Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
They have a saying about hotbeds of talent and that saying hinges on the water and something being in it, something formidable and magical. It sometimes has to do with the basketball and football teams in certain cities and how they grow them either tall or thick in those particular places. It sometimes also has to do with a city having cornered a small market of indie rock and roll the way that humble Eau Claire, Wisconsin has in the past year. There's no telling where the city - a former home to Ann Landers - will go from here, but in the last year it brought the world Bon Iver, one of the tender and endearing artists of 2008, and has two bands poised to continue making the place proud in The Daredevil Christopher Wright (packed with creative star power) and The Gentle Guest, the project of Eric Rykal that is for gravediggers, ghost story tellers and bootleggers of yesteryear. Eau Claire, which actually means "Clear Waters" in French, must put both the chillaxing pills in the clean drinking waters as it does the rowdy, tear the wood right off of the bar pills. Up there amongst all of the wooded land and the pretty pasture these chosen musicians find it in them to explore the different sides of the restlessness and the cabin fever during the harsh winter months of hibernation must smoke them out, causing the head to explode and get put back together differently every time. The Gentle Guest is a band that carries on as a sort of rambling and verbose recollection of so many different lives no longer among us, as well as a fusing of the kinds of salty and drunken ragtime that you hear playing in your head during certain scenes while reading F. Scott Fitzgerald novels and short stories from his jazz era. You can hear bottles clink and people swaying woozily to the unraveling of the complex stories that Rykal offers. They're not big gulps, but more prolonged sips of something that burns a strict line of fire all the way down into the pit of your belly. They creep around and strain and blow out with a brassy trill and meander through your ears like bleary-eyed scoundrels. He sings, "All hail whiskey god," at one point and it's really just a recognition to be heard as the dirty dog thinking it and finally just lets blurt with the rest of a rough room chiming in in unison, as if they've nothing better to do than to agree. The line of thinking that continues throughout the Gentle Guest songs is one of turbulence and rationality causing a disruptive event of average proportions. It seems as if the characters in all of Rykal's songs go through the decision-making process that most people do frequently, but the difference is that what they frequently have to decide between isn't flavors of coffee, but ways to best survive, ways to get by and that adds an entirely different set of wrinkles to the fabric. The stories are about men and women struggling with their wrestling, with the ways that they make themselves toss and turn straight into delirium. There are devils roaming these parts and there are enterprising men and women of various degrees of honorability pulling off cameos and supporting performances, rolling around in the mucky muck. There's an antiquated feel of people and their predicaments that courses through it and Rykal puts all of these dimly lit personalities together to make a quilt of old-timey shenanigans that involve more moral struggles and god-fearing than anyone knows what to really do with.
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