Laura Gibson - Goners - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Laura Gibson - Goners

by Bill Golembeski Rating:10 Release Date:2018-10-26
Laura Gibson - Goners
Laura Gibson - Goners

This is a beautifully eerie album that echoes out of the Oregon wooded world. It is, to quote the lyrics, “the pause between the riddle and the punchline.” I suppose this is folk music; but really, with the emphasis on piano and Wurlitzer, rather than the traditional folk-singer guitar idiom, this is much more a work of Americana art, with music as its chosen medium.

Perhaps, that’s just a (sort of) pretentious way of saying this is a great album made by an American playing American music in a very American manner.

The work of Joe Henry offers a similar sincere magnitude.

Several of the tunes stray from that folky template and engulf a very cinematic soundscape. The movie How the West Was Won comes to mind. And there’s a favorite scene from the film where Zebulon “Zeb” Rawlings tells of the time he asked his father Linus Rawlings (played by Jimmy Stuart!) if he liked fighting a bear. He recalls his dad saying, “Well, not ‘specially. I just wanted to go somewhere and that bear was there first. I guess I just wanna to go somewhere, too.”

That’s a very American thing to say.

This record conjures the mysteries of the time, space, the universe, and mankind’s somber take on our own mortality. And speaking of all of that and evolution, I recall the great Carl Sagan in his book Cosmos, mentioning that “Sex seems to have been invented about two billion years ago.” I think I mentioned this in some other review, but I re-read the book recently, and, he says (to paraphrase his words) that one organism bumped into another organism, exchanged DNA, and, well, speeded the process quite a bit.  And that’s a good thing. I mean, Laura Gibson wouldn’t have made this record, and I wouldn’t be writing this review if those organisms hadn’t shared a Willie Dixon wang dang doodle all those years ago.

And speaking of Laura Gibson’s own time, space, universe, and evolution: this is very different from her La Grande album. That was upbeat and almost old-timey music. This steps away from the obvious. Good artists do that every once in a while.

“I Carry Water” has no folky guitar at all. There’s simply a voice and a ghostly piano/organ frame. It’s a sadly deep song. Atmosphere envelops the tune, but its echoey atmosphere wears elements of age, sorrow, weary wisdom, and compassion, all of which are added to the chemical equation.

“Domestication” again avoids the obvious singer-songwriter guitar expectation, and soars with David Hunt’s perfectly patient percussion, Kyleen King’s sympathetic strings, and once again, Laura’s worthy of Smithsonian all Americana voice that sings her theme about “the ways we share our loss with others, the ways we project pain, lash out or become cracked open by the immediacy of another person.”

This is the deep music of that pause between the riddle and the punchline.  

To quote another great American artist, David Byrne, with The Talking Heads’ song “Life During Wartime,” “This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around.”

Yeah, this ain’t no American Idol stuff.

But “Slow Joke Grin” resurrects the acoustic guitar simplicity of previous albums.

And resurrection is very much part of the American psyche.

“Goners” is irresistible in its melody. There is nary a guitar to be found, but the tune pulses the Mississippi River lifeline with horns and strings that ooze deeply into the muddy waters of America.

And “Performers” is, again, a return to an acoustic, timeless, and lovely sound, with a touch of electronic whispers. As is “Clemency.” This is simply time standing still in sepia photographic pathos.

The record bleeds an American soul: “Tenderness” is yet another melodic pick of Eden’s apple with Dave Depper’s wonderful bass. Laura’s multi-tracked vocals simply soar.

It’s just a thought, but the absent guitar is artistically heard, ironically, in the void of its own absence. It’s like all the missing props from Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town where the common everyday objects like teacups, fence gates, and even Howie Newsome’s horse are also absent to prove Joni Mitchell’s great “Big Yellow Taxi” chorus, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” to be a sadly tragic clarion call to a world in which detailed patience is often lost. And this record is, indeed, about the patient detail of everyday life.

And then “Marjory” has a melody like some Civil War song from either side. Kelly Pratt’s horns echo the stuff Garth Hudson did with The Band’s somber songs. “Thomas” is an acoustic beauty with plucked sadness and languid melody that is, once again, couched in a grove of quiet woodwinds.

“I Don’t Want Your Voice to Move Me” is the dogged ending that simply strums its soul against the headwinds that curse the success of all defiance. It is, perhaps, some sort of secular prayer. It’s sincere emotional American music made by an American in a very American manner.

This is lovely stuff.

In his biblical exodus from Genesis explanation letter from really long ago, Peter Gabriel asked the proverbial question: Why did the chicken cross the road, anyway? Now, of course, the world is filled with multiple guess answers that ask: only A; only A&B; only B&C; A, B, C, but not D; the multi-platinum Genesis album (which covers way too many letters of the early alphabet) ABACAB; and, of course, all of the above, none of the above, or, the always the popular choice: to make Phil Collins write “Sussudio” and become a superstar.

But no, the chicken crosses the road to get to the other side; and that other side is filled with songs like “Biko,” a few Neil Young records, just about everything Dylan ever did, a whole lot of records that never made it past the cut-out bin; and occasionally, a record like this that denies confidant certainty and plays beautiful music on the always new frontier of the age-old Americana songbook. Yeah, This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around. It’s a bonafide American artist crossing a road, perhaps with a Jimmy Stuart bear standing in the way, because, well, like any road in America, it just begs to be crossed. So, this record, like a hand-stitched embroidered sampler message from an antiquated age of long ago, simply sings, in almost multiple guess alphabetic perfection, “I just wanna go somewhere, too.”

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