Red Mouth Toska CoverFeeling like Toska had made mince-meat of the music critic part of my brain, I sat on the album for several weeks. After I began listening to it again, I decided to forgo writing a review because I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, and wasn’t sure if I even liked it; but the album intrigued me and I kept coming back to it. To be honest, I’m still not completely sure what to make of the album; and by the time I finish writing this I will probably have changed my opinion several more times; but Red Mouth has created something that deserves to be evaluated and possibly embraced by more people.

Who is Red Mouth? I’m not sure that I have a fucking clue. I mean, I have the press release that came with the promo copy of his new album Toska; and, I’ve read the “About” page on his website – several times; on top of the fact that I’ve interacted with him briefly though messages on Facebook and email. The more I learn, the more I realize that “knowing” someone like Red Mouth transcends statements of facts. Red Mouth apparently requires a deeper epistemology than I usually commit to for other musicians. I even considered flying to Muscle Shoals, where Red Mouth lives, and hanging out with him; but I knew that my editors wouldn’t approve that expense request[1]. I have had some off the record conversations with several musicians who know him, but I left those conversations even more intrigued and really no more confident then before that I have a handle on who Red Mouth is.

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Red Mouth Live ToskaPiecing together all my sources, here’s what I do know (some dry facts, if you will) – Red Mouth is Eric Gebhardt, a musician who lives in famed Muscle Shoals (specifically, he lives in Florence, Alabama, but Muscle Shoals is right next door – hell, parts of the city I live in are farther apart than Florence and Muscle Shoals are.) He was born in Texas and has a Texas-sized commitment to the integrity of his musical vision. Red Mouth’s influences are varied, and although the influences are apparent in his music, there is no doubt that Red Mouth’s music is Red Mouth’s music – even if I don’t completely know what that means. He also has some incredibly talented friends as evidenced by the liner notes for Toska and the overall exceptional quality of the album’s musicianship (Ben Tanner, Harvey Thompson, and Donnie Fritts are three among many musicians who make guest appearances on Toska). According to my musician sources, Red Mouth puts on an intense and semi-crazed live show like almost no other musician. A claim that makes me all the more determined to make it to Muscle Shoals. But, all that information aside, listening to Toska leaves me with the realization that Red Mouth is far more fascinating than any press releases, web page, or second-hand opinions can adequately relate.

The first thing that jumps out from Toska is Red Mouth’s voice. Imagine if the love-child of Screaming Jay Hawkins and Tom Waits had drunk a jar of moonshine and then someone recorded his first experience with a microphone. The next thing is the level of commitment with which Red Mouth pours himself into his art. There isn’t a false moment on Toska; not a single moment that leaves the listener wondering if Red Mouth cares about his songs or his desire to communicate with an integrity to his artistic vision that is pretty much unparalleled. Here’s the thing – if the listener buys into Red Mouth, he or she does so with 100% assurance that this is one artist that will never let down his audience. What you buy is what you get. Red Mouth is Red Mouth.

“Black Old Bones” opens Toska with a howl from the Southern swamps that prop up many a movie with a mystery, dread, and colorfulness that Hollywood has never been able to harness – much less duplicate. Southern swamps were the playground of my youth, and out of all the songs on Toska, “Black Old Bones” resonates the most with me. The wonderment and trepidation accompanied by a sense of familiar and comforting prickliness with which my friends and I would tromp through the swamps off of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico is brewed deeply into the album’s opening track.

 

Red Mouth Singing ToskaOn “Long Gone Train of Mine,” Red Mouth reinvents good ol’ fashioned Country and Western, and gently beats the shit out of anyone who believes that country music doesn’t have street cred. He quickly follows that up with “A Gentler Hand,” which could be mistaken for a Kris Kristofferson song if Kristofferson had more hair on his chest. “A Gentler Hand” is a spoken word song that adroitly distills fragility into the moonshine and gator tears soaked sound that dominates much of Toska. My favorite track on the album is the cover of the Iggy Pop song “Johanna.” Red Mouth liberally applies his Southern swamp rootness to the track, mixes in some cool saxophone, and recasts a pre-punk classic into a Red Mouth gumbo.

I have very little doubt that if Red Mouth had been playing music on the sidewalks of Gilman Street during the late 80s, Cali punk would sound completely different today. In fact, Red Mouth may very well have invented a new genre – Hippy-Cajun-Punk. But, time for my down and dirty overall opinion of Toska that I boil down into a succinct closing paragraph. Except, and this is somewhat embarrassing, I don’t have final opinion. To be fair, however, I do have an explanation. During the course of reviewing an album, one of three things always happens[2] – 1. I dislike the album, and the more I listen to the album, the more I hate my editor. 2. I like an album, but tire of the album as I listen to it over and over again. 3. I like the album, but do not tire of listening to it as I write the review. Red Mouth disdains those three options. The more I listen to Toska the more interesting the album becomes and the more it threatens to break into my regular play list. So, for my final opinion – buy the album and meet one of the most interesting artists working today – if you do, you’ll either consider me a genius or a complete idiot; either way, you’ll have a strong opinion.

Rating: ?/5 (look, let’s make a deal – buy the album and you rate it. After enough of you do that, we’ll average the ratings out.)

[1] If I still lived in the Upstate of South Carolina, I would have just driven to Muscle Shoals. I may still do so, assuming that he’ll want to hang out with me after this review, that is.

[2] If the reader will afford me a bit of over-simplification. If you don’t, this article will need to be quite a bit longer.

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