Boddicker Big Lionhearted and the Gallant Man

[Banter; 2007]

Styles: bedroom psychedelic folk
Others: David K. Daniels, Page France, Unicorns, Neutral Milk Hotel

When I was still a young ‘un, two friends and I took a rollicking cross-country trip “out West” with only piss-poor bank balances on our ATM cards and the threadbare roof of a 1979 Camaro for our protection. Among the boxes of cassettes we wore thin along the way was a Beach Boys Smile outtakes tape made by a friend of my father. Despite the many editions and reissues that album has passed through since this memorable summer, I still hold this particularly copy closest to my heart, not only for the memories it evokes, but also for its charming “incompleteness.”

The similarities between the unhinged 1967 version of Brian Wilson vainly attempting to complete and release Smile, with all of his faculties still intact, and the present-day Caleb Boddicker will not be obvious to many, even after hearing the unknown Mississippian’s debut disc Big Lionhearted and the Gallant Man. But the young songwriter has crafted an album that reminds me somewhat of those fractured Wilson songs I listened to so intently many moons ago. It contains ideas laid bare, some half-baked but with a lot of promise, and many tracks created closer in spirit (if not in sound) to the king of surf than the majority of the run-of-the-mill, sun-kissed Wilson pastiches that get released every year (and that is without taking into effect the “sweet pretty babys” that crop up throughout this album.)

Boddicker is a singer-songwriter in the mold of Jeff Mangum or David Karsten Daniels. Years ago, before deciding to stay in school instead of jumping feet-first into the oft-ridiculous music industry, Boddicker’s demo tape received some attention from a few of the bigger indie labels. Still in his nonage, Boddicker has finally put out the past-threatened album proper out through Banter Records, and because of the time taken to write and record it, there are a lot of goodies to digest.

Opener “Giant” gets things underway in an unexpected Flaming Lips-meets-Velvets feel, which doesn’t last long (not a bad or a good thing, just a thing). The range of instrumentation is impressive -- augmented no doubt by the production and playing from the ubiquitous Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Iron & Wine, Josh Ritter) -- as heard in the plink-plonking and whistles on “Samuel Clemens’ Grandpa” or the Supertramp “Dreamer”-type keyboards on “Bon Vivant.” It is confident experimenting, but it can also come off as as a bit superfluous. The songs that bring guitar to the forefront are the ones I prefer, like the more straightforward guitar-and-organ break in “When I Go Out” or the full-bodied strum of “Mississippi Beautiful, You Know I Love You.” Elsewhere, the stuttering rollicking “Pretty Baby (Part I)” has a vocal that sounds like a man pretending to be/or is possessed by Beck. There are demented whines and hokum drawls here and there, with unpredictable breaks all over. As a whole, the album is a welcome (and slightly harrowing) adventure.

Although a lot of Big Lionhearted and the Gallant Man is comprised of partly done and/or revised song-sketches, it doesn’t detract from the album as a whole. That's not to say it's uncharming or that fleshed-out -- longer songs would be better, but I like it as it is: ideas spit out at a blank canvas, left to dry a bit, then collected and reassembled. It is probably a whole lot more thought-out than I would like to think (although, admittedly, there are some tracks on Big Lionhearted that were written by Boddicker after Deck had left the studio for the day), but it has a “bare bones” feel to it. Whether this is the vein Boddicker will continue traveling through or if he will begin to write more polished pieces is anyone’s guess. Both options are acceptable. Big Lionhearted and the Gallant Man is an inspired debut, and who knows, maybe some day kids on a wanderlust road trip may have Boddicker’s charming mess of a debut as their soundtrack. Preferably playing on a factory-installed Camaro tapedeck.

1. Giant
2. Interstate 55
3. When I Go Out
4. Samuel Clemens’ Grandpa
5. Mississippi Beautiful, You Know I Love You
6. Pretty Baby (Part I)
7. Real As the Sun
8. First We Store Up
9. The Greatest Thing
10. Traveling
11. Bon Vivant
12. That Which I Or Albright’s Door
13. Pretty Baby (Part II)
14. Woods
15. Cowboy

Most Read