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From Victorville To Clovis

And beyond, to be truthful. blasts out of the box knee deep in reverb and echo and awash in roots--- their roots, anyway. They claim The Sonics and Kinks and Velvet Underground as influences along with Bob Dylan and The Zombies and The Mamas and Papas, and that may be, but don't confuse influence with sound. These guys are as far from the sounds of those bands as you can get, having stirred a pot of '80s dance pop (mainly The B-52s) and deep track '60s Brit Rock and God knows what else until coming up with pure gold--- er, Goldie Wilson, anyway. Crossing vocals on the outer edge of the folk and pop rock of the mid- to late-'60s with keyboard sounds ranging from '60s Farfisa to full-on synthesizer to electric piano and jangly-to-over-amped guitar (with twists), they create their own alternate universe of music, familiar yet descriptively elusive.

It is the familiar which immediately grabs you. Moving On (Hell vs. New Mexico) is Neko Case-ready, leaning heavily on sounds prominent on Case's excellent Star Witness, but if you think these guys clone Case, forget it. Brash and in-your-face guitar dances with melodic keyboards on She's Calling the Shots, perfect for the male/female harmonies and the odd chord changes you might hear in the deep tracks of the very early Zombies. Crunching '60s Brit Rock chords set the pace for Pay No Mind, offset by the attitudinal harmony vocals and, again, the keyboards (more on that later). The overamped bass and retro drum beat makes you think that My Head Unwinds is going to mirror the garage, but the vocals set that to rest right away, melody taking it into light pop territory. Be prepared for a few surprises, though, because these guys do not play your granddaddy's pop. They throw in a Beatles' chord at the end, sure, but that's really as close as they get to formula. Are you getting the idea? 45 RPMs would play in the '80s as well as it does today, wrapping a B-52's sound in a Goldie Wilson package. I mean, “Come, come, come on!/Let's dance, come on!”--- that's go-go boots and ratted hair. Perfect. Vivian thrives on the heavy reverb and echo I mentioned earlier, voices dipped and guitar drowned in it, and while it is a recipe one might want only in small doses, this dose is classic. I have no idea what it is about Victorville, but this song has played in my head since first listen. Maybe it's the chorus, a mildly spacey interlude between power pop verses, with its subdued “Tomorrow I'm leaving for Victorville” lead-in, or the poppy keyboard at the end, or the chambers on the voices. Whatever it is, it's got me hooked. You almost expect to hear the maniacal laugh at the beginning of The Ventures' Wipeout when the drum beat of Bad News Baby kicks off, but this is hardly The Ventures. Again, a lesson in songwriting in that verse and chorus are in different dimensions, evidently a Mike Ball specialty. (Great job, Mike!) And you gotta love the feedback guitar and semi-electronic segue into what is fast becoming my favorite track on the album, Clementine, a song so perfectly layered with sounds and, for lack of a better term, 'team play' that it never fails to fascinate me. This, to me, is Goldie Wilson, band, at its best. But wait! I forgot Starlight Express, a song about the train to Salem? Did I hear that right? At the oddest times, Rose Bergdoll's “Is she your baby/Is she your ba-by” overrides everything in my head and I must say that when it does, life is good (or at the least, better). Two Star Motels keeps things moving, the minimal brassy guitar and voices of the first verse setting up the full band sound very well, indeed, and dig the guitar solo! Short, brassy and sweet! Back to the B-52's on Don't Press Your Luck (hey, I was never a B-52's fan, but I really like the way these guys handle the sound). The ghosts of Mickey & Sylvia invade Where Were You in '62?, the one song on which reverb and tremolo are absolutely necessary for effect. Big thumbs up. The buh-buh-buh vocals in the background of Gospel Truth screams '60s, but I cannot for the life of me name one group which used it successfully--- no, wait! The Strawberry Alarm Clock, maybe? Well, not exactly, but it's perfect support for the other segments of the song. This one could almost be a time warp except for the fact that I can't think of anyone, then or now, who writes quite like Ball. They didn't exactly save the best for last here, but they did save the longest. Shuffle tracks in at 7:59, fading to silence at about 2:30 or so before rejoining the world at about 6:00 to end it all. I think it's a trick to see if the critics are truly listening. Pretty sneaky, but it makes me laugh. More than one writing career has been torpedoed by reviews of concerts-that-weren't, so to speak.

Let us talk about listening habits for a second. Many people are so tied into the soundbyte thing that if they don't get something right off, they write it off. In the old days, we called it AM mentality, which meant simply that if it didn't fit AM radio (i.e., it wasn't a hit), it wasn't for them. If you're of that mind, Goldie Wilson is not for you. Mike Ball writes and the band plays music you might not get right off the bat and if you aren't willing to give them more than a cursory listen, you don't deserve them. Hell, I've been listening passionately to music for 5+ decades and even I had to work to appreciate what they have here. The great thing is, when you get it (and keep in mind that some songs take multiple hearings) it's way more than you can imagine. And even better, it won't wear out. Consider it a challenge.

About those keyboards. While Mike Ball and Rose Bergdoll will deservedly get the majority of pats on the back for this album, the rhythm section (Garret Troy and Matthew Beck) are absolutely solid, and then there is Yasuyuki Shiji. Shiji has the magic touch, delving into a myriad of sounds, looking for just the right one at the right time--- be it electric piano or farfisa and hammond organ or an incredible array of synthesized sounds. He unfailingly nails it each and every time. Just keyboards supporting the band, you say? Yes, but not just. His work is crucial to the sound. I doff my hat.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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