Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Gretchen's Wheel, Black Box Theory, 2018

Album Review

By Henry Lipput

Black Box Theory is the fourth and latest smart and rocking album from Gretchen's Wheel, a solo project of Nashville-based singer / songwriter / musician Lindsay Murray.

The new album is Murray's follow-up to last year's very fine Sad Scientist. In between the two albums, she recorded "Walk Out" one of the best tracks from Futureman Records' terrific Matthew Sweet tribute, Altered Sweet, and also released the completely solo five-song acoustic EP awry. Murray has brought other musicians on-board for her albums including Ken Stringfellow from The Posies, Big Star, and R.E.M. and Ira Elliot from Nada Surf.

On Black Box Theory, Murray provides vocals and rhythm and lead guitars as well as bass and keyboards on all of the songs. The album was written, produced and recorded by Murray at her home in Westmoreland, TN. And, although you wouldn't know it by the way her guitars and bass click with Nick Bertling's excellent drumming, his work was recorded not in Tennessee but in what has been described as a storage cupboard in Chicago. He also added additional guitars, synths, mellotron, and bass to the songs.

Murray has an intelligent way of looking at life and love, and it's reflected in her lyrics. Commenting on the title of her Sad Scientist album, she has said that her approach to songwriting and her outlook on life is a "sad science." There's also a heft to the album's sound, inviting the listener to take what's being said seriously. In addition, on awry, Murray began using lower case letters for song titles and she's continued this with Black Box Theory, making her track lists look like poems by E. E. Cummings.

In "aftermath," perhaps about the end of a relationship, Murray sings, "I need a heavier blanket / and quiet is too loud / put a record on / I'm going deaf / if it's really the darkest before the dawn / tonight I'll know / whatever it was I wanted / was carried away by the waves."

"something's coming" also sees problems but also a positive turn of events although she can't say what that might be: "today I woke up feeling good / so I wonder what's wrong / how about some superstition to even it out / I'm afraid of the rain for dread of the drought / something's coming / to set it right / restore the balance / it's a matter of time."
The hope of something better happening and the impulse not to do harm to oneself is echoed in "imp" with the lyric "I'm all right / I feel fine / I'm okay / I'm okay / can't explain / what's in my brain / I want to stay / I want to stay / the whisper of the imp in my ear."

Murray is a gifted and first-rate guitarist; and along with her sharp take on all things human, Murray continues to rock. "the maze" is a power pop gem. "tatyana" has melody to spare; and "lucid" is driven forward by the guitar, bass, and drums working in lockstep.

Black Box Theory is out now on Futureman Records.

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