By Melanie Stangl
If you’ve been looking to fill that full-band, classic rock or old-school country hole in your playlist with something fresh, look no further than Dan Getkin and the Twelve Six. Their new self titled full-length album, has just dropped, and it’s a captivating take on a tried-and true genre.
Describing themselves as “rocking alternative country,” the group avoids negative stereotypes which could be associated with the latter genre—very little twang, no cliché lyrics about beers and pick-up trucks, and no tired, predictable formulas. Instead, we get songs with strong influences, and the best characteristics, of older country, folk music, and classic rock: thoughtful lyrics that often veer into storytelling; a keen grasp on emotional ballads as well as energetic anthems; and an ability to create a compelling atmosphere with just guitars, bass, organ/keys, percussion, and passionate vocals. Their creative instincts are sharp and well-displayed, in both subtle and more obvious moments. Most importantly, the record possesses that key quality which matters in all music, but particularly this sort: it’s genuine and heartfelt.
The band consists of Dan Getkin on guitar, tambourine, and lead vocals; Bill Brandt on guitar; Alex Herd on bass, guitar, keyboard, percussion, and backing vocals; Eddan Sparks on drums; and Jake Troxell on the piano, organ, and backing vocals. Guest singer Stacy Lantz joins Getkin on the song “Train from Jerome” as well.
“Old Wounds, Old Scars” gets things started on a midtempo, upbeat note, with pleasantly distorted guitars and prominent organ parts contributing to a classic, familiar feel. Though the music itself is fit for a drive down a back road in the summer, the lyrics are considerably darker, giving this track more complexity than first meets the ear. Pain, old betrayal, and aging are all addressed in lines like: “No one remembers who did the other one wrong,” “We were brothers of the same bloodline/Everything changes/But if that’s true, what do I call you anymore?” and “These wounds/they leave older scars/in the broke-down places of an agin’ heart.” This combination of charming, recognizable instrumentals and deeper, brooding lyrics showcases the band’s appealing blend of the familiar and the less-expected. We’ll see more of this in the songs to come.
“White Light” keeps up the energy while slightly increasing the aggression with rollicking keys, insistent guitars, and more liberal use of minor chords. Fast, lyrically complex vocals in the verses (that assert sentiments such as “I am invincible/I am the tallest, oh”) are well-balanced with simple choruses: the repeated phrase “white light.” What really makes this track is its powerful bridge. Both drums and guitar attack with a faster rhythm and more ferocity. This is the shortest song on the album, but it packs a punch.
“In the Grey” is an introspective, atmospheric ballad. Piano chords provide the primary backdrop for Getkin to sing with nostalgic melancholy, “When we lost the FM stations/it was quiet on the run/We cut off all transmissions/drove into the sun…mm-mm, all my promises are done.” High vocal “oohs” combine with warbling strings and a gentle acoustic guitar during the chorus to gorgeous effect. The subsequent addition of subdued drums highlights the band’s keen instinct for gradual layering of instruments—nothing feels overdone or unnecessary. The lyrics throughout only enhance the emotive power of this track, especially when Getkin asks, “After twenty-six years, what can take you by surprise?” It’s an undeniable standout of the album.
“Fire Underground” offers a swaggering back-and-forth rhythm, extra emphasis on powerful guitar riffs, and higher, intense vocals, putting the “rock” in “rocking alternative country.” The subject matter concerns impending doom and destruction, which the amped-up vocals reinforce: “And now there’s nothin’ left here/but the family home/and it’s sinkin’, it’s sinkin’ underground/There’s a fire, and it burns underground,” and “The poison leaks through the cracks in our homes/They gonna tear this house to the ground.” Getkin’s voice goes largely unretouched on this record, but the slight vocal distortion employed here was a smart move. It provides a tonal parallel to the guitar and reminds us of the situation’s urgency, especially during the repeated line, “Fire down below!” around two minutes in. High electronic keys and more complicated percussion add texture, and the guitar solo prompted me to write two words in my notes: “hell yeah.” Simply put, this song is cool.
“Got Nothing” is another high-energy track, a fast-paced rebuke of a gossip queen: “Keep talkin’ shit, you got nothin’ on me.” An appealing crescendo of an intro gives way to adamant verses. The repetition of the title phrase throughout works well to reinforce the confidence and resilience of the speaker without feeling dull or overdone. However, this sentiment gets somewhat complicated halfway through: an instrumental comedown leaves electric keys highlighted while Getkin pauses, then repeatedly croons, “Oh Eli-iiii-za.” Lower vocal harmonies also appear here for the first time. The band soon comes back in at full force, but that phrase is all that’s sung until the end; once again, something seemingly familiar and straightforward is given a cool, creative twist. Highlights also include the sliding, effect-heavy up-and-down key riff towards song’s end and the attack-and-retreat drum builds during the pre-choruses.
“Floodwater” reminds us of the group’s skill in composing softer, contemplative songs. We’re brought in with just an acoustic guitar, soon joined by subdued keys and higher, more intimate vocals from Getkin: “So what are your dreams, son?/And are they coming true?/We all fear suffocation/when you’ve got a bit to prove.” Similar in subject matter and approach to The Commonheart’s “Rivertown,” the lyrics show a clear connection to Pittsburgh with the repeated line, “And we all float downstream/down the Allegheny River.” The instrumental choices here, from smaller to more significant, truly shine: the high marimba notes that begin at the chorus; the gentle introduction of drums around a minute in; the warm and fuzzy electric guitar line afterwards; and the organ which reappears towards the end. Each touch is perfectly placed and reinforces the nostalgic emotions the song is trying to convey. It picks up a bit more power towards the end, increasing along with Getkin’s passion about the woman he loves. All in all, it’s a pretty, passionate, and well-put-together track.
“Goodnight and Goodbye” is interesting in its contrasts: like the first song, the music is high-energy and happy while the lyrical subject matter is not. Getkin sings about reluctantly letting someone go, with whom he still has fond memories: “It’s a miracle I got words left to let you know/We can sit on the riverbanks of the Ohio/I’ll sing songs about anxious love and the summer soul,” and “For the record, I’m still in love with you.” The cheery organ sound from Troxell (as well as the actual piano sound in the second verse) give these somewhat bleak lyrics a compelling twist—as if the speaker is trying to sonically convince himself that everything is fine, while vocally acknowledging that it’s not. The call-and-response vocals during the line “Goodnight and goodbye, came too soon,” reinforce those sentiments, especially when paired with the overall quieting down of the instruments.
“Not Dead, Alive” provides yet another example of the band’s skill in creating builds, growing from lightly pretty and melancholy at first to a fuller, more confident sound by the end. Some of the best lyrics on the record appear here, including the very first line, “Well February wore me down/and trees got withered in the cold, hard ground/It’s the time of year when I pray for rain/to run through city streets again.” A slow acoustic guitar solo brings us in at first, accompanied by soft, rattling percussion in the second verse that gives an interesting, almost processional, feel to the track. Sustained guitar notes provide a backdrop for a lovely, swoony key solo, and the band comes in more energetically and completely around two minutes in, matched by stronger vocals from Getkin. Again, the sparing use of vocal effects towards song’s end (in this case, reverb) is well-chosen. And the message is one of affirmation in spite of struggle and pain: “Pay no mind to constant worries, was it wrong or was it right?/My love was a lie/I’m not dead, I’m alive.”
“Young Men and Fire,” another highlight of the album, pairs nostalgic reflection on growth with spirited, particularly well-put-together instrumentals. An electronic percussion track both introduces and concludes the song, which is a cool, unexpected move. The gradual addition of electric guitar and organ, up to a shouted “Hey!” from Getkin, ushers in the rest of the band with increased energy, for my personal favorite of all the introductions. The contrast between water and fire is a running lyrical theme: “I was a child/we’d walk right down to the river and listen for the waves on the rocks/We drank from our hands and that was, always enough,” while in the chorus, Getkin proclaims, “I burned out quicker, I burned out brighter/than all the young men and fire/the young men and fire.” The descending, major chord organ riff repeated throughout the song is a classic move pulled off well. However, this is complicated in the bridge—most of the instruments back down, while fingerpicked guitar and electronic keys also descend, but this time in a minor chord pattern. It’s a subtle but extremely effective shift in tone and effect. The song also ends in a minor chord before fading back into that drum track, leaving all that was just played with such seeming certainty in question.
“Train from Jerome,” meanwhile, is old-school storytelling through and through, and that’s not a bad thing. Relaxed acoustic guitar and subtle percussion provide an undercurrent over which the piano and vocals, the most crucial parts, are emphasized. The intermittent harmonies from Stacy Lantz take this saga of travel and the trials of a relationship to the next level: “So we said we’d wait a year/but when the next one came around/She broke our engagement and blew town/When you left, no, you never made a sound/Woah, it was a long year at the bottom of a bottle and a hole.” Other lyrical standouts include, “You don’t choose the one you love, but you choose to stick around,” and the recurring refrain, “After ten long years, we were tired and we were old/We took the last train out of Jerome.” Dan Getkin and the Twelve Six get back to their roots here, and it works well.
Finally, “For Steel” is an anthemic shout-out to the band’s home city, and a solid choice to end the record. It builds and retreats and travels throughout its six-minute length. Triumph is the primary emotion at the beginning, with a focus on feel-good electric guitar, and Getkin seemingly garnering joy out of uncertain circumstances: “Fifteen days, we haven’t broke/Fourteen years, we worked in coke/And I don’t know.” Labor and industry topics are addressed as the song progresses, in a way that’s still personal and emotional but speaks to Pittsburgh’s history: “And you can’t make me leave/This here’s a union strike/I won’t leave without a fight, no/I won’t go, I won’t go, I won’t go.” This new territory is marked by a shift to grungier guitars and grittier, sadder-sounding vocals from Getkin. The transitions are a bit unexpected, but not completely jarring, and handled smoothly enough to bring you along for the ride. A brief slowdown, followed by a higher, contemplative guitar part, gives way to increasingly fast drums that lead us back into the full-band, anthemic sound from the beginning. Getkin caps this off appropriately, holding out the long, high phrase “For steel! Oh, woah!” And an extended fadeout brings it all home.
All this to say, the songwriting chops of Dan Getkin and the Twelve Six are made perfectly, compellingly clear on their self titled album. Come celebrate at its release show tonight, January 21st, at 8 PM at The Funhouse at Mr. Smalls. The Red Western and DJ Soulfella will be opening up; tickets are available here. The album is also currently available for purchase on their Bandcamp page, as well as on all major streaming platforms. Follow along with them on Facebook here, and keep an eye out for future shows if you can’t make it out tonight.