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Busted At The Pearly Gates
Artist: John Austin
Label: Independent
Tracks: 20/72:18

So far in my humble opinion 2002 is the best year in a long time for independent releases. With the exception of the new project by The Benjamin Gate, all of the stuff that has come out of Nashville so far this year has been lame and uninspiring. This new album by John Austin is the exact opposite of that, this is virtually a perfect album. From the packaging to the overall sound to the sheer amount of songs found on this venture everything about it yells excitement and greatness. I can honestly say that this is my favorite album so far this year and it has been a very good year. There are twenty songs here and each one of them is a gem, there isn't a clunker in the bunch

Joining John as usual is vocalist Erin Echo, who as usual is absolutely superb. To list all of the players on this project would take up the rest of the review but let me just say that the musicians listed in the credits reads like a who's who of some of the best players in independent music. The majority of the album was recorded, mixed and produced under the watchful eye of  Martin Kearns in Atlanta for Serious Hip Productions. The album artwork was handled by Juli Kearns in a style reminiscent of Jimmy Abegg or to a certain extent the late Rev. Howard Finster. The art portion of the album totally complements the sonic portion. It has been ten years since the release of John's first album "The Embarrassing Young" and that ten years has brought about a sense of maturity and confidence which becomes more and more evident with each release.

Right now I would tend to say that my favorite cuts on the album are "Cool Morning," "Love Preys," and "East Virginia Blue." If you are not familiar with John's work this is the perfect way to start, if you are already a fan, then by all means add this one to your collection. Check out John's web site at www.officialjohnaustin.com

Chris MacIntosh aka Grandfather Rock 7/20/2002

It's been four years since John Austin gave us his masterpiece, If I Was A Latin King, a complete concept album which featured then-finacee, now-wife Erin Echo on backing vocals and Bill Campbell's "basement wall of sound" guitars. 

It may have taken him four years, but Austin has followed with an epic twenty-song disc, Busted at the Pearly Gates. Clocking in at an impressive 72 minutes, Austin has managed to assemble songs ranging from folk to blues to quiet ballads to straight-on rock without compromising continuity. He gets a lot of help, too; if Campbell and Echo's contributions provided skin for Austin's body of work on ...Latin King, a cast of over two dozen collaborators and Martin Kearns' brilliant production provide the sinews on Busted at the Pearly Gates.

"Roll the Stone Away" starts the disc. A polished folk-rock tune, this song features Jim Cullitan on mandolin and banjo, and a chorus that seems to want the listener to sing along.

The next song, "Cool Morning" is reworked from ...Latin King, with electronic keys and percussion. Echo's vocals on this and other tunes lend a lush quality that complements Austin's voice nicely. 

Following is "Your Generation," a fun song that features Page Woldrop on pedal steel, as well as some clever lyrical turns. Here, Austin sings, "Who wrote your favorite song? / The one you want to make your own /  I'll sing it with you / Till I forget the words," and then later, "Words fail ya / la la la la."

"Moonflowers" is a lush rock-opera-ballad ala Queen. On the chorus, Austin even nears Freddie Mercury's vocal range. The song is a beautiful ode to the night time (a theme Austin will visit twice more on the album), and bears hitting the repeat button and listening to in a room or vehicle with a good speaker set-up. Here, Austin sings, "We can make our own photosynthesis / we can start with this darkness" and "With your hand in mine / we'll abandon their sunshine...I'll meet you where the moonflowers bloom." With rich layering and dream-like lyrics, this song takes on a fairy-tale feel.

The Germans have a word for the sadness which is caused by comparing the ideal life with the actual state of the world.  Weltschmerz seems to be a theme in "Yellow Moon" which has a deceptively upbeat sound. Austin seems to have fun with the meter of the lyrics as he sings, "Like a fat cat pawing at the field mice he has freed / like a flower pot laughing at the folly of a seed." 

With "Good Money," we find Austin visiting country-folk territory as Mark Johnson lends his talents on resonator guitar and Cullitan brings a banjo to the mix. In this whimsical song, the singer tries his best to convince us and himself that he doesn't mind his long days of toil because "the money is good." 

"I Don't Know You" is authentically bluesy and swampy, and features more clever turns of phrase: "To see her again he would give up his sight." 

"Little Lost Gumdrop," a fun romp, features a subtle nod to "Lollipop" by the Chordettes.

"Moment of Silence" is, appropriately, a quiet ballad. Again, Austin's lyrical strength is showcased: "I lost a brother over there in combat training / he threw the pin when he pulled his grenade / and with only one second remaining / covered his ears before he was blown away...what would you give for a moment of silence?"

Busted... closes with two authentic sounding folk tunes, "East Virginia Blue," featuring Tom Gray's resonator guitar, and "Old Perfume." The latter is a sad song about the passing of our days without our grabbing hold of them.  Reminiscent of early Peter Case, this song ends abruptly with the line, "Everybody has left the room."

Once again, Austin has given us a complete album full of musical inventiveness and lyrical genius, best listened to from beginning to end.  Yes, Busted at the Pearly Gates was four years in the making, but as Austin reminds us in a song on the record, "these things take time." This disc is worth the wait.

Dave Kerschbaum 8/4/2002


 
 
 
 

 

   
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