Acoustic Sounds

Golden Smog

Down By The Old Mainstream



Label: Rykodisc

Produced By: James Bunchberry Lane and Golden Smog

Engineered By: James Bunchberry Lane

Mastered By: Scott Hull at Masterdisk

By: Michael Fremer

September 3rd, 2023





Originally Seen In:


Golden Smog's 'Down By The Old Mainstream'

From the archives: A supergroup mimicking the 70s

(This review originally appeared in Issue 7, Spring 1996.)

It is at once comforting and depressing to hear a band of (relative) youngsters writing and performing songs, most of which could easily be dropped into a cassette tape compilation from the early 70s and segue way so smoothly you’d never know they were new. Since I choose comfort over depression every time, I’m enjoying the hell out of this set of alternative shitkicker music which gracefully slips and slides through Burrito Brothers, Byrds, Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead, Stones, and Big Star territory while tossing bouquets of humor laced with irony. It could be my imagination but I even hear John Cale’s influence.

Golden Smog is a pickup band composed of Jayhawks’ Gary Louris and Marc Perlman, Soul Asylum’s Dan Murphy, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and Kraig Johnson and Noah Levy, members of Run Westy Run and Honeydrops. Due to contractual obligations, all are identified by pseudonyms. Secure in their own contemporary styles, these guys have nothing to prove but that a good time is reason enough to make music and clearly a good time was had by all.

Every guitar lick, piano fill, vocal harmony, rhythmic accent and melodic hook has a familiar ring to it, but the application of the parts and the quality of the blend make most of the ingredients hard to pin down once they've been added to the mix—indicative of a good recipe successfully accomplished.

This is much, much more than a slapdash all star jam: the songs are fully fleshed out with majestic hooks, hairpin lyrical twists and organizational skills that Lennon/McCartney would be proud to call their own. Instrumental textures and colors shift and swirl within tunes to accentuate the emotional undercurrents, while tightly drawn harmonies soar overhead. Nonetheless, what overwhelms the carefully drawn backdrop is a strong sensation of informality, of fun, of sharing and generosity which will lift your spirits high as only good pop music can.

That’s what I want from music and that’s what this set delivers. You’ll hear vital essences of The Dead in “Pecan Pie,” The Replacements and Big Star in “Radio King,” The Allman Brothers in “Glad & Sorry,” The Byrds in “Won’t Be Coming Home,” of The Flying Burrito Brothers or GP in “Nowhere Bound,” but ultimately, and most importantly, the group making the music takes center stage and forges its own cool but impassioned identity.

Highlights include the rocking “Red Headed Stepchild” and the John Cale-ish sounding “Williamton Angel.” In fact I’d be surprised if Cale’s Vintage Violence and Paris 1919  weren’t on the turntable while these guys produced this set. That’s assuming there was a turntable around—and I bet there was.

The honest sounding, simply recorded set offers decent CD sound, with a bit more overall compression than I like to hear, a somewhat flattened stage, a bit of edge on top, and a lack of overall transparency. But then I’m comparing the sound to the originals which inspired Golden Smog—and them were the golden days of analog.

14 tunes, not a stinker in the bunch, this set of folk/rockers will stay on your CD player for a long, long time before the pleasures become too familiar. Highly recommended!

Associated good listening: Hey, I could list dozens of albums which influenced Golden Smog, but I’ll use this as an excuse to recommend just one 2CD set—Rhino’s John Cale - Seducing Down the Door (R2 71685). An eclectic mix of Cale material which includes highlights from all over his extensive discography, including Vintage Violence, Paris 1919, Guts, and Fear. A fairly well considered compilation musically, though sonically it can’t compare to original pressings—especially those on British Island. We’ll do a Cale LP feature in a future Tracking Angle at which time we’ll cover this Rhino set in greater detail.

Music Specifications

Catalog No: RCD 10325

Channels: Stereo


  • 2023-09-05 10:24:16 AM

    Silk Dome Mid wrote:

    Yes, this is a very enjoyable record, although in hindsight I wouldn't give it a 10 for music.