Review Summary: Alt-Country, Americana, Whatever label you want to throw at, one of the best and most underrated of the '90's.
Where do you begin with a masterpiece of eclectic music, brilliant lyrics, and substance so deep you could cut with a knife.
Grant Lee Phillips, as he would later be known as a solo artist, is primarily the sole songwriter for his group Grant Lee Buffalo as well. But unlike more subtle releases later in his career, there is a fire burning in him on this album, galvanizing in songs like the opening anthem Lone Star Song.
Released in 1994, when grunge had a fairly good hold on what was king on the airwaves, comes an album, that takes that raw emotion and embraces it with a vocalist who can be just as abrasive as any hard rock artist and then tone it down, into an almost singer/songwriter tone that can evoke that beauty reminiscent of such artists as Gordon Lightfoot or even James Taylor.
What makes this album an all time classic and yet keeps it safely under the radar, is the fact that it doesn't sound like anything else. There is really no one quite to compare it to. Not that Phillip's songwriting doesn't draw from many pools of inspiration, but when he does, he takes it and makes it own. Like the 'master's apprentice' analogy, Phillip's music is HIS music, and he never comes close to becoming a mere clone of his inspirations.
Distorted guitars, mixed with mandolins, banjos, blaring harmonicas and Phillips ever commanding voice is held steady by a very subtle yet strong rhythm section. Lyrically he blazes through politics, love, the human spirit, and ends the album with a very chilling take on his own version of the old hymn Rock of Ages.
There is no need to pick this album apart, song by song. Every song on here somehow perfectly meshes with its predecessor, yet holds a distinct vibe, always slightly different. From glaring electric guitars to hushed acoutics, each song on here has something to say, musically and lyrically, conveyed in such a manner that it can cut right to the heart of the listener, especially with tracks such as Happiness. Phillips has a way of getting his message across in a way that draws in his listeners, as he though he is not just singing to them, but for them, making many of these songs a very personal listen.
This album is one of those very few that you don't find the need to skip a track. It works on so many levels and rises above much of what was being released in 1994 and even in 2011. If there was this kind of ingenuity, this kind of depth, put into the commercial market, music would be a lot healthier for it. To think that this was released on Geffen records now amazes me, because today, this album would probably end up on a lower tier independent label. They went on to record two more albums after this one, both good, but never reaching the heights acheived Mighty Joe Moon.