The opening number of Eston & the Outs’ new record, AMGold, begins as straightforward doo-wop/rock. But its simple nature belies the complexity behind this wonderful collection of songs. Eston Dickinson can’t string us along for even half a song, though. The downshift from Donna to Nancy in Whatever Donna / A Notch for Nancy is downright majestic, recalling Dan Bejar (sans affectation) with his own Neko Case (courtesy ex-L-Daddy Issues’ Lo Davy), channeling the most anthemic moments of Twin Cinema. Piano, organ, cello, and trumpet add to the lushness… seems Eston’s got his own Wrecking Crew.
Already it feels like we’ve run through a whole album in the first song, but AM Gold continues to shine. I’ve barely been listening to it for 24 hours, and my favorite song has changed 4 or 5 times. There’s not a weak link on it.
The title cut reminisces -- lyrically & musically -- about the heyday of AM radio, arguing you can still enjoy it today, “in a hoopdee or a Model-T” (for free! without an iPhone!). Luxy’s Last Kiss is a straight-up homage to Scott Walker. Clinking keys, melancholy cello, and pining “ahh ahhh ahhhs” underpin this gloomy tale of a femme fatale. Seems to be a lot of that particular species populating the songs here: Luxy is a “cunning minx, she had a plan for me”, Donna/Nancy leaves you “licking your wounds” / ”with a heart of blue.”
Just Another Holiday has crunchy organ and thudding rhythms apropos to the subject of a vacation from one’s own brain. This one’s probably more than a little influenced by fellow Out Stu McLamb’s more recent, heavier Love Language (if not SOON) material. As Easy As You Please is a jumpy bit of post-Mersey beat/pre-psychedelia Brit Pop, right down to the song title... maybe even a hint of PRE-Mersey skiffle in there.
Color… wow. Just. Wow. It’s a heart-achingly beautiful pastoral. This is the type of song that should have scored some sad, romantic film from 1968. Cello and flute slo-mo thrust and parry a minuet, as Dickinson relates relationship-as-painting metaphor, harmonizing with Davy (who is again a highlight here).
The closing number gets more literally pastoral (Green Pastures), and is perhaps the most upbeat song on the album. It’s a zen-like acceptance of moving forward with the life you’ve got, and is full of great imagery… always love me a good nautical metaphor. It ends the album on an optimistic note: “Within all the good seeds that you root, it's the hearts you leave unbruised.”
As you would expect from the title, the influences of AM Gold run deep. While its soul lies in the earliest days of rock’n’roll, its heart lives in late ‘60s and early ‘70s California. Nothing is ever totally new; everything builds on the old. But nowadays, with access to practically every artist that has ever recorded (which I’ve said before and I’ll say again is the best thing to happen to modern music), good songwriters have a near infinite well upon which to draw. Dickinson takes full advantage, harvesting this boon and creating something original in the process.
While definitely its own thing, Gold is sonically closest to an Elephant 6 record as I’ve heard around here (thinking Beulah and the Gerbils). Maybe it's the instrumentation. This is thanks in no small part to the afore-mentioned crew, so I have to name them. They’re a veritable Who’s Who of local music. Besides Davy and McLamb, there’s Ben Carr (Last Years’ Men) on trumpet, guitar, etc, Mark Connor (SOON, Strange Faces) on guitar and bass, Dan Grinder (Gray Young) on bass, Tom Simpson (Love Language, SOON, Human Eyes, The Dead Tongues) on drums, Morgan Friedman (Flash Car) and Autumn Ehinger (Love Language) on keys, Jeff Crawford and Jon Lindsay on piano, and Hart Dementi on acoustic guitar. Notably, Emily Pate plays the wonderful flute on Colors, and Josh Starmer (The Star Makers, and anytime anyone else needs a great cellist) plays cello throughout.
I’m not sure how many of these guys are formally Outs, but I hope they ALL show up – to a number --and play at the CD release show for AM Gold. This, by the way, is at the Cat’s Cradle Backroom, tomorrow (Fri, 8/21/15). The mysterious Shelles and John Howie, Jr. (solo) open.