"Wage Love" is political yet still upbeat!"
—Del DellaPietro, WPKN FM
"Going to hear Fred Gillen jr play his music should is like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. It totally revolutionizes your perspective on life and how amazing it all seems."
"From behind silver rectangular glasses and a scratchy old washboard, Fred Gillen Jr. reminds us that music can be a direct and accessible experience."
—Jay Spica, WVKR FM
"Gillen writes simple, poetic, evocative songs. Although the subject matter of his songs is emotionally intense, Gillen's music conveys a sense of hope, elation, and honesty. The lyrics range in subject matter from the human condition to social commentary, to love and heartbreak, to mortality, God, and Satan. Gillen's sense of ease and humor on stage creates the feeling of intimacy with his audiences, and his energy, soul, and spontaneity keep them riveted. Gillen connects with the audience, reaches into their hearts, and takes them on a provocative, emotional journey.
"Honest and simple, Gillen's lyrics carry a much larger meaning and create a giant landscape for listeners' imaginations."
—- Sandy Tomcho, Times Herald Record, Kingston, NY
"Not just another bland cookie from the singer-songwriter bakery."
"uplifting, passionate, and emotional performer."
—Donegal Democrat, Ireland
"unvarnished social commentary with folkified hoot-and-holler melodies"
"Gillen's CD has an earthy, straw-like smell for your ears. It has the grazing touch of a brick wall against the back of your hand. It has very ball-point-pen-on-blue-lined-paper written lyrics. It is honest and quirky."
—Craig Gilbert, New Haven Advocate
"New York singer/ songwriter Gillen may have East Coast origins, but his style and intensity reflect a down-home sensibility."
—Ron Wynne, Nashville Scene
"Gillen performs a straight-ahead style that blends the earthiness of Americana, the punch of rock & roll, and the confessional quality of folk."
—Pete Hanson, Metroland, Albany, NY
"Gillen's understated vocals seem as if they would make even a stadium feel like an intimate coffeehouse."
—Geoff Wilbur, Renegade Newsletter
"What Gillen manages to do is become the essence of expression itself, really. To stand and speak and say 'This is what is' and to say it to anyone who will listen."
—Bryan Baker, Gajoob
"Gillen's songs are passionate, personal tales that have a rugged but engaging feel."
—Mick Skidmore, Relix Magazine
"This singer, guitarist, songwriter puts on an emotional, heart-felt show of what has been called 'dirty folk' music; that is, an intense mixture of folk & rock which has to be seen live to be believed"
—Susan Polese, Westchester Weekly
"Gillen is a gifted songwriter who has the ability to capture an image and present it with such real feeling that you may mistake the imagery for reality. Gillen's music is somewhat of a folk, Americana sound that has a strong rock appeal. There is a personal feel to the music that only a singer/ songwriter of this caliber can present. The harmonies and overall aura of the music is well delivered. The CD gives the impression of a live show because of the raw energy. Gillen's music has the potential to cross over because of its modern rock nature, but folk-rock fans will not be disappointed either."
—Michael Allison, Music Dish
"emotionally charged singer/ songwriter material with deeply resonating guitar."
—Allen Foster, Songwriter's Monthly
"Gillen performs a unique brand of folk- rock, accompanying his guitar pickin' with soaring, emotional vocals."
—Metroland, Albany, NY
"Gillen mixes raw passion and compassion into his tales of regular folks."
—Seven Days, Burlington, VT
"Sweet and gritty, Gillen's vocals engage listeners, leading them through a wide range of emotions with a musical intensity that crosses the border of traditional folk."
—Brita Brundage, Westchester Weekly
Fred Gillen Jr. opens his masterfully produced album, What She Said, with “Prayer for America” giving time and space to refugees, philosophy and the iconic Statue of Liberty only partially visible, as if sinking in the sand in Charlton Heston’s original Planet of the Apes. That philosophy, seeded throughout the variety of ideas, include possibly not believing in God but finding the need to pray. See how he brings Palestine to Baltimore on track nine, discussed a few lines down. Gillen’s grasp of a hook, eloquent essaying and his veteran vocals make for an all-around strong performance, hitting all cylinders. Remember Paul Kantner’s 1987 video and song for the KBC band, “America?” Thematically we are still in the same place, if not more critical with the plethora of skewed headlines, and like a good outing for Law and Order: SVU, the songwriter/singer pulls pertinent ones together for his musical OpEd. “Return of the Buffalo,” also coming in at three minutes plus, is a standout. Great song, great hook, and reminiscent of Elton John’s second American album, Tumbleweed Connection, where lyricist Bernie Taupin utilized Elton’s voice and music to record his purported interest in the wild old west while working on conquering America as Roxy Music tried with “Prairie Rose,” and David Bowie succeeded with when he danced with the “Young Americans.” Gillen’s voice gives this important melody what it deserves creating a moment that is both memorable and unique. This is an American singing about America, not a Brit experimenting with our country’s ideas (not that we mind that…it’s just that we’re the ones experiencing this world.) It glides in and out quickly like a pure pop song should, with staying power and also reminding those so inclined of the Star Trek episode, “The Man Trap,” the first episode to ever air.
Over the dozen tracks – which I’ve played in my car repeatedly – the vision is clear – a political statement on life in 2016/2017 with. My computer skipped up to “Baltimore Burns,” track 9, and it actually works quite well after “Return of the Buffalo” in retrospect. It is one of only three of the dozen compositions which are in the four-minute mark, the other nine three minutes plus, Gillen Jr. smartly giving his commentary within a pop structure that makes for a more dramatic impact. “She Loved” is folk/acoustic with country leanings, going back to where country radio was in the 1960s and 70s, including a line about her like for John Denver and Johnny Cash. “Julia,” co-written – as is track 3, “Future Americans,” with the equally talented Matt Turk (the pair also perform live as “Gillen and Turk,” ) is a change of pace, undercurrents of CSNY’s “Ohio” mixed with Robin Gibb’s popular classic solo outing, “Juliet.” Elegantly packaged in a six-panel cardboard, eco-friendly case, Gillen has taken a turn here from previous recordings to read – almost like spoken word over smartly crafted instrumentation. That’s expressed carefully in “Some Call it Karma, Some Call it Grace,” always with a chorus to underline the thoughts being expressed. “Where Are You Tonight Fallen Angel” concludes this next chapter in Fred Gillen Jr’s impressive journey calling out for a damaged someone, remembering the better aspect of a special friend who’s lost their way. A great conclusion to a thought-provoking disc that is worth your time exploring more than a few spins.
Worth noting from the P.R.: What She Said (2017) Full-length, solo, studio album #10, released on the 20th anniversary of album #1. 8 new Fred Gillen Jr original songs, and 4 co-writes with Abbie Gardner, Steve Kirkman, and Matt Turk.
—Joe Viglione, http://www.tmrzoo.com April 2017Wage Love
Fred Gillen Jr. carries the musical mantle of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger while leading the charge inspired by the Occupy movement to take back our country. Gillen wrote, produced, recorded, mixed, and mastered the record in a crisp, clear, clean fashion at his own studio, Woody's House, in Croton-on-Hudson NY. Musicians include Gillen (vocals, guitar, bass, drums, glockenspiel, percussion), Laura Bowman (vocals), Paul J. Magliari (drums), and Matt Turk (mandolin, vocals).
I prefer the subtle approach. But poetry and humor often soften necessary bluntness. The instrumental "4 a.m. Walk Home" perfectly captures the melancholy mood of the ninety-five percent. The ominous, jagged rap-rock of "The American Dreamer" mirrors The Doors' "The End." "The American dreamer finally slips into deep sleep, his rapid eye movie over... All is quiet on the Western Hemisphere. The End. A gentle fade to black." Using a more straight-forward approach, Gillen rails against hypocrisy in "Occupy Your Own Mind." "We lie to our children. We pretend and we amend. Then we wonder why they struggle. We wonder why they doubt. So many deceptions we could do without if we just had the courage to be real." "The Killing Machine" re-tells the "Rambo" tale. "They decorated me ceremoniously, the governor was there and three generals too. I got my medals. I was on TV. But now what am I supposed to do? ‘cause there is no job for a killing machine back here in civilization... And now I’m home, but there is no home for a newly retired killing machine."
Many of Gillen's tunes turn into sing alongs, no matter how sad the topic. Speaking of the "Cost of War," "You can find it in wards of VA hospitals trying to get home. The cost of war is counted in families, mothers and fathers, who will never come home." "We The People" focuses on the positive. "We the people, equal in God's eyes. We the people, beautiful and strong. We can't change the past but we are the future if we try. We the people equal in God's eyes." In the anthemic "Walking Down That Freedom Highway," "I'm walking down that freedom highway taking my time, taking my time. If you run they get suspicious. If you run they shoot you down. You've got to walk, your head held high when you're freedom bound.
The album ends looking upward with "I Dreamed I Saw Pete Seeger." "I dreamed I saw Pete Seeger. He was standing on a hill singing to the moon and clouds. The world was cool and still... He found some folks who'd listen in the classrooms and the streets. He sang his song for anyone and everyone he'd meet. Soon his song was everywhere in the air like oxygen." Wage love, not war!
—Roger Z, theworkingmusician.com 12/22/17
In the midst of the Occupy Movement, “Along the way I got re-acquainted with America, warts and all. I fell back in love with my country and got angry again. It inspired me to pick up this record and finally finish it. Whatever else you do, keep waging love wherever you can! It works,” writes folk artist Fred Gillen Jr. in the liner notes of his latest album, “Wage Love.” His first solo project of political songs is a collection of 11 self-penned, self-produced tracks about the good ol’ US of A, recorded in his Hudson River Valley, New York studio and released on Dys Records.
Gillen is a multi-instrumentalist and a prolific poet with a point of view. His sometimes biting, but not bitter, social commentary goes down easy with softer, agreeable, and memorable melodies. Opening with the snappy, gospel feel of “Walking Down That Freedom Highway,” he tips his hat to bluegrass tradition in “Ghost of Joe Hill,” and flips to an edgy recitation of “The American Dreamer,” set against an urban, raucous, and rhythmic backdrop.
This alumnus of the Music Under New York subway arts program darkly delivers on “Killing Machine” –- a soldier’s wordy and chilling first-person account of coming home from war as a “newly unemployed killing machine.”
Album stand-out is “Election Day,” the surprisingly ear-turning tune about wading through the muck to do one’s civic duty. Gillen’s intimate and warm vocal tone draws in listeners, while an intriguing arrangement of mandolin (played by long-time collaborator Matt Turk), tremolo electric guitar, simple snare, and bright glockenspiel, capped with Laura Bowman’s feminine harmonies help paint a serious yet hopeful musical canvas. He warns us to beware the candidates’ rhetoric, but encourages us to vote our convictions: “Look beyond the lighted stage/Deep into your secret rage/And don’t believe the pretty words/Of men who come to fool ya/They will fool ya.”
A late mentor and friend is given a fitting final-track salute in the three-part harmony a cappella piece, “I Dreamed I Saw Pete Seeger.” In his vibrant way, Gillen keeps the legendary black-listed folk singer’s protest ideals alive, as is evident in a recent Rust Magazine interview, where Gillen said, “Integrity is something worth fighting and suffering for.”
—Janet Goodman, musicnewsnashville.com
Fred Gillen Jr. is een singer-songwriter van politiek geïnspireerde folksongs die alle mistoestanden en sociale ongelijkheden in zijn thuisland Amerika willen aankaarten. We kenden hem al een tijdje van zijn producerswerk voor albums van Carolann Solebello (“Steel And Salt” uit 2014) en Scott Urgola (“Now’s The Time” uit 2010).
Deze troubadour uit Verplanck, New York heeft nu met “Wage Love” elf zelf gecomponeerde liedjes op plaat gezet. Deze cd is de opvolger van zijn album “Silence Of The Night” uit 2012. Het ‘do it yourself’-album werd ook door hem opgenomen, gemixt en geproduceerd en hij speelde op alle instrumenten die te horen zijn bij deze liedjes. Zangeres Laura Bowman zingt mee op vijf tracks en op drie nummers mocht Paul Magliari op drums spelen en Matt Turk speelde op mandoline bij de twee songs “Election Day” en “Ghost Of Joe Hill”.
In zuivere Pete Seeger en Woody Guthrie-stijl brengt hij de openingssong “Walking Down That Freedom Highway”, een modern protestlied over de vrijheid die de mensen in Amerika alsmaar minder mogen ondervinden. Thema’s als verkiezingen (“Election Day”), de oorlog (“Cost Of War”, “Killing Machine” en het op de video te beluisteren “Fall Down”), de vrijheid (“Walking Down That Freedom Highway”, “The American Dreamer” en “We The People”) en de rechten van de werkende man (in het over de vakbondsleider handelende “Ghost Of Joe Hill”) komen allemaal aan bod in de liedjes van Fred Gillen Jr. op de cd “Wage Love”.
Als reactie op de ‘Occupy’-beweging die zijn pijlen vooral op het kapitaalcentrum ‘Wall Street’ richtte, schreef hij het nummer “Occupy Your Own Mind” en zijn bewondering voor het muzikale voorbeeld Pete Seeger vertaalde hij in het nummer “I Dreamed I Saw Pete Seeger” waarmee dit album op bijzondere wijze wordt afgesloten.
English translation from Google:
Fred Gillen Jr. is a singer-songwriter of politically inspired folk songs that all abuses and social inequalities in his native America to raise. We knew him for a while from his production work for albums Carolann Solebello ("Steel And Salt" from 2014) and Scott Urgola ("Now's The Time" from 2010).
This troubadour from Verplanck, New York has now put on "Wage Love" eleven self-composed songs on record. This CD is the successor of his album "Silence Of The Night" from 2012. The 'do it yourself' album was also recorded by him, mixed and produced and played all instruments can be heard in these songs. Singer Laura Bowman sings on five tracks and three numbers if Paul Magliari play on drums and Matt Turk played mandolin with the two songs "Election Day" and "Ghost Of Joe Hill".
In pure Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie-style he brings the opening song "Walking Down That Freedom Highway", a modern protest song about the freedom that the people in America may suffer less and less. Themes such as election ("Election Day"), war ("Cost Of War", "Killing Machine" and it can be heard on the video "Fall Down"), freedom ("Walking Down That Freedom Highway", "The American Dreamer "and" We The People ") and the rights of the working man (in the union leader acting" Ghost Of Joe Hill ") are all covered in the songs of Fred Gillen Jr. on the CD "Wage Love".
In response to the "Occupy' movement that his arrows especially in the capital center 'Wall Street' founded, he wrote the song" Occupy Your Own Mind "and his admiration for the musical idol Pete Seeger he translated the song" I Dreamed I Saw Pete Seeger "that this album is sealed in a special way.
—Rootstime, Belgium March 2015
For those who wish more music was outspoken and political, with the courage to address pertinent social issues in an intelligent and provocative manner, Fred Gillen Jr.’s latest solo album will come across like a welcome gust of head-turning wind in an otherwise empty and airless void. Fortunately, Gillen Jr. doesn’t get all smug or preachy as he tackles such important issues as maladjusted war veterans (the startling “Killing Machine”), voting for politicians of dubious integrity (the excellent “Election Day”), and the futility of war (the potent one-two punch of “Fall Down” and “Cost of War”). Better still, Gillen Jr.’s pleasant voice casts a soothing and reassuring spell, his songwriting keeps things smart, simple, and straightforward, and his grasp of tuneful folksy melodies never falters for a moment. A first-rate album.
—Joe Wawrzyniak. Jersey Beat January 2015
Several years ago, when the economy collapsed, there was a communal need in our country to revisit our roots culturally and to seek wisdom, guidance and comfort in the things that our predecessors found solace in. Bands like The Blueflowers, The Great Tribulation, The Grahams and Jared Grabb came to be grouped in – what we called – the New Rustbelt Sound. Bringing back musical memories of the dust bowl and the lonely sounds of dark heartland artists like Patsy Cline and Roy Orbison, these new voices joined a long and distinguished lineage of poets and rebels disenchanted with the shine and finding substance in the shadow.
Of course, these voices were never silent. They never have been and the never will be. But this new generation of musicians were doing amazing work at a time when their relevance, which had been neglected while the world was distracted with other fads, suddenly became essential. It’s been a few years since then and there has been a continuation of the development of Great Americana music with bands like The Fugitives, The End Times, Sean Watkins and Cabinet merging the country and the city, and the new and the old into fresh, vibrant, relevant music.
Last year, we picked Matt Turk’s Cold Revival as our album of the year. Like the other current and historical works that defined the American, and the human experience, Matt delivered a unique, personal and superb collection of music in the classic American singer-songwriter space. One of the other people involved in that album, and a co-creator and performer with Matt is Fred Gillen Jr. who is about to release his new album Wage Love, and it’s going to make history.
Or perhaps it’s going to join other great works in the endless history of our world. Reaching back to those first definitive union anthems, Wage Love bridges the generations and eras of our shared culture to find profound truths both new and old in the quietness of poverty – either fiscal or philosophical. Matt also joins Fred on this album playing mandolin, and just as with Cold Revival, a dedicated core group of people have helped Fred realize this expression of his music.
A prolific poet and musician, Fred Gillen Jr. has an archive of work going back almost 20 years. He’s released solo albums as well as working with groups like Hope Machine and he’s been heavily involved with the arts community in his home region of upper New York. Wage Love is focused more on political and social issues than his previous work, and it gives the album a specificity that accentuates it’s relevance and timeliness. This is an album with something to say. It has a self-evident importance and clear identity. RUST Magazine gives it our highest recommendation, but we wanted to hear from Fred about what he thinks about it himself and he graciously answered a few questions for us:
RUST: A few years ago, there was a big resurgence in what might be called Americana Roots music, while it is now becoming somewhat less present in the public space. Perhaps times aren’t as profoundly hard as they were a couple years ago, maybe people have adjusted to a new normal. You finely interpret the spirit of that moment with the song Occupy Your Own Mind, did you write this as a cautionary message not to forget the occupy movement as well as the other moments that inspired other people to write about their times?
FGJR: We definitely do quickly adjust to a new normal. I think Occupy Your Own Mind was more of a “here is what is” song for me. I had that word occupy rolling around in my head for a long time. I set out to write a very “political” protest song, but wound up with something else. The two verses are about two things I think about a lot. We’ve wound up in a situation where our so- called leaders can only get elected by coming up with a whole lot of money. Citizens United made that even worse- now corporations can “donate” so much money anonymously. In Germany where they have publicly-funded elections they’d call a private donation to a candidate a bribe! Duh! Also every President has been a male over 6 feet tall who was educated at one of just a few colleges. We elected a black man president, which to me was frankly surprising and great, but we did it before we ever elected a woman. Twenty years ago I would have said you were crazy if you told me that would happen. With how racist this country seems to be I think this illustrates how sexist it also still is. Woman still don’t have equal pay for equal work, and are still culturally treated as objects pretty easily in the media and in our daily conversations. In the midst of all of this, in the northeast we had a big hurricane a couple of years ago and the reason that seniors and disabled people without electricity got meals and heat was because Occupy Sandy organized and made it happen. They had a lot of help from churches and synagogues and other organizations, but Occupy were the organizers. This gives me great hope! The Occupy movement was bigger, more organized, and accomplished more than the mainstream media, which is owned and run by the Wall Street folks, showed us. The great thing is that the occupy movement didn’t go anywhere. They’re still here!!!
RUST: As a whole culture, with hindsight it appears that America lost some of it’s own self-identity in the gilded age before the crash and they looked to the music of old – as you might phrase it – to regain that sense of cultural pride when hard times returned. Perhaps people felt that they had to now earn that which was previously so easily bought, and they had a new appreciation for it. Are you wary that this righteous message is beginning to again fade as times continue to change?
FGJR: Living in the Hudson Valley I guess I don’t see this as much, because it has not faded here at all. I don’t think it ever fades anyway – I think it just stops getting televised for a while until it becomes sexy again. But I do think that the hard times give it a sense of urgency. The thing about this music is that it is a community-building thing, and in hard times we all need community in a more urgent way. I think American cultural pride is still out there, but it is more underground, or perhaps more local.
RUST: But I’m making it sound as though this style was sealed away in a “break glass in case of emergency” container, and of course it wasn’t. You’ve been active for about 20 years, as have fantastic artists like Matt Turk. You must have met some amazing people along that journey, can you share a story with us about one person that inspired you along the way?
FGJR: Of course the first person who comes to mind is Pete Seeger. The last time I played with Pete was after a parade in Beacon with a group of school children. The event was “Spirit of Beacon Day.” Pete had helped create this event because he observed, many years ago when he moved to Beacon, that the town was basically segregated, and he wanted to for at least one day a year integrate it. He and some other folks created this event in September every year. Anyhow, here was the guy who co-wrote Turn Turn Turn and If I Had A Hammer playing on the street after a parade! This is very inspiring. When Pete’s career and livelihood were taken away from him by HUAC and the black-listing, he took it to the streets and schools, and I think he found out that that’s where it belonged! I was fortunate to get to spend much more than my share of time with Pete, because of a few people who seemed determined to put me in the room with him. Matt Turk, David Bernz, Susan Wright, Rick Rock of Tribes Hill- they all put me in the room or on stage with Pete, along with a few other folks, over the years. Knowing him and having spent some quality time with him it is hard to imagine him on the mall with Springsteen at the inauguration. That last time I played a gig with him he taught us a new verse he’d written for “This Land” about fracking. He said “last week I sang this at Farm Aid with Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and that nice young man Bruce Springsteen.” Sure enough I looked it up, and there it was on Youtube. Dave Matthews and Mellencamp were also there. “NY is your home, NY is my home, from the upstate mountains down to the ocean’s foam, with all kinds of people, we’re all polychrome, NY was made to be frack free.” Polychrome- such a Pete kind of word! I wasn’t close to Pete the same way Turk was, but boy do I miss him. We all do!
RUST: It’s just the new year. Hello 2015. As another new year begins, do you have hope that a new generation of musicians has looked to people like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie to inspire them as they grow as musicians?
FGJR: Hope Machine did a lot of work with the Woody Guthrie Foundation/ archives. Anna Canoni, Nora Guthrie’s daughter, got us a lot of gigs playing Woody songs. It always struck me that the “myth” of Woody Guthrie was very appealing. He is really kind of a classic outlaw/ underdog. I think one of the things that they do at the foundation is attempt to tell the real story without undermining the myth. Kind of interesting. When I consider that This Land was never on the radio or television (until the Obama inauguration) but almost everyone in this country knows the song, I’ve got to figure that something big is going on. I talked to Cy Hamlin, the guy who designed the Clearwater Sloop, on the phone this summer. Some story about Pete and the Clearwater came up and he said “that’s not how it happened but it is a good story so let’s let it stand.” At 94 he had the wisdom and humility to let the myth be built, and to know he was a little part of it. He understands that the Clearwater is not just a boat and not just a currently active vehicle for change, but also a part of a mythology. It helped get the Clean Air & Water Act passed, after all! So it is with Woody and Pete. I think some of what happened in their lives is just what happened, just the chaos of life. I also think they made large and small choices which changed the course of their lives, and therefore changed their legacies. Woody left a good-paying radio job because he was censored there. In the moment the impact it had on his life was that he was broke but had his integrity, but in the long term it changed everything. This was a very difficult choice. Woody met Will Geer and Will brought him to see the jungle camps, and this politicized him. Was this luck? Maybe they were “meant” to meet. Maybe it was inevitable. In any case, Pete and Woody’s decisions made a difference. What strikes me is how many of these decisions were made for the sake of integrity. More than the music, this is what I hope young musicians get out of their stories. Integrity is something worth fighting and suffering for, in my opinion. If Wall Street had more of it we wouldn’t need an “Occupy” movement! Now we’ve got “B-corporations,” and I’m hopeful we’ll have more humane capitalism in the future! But there are a handful of people grasping a big pile of money and they’ve been pulling strings, greasing palms, and even breaking laws for a long time to get it. We don’t have to ask what Pete would do, because he was at Occupy Wall Street, at 93 years old! Pete and Woody were human and flawed, but they are also archetypical heroes, and both were very stubborn about their integrity. I think a lot of young artists recognize that about them.
RUST: So, we’re both big fans of Matt Turk. You’ve worked with him and toured with him. We gave him album of the year. Do you have a funny (and hopefully mildly embarrassing) story to tell about your mutual adventures?
FGJR: Most of the funny stories I have from touring with Turk I don’t want to tell in print because it could hurt the other people involved. Suffice it to say it is always an adventure. The thing I love most about Turk is that he isn’t necessarily as happy-go-lucky as he appears, but he WORKS at being positive, I’d say at all times. I think if it came as easily as it appears it wouldn’t have the impact it has. He brings positivity everywhere he goes. He manifests it in the world. It is the same with the music- he makes the mandolin sound easy, but I can tell you he’s worked very hard at it, studying with Barry Mitterhoff of Hot Tuna and practicing many hours a day. Our Spring tour is going to be called the “Love Revival Tour.” Wage Love, Cold Revival. But that’s kind of who Turk is- a walking love revival. He sort of refuses to accept negativity! A great friend. Actually he’s more than a friend, he’s family.
RUST: Who are some of the other people who helped make Wage Love? What about them made them right for this album?
FGJR: It’s funny. When I first started working on the album, Tom Kristich, the photographer, called me. He said he wanted to shoot some photos of me at an abandoned Department of Public Works garage near his house. We had to climb through a fence, and walk past broken bottles and a fire pit where kids hang out and drink at night, and there we found the torn American flag on the ground. I picked it up and brought it with us for the shoot. I know a whole bunch of great singers, including great folks like Abbie Gardner and Laurie MacAllister of the band Red Molly and Brooke Campbell, who have sung on my records. I met Laura Bowman when my cousin jazz drummer Brian Woodruff suggested I call her to play at a songwriters night in Astoria, Queens that she hosted. She turned out to be really community-oriented and we kept in touch. Last year she did a project called “Busk or Bust,” where she planned to busk her way across the country until she ran out of money, and make a documentary about it. It was supposed to be a film about not being able to make a living as a musician, really about having to go home out of money. She wound up on the road for the whole summer, going to the West Coast and back. I think this really transformed her. So though I really like her singing, I called her for more personal than musical reasons, thinking that she was right for this record in a personal sense. About 95% of what she sang she arranged. “I Dreamed I Saw Pete Seeger” I wrote at the last minute, so Laura heard it for the first time just before she sang it! Talk about a home run! She put out a great ep recently called “Troubadour.” Paul Magliari is just groovy as a drummer. He made “We The People” less square, and “Election Day” more musical. I’m currently recording, at my studio, an album with him of his music. His music is a bit like early Genesis. He calls it “conceptual pop.” I thought of Turk as soon as I wrote “Ghost of Joe Hill.” He says he thinks he went to a new place singing on “Freedom Highway,” and I agree. He also helped me work out the arrangement for that, because we’re singing what the audience usually sings. Lastly Jeffry Braun, who designed the cover, named the album. I’ve been giving away “Wage Love” stickers for almost 15 years now but I never would have named the album that!
RUST: We The People is *one* of our favorite songs on the album, can you tell us a little about it?
FGJR: I wrote what I’d call the first finished drafts of that and Killing Machine in 2003, after the war in Iraq started. Killing Machine didn’t undergo much revision after that. That one wrote itself. I made a quick, limited-run e.p. called “We The People” that summer because I was angry about the government’s reaction to 9/11. The first concert I ever played with Pete Seeger probably in 2005 I sang that version of We The People, and he told me it was important and I should keep working on it and keep singing it. I’ve been revising it since then. Ten years! I’d thought about including it because I knew it sort of fit, and when Pete passed away last January I kind of felt a sense of responsibility for the song, because Pete told me to work on it. I think a lot of songwriters in the Hudson Valley feel a similar sense of responsibility, because it will take all zillion of us to do anything like what Pete did. When I get really down and cynical I pick up my little paperback of the constitution and Declaration of Independence, and remind myself that the constitution and the people are the country, not the current politicians. We the People! It is our country! When you join the Army you swear an oath to uphold the constitution. This is bigger than any political party or person!
RUST: The album isn’t out yet, but maybe you have you heard from some people about it already? Which songs seems to be the ones other folks like the best?
FGJR: Well, “Killing Machine” has been around a while, and I’ve heard from a lot of veterans and other people over the years about that song. That song seems to really work. It is a difficult story to hear but the music seems to open people’s ears to it. “Walking Down That Freedom Highway” has been a big song for me live since I wrote it, and is already being covered by local Hudson Valley songwriter Scoot Horton. (We cover a lot of each other’s songs up here!) “Election Day” nobody seems to want to hear, though it is probably my favorite song on the record. I know it is a tough one, but I think it speaks the truth. I’ve just started singing “Cost of War” live and that one has also been well-received. “I Dreamed I Saw Pete Seeger,” though the closing song on the record, has been a great opening song at solo shows. It really brings everyone into the room, so to speak.
RUST: Thanks Fred, one last question, is there one artist out there right now that people should be listening to?
FGJR: Well- the first person I thought of was Chris Moore. http://www.mooresong.com/ I’ve been a fan for years and we’ve gotten to know each other and played some shows together. He’s out of Brooklyn, but was the drummer of the 80’s Detroit hardcore/ punk band Negative Approach before he became a singer/ songwriter. He’s got a new ep and a new full-length album out.
Get more info at http://www.fredgillenjr.com/
Also recommended: Pete Seeger: Pete Remembers Woody (2012) featuring Fred’s version of Woody Guthrie’s “I Ain’t Got No Home” from the debut Hope Machine album. This two CD set is a collection of Pete Seeger’s spoken-word stories about Woody Guthrie, interspersed with various artists’ versions of Woody’s songs. This collection was produced by David Bernz, producer of “Pete at 89,” and released to coincide with Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday. Order Here: http://www.appleseedmusic.com/peteseeger/peterememberswoody.html
—Eric Petersen, Rust Magazine, January 2015Silence Of The Night
Fred Gillen Jr. Makes Yet Another Good Record
It’s hard to believe that Fred Gillen Jr. has been making albums for almost 20 years now. His latest, Silence of the Night is one of his best, and arguably his most tuneful, a mix of acerbically lyrical, Americana-flavored janglerock and grittier electric songs that stand up alongside Steve Earle’s louder stuff. In a style of music that’s all too often drenched in obviousness and cliche, Gillen doesn’t go there: he has a bloodhound’s nose for a catchy hook, he tells a good story and he’s never sung better than he does here. There isn’t a hint of fakeness, or affectation in his casual, intimate vocals, or for that matter in his songwriting either. Although there isn’t as much of an overtly political stance to these songs as in his past work – during the Bush regime, Gillen was one of the most insightfully enraged voices of reason around – his songs still have a penetrating social consciousness. As someone who long ago adopted Woody Guthrie’s “this guitar kills fascists” for his six-string, Gillen keeps a close eye on the world outside and its most telling details. All seventeen tracks on the album are streaming at his Bandcamp site.
The opening cut, Morphine Angel offers a somber elegy for an addict, “blinded by your own sun’s dying light” – it wouldn’t be out of place in the BoDeans catalog. Later on, he revisits that theme – it’s a familiar one in his repertoire – with a more broad appraisal of the price of addiction in a dead-end town. The album’s surprisingly bouncy title cut looks at love as “a dockside shanty, lit by Christmas lights, painted like a carnival against the endless silence of the night.” Gillen follows that with Vanity and its casual country-rock sway, a vivid cautionary tale (and good advice) for these Orwellian times.
Find a Rodeo, a country ballad, laments the loss of good songs on the radio, among other things. One of the album’s strongest tracks, the Springsteen-ish Halloween Day at the VA leaves a chilling trail of images, a litany of damage and lost hope, among them the Afghan war vet who returns home too messed up to restart his old Kiss cover band. The growling, bluesy, metaphorically-charged Black Butterflies goes back to roaring Americana rock, something akin to Will Scott relocated to the Hudson Valley.
Shotgun contrasts a catchy janglerock tune with a brooding lyric that examines the consequences of getting married too soon, followed by the powerful Walking That Line, an abortion chronicle that makes a worthy sequel to Graham Parker’s You Can’t Be Too Strong. Only Sky ponders how possible it is to make a genuine escape, followed by the nonchalant come-on ballad Lean on Me.
A couple of tracks veer toward the sentimental, but they’re not throwaways. This Old Car, complete with fuzzy dice and air freshener, makes an apt flipside to Everclear’s Thousand Dollar Car. Sappy as the lyrics are, This Town Is Our Song has an irresistibly tasty acoustic guitar hook. There’s also Dinosaur Bones, a creepy, apocalyptic voice-and-drums number as well as a tantalizingly brief, bristling twangrock instrumental and an attempt to end the album on a lighthearted note. It’s another solid chapter in the career of a songwriter who’s not unknown – his recent collaborations with Pete Seeger have received well-deserved praise – but whose work would enrich the lives of a wider audience than it probably has. Fans of John Prine, Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt and the rest of the Americana songwriting pantheon ought to get to know him.
—New York Music Daily 1/6/13
Silence Of The Night, Gillen’s latest release, is a thoughtfully assembled “album” which features the artist's first spoken-word piece on record in over ten years, alongside his first instrumental in sixteen years! The new record seamlessly joins American music, weaving the sounds of folk, Americana, rock and classic funk. This album includes new versions of two Gillen songs Shotgun and This Town Is Our Song (a duet with Carolann Solebello,) as well as eleven debut songs. With cameos by a number of old friends, incuding Eric Puente, Sarah Banks, Brooke Campbell, Susan Kane, Catherine Miles, Julie Corbalis, Jim Keyes, and Audi Wilken, this album speaks to Gillen’s genuine collaborative nature.
Gillen’s works is honest and pure, delivering unglamorous but compelling tales of the marginalized and forgotten. Intimate and universal, his songs tell the stories of the internal and external struggles that we all experience.
Says Brita Brundage from Westchester Weekly of Gillen’s songs, "sweet and gritty, Gillen's vocals engage listeners, leading them through a wide range of emotions with a musical intensity that crosses the border of traditional folk."
Gillen, a prolific songwriter, recording artist, and producer has been played on independent, commercial, public, and college radio all over the world. He is also a member of and co-writer for the band Hope Machine which is an Official Program of the Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives. His work has received critical acclaim and commercial exposure on radio and national TV shows, including ABC's All My Children and MSG Network's NYC Soundtracks. GIllenʼs song Fall Down was featured on the 2008 CMJ Music Marathon Sampler CD, distributed to 11,000 conference attendees and radio programmers at the conference.
Gillen will be on tour this summer and fall with this latest album, gracing stages from NYC to San Diego with his passionate lyrics. “Grief can be as constructive as joy and pain” says Gillen, “but anger, for me, leads almost inevitably to trouble. The thing that seems to work for me most of the time, is love.”
—www.americantowns.com, May 29, 2012
With nine albums listed on the All Music Guide from 1997′s Intentions as Big as the Sky up to Match Against a New Moon (along with the 2008 Gillen & (Matt) Turk effort, Backs to the Wall), this 2012 release -listed as the eighth full length from Fred Gillen Jr – Silence of the Night makes for an enormous body of work to absorb from the journeyman artist.
The trouble with a waterfall of so much melody, instrumentation and production is that the general public may have a hard time focusing on one song to propel the singer into the commercial realm so many seek. Opening with the subtly sacrilegious “Morphine Angel” we find she’s no cousin to Marianne Faithful and the Rolling Stones’ “Sister Morphine”, a dirge that fits better as an opening act to the Velvet Underground than the “American Folk” advertised. Probably not a sequel to “Primitive Angel” from the previous and aforementioned Match Against a New Moon (Fred does have an affinity for angels), the song is an odd choice to open the disc with.
More preferable to these ears would be the title track, “Silence of the Night’, with its exquisite Beatle-esque phrasings and pretty backing vocals. “Vanity runs the world” and Al Pacino would have to agree while in character as Lucifer in The Devil’s Advocate (it’s his favorite sin!)…the song (“Vanity”) is terrific – and would also have been a choice pick to open “Silence of the Night”. So would “Find a Rodeo”, arguably the best track here, and a sublime country/rocker in the vein of Gram Parsons, the Byrds and Boston’s well-loved Country Bumpkins.
The cover of the John Lennon/Yoko Ono’s classic “Silence” (track 16), lasts only 30 seconds, though I don’t think John & Yoko are credited here. Find the original on “Unfinished Music No.2: Life With The Lions”. “This Town Is Our Song” is another gently played ode to another time, more optimistic than Simon & Garfunkel’s reunion tune “My Little Town”. Gillen plays all the instruments save drums which feature Eric Puente and the fiddle of Sarah Banks. Carolann Solebello’s duet vocals are perfect. There is a lot to explore on Silence of the Night, Gillen and Puente finding their groove again on “Only Sky”, a superb hook that is up there with “Vanity” and “Find A Rodeo” as the album favorites, at least for me.
It’s an ambitious effort by an ambitious singer who, of course, can’t resist penning a tune entitled “Angel.” No, not the Jimi Hendrix classic from The Cry Of Love / First Rays of the New Rising Sun. Perhaps Fred can cover that on his next outing.
—Joe Viglione, http://www.tmrzoo.com August 2012Live In The Heartland Of America
In his earliest days, Westchester County troubadour Fred Gillen Jr. was just one more singer-songwriter hawking his wares to anyone who might pause long enough to listen. But somewhere along the way he got politicized; he tamed the rock ’n’ roll wildness; and he became an old-school folksinger, bringing music to the people instead of hoping for the people to come to him. Live in the Heartland of America is exactly what its title says, a simple document, recorded—bravely—at a Muncie, Indiana, house concert. Gillen’s voice intertwines not only with Catherine Miles’s gorgeous natural instrument but also with the shared voices of the attendees, a couple dozen Hoosiers. The results are raw and ringing.
“Devil’s Bluff” is painfully intimate; the song holds you in its hand while you hold it in yours. “We will shine,” the pair sings, “and hope that it’s enough.” It is. Elsewhere, Gillen unfortunately veers from his own catalog to roll out hoary, predictable chestnuts from Phil Ochs (“When I’m Gone”), Bob Dylan (“Forever Young”), Elizabeth Cotten (“Freight Train”), and Johnny Cash by way of June Carter (“Ring of Fire”). This recording is most definitely a warts-and-all affair, right down to the knee-to-knee banter and sketchy harmonica breaks. Little of the chatter will hold up to repeated listening, but the best songs, like “Bluff,” “Don’t Give Up the Ghost,” and Abbie Gardner’s “I’d Rather Be,” certainly will.
—Michael Eck, Chronogram Magazine, February 28, 2012Match Against A New Moon
In “The Devil’s Last Word” Fred Gillen Jr. sings “Well I’m staying on these tracks until I hear the Devil’s last word...” and it is perhaps a Freudian slip that the songwriter/vocalist is talking about his own recorded tracks, splashy and glorious with high production values and catchy guitar playing. The disc starts off with "Come and See Me" and, personally, I would have preferred the CD to launch with a more uptempo version of this same tune a la George Harrison’s “Isn’t It A Pity” with the opening rendition placed somewhere in the middle of this Match Against A New Moon album. Start the listeners off with a good boot in the pants to get the party started.
“Cecelia” reminds one of the Simon & Garfunkel classic about a fun girl on the Bridge Over Troubled Waters album while “Flicker” could be the hit on this excellent set, it utilizes lines from the title track. Fred Gillen Jr. often performs with Matt Turk as Gillen & Turk...both balladeers are worth keeping an eye on with these eleven selections on Match Against a New Moon a very good look inside the mind of Gillen, spiritual thoughts permeate most of this recording culminating in “Primitive Angels”. Lots of depth here demanding a need to explore it through repeated play. Spin on!
—Joe Viglione, TMR Zoo, January 2012
The new disc is a mix of Americana that exhibits his own touchstones, including the rawness of Woody Guthrie (his studio is fittingly called “Woody’s House”), the energy of Neil Young, the drama of Elliott Smith and the character development of Bruce Springsteen.
“Devil’s Last Word” has that loping, bass-heavy Neil Young “Heart Of Gold” groove in a song about a guy who has a “close-to-death-wish” and is gonna stay on the train tracks (literally): “I’m stayin’ on these tracks until I hear the devil’s last word.” The harmonica ride also has a Youngian feel as it loops around like a belt on a skinny fellow.
“Don’t Give Up The Ghost” has a relaxed alt-country feel that surrounds text of someone who wanders the streets and back alleys overcome by “memories and questions.” There is a stop-time section where the narrator realizes that “home is in my heart” and not any wood-framed building. There’s a sense here of melancholy without self-pity.
The title for Gillen’s disc comes from the tune “Flicker.” It revolves around avuncular advice for a woman who has hit on hard times: “you only get a moment, a flicker in the night, a match against a new moon, a flashlight at the sky.” A gritty Nels Cline-ish solo accents the encouragement to start a new life.
A cover of Leonard Cohen’s classic “Hallelujah” doesn’t have the drama of Cohen’s basso-profundo delivery, but is still powerful here in a slightly more subdued fashion.
—John Ziegler, Duluth News Tribune, 12/9/10
Arguably his best album. As the title suggests, this is something of a calm after the storm for Fred Gillen Jr. Most musicians waited out the Bush regime uneasily; many, like Gillen, railed against the occupation, notably on his landmark 2008 collaboration with Matt Turk, Backs Against the Wall. Battered but optimistic, Gillen’s latest, Match Against a New Moon is his most memorably tuneful album. Ironically, the spot-on social commentary he’s best known for (this is a guy who appropriated Woody Guthrie’s “This guitar kills fascists” for his own six-string) is largely absent here. This cd goes more for a universal, philosophical outlook. At this point in his career, the songwriter Gillen most closely resembles is the Wallflowers‘ Jakob Dylan: he’s got a laserlike feel for a catchy janglerock hook, a killer chorus, a striking image and a clever double entendre.
The expansive, smartly assembled janglerock anthem that opens the album, Come and See Me, wouldn’t be out of place in the Marty Willson-Piper catalog. It sets the tone for the rest of the cd:
When all your relations are in prison or the grave
And you can’t remember what they took, only what you gave
And you are grateful that they’re gone ’cause they can’t hurt you anymore
Come and see me
With its big, anthemic chorus, The Devil’s Last Word takes the point of view of a guy whose favorite hangout spot is the train tracks: he likes living on the edge. The catchiest track here, a monster hit in an alternate universe where commercial radio plays good songs, is the Wallflowers-ish Don’t Give up the Ghost. It ponders a way out of the shadows of a difficult past, a quest for “some kind of answers or at least some questions finally worth asking.” An image-drenched carpe diem anthem for a troubled girl, Flicker gently points a way out: “We only get a moment to flicker in the night, a match against a new moon.”
The metaphorically-charged Americana rock shuffle Land of Hope could a Matt Keating song. Lay Me Down has the raw feel of a lo-fi acoustic demo that probably wasn’t meant to be on the album, but it made the cut because of the magic it captures, exhausted yet immutably optimistic. Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah has been done to death by scores of inferior singers, but Gillen’s strikingly understated, conversational version is nothing short of souful. He follows it with a couple of dark rock narratives: the crescendoing junkie anthem Light of Nothing, which sounds like a sober mid-70s Lou Reed – if that makes any sense – and the vivid slum narrative Primitive Angels, which could be vintage, i.e. Darkness on the Edge of Town-era Springsteen. The album closes on an upbeat note with the hopeful You May Be Down. Gillen, who plays most of the instruments here, doesn’t waste a note, whether on guitars, bass, harmonica or even drums; Paul Silverman’s organ and Eric Puente’s drums contribute with similar terseness and intelligence, along with vocals from Catherine Miles and Laurie MacAllister, and Abbie Gardner contributing lapsteel and harmonies on Hallelujah. Gillen still plays frequent NYC area shows; watch this space.
—Lucid Culture, June 2010
"Done with tremendously moving thoughtfulness and sensitivity, this warm and affecting album offers a surprising amount of hope amid the usual array of regret and despair. Fred Gillen Jr.’s calm, reassuring voice and smart, insightful songwriting make for a highly potent double whammy. Better yet, the melodies are gentle and soothing, with softly strummed guitars, subdued drums, and some tasty harmonica keeping things perfectly tuneful throughout. But what really gives this album an extra substantial lift is the fragile, yet durable humanity which shines through the whole thing like a ray of sunshine poking through the clouds on an otherwise gray and rainy day. A lovely and inspirational album."
—Joe Wawrzyniak, www.JerseyBeat.com
"Fred Gillen, Jr. writes without fear of the realm where life's aches dwell. This latest collection, Match Against A New Moon flows like an insightful river around rocks of mystery. Fred's lyrics and music are an invitation of understanding, to the weary mind--from the first lines of Come And See Me and the acknowledgment of brushes with temptation in Devil's Last Word. We are seekers with him, in songs like Don't Give Up The Ghost and Flicker. Cecelia is a rhythmically delicious song of identifiable adoration where Fred's vocals shine. Land of Hope is well placed in the heart of this collection and feels definitive of Fred's identity as a songwriter. Lay Me Down is a silent plea we all issue for a place to rest in love. With equal measure, Fred tends to the seeds of his own songs as carefully as his new bloom of Leonard Cohen's rose, Hallelujah. A musical crest in the sound of Light of Nothing, echoing the versatility of the likes of U2. Primitive Angels is a heavenly example of Fred's poetic gift and a moment to laugh at ourselves. An embrace of understanding is felt in the last track, You May Be Down. Like the phase of the lunar orb it references, Match Against A New Moon assures us that the day side we see sans light is temporary in the ongoing transit of our lives."
—Catherine Michaels, WHUD FM Hudson Valley, NYBig Green Hope Machine
"This ain't no revival, this is a 21st century hootenanny... Hope Machine shines light through the night and picks us all up along the way. But that lonesome troubadour won't be standing on the road with his thumb out; he's already in the back seat smiling."
—Jason Wesley, Folkwax, April 2009
"Damn, folk music is a beautiful thing. Hudson Valley guitar slingers Steve Kirkman and Fred Gillen Jr. grasp this fact in a fundamental way; they wrap their arms around it in a big bear hug. Hope Machine began as a 'friendly tribute' to Woody Guthrie, but somewhere along the way it became something more. It became an extension of Woody’s ideas and attitudes—with Kirkman and Gillen taking the wiry little wonder’s spirit forward into the now. Sure, they cover 'Pastures of Plenty' and 'Deportees' here, and they rock up 'I’ve Got To Know,' but, with the aid of pickers like Abby Gardner, Matt Turk, and Lisa Gutkin, they create new songs, too.
Gillen’s 'Sing Sing Sing' embodies a sentiment Pete Seeger, who is given more than one shout-out on the album, would second; Kirkman’s 'Folk Singer' is wise enough to poke fun at itself and every other shlub with a six-string and a dream; and 'Martyrs of the Native Nations' turns 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken' into a newfangled anthem for old heroes. Gillen and Kirkman have perfect voices for this kind of stuff—tuneful without being too flavorful, plainspoken without being bland. The backing is sweet, tasteful, and tangy enough to bear repeated listenings—especially Gutkin’s whispering fiddle on Scott Urgola’s 'My God.' It’s good to know that, with Woody gone and Pete recently turning 90, there’s someone ready to carry it on. Hope Machine is a beautiful thing."
—Michael Ruby, Chronogram 10/09
"A beautifully moving, low-key and melodic album which delivers 12 songs worth of gently tuneful and reflective folksy country, this baby makes for a very pleasant and soothing listen. The vocals offer lots of deliciously delicate harmonizing, the arrangements are extremely dulcet and arresting, the songwriting sharp and thoughtful, the tempos subdued, yet steady, and the beats clop along at a sweetly gradual rate. Best of all, there’s a real heart and warmth at work in this music that’s both affecting and admirable in its disarming sincerity. The songs alternate between nifty originals (the eminently hummable 'Clearwater,' the neatly buzzing 'Folk Singer') and inspired covers of such Woody Guthrie classics as “Pastures of Plenty” and 'Deportees.' A simply lovely little jewel."
—JOE WAWRZYNIAK, Jersey Beat
"This CD first breathed life as a bit of Woodie Guthrie tribute hootenanny headed by an impromptu trio (Fred Gillen Jr., Todd Giudice, Steve Kirkman) and then grew into an adoption of Guthrie's thinking and spirit in a real-time, real world, roll up the sleeves affair. Thus, there are only three of Woody's songs here, but the entire album is in the famed troubadour's well-known mindset. Indeed, the ensemble's very name is drawn from a Guthrie lyric: "a human being is, anyway, just a hoping machine". Along the way, things gathered steam and slowly transformed, and a trib CD woulda been very nice but this is better.
Take the train-time mellow / rockin' version of Guthrie's Pastures of Plenty, about the plight of migrant labor on the landlorded fruitful land, a cut that arrests the attention through an impassioned voice and atmospheric electric lap steel guitar, not to mention a burnin' harmonica muttering and perambulating. It's a lament but an urgent one. Sundancer is equally plaintive but, as many of the tunes here, based in the plight of the natives so hideously treated by the Euros, and then Americans, who took the land, genocide included as a generous bonus plan. Big Green swells and billows with outrage over the devastation the native peoples suffered, "Sundancer" reins it in to temper outrage with admiration for the ways of the oppressed.
My God comes stripped down and rarely has that phrase been quite so affecting, repeated to drive home the point of desperation and forlorn spirits. Guthrie himself would've loved the cut, a perfect marriage of the heart of the common man with power of art, haunting long after the disc has been removed from the player. Through the entire set of songs, a wide variety of folk styles is employed, making Big Green a smorgasbord of modes and delights. Hope Machine is going far to preserve the past while singing to the present…and hopefully the future."
—Mark S. Tucker, Folk & Acoustic Music ExchangeBacks To The Wall
In their debut album, Backs to the Wall, Gillen & Turk present a rock-infused folk album that hints at world music influences. With a variety of instruments, including mandolin, kalimba and washboard, Backs to the Wall is an eclectic mix of the familiar and the slightly exotic. Reminiscent of great musicians like Bob Dylan and the Beatles, Gillen & Turk are both poets and political commentators, and their statements are framed by top-notch playing and original instrumentation.
In the title track, "Backs to the Wall," Gillen & Turk create a typically mellow, folk track, with traditional politically-charged lyrics. Though Gillen & Turk's vocals could be stronger and the melody could be catchier, "Backs to the Wall" is a decent track.
Gillen & Turk really shine in "It Really Matters," a reggae-inspired track featuring excellent guitar riffs and passionate lyrics, and "Come Away with Me," a darker, '70s-rock inspired track that is slightly more poignant than its folk companions.
Though Gillen & Turk's vocals are sometimes shaky, particularly in the opening track, "These Nameless Streets," their colorful use of instruments and powerful lyrics are excellent. Their folk-inspired album is a tribute to past musicians who used music albums as both platforms for political messages and vehicles for music excellence. In the case of Gillen & Turk, Backs to the Wall easily gets its political opinions across, but Gillen & Turk have to work just a little harder to demonstrate their vocal talents. Nevertheless, Backs to the Wall is a good, solid album, one worth listening to.
Reviewer Rating: 4.00Stars
—C.J. Trent, Celebritycafe.com
Tuneful and lulling, with a nice folksy pop-rock sound and equally engaging reflective sensibility to it, this album automatically wins the listener over on the basis of its gently melodic quality alone. Fred Gillen Jr. and Matt Turk harmonize beautifully well together on the lead vocals; their two voices blend seamlessly into a lovely and arresting whole that’s an absolute pleasure to hear. Moreover, these two New York City-based guys are very fine and thoughtful songwriters. Whether it’s the sweet charm of the opening track “These Nameless Streets,” or the bubbly vitality of the bouncy “It Really Matters,” this album delivers one delightful song after another. Some songs rock a bit harder than others (“Fall Down” in particular has a strong socking beat to it), but every last one hits the pleasingly dulcet spot just the same. A wonderfully radiant little gem.
—Joe Wawrzyniak, Jersey Beat
Well-executed harmonies can be transforming, and the duo Gillen & Turk inherently knows that.
The Hudson Valley's Fred Gillen Jr. and Matt Turk have put together a CD of not only finely crafted songs sung well, but filled with hope. They've put their time in - underground for the MTA in Manhattan, as well as at Pete Seeger's "Circle of Song" tent at the Great Clearwater Music and Arts Festival.
Former solo artists, Gillen and Turk combined their efforts with spectacular results. An alt-country cosmic cowboy sound is revealed in the 12 tracks here, from the open air "These Nameless Streets," the sunny Grateful Dead-like vibe of "It Really Matters," the urgent, politically charged "Black Hills" and the free-flowing "Come Away With Me."
"Peace Rant" recalls early Dylan in more ways than one, while "Killing Machine" has an almost Clash-like anxiety.
This work is not frivolous love songs, but topical and thought-provoking tunes, like the music we loved years ago.
A moving first effort by a promising pair.
—David Malachowski, Kingston Daily Freeman
In the tradition of Batdorf & Rodney, England Dan & John Ford Coley and Seals & Crofts these two fine songwriter/singers, Matt Turk and Fred Gillen Jr. bring their blend of Americana, folk rock and solid instrumentation to this CD episode they call Backs To The Wall. "Fall Down" has the jangling R.E.M. style that makes it highly commercial, a total contrast to the almost off-key "Takes Me Away", almost five minutes of Velvet Underground-third album melancholy. "It Really Matters" is culled from The Grateful Dead catalog and makes the duo a perfect fit to perform in the Boston area with one of Ken Selcer's many bands. "Black Hills" and "Come Away With Me" have mesmerizing sounds and riveting themes..."Black Hills" right out of the C.S.N.Y. repertoire when they were stomping with "Almost Cut My Hair" and "Ohio". Real protest music. The musicianship is strong, just as you'd expect from journeyman Turk. The addition of Fred (Gillen Jr) gives Matt an opportunity to stretch out from his own solo pop to a harder-edged sometimes anst-filled style ("Come Away With Me" comes to mind in that regard). "These Nameless Streets" would be fine for a Jack Kerouac flick...or if some filmmaker wants to take the Route 66 TV series from the 1960s to the big screen. "Three" is innovative and has mandolin-like sounds with charging guitar...political issues...think George Harrison's "Within Without You" going for a wider audience. "Killing Machine" also has the R.E.M. jangle combined with protest lyrics while "This Town Is Our Song" feels like a low-key response to Simon & Garfunkel's "My Little Town", though not as maudlin yet still very melancholy (did I use that word already). A strong effort from some spirited musicians worth your listening time.
—Joe Viglione of allmusic.comConey Island
Peekskill, NY - Singer-songwriter and insistent force of nature Fred Gillen Jr. released his eighth solo recording, Coney Island, today. The nine-song collection, recorded between 2004 and 2007, was produced by Koji Mabuchi, and features Gillen's stark guitar playing and plaintive singing in electronica "drum and bass" arrangements that perfectly complement the evocative messages in the songs. Having self-produced his earlier CDs in a 'live' in the studio manner, Gillen offers a new side to his music on Coney Island, showing that he's ready to explore new vistas and ideas with his muse.
Coney Island, which is the sixth release on the Gillen's indy DYS Records label, starts off with the catchy title track, a real-life story that finds our busking tour guide at the famed amusement park with the ghost of Woody Guthrie drifting around as he realizes "this is a dangerous place to fall in love." It's a classic Gillen statement, simultaneously funny and melodramatic. "Devil's Bluff," a mid-tempo ballad and one of the most poignant songs the Hudson Valley, NY native has ever written, follows, and even with the track's updated drum programming and vocal treatments it's easy to see why Gillen captured three consecutive Best Folk Artist of the Year awards from the Westchester Weekly.
"These are the some of the best songs that I've ever written, and cutting them with Koji as a collaborator was a leap of faith in many respects," says Gillen. "But I am absolutely ecstatic that these creations have been shaped as they are on Coney Island. It sounds like nothing else I have ever recorded, and I think people who know my music will wonder what took me so long to make an album like this."
The use of synthesizer effects, keyboards and drum programming on Coney Island provides a grand and emphatic atmosphere for songs like "Witness," "Gone" and the electrically-charged "Censor the Wind" without sacrificing their folk-rock origins, much like the work of Beth Orton and Suzanne Vega. The latter cut, along with "Elliott" (a tribute to Elliott Smith) and "Dying Gasp of an Old Machine," reflect the pertinent social consciousness of Gillen's music, as he looks at the world around him and tries to make sense of it all. Equally compelling are his messages of hope, love and spiritual transformation depicted in everyday details of the human condition, which shine in songs like the aforementioned "Devil's Bluff," "Listen!" and "Eleanor," the album's memory-laden finale.
Gillen first gained notice in the Rain Deputies, an alt-rock quartet, in the early 1990s before launching a solo career with a home recorded cassette of songs, Blame It on My Dead Brother. Long active in Tribes Hill, the New York based singer-songwriter collective, Gillen co-founded Woody Guthrie-inspired group Hope Machine, which released its debut CD, March, in 2006. A noted producer, Gillen recently recorded new albums for Red Molly and Anthony da Costa at his Woody's House recording studio in upstate New York. He also performs with fellow Hudson Valley troubadour Matt Turk in an act simply tagged as Gillen & Turk; their first album together, It Really Matters, is due out this spring.
—Americantowns.com March 25, 2008
"I listen to Coney Island all the time at the office (of Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives.)"
—Anna Canoni, granddaughter of Woody Guthrie
"On his eighth solo release, Coney Island, singer-songwriter Fred Gillen, Jr. delivers a respectable collection of folk-rock tunes surrounding themes of love and adventure. The title track does a fine job of pulling the listener in as ethereal reverb-laced vocals promise an album of something original, not just another bland cookie from the singer-songwriter bakery. Gillen effortlessly lulls the listener along with the poignant "This is a dangerous place to fall in love" as he weaves in a story about the wandering ghost of Woody Guthrie. "Elliott," a touching tribute to the late Elliott Smith, is a surprisingly vulnerable track from Gillen and offers yet another side to the troubadour. Throughout the strangely appropriate upbeat song, Gillen maintains a fine balance between a dedication and a sappy tribute. It's his lyrics indeed that carry much of the album, straying from cryptically emo lyrics too often pervading the indie music scene. Gillen's lyrical style is both refreshing and unique while remaining accessible to the listener. On the electronica-tinted "Censor the Wind" (sure to keep you listening from start to end on the first listen) Gillen proves his voice is capable of crossing genres. It was a gutsy move (Gillen tried the same electronica approach on "Gone," which didn't succeed) but I applaud Gillen for pushing his usual boundaries. Still, it seems Gillen shines most on the more simpler arrangements like on the final track, "Eleanor," where his voice remains at the forefront. At times I hear a little Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sprocket) creeping in, strong but never forced. On Coney Island, Gillen continues to assert his stance among contemporary singer-songwriters that he will surely be producing new and exciting music in years to come."
—Skott Freedman, Indie-Music.comGone Gone Gone
"Filmmakers should pay special attention: You'll want to use one of Fred Gillen, Jr.'s soulful songs to punctuate a poignant moment in your movie now, before he gets super-huge. Or at least that was my first thought on hearing his fifth release, Gone, Gone, Gone - it's cinematic and emotionally evocative, the subtle strains of a landscape born of sound, in the way only a true folk artist can create. "This Town This Time" tells the story of a man desperate to leave a place he's outgrown, and the memories that go along with it. Travel is a major theme of this album, as the title suggests, and these are songs of the road at their best. "Free!" chronicles what seems to be the pinnacle of escape from that oppressive small town ("what's a nice guy like me doing in a dump like this"), while "From the Lobby of a Cheap Motel" tackles nostalgia and regret of love lost in a man's desperate phone call to the one he left behind.
Most impressive is Gillen's cover of "I Ain't Got No Home," a cover of - and homage to - his muse and influence Woody Guthrie. Like Guthrie, Gillen has the uncanny ability to take you places, take you on a tour of a long-awaited escape, and all the bittersweetness that comes along with that weighted word called leaving. With his pensive guitar strumming and quietly powerful voice that envelops the listener from the very first line, it's easy to imagine Gillen's tunes playing on the soundtrack of the next Garden State-style filmic tale of a wandering soul taking a look back - and ahead."
—Liz Monroy, Indie-music.com (2006 Indie-Music top 25 Editors' Pick)Grace
Label notes: This is Fred Gillen Jr.'s fourth independent solo CD. It was recorded live-solo-acoustic in the studio. It takes the listener on an intense, emotional roller-coaster ride.
GAJOOB: Fred Gillen Jr. has been voted best folk artist '98, '99, and '00 by the readers of Westchester Weekly, where Gillen makes his home when he's not touring the country side the half of the year. Gillen's become a local favorite by being resident artist at The Black Cow Coffeehouse in Croton, New York for FIVE years, playing his "event" once a month.
His most recent of four independently released CD's, Grace, brings Gillen bare behind a microphone and an acoustic guitar as he pages through an emotional landscape which takes you a bit off guard at first. No "Howdy, pleased to meet you" just bam, "Here's my heart, reach in and grab it."
Despite the Westchester poll, I wouldn't call Gillen's music folk so much, or even rock or blues, really; although these songs embrace these styles eagerly, along with the protest fire of Guthrie set to a GenX beat. In fact the song "Generation X" sets the 60's generation gap upon itself, speaking both to the older generation and the younger and saying, "Hope I live to see my children grow old." The CD was finished a day before the 9/11 disaster and Gillen writes in the liner notes about these songs being suddenly changed to him since they were the last things he heard before the tragedy.
What Gillen manages to do here is to become the essence of expression itself, really. To stand and speak and say, "This is what is," and to say it to anyone who will listen. And everyone should.
—Bryan Baker, Gajoob 4/2/2002
"Fred Gillen Jr. is a power folk poet. Armed with a guitar and harmonica, he deals with everything he's seen and done by singing about it. It's not always easy to hear. Cancer wards where doctors learn to lie and oncologists drink themselves sick because they couldn't save a couple of lives. The slow infiltration of evil in the world. Alcoholism and drug addiction. He holds everything up and exposes it to the light. It's a hard truth, but I just want to keep listening.
There's a vulnerability in his voice and a refusal to step down in the face of fear. I keep thinking of Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. After a while, I get the feeling of hope that always emerges when the ugly truth is stared down. "Famous" is a good example - a much-needed, realistic voice crying out in a wilderness of celebrity worship. A quiet sense of perspective in the face of glamorama. 'It's not easy to be famous in this world, nearly impossible to be rich and still find freedom. Happiness comes easy when there's nothing left to lose, but it doesn't come when there's nothing left to gain.'
"Mrs. Waters," sad as it is, is another example. This is an affectionate look at a widow, seeing the woman who is out of reach because of the way she mourns: 'No one else could be as holy as you were to me, though you're probably just like every widow, waiting patiently for the angels with their wings aflame, flying through your window pane, answering your calls and finally taking you back to Mr. Waters'
His fingers fly on the guitar as he tells his stories. This is pure, honest, acoustic folk storytelling with a gritty edge. It stays with you."
—Jennifer Layton, Indiemusic.com 8/09/03
"Fred's latest CD is a bare-bones production without all the big production frills...just acoustic music as might be performed in the many venues that Fred frequents. A guitar, a harmonica and the voice of a modern troubadour. The CD has the feeling of a live performance without the background sounds of an audience. It supplies an intimacy that feels like a private show. The songs are gutsy and are Fred at his best. They are introspective and daring attempts at dissecting the fact from the fiction of our lives. Our perspectives are painted by our personal mythologys as well as social myths that govern our lives. Fred jumps right in with his first track, "Satan", a moving and powerful song that challenges the dark forces with it's triumphant refrain "hallelujia... hallelujah... hallelujah... I'm just looking for Satan, I've got something to say to him, I want to finally thank him for all that I've done for him..." The CD ends with a moving version of "Amazing Grace". A very personal song titled "Cancer Ward" is sentimental in a brave and bold way, "I talked to children who were not afraid to die, we even talked about their friends who already had died, I saw oncologists drinking themselves sick 'cause they couldn't save a couple of lives...now that you're gone I think I finally understand why it is that people have to die, I look my pain in the eye and try to be grateful that I've got one more day to be alive..." My favorite song reminds me of T- Bone Burnett and I'm not even sure why. Perhaps it is its unusual metaphors and its simple pop delivery. A song which continues where "Blowing in the Wind" left off in the 60's."
—Rick Rock, Tribes HillNervous Laughter
"Details: Emotionally- charged singer/ songwriter material with deep resonating guitar. Quote: This meaty offering from Fred pokes at some raw soul sores, questions life and love, and screams in rage. 'Plane Shot Down In A War' is the high point."
— Allan Foster, Songwriters' Monthly 9/00Tales Of The Misplaced
"New York singer/ songwriter Fred Gillen Jr. may have east coast origins, but his style and intensity reflect a down home sensibility. Gillen's current release, 'Tales Of The Misplaced,' offers passionate, issues-oriented selections, the type of material seldom heard on commercial radio; hi guitar work mixes bluesy refrains and arresting licks."
— Ron Wynne, Nashville Scene, 11/19/98
"Whatever Fred Gillen Jr. sings about, he takes the time to care. Each song sounds like it was the most important priority in his life when he performed it. There is an honesty and an audible empathetic pain in his performance that radiates from behind the lyrics. But despite the anguish, this is an album of triumphs and everyday heroes, they're not perfect, but they're surviving nonetheless. Fred continues to gain new ground with each CD."
— Allan Foster, Songwriters' Monthly, 12/98
"Fred Gillen Jr. is a singer- songwriter this column has reviewed a few times (he was a member of the fine roots- rockers, Rain Deputies.) 'Tales Of The Misplaced' is his latest and best effort to date. Gillen's songs are passionate, personal tales that have a rugged but engaging feel. This album still has a bluesy folk feel, although there is more urgency and confidence in Gillen's voice and more substance in the songs. In essence, Gillen is a 21st century troubadour who sings the tales of everyman as the wonderfull title cut describes. (It is a song that would have made Woody Guthrie proud.) Some of his tales equate to very fine songs. Best cuts here are the somber yet eloquent 'Redemption,' which features some nice guitar work from former bandmate Chris Merola, and the wonderfully melodic 'Flicker,' with its dreamy lyrics. The latter also features the beautiful harmonies of Anne O'Meara Heaton, which perfectly compliment Gillen's fine vocals."
— Mick Skidmore, Relix Magazine 4/99Intentions As Big As The Sky
"Don't expect the hands-off, antiseptic quality of a big, slick, 68-track studio album. This CD has an earthy, straw-like smell for your ears. It has the grazing touch of a brick wall against the back of your hand. It has very ball-point-pen-on-blue-lined-paper written lyrics. It's honest and quirky."
— Craig Gilbert, New Haven Advocate 3/26/98
"Peekskill resident Fred Gillen Jr. really gets a chance to shine on the final track from 'Intentions As Big As The Sky.' It is Gillen a capella- robust with twangy emotion, growls and moans. An extremely advanced songwriter, a la Warren Zevon, Randy Newman, or John Hyatt, this tunesmith's songs are the true focus of the CD, not the recording. Compositions such as the stellar 'Monument' and 'Girl Of Every Boy's Dreams' make this disc an important milestone in local music."
— George Fletcher, Poughkeepsie Journal, 5/30/97
"'Intentions As Big As The Sky' is the latest solo album by Fred Gillen Jr., formerly of New York's Rain Deputies. As a solo artist, Gillen focuses more on a modern day, folk-rock direction and ably shows that he is an articulate writer with a knack for descriptive lyrics and catchy hooks. In the hands of a slick production team and big-name artist, 'Girl Of Every Boy's Dreams' could be a measurable hit. Equally impressive is the plaintive 'Trapdoor In The Sun.'
— Mick Skidmore, Relix Magazine 8/97Live Concert Reviews
Fred Gillen’s Hudson River Hope and Harmony
Opening for Bromberg was Peekskill-based Fred Gillen Jr (@FredGillenJr). If you’d had a difficult day of drudgery or detail, Gillen was the perfect antidote. With a demeanor that blended earnestness with heartfelt respect for his folk roots, he offered a suite of classic and original tunes that hewed closely to the genre suggested by his bumper-sticker-emblazoned steel string guitar. Gillen began that suite with the Elizabeth Cotten classic “Freight Train,” which he admitted he was quite obsessed with. The tune was no doubt familiar to the Port Washington audience, who had previously heard it performed by the hometown Front Porch Players, and more singalongs were about to come.
Fred Gillen Jr. via the artistHis seven-song set included several standouts.True to his bumper sticker, ” Strength through Peace,” Gillen offered his own song, “Killing Machine,” (“there is no job for a killing machine back here in civilization”), a Pete Seeger tribute (“I Dreamed I saw Peter Seeger”) and closed with a tasteful version of the Leonard Cohen classic “Hallelujah.”
Fred Gillen Jr. is not new to the scene — probably because sunny disposition has carved out a permanent spot on many a cloudy stage or campfire.
—www.darkviolin.com November 2, 2015
Wage Love Gathering Occupies Peekskill
It's easy to find people waging war today. Just turn on your TV. It doesn't matter if it's real on Nightly News or imagined on HBO. War is everywhere in the media. What's not as common on TV, sadly, are people waging love.
One man who is out there waging love is Fred Gillen, Jr. The songwriter, musician, singer and 'favorite son' of Peekskill held a gathering at EMBARK, a store-front art space in town on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015. The celebration highlighted Fred's latest artistic expression: an original CD entitled Wage Love. Against the backdrop of the Stars and Stripes safety-pinned to black curtains covering up the floor to ceiling mirrored walls of a dance studio, Gillen led a rockin' band and sold-out house in singing over a dozen self-penned songs about the American people. These songs highlight struggles of Americans attempting to participate in society: voters, unions, soldiers, families, politicians, and folk singers. Our gathering wasn't officially a peaceful protest, a sit-in, a boycott, or a march. No police barricades were set up, nor cops called. The band stood up front, however, exercising its First Amendment right to free speech and expression. We, the people in the audience, peaceably assembled. It was a bold statement by all, and, for damn sure, it was brave.
Gillen's band was made up of talented artists who played on the record: firecracker folksinger Laura Bowman on backing vocals and soulful Matt Turk played mandolin and guitars. Expertly driving the rhythm section was Jeff Eyrich on upright bass, while Paul J. Magliari was the band's steady motor behind the drums.
The first fist was raised with Gillen's own upbeat Walking Down That Freedom Highway. The lyrics are a Civil Rights history lesson: "'Cuz if you run, they'll get suspicious/If you run they'll shoot you down/You've got to walk with your head held high/then you'll be freedom bound." The crowd roared! Election and Joe Hill followed, tunes celebrating voting and organizing, shining a light on people who both help and hinder those processes. Two previously released tunes- Fall Down and Killing Machine - are re-imagined on Wage Love and were received by the EMBARK audience like old friends. Singing along to familiar words we were reminded of the frightening days following 9/11 and soldiers sent to Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of nefarious deals. Listening and watching intently, I sat there thinking, "I am a patriotic American because I question war, not despite it."
The climax of the evening came at the end of Gillen's song, The Cost of War. Fred sang about the oft-overlooked sufferers of global conflicts: families and veterans. The crowd happily sang some simple lines with the band, perhaps unaware at first that we were asking ourselves repeatedly: "What are we fighting for?" In unison. In harmony. Hopefully, not in vain.
What Fred Gillen Jr. and his band did on this night was so brave because waging love is dangerous and intense, much like waging war. But only love can mend those people and things destroyed by war, which makes waging love all the more urgent.
—More Sugar, March 2015
Fred Gillen Jr. Debuts New CD ‘Wage Love’ in a Homestyle Fashion
It seemed as though a town meeting was mustering at EMBARK@EMC as the locals, family, and friends poured in from the clammy cold street to help Fred Gillen Jr. celebrate the release of his ninth studio album Wage Love on Feb. 8. From the outside, EMBARK’s space at the Energy Movement Center is just like any other small-town storefront, that evening decked out with posters and artwork for the show and a well-placed portrait of Pete Seeger to greet folks as they came in.
The show started off with a few songs from Philadelphia based street performer, Laura Bowman, who contributed vocals to the album and joined Fred and his band (also composed of contributors to the recording) later in the evening. It was the first time for many at the show to hear Bowman but its a name they’ll remember for years to come – her beautiful dynamic singing and accompanying guitar work fueled by an engaged audience is something to not be taken for granted.
A performance like this made for an exciting and enjoyable first listen to the album through a live re-enactment of it. The CD itself is skillfully composed, and hearing it first through a live performance adds a connection with the spontaneity of Fred’s style and jest – something liner notes cannot do. The first impression of Wage Love is much more vivid than that of listening at home. Fueled by a potluck-spread of snacks and goodies, the audience fed a communal energy into the room – singing along with and becoming engaged in the music – in feedback to the lyrics, soul, and music generated from the auspices of the American flag hung on the curtains behind the band.
Joining Fred was the same crew that backed him up on the album – Laura Bowman on vocals, Paul Magliarli on drums, Matt Turk on guitar and mandolin, and Jeff Eyrich on bass.
The album itself is political yet not dreary. Fred’s style, which throughout his compositions brings a fresh sound to the traditional folk and Americana music setting, lends a net of optimism to topics (worker’s rights, war, government) that tend to sometimes stir a sense of gloom. As a token to the lesser-sung songs of the working American and undermined heroes the album starts off with “Walking Down That Freedom Highway” – written to the tune of Woodie Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” – and ends with “I Dreamed I Saw Pete Seeger” – a hymn to the unparalleled spirit we lost in 2014 sung to the air on part of “We Shall Overcome,” a staple of Seeger’s songbook.
The setlist included Wage Love from start to finish and an encore of two songs from previous albums – “This Old Car” and “Devil’s Bluff.”
Key Tracks: Killing Machine, We The People, I Dreamed I Saw Pete Seeger
—STEVE MALINSKI, Upstate Live, FEBRUARY 23, 2015
Fred Gillen Jr.: Live in Peekskill and On Disc
Imagine a room -- a shop -- with business going on, customers ordering coffee, the kids at the counter taking food orders... and all the while, a capacity crowd enveloped in a joyful expectant hush, wrapped entirely in the music of a singular performer.
Arranged across the shiny wooden surface or cushioned upholstery of every available seat, the members of the audience listen for every familiar word of the songs they’ve heard scores of times, and raptly anticipate each new song, waiting on each new note and every new line of lyric like a long established congregation awaiting some previously unheard revelation.
That’s kind of what it’s like to see Fred Gillen Jr. in a coffee house setting.
The Peekskill Coffee House (101 S. Division St., Peekskill, New York; www.peekskillcoffee.com) is a fine example of a classic coffee house environment, and a fitting venue for a performer capable of communicating with an audience as though he were addressing a close friend.
Located in a historic building a street-width away from Peekskill’s treasured Paramount Theater, the Peekskill Coffee House maintains the ambiance of its lineage while also establishing a legitimately stylish foothold in the hard-to-find nightlife of New York’s northern suburbs.
Burlap sacks long emptied of their coffee beans hang high on the wall, their colorful insignia testament to their journey from the countries and growers of their origin to the spot of honor they each now occupy along the smooth, clean surface overhead.
There is a casual warmth in the unrefinished wooden floor, a sandy beige in the more lightly worn spots alternating with gray in the most beaten down patches, and here and there, little irregular islands of the original brown finish shine through like the areas of calm on a meteorologist’s map of the weather.
And, in a tiny alcove near the second exit and the restrooms, there are three bulletin boards, each covered utterly with flyers and posters and business cards, together attesting to the signs of a secret life burgeoning beneath the quiet of the suburban streets beyond the window.
Hearing Fred play in that kind of environment -- in particular, at a recent show celebrating the release of his new CD, “Live in the Heartland of America,” (www.cdbaby.com/cd/fredgillenjrwithcatherin) I wondered anew at the adaptability of his voice and performing ability to the wide array of venues in which he has played over the years.
As a singer and performer, Fred is one of those rare individuals who can carry an entire performance with just his voice and guitar; and yet, his unique qualities as a performing artist are not overwhelmed by the augmentation of additional voices or instrumentalists.
In this particular instance, he was joined by the sweet-voiced Catherine Miles (the new live CD is a document of their recent tour together through the midwest), and by Eric Puente on drums and Jeff Eyrich on bass.
In the full band milieu -- augmented at one point by a dream chorus of other local musicians from the audience who joined with Fred at the mic for a song or two -- Fred’s singing voice is the definitive lead in a fashion not unlike that of the wind instrument in a small ensemble: it guides as much as leads.
It is not entirely easy to describe the particular qualities that make his voice such a remarkable, interesting instrument; there is the folk holla element, but that alone would make his style simply another echo in the spectrum of that particular stereotype; and there is the earnestness of the timbre -- the ideal vehicle for his thoughtful lyrics -- but that description is also too limited to capture the essence of what makes him special as a singer.
In that hushed crowd, listening carefully, it struck me that it is probably the command that characterizes his approach -- that elusive quality that so few performers possess organically and unaltered -- that distinguishes Fred’s vocal style, and that allows him to adapt so fluently to such a wide array of performing opportunities.
I have seen him carefully prepare for a show, and I have seen him adapt on the fly to a given acoustic setting and crowd; but most impressively, I have also seen him flip open his instrument case, slip the strap of his guitar over his shoulder, and simply start singing -- and still perform at a level equivalent to the most polished set of the most veteran artist.
I guess in the final analysis, it is that ability to sing with command, and to communicate with conviction, even at the most unexpected opportunity (or even, when the situation calls for it, at the most flagrant provocation), that makes Fred’s live shows special. It is an experience well worth seeking out, and the new live disc is a fitting document of its versatility and power.
—Patrick J. Walsh, Media Intercept, June 14, 2011
The revelation of the evening was Gillen and Turk. To say that their whole is greater than the sum of the parts is in their case an actual compliment, Fred Gillen Jr.'s fiery lyricism and old school Americana folk songwriting is a perfect complement to Matt Turk's soulfully virtuosic acoustic guitar and mandolin work. The best song of the whole festival was a new number possibly titled "Dear Mr. President," an absolutely spot-on critique. "Dear Mr. Governor, did you really call on her to comfort you in your hour of need?" Gillen and Turk asked the crowd, to considerable laughter. The song's last verse celebrated that "it's really great, the votes were really counted in 2008!" The duo also held the increasingly celebratory crowd hushed through the dark 9/11 blowback ballad "We All Fall Down," then an oldtimey number where Turk mimed a muted trumpet and got the audience going with an increasingly complicated call-and-response, and a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" that had some of the audience in tears.
—Lucid Culture, from "Beefstock" review, 2009