Mr. Encrypto, where the Hell
have you been all my life? I can't really tell
you much about this mysterious Mr. Encrypto, but I can tell you a little about Bruce Gordon, the man behind the myth. Born in Southern California and reared in Australia, Gordon has been making music for a long time. He did a stint in Grand Junction, Colorado where he played with a band called The Bush Pilots and after returning to his California roots, he co-founded and fronted The Cyphers. Over the years, there have been a few singles released, but never a full-length album from Bruce Gordon until now. Mr. Encrypto's Hero and Villain! is definitely worth the wait.
Mr. Encrypto a.k.a. Gordon plays all the instruments and does all the vocals on this recording. Creative artistic control is sometimes a good thing - a very good thing. Bruce did get more than a little help with the production from Earle Mankey, who has worked with The Beach Boys, Concrete Blonde, The Long Ryders and Cleveland's own Eric Carmen.
HERO! is a sixties-inspired set of eight originals and four cover tunes. But don't let that 'sixties-inspired' tag scare you away. This is not retro-rock. This is timeless stuff with sharp pop melodies and the kind of toe-tapping rockers that sound great today and will sound great tomorrow and will probably still stand up in ten years. It really is that good.
Some of the tracks here are re-worked and re-mastered recordings of earlier compositions from Gordon. "Allegiance" is one of these. This song was written several years ago, but -- especially lyically -- it seems to fit the times now more than ever. How could he know how well this one would work in the 21st century? (Maybe this Mr. Encrypto fellow is a bastard offspring of Nostradamus.)
Like I have told you in many a review, it's the songs, stupid. And Gordon's got the songs. His attention to detail in his compositions and his sense of humor and clever imagery make me wish he hadn't included any covers at all in this collection. But Mr. Encrypto's choices for covers are not exactly songs that have been beaten into the ground. He does an early Crazy Horse number and a cut first done by Ivy. Remember them? Neither do I, but "I've Got a Feeling" is a great song. Gordon also does a tune called "Guess I'm Dumb," an obscure Brian Wilson song that was recorded by Glen Campbell a million years ago. This track is an excellent showcase of Encrypto/Gordon's vocal range and a clear demonstration of his unabashed love for The Beach Boys.
The most familiar of the covers is "1-2-3." If you were alive in '65, you might remember this Len Barry hit. But whereas Barry paid homage to Motown on his recording, Mr. Encrypto's arrangement is a slow ballad that entirely changes the meaning of the lyric. In the hands of Mr. Encrypto, what was once a celebration of new love has become a desperate plea to the girl that is getting away.
I doubt if I could begin to tell you which are my favorite cuts here. "Going Going Gone" is a great rocker and "What Goes Wrong" has more hooks in it than Grandpa's fishing hat. But if you are forcing me to choose, I think "The Last Time" would be first on my list. This song of many layers really sums up the Mr. Encrypto sound. I get the feeling if super-intelligent aliens on some faraway planet were raised on nothing but radio transmissions of the best pop and rock of the sixties, this is the song they would create.
BOTTOM LINE: I've tracked Hero
and Villain! at least three times from start to finish and
each time through, I hear another little riff that jogs my musical memory
or I'll catch a twist in a lyric I never noticed before. This is the way
records used to be made. Unfortunately, this album may not be in the bin
at your neighborhood Best Buy. If you want to get your hands on a copy
of this one - and trust me, you do - perhaps you will need to contact
Mr. Encrypto directly at his label's website, www.deathbarney.com.