Six Degrees of Separation

Lonely art-folkie P.G. Six makes new friends

P.G. Six has attired each of his releases in record sleeves bearing wintry panoramas tailor-made by painter Christine Krol. The pictures are simultaneously psychedelic and constrained, cold and intimate, just like the chilly folk-blues and downbeat soul music found inside. Given this reliable correlation between cover and content, it was a little jarring to pick up Slightly Sorry, the newest release from the upstate New York art-folkie, and see a Scottish warrior riding a speeding pink Cadillac in a dreamland echo of Dr. Seuss' Go Dog, Go!

Inside, Sorry finds Mr. Six wandering for the first time off his snowy bramble-briar path and onto the sunny tumult of Hwy. 1. Pat Gubler's three earlier works as P.G. Six featured contributions from pals (many of them associated with his former psych-folk band Tower Recordings), but they were decidedly lonely affairs, sweeping shivery Brit-folk, haunted blues, and sly keys together. Like Will Oldham's, Six's records had the sound of a melancholic loner brimming with fellowship.

Slightly Sorry is Six's first release for the Drag City label, the standard bearers for intellectual rootsy weirdness. Though you'll probably never see him pop out of Devendra Banhart's overstuffed hippie clown car, the songwriter is reaching out on the new record. He's undertaking exploratory conversations with Neil Young and the Byrds, and feeling a bit of our West Coast summertime.

Peter Bjorn and John will not leave you alone.
Paula Gillen
Peter Bjorn and John will not leave you alone.

"Bless These Blues" uses full boy-girl harmonies and nimble Mellotron soul-work to hit the smudgy lilt of Fleetwood Mac and the heavy yearning of After the Gold Rush. And album-closer "Sweet Music" is a lost transmission of Leonard Cohen fronting a minimalist gospel chorus. It's muted and a little mournful, but compared to the Wuthering Heights-grade solitude of Parlor Tricksor the Well of Memory, it might as well be "With a Little Help From My Friends." As he looks into this classic rock thing, Six also ambles into a few dead-ends along the way: "I've Been Traveling" is flat, sounding like a weakened REM, circa Out of Time.

Luckily Gubler still feels compelled to have a ramble by himself, but even the spare keyboard blues and hushed vocals of the aching "Strange Messages" inevitably meet with a distantly howling, psyched-out electric guitar. "The End of Winter," sung and co-written by Tower Records alum Helen Rush, is a return to the gentle Vashti Bunyan winter-hearth laments familiar from the earlier records. It's a nice pocket of cold air nestled into the record.

For all the fine detail, music history, and Gubler's detached vocals, this music could easily feel calculated. Gubler is an East Coast experimental-music-school type, after all. His grasp of roots music, from spooky Southern blues to lost British Isles folk, and now extending into the indigenous sounds of '70s bohemia, allows all the behind-the-scenes crafting to stay instinctive, loose, and weird. California knows how to party, and Slightly Sorryproves half-reformed loner P.G. Six can hang.

 
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