vocals on another joint composition, Dog on a Skylight, which shows a bit of Ms. Andrews' jazz influence in its harmonic sophistication. The title's curious metaphor makes some for some interesting lyrical images. <<>>
Another example of Gladshot's often distinctive lyrical approach -- this time in a more energetic musical context -- is Running Past Rosetta. Ms. Andrews provides the organ to the straight-ahead rock setting. <<>>
Ms. Andrews' composition He Dreams Alone is one of the more laid-back musically and melancholy lyrically, while it still manages to keep a kind of positive musical direction. <<>>
Never Been to Vegas is a narrative song that combines an interesting, though sketchy story, with the group's knack for combining bits of pop influence that can come close to mass-market material while maintaining the group's level of musical sophistication. <<>>
Perfect Kiss is rather languid-sounding song that comes off as somewhat less successful musically. One could imagine this Blaxall composition being sung by a Nashville country artist. <<>>
One of the CD's highlights is No Reason, which is a nice blend of the band's energy and musical acumen for creating a song that combines elements of 60s pop with 21th century influences. <<>>
The CD ends with a track that allows Ms. Andrews to show her jazzy influence, End of the World. Both musically and in terms of lyrical approach, there are hints of Steely Dan, and the result is also quite worthwhile. <<>>
Relic the new debut CD by the New York-based group Gladshot, is one of those albums that proves to be more impressive the more you listen to it. The combination of the influences and talents of two previously independent singer-songwriters -- Mike Blaxill's rootsy folk rock, and Debbie Andrews' jazzy keyboard playing and musical sensibility, makes for a recording with surprising depth and musical interest, beneath veneer of pop-rock that lies somewhere between the 60s and the 2000s. There's adroit lyric writing, tunes you can find yourself humming, an instrumental sound that juxtaposes Ms. Andrews' decidedly retro keyboard sounds with occasional hints of trendy drum loops, and pleasing vocals from both of the principals. It's classy pop music in the best sense.
Our grade for sound quality is about an A-minus. This sort of music normally has a kind of up-front sound, but the mix and/or mastering job was pumped up a bit too much for my taste in spots. But otherwise, the overall recording has good clarity and captures the sound of the group without excessive gimmickry.
Sophisticated pop music may seem like an oxymoron to some, but creating music that you can tap your toes to and hum, that also has a degree of depth and staying power is a skillful balancing act. Gladshot have achieved that equilibrium their first time around, and that makes their CD all the more notable.
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