Pedigree doesn’t always result in prizewinning offspring, but what pedigrees we have on offer here, and they’re singing Woody Guthrie lyrics so what could possibly go wrong? Nothing, that’s what, given the close friendships between the players.
Ego wasn’t ever going to be a problem and frankly though this terrain has been trodden before (Wilco & Billy Bragg) this sits way above all of that, and actually delivers everything that you’d hope it would. How often does that actually happen? Supergroup in super group shock!
It’s very much a collective endeavour; it shows its frayed and loose ends, shares its false starts, retains the camaraderie, the harmonies are just close enough. It’s a dusty and leathery record, it is old tarnished notebooks, it is not digitisation. It’s no bubble of nostalgia though, Guthrie still resonates and the political parallels are all too easily drawn, all that has really changed is the polarisation. I’m sure Guthrie would be aghast at the capitulation of the left.
‘Hoping Machine’ kicks things into gear with Anders Parker sounding better than anything since the first couple of Varnaline records; the music has the force of a dam burst as the collective guitars and voices course through the song carrying it straight to your pleasure receptors. ‘VD City’ (we’ve really solved this problem haven’t we) becomes the standard for STD songs; it is, itself, virally infectious with the ghosts of Woody and REM stalking through the jangle of the song which is at first almost obscured by some Centro-Matic style fuzz. But then, the guitars lock and chime and it’s Tupelo Honey, it’s Space Needle, it’s South San Gabriel, it’s My Morning Jacket, it is all these things and more. The guitars just keep on coming with layer after layer, it is Americana in excelsis.
‘Old L.A.’ carries on with a college rock vibe, a chiming chorus, harmonies and layers of guitars that suggest the Feelies. ‘Chorine’ and ‘Talking Empty Bed Blues’ are tinged with melancholy and are treated with the respect that they deserve. ‘Careless Reckless Love’ has Jay Farrar treading down the same road with the palpable resignation that trouble will always follow us around. When he sings the refrain it is one of those universal moments of recognition, we realise that we are sometimes powerless, reason abandons us as we allow emotion to make our decision for us.
The record sounds joyous and reverent, they sound like they tickled each other out of comfort zones into something that is collective, in other words, a band. ‘Fly High’ sounds like the result of players knowing each other inside out. You can draw connections between songs; ‘My Revolutionary Mind’ and ‘No Fear’ though helmed by Yim Yames and Will Johnson are recognisably the work of the same band. They’ve done Woody Guthrie and his memory proud; my only qualm about this is why I wasn’t sent the expanded version for review - now I’m going to have to track down the eleven additional songs.