For an album made mainly because Sam Wilson did not want to leave the handful of songs he had ready in the dust, Green Gates is an astonishing accomplishment. Normally plucking guitar for Charlottesville's up and coming Sons of Bill, Peyton Tochterman's High Society and the back-in-the-game (and about time) Shannon Worrell, he sidesteps into a world inhabited by bandmates Brian Chenault, Wells Hanley, Brian Caputo and Darrell Muller to unload eleven outstanding originals worthy of two of the best of the 'lost' late sixties and early seventies bands, unusual in their composition and produced to perfection. The bands of which I speak are Byzantium, a UK group who produced a stunning album picked up by Warner Brothers Records in the States and quickly buried by the apathy of radio (The second LP was released on A&M in the UK and was not picked up in the States, possibly due to the round of silence surrounding the WB album), and Chicago's much respected Illinois Speed Press. Despite the lack of success of both bands (Illinois Speed Press did sell, but not in the numbers Columbia Records had hoped), they were on the whole critically well received and worthy of a much better fate, but such is the music biz, and today the LPs command a hefty price at auction. Those bands also produced musicians of note, by the way, Byzantium's Chaz Jankel releasing a fairly successful album for A&M a few years later, and ISP's Kal David and Paul Cotton having extended careers, David with The Fabulous Rhinestones and others, Cotton with Poco and then solo.
Fortunately and unfortunately, the ghost of Illinois Speed Press appears only on the title track, “Green Gates,” but what a ghost it is, and totally unintentional, according to Wilson. He swears he has never heard ISP, but you cannot mistake the dueling lead guitars of Wilson and Brian Chenault a la David and Cotton on ISP's “P.N.S. (When You Come Around)” off of ISP's first album. The light and floating riffs of one are superb contrast to the brassy and more forceful riffs of the other--- pure guitar magic. Make no mistake, though. “Green Gates” stands on its own and the guitars just make it that much better.
The other ten tracks live in that netherworld which makes Wilson's musical vision so fascinating, the voices instruments in an ensemble of keyboards and guitars bowing to production. Wilson could have easily forced the issue, layering tracks into oblivion, but he somehow found a true balance between tape loops, synthesizers, reverb and tremolo and came out of the tunnel with dreamlike scenarios which effortlessly carry you away. In the seventies, we usually waited until late evening or very early morning to put Byzantium on the turntable, when we were more receptive to the whole other side of the music--- the subconscious, if you will. Wilson and crew have musically recreated the era without even realizing it, I am sure, even the rockers having that smooth progressive psych edge to them, almost Moody Blues-like, but better.
No doubt, a major label or two will perk their ears up at this. I fervently hope that Sam Wilson turns a deaf ear for awhile, at least, because throwing money at music many times destroys it and Green Gates is the start of what could easily be an outstanding beginning to a major, major musical career.
Albums like this are the real treasures in today's world of music. Each hearing produces not only highs but surprises, for there are gems hidden beneath the glimmering surface which take effort to uncover. It is adventure and any time you put music and adventure together, you have a winner. Miss this at your peril.
(Frank Gutch Jr. writes and has written for numerous magazines and websites, presently including this blog and the prestigious Don't Believe A Word I Say site put together by musician and music pundit Bob Segarini out of Toronto. He specializes in the Indies, having fought hand-to-hand combat with major record labels for decades (talk about zombies). He believes music should be the core of the music business, though business it mostly be, and denies the accepted reality in the stead of the artistic one. Seldom does he receive pay for articles and/or reviews and believes that there is no place for negatives in a world in which one cannot keep up with the positives. He is, in a sense, a lost soul in a sea of music, drowning, but drowning gratefully.)