There are rumours on Miriama St., Taumarunui, that Tom Waits might be in town. There is some confusion certainly, Waits probably hasn’t flown in from scoring Hollywood films to the King Country, but locals can hear something! Maybe it’s Rio Hemopo and Warren Maxwell from Trinity Roots playing in the domain, but that’s not quite right either. If you ask around, someone might know it’s the deeply soulful blues of Carlos Gelling wafting in the air, but a lot about this man seems shrouded in mystery.
Gelling’s ‘Open Door’ album is grounded in the traditions of blues and jazz, but it feels older again, deep world music connected to the soil. While it might be the only album on his Bandcamp page, the skill in musicianship, the production, the depth of songwriting suggests Gelling has been doing this a long time.
Begging the question, how long? Opening blues-tempo track, When The Rain Comes Down, is driven by a simple enough beat, but the keys are spry and the gravel in the Gelling’s voice gives the song a real power. This is mirrored in the lyrics which are blues-inspired, but with a hopeful twist, “Sing a soul song/let me go deep/let me drown/in a sound so sweet,” he croons.
The dual vocals of World of Wonder and the guitar splashes are reminiscent of Trinity Roots, but then there appear to be three vocal parts, then four. This becomes another example of production prowess used to turn a simple enough song into something layered and surprising.
Gelling and his band turn again on the following track, this time letting the bass come to the fore and jazz and scat-style vocals uplift the record’s tone with Slaves to the Trick. Jono Heyes and Gelling had worked extensively together previously, touring Europe and recording the 2017 record ‘9 Pilgrims’ alongside a collective of international artists.
The whimsical world music of that album has its influence here, particularly on the springy and excitable Drink The Water. Initial listens to this album point to a number of road maps to a certain kind of modern-era blues, a Waits-esque voice, the serious tone of the likes of Greg Brown, however, Gelling throws all that into the wind with Drink The Water.
It’s this pairing of light and dark, heavy and light, which helps make this record an absolute standout. The band Gelling has around him are world-class, though they’re not named anywhere easily accessible, which adds further to the mystery. What is clear, is that they’re able to put out a timeless record of inspiring blues and jazz that just so happens to come from one of the most quintessential small towns in Aotearoa.