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Down By the Old Mainstream

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Album Review

Like most supergroup projects, Golden Smog's Down By the Mainstream is a loose, relaxed affair that sounds like it was a lot of fun to record. Unlike most supergroups, the members of Golden Smog improve on their regular bands. Comprised of a number of alternative country-rock stars — including Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, the Jayhawks' Gary Louris, and Soul Asylum's Dan Murphy — the musicians are releaxed and loose, giving the songs a raw, rootsy kick. Since the album wasn't carefully considered, it has an offhand, relaxed charm that is sometimes lacking from Jayhawks and Soul Asylum albums. Not all of the songs are first rate — "Pecan Pie" and "Red Headed Stepchild" are a bit too cute to be effective — but the performances are full of grit and fire, which is what makes Down By the Mainstream such an engaging listen.

Customer Reviews

Off the cuff feel creates some real gems

In only five days Golden Smog wrote and cut their debut album, a masterpiece of the genre. So Down by the Old Mainstream features songs about "Pecan Pie" and an Everyjerk who borrows money and never pays it back ("He's a Dick"), as well as a crisp cover of a Faces' sob song, "Glad and Sorry." There are also the kind of smart melodies and harmonies it takes years to perfect and music that is as comfortable as an electric blanket on a stormy night. Think of the Byrds and the Stones shuffled together by some cosmic blackjack dealer. More appropriately, think of Soul Asylum guitarist Dan Murphy, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, ex-Jayhawks Gary Louris and Marc Perlman, Kraig Johnson of the dirt rockers Run Westy Run and drummer Noah Levy of Minneapolis' Honeydogs. And think of Golden Smog as a sort of bender, its members tanked on a mutual love of country-rock twang and the rush of creating spontaneous music. The band formed around Murphy, Louris and Soul Asylum singer Dave Pirner, who were lurching about their Twin Cities home turf, looking for action between gigs. They found it by hitting the bars and playing covers, and they put five of those on 1992's On Golden Smog EP. With Pirner busy dating Winona Ryder, the new Smog are more ambitious. They write their own songs and have expanded their semiacoustic palette with mandolin, piano, Dylanesque harmonica squeals and lots of Murphy's savvy slide guitar. It pays off on songs like "V" and Murphy's Soul Asylum leftover "Ill Fated" – strong character portraits with powerhouse choruses reinforced by the brassy harmonies. That's all that's slick. Splinters of laughter, ad-libs and fingers slipping on strings are also in the mix. But what makes Down by the Old Mainstream sweeter than pecan pie is the inviting sound of people having fun.

Golden Smog Equals the Sum of Its Parts

In 1995 I was lucky enough to be in the High School near the epic center of the Alt. Country movement. Down By the Old Mainstream was the pincle album of the movement. It combined talents from the big the members of alternative country: Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, the Jayhawks' Gary Louris, and Soul Asylum's Dan Murphy . Golden Smog was an outlet for the stars to simply have fun and drop the pretension and form of their parent group's albums. The songs have a geniunine feel with a throw back to the golden age of rock and roll feel. This album has a charm that is sometimes lacking from latter Golden Smog albums. This is album is like a timecapsule filled with everthing good about the alt. country movement.

Bought it to find more Jeff Tweedy music (in early 2009 mind you), and really landed a gem...

I have to tell you, this is the best "album" I've listened to as new music goes for me, since I listened to Jim Lauderdale and Donna The Buffalo's "Wait 'Til Spring" about 2 years ago. I'm listening to "Down by the Old Mainstream" now for the 3rd time. It's catchy. The variation of music is nice. I must say, I don't know any Jayhawks or even Soul Asylum, though I have 2 Soul Asylum cd's I've never even played, which now I will after hearing this. My favorite tracks of course are the Tweedy tracks, Pecan Pie, Glad and Sorry, (a Faces cover song, which since hearing this I went and bought it by the Faces, so the Faces should pay these guys or just Tweedy some money, eh?) and Radio King. Of every Wilco song I know, which is every one from every release of theirs, Pecan Pie and Radio King both are now among my favorite 5 to 10 Tweedy songs, that's saying a lot. To go on though, every song, and I mean every one is really great; this is one to buy for sure. If you like "Passenger Side" for instance, "He's a Dick" is of that vein, but being grittier than "Passenger Side", Tweedy's vocals would be too sweet, the guy who sings, and again I don't know who, is so great in the song, even finally giving out real names during it, but introduces himself as "Me on rhythm". It's fun, it's serious, it's light, it's got Matthew Sweet, REM, Tom Petty, Dylan Wilco, even a tad of Stones to it, but more than that, it's very unique. I have all their stuff and Weird Tales is a goodie too, but I'd rate that only 4 stars. If you want more Tweedy, "Loose Fur", 2 releases that are great, far more spacey; sort of Midwestern versions of a weird combo of pink floyd, elp, yes, gentle giant, king crimson, and genesis, while not really as intense as any of them, nor really like any of them either I suppose. Again, it's with other guys who were/are in some groups like Tweedy contribute to the songs too like they do in Golden Smog. Enjoy,


Formed: 1989

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

A boozy, side-project covers band that gradually evolved into a kind of roots rock supergroup, Golden Smog was a loosely affiliated unit comprised, at various times, of members of Soul Asylum, the Replacements, Wilco, the Jayhawks, Run Westy Run, and the Honeydogs. The group first came together in the Minneapolis area in the late '80s as a country-rock reaction to the punk and hardcore sounds that dominated the Twin Cities' musical scene at the time; eventually Golden Smog became something of a fixture...
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Down By the Old Mainstream, Golden Smog
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