Red Mustard Entertainment
Rustic Overtones’ new self-titled album, its first in half a decade, is a personal, political and musical triumph. While working on it late last winter, the band lost founding member Dave Noyes, the multi-instrumentalist and compositional genius who was its “musical true north,” as singer/guitarist Dave Gutter wrote in the liner notes.
It was Noyes who turned his bandmates on to Brazilian psychedelic rock, a rich subgenre that runs six-decades deep, including an early period when the music was suppressed and even banned by the Catholic Church and the dictatorial state. They studied that music while developing this album, and those stylistic influences come through, most noticeably on the slinky “Bruce Lee,” the jungle jam “Brazil,” and the anthemic “Bossanova.”
Yet it’s the attitude of those Brazilian rock rebels that provided the greatest inspiration. “In the end,” wrote Gutter, “I feel like what we took most from this style of music was the mindset and freedom to go anywhere we wanted.” And it’s that compositional daring, led by Noyes, that makes this a really great record. (The late bandleader’s trombone, piano, cello and vocal tracks are woven into most of these songs.)
The slammin’ “Black Shirt” makes space for a trippy intro and mid-song breakdown, as well as some tasty polyphonic synth licks courtesy of Spencer Albee, an original Overtone who returns for this track. The hard funk of “12 Months” melts into “Rustic Italian Interlude,” a gorgeous instrumental carried aloft by guest vocalist Sara Hallie Richardson and musical ally Mike Taylor on harpsichord, harp and accordion.
The political fire burns on “The Government Shutdown,” a withering criticism of Trump’s America disguised as a sunny island head-bobber. “I ain’t F’n with the government,” Gutter sings. “They can’t be trusted, it’s a cover-up / They took those children, sent their mothers back home / So I ain’t F’n with the government.”
The horn section, which now includes Jamie Colpoys on trombone alongside baritone saxman Jason Ward and alto player Lucas Desmond, is tight as ever, as evidenced on numbers like the punchy “In Your Bed.” Bassist Jon Roods delivers the goods throughout — dig his jazzy lines on “Bruce Lee” and the way he drives the dub-reggae bus on “The Triumph of One.” And drummer Gary Gemmiti, another world-class player, kicks songs like “Noir” and “Jaded” to a higher level of groovy sophistication.
Gutter’s voice is aging like fine whiskey, and the loss of Noyes wrenches emotions from his scratchy tone like you’ve never heard before. The opener, “Ode to Nodes,” is an absolutely crushing ballad, as is the closer, “Ladies and Gentlemen,” which ends with the New Orleans dirge played at Dave’s funeral by over a dozen of the hundreds of musicians who shared stages with, and were inspired by, this beautiful soul over the decades. Don’t listen to either song unless you’ve got at least half a box of Puffs at hand. I’m fresh out.