[27 September 2011]
Starry Mind finds New York-based P.G. Six (Pat Gubler) offering up some groovy, jammy, proggy rock ‘n’ roll that frequently calls to mind Jethro Tull sans flute and David Crosby’s early, mind-blowing solo work plus a dash of Dave’s days with pals Steve, Graham, and Neil. With the majority of the songs clocking in excess of five and six minutes, it’s fairly clear that Gubler likes to jam free ‘n’ easy, which offers plenty of musical deliciousness. Occasionally it feels as though Gubler is being stingy with the lyrics, and early listens make it difficult to ascertain whether he’s offering them as icing on the cake or if they are 11th hour toppings crafted out of obligation. (As it turns out, it’s the former.)
Opener “January” starts things off with great promise via some searing lead guitar figures and some nicely played rhythm figures that call to mind peak-era Fairport Convention and lyrics that could be about this or that; the story never comes across in any way that’s overwhelmingly definitive, making the song all the more necessary for this enigmatic move. Moreover, the guitar soloing, such as it is, is made all the more interesting for its seemingly haphazardness –- rather than moving along lines that call to mind Guitar Hero (as in, the real guys, not the game) antics, the lead lines meander and muse, trying to find the perfect notes before resolving once more into the larger song. It’s great fun and once more reminiscent of the sounds of the ‘60s Sunset Strip.
“Talk Me Down” (which is about the closest that The Six gets to blues) has a piercing familiarity, the kind of thing you feel like you’ve been singing around campfires and at rowdy rock parties since you were 12 but know, in your heart of hearts, that you’ve never heard before. It’s a nice move and one of Gubler’s greatest gifts as a writer –– that ability to make the new familiar and the familiar new. While the material mostly stays on the sunny side –– albeit often right on the fringes –– the dark and foreboding “Crooked Way” is a welcome dip into the lake of musical catharsis and a nice blending of Eastern and Western influences in the vein of The Butterfield Blues Band’s cross-cultural explorations.
The short and “Wrong Side of Yesterday” (fun to huff and puff to) and the closing “This Song” (harnessing the muted but important folk elements of Genesis circa The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway) round out the collection nicely as does the slender (under three minutes!) “Days Hang Heavy”, inarguably one of the year’s most beautiful acoustic-driven pieces.
The real trick of Starry Mind—and Gubler’s real gift—is harnessing the sometimes seemingly amorphous nature of psychedelic music and crafting it into something as well-woven, intricate, and interesting as what we have here. His easy achievement of this is no small feat, of course, and we should pause to think of this while we mellow down easy with the recording. Rich and rewarding, Starry Mind will be worth the wait for those who were hip to P.G. Six before, and for newcomers, it’s a worthy introduction.