Gerald Duncan and his band the Accelerators have been AWOL for a healthy chunk of the ’90s. “I needed to survive, and continuing that [the music] was not conducive to survival,” is how the 46-year-old Duncan explains it via a phone call from the Raleigh apartment he shares with his wife of three weeks, Laura, and their fifteen animals — six snakes, four cats, two possums, two sugar gliders, and a hedgehog — all of them saved. (One assumes he means in the rescued, not the religious, sense.)
In 1991, Duncan and the Accelerators, which over the years has included Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster and Backslider-to-be Brad Rice, released their third album, Dream Train. It yielded a regional hit in the chugging, catchy “Boy & Girl” and furthered the Accelerators’ reputation as a straight-up but surprisingly versatile rootsy rock band. But with survival issues and a lineup in flux, the Accelerators played only sporadically during the middle part of the decade.
It didn’t mean that music wasn’t still a part of Duncan’s life; as he puts it, “You don’t lose the music. It doesn’t go away.” He also continued to pay attention to kindred spirits in the NC Triangle area, saying of folks such as Kenny Roby, Chip Robinson and up-and-comer Chris Smith, “they’re the real deal, and I hope you’ll put that in whatever you’re writing.” A night of song-swapping with Robinson and Roby at a benefit in March ’97, an event that he calls “the best thing that’s ever happened to me musically,” served as a welcome back of sorts.
Around that time, Duncan reached into the deep talent pool of central North Carolina and restocked the Accelerators with bassist Ron Bartholomew (a veteran of hard-working outfits such as the Hanks and the Woods), his brother Dave Bartholomew on guitar, and big-hitting young drummer Chris Henderson. In mid-November, that configuration will release Nearer, Duncan’s most diverse and ambitious collection of songs yet.
“Cry Like A Baby” and “Big Machine” pack the wallop of roots-rock and the sonic exuberance of power-pop, kind of like Rockpile on grits. The Bottle Rockets-ish “Waiting In Line” proves that classic rock doesn’t have to be a curse phrase, while the mandolin-dotted “All I Want” showcases the band’s quiet side. Duncan calls “One More One In A Million” his “one world, one people” song, while the mortality-confronting title track is his most reflective composition to date. Well-traveled keyboardist Jim Crew adds dimension and texture throughout with his organ work. And a solemn, bluesy arrangement of Gershwin’s “Summertime” fits in seamlessly.
Frustrated with the machinations of the music industry, Duncan decided to release Nearer independently. “Because I work for the state, they [the credit union] gave me a loan, though I didn’t tell them it was for a record,” he confesses.
As our conversation winds down, Duncan recalls a review in the Raleigh paper of the Accelerators’ Don Dixon-produced debut, 1983′s Leave My Heart, which was declared “the worst thing ever put on vinyl.” “Every day is gravy for me,” he says with a laugh. “Nobody can say anything worse than it’s ‘the worst thing ever put on vinyl.’”