Piety & Desire
Gill Landry creates a whole film and stereo hi-fi noir milieu on his second solo release Piety & Desire. After exiting the Kitchen Syncopators in the mid aughts, and before joining two marathon touring outfits in the Old Crow Medicine Show and the Felice Brothers Band, Landry laid over in Portland, Oregon in 2006. There, with his retro album art director, set designer, and music publishing alter ego Frank Lemon; Portland producer Nick Jaina; soulful viola, fiddle, and clarinet ace Annie Ford; and some of Jaina’s cohort of imaginatively flexible session players, Landry realized a dozen rootsy, ambient and mostly catchy hardscrabble southwestern tinged originals. The Ballad of Lawless Soirez was released on Nettwerk in 2007 after another year of heavy touring with Old Crow Medicine Show and before his record label Nettwerk could figure out who to market Landry’s literary southern gothic sound to and how.
By 2008, though, Gill Landry’s peculiar calling card bearing the name Lawless Soirez had reached receptive hands and translators across community and college radio land, with some feature interview and in-studio performance broadcasts going out over NPR stations like Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Studio Sessions. Landry’s songs such as “Loneliness,” “Desirée,” “Ugly Town,” and “Coal Black Heaven” made indelible impressions (see Driftwood Magazine’s Mitch’s Monthly Mix, March 19, 2011, track 6).
The intervening years saw some solo shows and opening act slots on the rock club circuit while Landry was again logging most of his road time sublimating his charismatic, if world-weary, presence and persona into the utility player folds of Old Crow Medicine Show and the Felice Brothers band tours. Nice work if ya can get it! The bastard N’Awlins boy of Blanche DuBois and Tom Waits must’ve been itching to air out these ten new, if deliberately aged, original songs, sung and arranged to a dissolute Ninth Ward patina. Piety & Desire are parallel streets in the Crescent City and also the name of an unrelated avant jazz mystical marriage mélange recorded by Tulane grad and Austin, Texas Rabbi Neil Blumofe in collaboration with members of the Marsalis musical crew. Gill Landry’s world of song is set always on the seedier but sensually saturated side of the tracks.
Here, Landry has the harmonies of the Felice Brothers and the Be Good Tanyas’ Samantha Parton, Old Crow Medicine Show’s against-the-grain fiddler Ketch Secor, Larry Moses’s discordant trumpet straying out in front of a flock of similarly stray sounding reed and horns that on the more Waits-ian back-roads ballad “Tennessee” can seem a bit bloated and overproduced. Elsewhere, co-producer/engineer and one-man rhythm section Jeremy Backofen (a.k.a. The Searcher), finds a better-fitting if still southern seedy balance between Landry’s restless narrative voice and those of guest femme fatales and muses Brandi Carlile, who duets on the album’s closer “One Night Hotel,” and Jolie Holland, who is very nearly lost in the mix on “Between Piety & Desire,” “Strange & Cold,” and “Careless Love.”
It’s the rolling snare on the desperately voiced “Never Coming Here Again,” albeit with perhaps a titch too close to Calexico Mexican brass, that most impressively showcases Landry’s punch-drunk scenarios. If hi-fi stereo records never make an economically sustainable comeback with the Jobs-less iPod generation, Gill Landry and his mise-en-scène collaborator Jillian Johnson should be able to parlay their skills as deft set designers into some work at a steam punk cinema studio or ad agency.
—Mitch Ritter (Beaverton, OR)