Golden Smog | Another Fine Day (Lost Highway)

Some of the songs may fail to leave much of a lasting impression, but fans of the Jayhawks, Soul Asylum, Wilco, and Big Star will find much here to like.


Much has changed in the eight years since the Midwestern supergroup-of-sorts Golden Smog released its last album, Weird Tales. In those wide-eyed days of 1998, the Minneapolis-based band, comprised of like-minded friends culled from the Midwest’s burgeoning alt-country scene, were more critical darlings than household names, with only guitarist Dan Murphy having tasted true rock stardom as axe-slinger for alt-rockers Soul Asylum. But now sometime Smog contributor Jeff Tweedy, the Belleville, Ill., native and Wilco frontman, has been deemed an "important artist," casting a long shadow on what he might turn out next.

Tweedy’s influence is felt all over Another Fine Day, despite co-writing a scant two of the album’s 15 tracks and appearing on only five more. Though much of the album is written by singer/guitarist Gary Louris and his cohorts in the now-defunct Jayhawks, singer/guitarist Kraig Jarret Johnson and bassist Marc Perlman, the album rarely feels like a Jayhawks record, almost as if the shedding of the Jayhawks name has allowed Louris to expand his musical approach in directions that he felt he couldn’t previously. The end result, strangely enough, feels like what could have been Wilco’s long-lost transition LP between the summery pop of Summerteeth and the more experimental Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The Louris-penned title track blips and bleeps to life as an acoustic guitar and jangling piano slowly build over the lively percussion, drummer Jody Stephens (of Big Star fame) channeling Wilco’s Glenn Kotche, until the song bursts into an enormous, joyful chorus backed by a wailing guitar solo, resulting in one of the most epic and beautiful tracks Louris has ever written. A few tracks later, "Beautiful Mind" begins with a lengthy bit of whirring synthesizer as elements are slowly added to the musical soup: a jangling acoustic guitar, Johnson’s laconic vocals, chiming bells, a clanging minor-key piano, and squalling electric guitars.

For all the more futuristic elements, much of Another Fine Day is also steeped in the more traditional music forms that have highlighted past Golden Smog releases. "5-22-02" is the band’s stab at AM Gold soft rock, a bouncy, low key acoustic guitar number backed by a "ba-dum-bum" horn lick, Holly Marilyn’s lovely backing vocals, and Louris’ excellently placed slide guitar. Murphy’s skill with classic guitar-rock boogie comes to the fore on "Corvette" and the Tom Petty-esque "Hurricane," while "Frying Pan Eyes" continues the tradition without his help. Tweedy’s two contributions are quiet acoustic folk ballads co-written with Louris, and amount to a hit and a miss: while "Long Time Ago," a country lullaby sung from the perspective of a youngster remembering when he stopped being an only child and became an older brother, is pretty and affecting, his second contribution "Listen Joe" attempts to take a darker road but doesn’t seem to go anywhere with it.

As one would expect, Another Fine Day does not reach the heights or the uniform quality of any of its members’ regular gigs. Some of the songs may fail to leave much of a lasting impression, but fans of the Jayhawks, Soul Asylum, Wilco, and Big Star will find much here to like. Another Fine Day is an enjoyable album from start to finish, with a handful of knockout tracks that make it more than worth the purchase price.

RIYL: Wilco, The Jayhawks, The Band

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