Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Great Songs You May Never have Heard (2)

The rock and roll landscape is littered with the ruins of super groups that didn't live up to expectations, or did but only for a very short time, or turned out the good music but still burned out as everyone moved on. It happens. Artists have their own projects on the go, and a melding of minds and talents is also a melding of egos, which means that eventually someone has to give in. Besides, often these sorts of groups are conceived as a one-off, or perhaps a side project to come back to and fiddle with now and again, when everyone is in the mood. None seem to be intended to have the longevity of a group like, say, the Rolling Stones (although whether or not they'll be able to celebrate their 50th anniversary as a group remains to be seen. Personally, though, I suspect the money hanging over their heads will entice Mick back into the fold, no matter what Keith said about him in print).

In 1998, Golden Smog released their third of five albums (six if you count a best-of), called Weird Tales. The band has had several different incarnations over the years, all interesting. For this album, some of names included Jeff Tweedy (from Wilco), Gary Louris (from the Jayhawks), Dan Murphy (from Soul Asylum), and Jody Stephens (from Big Star). Now, I know I have friends who will shrug and perhaps nod their heads in mild recognition at one or two of those names, but I also know people who, like me, sit up and take notice when they see those all grouped together.

I will admit that sometimes the album sounds more like Jeff Tweedy walked in and decided it was time to do a new Wilco album, only with other musicians, and as much as I adore Wilco, that can sometimes be a little irritating (probably unfair, considering how few of the songs he actually wrote on his own). But unlike Wilco, Golden Smog has other voices to add to the mix; infrequently, perhaps, but enough to keep it interesting and enjoyable.

Interesting and enjoyable is enough for me to keep an album on fairly regular rotation, but not enough for me to want to shout from the rooftops about the music I'm hearing. A few songs do stand out for me, including "Looking Forward to Seeing You," "Jane," and "Jennifer Save Me," all of them enough for me to be happy to recommend the album to anyone who likes an alt-country vibe coupled with excellent musicianship.

All that said, one song leaps high above the rest, and from the moment I first heard it entered my own pantheon of great (Great!) music. "Until You Came Along" was written and is sung by Louris and is a great, messy, barroom singalong, a booze-stained love song that soars and aches at the same time. Listen to the harmonies: hear how they follow their own path? It really is like they're all in a bar, singing along with Louris, trying to hold onto their sloshing mugs of beer, arms around each others' shoulders, and forgetting exactly where they're supposed to hit their musical marks. The beat doesn't matter with the vocals, and yet as messy and eruptive as the music is, everything there is remarkably tight.

Listen to it, and imagine the response it should have garnered every time it was played by a DJ at a country bar, people hearing it for the first time and clamoring to find out who this was, everyone wanting to sing along with the track, all as messy and as fun as what they were hearing. Imagine country radio playing something like this, instead of (or even alongside) that insipid pop that passes for country music on every commercial station's playlist across the land (side note: really, CBC Radio 1, you thought it important to announce to us during the news broadcast that Lady Antebellum is coming to town?).

The album got some attention, and as will be the case with every song I list in this series, some of you will be familiar with it. But in my eyes "Until You Came Along" is a great song that deserves more than the cult following it has received. Enjoy.

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