American Standard Time
wino-strut (aka David Phillips) is a Venice, Calif.-based painter who just happens to also be a singer, songwriter and musician — specializing in the re-emerging genre of country rock. “Bloodsicle” is his full-length debut and also the inaugural LP for American Standard Time Records, a spinoff of sorts from its namesake online magazine.
The artist supplies rhythm guitar and is backed by a quartet of lead guitar, bass, drums and electric violin. Sometimes dobro and mandolin are featured, and percussionist Bobbye Hall guests on two tracks.
Readily apparent is a remarkable evolution in sound from the four singles recorded a few years back. With guitarist Robert Cook, bassist Omar El-Deeb, drummer Alexander Loweth and violinist/mandolinist Guy Welles (Coyote Gospel, Spore Favore), wino-strut folds Southwestern, psychedelic and surf elements into his brand of vintage country-rock.
And he doesn’t refer to his group as “Friends” for nothing:
“After a bunch of disastrous experiences with bands,” he told Good New Music by email, “I decided to go solo and play under my visual-art name ‘wino-strut.’ Rather than put out ads, go to shows, or any other normal way of meeting musicians, I turned to my closest friends. Robert Cook was my next-door neighbor. Guy Welles was his friend. I made a commitment to only play with my actual friends. Music became fun again for me. We started to have a blast.
“Then we started gigging. Then the gigs got fun and bigger, then bigger. Then we needed a record. So I called another friend with a studio. We rented an Airbnb with a pool by said studio. We partied for three days, recorded to tape (most of the record is tape), and we came out with ‘Bloodsicle.’ ”
Cook previously was in another Los Angeles band with wino-strut. “We started playing together in [Buffalo Grass],” Cook told GNM by email, “with me on bass. That project faded, so David and I put together wino-strut & Friends. I moved to guitar and we went from there.”
As Cook recalled, Loweth was their first recruit, “then Guy soon after, then several bassists over a year or more until Omar.”
“It’s quite an interesting story,” El-Deeb related after GNM reached out. “A year after I moved to LA from Egypt, my wife and I realized a common friend of ours’ sister from back home lives right nearby. We invited her and her then-boyfriend over for dinner and board games. Turns out her boyfriend’s a drummer and the band he plays with have been looking for a bass player!
“Although bass is not my main instrument, I was so happy to jam with those guys every week right down the street from where I live. Then that was that! Couple of years later now, David (wino-strut) and I have become super-close friends, and not just to play music!”
The album was recorded before the coronavirus pandemic hit, but production snafus were soon encountered.
“During the making of ‘Bloodsicle,’ our first vinyl production plant literally burned to the ground,” wino-strut recalled, referring to the February fire at Apollo Masters in Southern California. “We had trouble getting our mastered files. We had weird offers from weird labels. COVID-19 hit. Our first graphic designer got COVID so bad he disappeared on us for three months. His parents contacted us from Texas — he lost everything and moved home. We found another vinyl producer [Cascade Record Pressing in Portland]. I had a baby. I bought a house and moved my art studio of 15 years. Riots [following George Floyd’s death in May in Minneapolis] and COVID forced Cascade to close for a spell. Then wildfires slowed it down. Then after an eight-month delay and chaos, I contacted Sean Jewell [of AST Records], who I had met at [Portland music festival] Pickathon. He helped push us to the finish line. All this record knows is blood.”
Hence the name of the title track: “Bloodsicle” refers to a treat given to wildlife in captivity.
“I heard the term at an early age from zoos,” wino-strut explained. “I grew up in Oklahoma (and yes, just like that stupid [‘Tiger King’] show, there are a lot of weird/oddly legal zoos). A bloodsicle is a frozen popsicle of blood given to lions. … I use the term as something to strive for professionally in my life. I’m a full-time painter/visual artist here in LA. I use ‘bloodsicle’ as ‘making it’ or surviving financially off my art only.”
The song begins like a bronco that won’t be busted, electric guitar chugging along like a locomotive, accompanied by a slide-guitar sound that resolves itself into electric violin. “Every single day / Bleeding through / My clothes / My mood / I’ve been climbing up this mountain / For the bloodsicle,” wino-strut intones. Toward the end, a reggae interlude appears out of nowhere — like in Neil Young’s live version of “Cortez the Killer” — before the song changes back in time for the ending.
“Natural Home” is a mid-tempo observation on loved ones who’ve been relocated, to the detriment of their well-being. Welles switches to acoustic violin, pairing nicely with Cook’s dobro, and wino-strut’s vocals carry less rasp than on the titular tune. Hall helps bring out the song’s gravitas with her congas.
Situated squarely at the confluence of the Rolling Stones, Black Crowes, and Allman Brothers and Marshall Tucker bands is the rollicking “Never Ends.” And like many of the album’s songs, it upends convention: In the middle it breaks down into a folksy mandolin-fiddle jam, somewhat reminiscent of “Pathway to Glory” or “Be Free” by Loggins & Messina.
“Number 13” is a hillbilly/honky-tonk number with one of the weirdest, but still melodic, electric-guitar intros ever. It sets up a cosmic/surreal setting for a narrative about walking with an Indian, “collecting wildflowers and arrowheads, man.” After a vaguely Native American instrumental break, the intro is reprised as an outro.
For sheer musicality, “Surfer Bob” is the record’s highlight. Entirely instrumental, it’s a showcase that lets Cook twang out but also allows Welles a few subtle nods to “Orange Blossom Special” and “Flight of the Bumblebee.” When asked about its origin, Cook offered full disclosure:
“To be totally honest, it was a target picking-warmup exercise I did,” he revealed. “I would start slow, then speed up — so that’s pretty much it. We gave it a ’50s vibe and use(d) it to let everyone on stage get a little solo time.”
2. Natural Home
3. Higher Ground
4. Never Ends
5. My Whole Heart Is Blue
6. Number 13
7. Surfer Bob
8. White Lines//Blacktop
Total time: 39:58