It's hard to say what Kevin Gilbert would be doing today if he hadn't passed away in 1996. Musically, the man could do it all. He could play just about any instrument that you'd put in front of him. He wrote outstanding songs, and then took things one step further by recording, mixing and producing them as well. One of the last projects he was working on was a rock opera called The Shaming of the True, a biting commentary on the music industry at large as seen through the eyes of an aspiring young rock musician named Johnny Virgil.
Unfortunately, Gilbert died before he got the chance to finish the album. What he left behind was a massive collection of tapes with songs in progress (some dating back to the 80's), and only a brief handwritten note describing the current running order of the songs at the time. Several of the tapes were unlabeled. Kevin's long-time friend (and ex-Spock's Beard drummer) Nick D'Virgilio and "a couple of other friends" took on the task of cataloging everything for Gilbert's estate. Soon after that, Blair Lamb and John Cuniberti came in and began working on the opera. Once Cuniberti was involved, "it was me and John C. going full bore," said D'Virgilio. "We re-recorded and mixed at the same time. It just depended on the song and how much it needed."
The disc begins with "Parade," a quiet acoustic tune where Gilbert introduces us to Johnny Virgil. "Suit Fugue" won't be an easy listen for the uninitiated, but it shows Kevin's enormous talent in the studio, overlapping vocal after vocal to create the (mainly) acapella conglomeration of messages left by PR men, agents and other musical lowlifes on Johnny's answering machine. "Imagemaker" is the first of three songs from Giraffe (Gilbert's band from the late 80's). Although it's an integral part of the story, it sounds a bit dated. Overall, it's probably the weakest cut on the CD.
From here, Shaming heads straight into brilliance. "Water Under the Bridge" is a great song in the style of early Genesis, and features some excellent drumming by D'Virgilio. Tommy Dunbar contributes a Beatlesque guitar solo to the song, giving it just the right touch. "The Best Laid Plans" is one of those songs that has 'hit' written all over it. Gilbert pays homage to several of his musical influences on the album. In this case, it's early 70's Elton John.
Up next is (to some) the offensive part of the album, "Certifiable #1 Smash." Gilbert's anger and discontent with the music business (no doubt due in part to the well documented Tuesday Night Music Club incident) is in full bloom here. Since Gilbert died before he was able to lay down a vocal track for the song, his vocals on the CD were lifted from an earlier performance at the Troubadour (be sure to check out Gilbert's 'Welcome to Joytown' CD and DVD). You can still hear the crowd in places, but in the end, it just adds more character to the song. Once again, D'Virgilio's drumming is spectacular.
Gilbert revisits another tune from his past with "Staring Into Nothing," a track originally recorded with his pre-Giraffe band, NRG. Parts of this song sound like your typical 80's fare, but Kevin turns in a great, flanged bass line on the song. It's at this point in the story where we find that Johnny's quitting the music business, due to exhaustion. There's an obvious Yes influence permeating throughout the song, due in part to the use of the acoustic guitar and mellotron.
"Fun" finds Virgil taking stabs at various people (all fictional, according to D'Virgilio), over an ultra cool arrangement, making it one of the best tracks on the CD. "From Here to There" (the second of the Giraffe songs) is a sort of prelude to "The Way Back Home." Things get a bit eerie at the end of the song as you hear someone quietly say, "my mind is quiet and still" By the time the story gets to "A Long Day's Life," Johnny is in a much more reflective state of mind, detailing recent dreams he's had, etc. It's one of the most complex songs on the album, but it's also one of the best and most beautiful things Gilbert has ever written.
The last Giraffe tune on Shaming is "The Way Back Home." Listening to it, you can tell the end is near. According to Cuniberti, the only things they had to work with on this track were "drums, piano and a guide vocal." Gilbert died soon after he had begun recording the song (by rachael brown). Knowing the importance of the song in the opera, D'Virgilio took it upon himself to finish the track. David Levita was called in to lay down the guitar solo at the end of the song, and did a superb job.
The album proper comes to a close with "Johnny's Last Song." Gilbert recorded the song on a portable cassette player with an old, beat up guitar; effectively capturing Johnny's desperation at this point in his career. The sound of falling rain and train whistles in the distance just makes the song that much more poignant.
The Shaming of the True has been expanded recently into a lavish 2-disc deluxe edition. The first disc is Shaming, completely remixed and remastered from the original analog tapes. This is the third time the album has been released and it's never sounded better. You'll hear things you've never heard before. It's that good. On the second disc, you get a demo version of "Parade" and the thing that makes this new set worthwhile regardless of how many copies you already own--a new version of "A Long Day's Life" featuring the London Philharmonic, meticulously overdubbed by producer/engineer Mark Hornsby. Also on disc two is a spoken word version of the entire album, performed by Jamie DeWolf. Unfortunately, this falls into the "interesting the first time you hear it, but not something you ever need to hear again" category.
The packaging has been greatly expanded as well. Now it comes in a 12" x 12" quad-gatefold container with all the lyrics, original liner notes, new photos and an alternate cover drawing. As if that wasn't already enough, you get fourteen 12"x 12" frameable quality prints of all the art from the original book, and a frameable lead sheet for "A Long Day's Life."
When you consider the brilliance of Shaming as a whole, it makes you appreciate the insight that D'Virgilio and Cuniberti had into the mind of Gilbert. But first and foremost, it shows Kevin's potential in no uncertain terms. This is one of those rare albums that grabs you the first time you hear it, and then keeps getting better with each listen. The Shaming of the True is Kevin Gilbert's reigning masterpiece. If only he was able to be around to see its completion
The Shaming of the True is available exclusively through the fine folks at Pop Plus One distribution.
|© 2012 Steve Marshall|