I’m not a fan of Christmas music. Never have been. For my money, you can set aside The Beach Boys Christmas Album, Ray Charles’ The Spirit of Christmas, throw in a crooner for good measure and toss the rest out of the window. Everything else reeks of crowded malls and drunken relatives.
That was until earlier this week when I received a gift: a tightly wrapped bundle in the form of the anti-Christmas, courtesy of Wanamaker, Indiana native Otis Gibbs. At long last, a man with just enough dry wit and sensibility to dress this holiday down. His 2003 album Once I Dreamed of Christmas sheds light on the holiday’s consumerism, the religious hypocrisy and its bogus spokesman, with enough humor to keep from sounding like a Scrooge.
I had the pleasure of watching Gibbs perform earlier this fall as part of MOKB Presents Songwriters in the Round at White Rabbit Cabaret. Gibbs joined local songsmiths Richard Edwards and Cameron McGill as they traded tunes and moments of emotional earnestness. Gibbs’ renditions of “Caroline” and “Small Town, Saturday Night” were both songs that served as sights to behold.
With Otis, you can safely rely upon a straight story. He wields a sword of honesty that slices through bullshit like pads of butter. For further evidence, check out his phenomenal photography. While the rest of the town is busy stewing over missing out on the holiday’s hottest toy, Gibbs is there to remind us of the drunk in the gutter, the father without a job and the lonely, single mother. “Carl and Mavis,” “Cowboy’s Christmas” and “Jesus on the Couch” are all winners. Stream the album in its entirety here:
Yesterday, it was announced that Gibbs will be included in February’s Super Bowl Village. I am thrilled to show visitors that the Hoosier state is home to deeper thinkers than Johnny Cougar. I can’t wait to see how Otis reacts when given a soap box in the midst of corporate America’s biggest spectacle. Mud will be slung and barbs will be traded. My only hope is that I’ll be standing close enough to bare witness.
Written by Rob Peoni
Paula Cole begged the question “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” on her mid-90s mega hit of the same name. Apparently Paula, a few of them are hanging out in Austin, Texas.
Chris Brecht and his band Dead Flowers are responsible for one of the more underrated releases of 2011. Dead Flower Motel is a 3 AM barnstormer of a record that would prove a welcome addition to the jukebox of any West Texas honkytonk. Brecht has an artist’s eye for detail that provides the story for this smoky, whiskey-infused backdrop.
Daytrotter’s Sean Moeller wrote of Brecht, “We know it in our hearts – that we’re weak and expendable – but we also can see the beauty in that. We are brief and we are supposed to make the most of it. Brecht does this by finding the beauty in the smallest things, those toss-away details that, for many, are imperceptible, but they’re the bits that make a writer great and make a satisfied person.”
Concise, vivid songwriting is too often taken for granted in the indie scene. Blogs like Pitchfork appear willing to promote acts that fit a certain image, while the music itself plays second fiddle. (See: We Listen For You) As a result, artists like Brecht tend to slip through the cracks.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, Dead Flower Motel keeps the music simple and employs Brecht’s unique perspective to elevate the songs. I don’t wish to short change Dead Flowers. Their play provides a solid foundation for Brecht to draw from. The music has a subtle, haunting quality that pairs well with his mellow angst.
Brecht appears keenly aware that his message is lost on certain crowds. On “Not Where You Are”, Brecht writes “If you think that I’m wounded/It’s my soul that bleeds/Cause you’re judging a man/By the brand of his jeans/You have everything you want/Because you’re parents were rich/And you sit around and pretend/ How hard it is.” The lyrics read like a giant middle finger to the snobs whose club Brecht has never been allowed to enter. He continues, “I don’t want you to get it/I don’t want you to end/You can’t even pretend/To know where I’ve been.”
Dead Flower Motel is a tough sell. The music is too country for indie fans, and Brecht’s delivery is too indie for traditional country fans. Regardless of which crew Brecht eventually falls in with, his story is worth hearing. Click HERE for a free stream or download of his Daytrotter session.
Written by Rob Peoni