When most people drink it is, typically, socially. We drink in bars or at parties or at home with friends and there is, often music in the background. Drink and art are inextricably entwined throughout history. Cultural change reveals itself most clearly through movements in art and, less noticeably through our preferences in food and drink (ex.: the 17th century Baroque proclivities for ornate music, grandiose architecture, and dramatic paintings/sculpture were tied to a prevailing taste for ciders, and sweet, opulent, fortified wines like Madeira).
It stands to reason, then, that this blog will also feature posts of a broad cultural nature going forward. A review of wine or whisky should be no different than a film or music review here—they all are consumed similarly: with thoughtfulness, passion, and, hopefully, a degree of pleasure while evoking emotional responses and long-standing preferences. Therefore, I offer my first CD review:
Paint by Number$ — Andrew Luttrell Band
Baltimore, Maryland-based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist, Andrew Luttrell’s (Coal Mountain Ramblers, Luttrell-Noon-Wenger, Luttrell-Grimm Acoustic) first eponymous band release, Paint By Number$ (March 1, 2012), profoundly embodies its title while frequently straying outside the lines. Luttrell wears his myriad influences on his sleeve proudly throughout 10-tracks of, largely, American folk-rock, following the color code with a measure of irreverence and playfulness that keeps the 42-minute album lively and intriguing to the last.
Over the years, Luttrell has explored folk, jam-band/classic blues-rock, and bluegrass with equal enthusiasm and all are present here paired with an obvious love and knowledge of art history. The opening track, “Landscape Plains”, an imagining of the sad goings on out of view of Van Gogh’s paintings in a moden context, gives the listener an idea of the eclectic journey ahead as it is immediately reminiscent of recent-era Mark Knopfler playing an Ennio Morricone spaghetti-western soundtrack filtered through the crispness and atmospherics of Hugh Padgham production (in this case, actually produced by Luttrell and Christopher Freeland). Those kinds of incongruous associations continue on through the album and, generally, just plain work.
Visual art references abound in the aforementioned “Landscape Plains”; the modern alt-country character-study of a young theologian at a crossroads, “Sister Goes Bad”; and the Gram Parson’s-tinged impassioned love letter to art history, “Making Senses”. The relatively new idea of “corporatocracy” rears its ugly head on “Three’s A Crowd”, a straight-ahead socio-political commentary in the vein of the matter-of-fact vocals and Texas honky-tonk rock of James McMurtry. “Blink” is a pretty, plaintive lullaby most evocative of Neil Young’s finest delicate works. There’s a little nod to The Beatles/George Martin, too, in the swirling, backward interlude, “Abstract Recessionism”.
The party gets jumpin’ on the privacy/protection/paranoia jam-rocker, “You’re Stealing My Car”—the hookiest tune on the disc— swimming in Trey Anastasio and Bob Weir-styled guitar from Luttrell and Shane Grimm, respectively. The cleverly titled illustration of the uncertainty of living day to day, “Sara Sota” recalls the recent sneering southern blues-rock of Tom Petty while the dark, class-struggle commentary, “Draggin That Line” captures the grimy intensity of Cream/Blue Cheer/Big Brother & the Holding Company.
The supporting band of skillful new and long-time collaborators in the band bring plenty of established talent to the table—particularly notable are the juicy guitar of Grimm and Kirk Kness’ gently tidal organ on “You’re Stealing My Car”; Dave Hadley’s pedal steel, and Kevin Kutz’ fiddle on the bluegrass-inflected reflection on living in an uncertain place during less certain times, “Thursday Morning Two Forty-Five”; and Mark Hutchins’ driving bass, and Chris McGraw’s explosive drums on “Draggin’ That Line”. However, the whole thing is carried throughout by Luttrell’s guitar virtuosity, effortlessly gliding from lilting alt-country; to playful, modal jazz-informed jam-rock; to heavy blues-rock without a hitch.
Clearly, the experience is meant to be presented in physical media as a simple digital download will never bring the visual parallels intended with CD packaging. The gatefold sleeve features a playful cover art collage by Kat Rafferty and the booklet is replete with Luttrell’s abstract and representational paintings and drawings, too, which frequently correlate to the included lyrics.
Baltimore’s indie music scene has been, justifiably, garnering international exposure for a range of dream-pop, electronic, experimental indie-rock, and Americana. Too many artists here seem to slip through the cracks. This town is full of talented players and several of them, led by the admirable song-craft and deft musicianship of Luttrell, appear on this CD. Andrew Luttrell Band grabs armfuls of classic rock forms, throws ’em in a bottomless Felix-the-Cat-style bag of tricks and brings them to you with no pretense.
From a beverage perspective (this is, predominately, a beverage blog, after all), this album demands bourbon with a beer back. The basics can be so refreshing.