In addition to never using the word “lush” to describe a string arrangement, there are certain unwritten rules to which all music scribes are obliged to adhere, lest they be sentenced to eternal literary damnation. Or worse, a career writing scripts for “Last Call with Carson Daly.” Ouch. Thus, it is with no small degree of trepidation that I am about commit the queen mother of rock criticism’s Seven Deadly Sins: likening an artist to Bob Dylan. But Gringolandia, the debut album from Burlington songwriter Mickey Western, fairly screams — sometimes literally — for the comparison. May Bob, er, God have mercy on my soul.
First things first. I am by no means calling Western “the next Dylan.” Only the most unscrupulous critics would cavalierly and carelessly violate the code in such an egregious fashion — every jackass who tabbed Bright Eyes as “the second coming,” I’m looking in your direction. Nor am I equating Western’s writing to “the godfather of folk-rock.” Rather, I mean to point out that Mickey Western sounds like electric-era Dylan. And eerily so.
The album’s opening track “Walk With the Devil” sounds like a long lost outtake from Bringing It All Back Home. Structurally and melodically, the tune bears obvious earmarks of Dylan discipleship. And it’s not the only one.
Lyrical and thematic similarities are inescapable, from the roadhouse ramble of “Rio Grande” and the hopeful acoustic balladry of “My Love” to the (semi) talking blues of “Mary’s Getting Sadder.” That said, it’s difficult and perhaps unfair to accuse Western of hero worship. While Dylan is an unmistakable influence, Western often tends towards noir-ish imagery, and it’s in those instances that his unique and idiosyncratic talents shine through.
The execution ballad “Standing on the Gallows” is an excellent example. Picture Willie Nelson’s comfortingly familiar reedy warble set to morbid ruminations of a hanging and you’ll get the idea.
“One Morning Before Daybreak” similarly hints at Western’s nascent poetic abilities. The tune showcases the natural timber of Western’s voice, which surprisingly and pleasantly recalls Roy Orbison’s impossibly silky croon, minus the late singer’s upper-register acrobatics.
Western’s backing band plays capably throughout and allows the singer to remain the focal point of the record. Western handles the bulk of the guitar work but receives healthy contributions from bassist Aaron Goldsmith, guitarist Abram Seiferth and accordionist Rom Beane, who adds appropriately disheveled textures.
Gringolandia is an intriguing debut from an equally intriguing local artist. If Mickey Western can reconcile his influences and trust a bit more in his own talents, I imagine the results will be even more so.