Wednesday, November 14, 2007

That's 'Sir Red Mouth' to You, Sir

The incredible diversity of American popular music grew from a single root. Speed up a blues lick, you have rock’n’roll; slow it down, you have country. You’ll hear the whole spectrum on Eric ‘Red Mouth’ Gebhardt’s new CD, Sir Red Mouth.

Gebhardt may be from a white, suburban, middle-class background, but his version of the blues has straight-from-the-heart authenticity, no matter which variant of the blues he happens to be performing. Even when he isn’t playing 12-bar blues, it’s clear that he somehow got there from the 12-bar blues.

Raised on Roger Miller and Johnny Cash, Gebhardt loves his country: “At some point, after a couple of girls break your heart, you just get it.” There are four country-blues tracks: Shed no Tears, Hearts on Loan, Wasted Heart, and Hunger Tree. These songs may sound like Willie Nelson or Hank Williams Sr., but are actually well-written examples of country’s blues foundation.

But Sir Red Mouth doesn’t begin or end in country music. His CD opens with the a capella See What My Life Has Shown, a timeless cry of despair. The haunting call-and-response between Gebhardt and Mary Mason captures the spooky air and throaty harmonies of the old ‘field hollers,’ field-slave work songs that birthed the blues in pain and poverty.

Gebhardt follows this opener with Meathooked Baby, a humorous but unapologetically misogynist revenge tale. Plenty of blues songs have featured men killing their unfaithful women, and a few have crossed over into rock; but where Jimmy Hendrix gave Hey Joe an operatic quality, this one sounds like the Rolling Stones of Gimme Shelter days.

Other forms of popular music in the early 20th Century tended to gloss over the unpleasantness of life, but blues music has always been realistic and gritty. The dirty delta blues of yesteryear come back in electrified guitars on Dirty Needles, Just Like You, and Never Been No Schoolboy – all songs with modern sensibility, but very old themes.

The pattern is inverted by songs like I Really Want to Hang Out With You, featuring Gebhardt on banjo and Cody Gaisser on harmonica. The song is about a very modern phenomenon (creepy fans), but has a very old sound.

The timeless themes and attitudes of delta blues keep meeting with modern life in these seventeen tracks. In Other Side of the World and What's Who is Who, reprised in When the Devil Comes, Gebhardt describes his own life driving a minivan and working in a record store.

Tall and bearded, Gebhardt spent time in the underground punk scene before striking out on his own as a bluesman. With such an eclectic mix of influences, this is not your grandfather’s blues music – it is new old blues, both stubbornly traditional and incorrigibly innovative. One music reviewer has described Gebhardt as “the bastard rebel child of Lou Reed.”

But he’s not a slacker by any means, because it’s obvious he has been working hard to improve his playing and production skills. His chord progressions, melodies, and lyrics have all grown since his excellent 2006 release, Blues $1.49/lb.

However, the most impressive thing about the new CD is the talent he has gathered to create it. Great musicians are all over this album: along with his regular drummer Todd Manley, the ubiquitous J.D. McCorkle of Sons of Rowell fame provides rhythm. Same Size Shoe features a Dylanesque turn from The Kojaks' Bryan Farris, whose guitar also graces the other country-blues tracks. Not to be outdone, the great Max Russell plays his 1929 National Steel guitar on Muldoon Coldwater.

But the biggest contributions come from Cody Gaisser of The Longships. In some ways, Sir Red Mouth is Gaisser’s musical indulgence; his wacky production ideas are all over this CD. Tambourines, distorted floor toms, weird percussive overdubs, a toy piano, and something that sounds suspiciously like a kazoo give many of the tracks a drunken, garage jam-session vibe. Meathooked Baby features his insanely low dropped A tuning. Dirty Needles has a rock’n’roll banjo. Even My Momma Told Me Lies is a fine example of slide and steel until the end, when it turns into a funkadelic, cowbell-powered jam.

Paying homage to the delta sound without treating it as holy writ, Gebhardt and Gaisser channel Leon Redbone and Son House through Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart. The result is a lot of fun to hear.

To order Sir Red Mouth or Blues $1.49/lb, email Eli at Pegasus Records.

Or, download Sir Red Mouth here.

Red Mouth's website

Red Mouth's MySpace

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