Steve Almaas and Ali Smith
You Showed Me
hen the Silver Jews’ David Berman told us “punk rock died when the first kid said, punk’s not dead, punk’s not dead,” he was probably hypothesizing that genres, punk specifically, die as soon as they are acknowledged as such. Self-realization is a bitch, but it happens. And when it does—when you become recognizable as a subset—it eventually gets subsumed into the mainstream. Becomes a commodity. Punk didn’t die. It labored on in spirit, spawning new genres (both good and bad). It became advertising campaigns, it became a phase “you go through”; it became Hot Topic.
But what if punk really did die, not in a literal sense, but in a Freudian sense, the sense that the ‘death drive’ represents an inherent urge in all living things to return to a state of calm; that through “death” punk rock just put down roots, bought a house in the country, and began to whittle wood on the back porch.
The career arc of Steve Almaas supports this theory: as one-third of The Suicide Commandos, he helped pave the way for other, more notable Midwest punk rock wonders, such as The Replacements and Husker Du. Following the collapse of the Commandos and a subsequent move to New York, Almaas formed Beat Rodeo, whose amalgamation of country, punk, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll was American roots music more akin to the mid-80s Paisley Underground than punk. Roots firmly planted, he dug deeper over the years, releasing several solo albums, culminating here with You Showed Me, a self-described homage to American song that’s kicked off by a cover of The Byrds song of the same name.
You Showed Me is the second album Almaas has recorded with girlfriend and former Speedball Baby singer Ali Smith, adding a cute, yet cloying aspect evidenced not only on several songs, but also on the album’s back cover, which finds them sprawling on a forest floor, torsos resting atop each other. Backed by a bunch of competent musicians and mixed by Mitch Easter (who also plays guitar on one song) You Showed Me is an album that sounds timeless, but lacks the tenacity or tenderness we yearn for in song.
Though they both take vocal duties, there’s no duet per se. Instead, the tunes Smith tackles are Lucinda Williams-lite (especially “Absolutely Free”), with Smith matching her for melody but lacking the lyrical bite and cigarettes-at-dawn drawl. Smith even spins out the obligatory spurned countrywoman spoken word section on a cover of the Brian Wilson-penned “The Lonely Sea.” For the most part though, she plays backup to Almaas whose finest moment comes on “What No Angel Knows.” Terrible title aside, it’s a sweet little number built on minimalist rolling guitar that clearly becomes the album’s best track when a pedal steel kicks in around the two minute mark, turning it into an ethereal slice of Jayhawks styled country pop rock. Jon Graboff’s pedal steel, which appears on half the tracks, is a joy to listen to and gives the album a cosmic country sheen, aiding and abetting Almaas’ self-proclaimed celebration of American song.
The genre being celebrated, of course, is traditional Americana. You Showed Me veers from country (“#7” and “I Don’t Like to Be Alone”) to honky tonk (“The Winner,” which sounds like Steve Earle after a throat lozenge OD), to hoedowns (the harmonica-driven “Ed’s Tower to the Top.) There are a few tracks that suffer from an overly earnest approach. “Before the Other Shoe Drops” is as cloying as the photo on the back cover and “Thy Will be Done” is inconsequential country that hearkens back to Almaas’ Paisley Underground days, evidence that roots planted in the wrong pot are more likely to recede than rejuvenate.
Fans of crisp clean country rock, with a penchant for pop will find little wrong here, but also nothing new. Ultimately, You Showed Me is the kind of album I would recommend to my parents. That’s not meant as a slight—my folks have great taste in music (they turned me on to Neil Young among others). It’s just that sometimes, parental approval isn’t the first thing you seek in song—something Almaas should know from his Suicide Commando days.
Reviewed by: Kevin Pearson
Reviewed on: 2006-11-09