Initially started as a one-off vehicle to release a record for a friend, Portland, OR-based indie label Fluff and Gravy Records has established themselves as arguably one of the most unique and difficult to pigeonhole labels in the country as they’ve released albums that have run the gamut from Americana, indie folk, punk rock, indie rock, garage punk, alt country and even British folk from a diverse and eclectic set of artists including JOVM mainstay Drunken Prayer, Hillstomp, Jeffrey Martin, Fernando Viciconte, The Evangenitals, Anna Tivel and several others. To celebrate their fifth anniversary, the Portland-based label is releasing the Five Years of Gravy compilation — and according to the folks at the label, the compilation isn’t a mere retrospective; in fact, it’s a compilation of new and unreleased tracks from 17 of the label’s artists that they feel offers a glimpse of where the label and its artists have been and where they all are going. But the label and its artists also see the compilation as a way of giving back as the proceeds from sales of the album will benefit The Jeremy Wilson Foundation, a musicians’ nonprofit health and services organization that assists individual musicians and their families throughout the Pacific Northwest during medical emergencies — and is supported by fans, musicians and friends. Certainly, the work of charitable organizations such as The Jeremy Wilson Foundation will see even greater importance in light of President-elect Donald Trump’s threatened plans to cut Obamacare and with most musicians being independent contractors, access to affordable healthcare for musicians and their families will be critical.
Now, earlier this year you may recall that I had written about the Argentina-born, Portland, OR-based singer/songwriter Fernando Viciconte, who performs under the mononym Fernando. Viciconte first came to attention as the frontman oft he Los Angeles-based rock band Monkey Paw, and when the band broke up, Viciconte relocated to Portland where he began to focus on a solo career that began in earnest with the 2006 release full-length debut Enter to Exit, an effort which was critically praised by a number of major media outlets including Billboard, Magnet (which named Fernando, one of the best, new artists of 2006), Paste, The Oregonian, No Depression and MSNBC.com, among a lengthy list of others. Just as Viciconte’s profile and career were set to explode into the national scene, the Argentina-born, Portland-based singer/songwriter suffered through several major health issues, which nearly resulted in the permanent loss of his voce — and as you can imagine, his health issues prevented him from touring. Fortunately for Viciconte and for us, after going through a number of doctors, it was revealed that his illness was misdiagnosed and the root cause of his issues, a hiatal hernia that caused heartburn and acid reflux, which bathed his vocal vocal chords in his stomach acid, was fixed surgically.
Viciconte’s eighth full-length effort Leave the Radio On was released last year through Fluff and Gravy Records and although the album took three years to complete, the album has the Portland-based singer/songwriter backed by an all-star cast featuring R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, who has been an early champion of Viciconte’s work; Scott McCaughey as well as members of M.Ward and Elliott Smith‘s backing bands, Richmond Fontaine and The Delines. Of course, if you had been frequenting this site, you may recall act I wrote about Leave the Radio On‘s first single “Save Me,” a bitter and aching lament of a song that evoked the lingering ghosts of one’s life — the failed relationships, the misguided decisions and poor judgements and the crushing doubts that seem inescapable and yet, finding a way to move forward with your dignity, sanity and sense of self intact. His contribution to the compilation “No Regrets” continues in a similar vein to “Save Me” as it’s a mournful lament from a narrator, who looks back on his life with an uncommon clarity and honesty, with the song’s narrator sadly admitting that he may be at fault for the mistakes and poor decisions of his life. Sonically, Viciconte’s aching vocals are accompanied with a country-leaning arrangement of steel pedal guitar, acoustic guitar, gently padded drums and twinkling keyboards — and in some way pairing the song’s sentiment with its arrangement makes the song sound as though it could be the soundtrack of lonely men lost in thought and drinking their sorrows away. And much like “Save Me,” “No Regrets” evokes life’s lingering ghosts — but in this case with a weary sense of acceptance.
Of course, if you’ve been frequenting this site, you’re probably well acquainted with Drunken Prayer, the recording project of Morgan Christopher Geer, who currently splits time between Portland, OR, Asheville, NC and Louisville, KY — and is a touring member of renowned act Freakwater. Into the Missionfield, Geer’s Drunken Prayer debut was released in 2012 to critical praise both locally and nationally — Portland’s Willamette Week describing Geer as a “barking ringleader with chops between Tom Waits and The Butthole Surfers‘ Gibby Haynes” and the Portland Mercury describing Geer as “Warren Zevon’s medium, showing him the world from the great beyond.” Since then Geer has been rather prolific realizing several lyrically and sonically ambitious albums that have been praised for his signature sound — a sound that meshes elements of the blues, country, folk music, 60s psych and soul music and New Orleans-styled funeral dirges paired with lyrics that explore our existence through the prism of the tragicomic. In fact, Geer’s material suggests something that most of us loathe to admit — that life is often bitterly cruel and ironic. And in those moments, the only option you have is to do as the old song says “Laugh and never let the world know that deep down, you’re crying.”
2016 has been a very busy year as Geer released The Devil and the Blues. Featuring Lance Willie (drums) and David Wayne Gay (bass), his former bandmates in The Unholy Trio and former members of The Reigning Sound, as well as guest spots from The Sadies‘ Dallas Good (guitar), Aaron Price (organ, piano and engineering), Anna Trivel (fiddle) and a small horn and section, Geer’s latest effort was Geer’s “party album” — and by party, the material thematically covers and explores sadness, rebellion and redemption in Geer’s signature rowdy, riotous, loutish, proud and somewhat ridiculous fashion. His contribution to the compilation “I Feel Into The Sun,” is an atypical Geer song, as it’s a swooning and infectiously sweet love song with a wicked sense of humor. Yes, underneath all that loutishness and joke cracking is a sweet, aching heart desiring love and its redemption.