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Sonically Speaking (9/29/2010)
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Gold Cash Gold
Paradise Pawned Vol. 1
The original Gold Cash Gold is a decrepitly lovely Michigan Avenue pawnshop whose facade is at once imposing and discreet, with garish proclamations of easy riches still projecting from the wall face. It’s as fitting a rock ’n’ roll metaphor as any, full of the fading promises of glittering returns and reeking of cheery yesterdays — the perfect namesake for a band that may well be an anachronism amid shameless gestures of contemporary rock.
Pawned is rich with the warmth of vintage tube amps, full of brash rhythms and melodies played with both kidlike innocence and coarse command.
The songs are driven by musicians who conceivably spent thousands of hours at a tender age holed in their bedrooms listening to, among other things, Zep and Sly Stone on headphones.
Drummer-turned-singer Eric Hoegemeyer, like any rock singer worth his weight in bony knees and liver damage, has a voice that takes a few spins to get acclimated to; his is equal parts bratty kid, innocent whimsy, and swaggering self-loather all wrapped up in leather trousers.
The crowning moment here is opener “Diamond Mind,” two alluringly melancholic chords droning over a groove-rich beat and a Billy Preston-like organ under lyrics about the senselessness of seeing things with only one eye open. The tune sets the tone for the rest of the album, which has as much to do with opium dens and claret-hued Moroccan rugs — you can almost smell the hookah charcoal and amber resin — as it does Crowes- and Zep-inspired licks.
“Damaged” is perhaps the album’s centerpiece, complete with a Jimmy Page nod slipped into the intro, a Bonham-precious beat, and a dramatic 8-step build out of the final chorus that would bend Bob Ezrin’s lips into a pleased grin. The four minutes hit home with autobiographical lines about a quixotic kid on a devil’s-music trajectory, penning lines to his love interest that run short ’cause he’s “out of weed.” The song is a time-honored tale of rock ’n’ roll isolation told simply and honestly, and with heart, and is, of course, without redemption.
“Vultures” knocks trend-predator record-biz weasels with the opening line, “I seen the demons in the sewer vents/They shot me full of their compliments,” then proceeds to knock the listener out with a riff Mick Ronson forgot to make up.
A riff mutiny in classic rock radio tradition using daylight as the decisive metaphor for drug-addled depression anchors “Same Old Blues.” And “Run Brother Run” is a bluesy lament built on juvenile self-pity saved by gnarly Hammond B3 lines and a guitar line that winks at the right hand of Duane Allman. Worthy is “Spaced Out,” a between-song interlude that lasts about as long as it takes to hit a bong. “Hard Times” would nestle nicely next to “Multi-Colored Lady” on Gregg Allman’s Laid Back: remarkable in how it sounds straight out of another era without coming off satirical or mocking.
Paradise Pawned Vol. 1 is a Detroit rock ’n’ roll record worth going out and spending money you’ve set aside for that Jet disc.
The band (singer/keyboardist Hoegemeyer, guitarist Steve Zuccaro, bassist Dino Zoyes and drummer Michael Falzon) just wrapped their first-ever UK tour and reports are that it was successful, complete with encores and invites to return.
Gold Cash Gold will celebrate the local release of this record at the Magic Bag (22920 Woodward, Ferndale) on Saturday, Nov. 1, with the Cyril Lords and Over, Under, Sideways, Down. Call 248-544-3030.
Bring on the Apocalypse
Forge surely had warfare-cum-doomsday on the brain when crafting its third release. The sullen, bolted-steel title track says it all: “Of human achievement/The further we advance/The closer we come to our extinction/I say we do it/Let’s stop waving swords/Let’s get them bloody/Let’s satisfy the hordes … Bring on the apocalypse.” And, the best part is, they’re not being ironic. No tongue-in-cheek, look-how-badass-we-are fanfare here, kids; the band is serious as the last cockroach left scuttling.
See, these east-side clinched-jawed heavymen (drummer Joe Smith, bassist Steve Greene, guitarist John Dearry, and singer/guitarist Aaron Greene, a member of the Metro Times sales staff) offer up a colossal fusion of thrash metal and punk rock with Sepultura, Flotsam and Jetsam, Black Flag and Fugazi all figuring in as antecedents. What’s more, they’ve a literary bent that’s lost on 99 percent of the down-tuning mooks weaned on the aforementioned.
The songs are fiercely anti-political and inflexibly direct; death, toil and war as a forgone conclusion run the our-anguish-is-universal-anguish theme spectrum. From the doleful eyes of a society’s forgotten soldier to adolescents raised in post-apocalyptic caves to life-as-a-sinking-boat metaphors, the songs are full of party favor stuff, to be sure.
Aaron Greene’s tuneful shout props him up as half-seer, half-nihilist, with an atypical proclivity for creating choruses with staying power. Battle-cry anthem “The Torch” even borders pop (gosh!) and would fit nicely on any alternative radio station. The quartet is taut and tense, bursting with machine-gun kick drumming, twin-guitar walls o’ riffola, and clavicle-rattling bass. File under ear-singeing music suited for nuclear blackouts and other manmade disasters. Maybe the next record will include a few tips on survival strategies!
Whit Hill and the Postcards
We Are Here
Home Run Records
Recognized around the country as Whitley Setrakian the choreographer (and for her dance company “People Dancing”), New York City-raised Ann Arborite Whit Hill and her band the Postcards have concocted a folk-based country and blues record (with the occasional jazz gesture) that is both a surprise and a welcome relief.
Many of the songs here could be the sound track to front porches lined with the world-weary eyes of old men aligned in cane-bottom chairs sipping beer snagged from Styrofoam ice coolers. Or the sadness of dirt roads leading to trailer homes and into the futile lives of their inhabitants.
Loping narratives like the “Greatest Show on Earth” reveal praiseworthy storytelling skills that use ornate circus imagery of tightrope walkers and cotton candy machine operators to show otherwise big lives that are left loveless and unreciprocated.
Over a gentle country acoustic guitar and brush-stroked snare, “Platinum Girl” is a downright tender song of loss, sardonic self-realization and, ultimately, deliverance. Sprinkled with Catholic imagery and empathetic turns (“I know I’m never gonna be no precious metal/I know I’m never gonna make you love me better”), it’s a song that Lucinda Williams could’ve written.
The slow, droning blues of “Sleeper Car” affords a kind of airy simplicity with lyrics that elevate the mundane sameness of a train ride to something that’s both interesting and ominous. Hill’s phrasing and employment of dodgy terms like “sandwiches” and “orange juice” are done with an aplomb that fondly recalls Pirates-era Rickie Lee Jones. On “Sandusky,” Hill bravely switches genders, taking the point of view of a man lost in the false security of suburbia, questioning personal faiths, his wife’s love, and at the end seeing himself through the eyes of his questioning daughter. It has the warmth of good fiction set to song, and Hill traces the deadened life of her male protagonist without a trace of a sexist or patronizing tone, only compassion. Hats off.
“Valentines” centers around disappointment and longing in the cheery context of characters on barstools at last call. You can almost hear the clatter of dirty cocktail glasses and beer bottles, the ubiquitous Eagles song on the jukebox.
Hill once was a University of Michigan roommate to Madonna, which she mockingly salutes on “Maddie” over a bed of simple and poppy country chords: “Told me secrets told me lies/got me jealous got me high/did not have enough to eat/kissed me on Division Street.”
The final turn, “The Night When I Was Born,” ties the record off fittingly with an affecting tone highlighted by this line: “Sister won’t you tell me about the night when I was born … the night when daddy left for good,” crooned softly over a simple guitar picking so quietly you can hear a chair creaking.
Of the 14 songs, the one misstep (“Where Were You In The Morning”) falls victim to simple overreaching, style over substance; the stabs at reggae on the verses seem pasted on.
Elsewhere, guest violinist Jeremy Kittel’s tone recalls Scarlett Rivera on Dylan’s Desire, which is no mean feat; it’s warm with just the right amount of harmonic grate.
The record was produced by Hill’s hubby, noted singer/keyboardist/guitarist Al Hill, and recorded with bass player Tim Marks and drummer Steve Nistor, all of whom impart a necessary play-for-the-song restraint.
Whit Hill will perform a solo acoustic show Sunday, Nov. 16, at Memphis Smoke (100 S. Main, Royal Oak). For info, call 248-543-4300.
Brian Smith is the music editor of Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.