Stay Golden, Smog – The Best of Golden Smog The Rykodisc Years review

Stay Golden, Smog

Golden Smog, an alt-country super group by all accounts, is what Soul Asylum’s Dan Murphy calls (a central Golden Smog member) “an ad hoc group of musicians” and is made up of members from Soul Asylum, the Jayhawks, Run Westy Run, Wilco/Uncle Tupelo, and occasionally Big Star, the Replacements and the Honeydogs.

They all seem to muck in together, the various members’ roles in the band not being clearly defined. As the liner notes to this CD state, “Tradition decrees that each musician’s primary instrument appears after their name, but in the Smog, anyone might play anything at any time, and would.”

It sounds like it too. I mean that in a good way, mind. You can hear the enjoyment of the musicians, the freshness of the songs, the semi-jammed nature of much of the material. The fact that now, in 2008, we celebrate the 16th anniversary of their first release, ‘On Golden Smog’, means that they have been doing this for a long time and are very good at it.

Golden Smog

Photo Credit: Gordon Stettinius/courtesy of Rykodisc
More info: L-R: Dan Murphy, Marc Perlman, Kraig Johnson, Jeff Tweedy, Jody Stephens, Gary Louris

It is no surprise to learn that they record their material (‘On Golden Smog’, ‘Down By The Old Mainstream’ (great title by the way), and ‘Weird Tales’, from which the majority of this disc’s tracks are culled) fast – one album took five days to record, and that is slow by Smog standards. Fast recording like this is an unalloyed good thing, far, far better than the depressing modern tendency to spend months or (get this) years in the studio.

Take any release recorded in that way – if the music is no good, it will still be no good, no matter how long you spend fiddling with it; if the music is good, I guarantee the demos will sound better than the finished release. Come on record company executives, times are hard and a lot of rubbish is being released. To improve the quality of your product, and incidentally to cut your costs, give your artists all the time they need to write and rehearse their stuff, but give ‘em a week, or better an afternoon to record it. That was more than enough time for Captain Beefheart (‘Trout Mask Replica’ – one day), Funkadelic (‘Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow’ – one day), Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci (‘The Blue Trees’ – three days). It was not long enough for Coldplay. I rest my case.

I am new to the Smog (as I have learned to call them), but they are good. The CD starts extremely well with “Until U Came Along”, peaks with the sublime “Jennifer Save Me”, and only slightly dips in the middle of a long (hour-plus) ‘best of’ collection, before finishing in grand style with an alternative version of the opener (better than the released version at the top of the album, even allowing for some disastrous whistling in the instrumental coda – musicians take note, despite the attractions of lo-tech approaches, whistling, like yodelling, is always a BAD IDEA) and a final ‘previously unissued’ “Love and Mercy”, taking in some great songs along the way (“Pecan Pie”). There’s only one absolute duffer, “He’s a Dick” – file under ‘seemed like a good idea at the time’ or perhaps ‘I’m glad I got that off my chest’.

There are, of course, only three types of music – good music, bad music, and country music. The Smog play country music (f*** this ‘alt-country’ shit, that’s just to spare the blushes of the kids) and they play it well, especially when they strip it down (the aforementioned “Pecan Pie”) or when they get a bit spacey on yo’ ass (“Jennifer Save Me”). They clearly had fun playing this stuff. You will have fun listening to it.

One gripe, and it’s not at the band. There are only two tracks on the album unavailable elsewhere. These are clearly designed to force the fans of a completist persuasion to buy what is essentially a taster album. Record company executives, times are hard but I’m sure there is a ton of ‘previously unavailable’ Smog material (they seem that kind of band), bring it out on one CD and do us all a favour!

Listening Party Links:

Party Page
WMA 56.wax
WMA 100.wax

“Love And Mercy” video – Filmed at the Barack Obama rally, Target Center, Minneapolis.

Stay Golden, Smog: The Best of Golden Smog on

Golden Smog Official Website

By: Jim Driscoll

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>