MICHAEL GELLINGS – Blue Owl
Michael Gellings first established himself in the Madison music scene as the front man for Lost Between, a powerhouse rock outfit that produced an exceptional recording in 2004, City Lights, before disintegrating in a haze of personal issues. He returns now with his first solo release, one on which he plays all the instruments himself, and he handled all the tracking, mixing and mastering as well. At only twenty-four, Gellings has an incredible amount of maturity in his voice, in his guitar playing and in his lyrical content. His self-proclaimed influences are Rory Gallagher, Ten Years After’s Alvin Lee, Cream, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Paul Butterfield, Neil Young, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and Days of the New. All of these influences make an appearance here. The notable dividing line, however, is between the blues material and the rock stuff. At sixty-four minutes, Gellings could easily have had two CDs on his hands here. But the young man is so reinvigorated and spiritually renewed that he’s bound to be eagerly on to the next stage in his musical career already.
A solo album of this type – the one-man-band approach – usually suffers from two things: an inferior final mix and the lack of a solid groove. It’s astounding to hear the groove that Gellings is able to achieve while playing keys (including B3 organ), drums, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, harmonica and tin whistle and applying multiple vocals. He’s adept at all of these, though it was already apparent that he was no slouch on guitar. The album doesn’t fare quite so well with its hard-disc-recorder sound quality, but it isn’t a major hindrance either.
“Rotten Tree,” “War Train,” “Slow it Down” and “Nocturnal Soul” are all hefty blues numbers, the latter featuring a nifty organ solo. “Ride the Wave” explores Neil Young terrain with an Alice-in-Chains twist. “Life Worth Living” is another acoustic-guitar-driven piece that manages to recall Cream, especially the Jack Bruce-like vocals and the breezy, sixties feel. In fact, much of the album displays the same marriage of sixties sensibilities with modern flourishes. “Fly Away” is all Jim Morrison, psychedelic and haunting. The melancholy “Empty Heart” is another standout and features the tin whistle as does the closer, the all-instrumental “Eyes of the Owl.”
Gellings doesn’t shy away from his penchant for writing complex musical pieces that change in tempo and feel and often surpass the five-and-six-minute mark. The man is far too talented to be out on his own, and those looking for a musical partner with some serious songwriting and musical chops should seek Gellings out. Hell, I’d do it myself if I weren’t old enough to be his dad.