Chris Koch
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Chris Koch

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"Teeter Gray's "Blue Love" Reviewed"

http://georgegraham.com/reviews/teeterg.html

The Graham Weekly Album Review #1418

Teeter Gray: Blue Love
by George Graham

(independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 10/12/2005)

The roots rock phenomenon picked up steam in the early to mid 1990s with groups like the Jayhawks, Son Volt and others who eschewed the ubiquitous synthesizers of pop music, and drew on the stylistic elements that were indeed at the roots of rock such as folk, country and blues. But the roots-rockers were not pure revivalists, they generally fused those influences into an original synthesis.

Since then, roots rockers have come in different varieties depending on their main source of inspiration, from folk and bluegrass to jam bands. But generally, such groups tend to have a fairly defined style. This week we have an interesting roots rock album that covers a much wider range than is typical for the movement. And it's also a rather amorphous band, with personnel that varies a lot on the CD. The group is called Teeter Gray, and their debut release is called Blue Love.

Teeter Gray the band is primarily the creative outlet for guitarist, singer and songwriter Chris Koch [pronounced "coach"]. After performing in the Ithaca, New York area, Koch moved to New York in the late 1980s, and played there in different bands. His autobiographical sketch says he performed once with beat poet Allen Ginsberg, and also at the funeral of John F. Kennedy, Jr. Koch creates memorable songs that range from introspective to something approaching commercial country music. There is a distinct twang to Blue Love with a nearly ubiquitous pedal steel guitar or Dobro, played by John Widgren. But there is a bit of undercurrent of jazz, thanks to two experienced jazz players on the CD, drummer Ben Perowski and bassist Jim Donica, who often plays acoustic bass. The rest of the band is a largely rotating cast along with special guests including Eric Weissberg, who on the early 1970s helped to spark a revival in bluegrass though his music to the film "Deliverance" which featured his performance of Dueling Banjos.

Koch himself comes across as a personable performer whose vocals can sometimes resemble those of James Taylor. His music reflects Koch's wide-ranging interests, from folk-singer-songwriter to Western Swing to Tin Pan Alley, from serious songs that consider the state of the world to tongue-in-cheek novelty numbers. It adds up to a worthwhile recording that takes one to a lot more musical destinations than your typical roots rock album, or singer-songwriter recording for that matter.

The CD commences with Love Unreal (For the Unknown Rider), a piece that combines the roots-rock sound with light-hearted lyrics about falling in love with someone one only sees in the distance on a train. It's the sort of subject that might have come from one of the Tin Pan Alley songwriters of decades past.

One of the most thoughtful sets of lyrics comes on Burrow Back to Center, which takes a jaundiced look at the state of the world, and then weaves that into a song of personal relationships. Eric Weissberg makes an appearance on banjo, while the fiddle is provided by Charlie Burnham.

Much more toward the pop mainstream is Almost Hear a Heartbeak, which with its weeping steel guitar exudes "Nashville" in its sound. Naturally, it's hardly the most musically original track on the CD.

The following song takes a musical trip to Texas, with the Western Swing of Anne Louise. The lyrics also take a light-hearted turn in another tale of infatuation, in this case, a country singer who can't function when the song's namesake is in the room.

Koch's more than passing vocal resemblance to James Taylor is apparent on the title song Blue Love, perhaps the most pop-oriented song. Tastefully played as it is, it is replete with musical clichés.

With some tasteful bluegrass-influenced picking is the song called The Ketchum Hollow Trail, which also features Eric Weissberg on banjo, as well as the Dobro of John Widgren and the fiddle of Charlie Burnham. In the contaxt of those fine players, Koch demonstrates that he's no slouch on the acoustic guitar.

Another strong track on the CD is Don't Come Back, with amusing lyrics and an energetic rockabilly arrangement.

Blue Love ends with These Hours, an introspective performance by just Koch and violinist Leenya Rideout. It's another song that seems as if it came out of Tin Pan Alley in the 1930s.

Blue Love, the debut CD by Teeter Gray, a band assembled to do the music of Chris Koch, is an enjoyable, wide-ranging recording that features lots of good songs, and covers much more musical ground than you are likely often to find on the roots rock scene. There's everything from rockabilly to songs that might have been written by Cole Porter. While some of the CD does get dangerously close to the commercial Nashville sound, and some songs are obviously better than others, the quality of the lyric writing is high - WVIA's George Graham


Discography

Teeter Gray - "Blue Love"
Chris Koch - "Scenes from the Coastal Evacuation"

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Bio

Some time ago, someone (can't remember who) introduced me to a fairly modern adage: There are only two kinds of music: Good and Bad.

I'm not sure whether this is a notion that can really hold water, since there are few things as subject to subjectivity than the arts. "Good" music, after all, is in the ear of the be-hearer.

But what I appreciate about the sentiment is that it breaks down a lot of genre-based walls. Good country music is good music… good folk music is good music… good gospel music is good music, etc., etc..

And that coincides well with and supports my songwriting style, because I've always felt that the songs conjured up by my imagination sort of "tell me" what genre-form they should take. They seem to make strong suggestions as to how they might be best represented, and as their humble servant, I am bound to listen and obey.

Or put another way, you could say that I believe in and am devoted to eclecticism. I believe that an eclectic collection of anything is inherently and absolutely more interesting than a homogonous one. At this point, I doubt anything will change my mind on this matter -- it's just too much fun to write in multiple styles.

Such a philosophy, though, certainly presents commerciality problems for an unknown artist. It's ok for Sting to do a record of madrigal tunes, or for Elvis Costello to do a record with the Bronsky Quartet or with Burt Bacharach (I love that record!) or Rod Stewart to do a collection of standards. But it seems that a large percentage of the CD buying population needs to have a cozy, neat and tidy little box in which to place an artist his material, at least initially. A box upon which may be affixed a stock label that applies to all items within. Too much genre mixing, it seems, creates confusion.

Well, what to do?

My answer is to keep doing everything! Play your heart! Life's short! Do art!

My first record, "Blue Love" (recorded in '04 under the band name Teeter Gray) was a collection of mostly country-flavored songs… mostly. It was graced with appearances by Eric Weissberg (of "Dueling Banjos" and "Blood on the Tracks" fame), a wonderful pedal steel player named John Widgren, local drum legend Ben Perowsky (who has worked with John Scoffield and David Torn) and violinist Charlie Burnham (who has worked with Cassandra Wilson and Medesky, Martin and Wood). But there were still a few songs that stuck out funny. But if "Blue Love" was at all stylistically confusing, I don't know what folks will think of me now.

Since June of '07 I've been involved in another recording project of ridiculous proportions. -- an effort to bring my "library” up to date, so to speak. Some are highly accessible and some are, frankly, not. They fit into buckets labeled Jazz, Fusion, Country, Singer-Songwriter, and… Artsy Fartsy?

Maybe I'll defer blame for this to my pallet of colors. I am just fortunate enough to find myself surrounded by so many exceptional musicians, who represent so many different styles. Mazz Swift-Camlet is a Julliard violinist. Diane Michaels is a world-class harpist from Oberland. Jim Donica has played bass behind Maynard Ferguson, and has recorded a fine jazz album with Peter Erskine, Randy Brecker, Bruce Barth and others. Mike Lee is a remarkable, versatile and innovative reed player.

And they all, for some reason, happen to enjoy playing my tunes, both the quirky and the contrived. So I keep stretching and writing.

Maybe one of these will "hit a mark" and allow me to meet that coy and fickle vixen known as commercial success. And while I can hold out hope that she might decide to visit my neighborhood, that hope doesn't really comprise even a small fraction of my impetus to keep writing. Well… obviously, since we haven't been formally introduced after all this time, yet here I still am.

Meantime, I'll finish the recording, group them somewhat logically into a couple of CD's, conduct a self-funded radio promotion campaign and dabble with some web-marketing will enjoying as much live performing as I can afford to do… you know, the same stuff that the other billion artists and musicians are doing.

I just hope they're having as much fun as I am.