Record Review: Skylar Gudasz Owns Her Influences with the Brilliant Oleander | Record Review | Indy Week
Pin It

Record Review: Skylar Gudasz Owns Her Influences with the Brilliant Oleander 


Oleander, the overdue debut LP from the sharp Durham songwriter and stunning singer Skylar Gudasz, is chockablock with talented guests. Members of the North Carolina Symphony sit alongside a who's who of local session players and vocalists—pop crooners Brett Harris and Django Haskins, band-leading veterans Brad Cook and Leah Gibson, experienced sidemen Jeff Crawford and James Wallace.

Chicago free jazz giant Ken Vandermark breaths between and beneath lines with his horn, and college-rock demigod Norman Blake, of Teenage Fanclub fame, murmurs gently behind Gudasz during "Friday Night Blues." Chris Stamey, a North Carolina musical institution with few equals in influence, is the wonder behind the curtain here, the producer who's been helping Gudasz orchestrate these dozen songs for years.

But when these largely perfect forty-seven minutes click to an end following the exquisite drift of "Car Song," only one inviolable star remains—as it should be, Skylar Gudasz. These songs deftly explore adoration and abandonment, lust and loneliness, friendship and fallibility. Gudasz loads them with punchy quips ("Don't ask me if I believe in God/I believe in Gibson guitars) and ponderous gems ("I'm not saying I want to be there with you always/'cause honey you know there ain't no such thing.") And she sings all of these lines with a practiced vocal perspicacity, hitting every word so as to make it the most effective. Nothing seems arbitrary.

Gudasz's antecedents are no mystery. She summons Joni Mitchell throughout Oleander, particularly in the twisted acoustic romp of the ebullient "Just Friends" and the Blue-like piano fantasy of "About Great Men." You can trace the lessons of Laurel Canyon and Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Jayhawks and perhaps even The Shins. "I'm So Happy I Could Die" and "I'll Be Your Man" are entirely bittersweet, brilliant reminders that Aimee Mann hasn't made an essential record (or one this good, really) during this millennium.

Just as she eclipses her guests, though, Gudasz largely resists the temptation of idolatry, teasing her tastes just enough that these songs don't mimic past masters. Yes, "Just Friends" wades through the legend of Joni. But in its final minute, when the horns and Gudasz tangle in a subtle little climax, you hear an audacity, perhaps even an aggression, that Mitchell often cloaked. And Gudasz is as good smirking over snarling electric guitars, as on "I'm So Happy I Could Die," as she is confessing quietly over the radiant, weepy piano of "Aviary." With Oleander, you get the sense—the energizing, intoxicating sense—that Gudasz is deploying all of these predecessors and these styles and wielding them for her own purposes, not being used by them or merely checking off boxes on some folk-rock-reference Wiki.

The most unfortunate thing about Oleander, really, might be that it's finally finished and available after being in the works for so long. Gudasz's songs seem to be personal testimonials, little life reflections that she then fretted over, fussed with, and, at last, committed to tape. They take time not just to write and record but, first, to live. That's why they feel so deep, so unapologetic. Still, here's already hoping for the next openhearted, wonderfully wrought batch.

  • A Durham songwriter stuns on her debut


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Record Review

Twitter Activity

Most Recent Comments

Love it! All the songs are beautiful!

by Jon Champion on Record Review: The Return of The Veldt, The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur: The Drake Equation, Is Great (Record Review)

This release will be available Friday December 4th here:

Thanks! …

by Scott Phillips on Review: The electronic excellence of GNØER's Tethers Down (Record Review)

You should have let Currin write this. One of the best singers on earth and these were your observations? sounds …

by Remo on Record review: Jeanne Jolly's A Place to Run (Record Review)


Most Read

© 2017 Indy Week • 201 W. Main St., Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation