erasing clouds

Gentleman Caller, Ice Water

reviewed by Dave heaton

Whenever an album really blows me away, it's usually because of some indescribable feeling that it gives me, a hard-to-capture question mark that's lurking behind every sound. That's definitely true with Gentleman Caller's debut Ice Water, a melody-rich pop-rock album that is imbued with all sorts of mystery and heart.

Mostly the work of singer/songwriter Kenny Childers (though it'd be a crime to ignore the contributions of the other musician involved, Brando's Derek Richey), Ice Water is rather straightforward music when you get down to it--musically this isn't a giant leap into an experimental abyss, but rather songs rooted in the American pop-rock-folk traditions of the past and present. Yet every second is filled with a sense of atmosphere that really grabs you. It's hard to tell whether that's a result of the songwriting, the recording style used (everything sounds crisp, and there's many subtle layers of sound--and it was recorded on 4-track, even), the musicianship (lots of vivid guitar playing), or a combination of everything, but the album has an unmistakable mood about it.

The music's straightforwardness is tempered with Childer's lyrics, which poetically deliver enigmatic visions of loneliness and longing, all in a distinctive setting filled with images of cold weather and empty streets. He has a way of giving details instead of whole stories which uses the spaces left empty to suggest myriad meanings and feelings. A line like "Nail polish, a calendar book on the dash/Love is secret, I keep it in case I'm attacked" is more interesting and has more layers to it than some entire novels that I've read. The opening line of perhaps my favorite song on the album, "Theatre Empties," is another example of quickly delivering an emotional punch without really saying much: "Anna hit me in the arm/when I asked her why she was crying." Or there's the way he vividly describes a dream in "Freezing, Sara": "I hear the lake in the broken way that I hear cars hit/I'm half awake by a shallow grave on a big park bench." I could quote Gentleman Caller's lyrics all day long--they're not showy enough to really grab you after one listen, but the more you listen, the more you'll notice.

Part of Ice Water's charm lies in the little sonic touches. From the ghostly "la-la-las" in the background of "Theatre Empties" to the tiny odd guitar noises on "Moving Melanie," there's always more going on than is first apparent. That's the mark of a truly rewarding album…it keeps revealing itself to you with each passing day. Ice Water is like that, it's a reservoir of interesting ideas and emotions that seems to keep growing.

{Smokeylung Recordings,}

Issue 8, January 2002 | next article

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