Parlor Tricks and Porch Favorites is the first album by folk musician Pat Gubler, who records under the name P.G. Six. In 2001, when the album was released, Gubler was in seminal free folk/noise folk/improv folk collective Tower Recordings. They were a formidable outfit that released an indeterminate number of albums in a wide array of traditional and non-traditional formats, as bands of their shamanic ilk (Vibracathedral Orchestra, Charalambides, Sunburned Hand of the Man, Jackie-O Motherfucker, et. al) are wont to do. Parlor Tricks and Porch Favorites is at once an extension of the avant-folk themes Gubler pursued in Tower Recordings and a welcome respite from his primary concern’s cluttered clatter.
It is, above all, an album of hushed moments, of quietly contemplative beauty. And it’s all complemented perfectly by Gubler’s singular voice, which manages to be entirely arresting while remaining incredibly limited. To compare it to any other set of pipes is probably a misstep on my part, but for point of reference, imagine Calexico singer Joey Burns, sans nasality, with a bucolic lilt. (Pretty specific, no? I’m trying here.) That may not sound that special, but Gubler’s abstracted, crystalline arrangements multiply the calming effect of his vocals, rendering them wholly hypnotic.
And this music is, absolutely, crystalline and hypnotic. The hushed, circular guitar picking of “Unteleported Man” creates finely tuned and enveloping figures. Chiming overlays of harp and washes of droning flutes and reeds act as counterpoints, at one point interrupting the guitar playing. Gubler gently hums along. That’s it. But for over six minutes, the effect is completely entrancing. “Go Your Way” might be both more abstracted and more lovely, featuring mellow flutters and trills on a harp and subdued lilting by Gubler for a good four minutes. Stately bodrhan-esque drumming joins in for another four. And when I refer to harp playing here, this isn’t Joanna Newsom-level stuff here. This is absolutely sublime work.
Compared to his subsequent album, 2004’s The Well of Memory, Parlor Tricks and Porch Favorites is more of a piece, sporting a much more unified sound from beginning to end, and lacking the highlights and missteps of his sophomore work. (I really, really don’t want to get into his third solo album, Slightly Sorry, but I feel more and more like I should.) Parlor Tricks and Porch Favorites is pastoral and seemingly effortlessly intricate. It’s underrated. It’s beautiful.