The Ones That Look the Weirdest Taste the Best – David Gans
There are a few special artists whose lyrics wrap an entire emotional scenario within the confines of a song, as if a script had been adapted and put to a melody. Off the top of my head I can think of Nick Cave who has actually moved on to pen scripts and prose, Peter Case… even David Gedge of the Wedding Present, who can portray a couple’s bitterness as it develops over years. When you move to the folk world, it’s pretty much a given that the material is going to paint a mental picture. Still, there’s such a fine line between those who create a satisfying mix of words and music versus those whose earnestness and lack of skill become the fodder for parody. In the case of David Gans, there’s no need to worry. With a background as a journalist, radio scriptwriter, and author, he’s developed a sharpened sense of how to relate thoughts as concisely as possible.
With Gans capably handing the task of writing or co-writing 10 of the 11 tracks, he receives a worthwhile assist by the members of Railroad Earth and Zac Matthews of Hot Buttered Rum String Band, among others. Produced by Railroad Earth's Tim Carbone, Carbone joins fellow members John Skehan III, Andy Goessling and Johnny Grubb to provide Gans with a charming and effective instrumental background. It’s that combination of song and players that gives “Shove in the Right Direction” the kick it deserves and imbues “Save Us from the Saved” with a serene presence that makes a stronger case in its resistance to religious intolerance.
Known for his long association with the Grateful Dead—he is the longtime host of the Grateful Dead Hour, the author of several books, producer of albums, etc.—Gans aligns himself with the band only when it serves a distinct purpose. His cover of Jim Page’s “Down to Eugene,” which also appears on Gans’ Solo Acoustic, provides that sentimental and knowing smile of being on the Bus for a road trip that never ends. But, there is much more on Gans’s mind than just making an album that only heads can relate to. Made in 2007, Gans tackles the downturn of the working class, romantic bliss, organically-grown food, and resisting the haters in the name of God.
What it lacks in strength, Gans’s voice makes up in a slightly grizzled been-there-seen-that wisdom. That aspect to his tone comes especially handy on “An American Family,” the opposite of the wide-eyed enthusiasm embraced on “Down to Eugene." The song chronicles those still trying to find their way to the American Dream. While the majority of The Ones That Look… revel in a rootsy atmosphere, this is the closest to a jam track that expands the basic structure before making a soft landing and returning to the next verse. The acoustic sounds are also gently nudged in subtle electric directions with the lap steel and loping pace of “Headin’ Home Already, which gives the tune a New Riders of the Purple Sage feel. Likewise, the yearning “Autumn Day” bears influence from Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, with an Americana-meets-Los Lobos soundtrack.
Gans ends the album with “It’s Gonna Get Better,” a positive song for the perpetually pessimistic. A chorus of “It’s gonna get worse before it gets better because I know it’s gonna get better” doesn’t downplay the problems of the present with a pair of rose-colored glasses. In Gans's case, keeping hope alive remains the only option when you have an appreciation for the world and a love to see things through to a better tomorrow.