Landing in 1998 Golden Smog’s second album distilled all the promise of the debut “Down by the Old Mainstream” into a cogent musical collaboration taken way beyond the initial excitement of collaborating with friends and co- workers on the American music scene. Featuring, in no particular order, Dan Murphy, Gary Louris, Jeff Tweedy, Kraig Johnson, Jody Stephens and Marc Perlman along with Jessy Greene and her violin. There’s a wealth of material that really explores the boundaries of the genre of so called americana without ever trying to break the mould in the way perhaps Tweedy’s ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ did.
Opening with the upbeat ‘To Call My Own’ (Murphy) the album has a natural arc flowing from the celebratory opener and following numbers ‘Looking Forward To Seeing You’ (Johnson), ‘Until You Came Along’(Louris) and ‘Lost Love’ (Tweedy) towards the more downbeat side two finishing with the melancholia of ‘All the Same To Me’ and ‘Jennifer Save Me’ again democratic in their compositions featuring Tweedy, Louris and Johnson once more.
Track five ‘If I Only Had a Car’ is a jagged guitar driven delight, a co-write between Johnson and Louris that still features in Jayhawks sets. And ‘Jane’ a beautiful love song with a Beatles twist co-written by the two Jayhawks, Louris sounds as good as he ever did as the acoustic guitars dive and swoop whilst the mellotron lurks in the shadows. There is a horn section in ‘Keys’ which lifts the Miami story towards the classic Louris mournful bridge before returning to the muscular instrumentation of the previous verse. ‘I Can’t Keep From Talking’ could have been on ‘Being There’ such is the Tweedy ragged vocal and infectious delivery.
And the songs keep coming. It’s a delight from start to finish. After slowing the pace with ‘Making Waves’ with its gorgeous guitar solo and ‘White Shell Road’ (perhaps not that slow) the last four tracks could be described as the late-night sessions. ‘Please Tell My Brother’ is one of Jeff Tweedy’s greatest songs. Just him and an acoustic guitar howling his love for his family from the miles away both physical and metaphorical. It’s lonely, mournful and affecting. ‘Fear of Falling’ is the only Tweedy/ Louris co-write and this is followed by another Tweedy co-write the spacey, experimental piano led ‘All The Same To Me’ and finally the swirling, plaintive cry of ‘Jennifer Save Me’ as Gary Louris sings of “seeing her tomorrow’” to an increasingly ragged sonic backdrop.
In every sense of the word this is a classic album that needs revisiting or, if you are in the wonderful position of not hearing before, investigating wholeheartedly and then treasuring. Great artwork too!
Classic album also released a fine cover of Neil Youngs ‘On The Beach’ on CD single at the same time.
Indeed they did Andy should have mentioned it !
Spent a lot of time listening to GS in the 1990s
And what did happen to Kraig Johnson??
He was a member of the Jayhawks for 2 stints 1996 -2002 and 20014-2016, I’m pretty sure but after that ….
Kraig Jarrett Johnson and the Program – found them on Spotify. Still around still performing
Love this album – but hadn’t listened to it in years – until today. Thanks for teh reminder of just how good it is.
Pleasure Mike glad to be of service