Many indie musicians are basically what are called garage or bedroom artists, people holding 9-to-5 jobs but who have been developing their chops and, to the side, often put together a small in-home "studio", sometimes just an inexpensive recorder, patch cords, a tiny board to run the sound through, and so on. Nowadays, most, if not all, of that can be done on a computer. It's all a matter of expediency, though some resort to various small and large studios for the process. Only so many artists can get to and be published by the major labels, though many are convinced their work could be the next big thing...or perhaps only just sellable. Often, they're right.
Nonetheless, from that urge has blossomed the independent music market, which continues to grow rapidly, thanks to the Net. From a fairly unique standpoint, Zeb Gould takes to a kind of mid-ground in this direction. Basing in the usual gods of the fingerstyle canon (Fahey / Kottke / Lang / etc.), he's appeared on bills with such notables as Gillian Welch and Kim Ritchie but has also sat with The Cinnamon Girls, a Neil Young cover band, wherein he tackled lead guitar.
More uniquely, though, being a musical omnivore, he began working as Philip Glass' archivist, using The Looking Glass studios to work on Morningbirds, in the process deciding to utilize ambient microphones rather than the oft-customary pickups in the guitar's sound hole. What has resulted is an atmosphere akin to recital in a small hall. Thus, the feel of the CD at first seems a trifle gaunt but the capture of the entire sonic range is impressive. I've always wondered if pick-ups don't miss some of the overtones an acoustic guitar can produce and it seems they do indeed, as the richness of the notes here packs in a segment of the highest registers not often caught in patch-chording.
Gould's ace card, though, is a compositional intelligence departing from the mainstay of the style's wont. Like Peter Lang, he incorporates elements not easily identified but which expand the parameters of the ouevre nicely. A bluegrassy base remains the heart, but there are ample change-ups and time shifts, including wistfully languid passages, tone mutations, liquid themes, and a myriad of colorative devices. On one song, Two Sisters, he's joined by Megan Weeder (violin, but also the cover's woodcut artist) and Sam Crawford (piano), creating a very Windham Hill-ish chamber piece.
Gould tries his hand at singing on one cut and reveals not just a marvelous set of pipes but a very good sense of multiple harmonies and where they ought to go, tracking himself as a quartet, bringing out a CSNY complexity and sonority. The sole drawback to Morningbirds, however, is its length: a mere half-hour, probably due to the independent's usual lack of funds to afford more studio time (it doesn't come cheaply). The lack is a tad frustrating. Well-played acoustic guitar is a joy to listen to, and whether it comes from Ralph Towner, Michael Hedges, Will Ackerman, or Zeb Gould, less is definitely less. Hopefully his next release will subscribe to the reverse doctrine—we are, after all, beginning to recover from long-term malignant social Republicanism, and even artists need to shed the "lean and mean" market stance.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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