Big Mother Gig, “Gusto”

Big Mother Gig
Gusto
FRAGA/SWEET SWEET
7/10

One of Richard Jankovich’s numerous musical outlets, Big Mother Gig was formed in the early ’90s, though there was a two-decade hiatus between 1996 and 2016. This is the four-piece’s second full-length since their reboot, but it’s probably their most important one. That’s because Gusto is a celebration of Jankovich’s first year of sobriety, written over a weekend soon after the songwriter had reached that benchmark. 

Of course, these 13 songs deal as much with hitting the bottle and rock bottom as they do overcoming those struggles. That’s something the music itself—the kind of classic American alt-rock you didn’t think anybody made anymore—encapsulates perfectly. Whether that’s the straight-talking, desperate jangle of “The Doctor Will See You Now”—a song that makes a line like “I take vitamins and vitamins galore” actually sound kind of cool—or the downtrodden, self-defeating miserablism of “High Functioning,” there’s a loose recklessness to these melodies that both convey being stuck in that rut, but also the determination to get out of it.

Elsewhere, “Drawn with Broken Crayons” is as melancholy and emotionally worn down as that title suggests, while the gentle, forlorn jangle of “That Day” tells a harrowing story about unspecified childhood trauma. Pay no attention to the lyrics and you could mistake it for some rose-tinted, Red House Painters–esque nostalgia, but take in the words and there’s a pernicious darkness still lurking within its lines, waiting patiently in the shadow of the past to catch up with the protagonist.

Interestingly, the record ends with water and fire—penultimate track “Running Rivers” and closer “Something About Fire” serving as a kind of yin and yang of bad experience and redemption. The former is a plaintive, chugging lament held together with a singular piano note, the latter a haunting, sad instrumental that feels like acceptance. That song specifically captures the beauty and peace of mind that comes with letting go of the past and focusing solely, instead, on the present. Because after all, that’s all we ever have. Gusto is a wonderful reminder of that.

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