Friday, July 04, 2014

David Ackles - American Gothic

Exactly 42 years ago today, Elektra Records released American Gothic the third album by singer-songwriter David Ackles. American Gothic was produced by Bernie Taupin, Elton John's long-term collaborator, and conducted by Robert Kirby, best known for his work on Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left and Bryter Layter.  Pictured below is my own copy of the album that I managed to find for €5 on a recent dig.

 David Ackles - American Gothic (Elektra Records, 1972)

The sleeve is in very good condition with only minor edgewear and the vinyl is in excellent condition, I was really surprised that this copy still had the original lyric sheet and on closer inspection I discovered that this was in fact a white label Elektra Radio Promo copy.  

American Gothic takes its name from the famous 1930 Grant Wood painting of a farmer standing beside his daughter infront of their farmhouse. The farmer holding the pitchfork represents hard labour and the farmer's daughter dressed in a colonial print apron suggests domesticity. Ackles parodied the painting on the back of the album's sleeve with his wife Janice. 

American Gothic by Grant Wood (1930, oil on beaverboard)

American Gothic is a quintessential American record, steeped in American imagery but it was recorded in London, on the back sleeve Ackles explains: "It is now two years since the last album... I've been living in England for part of that time in a house in the country with apple trees and swans and a river running past the back porch. It seems like you get a sharper perspective on your own country when you're away from it, so the time has been a great help in a lot of ways. This album is a result of distance and peace and a lot of patience and kindness from a lot of friends." 

In the liner notes of the 2000 reissue of the album Bernie Taupin told Richie Unterberger: "Why go to England to record an album so steeped in American imagery? He always said to me that in order to get a perspective of your own country, you have to leave it. I believe that's very true. He certainly encompassed it in that record."

Press Advert for American Gothic

Elektra gave Ackles a big budget for the record and indeed the pre-release of American Gothic was hyped by the label as can be seen in the above print advert. The connection with Bernie Taupin came after Ackles had co-headlined with Elton John at The Troubadour in LA in 1970. The record didn't perform as expected and it would be the last he recorded for the label. Ackles would record one more album, Five & Dime for CBS Records in 1973. Ackles died in 1999. 

American Gothic is definitely worth checking out, for me it's up there with Lou Christie's Paint America Love in the lost classics pile. Brian Mathieson's description of Ackles in his obituary for The Independent sums it up perfectly: "The title track of American Gothic said in four minutes what it took David Lynch a complete television series to describe. He then went on to produce a series of vignettes that summed up life in his home country in the late 20th century."     

Elektra White Label Promo - Radio Station Copy

Further Reading: Ptolemaic Terrascope has an interview with Ackles from 1998 here.

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