Lovers Lane
In The Flesh

Spins: Rob Fetters • Mother

| February 12, 2024

Rob Fetters

Mother

(Baby Ranch)

If you’re already familiar with him, Rob Fetters may be your favorite musician that your friends have never heard. Fetters’ regional reach into Chicago and surrounding areas is largely due to his former role in the Bears alongside co-frontman Adrian Belew and the great post-Bears power-pop trio Psychodots with bassist Bob Nyswonger and late drummer Chris Arduser. Between Toledo and Cincinnati, however, Fetters is a veritable legend as frontman, songwriter, and jaw-dropping guitar slinger for local heroes the Raisins, whose roots date back to the early 1970s. The band should have been huge, but that’s another story already memorialized in the song “Clive.” Since 1998’s Lefty Loose, Righty Tight, Fetters has been building his individual brand with relatable underdog stories, off-kilter spiritual musings, and tales from the home front as a solo artist. Mother is Fetters’ fifth solo release and follows 2020’s Ship Shake.

The singer continues to ply his knack for heart-tugging melody in songs like the vulnerable and wry “Embarrassed.” It’s a shot of painful honesty and recrimination that considers the value of life lessons learned the hard way. “Enlightenment is possible, but I wouldn’t call it bliss,” sings Fetters a la Warren Zevon, feeling a bit defeated as anyone would who “sacrificed the moon and sun for the one who didn’t care.” Fetters also knows his way around a singalong. The embittered but cheeky “Why Love You?” should have people singing along at house concerts and pub gigs. “You only hurt me on purpose,” Fetters sings with all of the spite and catharsis a generally positive guy can muster against a backdrop of chiming acoustic guitar, carnivalesque keyboards, and son Noah Fetters’ bombastic percussion. He is joined by a trio of enthusiastic female voices, notably including that of spouse Susan “Swany” Fetters. The pendulum swings far away from “Why Love You?” with a trio of joyful odes. “She Makes it Up” celebrates a beloved free spirit and partner who “makes it up as we go along,” gliding atop an irresistible island rhythm. With a swooping George Harrison-styled guitar solo, a bristling synthesizer lick, and a fundamental pattern that hints at Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love,” the song has one hook after another. The sparkling fingerstyle acoustic guitar of “Nice” follows suit while describing the best kind of luck: happiness at home. The gently tumbling “Always” is a lullaby cut from similar cloth to Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers,” extending devotion and blessings to a treasured child or grandchild.  “She was my number one girl,” sings Fetters during the unsettled psych-pop of “Brothermother,” referring to the sainted and missed lady named in the album’s title. Pondering his own mortality, Fetters muses, “How much time do I have? Maybe I don’t want to know.” Longtime bandmate Bob Nyswonger of the Raisins, Bears, and Psychodots returns to add nimble bass to “Trouble Was Good.” The song takes a backward glance, marvels at survival, and ponders what’s worth carrying forward. “We could argue like enemies or get fucked up like friends,” sings Fetters.

The performance of “I Don’t Know Why” underscores the mental tally of someone who realizes his relationship errors while hanging onto a thread of hope that it might not be too late to correct the course. The measured arrangement and the drone of Fetters’ chugging guitar are reminiscent of “Play Your Guitar” from 2013’s **Saint Ain’t. Make no mistake; Fetters can still bend brains as a musical acrobat, tone-meister, and lead guitarist. The young Fetters allegedly worshipped at the altars of icons like Hendrix, Beck, Rundgren, and Zappa. He continues to do his six-string gurus proud on Mother, even with arrangements that remain tightly paced and compact while incorporating piano sounds and eschewing shred fests… most of the time. The coda of the beautiful but suitably melancholy “Lamento” erupts into an ecstatic guitar solo like a soul taking flight to the great beyond. The song reflects upon shared dreams that passed away alongside the departure of an unnamed lifelong friend. The lyrics include fond, brotherly jabs and tearful regrets. Following Arduser’s death in late September, it’s natural to read his presence into the song. The bluesy “Girl on the Q” features Raisins drummer Bam Powell’s brushed-snare percussion. The song draws on Fetters’ recent sojourn in Brooklyn, with a skittering and frenetic guitar solo that reflects the sense of being upended by new surroundings and routines. Fetters has told stories suggesting that this effect was deliberate, as the song was prompted by a real-life tumble onto the subway tracks. The album concludes with the good-natured nudge of “Ready.” Judgement Day may be around the corner or already here, but the best anyone can do is to act upon the simple mantra of “Pay attention, Stupid.” It works as a personal, spiritual, or ecological metaphor.

The album is as engaging as ever thematically and is utterly charming musically. Fetters wrote about the futility of chasing success long ago in songs like “Try” from Lefty Loose, Righty Tight (and more recently in Ship Shake’s “Nobody Now”), but hopefully, this Mother will draw a few more into the brood under her wing. (robfetters.net)

Jeff Elbel

9 out of 10

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