Album: Joe Gittleman – Hold Up

Joe Gittleman’s debut solo EP, “Hold Up” was just released on Bad Time Records. It’s almost impossible to talk about Joe Gittleman without mentioning the 30 years he spent as the bassist for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and anyone knowing that bit of information will immediately be looking to draw comparisons to his previous band. It’s a blessing and a curse. However, this is not the next Bosstones album. This is the first full length Joe Gittleman album, and it’s great music. It still has some of that traditional East Coast ska sound- a blend of laid back ska, touches of punk, and plenty of reggae influences.

From the first track, this album is terrific. It feels a little laid back, the songs of a man who’s lived a full life, has regrets and remorse, who has a lot to reminisce about, but also has a lot more to offer and to give. The songs make you want to dance, but overall, they tend to make you either happy you have someone to dance with or long for someone to dance with.

The more I listen to the album, the more impressed I am. While I love ska music, this particular sound is not what I tend to listen to- however, I love every song on this album. A part of me feels like it’s just a little too long, but there are literally zero songs I would consider cutting. From the first beats of “Plastered in the Rafters” to “For the love of Gino’s Mäder” this album is completely solid.

“Plastered in the Rafters” does an amazing job of mixing up the pacing while maintaining the same musical themes, and feels like it conveys the story of someone who is lamenting their mistakes but continues to see sparks of hope that they continuously drink away. The possibility is still there, but it’s continuously out of reach. The vocal narration is flawless, and the music production is amazing. It’s constantly giving me fresh movement to focus on as the song progresses.

The album moves from there to “Glimmer”, a song that picks up the pace quite a bit, that tells a story of hope and promise, but while telling a story of someone whose life has been- and continues to be- rough. The faster tempo and danceable rhythm do a lot of the work to help convey the narrative.

The keyboards, organs, and pianos mixed into nearly every song are amazing additions to the songs adding texture and rhythm to the song, often subtly, in order to add layers to create the mood the song is conveying. Backing vocals and gang vocals as back melody, the horns are not punchy, but typically smooth. I find it hard to express how much I appreciate the songwriting through this album, from the occasional solos to the regular usage of instrumental pauses to accent storytelling narratives.

I am glad I wasn’t in charge of picking the singles for this album. I love the three that were chosen- Hold Up, Plastered in the Rafters, and For the Love of Gino’s Mäder, but none of them are my favorite songs. I’d have likely chosen “Glimmer”, “Red Polaroid Eyes”, and “There or Thereabouts”.

“Chores” is another song I love. While many of the songs on this album are told in third person, this one is in first person, and feels particularly personal. It tells the story of someone who, in my opinion, is very flawed. The protagonist admits that he’s never been good at chores, but in reality, nobody is good at chores. Nobody is great at washing dishes or laundry. It’s something we do out of necessity. But the point they are making is they are willing to pitch in and help, even if that help isn’t quite adequate. There seems to be a sense of guilt about not being there while always on tour paired with a promise to be available to lend their hand when needed. While the song sounds a little hopeful and romantic- a promise to a loved one that you’d give your life for them, and help pull them to the top when they need it, it reminds me of some of my own failures in relationships. Being willing to give your life for someone hasn’t been my issue, it’s the not being good at chores. Knowing that I will pull someone up if they need me to is great, but love is often about doing the chores- about not being on tour when they need you every day. The protagonist says he fixed her door but did it by eye and now the door doesn’t shut. It’s a daily reminder that you tried, but also a daily reminder that you didn’t give it your all, and that it impacts the other person much more than it impacts you. I love this song for the beauty in the songwriting, but also that it feels like a tragedy that the narrator doesn’t see coming. It’s a beautiful song and it makes me want to cry. I just hope the antagonist is fictional.

For every person who I might have sung “Chores” to in a past life, I’m sorry, and I’m glad you’re happier now.

Anyway, this is such an impressive album with beautiful songwriting and performances. I enjoy it more than anything else I’ve heard them perform.

Written by Gimpleg