At Walgreens the other day, the very talkative cashier expounded something I seem to hear quite often: “There are no good bands anymore.” This drugstore critic’s taste had stalled in the mid ’80s. But I’ve heard this same blanket conclusion voiced by aficionados of several other long-gone decades as well. My father-in-law, for example, is quite certain there hasn’t been a decent song composed since 1955. I guess, once one has decided that music just ain’t what it used to be, it ain’t. It has less to do with the songs being written and the performances being recorded today than with each individual listener’s chosen perspective. It’s sort of a beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder thing.
However, as I have been a professional in the music biz for over four decades, I think I can claim a somewhat more-objective smidgeon of authority on this topic. And, here’s the truth as I see it, kiddos: Not only are good bands still emerging as I type, there are great ones, too. While Pinky (real name, I kid you not) at Walgreens continues to plug her ears and shout, “I can’t HEAR you!” incredible songwriting, superb vocal work, pristine production, and yes, even phenomenal and original performances are still being realized by exceptionally talented and dedicated folks.
I thrive on discovering exciting new artists and inspiring new music. And, I’m 60. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been delighted to stumble upon Gomez, Nada Surf, Brandi Carlisle, and others. I am proud to boast that I was out ahead of most of the U.S. on KT Tunstall and Adele.
My most recent, jaw-dropping WOW is a quartet from L.A. called The Rescues. Justyna Kelley, a gorgeous, ultra-talented singer herself—and frequent collaborator in song—turned me on to a video, shot live at West Hollywood’s Troubadour: The Rescues performing a song entitled “We’re Okay.” I flipped. The vid revealed a foursome possessing oodles of talent and a 100% commitment to being a band—and not just any band, a superb band, an exceptional band, a very, very special, and possibly historic band. Gabriel Mann, Kyler England, Rob Gilles, and Adrianne Gonzalez have combined to create a logarithm of creative energies that multiplies itself time and time again. That’s what great bands do. Instead of canceling each other out, an ensemble with true chemistry concocts an explosive mixture far greater than the sum of its parts.
And, in this case, that’s a huge statement, because each and every one of The Rescues brings plenty enough talent and charisma to be a musical force in his or her own right. Still, they’ve wisely chosen to come together in a virtual phalanx of writing and performing acumen. The Rescues stand on the shoulders of giants. They are Fleetwood Mac, minus the distraction of that silly, twirling, pretentious, feaux witch, Stevie Nix. They are ABBA, without the chintzy, Euro-pop glitz. If the Mommas and Papas had been some of the most accomplished and tasteful musicians of their era, that comparison might come closest. The Rescues don’t rely on show-bizzy imagery, yet they offer a thoroughly entertaining show. The band pulls off this feat with an uncontrived genuineness and one unique gimmick: astounding versatility. In the 90 minutes of their recent set at Nashville’s 3rd and Lindsley, not only did every band member demonstrate superb lead and harmony vocal chops (oft times in the same song), they all took a turn or two at the drums, three shared bass duties, three played keys, and three plucked guitar (acoustic and/or electric). England switched from guitar to electrified ukulele, while demonstrating a breathtakingly clear, powerful, controlled voice, and an evident joy. Gilles more than capably played every instrument in the band and revealed an astounding vocal range and texture.
Here’s a nuance (but one much appreciated by this veteran of a thousand rock stages): The Rescues mix their own vocal blend—from line to line—by adjusting their individual proximity to the microphone. (Only the most-seasoned, adroit, and secure performers develop this instinct.) And, what a blend it is! Even the most discerning ear would be hard-pressed to detect a single flaw in a single passage of these sophisticated and precise arrangements. The songs are expert inventions, emotionally meaty, theatrical, passionate, and arranged with quirky, unexpected dynamics. These cats and kittens must rehearse their tails off. Every chord inversion, every sudden stop, every crescendo and ritard, is well considered, and each player is on board, fully dedicated to the ensemble sound.
I've seen some memorable shows over the last 45 years. The Rescues playing a little club in Nashville, TN ranks right up there with The Who at Winterland, Hendrix at the Electric Factory, The Doors at Fillmore East, Bob Marley at Santa Monica Civic, Bowie at Radio City, Sheryl Crow at Starwood Amphitheatre, and most recently, The Swell Season at The Ryman Auditorium. I feel a little bit sad for poor, music-deprived Pinky at Walgreens, unable to accept the possibility that great new bands are still finding ways to make great new music. If she just gave ’em a chance, maybe Gomez or Nada Surf or this splendid L.A. quartet might rescue her from her self-imposed musical exile. But, it’s her choice and her loss. I, on the other hand, continue to be thrilled and inspired by fresh sounds and astounding talent. Long live The Rescues!
Rand Bishop, author of Makin’ Stuff Up, The Absolute Essentials of Songwriting Success, and the novel/mock-memoir, Grand Pop.