So here are three songs from a recording made in 1992 by a group of musicians calling themselves “Les Plymouths“: “Leaven Unleaven,” “Revolution Tears,” and “Bayou Yahoo.” So who are these guys? Well, the guitarist, singer, and songwriter is Bill Swan, whom most people know as a first-call West Coast indie-rock trumpet player (and I’m thinking, aside from Eric Matthews, who else could that be?) and fomerly half of Beulah. There’s a second guitarist and singer/songwriter, a guy named John Dannenbrink, who’s more or less disappeared. And the lead guitar playing is by Jeff Jagielo, who formerly led the criminally under-acclaimed Madison band Ivory Library and who’s led the band Squarewave (here’s their MySpace link, from which you can order their fine new CD as well as their two previous releases) for the last several years. Oh – and on acoustic bass, my brother Greg, who played with Bill in a couple of bands in Madison and Milwaukee before Bill moved out to San Francisco. Curiously – to the rest of the world, but not to me – it wasn’t from Greg that I heard about this (he can be oddly incommunicative about his music sometimes…) but from my brother-in-law, who used to tend bar with Ivory Library’s former drummer.
The funny thing is, there’s an entirely separate connection here as well. My friend Bradley Skaught, one of the main writers for the Bye Bye Blackbirds, has worked quite a bit with Bill Swan, and my guess is that sooner or later Bradley, knowing my tastes, would have let me know about this after he’d heard about it via Bill.
I wrote that the Greg-Bill-Jeff Jagielo connection and the Bradley-Bill connection were entirely separate…but now I remember that isn’t true either. Because Ivory Library’s former bassist, Derrick McBride, moved out to San Francisco a few years after Bill did…and ended up working for the same record store as Bradley did.
Yeah, yeah, but how’s the music? I think it’s mighty fine. It’s based in acoustic, sort of folk rock, but Swan’s chordal and melodic choices aren’t very folk-like, and Jagielo’s electric guitar textures remove the songs further from your typical acoustic-guitar -led music. (Someone plays mandolin on a track or two as well – not sure who – and a few songs sport fairly involved vocal arrangements.) “Leaven Unleaven” opens the 14-song album (ten songs of which are streamable from the band’s MySpace site, linked above) and gives a good idea of the band’s general approach, with Jagielo’s guitar slightly shifting the chordal voicing from Swan’s rhythm playing. “Revolution Tears” shows the subtlety and power of Jagielo’s atmospheric playing: he doesn’t do anything that sounds terribly complicated, but the reverberant space of his guitar sound utterly transforms the song.
And then there’s “Bayou Yahoo.” Swan’s singing occasionally gets a bit yelpy – here he uses that quality as an effect, and while I’d hardly say this song is the height of the band’s artistic achievement, I defy anyone who’s heard it not to start involuntarily doing that ridiculous “ooh chicky-chicky-chicky” thing near the end. Quite an obnoxious and persistent little earworm that – our cats seem to think it’s a cat call, presumably related to food (they misinterpret “chicky” as the bird, perhaps?).
As I said, ten songs are streamable at the band’s site, and the remaining four from the recording session are available by request (see the blog entry at the site).
(all from Cruz Is the Lilac, recorded 1992)