"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. 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
"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
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