Trying something new here on the 'Nac, where I take a couple discs or artists I've been listening to lately and shine a brief but bright spotlight on them. Reasons can be timely (a tour, a new release), nostalgic (a rediscovered old fave), or entirely random, but it's all music I feel deserves your utmost attention...
The world lost Silkworm when the world lost Michael Dahlquist, a prince of a man and one hell of a drummer, a guy who attacked his kit with the same passion he led his life. It's no surprise that there was already a Silkworm covers project in the works well before Michael passed away, or that it's become as much a tribute to the man as it has to his beloved band. The collection is called "An Idiot To Not Appreciate Your Time - The Songs of Silkworm", and it's a labor of DIY love all the way. Pulled together by a motivated fan, with contributions from messageboard loyalists, far-away followers, and a bunch of music-making, SKWM-loving friends, it compiles 29 varied tracks over two discs, and the thing is just 8 bucks including shipping (proceeds go to Michael's charities of choice, the Jane Addams Hull House and the Nature Conservancy).
There are far too many great versions on the tribute to list 'em all, but personal highlights so far are Treasure State's cover of 'Something Hyper', the Kadane Bros. (Bedhead / The New Year) with their piano-based 'Clean'd Me Out', The Bismarck's 'The Cigarette Lighters', a French language take on 'Beyond Repair' by Grand Hotel... oh hell, I'm not even past the first 7 tracks. Take my word for it, I've yet to hear a tribute so infused with love and respect for the artist it covers. From the names you might recognize, to the ones you've never heard of, everyone's admiration for one of the best bands there ever was is obvious.
disc one... 01. Navigations - 'Ritz Dance' 02. Matt & Bubba Kadane - 'Clean'd Me Out' 03. Grand Hotel - 'Beyond Repair' 04. T.T. Diamond - 'Contempt' 05. The Bills - 'Garden City Blues' 06. Treasure State - 'Something Hyper' 07. The Bismarck - 'The Cigarette Lighters' 08. Bass 666 - 'That's Entertainment' 09. Mirror America - 'Couldn't You Wait?' 10. Suzanne the Plan - 'Grotto of Miracles' 11. Tre Orsi - 'Insomnia' 12. toomanyhelicopters - 'Drunk' 13. The Nectarines - 'Miracle Mile' 14. The Soft Drugs - 'Give Me Some Skin'
disc two... 01. Heather Whinna & Steve Albini - 'Bourbon Beard' 02. .22 - 'Raised By Tigers' 03. Chin & Lester & Franks - 'Treat the New Guy Right' 04. LUFF - 'Quicksand' 05. mtar - 'Is She A Sign?' 06. The Kyle Sowashes - 'Slave Wages' 07. The Family Ghost - 'Oh, How We Laughed' 08. Tiny Monk - 'Raging Bull' 09. The Turnarounders - 'Young' 10. Temper - 'Ticket Tulane' 11. Maurice Rickard - 'Shitty Little Yacht' 12. J. Britt Robisheaux - 'Pearly Gates' 13. Joe Sepi - 'A Cockfight of Feelings' 14. Volume - 'Around the Outline' 15. Trestle - 'Don't Make Plans This Friday'
While you may quickly recognize names like the Kadanes or Steve Albini, there are some other fine artists behind the less-familiar monikers. Here are just a few details, courtesy of compilation curator Isaac himself...
Bass 666 is 2/3 of a legendary North Dakota band called Straphanger (the longest running NoDak band, forming and playing since 1997).
Tre Orsi features the sound man for the New Year, Shearwater, and many other great Texas bands. They also include a member of Okkervil River/Shearwater and a member of Slobberbone.
Navigations hail from Finland, and their frontman is also Trestle Music.
Grand Hotel/Temper are from France, and are actually the same band (one sings in English and the other in French).
.22 are from Chicago/Boise, Idaho and Brian O. is now a member of Bottomless Pit.
The Bismarck are from Seattle, but all the members grew up in NoDak.
Treasure State is another band from Seattle featuring Mr. Mercer of Joel RL Phelps and the Downer Trio. Mr. Mercer's brother is the lead singer for the Shins, if anyone cares (and according to Isaac: "Mitch, Treasure State's drummer, may be the biggest SKWM fan I've ever met").
The Bills features Mike Dahlquist's brother on drums.
Mirror America is John Lee (from aMinature) and friends.
The Soft Drugs is TW Walsh, formerly of Pedro the Lion and Headphones (more on TW below).
mtar is Michael the Angry Russian. He owns Russian Recording in Nashville, IN.
Joe Sepi is an all around great dude and a wizened vet of many, many punk rock bands.
Suzanne the Plan is a guy named Nick McGaw.
And that's barely half the contributors.
So here's the thing: Just 1,000 copies of this thing were printed, and when they're gone, they're gone. No do-overs. I'm guessing they won't last much longer than the Touch & Go Anniversary shows this weekend, where Silkworm's Andy Cohen & Tim Midgett are playing a set of songs, as is their new band, Bottomless Pit. So head here and order one up straightaway.
And fellow fans, have no fear, 'cuz this ain't the last time you'll be able to buy some Silkworm songs: there's one more Silkworm disc coming in October from the 12xu label, an EP titled 'Chokes'. An unintended, and bittersweet, swan song of sorts.
The artist that brings disc one of the Silkworm tribute to a beautiful close is The Soft Drugs, the name under which longtime solo songwriter (and former Pedro the Lion/Headphones member) T.W. Walsh has chosen to release his latest recordings. He gets the honor of singing the collection's title in the last lingering lyrics of 'Give Me Some Skin' ('You never saw what I'd become, an idiot to not appreciate your time'), and he delivers the line perfectly.
The Soft Drug's excellent debut EP, 'In Moderation' (which christens Walsh's own imprint, Tower of Song) came out a couple months back, and while some summer releases can get lost in the deluge of discs that arrive in autumn, this five-track fix deserves a lasting listen.
There's a comfort found in these songs, in their meticulously warm crafting, and it's as ideal for a Sunday morning spin as it is for a late-night mellow out. The EP reveals a impressive attention to multi-track detail, with each song taking on a whole new life between a pair of headphones. While the production may be warm, the song subjects are weighty ones, as Walsh sings of his own self-doubt, strained relationships, driving dilemmas, and growing older. Maybe I'm reading a little too much into the material, since I know a bit about T.W.'s struggle to balance his craft, his day job, and his family life, but there's much to relate to for anyone trying to juggle those very things as time carries us along.
A couple songs, including 'Brand New Name', have an almost mid-70s soul feel, with bouncing bass lines, gentle keyboard lines, distant falsetto harmonies. I picked up even a hint of Gerry Rafferty's solo side, with a noticeable (though less strained) Neil Young quality to Walsh's vocals (and for the few who'll get the reference, his voice more closely resembles Tom Lawson of the recently-reunited Pants).
It's worth noting that while it's clearly T.W.'s project, he enlisted the assistance of some talented friends to play along, including ex-Pedro and current-Senator Senator bassist Ken Maiuri, and ace journeyman drummer/solo artist Frank Lenz behind the kit. Other contributors include Ester Drang's James McAlister on percussion, Seldom/Crystal Skulls drummer Casey Foubert on drums & guitar for a track, and Crystal Skull's frontman Christian Wargo for a bit of backing vox. Frequent T.W. collaborators Frank Padellaro and Pedro's David Bazan (who, interestingly, stopped using a band name for his releases around the same time that T.W. started using one) also pop up in the credits, collectively providing the indispensable services of "online poker, wine, carpentry, and conspiracy theories".
'In Moderation' is the best kind of EP: There's a cohesiveness in production and songwriting that works ideally in a five-song dose. That said, and assuming a full length may come eventually, I would love to hear T.W. break things up with a full-on rocker (his guitar playing, especially on the great bridge of 'Defending the Paint', shows he can go there), or maybe sparser song or two, like the acoustic Silkworm cover. Either way, I look forward to more; sometimes that fade out on track five comes far too soon, so I hit up The Soft Drugs 'free monthly demos' page for more. Or I start searching online stores for his hard-to-find 1999 debut 'How We Spend Our Days, the 2001 follow-up 'Blue Laws', or 2002's 'Pollensongs' EP. I was an idiot to not appreciate them the first time.