The Big Bend throws their new 'Dog' into rock ring
Pittsburgh's best rock record of the year is Chet Vincent & The Big Bend's “Unconventional Dog.”
Since 2014 is only a few days old, this isn't much of an honor. But the record, which will be released Jan. 10 on Wild Kindness Records with a party at Belvedere's, feels sturdy, crafted, made of something solid. Most likely, it will be one of the best at the end of the year, too.
This was sort of a surprise, since The Big Bend wasn't really a “rock band” for much of the band's existence. Prior recordings fit more comfortably into the folk, country and Americana niches. The new album, however, puts increased volume, heavy blues chords and occasional explosive electric guitar solos up front.
“I've been playing country stuff here, and with Molly Alphabet,” says songwriter-guitarist Chet Vincent. “I think this (rock) is more accurate, or honest to the way we play live.”
The first cut, “Doubter's Blues,” ended up at “rock,” but definitely took the scenic route to get there.
“I was playing guitar for a church band on the North Side,” Vincent says. “Before we had practice, the choir was doing a lot of hymns. I kind of got into hymn structures and the ways they sound. I thought it would be cool to try to write something like that, and it kind of ended up in this driving, heavy blues format. It's this kind of weird combination of hymn and heavy blues.”
Themes of working-class struggle, defiance and desperation pop up throughout the album. Springsteen and Neil Young loom large, in spirit more than sound.
“The Late Shift Blues” makes it fairly explicit, evoking the existential dread of low-paid work in the wee hours.
“It's not a literally true song,” Vincent says. “It's fiction. But the truth in it captures a lot of frustration I was dealing with, with the world around me, the things I was seeing happen economically. A lot of it was about my music career. Even though it talks about work a lot, it's also about the grind of open mics and going to shows and not knowing if it will result in anything.”
Of course, direct experience isn't required in songwriting. The most jarring, hard-to-forget song on the album, “Coyote! Coyote!” is sung from the perspective of a corpse of “a bad man,” asking the scavenging creature to “pick through my bones.”
“Unconventional Dog” has found a home on Wild Kindness Records, a Pittsburgh-based indie label that has suddenly become home to a startling percentage of the best bands/performers in Pittsburgh (and from as far afield as Seattle, Chicago and Bristol, UK). Owner Jeff Betten recently bought the label and moved it here from Youngstown.
“It's different from record labels in the past,” says The Big Bend's drummer Abe Anderson. “It's more of a community at this point. Jeff is a really proactive business mind. That's a huge help for us. A lot of stuff he's done for us, we could do on our own. But it's hard to write, practice, set up shows, think about other shows you could be doing, contact newspapers and radio stations in this town and other towns, and also have day jobs.
“It's nice to feel like we're working on something together, rather than all these bands alone in the wilderness flailing around.”
Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7901.