I had the great fortune to locate Salem 66’s Natural Disasters, National Treasures on eBay a few weeks back (Salem 66 lament posted on July 4), and when it arrived I discovered that a “bonus” CD titled Saved by Radio: 2006 Folk Alliance Sampler had been included. The word Folk doesn’t turn me off as it once did, and if truth be told, my punk rock fix is largely satiated by Netflix documentaries, so I decide to see if salvation was at hand.
Even though the cover indicates folk, it wouldn’t be right to call it that, or country, or new country, or singer-songwriter (yuck! worst term ever), or alt-folk. Some of those labels fit some of the songs, but no one label applies to the entire album. There are a few tunes like “Pipe Dream” by Robin Hunter and Mark Davis’ “Face the Day” that bring to mind the great Joe Ely from mid-80s Austin, TX or Mike Ness’ Cheating at Solitaire – real punchy, roots-rocking fun. But then you take a turn and meet up with Chris Vail’s alternative-rock/college radio vibe. “We Fill the Cracks” is up-tempo pop a-la-Fountains of Wayne (that's a positive, "Stacy's Mom" is a delicious dose of power-pop in my book) and “Spit in the Mouth” combines earnest, mumbled vocals with a catchy guitar line. The synth stuff at the end of the song is a bit campy, but the first three minutes more than make up for it.
Then we come to “Harmony” by Ayla Brook and “Pages of Your Book” by Lorrie Matheson– and all I have to say is that if Dave Pirner and Dan Murphy from Soul Asylum had traveled down this road, instead of venturing into the tar-pit of crap they’ve been stuck in for the last several albums, they would still have people buying their records. The songwriting here is smart, meaningful, and sung with conviction. These are the songs that you play over and over until you learn all the lyrics so you can sing along. When Matheson sings, “if I owned the blame finger, I’d be pointing it at you” it brings back the spirit of what was so great about Made to Be Broken and While You Were Out. In 1986 Pirner and company fueled us with the line, “it ain’t bad luck, it’s just you ain’t that tough” and there is twenty years of irony to be read in those words… The Saved by Radio folks certainly deserve good luck, and hopefully they can tough it out as well.
Visit http://www.savedbyradio.com/ for a dose of hope and inspiration.