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Published: 2012/02/08
by Brian Robbins

Jay Gonzalez
Mess Of Happiness

Middle Brow Music

The ring-tailed pisser is, if Jay Gonzalez’ Mess Of Happiness had existed in (pick a decade): the 1960s … or ‘70s … or (God help ‘em) the ‘80s … or the ‘90s, even … any or all of them … there are tunes on this album that would have commandeered the top of the pop charts like a Navy SEAL team.

The fact of the matter is, however, it’s 2012. Mess Of Happiness is one hell of a sweet little album just the same – but the music biz has simply got too damn weird and bloated for it to receive its proper accolades. And that just ain’t right.

But we won’t dwell on that. Mess Of Happiness is chock-brimming-full of bits of sunshine and light with occasional handfuls of sequins tossed in the air and a tie-dyed throw hove over the whole works. You probably know Jay Gonzalez as the keyboard wizard whose presence has helped to reshape the Drive-By Truckers’ sound for the last few years. Mess Of Happiness shows many more musical sides of Gonzalez, both in terms of musical styles and musical ability.

There are a few sit-ins from friends: drummers Peter Alvanos, Brandon McDearis, and Jeff Griggs each climb behind the kits for a song each. Co-Trucker John Neff lays down some sweet steel guitar on the album closer “Dios Te Bendiga”, along with some six-string by Chris Grehan. (Grehan also toots a bit of French horn on “Baby Tusk”, which features George Davidson absolutely blowing his sax inside-out.) And little Billy Gonzalez (son of Jay) makes his vocal debut on a couple of tunes, as well.

The rest of the music you hear? Well, that is all courtesy of Mr. Gonzalez himself, boys and girls – making Jay a prime candidate for the “Todd Rundrgen Something/Anything? DIY” statuette. Amongst the plethora of sounds he produces over the album’s dozen tracks are some pretty wicked guitar picking – from the crunch and wail of the opener “Punch of Love” to the sunflower-headed pop chords of “Tension” to the palm-muted bark of the intro to “The Will” – a tone you haven’t heard since Wilco’s “Too Far Apart” on A.M. (So now’s the time for the “Three Dimes Down” DBT fan board to erupt with pleas for Jay to strap on a 6-string and join comrades Hood, Cooley, and Neff for some sort of crazy-ass guitar meltdown at an upcoming show.) But have no fear – even the early smolder of “The Will” soon gives way to luscious dollops of keyboard swirl and sonic pudding.

Gonzalez worked between Trucker tours and album sessions to put Mess Of Happiness together – but that doesn’t mean it takes itself too, too seriously. For instance, if you can’t guess the subject of the instrumental “Phil’s ‘Fro” by the name alone, the Wall Of Sound Gonzalez builds will clue you in. The Wall vibe returns for “I Urge You” – another one of those tunes that would’ve been blasting out of the grills of transistor radios all over the country in 1964. And how many times have you wanted to tell a bud, “Thanks for turning me on to that song”? Well, good ol’ Jay has done it for you – in the aptly-named tune “Turning Me On”.

Next time, give ‘em a copy of Mess Of Happiness to show your appreciation.

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