Up on Rockfield
by Al Kaufman
Many an artist, Chris Robinson of Black Crowes and Lenny Kravitz come immediately to mind, have made a living out of imitating their idols. But possibly none have done so as deliberately as Vance Gilbert has done on his latest CD, Up on Rockfield. For each song, Gilbert has attempted to write in a certain influence’s style. The influences are widely varied, sometimes even in one song. For instance, "Sweetwater" is supposed to be the result of an Al Jarreau and Lynyrd Skynyrd collaboration. And it works, as long as you think of Skynyrd unplugged. Others don’t work as well. While "Old Man’s Advice" incorporates Tom Waits’ old time piano sound, Gilbert’s vocals are too sweet to come close to The Gravely One, even though Gilbert says he recorded this "during allergy season." The guitar solo in the Richard Thompson inspired "Whatever Louise Wants" sounds more like Boz Scaggs. Other songs, such as "Judge’s House" (Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle) and "Sing Me Down" (Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger) sound contrived and only serve to demonstrate just how talented those four songwriters are.
When Gilbert is at his best is when he channels, of all people, Ray LaMontagne, although he never admits it. Nor should he, as Gilbert is LaMontagne’s superior in every way. He’s got that gospel-tinged bluesy thing down pat. The opening title track, which is in the spirit of a ’70s Van Morrison, demonstrates his abilities. But it’s "House of Blues" that is the real standout. Yes, it’s a bit pedantic, but if it was played in churches on Sundays, there would be a lot more butts in pews. Co-written with Lori McKenna, it reveals that Gilbert is at his best when he just tries to be himself.
On his liner notes, Gilbert writes that he hopes "this doesn’t come off like some megalomania like I should even think that something I wrote would even remotely suggest some icon or another’s work." He goes on to say that the whole process was fun. If looked upon in that manner, this is an entertaining CD. Gilbert seems like a sweet, down to earth guy who looks like Raffi, sounds a bit like Tracy Chapman, and has opened for none other than the great comedic god, George Carlin. This CD has that type of feel. This is a nice guy having some fun playing music that he really likes. What could be better than that?