For obvious reasons, combining rock and country doesn't quite raise eyebrows like it did in 1980. But even after countless iterations of the cowpunk hybrid they helped get off the ground, The Meat Puppets' signature blend of punk-derived hard rock, country, and psychedelia still sounds startlingly inventive. On Sewn Together, the band's second album since the reunion of core members Curt and Cris Kirkwood, the ease with which the Kirkwoods and current drummer Ted Marcus configure their influences immediately stands apart from the more contrived efforts of younger bands. Once again, the Kirkwoods prove that you can create music with remarkable staying power while barely trying—or at least sounding like you're trying.
Bandleader Curt Kirkwood debunks the myth that the classic Meat Puppets lineup never rehearsed and says the secret to the band's looseness was that it could afford to be rough around the edges because the players had invested so much time in making music together. Kirkwood relies on that ethic today as much as he ever has, and has over the years managed to perfect the art of casual recording with sturdy, even flawless results. In contrast to its more stripped-down, folkish predecessor, Sewn Together sounds like a big-budget affair from the moment it begins. Kicking off with the title track, layered acoustic guitars, pedal steel and handclaps hang like fancy drapes over an expertly restrained rootsy bass-and-drum thump before sudden bursts of twangy lead guitar illuminate the music like distant lightning.
But the album was, in typical Kirkwood fashion, actually made over the course of about 10 days. It was also originally conceived as a collection of campfire songs before growing into an overdub bonanza, with members adding track upon track of extra parts over the basic skeleton of each song.
"The goal," says Kirkwood, who also produced the album, "is kinda to be half-assed, because we're good enough musicians."
If Sewn Together misses that mark by a wide margin—no matter how you approach the album, it's hard to argue that it sounds half-assed—the band certainly does come across as comfortable with the material.
"We've always sorta cared," Kirkwood continues. "My brother practices the bass more than I practice the guitar. I always liked the idea of picking the guitar up as a kid and just making noise on it. The world that I could get into there was beyond reproach and critique. I bring a lot of that to the game when I'm doing it in my adulthood. It's not like we're trying to suck, but trying to be good is creepy."
It's something of an anomaly that the Meat Puppets have gone down in history for their forays into country music because, as Kirkwood tells it, they never tried to appease anyone's sense of authenticity—especially not the punkers in their audience who were onboard because of the band's affiliation with SST. The Kirkwoods weren't especially attached to country (or even punk) any more than they were to, say, dub reggae or classic rock. But it is precisely this disregard for parochialism that continues to set their work apart and give it a gritty, self-determining spirit that works well with its deceptive polish. Attitude-wise, the Kirkwoods walk a razor's edge between slovenly and elegant, shrugging their shoulders all the way to production-value heaven and pulling off the musical equivalent of looking sharp in a wrinkled suit. And if, in the process, The Meat Puppets' music sometimes sounds like it was made by people in cowboy hats, that's because the band has, in a broader sense, never bothered to wear them. In other words, it has done a hell of a job of sidestepping the cultural baggage that other bands foolishly buy into wholesale.
"Even growing up around horses," quips Kirkwood, "I figured there was more to wearing a cowboy hat than just keeping the sun out of your eyes."
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needs more candlelight! i like this song.