BAND, SHOW & CD REVIEWS
GULLIVER CD SHOWS SOUL ALIVE, WELL
Article Published April 4, 2003
With all due apologies to Mark Twain, here's a real reason for music lovers to celebrate:
Rumors declaring the death of Muscle Shoals soul have been greatly exaggerated.
If you have any doubts, pick up a copy of "Destination Funkulation," one of the tastiest treats to emerge from local studios in quite some time.
The disc marks the long-awaited album debut of Gulliver, a hot young band that's been on the live-music scene for the past several years, performing everywhere from the smoke-filled corners of local clubs to the open-air spaces of the W.C. Handy Music Festival.
"Destination Funkulation" effectively channels the band's rich-and-potent brew of funk, soul and rock 'n' roll into the realm of studio recording. The musical transfer is smooth and seamless, with Gulliver's five band members sharing democratic production duties with sound-board wizard Jimmy Nutt at the legendary FAME Recording Studios.
The disc opens in celebratory mode with "Aballah (Dick Cooper)," a witty, affectionate salute to one of the mythic underground heroes of Muscle Shoals music. It closes on a poignant note with "Brian and John B.," a tribute to two musicians taken before their time.
In between, "Destination Funkulation" offers such eclectic highlights as the guitar-grooving title track, the passionate "Taste," the sensual "Take Me," the tender "Sarah's Song," the free-spirited "So Glad You're Gone," the sizzling "What's Wrong With You?" and a revved-up reworking of an old Exile hit, "Super Love."
It's not surprising that the unmistakable "Muscle Shoals sound" shines through so soulfully on the 10-track disc. FAME is, after all, the musical shrine where rhythm-and-blues artists ranging from Clarence Carter and Etta James to Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett cut their defining recordings in the 1960s.
Gulliver nudges that tried-and-true musical heritage into a new era, preserving the vintage Muscle Shoals vibe but personalizing the Southern-soul tradition with their own funky rock 'n' roll edge.
The 10 tracks showcase the playing prowess and skillful songwriting of the Gulliver lineup -- Gary Nichols and Scott Boyer III on vocals and guitars, Ryan Tillery on drums, percussion and vocals and Jimbo Hart on bass and vocals. Seasoned soul veteran N.C. Thurman of The Decoys rounds out their full, vigorous sound with keyboard work that ranges from haunting to electrifying.
A few more friends make stellar stops at "Destination Funkulation," from Derek and the Dominos alumnus Bobby Whitlock (adding his rolling organ to "Aballah") and Jason Isbell of the Drive-By Truckers (laying down guitar licks on "What's Wrong With You?") to background vocalists Zach Hacker and Darian Fisher.
Reaffirming the vitality of Muscle Shoals music, "Destination Funkulation" blends the best of two worlds, mixing reverence for the past with a funky vision for the future.
Terry Pace is the entertainment editor of the TimesDaily. He can be reached at 740-5741 or firstname.lastname@example.org. His column runs on Fridays.
More to Come
BAND LEADS WAY TO 'FUNKULATION'
Article Published March 14, 2003
SHEFFIELD - Gary Nichols has found an ideal way to describe the smoldering sounds of Gulliver, one of Muscle Shoals music's hottest live acts.
"You've heard of punk rock - well, our style is funk-rock," notes Nichols, the band's lead vocalist and guitarist. "It's just good rock 'n' roll with that funky Muscle Shoals flavor."
After attracting a devoted following on the live-music scene - playing everything from club dates to the W.C. Handy Music Festival - Gulliver recently cut 10 studio tracks for a debut album called "Destination Funkulation."
The contents of the compact disc will be unveiled Saturday night during a CD-release party at Virtual Charlie's.
"All but two of the songs are originals," added Nichols, whose Gulliver bandmates include Jimbo Hart on bass and vocals, Ryan Tillery on drums and vocals and Scott Boyer III on guitar and vocals.
"We all have different backgrounds and influences," Nichols explained. "I listened to rock 'n' roll, but I also listened to Stevie Wonder and Otis Redding, and George Jones and Conway Twitty. Scott grew up loving the Allman Brothers, Jimbo was into punk and Ryan was leading the drum corps. It all fits together well."
The four young, up-and-coming musicians are augmented by the seasoned expertise of a Muscle Shoals music veteran, keyboardist N.C. Thurman of the popular rock, soul and rhythm-and-blues band The Decoys.
"He's a big part of the band, and he's a big part of this album - he's all over it," Nichols remarked. "He's a funky guy."
Gulliver recorded "Destination Funkulation" at the legendary FAME Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals, where R&B artists ranging from Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett to Etta James and Clarence Carter cut some of their biggest hits.
The band co-produced the "Destination Funkulation" project with FAME producer and engineer Jimmy Nutt.
"We're in negotiations with (FAME label) Muscle Shoals Records to pick up the album for release," Nichols explained. "If they pick it up, there are a few things they want to change, which is fine. But the version we'll have at Virtual Charlie's is our own independent release. It's kind of a collector's edition, because it's the album the way we want it."
Gulliver was formed by former members of another local rock and R&B band, Monkee and the Spank Daddies.
The band's name came about through a sudden combination of inspiration and desperation.
"We did our last gig with Monkee on a Saturday, and we had our first gig as a new band the following Friday," Nichols recalled. "At that point, we still didn't have a name. But we did know that we wanted to call the band something that would be a person's name - one that would be easy to remember."
The group finally found inspiration in the title of Jonathan Swift's 18th-century fantasy-satire, "Gulliver's Travels."
"We weren't trying to be cocky," Nichols noted, "but we did think of the giant in 'Gulliver's Travels' and the fact that we wanted to be a big thing in music. We thought, 'Once they hear us play, maybe they'll understand.' Fortunately, it started catching on."
Saturday's festivities will also feature a guest appearance by the Red House Project, a band based in Knoxville, Tenn.
The group features former Muscle Shoals musician Jamie Cook, former drummer for the live band led by legendary rock 'n' roll guitarist Travis Wammack.
"The Red House grew out of a Knoxville band called Oversoul," Cook explained. "We wanted to bring in new players and friends to play with us and not be tied down to a set lineup.
"We also wanted there to be no limits on our style and the types of music we play," Cook added. "So, every show is a new experience with different songs and different musicians."
Copies of Gulliver's "Destination Funkulation" CDs will be available for sale at Virtual Charlie's the night of the concert.
The band will also perform at 11:30 tonight at Flowers Hall for the University of North Alabama's annual "Up Till Dawn" concert to benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.
Nichols, who recently signed with FAME's publishing company as a staff songwriter, will also perform from 7-8 p.m. tonight at Cold Water Books in downtown Tuscumbia.
He'll share the acoustic-music stage with fellow FAME songwriter James LeBlanc.
Terry Pace can be reached at 740-5741 or email@example.com.