CD Review of Another Fine Day by Golden Smog

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Another Fine Day
starstarstarstarno star Label: Lost Highway Records
Released: 2006
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As has been all-too-well documented here and elsewhere, the concept of a supergroup is a very tricky proposition. Merging solo artists or fragments of other bands, whether notable stars or not, has historically proven to be an all-or-nothing, totally hit or miss experience. Take the Traveling Wilburys, for just one. Even if you believe nothing George Harrison partakes in could possibly flop, there was still plenty of room on the average classic rock fan’s head for scratching as that first record was unveiled in 1988. After all, why did any of these guys need this?

Of course, before that there was the Yardbirds and Blind Faith, then the Firm and, more recently, the Thorns. Granted, the aforementioned happen to be the cream of the supergroup crop, but we all know there has been a flock of underachievers who tried and failed with similar intentions. But, then, what is the calling for a supergroup in the first place? Different agenda for each, I suppose. Some artists need an exploratory outlet from their day job. Some might look to other artists in a similar genre for creative support or a fresh vibe to help stimulate an otherwise waning career. Still others probably need a paycheck.

Golden Smog, for those on a desert island, pull together the best components from the Jayhawks, Wilco, Soul Asylum, and a few other Minneapolis brothers roughly every five years, or whenever those previous bands are resting, to deliver now a fourth album of mostly original material that, for whatever reason, wouldn’t suit their primary band. Regardless of the year, these guys are hell-bent on playing their incomparable flavor of feel-good, harmony-at-all-cost roots rock to anyone who has followed their separate bands, as well as anyone who just needs a refill on ‘60s psychedelic-meets-folk power pop. (It should be noted, this reviewer’s inability to cop an adequate comparison or influence for Golden Smog should in no way adversely affect the reader’s ability to hear this new record for what it is: damn good!)

Jeff Tweedy steers on the mellow, banjo-driven “Long Time Ago” and then shares the wheel with Gary Louris on the beautiful Wilco-esque “Listen Joe,” a harmonizer’s wet dream! Kraig Johnson, one of the relative unknowns here yet an original Smogger since 1992, displays his oh-so-capable chops on the opener, “You Make It Easy,” a splendid multi-vocal piano romp that is all things Jayhawks. A surprise appearance by Marc Perlman serves as frosting on the cake for this latest mission. But Another Fine Day really marks the coming of age of Daniel Murphy. Not like the guy has been looking for work lately, having just delivered Soul Asylum’s long-awaited The Silver Lining last month following a grueling three-year recording process that saw the death of Karl Mueller, founding bassist.

Simply put, the best songs on this record belong to Murphy. “Hurricane” first sizzles then explodes like nothing on a Golden Smog record since “Red Headed Stepchild,” also a Murphy contribution, from their 1995 breakout, Down by the Old Mainstream. And if there’s a better entry on Another Fine Day it could only be Murphy’s over-the-top rocker “Corvette,” featuring a spine-tingling background vocal by Perlman (“The dream is never over!”). This bona fide nugget of gold is more Cheap Trick than Soul Asylum, but I’ve gotta believe Dave Pirner will still want to kick Murph’s ass for not bringing it into SA’s camp. Such is the beauty of a supergroup done right: not all of the good stuff gets burned up by the primary bands. INXS and Supernova might want to take note.

~Red Rocker