The Courage To Doubt
There’s a new album out of the Pacific Northwest that more people should be aware of by one of Seattle’s longstanding bassists and sound engineers, Marc Willet.
First, I must admit a bias, as Marc and I went to high school together. Though he, being a few years older than me, was a kind of big brother figure; so I sorta looked up to him as a kid…. But it turned out that almost everyone who has met Marc looks up to him. The man simply has taste, and puts obvious care into everything he touches, from the straw bale house he designed and built in Eastern Washington, to the love and joy that locals flock to hear and feel when his band, Shameless Hussy, performs north of the metropolis.
Those of you who associate Seattle with Nirvana and Pearl Jam may want to skip to the grunge section. However, if you simply like good, well-written and performed music, then you may keep your pants on.
Let me backtrack a bit. Inglemoor High School, in the bedroom community of Kenmore, north of Seattle was, for a variety of reasons an ideal (or let’s say pretty darn good) environment to grow up, get stoned, and play music in. From that high school came Roger Fisher, Steve Fossen and “Kaiser” Don Wilhelm, who founded the band Heart (which was later commandeered by Anne and Nancy Wilson).
Another band called The Heats, which was touted as “soon to be famous” by the Seattle newspaper columnist, Erik Lacitis, in the 1980s opened for some big name acts and produced a couple respectable albums in the “power pop” vein before running out of steam.
As Marc’s Facebook page relates, “I saw the Beatles live in ’66. My grade point plunged and I never looked back.” Though not many of us Kenmore kids were fortunate enough to have caught that show, I’m sure we felt the same way. It was that fabled era before the corporate takeover of the radio waves, when the local AM radio station, KJR, would play Pete Seeger, Petula Clark and The Fab Four back to back.
The stuff that made it on the radio then made ample use of melody, harmony and engaging lyrics. Almost all of it was created by originators of what became new genres: Aretha Franklin (soul), The Byrds (folk rock), The Supremes (Motown), Beach Boys (surf rock), Carole King (singer/songwriter), The Kinks (British invasion), and so on.
So, this was the stuff that us Baby Boomers (and Late Boomers, like myself), grew up on. And, not surprisingly, it’s these same musical and artistic values that permeate Marc’s “Tune Up” collection.
Marc describes his creation as “Americana…shaded towards John Hiatt, Jackson Browne, with a dash of Cab Calloway, and a nod to the Flying Burrito Brothers.” In traditional singer-songwriter fashion, lyrics and vocals are front and center, being caressed tastefully by a spare bed of non-techno instrumentation provided by Marc, supported by a gaggle of hometown minstrels.
Nowadays many people think audio entertainment should consist of a series of danceable hooks, with percussion and synth loops, a huge kick drum, and the ubiquitous Auto-Tune. Or: A lazy hip-hop beat abetting booty shaking, gangsta rapping, lowest-common-denominator crudity. (And I was hoping to avoid this rant.)
So, for those of us who prefer the stuff discussed a few paragraphs ago, “Tune Up” is a breath of fresh air.
[Aside: Still, I’ve found reason for tentative optimism when it comes to the musical taste of the post-AM-radio populace. Twenty-something YouTubers like The Other Favorites, Larkin Poe and others show that appreciation for classic pop and blues still exists among at least some young folk.]
The album kicks off with a farcical one-minute prelude, introducing the “musical stylings of The Walter Popsicle Orchestra,” before getting into the remaining thirteen tracks.
Next up, “Mexico,” is a country-flavored romp about escaping the frozen north for the sunny beaches south of the border to unplug from the grid and “spend our time remembering how to be.” Multi-instrumentalist Pat Tennis provides a smooth steel guitar accompaniment worthy of a Texas line dance. Still, the tune introduces a recurrent theme, which is the heightened awareness of our mortality as we age:
“The clock of life is winding down
And soon we’ll all be homeward bound
Just where that is nobody knows….”
Perhaps my favorite in the collection, “This Perfect Day” has so much going for it it’s hard to know where to start. A solo, airy descending series of guitar chords opens the tune and gives the feeling of lying on one’s back, gazing at the various shapes the clouds form on a temperate summer’s day. Which is, it turns out, exactly what the song is about. That, and another repeated theme of finding refuge in life’s simple pleasures as a way of re-centering and recharging in face of the “alarming news” of the modern world. (Saxophonist Jon Goforth performs a gorgeously relaxing jazz solo mid-tune.)
“Set Out A Candle” looks unflinchingly at the realities of having traversed the better part of one’s tenure, yet still wondering if you have understood life’s mysteries and made the right choices along the way:
“Is this train bound for glory
Or pulling straight on in to Hell?
Do we get any other choices
Or even have a way to tell?”
Without becoming overtly political, the tune addresses the headstrong conflict of our times, observing those self-absorbed “prophets…facing off in disagreement over who is heaven bound,” and again choosing “to follow love” as the only truly human solution. Following the light of a departed friend’s candle into the afterlife may be the only way to true understanding.
I could go on (and on), but I’ll leave it to the reader to come to their own conclusions after picking up this worthy offering. Later tracks involve everything from dancing barefoot to learning about life from “a good dog” (and more).
Since CDBaby offers a mere pittance to creators per purchase, a much better way to support the artist would be to buy the CD directly from him for just $15.00. Send him your address on Facebook and he’ll tell you how to pay: