Brian Gladstone &
Tony Quarrington,
Alive & Picking
(self-produced, 2003)

Alive & Picking opens at a run, with Brian Gladstone and Tony Quarrington detailing the desperado life of an "Asphalt Cowboy." Fast picking and playful cameos by a cheerful female vocalist detail the exploits of a would-be wild man trying to break into the country music business. It's funny, earnest, very well played and an excellent introduction to this sadly brief concert album.

Gladstone's vocal range is far younger than his words, and always carries a certain wry amusement. He does especially well with lighter songs, like the opening "Asphalt Cowboy" and the defiantly exuberant "I Like Me." Despite the obvious enjoyment in these brighter moments, much of the album is spent in moments of introspection with thoughtful tormented women. Wonderful, lying "Jamie Lynn" and thoughtful, erratic "Caren42" bring out the hungry poet in Gladstone, giving him a chance to engage his darker whimsy. These quieter songs rely less on narrative and more on imagery and metal-bright flashes of emotion, and Gladstone's delivery -- often fading to a low whisper or cracking on emotional high points -- adds a needed emotional force to the soft touch of these songs.

Quarrington's presence is less obvious throughout the concert than Gladstone's wordplay and enthusiastic vocals. His guitar hums along throughout, providing a solid, skilled backdrop for most of the album. When his guitar work does come to the foreground, as in the delicate "Caren42" or the boisterous instrumental "Somebody Stole My Gal," Quarrington lets his guitar rip, and shows off what's behind his flawless, simple arrangements in earlier tracks. Simple doesn't mean stupid, and there's some impressive picking here, if you know how to listen. Gladstone and Quarrington play well together, bouncing from the echoing loneliness of "Jamie Lynn" to the near-ragtime enthusiasm of "Who Killed Betty Two Shoes?"

Gladstone comments after the cheery "I Like Me" that he had wanted to include it in a workshop, but couldn't think of anything to explain about the piece. The same thing could be said about most of the album. Alive & Picking is self-explanatory fun, with simple, pleasant guitar work and earnest good cheer emanating from every note. It doesn't sound like much to discuss, but it sure sounds good in the performance.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 3 July 2004