The Getaway Drivers will celebrate their tenth anniversary and the release of Bellatopia at the Brink Lounge on Saturday, October 10th.
You can get Bellatopia here
Madison has its share of bands straddling the nebulous lines of folk, country and rock. It could be said that is what defines the Americana genre. Few embody the spirit of the Midwest as easily as the Getaway Drivers. For ten years Bob Manor and his band have been polishing their songwriting skills, each album successfully building on the last. Bellatopia is no exception and is the band’s best outing to date, one that may be a challenge to top.
There have been frequent changes in personnel but the recent lineup of Manor (guitar, piano vocals), Sheila Shigley (violin, mandolin, vocals), Ken Keeley (bass), Greg Thornburg (drums) and Dan Butson (guitars) has been solid. Just after completing the recording the band added another backup vocalist in Iris Hutchings, expanding the harmonic range of their already effective vocalizations.
Bellatopia also marks the Getaway Drivers’ tenth year and former member Barbara Chusid makes an appearance on two tracks. The Tenth Anniversary/CD Release event will include several former Drivers and this is part of the appeal of the group, it’s genuine, family-like nature. Once a Driver, always a Driver and one would suspect the same from the band’s fans.
For Bellatopia the group wisely chose to go to Brian Daly at DNA Creative Labs whose engineering and production skills enhance the material. As songwriters, the Getaway Drivers have really learned to hone their craft, chipping away at the construction of both the music and the lyrics, producing lean, tightly-wound compositions with few spare words or notes. Even Shigley’s artwork exudes fresh air and a dreaminess that is life itself, the blurred landscape on the cover setting the tone for the album’s simultaneously surrealistic and grounded-in-reality sentiments, reflecting the notion that life is not going to be predictable, a notion frequently visited in the lyrics.
The electric guitars and the rhythm section are ratcheted up a couple notches, the result being a more urgent, edgier sound. Manor also plays ample piano and several of the songs feature it as the central instrument. Having male and female vocalists is a strength for any band but on Bellatopia the Getaway Drivers emphasize vocal blending to maximum effect, the singing becoming another instrument in itself. They lean toward indie-rock on several occasions, giving the material its own distinct flavor and in this way they have begun to carve out a sound that is uniquely their own. These accoutrements are apparent from the get-go with opener “Suburban Summer Shine,” a radio-friendly rocker built on a bed of swirling backward effects created by Daly. The central piano figure gives way to crunching guitars, driving bass and a killer chorus. “Call Out” mines similar territory with synthesized strings adding heft and another strong hook in the chorus. “Signs” could be a Steely Dan outtake, a smooth, jazzy feel with a laid-back vocal accented by Butson’s scratchy guitar lines while Chusid’s organ adds subtle soulfulness.
Manor really shines on three pop-rockers. The keyboards on “Wooden Box Heart” are especially strong with Chusid wailing on organ while Manor provides a rollicking piano accented with some nifty glissandos. Butson turns in an especially tasty solo here and he has some strong moments throughout the recording. “Slipping Away” and “Poor Man” are Beatle-esque all the way, again with bouncing piano and cleverly phrased lyrics.
Shigley’s vocals grace two beautiful ballads, “Warning Bones” and “Hope Road.” She and Manor harmonize beautifully once again on the closer “No Matter Which Side,” a sumptuous melody and the only song to employ mandolin, which featured more prominently on their past recordings.
Bellatopia was sequenced to run like two-sided vinyl so while the sparse acoustic-guitar arrangement of Manor’s “Better Days” might seem like a perfect sendoff, it’s also a great side one closer.
The lyrics here are masterful, opaque enough to let listeners infer meanings of their own. Many seem to observations of everyday neighborhood life and a search for meaning and a way out from the mundane. Beautifully poetic without a hint of pedestrianism, these lyrical strengths are what build connections with an audience.
“Gonna say goodbye to all these streets / “Cause they never cared that much for me / Now the rain and wind are my best friends / They’ll see me through ‘til the end. / Hauling in the country miles / Sleeping under starry skies / Where I’m headed I don’t know / But I got my ticket to the show / And when it ends I’ll begin.”
They Getaway Drivers have begun a new chapter in their evolution and Bellatopia is a unique and artful statement.