Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Ralph Gean “His Music, His Story”

(Discriminate Audio) One of the attributes we at Roctober most admire in an artist is the refusal to give up, even when you probably should. For well over half of century rock and roll lifer Ralph Gean has been banging away on his acoustic guitar, writing rockabilly-inspired pop tunes, and playing wherever and whenever opportunity allows, which it rarely has. Although this release is a few years old I’ve never seen it, and feel as if I’ve been missing out on something important, and if this is new to you run, don’t duckwalk, to get it. This two disc set opens with a career retrospective initially curated by Boyd Rice a while back that includes the b-sides of his two early 60s 45s, lo-fi home recordings from the 70s, 80s and 90s, and some 21st Century live tracks.  A good guitarust with a distinct, homey baritone, and a clever songwriter, Gean is represented as a novelty artist here in some respects, as his earliest inclusion is a song about the Ben Casey TV show, and later tracks try to cash in on Lorena Bobbitt, the Hale-Bopp comet, and Star Trek. But what made the nomadic, former polygamist more than an outsider/Dr. Demento act is a skill for songwriting that is no joke, attested to by oddly captivating tracks like “Experimental Love” (which is not as explicitly freaky as you’d hope…“Guitar Pickin’ Teabag” is similarly chaste). But what made him a hit with the underground kids for a spell was a suite of songs he’d written for an unproduced horror movie…jaunty numbers about serial killing, murder gone wrong, and falling in love with your technician during your court ordered electro-lobotomy. Disc 2 features the fruits of the lifelong Elvis fans visits to Memphis, where one can pay a house band to back you up in the original Sun Studio. His Sun Sessions demonstrate just how solid his compositions are when backed with journeyman pros, and his energetic covers show what a fine showman Gean is. As far as critiques of the release: while I certainly can imagine reasons for their exclusions, Brian M. Clark’s stellar, respectful liner notes reference several recordings not included (a childhood gospel acetate, his 60s A-sides, unreleased early recordings), and the Sun session guys are a little tamer than they should be on some numbers (particularly a cover of the Phantom’s “Love Me”). But praise is really my main takeaway here, and I was thrilled to see, as of late last year at least, Gean was still alive and kickin out the jams. He deserves immortality.

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