The Sound Of Music

The dB's

I.R.S. Records, 1987

REVIEW BY: Denise Henderson


I remember back in the early eighties -- were any of our readers born yet? -- when the Rolling Stone interviewed all the up and coming stars of the day. They were looking for everyone's prediction of the next "big thing". The most repeated names were 1) The Replacements 2) the dB's and 3) REM. To make it even more interesting and equitable, all three bands named each other as the next big thing as well.

Well, we know where REM went. We know the Replacements went south a few years ago. Where all the members of the dB's went is still one of those wondrous questions. Peter Holsapple actually became the honorary "fifth" member of REM for a couple of tours. Will Rigby had a great lounge act for a brief while, tongue firmly in cheek with his band, Wipe Me Mommy. I assume that Gene Holder is still repairing and collecting guitars in NYC as he always hated to tour. And original co-founder Chris Stamey has consistently put out some killer solo records that nobody ever buys and which rarely receive airplay.

The talent was there. The desire for success was there. And The Sound Of Music proves that in the end, the dB's could still spin some pretty decent pop records. I miss Stamey's departure especially on this record. The band's records have always been very noisy and versatile. They mix country and pop as well as some of the best Credence records while maintaining the jangle and perk of the Byrds and early Brit pop. Stamey was a great counterpoint to Holsapple not only as a guitar player, but as a songwriter. He gave us a lot of the early quirker material and some of that is gone on this record.

What remains is some solid stuff though. "I Lie" repeats Holsapple's oft visited theme of love and betrayal while using his thin reedy voice to its best. His love life seems to rank right up there in the miserable company of all of pop's melancholy chaps. Another heart-tugger is "Never Before" which is, according to my excellent sources at the time, a somewhat biographical account of the demise of the relationship between Mitch Easter, early producer for REM and other Athens, GA popsters, and Faye Hunter, who together had a great eighties band, Let's Active, for awhile. The guitar work of Jeff Beninato and Holsapple pluck around the candid lyrics stating "Never be lovers before you are friends, never before and never again." Over and ouch.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The countrified "Bonneville" and "Working for Somebody Else" are fun, upbeat numbers that are nicely interspersed between the heavier, moody pieces. The band seems to genuinely enjoy a rootsy, bluesy feel during these songs and this helps showcase not only their musical diversity but the great drumming of Will Rigby. Will has also guest drummed for Matthew Sweet recently and I've never seen a drummer who used his snares and cymbals better. He is truly one of those people that you have to see live to appreciate. Listening to the background of each and every song on The Sound of Music again, I really began to appreciate his subtlety and talent. A 10 minute crashing drum solo does a lot less for me than a well placed roll or the occasionally mournful punctuation of Rigby's cymbals. The old adage less is more really applies to his technique.

But the dB's strength still lies in their pop numbers, even the sad ones. "Think Too Hard" warns if you think too hard "you'll blow yourself in two" while the Rigby/Holder rhythm section weaves and bobs around Holsapple's lyrical seriousness. Ironically, the music and players remain upbeat while our hero warns if "you wish too hard, your wishes may come true." I like the musical and lyrical dichotomy on this record a lot. That dichotomy really distinguishes many of the other upbeat numbers like "Better Place" which yearns for not only a better place but "the good old days" while happily bouncing along musically.

I think that's what most appealing about our long-faced pop heroes and what works best for Holsapple and the dB's. When it's all seriousness, it can become morbid and melodramatic. But when the musical mood is light yet the words are coming out heavy from the heart, there is still an underlying optimism that won't die. Holsapple doesn't let you forget that life is hard and then you die, but there is a bit of fun (dare we say happiness?) to relish if only for the experience of good, old fashioned love.

I find the dB's passion in their playing and lyrics something that is missing in a lot of pop bands today. While today's popsters might scream anthem-like choruses of despair and longing, they're lacking that sense of hope, no matter how small.

I doubt anybody would call Holsapple an optimist. And let's not forget an earlier song, "Amplifier," which discussed his own suicide attempt after being left high and dry by a lover. OK, he's not exactly ready for the lecture tour on "100 Ways to Be Happy." But he doesn't give up either. The music on The Sound Of Music is soulful, yet joyful. It's fun and poppy, yet thoughtful. It's a really good record and unfortunately the band's last. But its little ray of hope still comes through and the db's shine brightly.

Rating: A-

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© 1997 Denise Henderson and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of I.R.S. Records, and is used for informational purposes only.