26 November 2014

A couple of months back, I mentioned that longtime central Ohio music veteran Jeff German had signed a three record deal with Slothtrop Records. Last Tuesday, Slothtrop released German’s debut album, “12 R.O.U.N.D.S.”  
 
   The impressive thing about German’s record deal is not that it happened, but when it happened – the album is being released just after German’s 50th birthday. A fixture on the Columbus music scene in the 90’s with the Flying Saucers, German shut down his music career, moved with his wife to Granville, raised a family and coached hockey. When his children were old enough, German returned to playing with the Cur Dogs, who self-released the album “Chasing Tales” in 2010. He also put in some time as a side-man, playing lead guitar with several acts, including Lydia Loveless. In 2013 German formed his current band, the Blankety Blanks, and made some recordings which found their way to Slothtrop Records, who contacted German in the fall of 2013.  
 
   When he was first approached by the label, German thought that he was the victim of a music industry con. As anyone who has tried promotion knows, the wolves are out there: pay for play internet radio, fake song-shopping, Facebook placement and god knows how many “networking” sites that wage war against e-mail inboxes. When Slothtrop president Eric Hester called, “I actually hung up on him” remembers German.  “He called me right back and said ‘hey, I lost you.’ I started telling him that I did not have any money to give him -- I was actually being pretty rude about it. Finally, he said that he was just going to call me back in a few days.”
 
   This time around it was legit. Hester called German back the following Monday, and finally convinced him that they were a real record label who wanted to sign him. Slothtrop’s offer coincided with another development  – with children nearly grown, for the first time in nearly two decades German had the ability to extensively tour to promote an album. 
 
German’s new CD, 12 R.O.U.N.D.S., is absolutely freeway music, made for the car stereo.  The arrangements are generally simple; guitars through tube combo amps, bass, drums, high harmonies on the choruses and a Hammond B-3 Organ whirring through a Leslie overhead. This set up, give or take a piano player, has been around since Bob Dylan put together a band for the “Like a Rolling Stone” sessions. It’s a classic sound; it has survived five decades for a reason.  
 
   “Sit and Think,” the first track on the album, rolls in with a “head full of guilt and pockets full of cash.” With a nod to Ohio Rt. 41 to Aberdeen, beloved by motorcyclists, it slips the line “this town needs a bar, ‘cause I need a drink” straight into the subconscious.  
 
   “Kro-Bide,” celebrates the carbide tipped Black and Decker circular saw blade which used to be ubiquitous on construction sites: “[n]othing calms the spirit, like sawdust through the pine.” To me, the title brings back memories of hauling 4’x8’ OSB sheathing onto roofs, college summers, and the taste of Copenhagen. This is something different though -- a craftsman, a trade, a way of life which is ending.  
 
   “Fifteen Minutes,” starts with a creepy/goofy acoustic guitar and then warps into a glorious celebration of the Hammond B3 organ, played by Tim McLaughlin. The vocals are far more self-aware than elsewhere on the album, dark but good humored. The track is a needed bit of contrast – I would have liked a few more in this style.   
 
   My favorite song on the album is “Before its Gone.” According to German, it’s a song about a conversation he had with his wife several years ago about how long he was going to keep playing music. I hear it more as unstated certainty that he will keep going as long as he can hold a guitar.
 
   On the subject of a record deal at the age of 50, German is still taking it all in: “I honestly feel like my luck has changed -- I don’t know if I deserve it or not, but I really feel like it has.” Indeed, the human concept of luck is a running theme throughout the album. What the Greeks called tyche, the Romans fortuna, karma to fools who think that they can control it. The Kro-Bide carpenter recognizes that his luck has run out, but seems ready to catch it when it invariably returns. Here’s hoping that German’s newfound luck holds.
 
  Jeff German and the Blankety Blanks will be appearing in Columbus in support of the new CD on April 18th at the Tree Bar, and at Broken Records and Beehives on April 19th.