Grant Lee Buffalo
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
Two major events greeted me when I woke up this morning. For one, it's July 4th, which I had expected to occur as yesterday was July 3rd (Happy 4th to you, my loyal readers). The more surprising tidbit was the death of legendary television personality Andy Griffith. Both of these happenings seem to tie in almost too well to today's album: "Fuzzy" by Grant Lee Buffalo.
"The Andy Griffith Show" is at the highest point of Americana. Nothing makes me wistful for the good ol' days like flipping on TV Land and seeing Andy and Opie walking with fishing poles as the iconic whistling of the show's theme song follows them through Mayberry, NC. I hate to admit that Rascal Flatts is right about anything, but I miss Mayberry. Grant Lee Buffalo, a rock band residing as far from the country roads as possible, in Los Angeles, reminisces about the classic America with the same vigor as Griffith's viewers.
Take for example the ballad of "Jupiter and Teardrop." The nouns in the title are in fact the names of the protagonists, a young man and woman eager to get away from it all and see the big world. The plot line, and the presumably hippie names of the characters, suggest an era that was bygone by the time Buffalo got there in 1993. "Dixie Drug Store" is a more straightforward narrative telling of a pharmacy in New Orleans dealing in more homegrown (read: voodoo) remedies. The mood during "Stars 'n' Stripes"however sums up the album: The good ol' days were great, but they ain't coming back. Grant Lee Philipps, vocalist and guitarist for the group, has a smile in his voice as he recollects, but the lyrics can't hide that this is a retrospective.
The instruments and recording process plays into the theme as well. Philipps favors a 12-string acoustic guitar, emulating folk's rambling era, although he does do some light electric shredding. The frequent appearances of truly traditional instruments throughout, including the pump organ, parlor piano ("The Shining Hour") and the steel guitar ("Stars 'n' Stripes") cement the desired effect. The recording studio, Brilliant Studios in San Francisco, deserves its fair share of the credit as well. The facility is housed in a former steel foundry, a building that both created a haunting echo behind Philipps' voice ("Grace") and probably served as an inspiration; it was, after all, a symbol of rust in America's industrial sector.
"Fuzzy" was greeted with raves from music critics, and REM frontman Michael Stipe gave an oft-quoted declaration of support and labeled it the album of the year. However, there is a glaring lack of a single when you listen to the record. Although this doesn't kill the quality of the album, it resulted in sales being low. America didn't seem to be too interested in dwelling in the past, and the band's next few albums would have similar results. I would argue however that some bands profited by taking a more pop-friendly approach. Buffalo reminds me of the band Fastball, and if you can remember them, I'd recommend checking these guys out.