Sunday, January 11, 2009

Grant Lee Buffalo - A Rough Guide

"Combining lyrical excellence with an alternative folk sound, Grant Lee
Buffalo forged an atmospheric texture that simultaneously evoked
historic America and lambasted the political development of the band's
homeland."  [BBC/h2g2]

IMHO, Grant Lee Buffalo was one of the best (if not the best) American
band of the 1990s.  The band was probably unlucky to have started out
during the height of grunge.  While the band could crank up the amps
when necessary, the music may have been too understated and the lyrics
too deep for the era.  But the timelessness of the music should see the
band become more appreciated in the years ahead.

The band broke up in 1999, but the lead singer and guitarist, Grant-Lee
Phillips, has since had a reasonably successful solo career.

For a more in-depth history of the band, check out the official website:

The links in the guide below are to YouTube movies.  The band didn't
release a lot of singles, and record companies seem to be actively
having content removed from YouTube.  This is a shame, because me
waffling on is not as an effective way of promoting the band as its
own music is.

The "rough guide" ...

1. "Fuzzy"
This is the title track and a single from the band's debut album,
"Fuzzy", released in 1993.  This is the song that introduced me to the
band.  A friend bought the CD when it came out and let me borrow it.
Critics were raving about the band, and in this case I could understand
why.  Featuring strong song-writing with simple yet powerful melodies,
this album became one of my favourites for the year.

2. "Dixie Drug Store"
This track was a bit unusual for the band, using a piano for the main
melody line rather than guitar.  The lyrics are particularly evocative
on this track, with the singer relating a visit to New Orleans.
Strangely, this wasn't released as a single, so you'll have to put up
with a simple fan-made video.

3. "Wish You Well"
Another fan-made video for a great song from "Fuzzy".

4. "Mockingbirds"
This is the lead single from the band's second album, "Mighty Joe Moon",
released in 1994.  Another simple, laid-back song, with falsetto
choruses and a great guitar solo.  This is the official video clip,
directed by Anton Corbijn (U2, Depeche Mode).  When it first came out,
I didn't think the second album was as good as the debut.  But over
time, "Mighty Joe Moon" has become my favourite GLB album.  I recently
checked on Amazon and I'm not surprised that of 43 reviews, 40 rated
this album 5 stars (the other three reviewers gave it 4 stars).

5. "Lone Star Song"
The band occasionally gets raucous, without sacrificing melody, as can
be heard on this song.  It's the opening track from "Mighty Joe Moon",
and was released as a single.

6. "Honey Don't Think"
This is the video of the third single from "Mighty Joe Moon".

7. "Rock Of Ages"
This is the closing track on "Mighty Joe Moon".  It wasn't a single, and
so this is another homebrew video.  There are many strong songs on this
album, but I chose to highlight this one as it is powerful and moving.

8. "Bethlehem Steel"
The band released its third album, "Copperopolis", in 1996.  This was
arguably the band's bleakest work, with darker lyrics and themes.  The
arrangements were becoming more sophisticated (e.g. the use of strings
on this song).  Apparently there were tensions within the group during
the recording, and that may have affected the atmosphere of the music.
But it's still a very good album.  This is a live version of a song from

9. "Truly, Truly"
By the time of the band's fourth and final studio album, "Jubilee", bass
player and producer Paul Kimble had left the band.  The resulting album
allowed a change of style, and "Jubilee" (released in 1998) is arguably
the band's most positive and uplifting album.  This clip is a live
version of the first single from "Jubilee".

10. "Testimony"
This is another strong song from "Jubilee".  It looks like an official
video, but I don't know if this was released as a single.  Unfortunately,
the audio quality is not that good here.  I had found a better version,
but it was recently removed for copyright reasons.

In 2001, a two-disc compilation of singles and rarities, called "Storm
Hymnal", was released.