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Vance Gilbert
Angels Castles Covers
Review By Steven Stone
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  To get a handle on how a songwriter's mind works, listen to how they perform covers of other people's tunes. On Angels Castles Covers Vance Gilbert remakes a wide swath of other songwriters' music into his own unique musical statements.

Vance Gilbert has built a career on reconciling contradictory styles and cultural opposites. He is a black man who plays "white" folk music in a truly multi-cultural way. Where does this special ability to synthesize divergent sources into a cohesive whole come from? Angels Castles Covers goes a long way toward answering this question. The song list alone shows Gilbert's ability to range much farther afield for inspiration than most musicians. The material here includes the soul classics Ashford and Simpson's "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing," Al Green's "I'm So Tired of Being Alone," Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come," Stevie Wonder's "Until You Come Back to Me," Doc Pomus' "Save the Last Dance For Me," as well as the folk staples Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You," and Shawn Colvin's "Cry Like an Angel." Even more unusual choices for covers are Todd Rundgren's "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference" and Jimi Hendrix's "Castles Made of Sand." In his album notes Gilbert writes, " When I first heard (Todd Rundgren) in high school it made me realize jut how small my listening world was up to that moment." The same can be said for how this album may affect current listeners who don't venture out of their preferred genre too much.

So what exactly does Gilbert bring to the table besides wide musical tastes? Plenty. He has one of the most flexible voices you'll ever hear. He can do things with a familiar melody, such as the Karaoke favorite "Save the Last Dance For Me," that would never succeed in less musically sophisticated hands. He also ranks as a top-flight guitar picker. His finger picking chops rival anything you'll hear from a studio pro. His guitar work on "Castles Made of Sand" is simply stellar. And while on the subject of studio pros, co-producer Thomas Eaton, who also mixed, recorded, and mastered Angels Castles Covers as well as handling percussion and drum programming tasks, deserves recognition for not only making this disk sound good, but musically cohesive. Other contributors include background vocalists Lori McKenna, Melissa Ferrick, Natalia Zukerman, Sean Staples, and Tracy Grammar, Richard Gates on bass, Tom Eaton on accordion, Sean Staples on mandolin, and Tracy Grammar on violin.

Some old curmudgeon once wrote that there isn't anything new under the sun. He may have been right, but just because there are a finite number of elements doesn't mean that a creative artist can't come up with an endless number of novel and refreshing ways to combine them. Vance Gilbert is just such an artist. Need an antidote to being blocked up by the same old thing? Vance Gilbert's Angels Castles Covers will serve as the perfect musical colonic.

 

 

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