12.2.10 | CD Review: Pat Anderson | Magnolia Road
I listen to Pat Anderson and am reminded of how really great Nashville could be if they could only shake themselves loose from that formula-driven pap they seem to have latched onto. Give them a hit and they will surely run it into the ground quick enough, trying to squeeze that blood from the proverbial turnip and thus assure themselves of their jobs at least until the next generation of accountants and lawyers step in to squeeze the turnip even harder. I have nothing against the likes of Kenny Chesney and Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert and Taylor Swift, but my God, can we make a little room up top? Nashville is overrun with amazingly talented artists who are symbolically kicked to the curb by the corporate “experts” of Modern Country, most of which isn’t country anyway. Singing with an accent and wearing a fancy cowboy hat makes the music country no more than does a banjo and a mandolin make bluegrass.
That said, there is no doubt that some great music is coming out of Nashville, some of it even from major labels. A little of it. Very little, now that I think about it— at least compared to the Indies. The difference? As far as I can tell, the Indie artists have freedom to record and write music for music’s sake. Major label artists seem to crank their songs out of a machine. No soul. Most of it, anyway— as far as I can tell— kinda.
If you want soul— not the genre but the feeling— Pat Anderson gives it to us in spades on his new album Magnolia Road. There is a touch of twang in his music and some crunch as well, but it changes from track to track and even within some tracks. He rocks, he rolls, he kicks ass and he countries it up but all with a touch which is distinctly beyond formula. Which is a long way around saying that he is a musician as well as a writer and he writes like he was born to it.
Anderson caught my ear right off on the lead-off track Follow Me Down with an almost Free sounding intro— guitar and electric piano a la a couple of songs off of the Heartbreaker album— so much so that in that few seconds I prepared myself to hear Paul Rodgers’ voice. While Rodgers did not appear, Anderson did and his voice is as pleasant if not as distinctive, carrying the song through an easy rocking 3:44. I was impressed, as I was by the tracks that followed— the country rocking The Hometown Blues, an easy rocker which would lay back any country or rock crowd; Six Spent Shells, a rocker with a hook (love the solid dueling rhythm guitars with slide guitar on top); the dramatic Martinsville, an ode to the trials of life which to some seem trivial and to others are everything; and Anderson’s amazingly outstanding Americana take on Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing In the Dark, a song I thought I never wanted to hear again until I heard this.
And then there is the personal attachment I have formed toward She’s the One. The first time I heard it I thought I heard something familiar and it produced a mind itch. There were remnants of early Chris Isaak there, and I dearly love Isaak’s first solo album, but it wasn’t him. I listened and listened and racked my brain and almost had it a number of times, and then it hit me. It wasn’t Isaak at all but Audrey Martell, a singer more known for her soul and R&B roots than anything else. Years ago, Martell sent me a copy of her then new album titled Life Line and I was totally knocked out by it, especially a track titled Heaven Is Hell. There is an ethereal beauty to that song which really got under my skin and I spent days playing it between albums I needed to review. I could not get enough and still backtrack to listen when I have the time gets away from me all too often these days, even as the urge builds. She’s the One is a mirror image of Heaven Is Hell (the sound, not the song) and I am amazed at how similar the guitar sound and the chord progressions are and would be even more amazed if Anderson had ever heard of Martell, but who knows? Stranger things have happened. The point is that like Heaven Is Hell, She’s the One is one of those songs I will never be able to forget and will never want to. An instant classic.
Not only that, it has a Will Kimbrough sound to it as well. What? I forgot to mention that Kimbrough played the session? Well, he did and I can’t help but hear his influence on a couple of the songs. Toss She’s the One or Six Spent Shells anywhere on Kimbrough’s standout Wings album and, but for the voice, you wouldn’t notice. Whether Anderson just has a similar gene that kicks in on certain songs or whether Kimbrough really did have an influence is anybody’s guess. Doesn’t matter. What’s good is good.
And Magnolia Road is not only good, it’s damn good. It’s Wings good, at the very least. Anderson is a noteworthy songwriter and if he never gets better, he is already plenty good. Of course, I expect better. One thing that makes these songs special is their depth— their ability to carry the listener away. On the gut level, they kick the crap out of 99% of the major label Nashville fare. Don’t believe it? All it takes is a sample or two. Do it now and maybe in the near future you will be telling everyone that you knew him when (and if you buy the CD, you’ll have physical proof). Just a suggestion, but a good one.
By Frank O. Gutch, Jr.: RockandReprise.net