Solo Electric – David Gans
Talkin’ Americana folk blues is not a dying art form — more like a shifting liquid environment that somehow never goes out of fashion in certain neurological regions. Songwriters wrestle with the same issues that their forefathers mined many a decade ago. Pull out any old folk or country blues record from the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s — heck, pull out your Dylan ’62 — folks griped about injustice by The Man and romantic cultural wanderlust. Today, the stakes have been raised and changes happen more frequently — political, cultural, supernatural or the ever-violent wheel of Mother Nature. Sometimes, it feels like the ’60s again — not that I would know what that feels like — only, now, the music appears less na, less optimistic — not jaded yet, mind you, just hard.
David Gans’ new work, Solo Electric, battles subtle lyrical gloom masked by an active and vibrant guitar tone that echoes Stephen Stills as much as it shadows the ghost of Jerry Garcia. Some of the passages are like the Dead’s wonderful segues out of a perfect late ’80s Drums/Space. Take the nine-minute run-through of “Mud Wrestling Jam.” Gans covers a lot of space highway by rotating riffs, echoing hooks, wah-wah note chunks and mixing everything together into a revolving kaleidoscope that just keeps chugging down a black highway; headlights off, Metheny’s in the back seat and the sound is both adventurous and dissonant. I can almost hear Lesh in the distance yelling: “Right on, Gans!” “Echolalia” tumbles over the ice quite nicely and approaches a melodic dance that is quite nice after the sinister nocturnal foray. Garcia is shelved for a fine waltz through David Nelson’s Purple Sage Country.
“Dawn’s Early Light” (a two-minute mystery trance) and “Labor Day Jam” (ten minutes of unadulterated and wonderfully weird Gans guitar mastery) further his deep commitment to music that questions authoritative structures. Robert Hunter’s lyrics make an appearance on “Like a Dog” and spin a new yarn about the woes of the broken, beaten everyman with Gans throwing in a “Lady With A Fan” tease at song’s coda. Similarities to the work of the Grateful Dead are easy and obvious but Gans is an artist testing new talking blues formats via voice and guitar with a dash of psychedelics mixed with modern urban rage.
This haunting duality is best evidenced in the shocking venom known as “An American Family,” a tale of modern disillusionment that reeks with so much bitter disgust that Gans offers to “checker-flag the whole human race.” The song travels along as a hopped-up Neal Cassady on a bad day roams the post-apocalyptic Hell of Dylan’s “Desolation Row.” Gans quips at song’s beginning: “This song’s about some people I know; you know them, too.” Will someone much stronger than you or I always smash the disenfranchised into a million forgettable fragments? Gans builds his storybook scenes with patient confidence that require a fair bit of attention to detail. His guitar work is complex yet easy on the ear; his lyrics, fleeting bursts of Dylan Thomas “quiet desperation”-slugfests that are neither preachy nor mundane. However, his ultimate gift in this new collection may be his continuing voyage away from the long shadow of his San Francisco mentors.