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Grand Design, Indeed

If you had walked up to me as long ago as last month and asked me how long it had been since Rich McCulley's last album--- Starting All Over Again--- I would have said a little over a year. I might have also said that Jimmy Carter was president and Yugoslavia still existed because I am that screwed up these days. The world is spinning past me faster than I can imagine and I find that I have not enough time left to even begin to do and read and see and listen to all of the things I want, but that's okay. I'm doing the best that I can (rag) and I'm trying to not let music get past me any more than it has to and let me tell you that it ain't easy these days. I get emails constantly, mostly from PR people and indie musicians who hope that I have some influence (I don't) and will give them a heads up among the few people who can stand me enough to read reviews of music I deem worthy and maybe mention names to people who actually have influence (I do know a few, but I'm not sure they listen anymore than anyone else). It's a throw-the-album-against-the-wall era in music and not too much is sticking. On others' walls, it seems. Me, I have walls covered with albums and album jackets and am having trouble finding enough time and energy to give them the attention they deserve. They just keep piling up.

Case in point. Rich McCulley. I have kept in touch with him since writing a glowing review of that last album and here he is, sending me his latest, The Grand Design. I seriously thought that Starting hit the street barely over a year ago but when I pulled the album out for a close look, it was 2010. Where the hell does time go? Not only that, The Grand Design has been released alongside a new album by Todd Herfindal, a name I recognized but only as a co-conspirator on some of Rich's songs. That's cool, I'm thinking. But when I headed to his Bandcamp page to listen, it turns out that Right Here Now, his newest album, is not his first. What the hell? I think it's a conspiracy. I think people are somehow keeping good music hidden. Because that's what these guys write and play. Good music!

Good Pop music, anyway. Pop in the sense of the lighter songs from Shoes and maybe Matthew Sweet. Pop in the sense that it's all major chords and harmonies and hooks. Pop in the sense that they write stand-alone songs, the music wrapped up like a humbow with beginning, middle and end. Not a lot of people write like that anymore.

Actually, now that I think about it, plenty of people attempt to write like that. Most are, sadly, unsuccessful is all. McCulley and Herfindal seem to be born to it. Their melodies fit perfectly with the harmonies and both are in abundance, buoyed by hooks and chord changes made to avoid the cookie cutter's edge. And the cool thing is that they are practically brothers in the studio. On these projects, they used pretty much the same musicians, recorded albums at pretty much the same time and in the same studio, and in fact recorded different versions of the same songs.

I mean, it ain't supposed to happen that way, is it? Different albums are supposed to be recorded, well, differently, aren't they? If you listen closely, these are. A simple matter of shuffling the lead vocals and putting a different spin on the song. Take, for instance, Right Here Now. On Herfindal's album, it is the title track with Herfindal's lead voice, the song light with air under its wings. On McCulley's, it is given heavier treatment, the instruments up front and more powerful. Both are excellent, but they're on different planes.

Which one do I prefer? Why do I have to make a choice? I love them both, largely because it is a f**king great song. These guys write songs like that. Listen to Herfindal's Shine Shine and tell me that's not as good as anything you've heard recently. I tell you, it's a stone hit! Or McCulley's Who'll Hang the Moon? This isn't potential, sports fans. These guys are already there! Their albums are stuck on my wall. Please. Find me a lady who has these on her wall and I'll marry her! Honest to God!

Whew! Too much? I thought so, but I can't help it. The music makes me crazy and the fact that not everyone is listening makes me crazier. Look. I'm not telling you to buy the albums! I'm just asking you to give them a listen. Please. Make an old man happy. And one day when we're both sitting at the bar and you mention Herfindal or McCulley or both in positive terms, I will buy you a beer. Tell you what, mention both and I'll get you drunk, even if you aren't a half-naked twenty -five year old hottie. Deal?

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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