Weird Tales

Golden Smog

Rykodisc Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: George Agnos


Golden Smog could be called a supergroup as it is a combination of members from the following bands: Soul Asylum, The Jayhawks, Wilco, Run Westy Run, and the seventies cult band, Big Star. However, there are two reasons they are not a supergroup: 1) Of all these groups, only Soul Asylum has had the commercial success and name recognition. 2) Supergroup albums are usually easygoing, informal jam sessions that bide time before their regular group's next release. That is the opposite of what Golden Smog has accomplished on their latest release Weird Tales. One could say that Weird Tales surpasses much of the work these folks have done with their "real" bands. (I exclude Run Westy Run because I am not familiar with their work, and Big Star for their important and influence on rock and roll in general).

You know something special is about to happen right on the first track with the exuberant and wry "To Call My Own", which was written and sung by Soul Asylum guitarist Dan Murphy. This jangly rock song captures Soul Asylum at its best with Dave Pirner-esque lines like "We welcome you with broken arms". This and his other contribution, the folk rock song "Reflections Of Me" suggest that Murphy should probably do more of the writing for Soul Asylum.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

As good as the Murphy songs are, I think it is guitarists Gary Louris of the Jayhawks, and Kraig Johnson of Run Westy Run that really have the standout songs on Weird Tales. Louris wrote the incredible "Until You Came Along" which is the best country/folk rock song I've heard this side of Neil Young. Imagine combining Young's clever lyrics with the 12 string guitar sound of the Byrds, and you get an idea of what this song is like. "Jane", a song Louris wrote with fellow bandmate, bassist Marc Perlman, is a poignant song about a troubled girl that would also make Young proud. Another Louris song, "White Shell Road", is an edgy, allegorical tale and probably the most "alternative" sounding song on Weird Tales.

Louris also co-wrote a few songs with Johnson: the funky, change of pace rocker "Keys" is a lot of fun. And on a very different note, the closing song "Jennifer Save Me" is a slow, moody piece with a wonderful piano part from Louris. The quirky "If I Only Had A Car" is an interesting throwaway.

Alone, Johnson comes up with the powerful "Making Waves" a drug addict dying in the bathroom, which ends with the haunting words: "Are you in there?/Hello hello hello/ I'll Be Out In a While." On the opposite end, he also provides the pleasant pop song "Looking Forward To Seeing You" which has nice harmonies.

Wilco's leader Jeff Tweedy's contributions are more subtle but very effective, especially his solo acoustic number, "Please Tell My Brothers", a sweet song about missing his family. "Lost Love" is another poignant tune about guess what. And the experimental "All The Same To Me" is a strange, dreamlike song with eerie echo effects.

Jody Stephens, the original and current drummer for Big Star, keeps the beat, and co-wrote the song "Fear Of Falling" with Louris and Tweedy, another tasty country rock tune with a nice piano, harmonica, guitar and bass combination. Despite the countryish nature of the material, some songs, particularly "Jennifer Save Me", recall some of Big Star's gentler moments.

The only complaint I have with Weird Tales is the pacing of the album at the beginning. The CD as a whole has different moods and tempos, but there are too many midtempo songs at the beginning. I would have liked to have heard one more uptempo number near the beginning of the track selection. But most CD players can easily solve that problem.

Weird Tales isn't all that weird. Despite a few experiments, it celebrates the classic songwriting of the seventies. I think the sibling rivalries that must have developed during these sessions pushed everyone to do their best work, and I can only hope they can bring back the magic they made here to their respective bands. Weird Tales is an unlikely classic.

Rating: A-

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© 1999 George Agnos and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rykodisc Records, and is used for informational purposes only.