Jeff Gutman has balls. Billing himself as "a different kind of songwriter", he in effect sticks out his artistic chin and says hit me. Different? Is that even possible in today's world of a zillion artists with twenty gazillion albums? Shockingly enough, he is. And it is. Oh, maybe he is not totally unique, but he is unique enough and that separates No Way Back from most of the albums being recorded these days.
For one thing, the album is pieced together so well you easily see the madness as the music unfolds. The songs are not songs but movements, placed one before the other to create a sense of journey. There is a McCartney's-first-album feel to Hitchhiker which kicks off the album (Gutman plays all instruments on this and most other tracks), but he leaves that behind when the more ambitious Emerald Eyes takes over and the real ride begins. Next, a rock track with the hint of ska rhythm, then the slightly demented Masquerade takes you on a search for love which ends, shall we say, badly. Musically, though, it is helped along by a chamber orchestra of sorts which creates a Moody Blues sounding bridge worthy of mention, and oh those harmonies! Skip a couple of tracks and follow Once Again, a slow lounge ballad with a simple and emotive jazz guitar lead, to the theremin (I'm guessing) driven, instrumental Falling Backwards Again", to the hillbilly inspired Movin' Down the Line", to The Sky Is Falling and its psych/folk core and musically it makes so much sense you accept it completely. If this had been released in the early '70s, it would have been labeled progressive folk. Today, call it what you want. It just works!
As vocalist, Gutman acquits himself nicely, his voice in the upper register of, say, a Jesse Colin Young with a slightly different texture and approach. Pleasant enough by itself, its strength is how easily it fits within the framework of each movement and how effective it is when stacked in harmony. And the man can play! Instruments listed include the aforementioned theremin, guitar, piano, bass, mandolin, accordion, Dulan War Drum, Chinese Pipa, washboard, chimes, bells, and whistles—all played by Gutman himself. Now, that is diversity.
Gutman took four years to piece this together. Only he knows the convolutions necessary to get here from there, but one can imagine. Four long years. The good thing is, it is well worth the effort. Let us hope it does not take another four for the next one.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2007, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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