We tend to love the musician who starts their career strong, even if it means they flame out early. Romantic? Maybe. But if you're a songwriter, you probably aspire to be more like The Big Bend's Chet Vincent: Each album stronger, cleaner, more thoughtful, more polished. Vincent has been kicking around Pittsburgh bars and clubs, playing in bands since he was a teenager. A regular fixture both at small open mics and at rock venues with The Big Bend, Vincent has quietly established a reputation as one of the city's most dedicated figures.
The payoff: Celebrate, The Big Bend's fourth release, has the hallmarks of a career milestone, calling to mind early-‘70s Neil Young in its songwriting, with sonic elements straight out of Abbey Road-era Beatles. The Big Bend has been a work in progress: The band's first albums had a definite country accent. Then, in 2015, the five-piece produced Unconventional Dog, a certified rocker. That full-length got the band attention from local radio, from Triple-A station WYEP to commercial rock entities WDVE and WXDX.
Celebrate gives the band plenty of reasons to pop a few bottles (besides Vincent's recent nuptials to beloved Pittsburgh country artist Molly Alphabet, with whom he also collaborates musically). The album shows the band's range - from the first discordant, psychedelic notes of album opener "The Spins" through the closing bars of the stripped-down, folky "Su La Ley." In between, the band hits overdriven blues rockers and twangy honky-tonk tunes. Vincent's vocals show range stylistically, from shouts on the more raucous tunes, to lilting crooning reminiscent of The Weakerthans' John K. Samson on the softer songs.
He's backed by precision in the form of the rest of The Big Bend. Abe Anderson on thundering drums is joined in the rhythm section by bassist Madison Stubblefield. Andy Voltz provides keyboard work that helps steer the feel of the record, from honky tonk piano to a mellotron sound straight out of Strawberry Fields. Dan Dickison provides lead-guitar counterparts to Vincent's rhythm. The production - the band recorded and engineered itself - is nothing short of spectacular.
Lyrically, too, Vincent continues to grow and find his voice. He's always been a storyteller, weaving characters and situations into songs, but here he takes on social issues, both obliquely and directly, on songs like "Cut Us Down" and "Fingertrap." Far from flaming out, Chet Vincent and The Big Bend have spent years building up steam for this moment. Vincent is one of those figures who serve to show us that working hard and honing your voice really do pay off. Pittsburgh is already in on the secret of The Big Bend; the rest of the world is on the verge of finding out.