It’s the not-unfamiliar patient-talking-to-his-doctor motif but we are a long way here from “Doctor, doctor/Can’t you see I’m burning, burning.” “Dr. Bill” oozes depth and power, thanks to some killer guitar work and a splendid fusion of lyrical and musical momentum. There is no chorus; there is even the feeling of being no melody, as singer Brad Armstrong creates the illusion that he’s merely talking. But this is purposeful deception, belied by the song’s careful, eloquent chord sequence, striking lyrics, and the melancholy descent traced by Armstrong’s voice in the first four lyrical lines. Note the lyrics themselves seem more like sentences than verses. He’s singing, he just doesn’t want you to realize it. As the song cranks up the intensity, the subtle melody begins turning upward.
Uneasiness weaves itself through the fabric of the song. You can hear it in the recurring chord change that launches the intro and likewise begins each lyrical line to follow—that shift from an opening minor chord to an unforeseen, unrelated major chord. From there we are taken through a progression featuring more major than minor chords but the underlying sense is disturbed—we’re feeling minor, even through the major changes—and it was set up by the opening gambit. The chords themselves unfold like a narrative, which reinforces a story that escalates both in the lyrics and in the subtext, as we learn perhaps as much about the patient/narrator via what he doesn’t say as from what he does. The way internal rhyme juxtaposes with a lack of end rhyme adds to the song’s ambivalent drive. A character seeking help while insisting he’s all right: what does this say about life for the majority of us, who do not seek help even as we sense that maybe we’re not all right? A strong and haunting song, this one. You could also spend a few listens concentrating merely on the evolving, fiery guitar accompaniment, but I’ll leave that to you, I’m running long as it is.
The Birmingham, Ala.-based quintet 13ghosts is here returning to Fingertips for a third time; Armstrong also visited for an early Q&A. The band is blessed with two strong singer/songwriters, the other being Buzz Russell, who fronted “Beyond the Door,” a great song that was reviewed here in 2008. They were also featured in 2006 but that song alas is no longer online. “Dr. Bill” is from the band’s album Garland of Bottle Flies, coming next month on Skybucket Records.