Silver Jews – Starlite Walker
Drag City, 1994
Acquired: Love Garden, New, 2008
At the height of my Silver Jews fandom (late 2007), I decided that I had to own all of David Berman's records on vinyl (with the exception of the unlistenable Arizona Record and the far too expensive Tennessee EP). This is Berman's first release and the first that doesn't sound like ass. The Dylan influence hasn't worn off yet, but regardless, it's a damn fine record that took me a long time to get into. “Advice to the Graduate” is the best song about graduating ever (even better than Vitaman C's!) and “Trains Across the Sea” is another early gem. Here he's got Pavement bros Stephen Malkmus working bass and guitars and Bob Nastanovich on drums. The line-up rotates from record to record, Malkmus would make a habit of appearing on every other Silver Jews record (his appearance is integral to Berman's masterful 3rd record American Water). Anyway, here he doesn't yet have a grip on what Silver Jews is, but it's all there. It's piecing itself together, and it kind of sounds like Berman trying to work his poetry into songs. By his second record, The Natural Bridge, he'd mastered it. This one has some amazing lines though. Who else could write something like “On the last day of your life/ Don't forget to die”? Or maybe I'm just letting my unabashed fanboydom of Berman to get in the way of how I analyze his records. He might be my favorite songwriter, I don't know. He is one of the greats though, and I'm really interested to see how time treats him. Though he could easily just sing his songs over an acoustic guitar and call it a day, he goes a little out there and Malkmus' guitar sound is kind of a perfect compliment to these tunes. It gives them slightly jammy quality, and does it in a way that never becomes overwrought or boring (like on Malkypoo's latest solo record). The Malky vocal harmonies, as always, are totally great too. Overall, this is the loosest of David Berman's endeavors. Also, check out “New Orleans” because it's a perfect example of this looseness, and it's one of the highlights of the record. Granted, Berman is always more on when he tightens things up (see the weirdness of the free jazz/free verse recicitation of “The Country Diary of a Subway Conductor,” which aside the words on the lyrics sheet and it's reference to Robert Bresson, is actually a little unlistenable).