Sunday, July 10, 2005
Alt.country supergroup, anybody?
Golden Smog started out as a studio min-joke goof-off for members of Soul Asylum, the Jayhawks, Wilco, Run Westy Run, Big Star and GeraldineFibbers.
The first EP "On Golden Smog" and LP "Down By The OldMainstream" were punctuated by hoary barroom covers (Thin Lizzy, Faces) and songs that sounded like The Jayhawks. They even gave themselves pseudonyms and fabricated sleeve artwork for previous releases - "America's Newest Shitmakers", "Temple of the Smog". So far, so average.
Which makes 1998s "Weird Tales" all the more remarkable - this is a great album, possibly one of the best "alt.country" albums ever.
Golden Smog - Until You Came Along
Golden Smog - Please Tell My Brother
Whereas on "Mainstream..." the bulk of the tunes sound like in-studio post-closing-time jams, on "Weird Tales" the band members (now going by their own names) served up some of their best material.
"Until You Came Along" sung by The Jayhawks' Gary Louris is simply one of the best American songs of the past 20 years, a glorious singalong to the redemptive powers of true love. I never really got the Jayhawks but then, they never recorded a song as good as this.
"Please Tell My Brother" is one of Jeff Tweedy's (Uncle Tupelo/Wilco) best songs, a gorgeously simple folksy amble.
Between "Mainstream..."and "Weird Tales", Wilco had released the incredible, horizon-expanding double album "Being There", which must surely have had some effect on the Smog musical landscape. There's a variety of tone and attack on the second album that is totally absent on their earlier recordings.
But whither Jeff Tweedy's erstwhile chum, grumpy Jay Farrar?
When Uncle Tupelo split, the sensible money was on him to rake in the glory. In Tupelo, he'd been responsible for many of their signature tunes, with Tweedy coming up with the frothier numbers.
When they split, Wilco (Tweedy's band made up of all the non-Jay Tupeloband members) served up "AM", a mostly uninspiring retread of past glories, whereas Farrar's Son Volt released "Trace", a truly great album, bookended by "Windfall", one of my favourite songs ever, and a great cover of Ron Wood's "Mystifies Me", featuring on bass... MarcPerlman of Jayhawks/Golden Smog fame. See how it all ties in together??
Son Volt – Windfall
Son Volt - Mystifies Me
Son Volt followed "Trace" with "Straightaways", which was... well, an uninspiring retread of past glories, and I stopped paying attention, really (if you have any suggestions of what I've missed out on, leave a comment).
Wilco released the amazing "Being There" and became one of the most exciting and interesting bands in the world today. Whod've thunk it?
Buy Weird Tales by Golden Smog
Buy Trace by Son Volt
Buy Being There by Wico
Visit Golden Smog
Visit Wilko (arf!)
Visit Jay Farrar