Expertly straddling the line between classic Americana and modern alt-country, Gunther Brown’s “Good Nights for Daydreams” is a refreshing blend of rootsy styles.
Starting with a solid foundation of traditional country and adding in a little blues and a pop sensibility, the band serves up 10 songs with hooks and heart. There’s also a certain sense of melancholy pervading the whole album that will appeal to traditionalists, and a wicked sense of humor that indie rockers will surely appreciate.
The melancholy comes right away in the opening track, “No Use Livin’.” In classic country fashion, the protagonist’s girl has boarded a train, never to be seen again. But this is no old-timey cliche, as the song takes a dark turn when the narrator decides “this is the night/ that I give up my life.” A jaunty tempo helps to soften the lyrical blows a bit, with vocal sweetening in harmonies by Hallee and Kati Pottle of Mister Moon fame.
The themes of heartbreak and goodbyes continue in “Time and Again.” Played as a laid-back but mournful country shuffle, the track features a terrific vocal performance by Pete Dubuc, who sounds a little like a world-weary Steve Earle on this one.
The band released “Forever” as a single in December, and with good reason; it’s one of the standout tracks on the album. A manic, uptempo number, “Forever” is the lyrical cousin to “Friends in Low Places.” However, unlike Garth Brooks’ narrator, who crashes a wedding to tell his ex-lover he doesn’t need her anymore, Gunther Brown’s narrator arrives to assure the new bride that “This won’t last forever.” It’s a humorous song, but there’s a sadness behind the laughs, underscored by the bluesy breakdown at the halfway point.
Lead guitar courtesy of Chris Plumstead makes “Lights Out, Downtown” shine. The bluesy style is a little different from the classic ’80s alternative rock sound Plumstead employs with his other band, Serious Rooms, but his playing here sounds natural, effortless and fluid. Bassist Mark McDonough, who also played on Serious Rooms’ “Random Universe” album, again displays the melodic, McCartney-esque playing that helped make that album so special. Here, he locks into a tight groove with drummer Derek Mills, providing the rock solid foundation for Plumstead to do his thing.
It’s back to up-tempo country for the infectious and catchy “The Next Time,” and the blues return on “Follow You Anywhere.”
“Christ of the American Road” contains echoes of the ’70s southern California country rock sound, but with a solid indie rock vibe that will please fans of the Eagles and Wilco alike.
The wistful “Bobby Orr” is a nostalgic trip through boyhood dreams, which included “putting out fires with Engine #4/ and skating circles ’round Bobby Orr.” The ladies of Mister Moon provide backing vocals once again, both sounding a little like a young Emmylou Harris.
The road, whether providing a means of escape or a path to reconciliation, is a recurring lyrical theme on the album, perhaps best exemplified by “Headlights and Highways.” It’s an excellent example of the classic country road song. This one was tailor-made for listening while cruising down hot blacktop in the summer.
The album climaxes with the elegant but understated “Up to Me,” a song that features Plumstead’s best guitar playing on the album. His guitar work, combined with a gritty yet forlorn vocal from Dubuc, makes this song a wise choice for the closing track. The record is expertly sequenced, with emotional and musical peaks and valleys throughout, and “Up to Me” provides the perfect ending. Certainly every song here could be appreciated as a single, but this is an album that deserves to be listened to in its entirety and in this order, if one is to experience its full emotional impact.
Though Gunther Brown has two previous EPs to their credit, “Good Nights for Daydreams” is their first full-length release. As a sort of coming out party/calling card, it works sensationally, with expertly crafted songs, top-notch playing and clean and bright production. Though we’re barely a month into 2014, this may turn out to be one of the best albums of the year.
Gunther Brown will release “Good Nights for Daydreams” on Jan. 28, and will celebrate the album’s release with two shows at Blue in Portland on Jan. 25. Check guntherbrown.com for more info.
Rick Johnson is a freelance writer and radio host from Westbrook. He can be reached at: