Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Steve Gillette -- The Man

The Man
Compass Rose Music

The Man is a very different kind of album for Steve Gillette – one of the finest folk-oriented singer-songwriters since the 1960s. (His best-known song is “Darcy Farrow,” a standard of the folk repertoire since Ian & Sylvia recorded it about 45 years ago.)

The Man is a concept album that tells the story of Danny Murrow, a guitar player who was there at the dawn and flowering of the jazz age in the early decades of the 20th century leading up to and including the Great Depression and Second World War. Steve uses a combination of spoken word narration on top of instrumental versions of songs from that era, songs from those days he sings in Danny’s character, and several original songs that he wrote – and one Bessie Smith song that he rewrote – to move the story along.

Steve tells Danny’s story using a combination of fact and fiction. The fictional Danny interacts with all kinds of real musicians including the likes of Paul Whiteman, Bix Biederbecke, Bessie Smith, as well as John Hammond, the legendary talent scout and record producer. He picks up songs from Fats Waller, Count Basie and Yip Harburg and is affected by the contemporary events of the world from the racism of the era to the stock market crash and the loss of his son in the war – an event that leads him into a period of intense soul searching in which he concludes (in one of Steve's original songs) that "God is love, only love, nothing more, nothing less."

Steve surrounds himself with some great musicians on these tracks including the likes of Bill Shontz, Peter Davis, Dave Davies and Peter Ecklund on horns; Randy Wolchek and Steve’s late father, George Gillette, on piano; Jack Williams on guitar; Scott Petito, Glen Fukunaga and David Jackson on bass; Mark Graham on harmonica; and Paul Pearcy on drums. Among the all-star back-up singers are Cindy Mangsen; Kim and Reggie Harris; and Greg Artzner and Terry Leonino (Magpie).

I love what Steve has done with this album. In telling Danny’s fictional story, he’s also giving us a small slice of the early jazz world.

Steve has also put together a website about the project that is well worth checking out.

--Mike Regenstreif

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