A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by David Schultz (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Vance Gilbert is the consummate performer. His stage show is legendary for taking the audience on a rollercoaster ride that has them laughing so hard that they can hardly breathe one minute to crying their eyes out the next. His albums have concentrated on the sensitive songwriting, however, leaving most of his humor for the between-song patter. "Shaking Off Gravity", his third album and first in three years, continues the fine songwriting tradition that Gilbert has set for himself with his previous material.
A problem with being so good in concert is that studio albums often do not do the performer justice, a dilemma that confronts Gilbert with his first two albums. "Shaking Off Gravity", however, does not fall into that same trap. His vocal contributions on this album seem more natural than some of his earlier albums. The liner notes discuss the "pops, clicks, hisses, and flubbed notes" on "Shaking Off Gravity." But it is also full of "unbridled, go-for-broke performances." Gilbert notes that minimal manipulation of the recordings was done, once they had it down. In fact, he should know; this is the first album that he's acted as his own producer. That there were minor imperfections within the songs could have fooled me. They all sound pretty good to me -- In fact, they sound pretty DAMN good.
The album opens with "The Hey Lah Dee Dah Song" about the situations one deals with while growing old. It's about the most fun song on the album as the middle part of the album deals with the pain of separation from different perspectives. "Watching a Good Thing Burn" about the feeling of helplessness as Gilbert's lover walks out of his life. In contrast, the couple in "Just Can't Go Like That" have made a deal to split amicably, but that doesn't stop the pain that Gilbert feels. "Bringing Down the House of Pain" is a spiritual renewal in which the tale of the past being shed is presented within the context of a building demolition.
The most heart-wrenching song on the album, "Taking It All to Tennessee," was written for his best friend Ellis Paul who moved from Boston to Nashville. "You hold that airline ticket like a gun and it's killing me." "Unless you're singing coming home, then I don't want to hear another song about me," referring to the song, "Translucent Soul", that Paul wrote for Gilbert. Paul's departure leaves Gilbert to wonder, "Didn't you love me? . . . What about me?"
As with his two previous albums, "Shaking Off Gravity" also has its acapella number: "Could You Believe?", a modern spiritual written by Al Jarreau, which gives Gilbert the opportunity to showcase his powerful vocal talents. This CD also contains the slow guitar-picked cover of Jimmy Webb's "Do What You Gotta Do."
The album is minimally instrumented, but not so sparsely produced as to be bland and unimaginative. Thoughtful instrumental dashes are added by Cliff Eberhardt's dobro on "Bringing Down the House of Pain", Dee Carstensen's harp on "Fly", and Patty Larkin's accordian on "Charlene." And I mean dashes. The instrumentation does not overwhelm Gilbert's expressive vocals, allowing them to shine through in the mix. The sound quality is also fantastic.
If you liked Gilbert's first two albums, "Edgewise" and "Fugitives", "Shaking Off Gravity" is sure to surpass your expectations. If you do not own any of Gilbert's albums, go buy "Shaking Off Gravity" and you'll be sure to come out to see his next show to see what a fantastic performer and great songwriter he is in person.
Edited by Paula Gregorowicz