Vance Gilbert—Good Good Man

2020, Disismye Music


Vance Gilbert is a musical renaissance man in an era of niches. Watching his YouTube isolation Monday Night Acoustic Pajama Parties, one is astounded by the breadth and size of his catalogue as he sings song after song that make you draw breath in a new way. On Good Good Man he bounces from style to style, comfortable and in command. Several of the tracks sound like they could have been at home on an early 80’s Al Jarreau album. (Vance has obviously heard of the man… witness his stunning cover of “Could You Believe.”) Though the styles of his songs won’t stay put in anyplace but excellence, his guitar work and vocals have always been informed by jazz. Even the most “singer-songwriter” tunes show that he is not satisfied with ho-hum guitar work. “Zombie Pattycake” with jazzy chords, upright bass and trombone strikes a perfect balance between whimsical and cool. The sheer artistry of his cover of “Wildflower” left me saying “Wow!” out loud the first time I heard it, reveling in the guitar work and the gorgeous phrasing of the vocals. I don’t know what made Gilbert write “Hitman” (not the musical kind), but he imbues his subject with unexpected pathos and complexity. The compression of detail and emotion in every line makes one fall in love with his word-smithing all over again. “Cousin Shelly’s Stationwagon” manages to be wistful while calmly observing the passage of time, “I’ve seen you work your magic up on the silver screen/ And play the part of the mother of the girl you used to be.” His bio on his website quotes him saying, “I’m black, I sing, I play an acoustic guitar, and I don’t play the blues,” which may explain why he enlisted the help of Chris Smither for “Another Good Day Above Ground.” Vance Gilbert’s shows are totally involving, with great songs and musicianship, comic moments, social commentary, but I always find myself eagerly awaiting the moment he puts down the guitar and dramatically sings “Spencer the Rover” or “King of Rome.” “The Day Before November” is a spoken word piece filled with the childhood pranks and chills of Halloween against a backdrop of the openly acknowledged bruises caused by one of the boy’s father. I’ll be waiting for this one the next time he comes to town. Good Good Man is a proof that this great, great artist is still the best of all imaginable Vance Gilberts! —Michael Devlin

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