Well, 14 hours and 40,000 slaughtered insects later, I arrived in Massachusetts for my extended vacation. The house in Indiana is huge and wondrous, and all my stuff arrived intact. Basically, I’ve been having a good week so far.
A quick housekeeping note before I jump into this week’s review:
At the start of this enterprise, I stated that I would be taking two weeks off a year, one for Christmas and one for my birthday in June. Almost none of you noticed that I delivered one on my birthday anyway (6/5), and now it’s time to collect on that. Next week I’m going to Prague.
“Oh, I’ve been to Prague. Well, I haven’t been to Prague been to Prague, but I know that thing. That stop shaving your armpits, read The Unbearable Lightness of Being, realize how bad American coffee is thing.”
Sorry. Obscure film reference.
Anyway, I’m going to Prague next week, so no column for you. Don’t take it too hard, okay? If I come back and find that any of you committed suicide because you missed me and couldn’t live without my stunning, brilliant insights, I’m going to be pissed, okay?
Weird mail day yesterday. I got a rejection letter from the grad school I really wanted to attend, and I also got the new Daniel Amos album, Mr. Buechner’s Dream. Guess which one I enjoyed more?
Daniel Amos has been around since 1975, constantly shifting styles under the direction of one of America’s great ignored geniuses, Terry Scott Taylor. It’s amazing to me that Taylor has amassed such a huge body of superb work (26 studio albums between three bands and a solo career) and he still remains unknown. Even the most knowledgeable of music fans will often shake their heads in bewilderment when Taylor’s name is mentioned.
As a case in point, I only became aware of Taylor’s oeuvre a year and a half ago. How such a great songwriter got by me is almost as depressing as the fact that Taylor has to hold down a day job to pay the bills. This man has never written an unsatisfying song, and if some of his projects don’t stack up to some of his others, it’s only because his best work is just that good.
Named after two Old Testament prophets, Daniel Amos started in California in the early ‘70s with a heavy-handed gospel message and a sound reminiscent of the Eagles. They quickly grew out of both, Taylor turning his spiritual concerns further inward and his musical concerns further outward. By the time they arrived at their magnum opus, the four-album Alarma Chronicles, DA was a musical force to be reckoned with, one that embraced a darker spirituality filled with doubt and questioning. Post-Alarma, Taylor re-formed Daniel Amos into the fun-loving Swirling Eddies, started the Lost Dogs with three other great spiritual pop musicians (The Choir’s Derri Daugherty, the 77s’ Mike Roe and the late, great Gene Eugene) and embarked on a wildly diverse solo career.
I’m not going to delve deeply into Taylor’s history here in this column. If you’re interested, though, I have constructed a Terry Scott Taylor buyer’s guide, and you can read that by clicking here. It’s a lot of history, and all of it is worth hearing, but I’m not going to dive into it here because the new one deserves a lot of space.
Daniel Amos has been on hiatus for six years, ever since their strange concept record Songs of the Heart in ‘95. Say one thing for Terry Taylor, he knows how to come back in style. Mr. Buechner’s Dream, the soon-to-be-released 13th DA album, is a 33-song, 100-minute, two-CD set that just might be this man’s best work. If you’re a Taylor fan already, you know how good something would have to be to attain that position. Mr. Buechner’s Dream is that good.
In fact, MBD is perhaps the strongest argument yet for Terry Taylor’s induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. In the tradition of Blonde On Blonde, Exile on Main Street, The River and Being There, it’s a classic, timeless American double record that stands toe to toe with the great rock records of the past 30 years. If you think I’m exaggerating, you haven’t heard it. (By the way, I know the Stones are British, so don’t e-mail me. Exile on Main Street is a pretty American-sounding album, though.)
None of MBD’s 33 songs fail to satisfy in that classic, primal melody addict way. The discs are titled separately, even though the album works best in a straight shot. The first disc (called Mr. Buechner’s Dream) is pure, undiluted American rock, the kind that Wilco does so well. The melodies are sweet and perfect, the guitars sound imported right out of the classics, and Taylor’s voice has never been better. This guy just turned 50, and he hasn’t lost a note.
Highlights include the dirty “Who’s Who Here,” the lilting “Rice Paper Wings” and the Lennon-ish “Over Her Shoulder.” The acoustic “I Get to Wondering” is extraordinary, as is the psychedelic “The Staggering Gods.” The first disc is bookended by tiny piano pieces detailing Mr. Buechner’s slip into and crawl out of slumber, and it ends with the round robin “Joel,” a perfect conclusion. The first disc contains the most immediately likable Daniel Amos material since their second album, but Taylor doesn’t sacrifice quality for accessibility.
The second disc, titled And So It Goes, truly shines. It’s a bit looser in places, and a lot more menacing. Disc two takes you on a ride akin to listening to the whole DA catalog in miniature. The emotional heart of the album lies on this disc as well, exemplified by “Flash in Your Eyes,” a tribute to fellow Lost Dog Gene Eugene, who died last year. Taylor is typically real here, emotional without being sentimental: “Now you’re the catch in my throat, was I in your dreams of last goodbyes, now you’re the thorn in my heart, was I a flash in your eyes?”
It’s typical of Taylor that he can balance his heartfelt tunes with hilarious ones like “She’s a Hard Drink” and not seem incongruous. The album ends with two beauties, “Steal Away” and “And So it Goes,” songs about finding peace amidst loss and pain. There has certainly been enough of it in Taylor’s life recently. In addition to Eugene, he also lost his father early this year, and the loss permeates this surprisingly optimistic work.
Sure, there are songs I could do without on here, but unlike those from most double disc affairs, the list is surprisingly short. (Like, three.) Mr. Buechner’s Dream is a stunner that will never get the recognition it deserves. That’s never stopped Taylor before, and it won’t stop him now, I’m sure. (The fifth Lost Dogs album, Real Men Cry, hits in October and contains yet another 12 Terry Taylor songs.) MBD is a statement of maturity and artistic growth that feels like the destination point of a long, strange trip. It plays like the best of Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Leonard Cohen, all rolled into one. It’s one of the great classic rock albums of the modern age, and will remain so whether it’s recognized as such or not.
Next week, Europe for me, nothing for you. I’ll regale you with stories when I return.
See you in line Tuesday morning.