Monday, September 14, 2009

Music Library: Grant McLennan, Grateful Dead, Grayson & Whittier, Great Northern, Great Unwashed, Green On Red, Green Slime, Greenskeepers

Grant McLennan - Watershed (1991), Fireboy (1994), Horsebreaker Star (1995), and In Your Bright Ray (1997).  As I wrote last week when talking about The Go-Betweens, Grant McLennan was the poppier of the two songwriters.  As my pal Gary pointed out, the Go-Betweens showed how much they needed each other with their lackluster solo albums.  It's not that these are terrible albums.  Well, Watershed is kind of a terrible album. But there's not much going for them, either.  Fireboy has a pleasant enough acoustic feel.  Horsebreaker Star is about twice as long as it needs to be.  In Your Bright Ray is the best of these albums, but that doesn't make it a great album.  I feel bad about insulting the work of a guy whose work I admire and indeed love, but there isn't much on these to recommend to any but fans.  The best-of Intermission that came out a few years back probably has as much solo McLennan as even the more interested fans might need.

Grateful Dead - American Beauty (1970).  There was a time when I spent a lot of effort attending Grateful Dead shows.  I was pretty young, and I wanted to feel like I was a part of something larger.  But I never felt connected to the larger Deadhead community.  I realized - too slowly, but I was young! - that there was just as much selfishness in that group as there is any community created by human beings, although I will admit that I saw some rather amazing moments of selflessness, too.  Ah, but the music!  It was terrible.  The parking lots were great, though.  People of all ages would get together to jam on acoustic instruments, usually playing older folk songs, but too often someone would throw in an all-too-reverent Dead cover, as well.  Inside the stadium: unfocused noodling, overbusy drums, a weird wash of sound with all edges sandpapered off (I mean, Garcia's pedals were autowah, phaser, and mild distortion, right?  No edges).  Outside the stadium: human beings fucking around on strings and wood, sometimes actually sounding good.  I preferred the outside. But I'm not here to bury the Dead, but to praise this album: this one is the only Dead album I feel. Sure, the drums and guitars are still far too busy and the whole thing is strangely lacking in a bass register. But the songs are actually reaching towards greatness, and the simplicity is appealing.  Specifically: "Box of Rain," "Friend of the Devil," "Ripple," and "Attics of My Life": great songs.  Perennial fan-favorites "Sugar Magnolia" and "Truckin'?" Awful.  The rest, I'm kinda indifferent. I bought this long after I'd decided that I never would listen to the Dead again, spurred by an unexpected nostalgia. See, there's more to it.  My uncle gave me a copy when I was 13 or so, so I had quite an attachment to this album from an early age.  And then there was this show, Freaks and Geeks, which nobody but my wife and I watched at the time, but now is rightly considered a cult classic. I don't want to spoil anything about this show that went off the air 10 years ago in an unceremonious episode dump, but I will say that this album plays a large part in the series finale.  And I realized, as I watched it (that's right, I saw the series finale on TV in real time), that I sorta loved some of the songs on this album.  And I sorta hated some, too, but I loved the album, anyway. So here we are.

Grayson & Whittier - "Ommie Wise."  Speaking of old-timey folk music that would crop up in Grateful Dead parking lots, this is a version of a great old murder ballad in which (uh, spoiler?) poor little Ommie/Omie Wise is murdered at Adams' Spring.

Great Northern - "Home."  A free iTunes giveaway some years back.  I'd heard Great Northern on the KEXP live music podcast and this was the best song they played.  I should get around to checking out the rest of the album sometime.

The Great Unwashed - Collection (1992, recorded 1984 - 1988).  So The Clean first broke up in 1982 or so, and the brothers Scott (that's David and Hamish) got back together with one of the early Clean bassists and made some rather Clean-ish music as The Great Unwashed. Well, it's Clean-like, but it's also a little woollier than the Clean, which is mighty woolly indeed, and recalls Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd at times.  This album, simply titled Collection, gathers all of the Great Unwashed releases (an album and an EP).  It's fan-freakin'-tastic.  And man!  A new Clean album just came out this week.

Green On Red - Gas Food Lodging (1985).  Delightful early alt-country-ish post-punk album.  Chuck Prophet is on guitar for this one.

The Green Slime - "The Green Slime."  Soundtrack to an apparently-awful monster movie that I've never seen.  This song is fun garage rock, though.

Greenskeepers - "Lotion (Live)."  No idea where this came from.  A Ween-ish song based on Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs.  This is a live version.


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