Back when Covid hit, Don Gallardo was in the eye of the storm, frantically looking for flights back to the USA after a short tour of European countries. He got back but caught Covid on the flight and was ill for a couple of weeks while isolating in his cellar home studio. Next, as for all of us, there was a long stretch of enforced distancing and (as with all musicians) no gigs to play. Gallardo has used that long stretch to record an album which relates to his experience.
All The Pretty Things began as a series of songs written by and recorded by Gallardo in his home studio but, with time on his hands, he reached out to some friends remotely to spruce the recordings up. Chief of these was Andrew Sovine (grandson of Red Sovine) who has added all manner of instrumentation to the album while Darren Nelson’s vocals weave around, over and under Gallardo’s voice. The result is a gorgeous and laid-back listen which has Gallardo musing on the effects of the virus and, ultimately, offering some hope that life can get back to normal.
He tops and tails the album with two songs which portray the uncertainty which gripped the world as it shut up shop. “All right, here we go…” he says, when Lost Hope launches the album with its gossamer like frailty as he goes on to sing, “I wonder who I am these days.” The closing song, Gypsum – a cover of a Virgil Shaw number – while written well before the pandemic, acts as a parable of sorts for that time when we were all somewhat driftless amidst the miasma of conflicting scientific and political claims. Midway through the album, The Urgency, a truly cosmic swoon of a song with a slight Beatles touch to it, finds Gallardo advising all to relax, that what goes down can also come up. The title song, a breezy Wilco like number, echoes this sentiment while Dear Friends is Gallardo’s love letter to his fans and friends abroad as he sings about all he misses on his continental jaunts and it has a fine old Grateful Dead American Beauty like lilt to it.
It has to be said that Gallardo, Sovine and Nelson gel wonderfully throughout the album. The Dreamers Of the World, which is kind of like a Covid dream song, is quite sublime with its multilayered vocals and filigreed tapestry of ornamental keyboards. Time’s Not Lost On You is truly in cosmic country territory as Sovine lets rip a glorious fuzzed guitar solo midway and Stuck On Love, a song which alludes to Gallardo’s flight from the virus back to home, hearth and family, is quite affecting in its yearning quality. Altogether, the album is perhaps the most mellow disc Gallardo has recorded but it’s infused with warmth and a healthy regard for the human spirit.
Somewhat out of the blue, Don Gallardo released The Lonesome Wild on Thursday to coincide with his latest UK and European gigs. Currently it’s only available to download via the usual online outlets so if you’re going to any of the upcoming shows in Germany don’t expect to see it at the merch table. Stylistically it kind of sits on a fence between Hickory and Still Here with fewer of the country inflections of the latter, leaning more towards the former’s California roots.
Gallardo opens the album in troubadour mood on the very fine Just Another Yesterday Song, sounding for all the world like Steve Earle aping Neil Young. Even more stripped back is the downbeat cover of Andrew Comb’s Too Stoned To Cry, one of the highlights of the album with a lonesome Dobro (played by Old Crow Medicine Show’s Joe Andrews) amplifying the strung-out ennui of the song. However, most of the album is composed of sweet (and occasionally sour) songs with dollops of pedal steel and slide guitars along with swathes of acoustic guitars and occasional mandolin and keyboard. Ghosts & Hummingbird reminds one of when Wilco was still playing “alt country” while Honeysuckle Rose glows with ranks of glistening guitars creating a slightly psychedelic haze with Gallardo’s vocals reminding one of The Beatles later pastoral moments. I Wish You Well has a similar haziness to it although here, the keen guitars allied to a sense of melancholia and Gallardo’s yearning vocals recall the glory days of Big Star. Interestingly Gallardo uses a couple of Beatles’ lines in some of the songs, see if you can find them.
There is some muscle involved as What We Were Yesterday buzzes with a Neil Young like corkscrewed guitar and Your Mistake snarls with an attitude, its gritty guitar and punchy beat almost NY punk. There’s some roustabout blues on What You Want which one would like to imagine could be a tribute to the late Mike Wilhelm. Anyhow, it has that insouciant old time swagger which was the trademark of the early Flamin’ Groovies, Sopwith Camel and The Lovin’ Spoonful, so full marks to it.
Radio Songs has to be mentioned as the focal point of the album. Almost veering into cosmic county territory due to its superb pedal steel colourings, at heart its soul is in the reinvented country blues of The Stones on Their Satanic Majesties and Rod Stewart on An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down. Gallardo’s lyrics are stained with a doomed romanticism over a world weary guitar strum, snakelike slide guitar and that glorious pedal steel. Perhaps the best song we’ve heard this year so far.
Latest addition to the ever impressive Clubhouse Records roster is North Californian Don Gallardo whose besuited dapper appearance on the cover of Hickory belies the rustic feel to much of the album. A resident of Nashville for the past eight years Gallardo has his own band How Far West who accompany him here along with guest appearances from Mickey Raphael, Rob Ickes, Randall Bramblett, Bobby Clarke, and Guthrie Trapp who between them can boast of playing with some of the cream of Americana.
Gallardo is yet another artist who is tapping into the seventies sound although at times he is tempted into leaving the hills and cruising the streets with his music dipping into FM territory, late night sax and Hammond organ or electric piano creating the atmosphere. Midnight Sounds epitomises this, starting off like a Wilco song before the saxophone comes in, a touch too silky for me. When The World Wakes Up is more successful with pedal steel replacing the sax and the song sounding not a million miles removed from the likes of the Wynntown Marshals. Back in the country air the loose limbed barrelhouse piano romp of Ophelia, We Cry (Ode To Levon Helm) is more surefooted ( and another song where Gallardo sounds like Jeff Tweedy singing) and the carefree ambience is revisited on Will We Ever Get It Right with the piano rolling and fiddle sawing away. However it’s the rarefied heights of clear country air that offers the best moments here. Down In The Valley is a mandolin rippled hymn to the simple life. Diamond & Gold is a sunlit romp with sparkling Dobro while Carousel benefits immensely from Raphael’s harmonica playing. The North Dakota Blues is a finely paced outlaw ballad in the vein of John Phillips’ Me And My Uncle with Gallardo painting a vivid picture and the band swaying and swaying away brilliantly. The album closes with what might be the best song here, Pearls. Drawing deep from the tradition of southern country soul with weeping pedal steel and solemn organ it recalls The Stones in the grip of Gram Parsons and Muscle Shoals, a magnificent song.