All genres are essentially pointless, but few are more pointless than Alternative and Pop. Wait, but you’re an alternative music site we hear you cry! And you’re absolutely right, but that’s because ‘alternative’ has become synonymous for anything that’s not chart music, but what is alternative about it? Absolutely nothing! We would describe ourselves as an Indie, Folk, Americana, Alt-Country, Punk, Indie-Pop, Noise-Pop and Post-Rock site, but that’s a mouthful and it wouldn’t be accurate as we’re bound to cover something outside of those big, pointless tags anyway.
Alternative music was first used to tag the Independent, or at least underground rock music being produced at the back end of the Punk movement in the 1980’s, and according to Wikipedia at least, “the word “alternative” refers to the genre’s distinction from mainstream rock music, expressed primarily in a distorted guitar sound, subversive and/or transgressive lyrics and generally a nonchalant, defiant attitude”. Which we’re sure you will agree sounds great but really doesn’t help us pin it down at all! As a sort of genre, it spanned grunge, post-punk, gothic rock, shoegaze, Brit Pop, ska-punk, emo, alt-country; every boom and bust trend the music industry has presented as the future has always quickly merged into the musical behemoth that is alternative.
In search of a definition, we trawled the internet high and low and reached the conclusion that alternative simply means not mainstream, unless of course you’re a successful alternative band and crossover to you know, sell some records, then for some reason even though the world pretty much agrees you’re great, you still get to be called alternative, see The Arctic Monkeys for further information. Which leads us to conclude that it’s utterly meaningless. But we still kind of know what someone means when they say a record is an alternative record – possibly…
Gill Landry- that’s the masculine Gill with a G sound not a J sound- is a solo artist, although from his time spent as a song-writing member of Old Crow Medicine Show, has collected an assortment of collaborators to appear on his latest album. These include Laura Marling, Robert Ellis, bluegrass-fiddle player Odessa Jorgensen and Nick Etwell, of Mumford & Sons fame, which you should try not to hold against him.
The basic idea here is country with a capital C, although like Caitlin Rose or Andrew Combs before him, Gill takes the old genre in different directions to breathe new life into it. The base instruments: guitars, banjos, fiddle, the warm buzz of a Hammond organ are already lovely, but blasts of trumpets with a distinctly Balkan air, and some Spanish guitar embellishments are excellent additions that work far better than you might imagine.
Gill was born in Lake Charles in Louisiana, Louisiana’s fifth-largest city, a major centre of Petrochemical refining, tourism and perhaps most famously gambling. Probably the cities most famous musical son is Van Dyke Parks, who was born in Mississippi but grew up in Lake Charles, the Lake Area is also home to Lucinda Williams and was mentioned in the excellent Up On Cripple Creek which Robbie Robertson wrote for The Band.
Well Gill got his first guitar back when he was five, so you could argue he’s been making music for a very long time. However, he started making music seriously back in 1998 when he formed The Kitchen Syncopators with his friend Woody Pines, which we must admit does sound like a made up name! When The Kitchen Syncopators disbanded in 2004, Gill started playing with Old Crow Medicine Show, lending his skills as both a singer and an exponent of steel guitar and banjo, despite the fact he didn’t actually know how to play the banjo at the time. Gill released his debut solo album, The Ballad of Lawless Soirez via Nettwerk Records in 2007, followed it up with a second full length record in 2007 entitled Piety & Desire, which featured members of the Felice Brothers and Jolie Holland amongst others. His self-titled third album is released via ATO Records on June 22nd.
A perfect jumping off point for Gill’s sound is the frankly delightful duet with the stunningly voiced Laura Marling. The two voices are a perfect match, her clipped, crisp enunciation paired with Gill’s husky Southern drawl. Indeed his voice is excellent throughout, whilst perhaps not a classically good singer, there’s shades of John Murry in his slightly, slurred emotive delivery, whilst on other numbers his deep, rich, vocals bring to mind his fellow modern country star Justin Townes Earle.
It’s an album that at times adheres to country traditions, from Waiting For Your Love with it’s superb fiddle embellishments is classic country-pop in the First Aid Kit mould, to the excellent Just Like You, a track dripping with the history of Nashville, from the tight vocal harmonies, to the superb harmonica, it could be a Jacksonville era Ryan Adams number., However it’s the variations that make this album really stand out. Funeral In My Heart with it’s pulsing organ and bright picked banjo line has shades of Meursault, the Beirut inspired horn section at the end of Fennario is a wonderful, wheezing triumph, whilst Long Road, may start off as a sad, piano laced ballad, but they find time to stick an organ solo on the end, an idea that’s far too infrequently used outside of the world of prog-rock.
Best of all might be Emily, starting off with a lone guitar and vocal, it could be a less grouchy Josh Pearson, it then breaks out into a gentle waltz as the gentle strings burst in, alongside gently brushed drums and bright, warm blasts of trumpet, there’s shades of the superb Dan Mangan, or Canadian folkster Patrick Watson, and it’s really rather brilliant.
There’s more than a few times during this record where the lyrics make us audibly want to scream, “CLUNKY!” We’re sure Gill is just trying to be earnest and speaking from the heart but lines like “kissing Bluebirds on the cheek in the morning rain” or, “I be your muse if you’ll be my open fire” are delivered without a hint or irony, and worst of all he actually sings, “you were there, sitting in a kitchen chair, reading Bukowski in your underwear, looking fine” the sort of line that if it was delivered with even the slightest touch of humour might work, but here it’s played far too straight to the point it becomes less a laugh, and more laughable.
Gill Landry’s self-titled album is released via ATO Records on June 22nd. Gill is currently on tour in the USA.