The Gristle & Bone Affair (Color Vinyl)


LP version. Color vinyl. The Gristle & Bone Affair, Terry Lee Hale's 14th record, the second he's made in his home of 20 years in France, and first in his recently adopted city of Marseille. This finds him considering the life he left behind in the US, his time in Europe, and at some of the things the future might hold. Instead of the fingerpicked guitar front-and-center, often his hallmark sound, now the instrument -- and his voice -- stand as the bedrock of all the music here; he's become part of the ensemble. He's covered a lot of distance in his time, but one of the most important stops was in Seattle, a place he says was "foundational." He was the only singer-songwriter on Sub Pop 200 (1988), the compilation that announced grunge and brought the city to the music world's attention. It was in Seattle that he released his first LP, and came to know many of the musicians, like Jon Hyde who adds steel guitar here. He also formed a close, lasting friendship was Chris Eckman of the Walkabouts, who's produced The Gristle & Bone Affair, as well as several of Hale's earlier albums. On "Oh Life," where Ziga Golob's (Chris Eckman, Steve Wynn) warm, plucked notes on the contrabass makes an introduction for Hale's crisp yearning falsetto calls, an evocation of an American West that's all but vanished. This time around, there's only one track where Hale's guitar stands out alone, the sole instrumental on the album, "Doesn't Matter Anymore." As producer, Eckman suggested some artists Hale had never worked with, like Catherine Graindorge (Iggy Pop, Nick Cave), whose violin work haunts "Oh Life" and adds a deep resonance. The Seattle that's developed since Hale left is there in the sympathetic, clear backing vocals of Claire Tucker, bringing everything full circle. The sound and claustrophobic feel of "Alive Inside," a loving, sympathetic song about the interior world of a man with Alzheimer's is mostly due to the work and imagination of Matt Emerson Brown, the mixing engineer, who had as much of a free hand as the instrumentalists. It's heartfelt poetry, tender and aching and caught in a small space, so different to the sweep of road and distant horizons that echo through "Curve Away" which features Chris Cacavas (Dream Syndicate, Green on Red) on keyboards.