Sad Scientist

Gretchen's Wheel

Independent release, 2017

http://www.gretchenswheel.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/14/2017

The aptly-named Sad Scientist finds singer-songwriter-guitarist Lindsay Murray (a.k.a. Gretchen’s Wheel) experimenting with a range of different musical collaborators as she works at, in her own words, “transforming suffering into something powerfully good.” As with any scientific endeavor, success depends in large part on whether the experiments lead to any clear and supportable conclusions; here, the answer is yes.

Murray’s meaty, thoughtful tunes feel like they straddle the border between introspective power-pop and succinct, catchy alt-rock. The muscular guitars are juxtaposed with Murray’s often-breathy vocals—think Aimee Mann times Melissa Etheridge divided by Emmylou Harris—even as her downbeat, at times self-lacerating lyrics remind of the Gin Blossoms.

For her third Gretchen’s Wheel album, Murray enlists no less than four power-pop savant collaborators: Ken Stringfellow (The Posies, R.E.M.), Andy Reed (The Verve Pipe, The Legal Matters), Fernando Perdomo (Ed Hale, Dave Kerzner), and Nick Bertling (Bertling Noise Laboratories), with each mixing the individual tracks on which they’re featured, Murray producing most of the tracks herself, and Reed mastering the whole thing. The end result feels a bit uneven at times, but is overall more cohesive than you might guess thanks to this lineup of collaborators’ largely compatible tastes and tendencies.nbtc__dv_250

Opener “Better In The Dark” features the chiming guitars and lush harmony vocals one associates with Reed, here framing Murray’s rather silky, ethereal lead vocal, with Donny Brown’s sharp drumming and subtle textures of mellotron and theremin adding depth. A hard “Left Turn” finds us in heavier territory with Perdomo on board, playing everything but rhythm guitar with a great deal of flair and spurring Murray on to an especially urgent and appealing performance.

Switching gears again, “Surviving” features Stringfellow on a dreamy number that frames a distinctly downbeat lyric (“When will you know your best day is in the past?”) with airy atmospherics. Among the stronger tracks here, the driving, punchy “Blank Slate” features Bertling on rhythm guitar, bass, drums and mix, its turbo-charged guitars counterpointed, Gin Blossoms-style, by a distinct lack of confidence: “To be a blank slate / Do you think it would set me free?”

Of the remaining six tunes, three feature Perdomo, two Reed, and one Bertling, which all by itself might suggest a conclusion about this experiment. And indeed, the clear highlights of the second half are the big, rumbly guitars and splashy drums of “The Price,” the complex, superb arrangement of the dreamy, imaginative “Out Of Your Hands,” and the rich dynamics and outstanding guitar tones of closer “Same Song”… the three tunes where Murray teams with Perdomo. (“Disintegrate” has appeal as well, though here the big guitars feel like they’re competing with rather than supporting her lead vocal.)

With Behind The Curtain, Fragile State and now Sad Scientist, Lindsay Murray has delivered three strong collections of songs with an ever-varying cast of players supporting her. The question Scientist in particular begs is what the results might feel like if Murray stuck with one chief collaborator through an entire album, start to finish. The evidence compiled from this particular experiment seems clear enough.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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