The West Gate – Doug Pettibone
Hovering somewhere below the radar for a while now, Doug Pettibone’s The West Gate is available once again. My advice get it while you can.
If you need to ask “who?”, I’d ask you to recall Lucinda Williams’ “Righteously” off 2003’s World Without Tears. I’d be willing to bet that your head snapped around the first time one of those midnight-soaked insane guitar squalls struck between the verses. That, my friend, was Doug Pettibone master of the massive effects pedal board, with a taste for cheap guitars that rivals that of Steve Kimock. Since then, Pettibone and his band mates in Buick 6 have become the Crazy Horse to Lucinda’s Neil.
But forget all that for now: The West Gate knows no effects pedals (we’re talking mostly old acoustic guitars here) and although Lucinda does make a couple of appearances (we’ll get to those in a minute), this is Doug Pettibone’s album from beginning to end.
Other than some tasteful contributions by Nadege DeVet (violin) and Matt Fish (viola), Mr. P makes all the music on The West Gate’s 10 cuts, backing his guitar and vocals not only on mando, banjo, and bass, but with various bits of percussion and some good ol’ Dylan harp now and then. Seven of the album’s cuts belong to Doug, with moods ranging from the dreaminess of the title cut to the front-porch blues of “Honey Biscuit.” “Original Originator” (co-written by Ned Albright) features layer upon layer of good-timey Pettibone on everything from pots, pans, and wooden spoons to kazoo. And anyone who’s ever spent time out on the road with a little one at home is going to know just what he’s singing about in “Little Man.” (Get out yer handkerchiefs.)
It takes a brave soul to take on a Van Morrison cover, but Pettibone does a nice job of it on “Into The Mystic”: acoustic guitar over hand drums and a dobro softly wails the horn lines we all know by heart. There’s no attempt to out-soul Van; Pettibone just digs in and tells the tale and sounds real.
And then there’s the two cuts by the “Black Polka Dots” Hank (Pettibone) and Becky Mae (Lucinda) oh Lord. Choosing to adopt the personas of what sounds like a badly stage-frightened/possibly half-drunk redneck couple (brother/sister? husband/wife/cousins?) at a talent show, the duo tackle a pair of covers, the old Beatles’ classic “Two of Us” and Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me.” Nobody tries to be Gram and Emmy Lou here although “Two Of Us” has some neat harmonies. Rather, done in character, both songs are simply what they are: a let-it-all-hang-out hoot.
Any critics who ever wondered how Doug Pettibone would get along in an unplugged setting now have their answer with The West Gate: just fine, thank you.