Rancho Alegre Album Review: Chris Gebhard - Moonlanding

Baldo steps out of our traditional Conjunto zone for this review of a truly fantastic album by Austin-based artist Chris Gebhard. Enjoy!

What is the mark of a good attorney? Asking the right questions, bringing up the right possible scenarios, and pointing out the right probabilities, 

Well, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Chris Gebhard asks all the right questions with all the twists and turns that an artist should ask, while baring his soul, putting pen to paper, putting instrumentation and vocal to audio, and with all these ingredients, seeing what the end result is. 

In albums I have reviewed in the past, with a glass of booze, closing my eyes, listening as I sit back, and seeing where this journey takes me, I must say, this journey was very satisfying. I heard it over and over for weeks, as I wanted to get this right.

I will never say that I know what the artist is trying to say since I believe a song is like a painting - fluid. It will mean one thing to one person, and something totally different to another, which is the brilliance and beauty of any kind of art. 

Knowing what I know about Gebhard, I knew I was in for a ride. He’s a musical savant with an impressive resume and a staggering knowledge of all genres and styles. I mean, the dude has a BFA in jazz guitar studies from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and has spent over 20 years as a side man with the likes of Ian Moore, Fastball, Patrice Pike, and many more. 

I have seen the damage that comparing one artist to another can bring - David Coverdale being compared to Robert Plant is a prime example - but I have to be honest, Gebhard's recording took me to memories of artists passed. Tom Petty's 3 chord wonder on some tracks, with George Harrisons sharp & mild guitar, with instrumentation that clicks and a vocal that ties the whole damn thing together. 

Take one part Heartbreakers, and one part Mudcrutch (look ‘em up to get the joke), sprinkle some Beatle member magic on it, a dash of Elvis Costello and maybe a little Matthew Sweet, and add a fresh voice with fresh lyrics and VOILA! 

Moonlanding is the first album that captured my attention with the artist playing all the instruments since Phil Collins’ Both Sides, released in 1993. I know there have been more recorded, but like Both Sides, this was different. It made me look at it and stay focused. Moonlanding has a LOT of different sounds and styles packed into 15 tracks, showcasing Gebhard’s mastery of all manner of instruments and vocal styles in a spectacular way. A question I always wanna ask these creators who do all the work themselves is, is it easier to do it yourself instead of a band? 

On top of all of that - there are no covers on this album. Gebhard wrote and composed every track in addition to playing all of the instruments and doing all the vocal work.

When I meet up with music friends, the question is always this, “where did rock go?” To which I say it is alive and well with Artists-with-a-capital-A like Chris Gebhard and many other indy artists. The issue today is that people don’t get their music in the same place anymore - we have so many options for listening to music and the days of a few FM radio stations that everyone listened to are long gone. The upside is that when you find a band, artist, or songwriter that you like on the indy scene, you feel like a kid at a thrift store or garage sale and you found the very sought-after 45 of Elvis' "Hounddog." You feel like you are the first to find a diamond in the rough, which brings the question…do I keep this to myself? Or do I tell others about it? In today’s market and industry, the answer is simple if you love music - you must tell others for that artist to get the attention they deserve.

Which is why I say today, that I will and always spread the gospel of Chris Gebhard and his latest project Moonlanding, and I wait in anticipation of what is next.

Here’s a look at the individual tracks:

I Don't Hear a Single: At a brief one minute and 41 seconds, “I Don’t Hear a Single” is a perfect introductory track for this collection of power pop-flavored tracks. What we hear is frustration about the music industry, without the rage and anger that springs out of statement songs. Instead, a direct message in a calm melody, delivering a simple statement of, "it does not have to be this way," the message is heard louder and clearer.  

Wound Up Here: A song that asks the question every adult asks himself in one way or another, as they take inventory of what is a lived life, and does a good job in the process.

Little Stars:  A well-composed melody of what we do in life all day, communicate, but not always in a vocal way. Its jazzy chord progressions and mellow lead guitar are reminiscent of early Steely Dan.

First of The Last: A rhythmic, spacey voyage perfectly complemented with subtle strings. 

Bells and Whistles:  A song that brilliantly says "take me as I am or leave me, cause I am how I am."

Unbreak: A song that will forever remind me of the saying "As far as relationships, what we look for is a person whose broken pieces fill your broken pieces and you both walk as one beautiful mosaic."

Crossing The Ocean:  A question that has been asked since the beginning of time, "Why?” No right or wrong answers, just why.

Isolation: What is the biggest mistake we as humans make? We send ourselves to solitary confinement, in the dungeon of our own mind, in a cell where the bars are made of shadows, and the prison guards are corrupt abusers, that when you look closely, the guard is you.

With a Gun:  This song is basically a statement on how one can be in a relationship, and have people around them and all seems fine, but one can still feel alone.

Pretty Please:  A nice melody with a semi-country feel. I felt the memory come to life, of when a person asks another for something, attention, a date, consideration. Because they do not understand, you need them until it hurts - until it turns to doubt and a bit of anger.

The Butcher of '46: The situation we have all seen, a subject we all know about but no one talks about, takes me back to the small-town way of living. 

The Last Ones: The search, the quest, and living into the great unknown.

Coldest Seat at The Bar:  A story that just takes me to a situation I have been in: Sitting at a bar, drinking, not wanting conversation. Just wanting to be alone, with a lover waiting at home, with a family that loves you wishing you'd come by, friends wanting to hang out, but you think with all these options, you are there alone at the bar with a frigid state of mind.

Collapse:  I can't help but think of the unknown, of where do I go now, what can I or what am I allowed to do as we head to the middle of the road toward the abyss.

Early Morning Light: Spoke to me and told me the saying “stop and smell the roses,” does not have to be roses. It essentially says, “as you battle this beast called life, stop and see his/her eyes. It brings you back to earth and makes you realize what is important because we all tend to forget in life's shuffle.

These are, of course, my opinions. I invite you to listen for yourself. Your mind will be better for it. 

Moonlanding is available on all digital platforms and keep up with Chris Gebhard by visiting his website and following him on social media.


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