Thank God Austin's The Meat Purveyors never gave me love advice at the age 15--the age when the heat of cynicism just begins to simmer.
If "All Relationships are Doomed to Fail"--TMP's third album with Bloodshot Records--had come out in the spring of 1991, any hope I had for a healthy relationship would have been lost and I would have resigned myself to a life of celibacy.
Luckily, it came out this April and I can appreciate the self-deprecation that comes along with heartbreak and know that I'd rather battle that than suffer the uninteresting life of celibacy. Besides, what is more fun than drowning your sorrows with the bottle?
Clearly, self-medicating via alcohol is the prescription to ease the pain of love gone. It's an age-old theme. With "Thinking About Drinking," Bill Anderson, guitarist/songwriter and one of the founding members of TMP, aptly writes it and singer Jo Walston captures it:
"They say that the pain of a broken heart can be eased by alcohol. I know that you ain't no doctor, but could you pour a dose about ye tall? One more shot of medicine to help me through the day. It's good to know that sweet relief is just a shot away."
In TMP's bluegrass/punk/rock/country style, they also address the issue of being an alcoholic. In "2:00 a.m.," Walston dejectedly croons, "Knock down drag-outs, hangovers, blackouts. No wonder he left me again. And I'll wake up tomorrow, feeling like sin. It's 2 a.m., already again." The song is a slow, plucky mandolin tune, written (appropriately) by the band's mandolin player Pete Stiles.
One of the most heart-wrenching songs on the album is "Last Waltz." It was, as Anderson said, "the first Meat Purveyors song ever," written by Nora Brackenbury, aka Nora Floyd, who "started the band along with Jo and I in the spring of 1996. Jo and I had been in a similar, but less serious band in 1991-Joan of Arkansas."
"That was really just a social club for people who liked to play bluegrass and country," Anderson continued. "Nora and Jo got me to listen to two of Nora's songs and that's how they convinced me to start a band with them. Within seven or eight months, Nora was gone, due to personal problems."
"Last Waltz" tells the story of a woman who fell in love with a man that danced with her in the hall, bought her a bottle and sang her a song. She was blinded, awoke to his empty heart, and she faded away like a flower.
"All I wanted to do was just kiss you and hit you and I stumbled my way back to the bar. "And I dance down the street with the wind at my feet and I sing as I weave my way home. And the old men in doorways said that they'd be my partner. But I dance the last waltz alone."
Don't get this album wrong though, folks. It's got lotsa attitude. You won't want to put a bullet in your head. More than likely, you'll want to kick some ass, especially after listening to the first song, "Hey Little Sister."
"I've seen that bruise on the back of your arm. If I found that man's been doing ya harm, I'll cut him down. I'll cut him dowwwn."
TMP is pragmatic in both the songwriting and the music. It's straightforward, accessible and it rocks- in a bluegrass, hillbilly, punk sort of way.
Lee Gutowski, Bloodshot's publicist, describes them in apropos fashion in TMP's press release, "Looking for a quick description of this band? Well, if you consider that they're a bluegrass outfit from Austin and on this release they cover not only a Ralph Stanley song but also songs by ABBA and RATT. Does that give you an inkling?"
Interestingly enough, the title of the album is ironic, considering the history of the band. As previously stated, they got together the summer of 1996. Bloodshot Records caught wind of them through Jon Langford, one of Bloodshot's artists who told the powers that be to see TMP at South By Southwest in 1997.
"In spring of '97, Jon Langford, of the Mekons and Waco Brothers, who I knew from playing in his Austin pickup band, convinced the heads of Bloodshot Records to come and see us at SXSW. They signed us and we put out our first record, "Sweet in the Pants," in early '98. We did a bit of touring, and luckily we didn't die, because we tended to overdo it in those days." Anderson recounts. "In summer of '99, we put out our second record, More Songs about Buildings and Cows. It got great reviews, we toured a bunch and people seemed to love us. We broke up on New Year's Eve of '99/2000. Tensions in the band between various members stemming from broken romantic entanglements tore us apart."
The entanglements that tore them apart--before they got back together--led them to some Tucson ties. Bassist Cherilyn DiMond played with Calexico and Anderson toured with Bloodshot artist Neko Case, who recently recorded "Blacklisted" (coming out August 20) at our own Wave Lab Studios.
But are all relationships doomed to fail? No, and TMP is a prime example of that.
"After two years, the scars healed somewhat and we got back together last winter and made a new album."
So, the message folks, is this--hope is plausible. Even if all relationships are doomed to fail, they will probably reunite in some form or another.