Goose Creek Symphony were rockin’ the early ‘70s with their unique and invigorating elixir of hillbilly blues and country-rock, what Gram Parsons once wisely called “Cosmic American Music.”
Problem is, sitting comfortably somewhere between the Flying Burrito Brothers and Uncle Tupelo didn’t fly too high, commercially, during the Nixon/Ford years, and after releasing a handful of spectacular albums that never grabbed the ears of few beyond their rabid tho’ small fan base, Charlie Gearheart, Paul Spradlin and crew called it quits around 1978 or so. Thankfully, sensing that the musical currents were changing, the Goose got back together in 1990, and they’ve been creating new fans ever since with sporadic touring and recording.
The point where the Goose was cooked, if you will, was in 1974 when Columbia Records made literal pate out of the band’s fourth album, Do Your Thing But Don’t Touch Mine. Saddling them with an unsympathetic (and evidently first-time) producer rather than let the band produce themselves as they had been, Goose fans considered this to be the weakest of the band’s works, and when it went nowhere fast, the label dropped ‘em quicker than…well, I don’t really need to make this analogy, do I?
After its “one and done” experience with Columbia, Goose Creek Symphony retreated to Vancouver B.C. to record their fifth and, for a while, their final album, Head For the Hills. The story here gets murky, and not too many folks even whisper the truth up in the back hills of ole Kentucky, but evidently the album would be released and copies pressed up, but few seemed to have made their way out of the label’s warehouse. Although not really a “lost album” like the Goose’s The Same Thing Again, which was shelved before it got to the pressing plant, Head For the Hills suffered a slow death nonetheless.
The truth is, there’s nothing on Head For the Hills that departs from the Goose’s tried-and-true formula. Reissued by the band itself a decade ago on CD, this new “special edition” reissue of Head For the Hills features pristine remastered sound, spiffy new cover artwork courtesy of Chris Kro, and it restores a song – “Workin’ For the Devil” – that was on the original vinyl but dropped for the earlier CD release. Since the band’s tasty interplay of acoustic and electric guitars, ragin’ fiddles, and vocal harmonies wasn’t broke in ‘75 when they recorded Head For the Hills, they didn’t work too hard to fix it. Although Goose Creek’s mix of twang-and-bang was a couple of decades ahead of its time, the ensuing years have proven that their trademark sound has held up remarkably well against the ever-changing face of popular music.
Opening with the traditional “Goin’ Down the Road,” the band establishes its intent with a laid-back and uber-twangy performance that creates the country equivalent of Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” (fence of sound?), with plenty of guitars and fiddles driving the mix. Gearheart’s anti-industry “Number One Gravy Band” lampoons rock star excess with some rather ribald admissions and an outright challenge for the audience to listen to some “down home music.” The “Pretty Mama/Hey Good Lookin’“ medley successfully welds Gearheart’s original romantic-rocker with a cover of fellow traveler Hank, Senior’s sly hillbilly come-on. The Goose pulls off a similarly ambitious pairing with “Head For the Hills/Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” matching Gearheart’s humorous satire of the “back to the country” movement with the Carter Family’s original country-gospel anthem. The lost track, “Workin’ For the Devil,” is a good ole-fashioned, tear-jerking cheatin’ song worthy of the Louvin Brothers, while the up-tempo “People Like Me” is the sort of inclusionary “feel good” number that the Goose’s closest modern doppelganger, Bonepony, would jam on.
Methinks that Goose Creek Symphony long ago made peace with the fact that they’d never be chart-toppers or world-beaters, and that’s OK. All these guys ever wanted to do was make music that people would enjoy, and although it probably wouldn’t have made any difference back in the day had Head For the Hills received the distribution it deserved, the fact that this timeless music is flying high again is good enough for long-time fans of the Goose. (Bo Records, released October 1st, 2009)
Review originally published by Blurt magazine, 2009
Also on That Devil Music: Goose Creek Symphony’s The Same Thing Again CD review