Gunpowder and Pearls’ music is a combination of haunting and kick-ass.
Well, kids, today I want to tell you about the band Gunpowder and Pearls—but first I want to get a little chatty and talk about an aspect of my process for writing about bands. I assure you, it will be germane to the task at hand.
I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: I go to great lengths to avoid making direct comparisons of bands. It’s lazy and dishonest. I DO like to try and pick out specific influences in a band’s style, and at the end of the day musicians largely are a collection of influences, with the interpretation of those influences giving the band its unique voice.
So…knowing where they came from musically can be a powerful insight into what they’re doing now. For that reason I always begin by listening. No bios, no social media, no press kit, no nothing but music. Frankly, if hearing the artist doesn’t trigger some kind of inspiration, the rest of those things aren’t going to help. That’s why I sat down to listen to Gunpowder and Pearls this morning before I knew anything at all about the band. My brain started lighting up immediately.
“That’s an interesting chord voicing! I hear some of this! I hear some of that! I bet at least one person in the band is a big fan of that one guy from that place. With the guitar.”
I was delighted for two reasons. First, I really enjoyed what I was hearing and second, I thought, “I hear so many great influences this article will write itself!” Then I read the band bio.
Shall I tell you of the overtones of Townes Van Zandt (one of the greatest songwriters of a generation) in their music? No need, they come right out and say it on the webpage. OK, cool, at least it confirms that I heard what I thought I heard. How about John Prine? There’s a definite John Prine vibe going here, I can talk about that! Yeah, they mention Prine right after Townes. Fair enough.
Hey, here’s a curveball! De-electrify the Drive-By Truckers and you have a feeling of what G&P is up to! Oh good…they mention Drive-By Truckers by name. Susan Tedeschi ,too. Well, I can at least reference a subtle jazz influence under what is essentially some kick-ass folk music and how that…huh. Jazz guitarist in the band, you say.
It seems as though there is little I can tell you about the band that they don’t just come out and tell you about themselves—but that only confirms one of the more endearing qualities of the band: They are as down-to-earth and honest as it gets, a refreshing approach in an industry predicated on gimmicks, shticks, egos and pretense.
I can tell you that this foursome features guitar, banjo and two vocalists and that they make hauntingly beautiful music. “Crow’s Feet” in particular captivates me, a remorseless look at aging, the fading of youthful beauty and the acquisition of the more lasting beauty of wisdom.
“It’s taken this many years to realize that bein’ young ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.Once you’re no longer easy on the eyes you’d better have a brain and some personality.”
The vocals are strong, plaintive one moment, then sliding in to an extended glissando that is damn near operatic the next. It is the voice of a woman proclaiming hard-won truth. Back the voice with a subtle guitar and a phantom banjo plucking minor chords (the aural equivalent of watching a spider weave a web) and there you have it: Appalachian Soul music.
It’s folk music all right, but it’s fiery folk music, passionate folk music. Sometimes hopeful, sometime mournful, sometimes dangerous, the music is damn near spiritual in its execution and effect.
Gunpowder and Pearls has an album coming out in November and, make no mistake, you will read it about here when it drops. In the meantime, drop by gunpowderandpearls.com to hear their tunes and check their schedule for upcoming gigs. It’ll make a bad day good and a good day better.