Thursday, February 10, 2011

New Release: David Lowery - The Palace Guards

Release Date: February 1, 2011
Label: 429 Records

 I remember the first exposure I had to David Lowery.  It was in the mid-90s, when I was in junior high or so, and just starting to really listen to popular music.  It just so happened that the Cracker song "Low" was a hit at the time, and I happened to really enjoy it.  I would sing along when I heard it on the radio.  For one reason or another, I never purchased Kerosene Hat until much, much later.

Fast forward a decade or so, to summer of 2004 (or maybe it was 2005).  Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers were doing their semi-annual Circus Mexicus show, which I attended in May of that year.  Opening?  Johnny Hickman.  Guitarist from Cracker.  The next summer I saw the same show, except Johnny Hickman and David Lowery were the opening act. And I happened to really enjoy it.  It was only after these shows that I finally decided to further investigate the music of this rock band called Cracker.

Before Cracker, Mr. Lowery was in another rock band called Camper Van Beethoven.  This band was apparently popular on college radio, and they had a minor hit with "Take The Skinheads Bowling."  In the early 90s, Lowery and Hickman formed Cracker, and had a #1 (on the Modern Rock chart) hit with "Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now)."  Then came "Low," after which Cracker sort of faded out into semi-obscurity.

The first album I checked out after seeing Hickman and Lowery was what was at the time their latest release, Greenland.  I *loved* this album.  It is mellow, but not boring, and I really discovered how much I like Lowery's witty lyrics.  He really does seem like a pretty smart guy.  Later on, Cracker released Sunrise In The Land of Milk And Honey, which I didn't like quite as much.  It is definitely a more rock-oriented album than we have seen recently (they did a bluegrass collaboration with the jamgrass band Leftover Salmon, and they released an album of country songs (mostly covers) that were performed on a tour as their alter-egos Ironic Mullet).

A month ago, I learned that Lowery would be releasing his first solo album, The Palace Guards.  Naturally, I purchased it.  This is definitely more mellow than anything we've had from Cracker.  It is more textured, and less guitar-oriented.  The wry lyrics still remain, and I have no idea what most of them are about.

Well, this one is pretty obvious:
All those girls meant nothing to me.
So won't you please take me back? 
On David Lowery's blog, you'll find numerous interesting musings on the meaning of many of these songs. It's interesting that "I Sold The Arabs The Moon," as nonsensical as it seems, actually refers to his experience seeing the Middle East from a helicopter, thinking about how all of civilization was formed there, and was influenced by the fertile crescent.  In David's words:
You get this sense of how small you are. How short your life is in the span of human history. How insignificant your small deeds and actions. At the same time you get a glimpse of the huge yet unseen forces that shape everything we do.... At an altitude like this you can see how the land shaped the people. At an altitude we all become philosophers.
"The Palace Guards" is a little less philosophical, and finds a very timely application today:
What I was getting at is that in my song “The Palace Guards” are a group of superheros who have crossed some sort of line. They’ve gone from being the public’s protectors to being overprotective, secretive and controlling. They’ve turned into Stalkers.

Yes it was intended to be a metaphor about the growing power of government!

Just kidding. It’s just an accident that it happens to work so well as a metaphor. Watching the protests in Egypt you could very well think of Mubarak and the ruling national democratic party as The Palace Guards.
David further explains that while the narrator starts out praising the guards in third person, he switches to first person, revealing that he is actually one of the guards.  He compares this to the conflict of interests inherent in state-run media.

Third person, at the beginning of the song:
The palace guards they’re working hard
They have your best interests at heart
They are making song of great enduring strength and beauty
 And then later:
I love you and cause i do
I hid your passport
I put you on a no fly list 
...maybe it's about our own government, too.

1Raise 'Em Up on Honey4:27
2The Palace Guards3:40
3Deep Oblivion5:35
4Ah, You Left Me3:47
5Baby, All Those Girls Meant Nothing to Me4:07
6I Sold the Arabs the Moon4:03
8Big Life4:25

This album didn't, by any means, blow me away, but I like it, and I would recommend checking it out.  It really is fresh; Lowery has drummed up something legitimately interesting here.  Besides, it's pretty cheap on Amazon, and many of the tracks can be had for free at Lowery's blog.

Here is a video of the country-infused opening track (I think he was trying to make it as cheesy as possible):

My personal favorite:


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