Hailing from the legendary Medway Delta — bet you didn’t
know that England had a delta region — is hard-strummin’, high-croonin- country
blues wunderkind Pete Molinari, who
hunkered down last year with Billy Childish’s buddy Liam Watson (White Stripes,
Ettes) at the delightfully atavistic Toe Rag Studios. He soon emerged with a
dozen retro-tilting but utterly captivating tunes, ranging from Guthrie/Dylan studies
to Hank Williams homages to Patsy Cline-does-Willie Nelson pastiches (I mean
that in a good way), the latter thanks to Molinari’s slightly androgynous upper
register that seemingly slips into an affecting falsetto at the drop of a
A Virtual Landslide subsequently took the UK
press by storm, bum-rushing 2008 top ten lists all across England, with Mojo in particular naming him their
Breakthrough Act winner. He delivers the goods on the album right from the
get-go with a shuffling little skiffle-flavored number, the slide-guit powered
“It Came Out of the Wilderness,” Molinari in full Dylan vocal mode against an arrangement
that brings to mind the George Harrison/Beatles tune “For You Blue.” A couple
of songs later, on “Adelaine,” he dips into similar territory but this time
throws in more overtly rocking Sun Studios elements, including some sharp Carl
Perkins licks. A hint of fuzztone guitar lines the edges of the loping “Hallelujah
Blues,” a classic kiss-off number that finds a wounded-but-recovering Molinari
taunting the object of his misery: “I hope you’re used to eating humble pie.”
In “Dear Angelina” he sets the controls directly for the heart of Hank Sr. via
a gentle waltz-time rhythm and guest B.J. Cole’s sweet pedal steel murmurings.
And “God Damn Lonesome Blues,” with its honky tonk piano and harmonica,
traverses the aforementioned Patsy ‘n’ Willie territory (Molinari’s
high-pitched vocals have additionally earned him comparisons to Jimmy Scott).
The album closes with the solo Spanish guitar workout “Lest We Forget,” a
minor-key meditation on wars, on freedom, and on those who die in the former
while trying to secure the latter,
Bottom line: even though Molinari might be a somewhat tough
sell here in America, where indiecentrism holds sway and purism’s become a
dirty word, it’s not hard to fall under his spell after a couple of listens.
While it’s risky to channel, so overtly, musical giants such as those
mentioned, the kid’s clearly done his homework and moved from the realm of student
to doctorate holder. His music rings true with authenticity, and there’s a
quirky charisma that Molinari exudes no matter what style he’s indulging.
Molinari actually has spent time in the U.S., having
taken an extended vacation over here a few years ago and haunting some of our
premiere folk clubs and coffeehouses (in NYC he won admiration from actor
Vincent Gallo and photographer Louis Stettner). Upon his return he hooked up
with another fan, Billy Childish, who recorded Molinari in his kitchen; those
sessions became Molinari’s debut, Walking
Off the Map, and the Childish connection subsequently brought him to Watson
and Toe Rag.
A Virtual Landslide doesn’t appear to have an actual American release, although any decent indie
record store or mailorder outlet will probably be stocking it — the Damaged
Goods label isn’t exactly obscure — and in fact if you are of a digital
persuasion, Amazon.com and other download sites are selling the album with an
exclusive bonus track. My suggestion: fire up the old horse and buggy, or your
aging Netscape browser if that’s your wont, and head to the nearest retailer.
This is wonderfully time-out-of-mind, defiantly out-of-time stuff.
Standout Tracks: “It
Came Out of the Wilderness,” “Hallelujah Blues,” “Lest We Forget” FRED MILLS