Memory Motel: Power-Pop Prince Huw Gower Gets Psychedelic
The Records' axeman stretches out on his own
The pealing, Byrds-like riffs running through The Records' 1978 hit "Starry Eyes" helped define the tune that became a quintessential power-pop classic. Over the last 35 years, every skinny-tie band worth its salt has taken a stab at capturing the kind of magic effortlessly evoked by the short-lived British band's signature song. The Records themselves had basically evolved out of the mid-'70s U.K. pub-rock scene, with the members hailing from The Kursaal Flyers and the memorably monikered Ratbites From Hell, but for a brief bit, they earned intercontinental attention via the aforementioned single and the 1979 album Shades In Bed (simply titled The Records in its re-shuffled US version). Personnel shifts and two more albums followed, but The Records did not escape the early '80s alive.
Despite the shortness of The Records' time in the spotlight, there's no shortage of riffmeisters who would give their humbuckers to have been behind a track as timeless as "Starry Eyes." Many would have been willing to either hang it up in the wake of that achievement or, more likely, spend their subsequent years pursuing pale imitations of that former glory. However, Huw Gower, the guitar antihero actually responsible for The Records' main claim to fame, took neither of these paths.
After exiting The Records, Gower went on to work with a wide array of artists including the likes of Carlene Carter and David Johansen. Over the years, though, slowly and sporadically but surely, he has carved out a niche for himself as a singular guitar statesman and recording artist, releasing a precious few sterling examples of his six-string wizardry. And now he's unveiled a new one, under the alias of IceCream Skyscraper: the album Granite With Rainbow Sprinkles.
Gower's first solo statement came in 1984, with the EP Guitarophilia. And while the cover finds him nattily attired, looking like he just wandered in from power-pop paradise, the contents roam far afield from anything he ever approached with is former bandmates. So too does Granite With Rainbow Sprinkles exist in a musical universe very different from the one inhabited by The Records. It's only natural, of course - what legitimate artist would want to keep repeating himself for his entire career?
Gower's outing under the ICS banner finds its inspiration not in '70s power pop, but rather in '60s psychedelia. A batch of paisley-patterned covers -- The Rolling Stones' "19th Nervous Breakdown," The Kinks' "Death of a Clown," and Traffic's "Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" -- helps set the marmalade-skies tone, and "Breakdown" in particular is a pretty stunning achievement. Employing a lead vocal by Michael Mazzarella (of NY power-pop cult heroes The Rooks), Gower basically pens an entirely new song that has little beyond lyrics in common with the original and sounds like it slipped off the famed garage-rock comp Nuggets.
But the most impressive moments of Granite With Rainbow Sprinkles are Gower's own tunes, on which he flits between acoustic and electric axes with a fluidity informed not only by the expansive spirit of psychedelia (let us not forget he started out as a member of early-'70s hippie-rock combo Magic Muscle) but also by all that influenced that heady period, from jazz and various strands of traditional music to the classical impressionists. Gower's kaleidoscopic compositional vision moves easily from Hendrix-tinged acid rock to Julian Bream-gets-juiced classical guitar instrumentals to hypnotic/exotic Eastern touches, all without wandering off into the ether. Ultimately, he emerges as a true guitar stylist, capable of subtle shadings that would have been difficult to prognosticate back when he was busy making power-pop history. One more reason to celebrate the mutable nature of art.
Music Feature By Jim Allen
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