This review originally ran in Whatzup Magazine back in June of 2016. I’m running it here just in case you feel like digging into a Midwest musical treasure. Mark Hutchins was the guy behind the mic in Vandolah, as well as the sardonic point-of-view in most of the songs. He was a good friend of mine that I don’t think I ever quite knew. The real Mark Hutchins, Donald Mark Hutchins, was a quiet, shy, awkward guy. But Mark Hutchins the songwriter, well he was a presence on a stage. He fed off a crowd and gave back. His writing was poetic, melancholy, and at times quite funny. I think Mark was a novelist trapped in a songwriter’s body. George Saunders with an acoustic guitar.
Anyways, Mark left us in 2017. This was the final album he left us with. Enjoy. – J. Hubner
“The least of my worries/is drowning and then/I felt the water/trickling in” is the first line we’re greeted by on the first Vandolah album since 2012s One More Minute. Singer Mark Hutchins follows that up with “The beast of my worries/appeared to the me then/he said I’m all you got now/I’m your only friend”. This is the sardonic, dark humored and grizzled Vandolah we’ve come to love over the years, but this time around there’s a tired, world-weary acceptance that engulfs us like smoke from an out of control brush fire. Don’t Stop Giving Up is a collection of grizzled pop songs that feel like they’re attempting to put that brush fire out before the whole world goes up in flames.
Now don’t take that to mean this is a downer album. Vandolah have always countered the bitter with the sweet and this new long player is no different. “Vahd K & Zan X” is a sleepy acoustic strummer with keyboard and e-bow accompaniment that is equal parts Eels and Vic Chesnutt. Hutchins sings “There’s a tv speaking blankly to you/A furnace kicking on in the soundtrack/You’re not moving from that spot/the same place claimed so long ago” as the stark lyrics are tempered by sunshine emanating from the music. “Hope” is a mid-tempo rocker that is three parts Guided By Voices and one part Grandaddy, with jangly electric guitar a prerequisite here. “Enola” sounds like Being There-era Wilco, fuzzed-out guitar popping in and out of an otherwise acoustic rocker. This is primo Vandolah, folks. “Gold” is grizzled melancholy. It sounds like a middle of the night emotional shrug. An in-the-moment confession that made the cut. Musical expression, warts and all. “Hole In My Pocket” is the sing-a-long of 2016 we’ve been waiting for; all “oohs” and “ahhs” and loping rhythm that grabs your attention immediately. “Hole In My Pocket” is the theme for the broken-hearted and disenfranchised you had no idea you needed.
Vandolah have reached a point in their musical narrative at which a good portion of folks in the Fort Wayne scene might not even know who they are or how important they were to local music history. With a steady flow of great, local artists still filling local stages and record shops it’s just the natural order of things, I suppose. Well, here’s to Don’t Stop Giving Up changing the narrative a bit and giving Vandolah some well deserved new ears and minds to blow. Mark Hutchins is as sharp and poignant as ever. Just a little more world weary.