Deep In The Water

Gary Douglas Band

Independent release, 2018

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Like a lot of teenagers from his generation, Gary Douglas dreamed of playing in a rock and roll band. However, those dreams soon melted into the grown-up reality of college, law school, and life as a plaintiffs’ attorney, sticking it to the man in a different way, suing misbehaving corporations.

Then one day three decades or so later, the Trail Lawyer Hall of Fame attorney—winner of nine-figure judgments against the likes of DuPont—picked up his guitar again and started writing songs. His initial album 2014 Just Another Mile might have been passed off as a wealthy man’s midlife crisis, except for the fact that he turned right around and did it again, delivering Keepin’ Faith in 2016. Douglas’ new album Deep In The Water—so named for a milestone water pollution case he won against Monsanto—cements the reality that Douglas is entirely serious about what he’s doing now: pursuing both the law and music-making, side by side.

As for what Deep In The Water sounds like, your number one clue is right there at the end of the liner notes: “Special thanks to Southside Johnny for continued support and inspiration.” With the Jersey sound championed by Southside and that other guy named Bruce as a basic template, Douglas adds inspiration from heartland rockers like Mellencamp and Seger, and brings his musical vision to life with a crack team of pros behind him, including producer/mixer Niko Bolas (Neil Young, Warren Zevon), co-producer/co-songwriter Darrell Brown (Keith Urban, Radney Foster), and a studio band that includes Raul Malo, Jerry Dale McFadden and Paul Deakin of the Mavericks, Jen Gunderman of the Jayhawks, and top Nashville session guitarist Josh Leo. (In case you were wondering what it’s like to be a middle-aged indie-rocker with unlimited funds available to drop on your passion projects…)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The execution, as you might expect, is top-notch; what ultimately holds this album back is the quality of the songs the players have to work with. Deep In The Water collects a group of earnest but cliché-ridden tunes that sometimes feel like homages to Douglas’ musical heroes so complete and detailed as to tiptoe right up to the edge of parody. This is particularly true of opening cut “River Road,” such a meticulous recreation of a River-era Springsteen anthem that you half expect to find the E Street Band lurking in the liner notes (but, no). Only the slightly higher pitch and softer edges of Gary Douglas’ voice distinguish this from someone attempting to do Bruce karaoke on an obscurity from deep in the Boss’ vaults. “One more kiss to keep me holdin on” with a quick little sax break over the pounding piano as the background chorus lifts him up and yeahhh…

The fact that “River Road” segues into a gentle, swaying mid-tempo tune featuring accordion and sax had me fearing Douglas was about to start singing about “this boardwalk life,” which might have ended things for us right there. Thankfully he sticks to his own script on the lyric, which is fine, a vague narrative about feeling like the light is “a million miles away.” The title track follows, a churning white soul number in which lyric doctor Brown labors to turn the story of Douglas’s work on the Monsanto case—which had to do with groundwater pollution—into a decent song. It’s not bad; it just feels forced in places.

From there, Douglas tries on a number of musical guises. The thumping, playful soul-rock approach of numbers like “Oh My, Oh My” and “Do You Wanna Go” seems to suit Douglas best. By contrast, the dark blues of “Devil In Her Soul” feels like a pose, and the pop-inflected blues-rock of “Wild Child” is only somewhat more credible. The Dylanesque ballad “Nothing Ever Goes As Planned” underscores just how difficult it is to write an explicitly political song and have it come off as anything other than ham-fisted. And “Won’t Say No” wraps a serious acoustic ballad in production values that outstrip the quality of the lyric and vocal performance by a substantial margin.

The last three songs here are ironically probably the strongest. “Do You Wanna Go” is an amiable come-on whose rather pedestrian lyric is elevated by a fervent soul-revue arrangement and punchy horn chart. “Losing You” veers back to heavy blues-rock and actually gets a bit of an SRV vibe going. And then closer “Say What You Want To Say” dials things back to just Douglas and Leo’s strummed electric, a quiet song of determination that’s one of his better ones.

All in all, Deep In The Water comes off like a sincere, modestly talented amateur giving it everything he has. Aided by a studio team of seasoned pros, Douglas offers up affectionately crafted pastiches of musical styles that he clearly admires, without ever breaking through and creating anything that feels truly memorable or original. The lesson seems to be that money and determination only get you so far; in the end it comes down to the strength of the material you have to work with, which here is average at best.

Rating: C

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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