Gideon King and City Blog – Upscale Madhouse (2018)

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Gideon King’s Upscale Madhouse speaks of his deep-rooted love of New York City, where he was born. His music has been described by the Huffington Post as “some of the most complex and satisfying music you may ever hear, layered with impressive solos and variegated chord progressions.” Working across musical genres, King fuses jazz, pop and street music seamlessly and has produced a strong album full of textures and colors.

Three years ago, Gideon King made a commitment to create the best studio band in the world – a huge self-test of musical mettle but he took his own challenge head on. His project Gideon King and City Blog has achieved success, largely due to the accessibility and relentless progression in the compositions flowing from King and his cohorts. Their last album City Blog achieved wide acclaim.

Of the new music, Gideon King says: “New York is a dirty place even though the streets have been slightly cleaned up since I was a kid – everybody tripping on their own motivations and instincts. The CD was loosely inspired by a few New York tales. The tune ‘Fake It On Facebook,’ for example, is kinda based on this woman who hitched up with a wealthy guy who was 5,243 years her senior. The whole thing was sort of funny but desperate on a multitude of levels. People photoshop their lives on Facebook with great deliberation, but they are still animals in their natural habitat. It is what it is.”

On the creative process of the music, Gideon says: “It was fun to riff on these stories a bit. No heavy social commentary or judgement or anything. I leave that to the deep thinkers. Just a labor-intensive process to surface these tunes and deepen the mystery. Great musicians are woven into this thing all over the place.”

Gideon King’s Upscale Madhouse opens with “Straight to Hell” which fuses disco pop with a narrative about city streets, life and the fast-paced, relentless beat of New York. It begins with a steady walking beat, which is pretty soon integrated into melodies. Gideon and the band then weave around the descriptive lyrics, and somehow they integrate the movement of the city along with that of a relationship. Clever. “Upscale Madhouse” is a contrast to the opening track – very soft, gentle and folky at the outset, whilst the lyrics tell of interactions between people. It’s largely negative, but interspersed with snippets of hope amongst the melancholia. The guitar solo uplifts the mood somewhat and, indeed, the soul dares to soar half way through the song before the lyrics drag its spirit earthwards again. Whilst the lyrics might be enough to depress even the most ardent fan of hopefulness, the vocal lines on this track are excellent.

“Broken and Beautiful” is redemption on a musical palate, handed to the listener who just may by this time be on the verge of slipping away. The song tells of a place where you can go, broken and as you are and gain succor and support, and there is a fabulous piano solo, deftly linked to a guitar solo and which delves into a lovely soaring sax part to help you climb out of the blackness. Plus, listening to this, you realize there is always, always good music.

“Fake It On Facebook” is funky, disco and jazz infused creating a wonderful, grooving rhythmic introduction from the band for almost a full minute before the vocals enter – sounding remarkably like a cross between Stevie Wonder and Swamp Dog (Jerry Williams Jr.) on “You Ain’t Never Too Old to Boogie” but with enough original intonation to have their own character. A well-structured song (and, in fact, the second single released from the album), it has solos from almost everyone and some cool vocals which link the various parts into the whole. “Love You, Love You, Love You” is soft, gentle and tells a story of a love affair. I admit to drifting off a bit in this one, as the musical structure became predictable, even though the lyrics were stronger and deserved stronger music than this.

“Gun to My Head” redeems this in no small measure and is possibly the strongest track on the album. A guitar solo starts the number, and this is Spanish / Russian-loric and Anglian in its influences, before the number directs itself to the funk and off we go on a rollicking ride with vocals again describing a relationship but now the influence is – well, no one. This is, you feel, Gideon King as himself, no influences, but just direct, in your face, full throttle King. Excellent track and the sky-rising guitar solo is both impressive and delivered perfectly. “For Our Own Sake’ is brilliant – a song of hope, love and inspiration. A very enjoyable and emotive song, dueted well and with just the right emphasis and drop and fall. Beautiful.

“So Evolved” is another balladic number, with lovely vocals and strong words which override the gentleness of the lyrics. Basically, it is about a woman in control of her man – or so she thinks. “If you ain’t an animal honey, I ain’t involved; be a man, or I’ll make plans without you!” Indeed. “God I’m So Alone” is about life, living in the city and being alone. There are lots of changes in this number, in rhythm, keys and temps, giving it life, movement and this paired with the great personalized lyrics make this engaging and rather lovely. The harmonica solo is lifting and adds yet another layer of texture to the music. This is a great track, taking in and covering so many aspects of city life. This listener absolutely loved it, simple as that.

“Look Ma, No Hands” closes Upscale Madhouse and is 55 seconds of spoken word, a bit of guitar, a scream and more guitar before it ceases in a heartbeat to silence. The meaning is surely clear to Gideon King and City Blog. In King’s music, you can hear so many influences – from funk, to reggae, disco to jazz – and the music evokes other artists like Kind Hearts and English, Swamp Dog, Stevie Wonder, Snarky Puppy and Steely Dan. But there is also a huge and growing amount of Gideon King, who uses those influences to create something original whilst at the same time embolic of those other artists – something which is clever, subtle and creative.

There is more abstract and development in the music since his last release, that is for sure. Gideon King’s songs are complex, emotive, yet delivered with an apparent simplicity which belies this. There is social commentary and the lyrics deliver this, yet there are some turns of phrase which are so tongue in cheek they make you think Gideon must have a street phrase book at his disposal and his mastery of the profane beggars belief.

With so many influences, Gideon King is always going to run the gauntlet of being compared to others – even on his last album, great as it was. With Upscale Madhouse, he is finally, definitively, coming into his own, with his own voice. On several tracks, there are strong glimpses of this originality developing even more strongly. We’re left with a thrilling sense of what is to come – and that is going to be great.

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