Post-punk Americana probably didn’t need its own version of the Traveling Wilburys, but that pretty much describes Gutterball, an offhand fusion of Steve Wynn, the House of Freaks (Bryan Harvey and Johnny Hott), occasional HoF touring bassist (and ex-Silo) Bob Rupe and former Long Ryder Stephen McCarthy. As with any impromptu not-quite-supergroup, Gutterball gets by on ease and charm when the members hit their mark and feels like something less than the sum of its parts when they don’t.
In contrast to the carefully constructed burnish of Wynn’s early solo records and House of Freaks’ major-label excursions, Gutterball came to be over a single weekend of playing and writing at a Virginia farmhouse. Wynn is more or less in charge, co-writing (with Harvey) eight of the twelve songs as well as three on his own (the other one is McCarthy’s). Things are fairly loose, with the band’s three guitars in a perpetual state of ringing Crazy Horse overdrive, but the unavoidable competence of the veteran musicians (and a cleanup mix job by Joe Chiccarelli) ultimately results in a record that’s not as rough as it wants (or needs) to be. Nevertheless, the songs are sturdy and generally satisfying, especially the laconic din of “Lester Young,” the poignantly thrumming “Motorcycle Boy” and the zinging romanticism of “When You Make Up Your Mind.”
Weasel is much better, a more raucous and wholly collaborative effort (with Love Tractor’s Armistead Wellford replacing Rupe) that captures a genuine after-hours, alcohol-and-broken-glass vibe. The record is a happily sprawling fifteen-song mess, a hit-or-miss collision of bluesy vibrato, piercing tossed-off leads and hooky bits of hard-luck noir. Both the songcraft and the guitar workouts connect with more effective violence this time, and Harvey and McCarthy capably take on additional writing weight.
The band’s discography is rounded out by the limited-edition Turnyor Hedinkov. An odds-and-sods compilation from an odds-and-sods band couldn’t be more appropriate, and the outtakes, live tracks and European radio sessions featured are gnarly, intense and illuminating.