11 November 2014


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Toska - noun /ˈtō-skə/ - Russian word roughly translated as sadness, melancholia, lugubriousness.

"No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.” ― Vladimir Nabokov

   Florence, Alabama's Red Mouth (aka Eric Gebhardt) makes highly personal music, at once mysterious and otherworldly, and yet deeply rooted in the secular red clay roads of north Alabama, the same clay that got stomped through the hallowed halls and rubbed in to the carpets of Muscle Shoals recording studios back in the day.

   It's personal music in the way that the music of Jim WhiteJim Ford, Boss Waits, Cap'n Beefheart, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Screaming Lord Sutch, Iggy's Stooges, old man Cave, Johnny Dowd, and  Gordon Gano's Violent Femmes music is personal, yet organically familiar. It's old timey music made today, made modern, but with none of the pretension of some current day songsters.   
    Toska is some original, strongass, yet beautifully, thoughtfully, sensuously fucked up folk music that should be heard by folks who think folk music is weak. Red Mouth will show them the error of their ears as he dances nimbly, soulfully, madly, across time and space with the dirty old bones of American roots music, doing the old soft-shoe across the sand, mud, and blues of country and early pop music, the gristled bones of rock n' roll, kicking 'em into place, into totems, in to cleavers, into hat tricks, into red words on rice paper, in to chickenbone and velvet, casket and rum. 

    The crack of a powder keg in the distance, the swing of an arm, the rustle of the bulrush in the river, the skim of her dress across the
wooden waxed dance floor.  The sound of motorcycle wheels on gravel roads down 'round, "Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama," crossing the Carolina's on Bone Camp Road, and ending up all the way to hell and back and central Florida on a long gone fast train, past the stars shining down on a holler for help in the Ocala woods at night.

      Homemade murder ballads are shorn into hoedowns, brambled east Texas big band dresses like a wolf in a straw boater. Muscle Shoals soul gets its heart broke by Randy Newman's piano, and Rickie Lee and Tom have a date night at a midnight showing of The Forbidden Zone.  

   A high lonesome call is made by translator to unknown lands, and Johanna's in on it. All of it. From the gospel to the get-go, the knock-down to the drag out.

Recording With The Legendary Donnie Fritts
   Each song on Toska is a piece of the whole, standing alone by the side of a country road, but with plenty more of 'em in the woods close by...listen...in the rustle of the leaves, its breath...on the back of your neck just below your ear. Toska is also exceptional listening music. It's terrific (in the true sense of the word) on the headphones, even better when its Twin Peaks boogies are played good and loud.

   Red Mouth has released his masterpiece thus far, with Toska. A wholly original style-jumper who's comfortable with most any southern folk music forms, it may seem like he's bitten off more than he can chew at times, but no. He hasn't. You have.

   In a more patient and thoughtful music world Toska would rank high on a lot of Best lists this year. If I believed in art contests it'd rank high on mine, too. But some things are too important to rank. Toska is one of them.

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