I once had a clear sense of the proper life cycle of a musician. It started with a band, typically lasting a handful of albums, until just enough success was achieved that one or more of the members could move on to solo careers. And that was pretty much the whole story. Led Zeppelin didn’t get back together. The Who Didn’t get back together. The Band or Creedence Clearwater Revival? They didn’t get back together, even if their former members had only the most intermittent solo careers. Sure, the oldies revival in the nineteen-eighties meant there were a bunch of oldsters playing casinos and such using names that were familiar primarily from Big Chill soundtracks, even if only no more than one person from the band’s respective heydays were there to justify the billing. That was the aberration, though. Surely what I’d seen from the powerhouse rockers of a generation before me would be the common trajectory of the more current bands I loved. We would even sit around the radio station and speculate about when, say, Aimee Mann would forget about ‘Til Tuesday and make her own records.
And indeed that predictable path seemed to be what was taking place through the nineties. Sure, there were devoted holdouts to the idea of keeping the band together, with nothing more than the occasional diversionary side project that was clearly a lark. R.E.M. and U2 fell into this category, for example. But when the Pixies called it quits there were Black Francis records (well, Frank Black, but the principle remains), and the Replacements’ tenure was followed by Paul Westerberg (and Chris Mars! and Slim Dunlap!) solo efforts. Certainly these bands were never going to take the stage together again. Ahem. So I dutifully followed my college rock heroes as they struck out on their own, excited to be part of the new beginning. I had my couple of Buffalo Tom albums, but I was really excited when I went to local record store to get the solo debut of Bill Janovitz.
The lead vocalist and guitarist for Buffalo Tom released Lonesome Billy in 1997, when I was especially desperate to keep up with new music, having jumped ship from the commercial radio station that had kept me somewhat tethered to current musical happenings, even if I was better served by paying attention to the up-and-coming artists that generated no interest from the folks making the programming decisions. So spotting a new release from an artist with whom I already had a bit of a relationship was a boon. I think I’d also read a CMJ New Music Monthly review which confirmed suspicions that this album fit snugly into the earnest troubadour with a guitar and romantically anguished lyrics category I favored. Sure enough, it was as comfortable as a late night, boozy visit with an old friend, especially on the album highlight “Shoulder.” After all, if I’m feeling wistful and nostalgia, what could be better than a song with the lyrics “Come around my shoulder, it’s all right/ The house is always empty Friday night/ I’ll put some scratchy records on/ I had this feeling straight ’til dawn/ I hoped to find you there when morning came/ I hoped I had changed but felt the same.”
Listen or download –> Bill Janovitz, “Shoulder”
(Disclaimer: It appears to me that Lonesome Billy is out of print, but there are a few Buffalo Tom albums still available that will presumably put dollars in Mr. Janovitz’s pocket should you purchase them from your local, independently-owned record store. The song shared her today is done so with the hope, expectation and understanding that doing so causes no one any fiscal harm. Still, I will gladly and promptly remove it should I be contacted by any duly authorized individuals or entities making such a request. Weird. I think that may be the shortest “Disclaimer” I’ve ever written for this feature. I must be missing something.)