By The Time Your Rocket Gets To Mars (released April 15 on Cosmo Sex School/Voodoo Doughnut Recordings) is that rarest of rares, an album that puts the lie to all our shouting and disunity by finding the underlying ties that bind and wrapping them in melodies that slip past one’s defenses, fired-up yet tender rock with purpose and higher calling that suggests Van Morrison having a late night jam session with Crazy Horse and Joe Strummer. It’s a call to tenderize ourselves enough to feel what’s happening in the world and then do what we can to generate some positivity and basic kindness. This collection is timely to an almost painful degree, an outstretched hand and open heart to battle back all the fence building and the black tide of Trump’s ugly America eroding the earth beneath us.
This is the work of true professionals, musical lifers serving the material with judicious power and keenly placed touches steered by musician’s musician Dave Schools (Hard Working Americans, Widespread Panic). Captured at the cozy clubhouse of Bob Weir’s TRI Studios in Marin, CA, By The Time Your Rocket Gets To Mars hums with intent, a clarion cry to look up from the ground, stop replaying the past’s stories, and welcome in fresh horizons and truths unseen. The muscle pumping this journey out of the dark lands is the choice personnel producer Schools assembled for this set, which includes Joseph’s regular touring partners Steve Drizos (drums), Steven James Wright (bass) and Jeff Crosby (guitar) alongside guests keyboardists Jason Crosby & Mookie Siegel and guitarists Scott Law & Steve Kimock. The builds in these songs are exhilarating, simmering seductions that explode beautifully with effective timing, the hard and soft elements well balanced and playfully mingled. The sucker sounds great, too, but mixer Jim Scott (Ryan Bingham, Wilco, Neal Casal) has a long history of nailing just the right vibe. Some tracks like “Fog of War” and “Istanbul” were captured in heady one takes, and the whole album possesses a forward rush, varied elements locking in as the album travels through today’s gunfire and hard rain.
God is here, too, surveying the fires and shouting, crossing her fingers that love and the realization that all we really have is right now will ultimately win the battle for humanity’s soul. On his latest collection, Jerry Joseph reminds us of the many forms the divine can take and the myriad ways we can get lost and found in our seeking of a ground of reality beyond paychecks, wars, and countless disappointing tangents. Hope is hard won in the 21st century and By The Time Your Rocket Gets To Mars is a sharp plough for cutting fertile furrows where hope may grow from a mustard seed to a sprout and maybe even something tall and green one day.
Precarious times demand special songs to navigate an unstable landscape with a cloudy horizon. The multilayered experience of music allows truth and comfort to ease past the natural hardening that occurs with even slightly sensitive souls in such eras, the mixture of words, melody and sound finding where one is cracked and aching, open and exposed in true reality. It’s a help that hurts but like building muscle or learning new skills, the end result makes one appreciate and perhaps even crave substantive distress. Nathan Moore’s latest patriotic salvo Goodbye America is this sort of positive pressure, a balm that stings a little but might just get you back on your feet dancing in the bucket brigade as Rome blazes away.
Looking down Main Street (and Wall Street too), Moore begins by observing, “Nobody’s plotting the revolution/ Nobody’s dancing to the Great Heartbeat/ Except You and I.” He’s reaching out to his brothers and sisters (while reminding us we are ALL brothers and sisters), consciously bridging the widening gulf between human beings to remind us in the midst of friction filled upheaval and nasty shouting that not everything is scorched earth and clenched fists. Like spiritual ancestor Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, there’s a mad skip and wild grin threading through Moore’s examination of Modern Man’s survivalist mentality that notes “a hero is just a man in his underwear.” This song cycle is a battle cry to lay one’s self bare and embrace vulnerability, to accept our inherent fragility and impermanence instead of throwing up walls against our fears. Time and tide will have their way but we can choose how we spend our days instead of just going along for the ride.
Instead of choosing sides, Goodbye America says, “We’re all in this together. So what do we do now?” While Moore resists being programmatic, he uses his keen observational skills and prestidigitator’s dexterity to gently usher one through today’s weariness and rage towards bemusement over the nonsense and conflict and ultimately to a place where love is valued far above gold and power. In this way, it’s a most American and even Christian album without all the trappings of politics and religion, the better essence of these two powerful philosophical tracks distilled. That he does so with his most subtly pleasingly, judiciously fleshed-out musical settings thus far in his career is an added bonus. Moore’s sound is moving closer to Crowded House/Neil Finn and Rufus Wainwright territory than his folkie past. He’s a troubadour in the same vein as Tim Buckley, Fred Neil, and Richard Thompson, where the production adds interesting texture to barrelhouse bones.
Goodbye America is an invitation to step past our loathing and self-loathing to avoid a collective fate where “it only takes one to blow it all away.” Alone, disconnected, and terribly, terribly frightened is how too many people live in 2016. Those feelings aren’t false but there’s another way to see the world and Moore’s latest offering points us in that direction in an hour where we need all the positive navigation and potluck thinking we can get.