The Shaming Of The True Revisited: Kevin Gilbert’s Posthumous Rock Opera

1/30/2012 3:35:00 PM
By Frank Wells
Like a shooting star that illuminates the sky and fascinates those who happen to be looking in the right direction, Kevin Gilbert had a short but compelling musical career. Before he left life too young, Gilbert created a body of work as a multi-instrumentalist, composer, lyricist and vocalist that has spawned an intensely dedicated, if relatively small group of fans.
Gilbert had been working on a rock opera, The Shaming Of The True, at the time of his demise, a project finished by his friends and released posthumously in 2000. TSOTT follows the rise and fall of a pop star in a scathing indictment of the predatory aspects of the music industry. Listeners might be forgiven for thinking that some of the commentary in the lyrics was somewhat autobiographically inspired; for those who have followed Gilbert’s career, there is some inevitable tendency to find Gilbert in parts of his protagonist’s tale.
Nashville-based producer/engineer and huge Gilbert fan, Mark Hornsby was working in London’s Abbey Road studios, and while in the main hall, picked out a bit of “A Long Day’s Life” on a piano. He’d long thought the track called for an orchestral approach, and began pursuing obtaining the original tracks to embellish with a full orchestra. He pulled off the ambitious project, captured within Abbey Road in an environment steeped in musical history.

Jon Rubin, Kevin’s friend and former manager, is committed to finding, releasing and making available all of Gilbert’s work, ensuring audio quality and overseeing distribution and packaging, working closely with Gilbert’s estate and the Kevin Gilbert Memorial Foundation. At the point where more copies of TSOTT were being pressed, a 1,000-copy limited edition was packaged in a gorgeous LP-sized, four-sleeve book housing art prints of the original illustrations for TSOTT, sheet music for “A Long Day’s Life,” commentary from friends and family, lyrics and two CDs. One disc contains the full original (remastered) TSOTT. The second disc has an alternate version of the track “Parade” and Hornsby’s orchestral version of “A Long Day’s Life.” The rest of the second disc has additional material—the brainchild of associate producer and mixer John Cuniberti: poet Jamie De Wolf performs the lyrics of TSOTT without instrumentation.
Hornsby’s approach works for “A Long Day’s Life,” complementing the original tracks and replacing synth tracks with real instruments in a rich and appropriate arrangement by John Hinchey. As much as Gilbert liked to rework and revisit his own tunes—alternate versions of many such exist—the track rings true and I can’t help but think he would have approved. Hornsby says he deliberately listened only to Gilbert’s original rough mix during his own mixing, and while the track stands somewhat apart from the album version, it stands tall.

Participants in the recording of the orchestral version of Kevin Gilbert’s “A Long Day’s Life” were in attendance at a December, 2011 listening event at Nashville’s Welcome To 1979 studios. Pictured are (l-r) studio owner Chris Mara (tape prep), John Hinchey (orchestral arranger), Nicolas Morrow (assistant engineer), Brian MacLeod (drummer) with the limited edition, Mark Hornsby (producer/engineer), John Hill (additional engineering).

I had the pleasure of first hearing Hornby’s track during a listening event at Nashville’s Welcome to 1979 studios, where a group of those involved in the project gathered with Gilbert fans, and some who were hearing TSOTT for the first time, for playback of the full album followed by the alternate take on “A Long Day’s Life” and a sampling of the other bonus material.

The passion evoked by Kevin’s music was evident as the project was discussed. A special treat was hearing Gilbert collaborator, drummer Brian MacLeod talk about the development of the “Ghetto Of Beautiful Things” (The cut “From Here To There“ ends with the recitation “My mind is quiet and still, my mind is quiet and still, my mind is quiet.” Those words are followed by the bombastic drum intro and aural assault of the anything but quiet-and-still rock rap that is “Ghetto Of Beautiful Things”).

A few of the tracks on TSOTT have seen prior release—TSOTT was obviously a long developing project for Gilbert. Gentle Giant fans may have previously heard the bitingly satirical and sadly amusing “Suit Fugue (Dance of the A&R Men)”—a fun, complex and layered rhythmic chant based around A&R types’ phone messages to the hero of TSOTT. “Suit Fugue” appeared under a slightly different title on the 1997 release Giant Tracks: A Tribute To Gentle Giant. “From Here To There” and “The Way Back Home” were first released in 1987 on The Power Of Suggestion album from Gilbert’s then band, Giraffe.

Many of us first became familiar with Gilbert from his collaborative work with Patrick Leonard on the 1990 release Toy Matinee. While the album never achieved a mass audience, it was such a staple of audio engineer’s CD wallets and had enough of a cult following that it was put back in print and, in 2001, remixed by Elliot Scheiner for DVD-A release. A pristine prog-pop production, Toy Matinee also had too much of a lyrical edge for the mainstream. Gilbert was the prime lyricist, and as he progressed through his next release, the solo project Thud (released in 1995 and out of print; currently, used copies go for $30 on Amazon), the lyrics continued to be both compelling and dark (one well known producer/engineer was starting a project in the studio and asked the assistant to play him something so he could hear how the room sounded. The assistant picked a track from Thud, but the guest engineer said, “No, play something else. That’s a brilliant album, but it’s too dark to start the day”).

Biting and incisive social commentary and portraits of troubled lives litter Gilbert’s lyrics. Portions of TSOTT and the subsequent album Kaviar were yet more raw and dark. (In its listing, Kaviar even carries the voluntary notice “Warning: This CD is not appropriate for children. Some adults may find it offensive. You've been warned!”) I’ve lost count of how many copies of Toy Matinee and Thud that I bought in used CD shops and subsequently gave away, spawning new Gilbert fans.

Kevin Gilbert’s musicianship and perfect rock voice are evident throughout TSOTT, and while it’s not Gilbert’s most consistent album, perhaps because it was developed over so many years, industry pros are drawn in by the commentary and come back for what is in essence a sampling of Gilbert across his career. With caveats to those with delicate sensibilities, The Shaming Of The True is considered an essential listen by its fans.

Pro Sound News ran a previous story on the recording of the orchestral version of “A Long Day’s Life” that can be found at

More information on Kevin Gilbert, his other works and the limited edition of The Shaming Of The True can be found at

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