It’s the time of year for saving money!
I have a new favorite band. They’re called The Gourds. Imagine
a countrified fire-breathing mandolin-driven version of Los Lobos and you have
a vague inkling of what The Gourds are like. Shinebox has a somewhat convoluted origins. It was formerly a 7
song EP of live material called Gogitershinebox
produced for an Amsterdam radio show. Five more songs were added for re-release
in the ‘States. Three original songs join covers from such diverse sources as
Townes VanZandt, Billy Joe Shaver, David Bowie, Grin, and Snoop Doggy Dog. Yes,
the Snoop Doggy Dog. This number, occupying the lead-off position of the
album, is transformed from a rap tune to a redneck anthem. The Gourds version
also connects the dots from Robert Johnson to Roosevelt Sykes to Muddy Waters
to Chuck Berry to Snoop Doggy Dog. The Snoop just presents a graphic X-rated
version of Johnson’s devil’s bargain.
The Gourds version of David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” is equally
revelatory. Instead of glitter, Ziggy is covered in cow droppings; it doesn’t
get any more organic than that. Be forewarned that several songs, both
originals and covers, have crude and graphic lyrics. Tipper Gore’s parental
guidance stickers would be appropriate for Shinebox.
Unlike many “groups” the Gourds are very much a band, not a
lead guy with some sidemen. Everyone in the
band sings, and they all play at least two instruments. Kevin Russell
plays mandolin and guitar, Jimmy Smith handles electric and acoustic bass,
guitar, and percussive embellishments (don’t ask), Claude Bernard contributes
accordion, guitar, and B-3 Organ, Keith Langford delivers drums, maracas,
tambo, and various other percolations, and Max Johnston nails down fiddle,
banjo, and resophonic guitar. Produced by the Gourds along with Mike Stewart,
the sound varies from damn-near perfect to just this side of abysmal. On the
live cuts, like “Omaha” or I’m Troubled” the sonics are superb, so close to
real live sound that you’d swear some drunk with beer breath is about to sit in
your lap. Other selections, like “Jones, Oh Jones”, sound like it was done in a
really primitive home project studio. Yuk.
Ever since I got this CD, I’ve been trying to wear it out. I’m
so jaded that usually a CD is lucky to last a week in heavy rotation before it
gets alphabetically filed. Shinebox
is a rare exception. This CD is so much fun, so thoroughly cool, so musically
essential, that it has been living on my CD player. I even got more than one
copy so I don’t have to hunt around for it. I dare you to listen to it just
Beppe Gambetta, David Grisman, and Carlo Aonzo – Traversata: Italian
Music in America – Acoustic Disc
If someone told me ten years ago that I’d love a CD made up of
old Italian songs I would have told ’em they were nuts. But David Grisman,
Beppe Gambetta, and Carlo Aonzo have assembled one of the most infectiously
charming CDs that I’ve heard in some time. What makes it so good? First, the
tunes. Songs by Giacomo Pucini, Pasquale Taraffo, Pietro Mascagni, Nick Lucas
(yes, he was Italian), Nino Rota, Raffaele Calace, and that ubiquitous
“Traditional”, fill this disc with lovely lilting melodies. Then there’s the
musicianship. These superlative pickers could make “Mary Had a Little Lamb”
musically interesting. Finally, they play wonderful instruments like Beppe
Gambetta’s Antonello Saccu 14-string harp-guitar, David Grisman’s Gibson K-4
mando-cello, and Carlo Aonzo’s Pandini bowl-back mandolin.
If forced to choose my favorite selection on Italian Music in America I’d give my
vote to “Duo for Two Mandolins” by Rudy Cipolla. This selection just reeks with
gentle garlic-flavored musical inflections. My second choice is the
tremolo-laden “Valtzer Fantastico” by Enrico Marucelli. Carlo Aonzo’s precise
and elegant mandolin technique is perfectly syncopated with Beppe Gambetta’s
It’s almost gotten to the point where you can take Acoustic
Disc’s superb sound for granted. Once more Dawg studio engineers Dave Dennison
and Paul Stubblebine have created a CD that gets closer to the real sound of
acoustic instruments than 99.9% of all the other recordings you’ll hear. Played
over a high end sound reproduction system (boom-boxes need not apply), this
recording gets amazingly close to recreating the live musical event in your
room. Like wow, man.
Perhaps I’m just getting old, because music that would have
been too hokey for me to enjoy in my youth is finally catching up with me.
These “Sins of My Old Age” as Verdi called them, are less fattening than chocolate,
but just as infectiously sweet.