Way back before R.E.M., some time after BIG STAR, originally in North Carolina, sometimes in and around New Jersey, there was a great band that worked hard at creating catchy, smart pop songs. Over time they have developed quite the legacy, and it is well deserved.
I came to THE dBs late, after college. I had to know them so I could understand their pivotal role in influencing all the other jangle pop bands that came along in the 80’s, many of which I adored. I vaguely remember reading a Roling Stone magazine Best of 1987 list chosen by other artists and Sound of Music (1987) was all over it. My first real job after college would have been completely forgettable, except that my boss was a huge CHRIS STAMEY fan and turned me onto THE dBs (and DON DIXON, MITCH EASTER and TOMMY KEENE – I still have those mix tapes!). At the time they were active (1978-1987), it may not have been so clear how great they were. But in the years since, the band and it’s individual members’ reputations have grown in stature. CHRIS STAMEY, who left after the first two albums, went on to a very creative, if modest, solo career and has become a sought after producer (YO LA TENGA, ROMAN CANDLE, TIFT MERRITT, WHISKEYTOWN to name a few). PETER HOLSAPPLE played for a while in R.E.M.’s touring band, then married SUSAN COWSILL and formed THE CONTINENTAL DRIFTERS. STAMEY is a bit of a guitar god and HOLSAPPLE has been tapped by the NY Times to write a column about great songwriting. It is all very apparant now how special these guys are. But in looking back, it’s not completely clear why these guys were not bigger than they were at the time. It’s interesting that some bands and musicians have such a strong pull on other musicians. So much so that they influence them and inspire them to great things, often eclipsing anything the influential band ever did. It’s easy to think of every kid in the 60’s wanting to be Mick and Keith or John and Paul. It’s a bit more of a stretch to imagine a PETER BUCK or SCOTT MILLER hoping they turn out to be CHRIS STAMEY. What For? So know one will know who you are? I am not sure there is any other explanation other than PETER BUCK and SCOTT MILLER just got them. They completely understood what others could not. I was probably pre-disposed to liking them when I first heard them, having read that all my heros could not stop singing their praises. So if you don’t know THE dBs, just trust what others before have found proof of. These guys created some of the most tragically overlooked music of the era. It’s quirky, fun and smart. It’s what we should have listened to back in the 80s.
So now after 30 years, the original dBs have recorded another record, Falling Off The Sky (Bar None 2012). Although STAMEY and HOLSAPPLE have sporadically made excellent records together since the THE dBs, the original members (including bassist GENE HOLDER and drummer WILL RIGBY) have not done much together other than the occasional reunion show. Even if you never hear the original classic albums with the original lineup (Stands For Decibals 1980 and Repercussion 1981), this album will just be a much better than average collection of well played and interestingly arranged songs played by a mature, skilled band. If you listen to it repeatedly, some songs will likely sink in to become favorites and you may decide you have to find more stuff by CHRIS STAMEY or PETER HOLSAPPLE. But for fans of THE dBs who have heard the solo albums and other projects from STAMEY and HOLSAPPLE, this will just re-affirm that these guys should always work together (and more frequently!) The idosyncracies and occasional odd arrangement are here for those of us who pine for the old days. The beautiful now legendary harmonies are there for fans of the two STAMEY and HOLSAPPLE projects. The grooves from the rhythm section (“Gene and Will make time sit up and pay attention”) are there too. It is good start to finish. The album ends with a clever STAMEY guitar solo that leaves me wanting more.