Tuesday, July 18th, 2006
Down By The Old Mainstream
The New York Times (Bugmenot) tries to stir things up a bit with a piece on the demise of “alt.country”, using the career of The Jayhawks as a reference point. It’s fine as a Jayhawks piece but is a helluva lot more tenuous as an obituary for a sound. Yes, the term came into fashion at around the same time the ‘Hawks and Uncle Tupelo were in their heyday and yes, most of the bands that were part of that specific scene have either disbanded or grown out of the sound but term outgrew the scene long before the scene outgrew it.
To my mind, it now encompasses anything from Gram and Neil (or even further back) through to anyone today who has an appreciation for good old-fashioned songcraft, storytelling, pedal steel and fuzzboxes or anything rootsy that doesn’t come from the Nashville/CMT machine. Like any other musical descriptor, it’s as meaningful as it is meaningless and as long as people keep making music that can be described as such, it’s not going anywhere.
But on a personal level my interest in alt.country as they define it does pretty much coincide with the arc as described in the NYT piece. I liked the Jayhawks’ post-Olson pop phase just as I liked Wilco’s growth beyond the A.M. sound and while I can certainly appreciate a band that trades in rootsy twang, I get a little frustrated now if that’s all they have to offer. It’s kind of odd to say, but it seems the only way a genre can continue to be fresh and interesting is if the bands that get pigeonholed in it keep trying to shake it off. Stylistic labels are like challenges to the artist – you don’t like it? Prove it doesn’t fit.
But if nothing else, the piece is good for one thing – they’ve also got five – FIVE – tracks from the new Golden Smog album Another Fine Day available to download as part of their Gary Louris segue. I linked “5-22-02” last week – here’s another one courtesy of The New York Times and you can stream the whole record at AOL. It’s in stores today but don’t expect much touring to support. As Louris and Dan Murphy tell Harp, they don’t see much point in touring without Jeff Tweedy. Which I don’t agree with but can understand them not wanting to deal with the drunken lout who shows up to loudly request “Casino Queen” through the whole show.
In addition to the Smog, Gary Louris is also producing the new Sadies album and appeared on their soon-to-be-released (August 8) In Concert Volume 1. I just got a copy of the double-disc set yesterday and it’s really spectacular. The 110-minute set is a twang feast and does a pretty damn good job of capturing the energy and excitement of being at the shows it’s drawn from. Like the show, the discs are broken up into a Good family affair and a special guest-laden racucous barnburner and it’s a feather in Steve Albini’s cap that he was able to capture the show with the perfect balance of rawness and clarity without sacrificing any of the vibe. I should know, I was there.
Also nice is that the liner notes tell you exactly who each of the songs was written by and what album they originally appeared on – very handy considering the cover-heavy set list and the revolving door that was the stage those nights. The Sadies play a two-night CD release show for In Concert at the Horseshoe on September 8 and 9. How they intend to do this record justice without flying all the participants back into town, I don’t know but I’m sure it’ll be something else to see them try. YepRoc has a half-dozen tracks of the 41 total tracks available to stream, including the Jayhawks’ “Tailspin”. You can also download of one of The Sadies’ own songs.
Wilco’s Toronto show from July 7 has now been torrented thanks to Toronto taper extraordinaire David Klein. They opened with what I believe is the first ever performance of a new song, “There’s A Light”. There were two more new songs in the set – I posted a link to “Impossible Germany” from the Milwaukee show last week.
Billy Bragg will release his second box set of the year, Volume Two, on October 17. It will cover the second half of his career including the essential Worker’s Playtime and Don’t Try This At Home as well as the somewhat less essential William Bloke and England, Half English (though I am guessing that the Mermaid Avenue sessions will be unrepresented). Each album will have a bonus disc of goodies and the ninth disc in the set will be a DVD containing two live shows, one from 1991 and one from this year. As with Volume One, each album will be available individually as well as in the fancy box and Bill will again be touring Canada to promote it so everyone who was disappointed to not hear “She’s Got A New Spell” last time will have to be in attendance. Of course, the Toronto show, which goes down at the Danforth Music Hall on September 24, just happens to be the same day as Lambchop which also just happens to be the same day as something else I sort of have to attend…. so Five Seventeen – just how long is this wedding thing of yours going to take?
And to bring things full circle, NPR has a feature on Jayhawks drummer gone solo Tim O’Reagan and Center Times Daily talks to him about his self-titled CD which came out June 27. O’Reagan will be at the Horseshoe on August 15 with Greg Laswell.
And yeah, the site was down for about six hours last night. THAT was fun.
np – The Sadies / In Concert Volume One