Country Hymn opens with a warm, old-time revival atmosphere. “Betty on the Road” sounds like a Gillian Welch and David Rawlings collaboration, but the disc takes a quick turn towards more familiar Gated Community territory with a raucous cover of “Odds and Ends,” a song from Dylan’s Basement Tapes. This band has always had a knack for sitting on that fence between traditional country music and novelty, which isn’t as easily done as one would think.
A little levity goes a long way in adding weight and depth to the more sentimental moments on the album, like “Fading Flowers,” a Tom Petty-ish tune about growing older with a little grace. Sumanth Gopinath lets himself be the subject of self-depreciation and sarcasm throughout (with lines like “I’m a piece of a work of art”), while the delivery is traded through the group in the same way classic country-rock outfits would share the role of lead vocals, ie Poco, the Byrds, the Band, etc. In tunes like “I Can’t Get Right” Gopinath remind us of the Carpetbaggers, one of the most criminally under-appreciated Americana acts to ever come out of Minnesota. There’s probably more of a scene to support this sort of music in the Cities today, and the Gated Community has already recorded as much as that great mid-90s trio.
You can hear the whole album on The Gated Community’s bandcamp page here. It’s more cohesive than their last disc (which we posted here), and there’s a definite improvement in the recording. Country Hymn was recorded and produced by Secret Stash’s John Miller, and the homey warmth of those 70s country-rock records reverberates through the disc, along with the more general clarity of those bigger production bluegrass records, the Welch/Rawlings sound we mentioned up above. Miller might be known for his work on Secret Stash’s retro-soul recordings, but he was a great choice for this project as well.
(Incidentally, we posted our favorite song by the Carpetbaggers (here) after finding there was so little of their music to be heard online, and later received a nice note from John Magnuson who wrote it. Having had a chance to see some of our favorite local acts from the 90s reunite a couple years ago for the Extreme Noise 20th anniversary celebration — including the Strike and Dirt Poor — we’d love to see the Carpetbaggers once more)
These days, there’s enough Americana acts in Minneapolis to fill the bill of every neighborhood bar for a three day weekend, so its actually become a competitive market. Heck, without even leaving our garden we can look over the fence to see the homes of two country acts who have played here in the record shop and recorded new songs over the past couple years. The challenge these days is to distinguish one’s self — which The Gated Community has done with their third disc.
The album release show for Country Hymn by the Gated Community is tonight at the Eagles Club #34. Maybe we’ll see you there, but we’re gonna also have to rush across the river to the Turf Club for Black Market Brass‘ show later this evening! We’re sure to post some songs from their new album soon, but we only just got our copy yesterday!