It appears that we have to provide a context to Gill Landry’s existence every time we mention him. Okay, we get it, he used to be in Old Crow Medicine Show! Can we move on now? One thing is for sure… Gill Landry certainly has, and his fifth solo album Skeleton at the Banquet is further evidence if it were needed of his distinctly personal, crestfallen and strangely captivating country tales.
Since leaving the security of Old Crow Medicine Show, Landry has embraced the nomadic lifestyle and his photographic and print endeavours have demonstrated a passion for the discombobulating mirage the American landscape and it’s characters have become. Writing the album from the safe confines of an apartment in France has allowed these tales to be told subjectively and the result is like a vivid dream of something familiar but slightly out of whack.
The leisurely twang of ‘I Love You Too’ establishes the old-school country demeanour immediately. Landry’s gentle baritone is a soothing, consoling delight and you can almost hear the creak of the boardwalk and the rattle of the old windmill beyond the forlorn tone wrought out by the steel guitar. There’s an immediate change of pace with the introduction of ‘The Wolf’ though. A gorgeous acoustic melody is complimented by an evocative harmonica and the subtle accents of the pedal steel guitar. The metaphors come thick and fast; there’s a sense that Landry is making a political statement here, a comment on consumerism maybe or perhaps it’s a condemnation of the music industry that almost resulted in this album disappearing into the swamp left behind by the Pledge debacle. Either way, the wolf in question is “dressed like my best friend”, not to be trusted. In Landry’s hands, this skepticism sounds absolutely gorgeous.
Like all great Americana records, Landry has littered Skeleton at the Banquet with wonderfully poetic imagery. The sweeping strings of ‘A Different Tune’ are rebuffed by the more ragged guitar but this more familiar narrative is followed by the more unpredictable gypsy swing of ‘Nobody’s Coming’. Perhaps this quirky approach is a result of Landry’s nomadic travels. This variation lends the album a multi-cultural colour to proceedings which continues throughout and the glue that holds it all together is that magnificent baritone, which is always front and centre.
‘The Refuge of Your Arms’ may be funereal in pace but it is a rich tapestry of subtle instrumentation. The gothic musings continue in ‘The Place They Call Home’ before a more familiar sounding ‘Angeline’ returns us to a more conventional Americana vibe.
After these these unpredictable to-ings and fro-ings amidst the Americana genre, Landry closes on a crepuscular instrumental called ‘Portrait of Astrid (A Nocturne)’. It’s a gentle affair but the hint of darkness maintains the unpredictability of the whole record. A compelling affair and Landry’s best yet.