"American Gothic ...remains a largely unrecognized work of genius, one of the most unfashionable and uncompromising American albums ever."
- George Durbalau, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
There are far easier records to fall in love with than David Ackles' American Gothic, released July 4, 1972. And yet some critics absolutely adored this album. A man from the Sunday Times compared the album to Gershwin, Dylan and Sgt.Pepper. Too much?
The album is a multi-dimensional portrait of America. There are heavy drinkers ("American Gothic"), divorces ("Waiting For The Moving Van") and a ten minute epic about a western family ("Montana Song").
All sung with a great deal of theatrics. ( Ackles was a child actor). The music is orchestrated with the help of Elton John's songwriting partner Bernie Taupin who was interviewed in the liner notes of the 1999 re-release.
"It was totally his idea; I was almost just a monitor, his crutch, and his support system. He knew very much what he wanted, and I had certainly never worked with a real orchestra before. I'd been in the studio with Elton, and I was familiar with strings in the sense that I'd seen our sessions run that way, but I certainly wasn't very familiar on how to sort of record them. Luckily, we had a very, very good engineer, Damon Lyon-Shaw. A lot of the credit must go to him, because he sort of guided me in a lot of what went down."
Among Ackles's biggest fans were Elton John and Elvis Costello who said upon Ackles's death: "It's a mystery to me why his wonderful songs are not better known."
People who know far more about music than I do have tried to make comparisons...to Tom Waits, Randy Newman and Scott Walker. But I hear Jim Steinman, the producer and lyricist behind Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell and Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart".
In any case start with "Oh, California!" and if you want to hear more and are up for a challenge, buy the whole album. It's a grower.