'Round the Dial: The gold and the black
Wednesday 08 November @ 12:16:26
by TOM HALLETT
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “At this time, when most people are completely in the dark about what goes on in this country, politically speaking ... it’s hard work, it’s a chore, to learn the facts and what’s going on. And when most Americans don’t know what’s going on, and they don’t care—they just kind of join a team. Whatever team they feel they want to be a part of, they join and they blindly follow. So yeah, short chore, great reward is a sort of mantra for democratic citizens, in a way, too.” – Vic Chesnutt
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Truth Lies Low” – The Drams
Greetings, ‘Dial-heads, rampant rock ’n’ roll readers, an’ befuddled browsers one and all. Once again, I’m dedicating this week’s outing strictly to the business of reviews, not much time left in Ought Six to give these records their due, so I’m gonna give ’er a helluva go here. Onward ...
Another Fine Day
Man, this album seemed like forever in the making—I don’t usually sit around on the edge of my seat waiting for a band to hit me with another rock n’ roll wamma-jamma like I did this one, but after their last (Weird Tales), it seemed to me that Minneapolis “super-group” Golden Smog were on course toward making one great album after another.
Thankfully, this one was worth the wait. Featuring most of the usual cast of Twin Cities (or TC-connected) musical characters that tend to make up the ever-evolving lineup of GS (Kraig Johnson, Gary Louris, Danny Murphy, Jeff Tweedy and Marc Perlman), as well as a bevy of special guests, including Jim Boquist, Linda Pitmon, Big Star’s Jody Stephens, producer/musician/label-honcho Ed Ackerson, and a whole list of like-minded compatriots, Another Fine Day is, without a doubt, this outfit’s crowning achievement to date. I don’t say that lightly, either.
OK, I’ll give ya this much—having this much talent in one outfit is really putting together a band of all ringers to make an album—Murphy is from Soul Asylum, Tweedy heads Wilco, Johnson, Louris and Perlman are Jayhawks, and Boquist co-founded Son Volt. But it seems to me that most “Name-Brand” super-groups of any type (let’s just take the Damn Yankees, The “New” Cars, or even Crosby-Stills-Nash—and sometimes —Young for example) usually at best cancel out the individual artist’s contribution (OK, I’m being extra kind to the Damn Yankees) or at worst causes such an ego clash that any kind of artistic—let alone actual entertainment—value is immediately sucked out of the project before it even hits the ground. I can only think of a few really great “All-Star Cast” albums that have been worth my dime—The Highwaymen, maybe, and of course the Traveling Wilburys—and neither of those collaborations hit perfectly on EVERY track, as the Smog does here.
Golden Smog are one of the rare exceptions I’ve found to this rule—and it wouldn’t matter a whit to me whether they were a group of guys who met and hooked up in Philly, Athens or Memphis—these cats have a great thing going and their obvious off-stage camaraderie as well as their long-practiced stage and studio interplay make each and every release they give us yet another genuine musical treat. As a bonus, each member and their other “main” band keep making music on their own, bringing us year-round material from some of the undisputed kings of new pop/Americana/rock whatever-the-fuck-you-wanna-call-it music. I look at this album as an early Christmas present, even though I know it’s been at least several years in the making.
Recorded against the exotic backdrop of Spain and the schizoid weather and manic urban pace of the Twin Cities, this record immediately establishes itself apart from its predecessor in a couple of ways, the first being that (and this was noticeable on Weird Tales, but here it’s becoming even more obvious) Kraig Johnson has taken more of a leadership role—both songwriting and singing-wise—here than ever before. That’s not just a good thing—that’s a great thing. Louris and Murphy and the rest have their respective bands with respectable followings (as does Johnson, but his outfits tend to be more local-centric as well as having a shorter lifespan—I mean, I still miss Run Westy Run, how fucking pathetic is THAT?), but it’s great to see Kraig let his ever-morphing singing and songwriting talents shine, and nowhere are those qualities more present than on Another Fine Day.
Not to take anything away from the other performers/writers/ singers on this album, either. Tweedy, Murphy, Louris (God, if Gary Louris’ voice was the last male voice I ever heard on earth before I died I’d go happy—I love it that much) and even Perlman make HUGE contributions here, but I just get the feeling that, on this record in particular, Kraig Johnson’s vision was at least a large part of the end result.
This album immediately rolls outta the gate with a different vibe than Weird Tales—while that album did contain its fair share of catchy, up-beat love songs, even those tracks rang with an almost palpable sadness and mystery. My fave was “Jennifer Save Me,” which I think was another KJ composition, and even the heartbreaking soul crumble of that track was overshadowed by the same strange, doped-out haze that made tracks like “Making Waves” so creepy and sexy all at the same time—but then, like me, maybe you’d have had to live through the experience that song describes to really get my meaning
Another Fine Day is chock full of straight-forward, no-bullshit rockers and ballads, with the balance of the songwriting and singing duties split mostly between Johnson and Louris, with Tweedy and Murphy throwing in a few, and several killer full-band efforts that really help make this one their best yet. Standouts include the swooning, soul-warming Louris-sung title track, the dreamy, catchy up-tempo ballad “5-22-02,” which was co-written with singer/songwriter Holly Marilyn, and the tweaky (yeah, there are a lot of effects on this one—Ed Ackerson, after all, helped to produce, but this is the good kind of tweak—the kind that made Wilco grow up and expand, and the kind of brave mixing, producing and mastering that will help this album catch the ears of younger listeners WHO NEED THIS KIND OF MUSIC), seething “Beautiful Mind,” and the (natch—there had to be at least ONE!) drug rocker “Frying Pan Eyes.”
My fave, though, has got to be the full-band effort “Corvette,” which thrums, pounds, shimmies and slams out of your speakers and makes you feel you like you did the very first time you heard this band or any of the bands they play with—an almost mystical, magical realization that, for fuck’s sake, there ARE still good bands out there, there are still good songs to be written, albums to be recorded and PEOPLE WORTH KNOWING.
If there’s anything I take away from a Golden Smog record, it’s always been, “Thank God for these guys—if people only knew the nights they’ve pulled me through and the days they’ve kept me from just chucking the whole fucking mess and pulling the old Houdini.” So thanks, guys—and as for the rest of you, if you know this band, get off your asses and buy this ASAP. If you haven’t, do yourselves a favor and spend every last dime of your musical budget this week to get it. Me, I’m throwin’ it back on the headphones and gettin’ myself another dose ... check this stuff out for yourself at goldensmog.com.
The Black Keys
2006 Nonesuch Records
Ya know, The Black Keys are the kind of band (well, couple of guys, anyway) that, if heard from a distance (say your mom, boy/girlfriend or partner heard you jamming it really LOUD in your garage) people might think were just a couple of cats who really, really wanted to rock out but weren’t really that good at it. And they’d be completely wrong.
Though this collection isn’t nearly as earth-shaking as their debut (not meaning it isn’t louder than God and full of kick-ass crunch, but that it’s now been done and isn’t such a slam in the gut as it was hearing it the first time out), it does go a long way towards showing that even glorified feedback and (occasional) pool-hall lyrics can sometimes meld together with genuine artistic panache to create a not only highly listenable, but a genuinely likeable batch of tunes, as well.
The first two cuts here, “Just Got To Be” and “Your Touch” are of the Black Keys’ usual school of Zep-meets-Bad-Company-in-a-street-fight variety, all up-front crotch rock and backhanded lyrical crassness. Track three, though, proves my above point exactly—yeah, the music is still simple, to-the-point (no bass here, gang, even ZZ Top and Rush couldn’t do it without the magical thunderstick, so give the boys in TBK some points for that alone) and ringing, but there’s a huge difference here lyrically and vibe-wise.
Think of it as a slow-dance number for the tats-and-piercings crowd, or maybe as an electrified, modern Boz Scaggs (yeah, before Boz donned a white suit and sipped champagne with Lido, he used to wear blue jeans and jam blues tunes like “Loan Me A Dime” with guys like Duane Allman) cut for the Oughts, but one listen to “You’re The One” and you should be convinced that these guys aren’t just another noisy, blues-based rock outfit.
Other must-hears include the spooky, anthemic howl of “Strange Desire,” which sounds like what might have happened if Howlin’ Wolf and Blind Lemon Jefferson had met Paul Rodgers and Jimi Hendrix at a ‘shroom festival; the dire, chunky crunch of “Goodbye Babylon,” which finds the band putting some earthy metal stomp on top of loftier, Jah-inspired lyrics; and album closer “Elevator,” wherein the amped-up gang lays out their band philosophy (LOUD).
These guys are saying a lot more with their loud axes and thundering drums than most casual listeners are probably aware, and I hope they get some much-needed exposure in order to garner a larger fan base and spread their two-fold message—Rock ROCKS and it doesn’t need to be stupid to do so. Grow some balls, “modern rock radio,” and start playin’ somethin’ smart with a little authentic rock ’n’ roll attitude behind it. Great stuff, highly recommended. Check it out at nonesuchrecords.com.
OK, ye land lubbers, that’s all the room I’ve got for this week, so I’ll catch ya on the proverbial flipside. Coming up—Ween, Tim O’ Reagan, The Drams, Willie Nelson and scads of local releases. Until we meet again—make yer own damn news.
If you have local music news/CDs/events you’d like to see mentioned in this space, send replies to: Tmygunn77764@yahoo.com. ||