GLADSTONE – Paper Sky
It’s kind of hard to complain about vanilla ice cream. It’s sweet, it makes great sundaes when you top it with something tasty and it may even cool you off on a hot day. But when was the last time vanilla ice cream won an award for the best ice cream flavor of the year? And then there’s Gladstone, the vanilla ice cream of Madison’s music scene. There is nothing particularly offensive about the music Gladstone writes. They all play very well and the production on Paper Sky, their newest and multi-MAMA winning album, is excellent. But without something more, a sprinkling of some nuts if you will, this band’s music offers almost nothing to distinguish it from all the other vanilla adult contemporary acts out there.
Honestly, every member of this band has serious talent. The vocals are tight, the guitars are quite impressive and the rhythm section holds it down solid. Throughout the disc as harmonies are built and resolved, the quality of this band’s grasp on vocal performances is readily apparent and lead vocalist Jay Kindschi’s voice betrays very few flaws. The pianos and subtle Hammond are a nice addition by Scott Madsen and the lead guitar lines by Dan Kalagian show a dexterity and finesse of an accomplished musician. With Chris Bengry’s flawless bass performance, and I mean flawless, and drummer Tom Jacobson’s deft and solid work behind the drums, all the elements are in place.
With all this talent and dedication to their craft, the end product could be full of momentous tunes that show off the broad range of these musicians. The lyrics are saccharine at best, with visions of pretty days and cats waking to the morning light and all things fuzzy and warm and happy and all that shit. “I can see you shining like the sunlight through the trees / you’re coming home with me” from “Desert Flower” is a prime example. And it goes on, “You are my water in the desert / A river to my longing when I’m running dry.” Enough said.
And yet, at the exact same moment these sugary, sanguine lyrics are working to actively lower my IQ, bass flourishes and gorgeous pianos are showing off some deep musicianship. It seems with so much obvious effort put into playing this good that there should be an equal effort to craft memorable songs that break out of the mold that John Mayer, Dave Matthews and the GooGoo Dolls have unwittingly used to trap Gladstone. Instead of breaking free, this album remains the definition of derivative with the influences mercilessly ensnaring our hapless heroes.
But I have faith, dear readers. A band of musicians this polished and refined can break free of the burden of so many years of crap adult contemporary schlock that haunts Paper Sky. In terms of local music, I’m admittedly holding this band to a higher standard. Their level of musicianship demands it. And due to this reality, I’m definitely looking forward to the next album from Gladstone. Hope springs eternal in the soul of this bitter and hardened critic that musicians this good can write compelling music.