By Daniel Westover
I really have no idea how to review this album, so I’ll cut to the chase: go buy it. I know it’s only June, but this is already my favorite album of the year, at the minimum. The reason why it’s so impossible to review? It’s all over the map, musically, and every song is great in its own right, so it can’t be summed up into a comparison with anything else. So, I’m going to give it my best shot, and feel free to keep reading, but do so knowing that every moment you spend reading my review will be a moment you can’t enjoy listening to this album.
The band is comprised of C. Gibbs (Motherwell Johnston is a pseudonym) backed by Tim Kuhl on drums, Matt Brandau on Bass, and Phil Sterk on pedal steel guitar. The opening number, “Unchaperoned,” evokes memories of New Orleans, the Memphis Horns, and Prince, and, like many of the songs on his album, knows how to build and balance the arrangements. “Fourth of July” follows up sounding nothing like it: aggressive guitar, staccato riffs, growling vocals.
Next is “Cordelaine,” and you would now think you’re listening to a country band. Slow; great vocals, and a pedal steel that has now been dialed up in the mix. (I swear – put this one CD in your player at a party? People will assume that you have it on ‘shuffle’ and just have really good taste.) “Cold Bikram” continues the country theme, a bit faster, and lulls you into complacency when it meets “Murmer and Belt,“ which you think is going to be a gentle ballad – until it transforms into a raging anger fest worthy of System of a Down at their punkiest. “Aidan” and it reprise form a sandwich around “One In a Million, “ almost as if you were seeing the band live – country to ballad and back.
The one low point of the album is “Vegan Feast,” which I want to assume is an oxymoronic joke, because it makes it fit perfectly with it’s lilting traveling minstrel feel, and, being the omnivore I am – I get it: vegan feast. It fits perfectly. The album closes with “Slow.” And nothing you have heard up to this point will prepare you for it. Yes, it is “slow" and it is also an epic guitar workout where vocals take the backseat to a mix of Tom Morello, Jimi Hendrix, and Neil Young; it’s intoxicating, and makes you want to immediately hit the repeat button. There’s even a sly nod near the end to Hendrix’s take on the “Star-Spangled Banner” – it’s subtle, but it’s there. To say it was a fitting end to the album would be both an understatement and wrong – there’s no way you could have predicted it from the rest of the album, but it’s amazing.