Album review: ‘Sing’ is unassuming, but production hits sweet spot
Man-about-town Marc Gartman is at it again. He’s a busy guy, with more projects than a carton has eggs. His resume is long; in the past, he’s been the mastermind behind No Wait Wait, Two Many Banjos, Fever Dream, Coyote, Wolf Breath, Mandolin Summer and BeardHat (OK, those last three aren’t real bands), among others. He’s kind of Duluth’s Zelig, only instead of constantly changing his look (that remains fairly constant), he changes genres. Alt rock, new-wave, singer-songwriter, bluegrass — he’s a genre-hopper, to be sure. But he does a good job at not sounding like a tourist and not making everything he does sound like a side project.
This here debut Glitteratti EP, “Sing it to the Sky,” finds him working with his Two Many Banjos cohort Dave Carroll, only in a lite-rock context. In fact, Trampled By Turtles banjoist Carroll only deploys the dreaded, drumheaded five-string once during the five-song collection, and only as texture. So, this ain’t bluegrass or nugrass or snoozegrass or anygrass at all. What we’ve got here is some breezy, vaguely AM-gold, somewhat alt-country tunes, all of which are written, played, recorded and sung well. It’s almost annoyingly competent.
Opener “How’s the View” finds Gartman at his most Jim-James-from-My-Morning-Jacket, vocally, while the music bed skirts Spandau Ballet’s “True” so closely, you’d think Dave Carroll’s electric guitar part was lifted right out of the master recording of that tune. Lyrically, the song is a bitter, sarcastic examination of an ex’s stance of superiority: “You’ve got this air of arrogance ‘round you / some say you’re worth it, I say whoop-dee-doo,” Gartman sings. “How’s the view from up there?” goes the chorus, with its smooth vocal harmonies.
The title track is the EP’s best song, all chorus and no verse though it is. Here, Gartman sings in a lower register than usual, and his voice gains a bit of resonance and authority. A Tom Petty guitar riff pins the whole thing down as Gartman recommends someone “Sing it to the sky / sing it to the air you breathe.” It’s pretty catchy right off the bat, and a bit of added atheism in the lyrics (“there’s nothing up above / there’s only love between us all”) gets the tune out of “general topics” territory and lends it a bit more personality than it might’ve had otherwise. A lovely mini-bridge features some nice chord choices and bass playing from Low/Retribution Gospel Choir bassist (and frequent Gartman collaborator) Steve Garrington. Only problem: the song fades out too early. It seems to beg for a longer, psychedelic Crazy Horse ending but chickens out right as it starts to glow red.
“Get Back Out There” is quite similar to the EP’s first two tracks in tempo and presentation, but it’s different enough to not seem too samey, and it boasts a shimmering bridge with piano from Garrington and a reverb-smeared guitar break from Carroll that makes the song.
The EP’s last two tracks break from the “midtempo” pattern and go into “slow” territory, with “I’ll Play the Fiddle” evoking Pink Floyd thanks to Gartman’s acoustic 12-stringery and former Gene Ween drummer Kyle Keegan’s steady, unadorned playing. “Sign of Life,” the closer, starts as an acoustic ballad and morphs into a stripped-back Enya jam by its end.
“Sing it to the Sky” is a fairly unassuming bunch of songs, but they’re all played impeccably, and the production hits that sweet spot where the porridge isn’t too hot, but it’s not too cold. Marc Gartman, with his omnipresent pork-pie hat and his as-yet-unpunished-by-the-law role in the banjo’s zebra-mussel-like proliferation in the region, may seem a bit busy-bee scenester on the surface, but you gotta hand it to him when it comes to his singin’ and writin’ and playin’: dude's got a knack for a tune, and he smartly surrounds himself with people who make him better. It’s highly likely that “Sing it to the Sky” ends up being one of the more notable local releases of 2016.
Album: “Sing it to the Sky”
Recorded at: Sparta Sound by Rich Mattson
Produced by: Steve Garrington
Personnel: Marc Gartman (vocals/guitar), Dave Carroll (guitar/vocals), Steve Garrington (bass/piano/keyboards), Kyle Keegan (drums)
Upcoming CD-release show: 10 p.m. Friday with Ingeborg von Agassiz and Heaven’s Gate Away Team at Pizza Luce, 11 E. Superior St., Ste. 100
Listen: "Sing it to the Sky"