Gaslight Street certainly plays its share of blues, but the trio prefers to refer to their music as “roots.”
I think what we play ties into the blues and rock and everything that we grew up listening to,” says Gaslight’s singer/guitarist Campbell Brown. “It was that old-school rock like the Allman Brothers, Derek & the Dominoes, Little Feat, Joe Cocker. And all of that was influenced by the blues. So when we say roots, we’re encompassing all of that.”
Regardless of the category, fans of Son Volt and post-recovery Steve Earle will find a lot to like in Gaslight Street. The band specializes in a languid, ragged mix of edgy guitars, rich piano and organ backdrops, hummable melodies, and Brown’s bittersweet, incisive lyrics. It’s a vintage rock sound best expressed on their third album, 2013’s Heavy Wind, where the hard-scrabble storytelling and rough-hewn music come together like a lost 1970s classic.
The band formed in 2008, with Brown fronting a different lineup, but their chemistry didn’t click until 2011 when the lineup settled with Brown, guitarist Dan Wright, bassist/keyboardist Whitt Algar, and drummer Stratton Moore. But that lineup changed last spring, when a heavier concert schedule was too much for one member. “Dan left us earlier this year, because he just couldn’t do the touring that we’re doing,” Brown says.
Rather than add another member, the band rethought their instrumental approach entirely by having Algar concentrate on keyboards instead of alternating between keys and bass. “Whitt starting playing bass lines with his organ and melody on his Wurlitzer and Rhodes piano,” Brown says. “So he’s doing double-duty now. I think it opens up the songs more on the keyboards and the guitar. I used to play a lot of the rhythm and now I’m playing lead, and Whitt is basically holding it down with his left hand and pushing the rhythm along with Stratton to his right. It’s made us tighter, because you have to be as a three-piece.”
Given that all of their albums had been written and recorded in a two guitars-bass-drums format, it would seem like making that kind of an instrumental shift would be challenging, but Brown says it was just the opposite. “It wasn’t that difficult a transition,” he says. “In fact, it was kind of refreshing and exciting to do something different.”
The lineup change brought unexpected inspiration in more ways than one. After spending seven years as Gaslight Street’s primary songwriter, Brown suddenly had some help. “Whitt brought in a bunch of his songs,” Brown says. “It’s a 20-plus catalog of songs that we added all at once. The most difficult part of this whole transition to a trio has been getting all those songs down, because we’ve doubled our repertoire.”
And how does Brown feel about the sudden songwriting competition? “I love it,” he says. “Hell, it lessens the pressure. It also means that I don’t have to do stupid things anymore and write songs about them. It’s been great, and it’s pushed me. It was inspiring to see how many songs he brought, and he’s still writing. It’s pretty amazing.”
In fact, Brown says that even after winning the CPMA’s Pianist of the Year award, Algar deserves more. “He should win best bass player, too, because he’s got to play them both,” Brown says. “He’s the rhythm section all by himself — and an incredible one. He’s got great soul and a great voice, and he’s a good friend, too, so I have to kind of step back sometimes to appreciate what he brings to the table.
“If I’m out watching him play one of his solo gigs or with another band, it’s really cool to watch,” he continues. “I’m just sitting there watching one of my good friends play and blow my mind at the same time. It’s a pretty neat thing.”