Listening to Slightly Sorry, the latest from P.G. Six, you’d expect ol’ P.G. to have grown up in a small English village and to have cut his teeth playing folk in pubs. You’d figure he would be pushing sixty and would probably be friends with Bert Jansch and Richard Thompson and maybe even knew Sandy Denny and Jackson Frank back in the day. That he has a few classic folk-rock records he made with legendary British producer Joe Boyd, and is releasing this record of nine originals and a cover on a hipster label — Drag City — as a comeback, banking on the success of Vashti Bunyan and Karen Dalton. If someone told you that P.G. was Pat Gubler, a relatively young New Yorker whose first band, Memphis Luxure, was a noise rock outfit, you’d shake your head in disbelief.
Much of Slightly Sorry sounds like late ’60s London, when Sandy Denny was singing with Fairport Convention, Nick Drake was playing his rare shows at coffeehouses, and Bert Jansch was Pentanglin’. Gubler has toned down those influences a bit since his last record, The Well of Memory, and taken a few steps toward pop, country rock, and even soul, but it’s still obvious that he spent a lot of time in the bedroom with his guitar playing along to Bert Jansch and Fairport records. And when Helen Rush, who played with Gubler in the Tower Recordings, joins him on “The Dance” and “End of Winter” you’d think it was a young American Richard and Linda Thompson. Songs like “Lily of the West” are straight-up Janschian. Six has also obviously been spinning the Byrds — the chimey, electric “I’ve Been Traveling” is very McGuinn-inspired — and maybe paying attention to his contemporaries in the Okkervils and Shearwaters, with all those Rhodes pianos. All of which is a good thing.
Gubler made the record not in London but in Brooklyn, at Mule Yard Studios, and instead of doing most everything himself, as he’s done in the past, he has a lot of his indie-rock buddies helping out, including Sue Garner, Robert Dennis, and Bob Bannister of Fire in the Kitchen, and Debby Schwartz from the Aquanettas. Since his Tower Recordings days, Gubler’s had a tendency to be a bit all over the place, and his turn toward more compact, more verse-chorus-verse structure is welcome. It’s always been obvious that he’s an exceptional guitar player, carrying off a lot of Martin Carthyisms others wouldn’t be able to, but oftentimes the songs took a back seat to the finger-picking.
On Slightly Sorry he’s, more often than not, spot on. He does a fine cover of Jeffrey Cain’s “Not I the Seed”, and even redoes one of his own songs, “Cover Art Reprised”, from the Tower Recordings’ Rehearsals for Roseland. And the full band approach works, with tasty Rhodes and Hammond nicely filling out several songs and combining well with Gubler’s guitar.
Not everything is perfect, of course. Gubler’s voice is less distinctive than his guitar playing, and he occasionally suffers from the throw-too-many-words-in-to-get-the-point-across syndrome. Especially when the words — as on “The Dance” — are frankly not that great (“I’m not asking for another chance, but I wonder if you dance”, for example). And, like many of the Brits whom he so obviously admires, some of these songs still lose their way and wander just a tad. (Fairport were astonishingly great at times, but really, don’t you wish some of those Unhalfbricking songs clocked in at 3:30 rather than 11:20 or 6:55?)
But for the most part this is P.G. Six’s most focused and song-oriented set yet. And, in the words of Fairport, we can “Now Be Thankful” for that.