The Little Lighthouse

Sweet Apple and Doug Gillard reviewWhen Mick Jagger was in his late forties he recorded Primitive Cool and Steel Wheels. Certainly not the highest point of his career. But, it seems that the generation of musicians who are in their late forties these days are growing up a bit slower, putting better and better records as the time goes by. Examples are many – Nick Saloman from Bevis Frond, Matthew Smith from Outrageous Cherry, Rich Hopkins… The heroes of this story, Doug Gillard and John Petkovic are in that group.

Gillard and Petkovic started back in the eighties in a band called Death of Samantha. After several underground records and an extensive touring schedule across the USA in a van, the band morphed into Cobra Verde. Then, in the nineties, Robert Pollard hired the entire band to be the new line up of Guided By Voices. Gillard then stayed with Pollard and Petkovic split with a new line-up of Cobra Verde.

Petkovic’s latest project is Sweet Apple. The first album in 2010, Love and Desparation was a rocking record, but the latest one Golden Age of Glitter shines even brighter. There are no fillers on this one. The record also features a multiple help from some super talented musicians J Mascis, Mark Lanegan, Rachel Haden and Pollard who reunited with Petkovic on several tunes (pun intended – one tune he helped with is actually called Reunion). As one author wrote about the record, it plays like an exercise in enlightened revisionism, describing Petkovic’s desire to revisit some of the long lost musical genres of the seventies. But a really disarming thing about this record is the song writing talent and enthusiasm that Petkovic clearly put into the album. You can trust me on that one – I had a rare opportunity to see the album being built up from the first set of vague guitar riffs, recording and struggle to find an appropriate cover – to the first vinyl press testing.

Gillard also had a record recently. It’s called Parade On. He is well known as one of the finest guitarists in alternative rock (whatever it is), mainly from his tenure in Guided By Voices. But even the big fans of GBV can’t name too many of the songs Gillard has written, other than one of their biggest hits I Am A Tree. On Parade On, his song writing talent absolutely shines. In a private conversation with Gillard, he confessed that he attempted to make an easy listening record. And indeed, Parade On can stand next to any Paddy McAloon’s work, but with a bit harder edge, especially instrumentally.

There are two things in common to the new records of Gillard and Petkovic. One – they are probably the greatest and the most consistent albums they’ve ever written. The two songwriters defy their age with enthusiasm for rocking and rolling, sounding more youthful than ever. Two – the records also came out while their original band Death of Samantha reunited and rerecorded their early tunes on a really cool live record called If Memory Serves Us Well. Certainly, Gillard and Petkovic are at the very peak of their careers as songwriters and performers. Perhaps one way to achieve an even greater artistic peak would be to start writing new music together. You read it here first!

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