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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2001/07/20
by Mike Gruenberg

Review of The Jack Smead 6 Album, Aishitelu; I Shot Lou"

I have been a collector of music for over forty years. To me, these albums not only have given me hours of musical pleasure but also represent what was going on in my life at the particular times of purchase. I can easily recollect why I bought certain albums and what the music meant for me at that time. Whether the rationale for collecting a particular album was simply for fun, solace or entertainment, my albums became entwined in my existence. Certain albums have always carried me through tough times, whereas other albums were played during the good times. In essence, the music was able to bring happiness, hope or just fill vacant time.
When I listen to an album, I try to listen to more than the music. Being a student of the entire recording process, I have always tried to understand the theme of the album, the relevance of the songs contained and the skill of the producer who puts it all together. In my opinion, all of these elements, in addition to the quality of the songs are important if I expect to continually listen to certain albums. Some albums lose their edge early on, whereas others sound fresh and vital many years after their release. One would hope that when the artist and producer map out the strategy of the contents of the album prior to recording that they would aim to create a product that will be of lasting quality. The album I am about to review is one that has the elements to become a favorite of mine.
The Jack Smead 6 is actually a four man group comprised of Jack Smead, Mikey Keane, Keith Christopher and Charlie Kohlmeyer, All four of these men are music industry veterans having appeared in a whos who of groups over the years. They are musicians, writers, producers and arrangers. They have released an album called Aishitelu; I Shot Lou on a small independent label.
I was initially struck by the simplicity of the recording. There is no strings, no horns, and no background singers, just honest and straightforward folk inspired music. The spirit of the album is almost as though Jack and the guys are sitting around his living room and playing tunes while giving us a glimpse of their lives. The influence on the group by such artists as Leonard Cohen and Eric Anderson is evident. If you were preparing to go out to see the group perform and you wanted to get an idea of what they will sound like, this album will serve as the perfect example of what to expect. If you dont like what you hear on the album, then you may want to go elsewhere because in this case, what you hear is what you get.
The guitar work of Jack and Keith combined with Mikeys soulful vocals punctuated by Charlies percussion makes this an incredibly enjoyable offering. I particularly like Walk Away. This is an upbeat number, which showcases all the members of the group in a most positive manner. Keiths guitar solo on this one in excellent. This is a good time tune that you easily remember. In my opinion, I would release this song as a single because it has all the elements of a hit record. My other upbeat favorite is Has Anybody Seen My Dog which is another one of those tunes that you inevitably remember and hum to yourself. Its hard not to remember these songs. Their beauty is in their simplicity.
On the other hand, Time To Dress Me For The Coffin is a dark and introspective song examining the thoughts one goes through before death. Mikeys haunting vocals make this a true winner on the album. In essence, the words are based on the Sioux Indian ritual of preparing ones soul for death.
Aishitelu which is Japanese for I Love You sounds like I Shot Lou. Mikey wrote a tongue in cheek song in which he shoots the members of the group including him. After meeting Mikey, I can honestly say that shooting the group is the last thing on his mind. Its another gem on the album.
This album is one of those obscure records that comes up as a winner. The more you listen to it, the more it grows on you. There a songs to make you laugh, songs to make you think and songs that you will probably sing along with. If you can find this album, buy it. If you cant find it, go to The Bar on East 11th Street in NYC and see the band.

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