Shot of Hope
Here’s an unfamiliar name to most but you’d likely perk up when you learn that Gary Vogensen played with Mike Bloomfield, Barry Melton, Norton Buffalo, Maria Muldaur, Etta James, Commander Cody, John “Marmaduke” Dawson of the New Riders of the Purple Sage (for years), and more. Bay Area veteran and longtime sideman finally has his chance as a leader with Shot of Love. Known primarily for his guitar skills, Vogensen proves to be more than a capable vocalist, especially on some of the cover tunes, which he mixes with his own originals here on an album where he aims to encapsulate his fifty-year career in one carefully planned recording. As readers of these pages know, the fact that this is appearing on Little Village, is tantamount to a seal of approval. Little Village main man Jim Pugh plays keyboards on five of the 13 tracks.
As a long-time veteran of New Riders of the Purple Sage (thought his name was vaguely familiar, after all), Vogensen mostly straddles a turf between country rock and classic rock. He plays all the guitars, some dobro and mandolin, harmonica, and takes both the lead and backing vocals, the latter under the moniker “Marin Slim.” The album begins in the classic rock kind of vein with “Barbaric Splendor,” a song written by Joe New, who has written for artists ranging from Levon Helm to Nancy Sinatra. The title track and “Powerful Potion” are both originals, showcasing Vogensen’s robust vocals. He renders Nick Lowe’s classic “Peace, Love, and Understanding” in laid-back style complete with a stirring dobro solo, smoothing over the edgy angst that Elvis Costello imparted to the tune.
Of course, with his Bay Area and New Riders lineage, it’s not surprising to see a couple of Grateful Dead covers here and they are true highlights of the album. He first interprets “Ripple” with stellar pedal steel from Dave Zirbel and longtime friend and NRPS partner Russ Gauthier who adds mandolin and harmony vocals. Later he takes the other acoustic gem from American Beauty, “Friend of the Devil,” with these two musicians figuring prominently, Gauthier adding banjo. In a similar vein, he covers one of Jim Lauderdale’s early country tunes, “Doing Time in Bakersfield” with John McFee on pedal steel. In this same sequence we find the rarely covered Richard Manuel of The Band’s “In a Station” (that appeared on Music from Big Pink), abetted by Pugh’s potent keyboard work and harmony vocals from Annie Stocking.
Vogensen than takes us back to more of that late ‘60s era with the soul chestnut from Dan Penn and Chips Moman, “Do Right Woman” and then with a nod to the musician who first inspired him to take up the guitar, Jesse Ed Davis, Taj Mahal’s right-hand man. Vogensen puts his own rocking stamp on the traditional “Cuckoo,”, playing both guitar and harmonica, making it perhaps the standout cut here. The album goes out much the way as it began, with two rocking Vogensen originals – the powerful “Don’t Tell Me About Love” and the “Soul of the Wolf.” Sandwiched in between is a cover of the 1965 one hit wonder “Lies” from the Knickerbockers which you likely forgot about until this one will reawaken its memory.
Vogensen covers a wide swath of musical territory here, showcasing his vast talents. For some it may be a little uneven, but it certainly has its potent moments. While songwriting is not his strongest suit, his guitar playing and vocals can stand aside the best.
- Jim Hynes
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