Phil Gammage Gets Redemption, Reviewed and Interviewed

Catching Up To Phil Gammage


New York-based Phil Gammage has been a purveyor of the Americana, roots rock sound since the '80s with his first band, The Corvairs. Just over two years after his last release, From Nowhere To Somewhere (2021), Phil Gammage starts 2024 with his latest album, Redeemed. We can more or less agree that he's on his 9th or 10th solo release with one of those being more of a compilation of older tracks from up to four solo out-of-print albums. Redeemed could be considered another compilation of tracks that Gammage has performed live but never recorded until now. You do the math if it's easy for you, the point is, the man's got a lot of work for you to check out

I get more excited going through his extensive catalog because of the many musical periods that he's crossed. A lot of it is suprising and makes me more of a fan of his work. This is even more exciting to someone who collects official hard copies of music. This wouldn't make immediate sense to a streaming generation, just know that I always encourage you get the CDs, vinyl, cassettes, etc, especially by indie artists as it's well worth collecting. Especially in this case as It adds to the spirit of the genres he lives in which makes for a much richer experience.   

If you would like to learn more about Phil Gammage's musical background, check out Stephen H. Gardner's Another Tuneless Racket: Volume 5 where they go into more detail.


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The Tin Pan Alley Theatrics of 'Redeemed'  

We start off with some jangle saloon swing with "A Good Place". I especially enjoy it when the band comes together to rock out on the bridge which is what make this album feel alive. All the musicians on this sound like they're having a good time, especially with "Right On". The video was shot at the Cowgirl Seahorse in New York which is already in a historic part of Manhattan. 

For my tastes, I like the third track, "Woman In The Window" because it comes in darker with minor chords than the previous tracks. It opens up dramatically with a melodic guitar solo that makes me feel like I should get prepared for a story around the fire. Bill Godfrey's Hypnotized EP comes to mind as an album it could share space with.  

This is the tried-and-true musical realm that Gammage loves to dwell in, full of tales, mysterious characters and seedy spaces. For instance, a track such as "Serious Trouble" a harmonica and blues style swagger warns us about a type of woman we've all encountered in our lives before.  

"Johnny Lee" has that outlaw country sound I was raised on, talking about a loner with a guitar traveling from town to town. This, like many songs in this genre is sopping with Johnny Cash flourish through and through. This works everytime because we love us some Johnny Cash with that vintage rockabilly guitar work I can't get enough of. 

"Always the rambler. Would never stay for long. Drink up all your whisky. When the sun rose he’d be gone."

Gammage returns to the atmospheric with "Messages from the Grave" about a woman who left evidence that she had a life, from messages or poetry that she left behind. There's very little known about her. He sees her in a dream and feels her presence. This is the situation where we're left to figure this out - if you like to do that sort of thing - because, so far on this album, the storytelling has been very direct.

He gives Russ Columbo's, Clarence Gaskill's "Prisoner of Love" from 1931 a shot. The original recording has that vintage mono shellac record sound you expect from that period, along with the Columbo croon. Perry Como's version from 1945, '46 is similar but with the more dramatic orchestration, around the same time The Ink Spots also climbed the charts with it. This song would also be a hit or at least covered by Billy Eckstine (1955), Bing Crosby ('56), The Platters ('60), Frank Sinatra ('62), and James Brown ('63) to name several. Is Gammage's version among good company here?

It's certainly dramatic but not within the same style we've heard in most of this album. I would categorize this as '60s Gospel-Soul where the dramatic parts also extend into minimalism which like the other artists, he makes his own, though he is partial to James Brown's version. Gammage has proved in album after album that he can play any genre but this was the choice for the recording. it might be to make the next track peak with more energy, and "Phil's Boogie" is certainly that. It's likely the more danceable moment for the fans during live performances and the album's only instrumental, before we close the album with a slower finish with "The Rain."

With the exception of "Prisoner of Love" and "Phil's Boogie", Gammage has a more thorough collaboration with Hudson Valley poet David B. Schell for the rest of these tracks. Phil already worked with him before on the previous album. When asked about the retro-fitted vision of his work leading up to Redeemed, he touched on their shared aesthetic for all things noir. 

"One thing about myself and the poet that I'm collaborating with now, D.B. Schell, we're both film noir fanaticos. ...typically back in the '90s, I've read every James Elroy book that was out then. I enjoyed the world that he created in his novels. The first recording i made that really grasped that as a theme and really ran with it was an album in the '90s is Voodoo Martini. It was kind of this loungy, film noir kind of theme lyrically and musically. The viewpoint of the lounge lizard a the bar. The jaded guy drinking his martini and that was really the first album where I kind of abandoned everything else pretty much and just focused on that. So that's definitely an element."

It's great to connect with this artist in this way, and I can relate to this because we're both Texas guys rooted down with our local heroes. Off the top of my head, I think about some of the steely-chromed rattlers I was raised on such as The Reverend Horton Heat, and Ricki Derek (Dallas). 




Seeking Redemption For The Title Track 

Initially, during a first listen, the title track didn't work at all for me. When that happens, I always see it as the "it's not you, it's me," scenario. The reasons for it were subjective in that it seemed too "on the nose" and that it sounded like a hymnal. I have a troubled history with indoctrination of religion in my family and so I quickly looked down on the track as not a favorite.

There's also the "worse before it gets better" scenario where, for me, it broke up the album's groove and almost took down the entire album for me. That's when you have to back off to prevent it from getting to that point. 

It's a good thing I did because when I heard it again along with the flow of this album, it sounded like a completely different song. The musicianship stood out more than before and I quickly noticed the complexity of the arrangement that I didn't hear the first few times. What it tells me is that the power of refusal can be so great that it blocks out the most obvious. Now for me the album feels completely enjoyable and among Phil Gammage's best work.

Forward To The Past With Phil Gammage (Interview)

Naturally, when I have questions, I prefer to speak directly with the artists and as luck would have it, I was able to speak with Phil Gammage himself. Here, we discuss his musical background, the transition to going solo, of course the new album and we connect with the subculture from our past. 


Phil Gammage Online
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