Pledger’s shades of blues

by Jordan Green

Pledger’s shades of blues he was raised in the South, he has never embraced its heat. (photo by Jordan Green)


The brutal heat bears down on Winston-Salem’s industrial-age brickwork on a recent Saturday approaching the solstice, inducing a mild torpor that drives up caffeine intake and sustains a cycle of dehyrdration and further listlessness. We’re all feeling it. And that’s why Pledger and I are holding down one of the tables at Krankie’s Coffee. It’s a natural meeting place, and also a return to the scene of a minor triumph, where Pledger and his band the Pentatonics shared the bill with Caleb Caudle & the Bayonets and celebrated the imminent release of their forthcoming EP. At 22, Pledger is a recent graduate of UNC Chapel Hill who has returned to his hometown to be near his mother, who is coping with kidney disease, and to live with two members of a second band called Goodnight Man to which he’s equally committed. He teaches guitar to pay the bills, and business is slow at the moment. Post-academic life for any recent graduate tossed into the hemorrhaging job market is uncertain. For a young man with a theological grounding, an analysis of neocolonial oppression in the global economy and commitment to an artistic vocation, it’s uncharted territory.’

He takes a philosophical view, citing an insight from Austin Pfeiffer, his bandmate, housemate and friend in Goodnight Man. “The Pentatonics could do a lot of things,” Pledger says. “It could take off on its own, or it could become just a studio band. I’ve kind of surrendered the ‘making it’ prospect. You have to sell your soul to make it. One thing Austin said to me is, it’s a lot easier to make it small now than it ever was before, but it’s a lot harder to make it big.” Last night’s show at the Werehouse — the performance venue attached to Krankie’s Coffee — was supposed to be the CD release party for the Pentatonics debut EP, The Big Idea, but the collection wasn’t fully mastered and Pledger decided not to rush it. He seems to take it in stride, and is as interested in talking about a follow-up companion EP as the one that is nearing completion. Pledger’s work with the Pentatonics is closer to his blues roots and influences such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert King and Robin Ford. He says he “made it my homework” during his last two years of high school to learn the songs on Stevie’s Greatest Hits note for note. Later, he was turned on to Radiohead and U2. “At first, I thought they were different animals,” Pledger says, “but now I think they have more in common than most people would think.” He describes The Big Idea’s sound as a kind of meeting place between blues and pop. He expects the companion EP to be more raw and dark, like the White Stripes, the Black Keys or Cream. One of the songs that received the most enthusiastic response from the Werehouse show was a song tentatively titled “Gun Control Blues,” a tune with a growling riff in drop-D tuning. “It’s not actually about gun control,” Pledger says. “It’s about how guns control things. Maybe I should rename it right now. He draws together these ideas from a class he took about neo-colonial concepts of violence and poverty in Africa that brings to mind the political angles of John Sayles’ filmmaking: American arms dealers selling guns to combatants on both sides of internal conflicts, farmers struggling to get a livable price for coffee and other crops, manipulation, greed and the rest of an old and sad human story. “I’m22,” Pledger says. “It’s not like I’m a wise person. People don’t wantto hear about the wisdom of someone my age. You have to write what youknow, and for me that mainly involves asking questions.” Isthe mass culture of America ready to hear from the likes of PhilipPledger? Is there still a mass media to receive the word and amplify itto the masses? Those are the unresolved questions.

“Myparents live here and it’s nice to be here with them,” Pledger says.”Mymother has kidney disease. I can pick her up from dialysis treatment ifshe needs me to. I know Winston-Salem is not a major metropolis. Placeslike Krankie’s are pretty one of a kind. It’s also dirtcheap to livehere.

Philip Pledger & the Pentatonics perform at JackSprat Caf’, at 161 E. Franklin St. in Chapel Hill, on Thursday. Call919.933.3575 for more information.