Friday, August 20, 1999

Badlees release remarkable album

'Up There Down Here' features some of the band's best work

August 20, 1999

This is the album I've been waiting to tell you about.

It's the album you almost never heard — the near victim of a corporate mess known best as the Polygram/Seagram's sale. It is by far the most impressive recording I've heard in years.

And on Tuesday, Aug. 24, it hit record stores across America.

"Up There Down Here" — the latest release from The Badlees — offers an in-depth journey into the creative purview of one of America's best bands. Within its 13 tracks, you will hear fine melodies, textured harmonies, an unwavering sense of conviction and lyrics that could best be described as profound.

You will hear great songs.

From the passionate plea of the "Don't Let Me Hide" to the picturesque images of "Luther's Windows," The Badlees' fifth full-length album and second national release provides 56 minutes of everything that can still be good about rock 'n' roll. Resurrected is the lost art of third-person narrative songwriting. Rediscovered is music with a sense of purpose.

Reborn are songs that can come alive in your heart and your imagination.

Embellished with soft instrumentation that only enhances its beauty and graced with a striking cinematic quality, "Thinking In Ways" is a moving tale of a father telling his son that he's preparing for death. "34 Winters" — though never gushy — looks at the heartache of a mid-life divorce and is sung with such feeling you can sense the sadness and, most notably, the anger of a family torn apart.

But what makes "Up There Down Here" so special — and may offer some insight into its title — is its diversity and its depth. For every moment of sheer poignancy and reflection, there are also moments of swagger and strut.

"Silly Little Man" — a sarcastic dig on the short-lived fruits of success — comes with driving guitars and a soaring chorus, while "Middle of The Busiest Road" offers a fast-paced visual collage of rural Americana. "The Second Coming of Chris" is a quirky number and again allows the band to flex its storytelling talents, while "A Little Faith" draws on the traditional folk sounds that have always influenced the band.

It's work such as "Running Up That Hill," however, that lifts The Badlees above most of the band members' modern-rock contemporaries and cements their place among America's most important young songwriters. Although cleverly crafted through sagacious lyrics, it is — quite simply — an offer from a one friend to another to help in a time of need. And its poetic invitation for a return to innocence lost and its gorgeous instrumental break, featuring mandolin and acoustic guitar, provide for the album's single most memorable moment.

The release of "Up There Down Here" marks more than just the arrival of a marvelous rock album. It shows that exceptional songwriting can still be found in record stores and, possibly, even on the radio. It is a testament that songs that are insightful and meaningful can also come with commercial appeal and an unassuming honesty.

It is, above all, music that matters.