Saturday, October 20, 2007

Review: Stone Gossard "Bayleaf" (2001)

Alternative rock sidemen tend to make great solo albums. As sappy as it is, former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha's 1998 solo album Let It Come Down has some solid songwriting. Drummer Jimmy Chamberlin's 2005 side project Life Begins Again is the most groovin' fusion album I've heard, and it goes to show why Billy Corgan needs Chamberlin in the new Smashing Pumpkins. Add Pearl Jam's first songwriter/riffmeister, Stone Gossard, to the list of great alt-rock sideman solo albums.

Stone's 2001 solo album, Bayleaf (which was coincidentally released on September 11th of that year), is one of those few albums that already sound pretty good at first listen. It's a fun album. Stone sings lead vocals on seven of the ten tracks, and sings back-up for three of the tracks. While he's no Eddie Vedder, Stone ably sings pretty good melodies with some Neil Young-influenced tone. I have to admit, it's a bit disconcerting whenever another voice (guest vocalist Ty Wilman) sings lead vocals, but it's Stone's songwriting that shines through. Here are some album highlights:

Track 3: "Pigeon" is an instantly classic-sounding groove rocker.

Track 5: "Cadillac" has a fun vocal interplay between Stone and Ty Wilman. It does sound like a mix between a car commercial jingle and an improvement upon the Beach Boys' eighties hit "Kokomo." Once you get past those eerie similarities, it's a happy little number.

Track 6: "Bayleaf" (the title track) has one short instance of melody that borrows from Axl Rose's vocal playbook. It only happens once in the song, but it makes itself obvious. The rest of the song is great, by the way.

Track 7: "Every Family" is a soulful, bluesy song that would make fat Elvis proud. And I mean that in the best way possible. There's some great Hammond organ instrumentation in this song.

Track 9: "Hellbent" seems to have influenced a Stone Gossard/Eddie Vedder-penned Pearl Jam track five years later: "Parachutes." This is ironic because Ed often complains that Stone tends to refuse to return to previously explored territory when it comes to songwriting.

Since I bought this album on iTunes, my biggest complaint is the lack of liner notes. I've heard that Stone did the liner notes art, but I don't have it to confirm. Stone is not only a great guitarist, a decent vocalist, and a multi-instrumentalist - he's also a painter. Since Bayleaf seems to be out of print, you'll either need to buy a used copy at Amazon.comor download it with iTunes: Stone Gossard - Bayleaf

While the album is a bit less than 40 minutes, I think I can burn this album with Eddie Vedder's Into the Wild (without the bonus tracks) onto one disc. Ed's folksy acoustic album and Stone's funky electric album sound like companion pieces (albeit six years apart). It like the two belong in a band together...hmm...

You can sample some choice tracks (plus an import-only bonus track) at Stone Gossard's fan-made MySpace Music profile.

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