The days of the music reviewer or critic are pretty much done although there are a few hangers on. In this age where you can go and listen to most of the music on the internet, or at least get samples of tunes before you buy them, then select exactly what you want and pay a buck a cut, one must ask why anyone would want to read a review? I suppose there are those who want or need somebody to tell them if something is good or not, but as you have read here before, I prefer to make that decision with my own ear and believe you should also. Make no mistake, I am not a critic, have no training in that vein, nor would I want any. It's been my experience that most, or at least many critics are educated well beyond their intelligence.
So my purpose here is not to imply to anyone what is good or not good or what you should like, in fact that concept strikes me as obnoxious at best. No, my purpose here is to let you know about works you may not have been exposed to in your current circle of contacts. If I turn you on to something you enjoy or if I provide new exposure for an artist that I believe should have it, then I call it 'mission accomplished'. Also, I have written this somewhere else here, but don't look for any negativity here. I see nothing accomplished by that and if I hear something I don't like what is the point in taking my time to write a review to tell you why I don't like it? All I do is waste my time, hurt somebody's feelings and expose myself as someone who cannot understand and therefore appreciate a particular type of music. Fortunately, I have picked something really nice to start with and I only hope I can do my subject justice and that he can withstand my literary fumblings.
If you know Gilles Malkine then you know his devotion to getting things right. Actually, if you know Gilles, then you might very well already own this album because those of us who know him are tickled pink that he has finally released his first solo album (Independent, 2012).
For those who don't know Gilles, you can find a cryptic bio right here. Those of my generation may feel as I do that his performing on the stage with Tim Hardin at the Woodstock Festival in 1969 is a larger than life marker in his career, but you have to realize that Gilles has been on the stage pretty much all his life and performs on stage, screen, music videos, and many other formats. These days he regularly performs with his co-conspirator Mik Horowitz presenting thoughtful if not befuddling cerebral humor that has to be seen to be appreciated. Suffice to say that I catch every performance I can afford these days. But I digress, we were talking about Gilles first solo album here.
Gilles travels in many circles and this project shows the many different influences he has learned to meld and mold for the listener's benefit. These days with the size of CD's (if you can even buy somebody's music on a CD) there sure isn't much room for 'liner notes'. Gilles has been thoughtful enough to write his notes and make then available on his website which you can find right here. Actually he does a great job of describing not only what went into the project, but also the 'whys' and 'whos' and if you read those notes, there is little point in my writing a detailed description of each cut. What I enjoyed most is that he describes the instruments he used, the styles he played in, and in most cases the influences for the tune itself. Very detailed information that many musicians will appreciate. In some cases he informs us of the things we would never know simply by listening, about how the cut was created. He also has 3 additional tunes on that page that are not on the album. I do suggest you read his notes for first party descriptions, but I will give some comments here about some of my favorite pieces on this CD.
There are 12 cuts on this album and all but one was written and arranged by Gilles. The styles of these tunes cover a wide range from Blues to Samba to Appalachian and several more. This I think, is a result of his vast experiences and the musical community in which he was raised. I can say I am glad for that because I get bored when listening to a number of songs and tunes cut from the same cloth, if not the same chord structure. None of that here. Although it's a solo album, no man is an Island and Gilles had some help on this one. Sprinkled throughout the cuts you will hear Bruce Berky, Harvey Sorgen, Mike Ralff, Bob Berky, Dennis Washington, and another personal favorite of mine, Martin Keith.
Jack Of Hearts
The first cut is one of my favorites because it resonates a lot of what Gilles does and how he thinks. Understand that there are many instruments in this piece and he plays all of them. Most interesting is that he plays the lead guitar track twice, exactly the same way, to provide a neat effect. I hear the 3 guitar tracks and the bass track just fine in this one, but the 'blue plastic egg with little things in it that go chicka-chicka-chikca' is a sound I just can't pick out. Great flat picking tune for sure.
The title track presents some of Gilles song writing work. The lyrics come quick and they take a few listenings before you get it all. My favorite wordsmithing in this one is "Old man time dog is humping your leg". That is the kind of stuff that paints an immediate and unmistakeable picture that I admire.
Heart of Kindness
This is a beautiful song which frankly I have not listened to enough to get a good appreciation of yet. A lot of work went into this one and I need to listen to it a few dozen times more to really get it all. Very pretty tune and extremely well arranged.
A little tough to describe, I would call this a folk song, but on the upbeat side. The lyrics are in the Woody Guthrie vein however this is certainly not a cookie cutter song. This is Gilles plea for a better world asking us all to look at what we have and figure out how to fix it. Written as a true Son of Woodstock, it is genuine, original, up tempo, and clearly from the heart.
Love's a Timeless Song
I'd call this a samba tune, but I am probably wrong on that. The sax work in this tune is really nice. The song flows and I can see myself dancing with my baby and falling in Love over all over again. That is, if I could dance.
The Marionette Rag
I just love this instrumental. This tune just puts a picture of Gilles in my mind, it has the bounce that I so often hear him bring out, jaunty and fun, yet not presumptuous. It's just a great finger picking tune and I think it's my favorite on this CD. Martin Keith plays bass on this and that just seals it for me. A beautiful piece of finger picking.
Fair Beauty Bright
This is traditional tune and the only one Gilles did not write on this album. Lovely and hearing his harmony with himself is pretty neat.
This is another song that requires many listenings before you get it all. The lyrics come very fast and they are telling a complex and true story about a massacre and lives saved during the Kosovo war by a courageous woman. I heard just last week that the 'Marta' this song is written about just received the CD Gilles sent her over a year ago.
If you listened to this song and didn't pay attention to the lyrics you would probably think of it as a pretty tune. Almost a lullaby. However, this is a dark song bringing to the light one of the tragedies we harbor on our own soil. In this case it tells the story of a precious 9 year old girl, murdered in her own home. Each time I listen to this I am struck by the contrast of the beautiful melody and comforting tones against the horrid subject matter. Extremely interesting presentation and it certainly gets ones attention, which is, after all the whole point, right? (Read the notes on Gilles page for more info)
Some really neat playing here and the lyrics which speak of that which we all call our "happy place" in an off beat blues genre is kind of neat. A great feel good tune.
The Yellow Land
Great lyrics in this one. Thoughtful, perhaps provocative, but I don't think so. We all know by now that war sucks and ruins everyone who comes into contact with it, right? Right? None the less, this song makes us all re-think what we do with those we call to defend us. This song is beautifully, I might even say perfectly, presented and arranged. Haunting and unforgettable for sure. Given a wider audience this song would be something heard often.
Sweet Mary Anne
This is a blatant love song about Gilles meeting his wife.I think its cute and perky and I wish I could do the same for my wife. I have met Gilles wife and could see how she inspires his music. Lovely lady, indeed. A whimsical tune for sure, but lot of fun.
OK, so I lied. I said I would comment on "some" of the cuts, but I did them all. I could not select tunes to exclude. The truth is I really enjoy this CD. First and foremost, I like the work that Gilles puts out. He is varied, thoughtful, and he sure can play. Second, he challenges me to think and I really like that. He doesn't throw out a bunch of happy crap, or blues, or try to dazzle one with fancy playing. He includes that and so much more plus the subjects and presentations that we would probably never go out and ask for, but we are better people for having listened to what he presents. I long ago learned that when you go to see an artist, in any discipline, it is a two way street. You may think you paid for your ticket and deserve to be 'entertained' but the truth is, if you paid a good price for that ticket, you deserve to be entertained, but you also deserve to be challenged to learn something. Gilles has found a way in this CD to provide a lovely blend of first class musicality with his joy and his messages.
The CD is available for purchase or download on CD Baby, just go here. Alternately, you can catch Gilles at a gig here in the Hudson Valley or beyond and get the CD for just a pittance. (Good music, any way you get it, is priceless, right?) His next gig will be with brother Mik at the Rosendale Cafe on 12/7/13. I expect to be writing about Mik and Gilles sometime in the future and that is a whole different deal, for sure.
Here's a video of one tune on the CD, just to whet the appetite:
Keep the Beat,