Influence. That’s the word Philly-born Vance Gilbert doesn’t mind hearing when anyone describes his music. He says he’s black but plays an acoustic guitar but not the blues. One reviewer said he was “a folkie trapped in a vaudevillian body;” I agree. Gilbert also admitted he wanted to be a “5’5 white woman,” after he saw Shawn Colvin in concert.
So, with 13 LPs Mr. Gilbert has accumulated many accolades. With his new 12-track collection Vance Gilbert never strikes out when he’s up at-bat. Good, Good Man (release Jan. 24th – Disismye Music) is his latest home run.
Now, Vance is not the first black singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar – that would probably be the late, wonderful Bobby Hebb (“Sunny” – 1966). Vance has that attraction Hebb possessed & maybe a pinch more.
Vaudeville, yes – I hear some Leon Redbone, Michael Franks, Kenny Rankin, but also early Taj Mahal & even soul singer Angelo Bond in Vance’s showcase. Not as an imitation – but as strong influence.
The LP is sprinkled with top-performers like Chris Smither, soul singer Al Green’s organist Stacey Wade, The Subdudes Tommy Malone on guitars, & alt-rocker Mike Posner. Vance doesn’t sing falsetto but with a variety of pure folk voices — grams of soul, folk, old-school R&B, Celtic, Middle-of-the-road, lounge jazz & yes, vaudeville. Well-woven into concise songs sung with poignancy & sincerity.
The acoustic guitar patches into beautiful storytelling such as in “Pie & Whiskey,” with its warm folky-soulful vocal not often found in straight folk songs. Title track “Good, Good Man,” has more soulful spices. Recorded well with a crisp snare drum & old-school orchestration with a Steve Cropper type lead guitar. This has Angelo Bond symptoms – though he’d sing it in a higher register.
“Trust,” is funkier. Hammond organ drifts through with a cool lay of creative lyrics punctuated by horns. The exceptional “Cousin Shelly’s Station Wagon” is a short-story with piano. Diversity high. It’s lovely, that’s the word I’m looking for. Sung with emotion without being dramatic.
Here’s the vaudeville – as performed with musical flair, horns & comedic timing. “Zombie Pattycake,” is not filler, it’s a great tale told with a delicious trombone, acoustic strum & deep male backup vocals. “Another Good Day Above Ground,” with its crisp acoustic & hard-stamping drum with a vintage trumpet solo — should be a standard. Very Taj Mahal-Ry Cooder in tradition. This is an LP heavyweight.
“Hitman,” is an atmospheric, intense tale that reminds me of the style of Ruben Blades’ English song (“The Hit”). These songs are cousins.
Are all the songs stellar? No. But there’s something for everyone. That can be both the peril and the excitement. Fortunately, there are far better listens here than poor ones. It’s like a box of donuts – hard to choose what’s tastiest.
Vance tries his Lord Buckley type dialogue rant on “The Day Before November” & it’s commendable. The 42-minute CD was produced by Vance. Criticism: CD art is too busy with too much type. List musicians clearly include lyrics, & exit. The contents are flavorful, keep it all attractive.