Fred Gillen Jr. opens his masterfully produced album, What She Said, with “Prayer for America” giving time and space to refugees, philosophy and the iconic Statue of Liberty only partially visible, as if sinking in the sand in Charlton Heston’s original Planet of the Apes. That philosophy, seeded throughout the variety of ideas, include possibly not believing in God but finding the need to pray. See how he brings Palestine to Baltimore on track nine, discussed a few lines down. Gillen’s grasp of a hook, eloquent essaying and his veteran vocals make for an all-around strong performance, hitting all cylinders. Remember Paul Kantner’s 1987 video and song for the KBC band, “America?” Thematically we are still in the same place, if not more critical with the plethora of skewed headlines, and like a good outing for Law and Order: SVU, the songwriter/singer pulls pertinent ones together for his musical OpEd. “Return of the Buffalo,” also coming in at three minutes plus, is a standout. Great song, great hook, and reminiscent of Elton John’s second American album, Tumbleweed Connection, where lyricist Bernie Taupin utilized Elton’s voice and music to record his purported interest in the wild old west while working on conquering America as Roxy Music tried with “Prairie Rose,” and David Bowie succeeded with when he danced with the “Young Americans.” Gillen’s voice gives this important melody what it deserves creating a moment that is both memorable and unique. This is an American singing about America, not a Brit experimenting with our country’s ideas (not that we mind that…it’s just that we’re the ones experiencing this world.) It glides in and out quickly like a pure pop song should, with staying power and also reminding those so inclined of the Star Trek episode, “The Man Trap,” the first episode to ever air.
Over the dozen tracks – which I’ve played in my car repeatedly – the vision is clear – a political statement on life in 2016/2017 with. My computer skipped up to “Baltimore Burns,” track 9, and it actually works quite well after “Return of the Buffalo” in retrospect. It is one of only three of the dozen compositions which are in the four-minute mark, the other nine three minutes plus, Gillen Jr. smartly giving his commentary within a pop structure that makes for a more dramatic impact. “She Loved” is folk/acoustic with country leanings, going back to where country radio was in the 1960s and 70s, including a line about her like for John Denver and Johnny Cash. “Julia,” co-written – as is track 3, “Future Americans,” with the equally talented Matt Turk (the pair also perform live as “Gillen and Turk,” ) is a change of pace, undercurrents of CSNY’s “Ohio” mixed with Robin Gibb’s popular classic solo outing, “Juliet.” Elegantly packaged in a six-panel cardboard, eco-friendly case, Gillen has taken a turn here from previous recordings to read – almost like spoken word over smartly crafted instrumentation. That’s expressed carefully in “Some Call it Karma, Some Call it Grace,” always with a chorus to underline the thoughts being expressed. “Where Are You Tonight Fallen Angel” concludes this next chapter in Fred Gillen Jr’s impressive journey calling out for a damaged someone, remembering the better aspect of a special friend who’s lost their way. A great conclusion to a thought-provoking disc that is worth your time exploring more than a few spins.
Worth noting from the P.R.: What She Said (2017) Full-length, solo, studio album #10, released on the 20th anniversary of album #1. 8 new Fred Gillen Jr original songs, and 4 co-writes with Abbie Gardner, Steve Kirkman, and Matt Turk.
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.