Perfect Sound Forever


A Requiem
by Mike Wood
(December 2005)

Slobberbone played its last gig at Dan's Silverleaf in its hometown of Denton, Texas on March 13, ending a career that spanned 11 years, four records, and hundreds of shows that left more smiling, slightly more jaded-but- enlightened drunks in their wake than a convention of divorcees. It seems appropriate to take the time to salute the band that rose above fad categories and misplaced comparisions, to bring out some of the best sloppy wisdom this side of Exile on Main St.

Comparisons to Uncle Tupelo or Whiskeytown were inevitable, as the band came out of the gate when taste-makers were trying to shoehorn new country-influenced rock sounds into neat (read: commercial) categories: was the sound "Alt-Country?" "Insurgent Country?" "Americana?" The latter was the worse appellation; it sounded like tunes to hold your honey close while swallowing whole your local politician's manipulative drivel about the flag. Here was music exposing inner wars, not cultural ones.

The first time I saw Slobberbone live, I was their manager. I flew into Dallas from Providence to get away from the sight of my apartment, which had been picked clean by my common law wife and her new beau. As an airport employee, I flew first class all the way for free, in the only suit and tie I owned. By the time I got in town, there was only enough time to be picked up by friends, and head right for the club, where Slobberbone were opening for Old 97's. My Dallas friends knew Murry Hammond, the Old 97's bass player but, as there was some doubt whether I'd make the flight out of Providence, I was left off the guest list to the sold-out show. We came up with the idea that I would pretend to be the manager, and get in that way. I did. Backstage, I was introduced to Slobberbone, who did not care one way or the other. That indifference was fine with me; I was away from an empty apartment and I had met a band who would blew me away, a band that, through three classic records and one great one, never were less than a revelation.

Ryan Adams or Rhett Miller leave the impression that a clever (or smarmy) line is always on the tip of the tongue waiting for the moment to spring loose. Singer/guitarist Brent Best reminds you of the guy who will tell the funniest or saddest story you've heard, but only when it happened to him. It was the average-guy wonder/rage over daily wars that endeared the band to its audience, and set them apart from its peers. You could never imagine Best dating an actress or reforming Slobberbone after a shitty solo record.

As he said in his farewell email to fans on the band's website, the band was about "a need to explore, survey, and ultimately validate that mysterious fog, to know that what you believe may lay for you either does or doesn't." Their songs were a hazy, often sarcastic, and usually dead on exploration of those foggy moments in life. They were wise and unsentimental like the Stones, ragged but right like Crazy Horse or the Replacements.

Buy every one of their records, turn them up, have a beer, and think about every memory in your life that you have brooded over to the point that they've become personal myth. They are your history, right or wrong, to learn from or to relive again for the same old reasons. They may be flawed memories, but cherished ones. They are Slobberbone songs.

Crow Pot Pie (1996; Doolittle)

There are actually two versions of this; one was recorded by the band's own dime, and the official release was on Doolittle. Both versions shook the speakers with rough, often moving songs of struggle, with oneself and with lovers and bottles. The epic "I Can Tell Your Love is Waning" is already a classic, a slow grinding Neil Young-like distorted ode to relationship apathy. The first verse is worth quoting all day long:

Not Much in this Trailer now,
A picture book, remote control, and a cookie jar shaped like a cow.
A macrame frame round a picture of me,
Sittin' in a pool of stale beer on a black & white TV.
There's a baby in the bedroom who doesn't know you're there,
As you're lying in the bathroom, with shampoo in your hair.
And the radio is playin' some fucked up country song,
Sorta like us it's sad and sweet, but it don't last for long.

Visions of shaky hope and failing plans abound in "No Man Among Men," "Sober Song," "Tilt-a-Whirl" and "16 Days." This was a confident, insolent debut that is shot through with great songwriting and smart brutal playing. The core of the lineup would remain Best on Guitar, Brian Lane on bass, Tony Harper on drums. On this record, they were joined by a second guitarist, Mike Hill, and Fiddler/organist Scott Danbom.

Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today (1997; New West)

Now a trio, the band issues a worthy successor, full of developed characters and a cementing of a signature sound. "Josephine" and "Limberlung", continue Best's taste for the epic. "Give Me Back My Dog" (mentioned by Stephen King in tribute in a novel at the time), "Lazy Guy" and "Trust Jesus" announced Slobberbone as the defenders of the loser, the drunk, the smart-ass drunk, the lovesick adult in a shitty job. It was at this time that they began attracting a cult following, mostly through word of mouth about the live shows. Novelist Larry Brown called them his favorite band on more than one occasion, which is no surprise, since his writing covers roughly the same emotional territory.

Barrel Chested (2000; Doolittle)

Arguably their finest hour - the volume is ramped up and the song-writing is more personal on this record. "Front Porch", Moody, winding mini-stories like"Little Drunk Fists" and "Get Gone Again" flow easily into rockers like"Haze of Drink " "Lame", and the title track. The only misstep perhaps is "Billy Pritchard", which aspires higher toward the epic than it delivers.

Slippage (2002; New West)

A lot of people did not like this record; it certainly had smoother edges and was less raucous than one might expect. But it was certainly no Anodyne, Uncle Tupelo's last and worst record. Maybe it was their cover of the Bee Gee's "To Love Somebody" that made fans squeamish. But even that tune, which fit into the overall smooth production of legend Don Smith (Dylan, Rolling Stones), sounds great and is no disservice or major departure from the catalog. The songs may be devoid of country inflections and are more "polished" but you would do worse than to crank up ""Springfield, IL" or "Write Me Off." "Find The Out" is as good as anything they recorded, and "Sister Beams" would not feel out of place on any late-sixties Stones record. They went out on a curious, but not a down note.

Live, Slobberbone was rowdy, ominous and smart. Again like the early/mid Stones or the Replacements, they chugged through their set with humor and purpose, not caring about sounding perfect, but caring about wringing every once of credibility out of a song. On a bootleg from a show in Norway, they covered Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law." Other Neil Young, Cars, and Johnny Cash songs were made their own on other nights.

These days Best has begun playing out with his new band, The Drams. First thoughts are that here Best will continue the evolution of sound that began with Slippage: word from the first live Drams shows is that the new songs are tight rockers with standard instrumentation. There have been no banjos or mandolins in sight. And that is fine; Brent Best is worth hearing while humming in a bathtub, and he always bristled at being categorized. Slobberbone always thought of themselves as a rock band first, one that fits into labels second, if ever. If nothing else, they helped me validate my mysterious fog, and I'm sure I'm not unique in thinking that.

See the official Slobberbone website

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