BEARS, PSYCHODOTS, RAISINS GUITARIST AND ADVERTISING COMPOSER ROB FETTERS RETURNS TO THE SOLO ROAD WITH “SAINT AIN’T”. TAKE A TWISTED TRIP WITH FETTERS AND FRIENDS.

The cover of Rob Fetters latest offering. Don't bother looking for it at your local mall record store, this is way above their radar.

The cover of Rob Fetters latest offering. Don’t bother looking for it at your local mall record store, this is way above their radar. Photo courtesy Baby Ranch

It must be an amazing personal feat to be able to call upon some of your home-base contemporaries to make guest appearances all over your new solo CD.  It is most likely an even easier feat to accomplish when you have a client list from your commercial jingle-writing career that reads like a veritable Who’s Who of Fortune 500 companies.

Rob Fetters is one of the pre-eminent guitar slingers who hales from the Mid-West.  So when someone with not one but TWO main websites (robfetters.com for his commercial jingle writing career, and robfetters.net for the musical artist career), a musician history including playing with Adrian Belew in a band called the Bears (SUCH an underrated band, they need more exposure because you folks are truly missing out) as well as playing in a band called the Psychodots with Bears members Bob Nyswonger (bass) and Chris Arduser (drums).  There are more bands on Fetters resume that could easily come and go in front of someone’s line of sight, more impressive perhaps is the list of advertising clients Fetters has delivered product to.  Heavy hitters from varied industries such as ABC, Disney, Nickelodeon, PBS, FOX Sports, Olay, Walmart, Luvs, Scripps, MicroSoft, Chiquita, Ohio Lottery, Adventure Aquarium, Penn Station, Dayton Daily News, Frische’s, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, LaRosa’s, Sea World, P&G, Mercy Health Crest, Fit, Milestone, Tri-Health Hospitals, StarKist, TXU Energy, West Virginia Lottery, Airheads, Newport Aquarium, Intel, First Data, US Bank, Hasbro, Roto Rooter, Totes, Kentucky Lottery, Pitney Bowes, Long John Silvers, Cincinnati USA, The United Way, Contemporary Arts, Cincinnati Bell, Drees Homes, Kellogg’s, United Dairy Farmers…

Just to name a few.

Fetters came into my line of sight with the Bears, and to hear another accomplished guitar synthesist, trading bleeps and blurbs with Belew’s own strange style of guitar was universally refreshing.  Two lead guitarists that can stand back and let the other strut their stuff without acrimony shows a level of respect and camaraderie rarely found in this day and age of ‘I have to be louder than everyone else in the band so MY licks will shine through’ mentality.  There are sound engineers for that…  The list of bands that fired me because I refused to overpower with my amp (Roland JC120’s are solid state and very efficient at low AND high volumes, I could have easily been a volume hog and the audiences would have heard ONLY me were I the egomaniacal stereotypical guitar monger that was prevalent back then) is about as long as Fetters client list.  When I first saw the Bears, both Belew AND Fetters used 120’s.  Eat it, Marshall…

The voice that launched a thousand quips.  What is that lurking in the background?  Nothing less than a JC-120.  Photo courtesy Coming Age archive

The voice that launched a thousand quips. What is that lurking in the background? Nothing less than a JC-120. Photo courtesy Coming Age archive

Can I say Fetters is an influence on me?  Of course!  I always nick styles and features of guitarists I find intriguing, innovative and skilled.

Saint Ain’t is Fetters third solo effort.  This is not to say that Fetters isn’t prolific outside the advertising realm.  The Bears recorded four albums, The Bears, Rise and Shine, Car Caught Fire and Eureeka.  The initial band featuring Fetters, The Raisins, have only two titles released (that I could find), The Raisins and an odd, four-CD set called Everything and More, which features live performances as well as 45 single releases forming an interesting mish-mash of Raisins favorites, as well as foreshadowing future Psychodots hits that would later appear on ‘Dots CDs such as Psychodots, On The Grid, Awkwardsville, their own interesting mish-mash CD set called Official Bootleg, Live at Ripley’s, and their most recent release Terminal Blvd.  With regard to Fetter’s solo titles, he debuted with Lefty Loose, Righty Tight, and followed up with Musician.  Admittedly, those two titles are going to be tough to live up to.

Let’s see how Fetters fares with age and industry dust glutting up his lungs…

An older, grayer, and most definitely wiser Rob Fetters.  Photo courtesy Baby Ranch

An older, grayer, and most definitely wiser Rob Fetters. Photo courtesy Baby Ranch

We start off with “Suffer”, which is is my new life mantra.  Straight out of the book, 4/4 rock and roll cracks open the disc.  Mastered out the wazoo, the rock and roll is LOUD (shouldn’t it be?).

The first verse half repeats the mantra ‘If you live, you’re gonna suffer’ for four lines.  It is true enough that it bears repeating.  The second half stanza equates the senses to suffering.

Bears, Graveblankets and Psychodots member Chris Arduser powers the drums, driving the song into a 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, 3-4 chord pattern bridge that advises us to learn to deal with pain and sorrow, part of life.

Verse two brings in a Farfisa Organ sound, most likely a digital model or sample as because this one sounds clean and steady.  Unlike the real Farfisa organs which were untamed in tone, pitch and volume.  Backing vocals punctuate the lines ‘you’re gonna suffer’.  But this verse is half the length of the first, so maybe this is verse three.  You can never accurately analyze arrangements.  One artist’s bridge is another artist’s chorus.

Having noticed a recognizable name in the liner notes, that of Ric Probst, I called upon my go-to guru of all things technical, Gary Tanin.  I brought up the issue of the Farfisa to Tanin and he consulted with Probst and returned my inquiry to the positive, yes, the Farfisa was in fact a plug-in.  (For those not in the know, and yes, this is one of those technical diatribes, a plug-in is a computer program that, via MIDI, Musical Instrument Digital Interface, will emulate the Farfisa, or a Mellotron as I discussed with Tanin regarding the forthcoming Sam Llanas CD, or what ever instrument is available via that plug-in program.)

At this point in the song, I come to find that those blistering harmonica solos on Bears albums of the past are delivered by Fetters (wasn’t sure if it was Belew or Fetters who recorded them, and I’ve only ever seen Belew play recorder live with them) as Fetters lets one rip for the solo section.  Some fine blues harp there!

Belew maniacally thrilled after completing the recorder solo on the Bear's "You Can Buy Friends".  Photo courtesy of Coming Age archives.

Belew maniacally thrilled after completing the recorder solo on the Bear’s “You Can Buy Friends”. Photo courtesy of Coming Age archives

Meanwhile, and all throughout the track, the rhythm section continually throws in accents, fills and deviations into the track to remind you they are still there, kicking ass and not worrying about names.

On the last note of the harmonica solo, the dynamic just drops off to make way for Fetters to reiterate all about what will make us suffer.

At the end of this, verse one repeats, two whole note hits are tossed in to further break any monotony (and trip up people on the dance floor, hee hee, I love when that happens) that the simpletons may infer exists within the track and we revisit the verse with a high-harmony added to the lead vocal.  They repeat the last line of the verse three times then stop for some sequencer/keyboard lines, until Arduser decides he’s not done with a cymbal crash, then resumes the beat to accompany the keys during the fade.  But this is a calling card of Arduser’s, who once ended a Bear’s album (Car Caught Fire) with a fill-fulled drum outro.

Truly, Arduser is another over-looked, underrated genius of a musician.  Check out his playing (and Fetters’) on this video for “Suffer”.

Next up, in the Motown single slot, Fetters offers “Nero”.  This song perplexed me from a production point of view as I was stumped as to the origin of the string sounds on this track.  You see, “Nero” is a slower, pensive ballad that keeps reminding us that lies can last forever.  Instrumentally, acoustic guitar and strings are the order of the day.  This is where I had the most confusion.  I am hearing what sound like very organic strings.  Yet Fetters credits no orchestral players.  If these are samples, they are tremendous in their sonic realism as you hear the bow scrape the strings on the cello specifically.

The line about a lie lasting forever keeps getting embellished so sweetly, doubling the vocals and adding more strings, it makes you want to buy into the premise lock, stock and barrel, a lie can last forever.

Verse two has more strings and they pep up the arrangement as does the second bridge repeat.  A chorus break comes in and sort of deconstructs the arrangement for a total change up.  With lyrics that, to me, give a nod to his life in advertising (and not the track from his first CD Lefty Loosey, Righty Tighty).

The solo section consists of a tremoloed (slightly) guitar and tuned wood blocks adding the classic ‘clippity clop’ of many an old Western soundtrack.  An odd but interesting choice for a break in this song.  Fetters vocal ad-libs over the part until a variation in the bridge comes in, repeating all but the last word of the bridge twice before executing the entire line.  By this time, voice and strings run free range over the part.

A last verse about dreaming his father’s dreams and waking up in 2014 America.  Then we jump back to the hook bridge line, which is followed by another chorus break, which serves as a string solo that mimics the lyric melody.

It all ends with a line recalled from verse one in a winding down tempo.  The instruments stop sharply after the last word, save for the decay of the guitar chord.

“Desire” is a moderately paced pop song about the misleading deeds of the emotion.  It starts out with guitar, bass and drum machine.  But when the verse comes in, it is just bass and drum machine.  At the end of the first two lines of the verse, the guitar comes in for the last two.  Also in time for the chorus (which repeats the title for the first half).

For the second part of the verse structure, Fetters adds a very inventive part for a stripped-down song like this.  You know, that for which he is virtually unknown…  Yet Steve Vai can play advanced scales really, really fast and everyone looks at him like he’s a god.  Yawn…

You don't have to be Steve Vai to love what you do, especially when you do it with taste and style... Like Rob Fetters.  Photo by Lynn Vala

You don’t have to be Steve Vai to love what you do, especially when you do it with taste and style… Like Rob Fetters. Photo by Lynn Vala

The chorus repeats the word ‘desire’ then adds a couple of insult to injury lines about the term.

The next verse pares the action down slightly, but keeps the energy of the track going.  Suggesting we question all things known to mankind and that the greatest sin is our general lack of fulfillment.  A more sprightly chorus comes up, after which we are treated to the dead pan offering by Ms. Bee Haskins of a break that resolves to a verse-style ending.

Then, from out of nowhere, Jeff Lynne and Richard Tandy of ELO take control of Fetters’ consciousness and feeds the vocal of ‘desire’ through a vocoder.  Mr. Blue Desire!

We drop back to the rhythm section alone until those last two words of the first two lines (again).  When the guitar does come in, it sounds louder and more up-front this time.

But the guitar doesn’t drown out the lyrics which pretty much sum up the fact that our elders, leaders, teachers, and parents are all fucked up on the goofy grass.  Not far off of the truth, the marijuana legalization movement has even taken root in the White House…

We run three more choruses then back to a verse structure for the word ‘liar’ to be digitally repeated until the verse structure comes to a sudden halt.

The program ended.

Next up, is “Famous Last Words” featuring a lead vocal by Ms. Haskins.  A very nice, pirouetting guitar and keyboard intro into a solo, nylon string fingerpick part.  Fetters is one of your more accomplished finger-pickers of our new age era.  Not comparing him to the likes of Segovia, or anyone of that ilk, but rather saying he is the one to measure up to for today’s younger players.  Wish I heard him when I was younger, maybe I would be a better finger-pick player than I am.  I glommed onto Fripp and Belew and the pectoral school of thought.  Although many would say they are the same thing.  What do you think about that, Jonathon Bighead?

NO!

Now I could drone on with my sterile analysis of the song, and how lovely Bee Haskins vocals are, (if you refer to Rob Fetters website, he claims Ms. Haskins was ruled out of a choir at some point, because her choir conductor did not like her voice, I can see why, it is not one of those angelic sorts, but I would bankroll her fronting a punk, hardcore, of even a metal act) and even how rock steady Noah Fetters’ drumming is, which is hammer down tight. But screw that, check out the video!

I personally like the piano and bass inter-dialog (I am disgustingly envious of his Fender Precision antigua-finish bass pictured in the liner notes, both the look and sound) and the sideways pick note solo (where you hold the pick perpendicular to the strings and strike at the frets to sound the notes).

There I go waxing technical again…

“Forever Never” rouses us with a punchy rhythm section (saying his rhythm sections are punchy is getting redundant, take it for granted) and a brief guitar melody.  The chorus talks of clouded consciousness, then quickly a bridge comes in with bright, snappy synths, questioning of deities, and personal history.  We rejoin back to the opening line  before a very Belew-like solo is laid down.  Then the solo is matched and eventually doubled.

The next group of lyrics now include all of us in the pondering.  A whistle pop synth punctuates philosophizing.  Some guitar joins the hooting synth merriment until the arrives-too-quickly ending.  This was a tricky tune to analyze.  I had a tough time discerning what the chorus was, what the verse was, so for this track, I didn’t even attempt to decipher the arrangement.  I’ve said this before, I won’t venture into territory that I am unsure of.  I am uncomfortable interpreting lyrical meanings, I think it tedious for me to pull apart the songs into ‘this is an A minor, to a C#7’ and so on, and get into really tricky territory figuring out arrangements.  Again, one man’s chorus is another man’s bridge…  You have a mind, use it.  Buy the disc and figure it out (more Bears lingo)!

One of the shortest but most poignant songs of the disc, clocking in at barely two minutes, “What You Do” contains a lyrical gist that amounts to one of life’s great truths: ‘What you do, happens to you’ or in a phrase you may be more familiar with, what goes around comes around or even more esoteric, the basis of Karma.

Think about it.

Be a prick, get treated like a prick.  Screw people over, people screw you over.

Philosophy aside, this is another one of those arrangement fluid tunes Fetters seems to be directing his musical style towards.  Perhaps the result of too much jingle work.  If I were to take a gamble on analyzing the arrangement on this one, it would be chorus-verse-chorus-verse-chorus solo-change-verse-chorus-end.

What do I know?

Let’s look at two specific parts of this track.  First the chorus solo, it switches back and forth between guitar solo and keyboard solo.  Now to be honest, for a two minute song, don’t expect the epic duals that Rundgren and Roger Powell used to pull off in Utopia, but I did really dig when Fetters would interject lyrics in-between the solo spots!  A clever touch indeed!

The next part to look at is the change, where the phrase ‘The alpha and the omega’ are vocoded (another ELO Deja Vu!), yet integral to the lyric.  It is these sort of touches that make these songs so special.  That and some of the sampling/synthesis programming work Fetters puts into them.  On “What You Do” the drum track is nothing more than a tuned wood block for the ‘snare’ beat and a bass drum note with a vocal ‘doot’ sample on top to make it unique.

Yo, thickheads, it’s called innovation.

The next title is even more reason to love this album: “God Is War”!  It starts off with a jaunty piano melody and falls into a solid pop rock feel.  But let’s just say this ain’t gonna cross over into christian rock mainstream any time soon.  You know, like this wanna be:

For me, this song is a breath of fresh air from Fetters.  You see, if I have to have one complaint about Fetter’s music, (they label me a critic, not a reviewer or more accurately what I hope to be in these posts, an analyst), it would have to be his recurring theme of god, religion, faith, etc.  I can cite “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” as one shining example of this from Psychodots and later the Lefty Loosey CD.  The song is heavily religiously influenced as are several other of his songs.

With the recent scientific discovery and confirmation of the Big Bang Theory (no, not the TV show, excellent as it may be) and the efforts of the Large Halidron Collider (CERN) in Switzerland, my long time assertion that I am a Secular Humanist seems to be gaining validity.

Ever the sneaky showman, I can’t tell if the section where Fetters sings ‘To tell you the truth, I just don’t care anymore, I jumped in thinking god is love, I came out knowing god is war’ is a bridge or chorus.  I’ll say chorus.

But I will agree, the song is extremely topical with the global conflicts in the Middle East, Asia, the Ukraine, and even here at home.  Man, I am so fucking sick of ‘my god is better than your god and I have the munitions to prove it’ going on in the world.

The rhythm track pounds away all through this song.  Matt Malley (bass) and Arduser keep it thumping.  Fetters colors the song with a steady rhythm guitar and a pulsing something during the choruses.

The solo is one of the best, the fringiest and occasionally the most perfectly dissonant I have heard in a while, and I am a connoisseur of dissonance!

The backing vocals on the chorus give these unbelievable (from Fetters) lyrics an amazing gloss.

The space noises on the last verse just shove it over the edge.  And the way it intersperses into the verse, awesome!

The displaced lyrics on the outro chorus and the instrument reduction to bass and drums until the last utterance of ‘god is war’…  Outstanding!

Acoustic sweetness begins “Beautiful Stories”.  For this story, Fetters is back on his knees praying, but feels his prayers are unanswered. This first verse is acoustic only.  For another forsaking thought-space in the chorus, the whole instrumentation is brought in.  Then more discussion of sins, those of omission are brought forth.  Still, the line about leaving someone and Fetter’s (protagonist) life turning around hits me.  Instead of waxing technologically, perhaps I should wax hypothetical?

Fetters loving his acoustic during the 2002 "Car Caught Fire" tour.  Photo by Lynn Vala

Fetters loving his acoustic during the 2002 “Car Caught Fire” tour. Photo by Lynn Vala

Could these lyrics mean that Fetter’s deity turned his back on Rob during his darkest hour (that hour being the year-long ‘no compete’ clause he had to agree to as part of his effort to get out of his ad agency contract, which, in essence, meant no steady checks for one full year)?  The liner notes thank friends at ad agencies, businesses, studios and TV networks… even Tilly the beagle!

But not god.

As the choruses go on, the number of occupants changes.  First ‘I’m’, then ‘we’re’.  The constant throughout is the trademark fingerpick part.  But unlike “Dave” (from the Bears Car Caught Fire) or “Idiot In The Sky” (from the Bears Eureka) the fingerpick part is back in the mix allowing the perfectly programmed drum part to shine through.  In the latter verse and chorus, I still hear lines of a disenchanted worshipper.  Wishful thinking, I guess…

The solo could be anything.  It is unlike anything I have heard before (and I have heard tons of fucked up shit).  It could be a plug in, it could be a guitar synth, it could be a plug in controlled by a guitar synth, it could be mental telepathy…

But it’s the last lyric line that gets me: ‘someday you’ll hear the song I’m playing’.  During my recent blog hiatus (I’m sorry, but if I don’t take a break and just enjoy the music, it can drive me nuts and remove the joy and thrill that music brings me) I read that Fetters got some over-the-moon raves about this album.  Some industry yutz told him (the first part I am using words to the effect) ‘Baby, I love the tunes, they’re the bees knees, but I can’t market/promote it because, your face, your look, it isn’t…’ (this part is verbatim, a direct quote) ‘pitch-fork pretty!’

What the fuck does that even mean?  Has anyone taken a look at Mick Jagger lately?  Or at his guitarist Keith ‘death warmed over’ Richards?  They move units and I think I’m ugly and the Dimming Twins make ME look GQ!

Horseshit!!!

Apparently, this is the view the record industry has of Rob Fetters.  Dumbasses!  Photo courtesy of Baby Ranch

Apparently, this is the view the record industry has of Rob Fetters. Dumbasses! Photo courtesy of Baby Ranch

Angelic backing vocals fill the last chorus, as well as full instrumentation on the last repeat verse (repeating verse one) with a doubled line and that killer last vocal line.  Then the ending featuring more of the mystery solo instrument.

Our next track starts with some ‘tape’ effects and guest vocalist Belinda Lipscomb exuding exclamations (to be revealed later) starting this track called “Play Your Guitar”. All about the exploits of six (or twelve, or seven, etc.) stringed insanity.  Was this concept nicked from the Tubes “Strung Out On Strings” (with lyrics like ‘buy yourself a marimba, don’t let me catch you pickin’ strings’) from their Now album?  The first verse rattles along with only an acoustic guitar as accompaniment.  Until a double repeat of the key lyric…

Then the instrumentation kicks in for the chorus with Lipscomb accompanying right into verse two. Oh, and playing the four string (assumption) guitar (bass)?  None other than Bears alumni Big Bad Bob Nyswonger!

Perhaps some of the phallic references to fret work, playing posture, guitar gesturing are a touch on the nose, but that cliché has been played to death already, so why not?

Fetters holds the lyric melody while Lipscomb elevates her vocal key up line by line.  NICE!

He sings the bridge link first by himself, then on the repeat he and Lipscomb ad-lib into a solo that could have germinated right from either of the first two Bears albums.  Then an octave augment solo joins in as Lipscomb exclaims ‘play something real’.  A chorus repeats with alternate lyrics, then the bridge is doubled with an ad-libbed last vocal line.  But to bring in something new to the arrangement, some lines about pushing people’s buttons with your instrument.

Up yers, Skrillex!

We then slide right into “Life & Death Boogie” which is blues infused, boogie woogie would ya and features vocal and lyrical contributions by Clyde Brown.  This is blues playing 101, guitars o’ plenty and blues lyrics 204.  Harp solos, featuring Brown’s exclamations and odes to Detroit, black leather-clad temptresses and nasty sex all over the song, all over the song, all over the song…

Hey hey!

Don’t let me dissuade you from the song, I am not a blues expert.  Check out the video!

But one thing does puzzle me, didn’t anyone tell Fetters and Brown that Detroit is in the throes of a major economic depression?  Doesn’t anyone watch Hardcore Pawn?

Upon a cursory reading of the lyrics for “Walking Out”, I think I get it now.  The title, the lyrics, in this and previous songs, about forsaking and being forsaken (forsook?) etc., Saint Ain’t.  The concept.  We’re only as good as we can be, given the earthly circumstances we are dealt.

OK, no more hiatuses for me, they make me too philosophical.  Strictly Higgs-Boson from here on out.

An alternating picked acoustic guitar starts off and is joined by another as well as a piano.  A bass (again, Nyswonger, his playing is distinct enough to warrant attention) joins as the bridge leads in, the drums are brought in.  This causes the dynamic to build and build.  The solo bursts forth and backing vocals are supplied by Lipscomb, Krystal Peterson and Gerald Brown.

The line ‘…free everyone else’ is repeated to build until the vocals and a lone acoustic guitar, piano and bass ease the disc to completion.

Not before smart ass Fetters waits a couple seconds to add piano plink notes.  Ever cheeky.

Fetters recently completed a Bandcamp promo where he was offering the music for whatever you were willing to pay, even if it were nothing.  Now I am no Ahmet Ertegun or anything, but I can say this:  I ponder the wisdom of offering the music for whatever the fans can offer.  While it is highly altruistic to do so in this economy, and it does put the music in people’s hands, it does nothing to keep the electricity on, food on the table and tuitions paid (those terms lifted directly from Fetters’ liner notes).  I recommend going to robfetters.net and pay a couple extra bucks and get a nifty personalized autographed copy of the disc which includes lyrics, production notes, thanks and technical info (you know I love those).  Just check out the personalized copy I got:

My own personalized copy of "Saint Ain't"!  You can get your own personalized copy, have Rob declare his love for you!  Photo courtesy of Baby Ranch

My own personalized copy of “Saint Ain’t”! You can get your own personalized copy, have Rob declare his love for you! Photo courtesy of Baby Ranch

But you can personalize your disc in any way you want, so make it special, make it yours, and remember, if you buy this in MP3 format, or download it onto your computer or MP3 player, and that device crashes, the money you’ve spent is gone with the rest of your data.  I will now, and for always endorse a hardcopy.  I know the hipster generation isn’t big on material items, but then again the hipster generation won’t dig Fetters stuff.  Too intelligent for them.  Now I DARE you hipsters to buy this and prove me wrong!

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