november 2009

David Gans
Perfectible Recordings

Now recovering from a self-described “cardiac calamity,” wandering troubadour/Grateful Dead confidante and authority David Gans may not be able to get out on the road to entertain his extensive network of fans and friends at the moment, but his new album is mighty good company in the interim. The Dead never being very far from Gans’s heart and art, it’s only two songs in before the band makes an appearance in song, in the easygoing, countrified lope of “Down to Eugene,” which chronicles a bucolic drive (in a vehicle unable to top 55 MPH) en route to a Grateful Dead show, because, as the cheery philosopher sings, “Everybody needs a little break sometime/put a little slack in that old straight line…,” with Tim Carbone adding sprightly, backwoods harmonica fills. On a topical note, the atmospheric “Save Us From the Saved” is a shot across the bow at the righteous moralists who would return us to a Calvinist society, a stance Gans contrasts with his own libertarian impulses (“I put my faith in nature/what I hear and smell and see/until I meet that higher power/I’ll do what makes sense to me”) over an evocative, Appalachian-tinged arrangement propelled by multiple stringed instruments and Carbone’s long, crying fiddle lines. Some may fault Gans for the didactic strain of some of his songs (the frisky banjo- and fiddle-fired album opener, “Shove In the Right Direction,” set in the current dire economic climate, advises, “Crisis is opportunity/if you know how to look…you can’t go running blind through life/you got to pay attention/A kick in the ass is a shove in the right direction.”), but he’s so good natured and folksy about it you have to give him a pass. Those who would downgrade his long player on that count might want to reconsider upon encountering the lovely fingerpicked instrumental, “Echolalia,” its cascading lines and beautiful, lilting melody evoking a languorous, downstream odyssey around bends, over rapids, finally floating in serene, pastoral waters—a little too peaceful for James Blackshaw, perhaps, but Leo Kottke has ventured often into this territory, and gloriously so. Making his Dead cred a bit more overt, Gans teams with Robert Hunter on “Like a Dog,” a dark, rumbling treatise driven by a honking sax, howling electric guitar and a throbbing rhythm line, with Gans fairly spitting out some spiky lyrics from the dark heart of someone who’s fed up with being shafted at every turn (“sick and tired of being sick and tired/sick and tired of being hired and fired/while my dreams go up in smoke”) and resolves to find an unspecified “higher ground.” It’s not clear whether he means spiritual enlightenment or revenge, although the latter might inspire the former, and that’s a Hunter-ian twist we expect. So while Gans’s heart is on the mend, rest assured it’s still in the right place. Take a double dose of this and call him in the morning. –David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024