Monday, April 14, 2008

Rainy Day

I'll be the first to admit that not everything I feature here is some lost masterpiece. And I don't know if this 1984 album by the one-off "Paisley Underground" super-group Rainy Day is a masterpiece either. Masterpiece seems like too pompous a word to describe something so unaffected and charming.

Rainy Day was a project headed by David Roback (Rain Parade, Opal) with contributions from Kendra Smith (Dream Syndicate, Opal), Michael Quercio (The Three O'Clock), Susanna Hoffs (The Bangles) and other Paisley Underground luminaries. Much like the more recent Hoffs/Matthew Sweet collaboration, Under The Covers, it's an unpretentious, heartfelt tribute to the music of the 60s that had the most obvious impact on these musicians. Buffalo Springfield, The Velvet Underground, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Who, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Big Star are all covered.

As Kendra Smith's minimalist cover art suggests, in creating this album the group seems to have followed Einstein's dictum that "things should be as simple as possible, but no simpler." Most of the songs sound like they were done in one take, the arrangements are sparse, and the instrumentation is mostly acoustic. But a few subtle touches keep things from getting too simple: some violin or viola by Will Glenn on "I'll Keep It With Mine," "John Riley," and "Holacaust," some reverb around the vocals on "Flying On The Ground Is Wrong." Only the lengthy cover of Hendrix's "Rainy Day, Dream Away" that ends the album falls relatively flat.

It's appropriate that Buffalo Springfield would get two tracks dedicated to them, because it's clear they were a huge influence on the Paisley Underground scene in general, and on Roback in particular. I've been mesmerized by "Flying On The Ground Is Wrong" since I first heard Buffalo Springfield's version on the radio when I was in high school. It's possible I find the song intriguing because I've never been certain precisely what it is about. Is it a love song? A drug song? It's probably both, and possibly neither. But both the lyrics and the melody are haunting and evocative, and Kendra Smith brings those qualities to the fore with her languid vocals. "On Your Way Home" is the simplest song on the album, with just Roback accompanying his vocals on acoustic guitar. But the simplicity allows the beauty of the melody to shine through in a way that it doesn't on the possibly over-arranged original version from Last Time Around. Maybe masterpiece is not too pompous to describe this low-key gem of an album after all.

Judging by the prices the CD fetches, Rainy Day is crying out for a proper reissue. Dare we hope for bonus tracks, or might they break the album's considerable spell?


Anonymous said...

Great!!! More please.

Peter Hennig said...

Leave it up to Pete to post on a Lp I've been wanting to hear for years now! Thanks Pete.

I believe this was also the beginning of the collaboration between Smith and Roback which lead of course to Clay Allison/Opal.

It certainly sounds great 20+ years later - a gem.

Pete Bilderback said...

I wanted to mention that this was the beginning (I believe) of Roback and Smith's collaboration, but I didn't want the post to go on to long. There is a funny parallel between this album and Rock On by British folk-rock super-group The Bunch (headed by Richard Thompson). Both were covers albums and one-off collaborations between scene luminaries. Both albums paid homage to the music of the previous generation of rock and rollers. The Bunch was also (I believe) the first time Richard Thompson and a singer then named Linda Peters worked together. As with Roback and Smith, that pairing also led to a rather fruitful collaboration. Also, for a long time, like Rainy Day, Rock On was a difficult item to find, although it has since been reissued on CD.