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Golden Smog – [Album]

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Sunday, 05 October 2008

In the strictest sense, Golden Smog wasn’t really a band – not under the conventional definition of the term anyway. Everybody in the group was already in a successful band – Gary Louris and Marc Perlman had Jayhawks, Dan Murphy had Soul Asylum, Kraig Johnson was in Run Westy Run and, of course, Jeff Tweedy was doing either Uncle Tupelo or Wilco depending on the day – so there was no pressure to “make it” because everybody’s bills were already paid. Rather, Golden Smog functioned as a sort of overflow conduit for a bunch of wildly prolific songwriters that would occasionally scribble out a couple of tunes that didn’t exactly fit in with their main project’s established sound so they’d show the song in question to their friends and, with the decision made that it was too good to let go, it would become a Golden Smog song. It was loose, it was easy and it was liberating but, most importantly, it was also a lot of fun. There were no expectations and the more mixed-bag/mixed up it was, the better the release; there were no rules – anybody in the band might pick up any instrument and just knock it out. That sort of freedom is something many musicians envy – it would explain why other players including Dave Pirner (also of Soul Asylum), Jody Stephens (Big Star), Chris Mars (The Replacements), Noah Levy (The Honeydogs) and more all did a turn through the band’s ranks – and the results were always good because everybody was having fun and that spirit carried through a listener’s headphones as easily and freely as the music. No one expected it to go anywhere, and that fuck-it-all-for-a-laugh spirit was the most endearing quality of the music; it was fun.

Stay Golden, Smog collects sixteen tracks from Golden Smog’s first three albums (two obligatory unreleased tracks appear as well) and does capture the dominating spirit and beauty of the band handily. With equal shares given to the principle songwriters (Louris, Murphy, Johnson and Tweedy), the album gives a decent measure of what the band was capable of: laid back, easygoing, No Depression folk rock that goes down as sweetly as a glass of loaded lemonade on a summer day while lazing around the back yard. By the same token, calling Stay Golden a ‘greatest hits’ or ‘best of’ comp is difficult though because, particularly in the early going, there weren’t a lot of misses; tracks like “Until You Came Along,” “Jennifer Save Me,” “Won’t Be Coming Home” and “Please Tell My Brother” are all great songs, but are they better than “Jane,” “Reflections On Me,” “Walk Where He Walked” or “Nowhere Bound”? Not really – the beauty of Golden Smog was that, in the right frame of mind, any song the band released in their years spent on Rykodisc could speak to listeners just the right way and compel them to fall to their knees or soothe shattered nerves. That said, the track selection of Stay Golden is pretty subjective and plays more like a sampling of wares than a “best-of.”

For the uninitiated or those that came upon the Smog after they jumped to Lost Highway Records, Stay Golden is a great way to get acquainted with Golden Smog and wet a listener’s appetite for more. It is very much a gateway drug; picking up this album will ensure that any listener will want to immediately go out and buy the rest of the band’s catalog to see what they’ve missed.

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Golden Smog Official homepage
Golden Smog Myspace

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