19 new songs from the fellows who hit in 1973 with “Back When My Hair Was Short” is actually the delivery of enough material for a double vinyl disc. “Back when the discs were short” few artists got to enjoy such delightful indulgence, 1972’s Exile on Main Street, J Geils Band’s 1976 epic Blow Your Face Out, Bob Seger’s Live Bullet and Frampton Comes Alive – both also from ’76, allowed artists to stretch…and gain more momentum. Timing is everything and had the 1972 single disc Live at the Paramount by The Guess Who been issued as a double (see the additional 13 tracks Buddha released in 2000 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Live_at_the_Paramount) the Guess Who would have ruled the FM airwaves like they did AM.
Gunhill Road gets its revenge in 2014, and this remarkable CD experiments so much that it comes off like an underground version of the Beatles’ White Album, with flavors nicked from here and there, as well as from the Gunhill Road guys themselves. “Down On the Farm” is a nod to “hair was short” with a little of “Benefit of Mr. Kite” by John and Paul thrown in…and it has nothing to do with Tim McGraw’s suggestive country song of the same name. Opening tune “Everything Passes” – features the best elements of Emmit Rhodes – a sunshine pop happy-go-lucky paean for today with appreciation for yesterday. With extensive 3 panel liner notes from Talkers magazine’s Michael Harrison and lots of credits – at least ten guest musicians – the top notch production should please past producers Richie Wise and the late Kenny Kerner (RIP 2014) as well as Kenny Rogers, the men who helped the group forge the sounds on their first releases. “Been in The City Too Long” is reminiscent of how Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman would explore things on the early Guess Who hit discs on RCA – their non-B side lp tracks that sounded like B-sides. This “progressive new millennium feel” continues with “Center Stage” which takes elements of Graham Nash’s “Our House” and brings it to a different dimension. I can’t quite put my finger on the formula at play here, and that’s probably a good thing, a bit of mystery always enhances the listening experience.
“Everything’s Working Out Fine” is one of my favorite tracks bringing a sax and female vocal (Julia DeMato) with sentiment that goes beyond the optimism of the Mama Cass classic “It’s Getting Better.” It’s more about the Beatles’ sphere of “I Feel Fine” but not as much of a rave up, holding a solid tempo in a sing-songy ballad that is just perfect in production, performance and composition. The crew – Glenn Leopold, Paul Reisch and Steven Goldrich – playing it out here genuinely sound like things are fine, as the follow-up track, “I’m Gonna Keep On Loving You,” accurately shows. It’s a more positive alter-ego of Nick Lowe’s “Cruel to be Kind” – a partner keeping the flame alive against all odds, with superb musicianship and backing vocals that drive the hook to where it belongs: an incessant force in your head after you turn the player off.
The reggae blend of “Selling Apples” (another great tune) changes genres and drifts into “Only a Lonely Song,” a more traditional structure and one of the strongest of these 19 selections. Another about face hits you with “Stop, You’re Moving To Fast” bringing back the accordion um-pa-pa that tends to show up on a few Gunhill Road adventures. Steve Goldrich’s keyboards dominate in a good way on “Bricks” and on the ballad, “I’ve Got To Learn to Cry.” “All the Children,” track 17, comes in with the sound Melissa Manchester had so much success with, leaning a bit towards Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All.”
“Child At the Top of the Stairs” ends this strong set of recordings with a 70’s-styled radio-friendly Ronny Milsap meets Dan Fogelberg sentiment…”a million Easter bunnies cannot make me young again.” The cd album goes back and forth from youth to old age, much like life. Nice to have Gunhill Road back and a betting man would say the music will continue with new albums to follow.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com, Gatehouse Media, Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, and a variety of other media outlets. Joe also produces and hosts Visual Radio, a seventeen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed Jodie Foster, director/screenwriter David Koepp, Michael Moore, John Cena, comics/actors Margaret Cho, Gilbert Gottfried, Gallagher, musicians Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, political commentator Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.