Curlock & Jalaiso, 2005
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/23/2005
"Maybe it's coincidence
My boy fell down the stairs
The same day they dropped
To boost the market shares
Lucky nothing's broken
Just a hell of a scare
We're cartwheeling down
Through the atmosphere
Spinning through the air"
by Jean-Paul Vest
So opens my favorite independent release of 2005. Yes, that's right, just four weeks after I called Danelia Cotton's absolutely terrific Small White Town "the indie album of the year," I'm calling a do-over. Getaway Car is simply too good to be denied.
Last Charge Of The Light Horse conquers its unwieldy name with this brilliant, passionate roots-rock tour de force. You may remember Last Charge's guitarist/singer/songwriter Jean-Paul Vest from his previous incarnation as Blue Sandcastle; this time out he's backed by father-son duo A.J. Riegger and Artie Riegger on bass, drums and background vocals.
The above-quoted "Cartwheeling" opens the album with a drum pattern that rumbles like thunder as stormclouds surround the narrator, with guitar, bass and background vocals barreling in right after to send this track into the emotional stratosphere. By the time the narrator goes out to "search my empty mailbox / for a blessing in disguise," the arrow has flown straight from Bruce Springsteen's seminal Darkness On The Edge Of Town to this disc (a comparison I don't make lightly).
A little later, in "Miracle," the weather takes a turn for the better as love appears, in spectacular fashion: "It was like a cloudburst, like rain / all I ever wanted / and the less you said, the more it meant to me." Late in the song, the bass drops out, leaving Vest singing "You were so good / I just can't believe it" like an exaltation, with the drums rat-tat-tatting scattato underneath and the Rieggers' chorused background vocals rising over the top, nailing that magic nexus between love song and devotional hymn.
Next up is the title track, a truly remarkable entry in the time-honored genre of love as a troubled soul's redemption. "You give my lightning / a path to ground," goes the verse, leading into a keening chorus that Vest sings, in his reedy but deceptively strong voice, with utter conviction: "You are my escape / My getaway car / My soul and my strength / You are." Screw the Grammies -- if there was any justice, this would compete for song of the year.
This album never lets up; if anything, the songs grow deeper and stronger as you move into its second act. "Au Clair" is a gentle plea with alt-county overtones; "The King Is Dead" follows with perfect contrast, a big, beefy blast of dark-edged rock and roll, as well as a thematic twin to "Cartwheeling" ("Cleaned your desk out / took your name down off the door / the music stopped / And every seat was spoken for"). "In the Balance" is an electric, propulsive rocker about reaching a critical point in a tense relationship: "I'm just a step and a half / to the good side / of willing to live and let live."
Getaway Car finishes with a trio of gems. "Wonderful" (not the Everclear song) is a ballad of slumbering power, full of hard-won wisdom that rises and falls like the tide. "Circles" is a thrumming meditation, a character sketch with the depth and texture of good fiction, full of rich lines like "a strand of cool air / escapes out from under / the big, still heat of August / that winks and rights itself / like a candle flame disturbed." Putting a gorgeous, epic finish on the proceedings is "Come And See," in which the laid-back confidence of Vest's vocals meshes with his plain-spoken poetry to create an unpretentious majesty.
If Springsteen was less self-conscious, if Dylan was more grounded, if Mellencamp was more of a poet, or Hiatt less of a joker, one of them might have written an album like this one, a set of beautifully crafted songs about love and work and passion and loss that grows richer and more resonant with every listen. There's a word for this sort of thing: masterpiece.