Smack dab in the middle of the grunge revolution came a trio from
Los Angeles playing banjos and fiddling
with stand up pianos, creating a very early entry in the emerging Americana market. Their
sound possessed about as much dust and history as the band’s frontman would
hint at in his name alone, Grant Lee Phillips.
The words that Phillips conjured also suggested an old-west motif, but the opening track to the band’s second release, Mighty Joe Moon, also demonstrated that he also studied the (then) news of the day, incorporating their narrative in the band’s pretend historical documentary.
“Lone Star Song” may resemble the big state’s penchant for self-gratification, but that’s in name alone. The real tale is a hot-off-the-presses account of the Waco Siege, in which we witnessed the worst of government fuckery, where the outcome played out like a national embarrassment each night on television. It's safe to say that neither side could claim much in terms of a victory, or as Phillips suggested,“Pray the holy wars are ending/Like the films of
Whether recounting ancient or recent history, Grant Lee
unlike anything else during the 90’s, and unfortunately they remain lost in
that decade’s pile of forgotten classics. With that in mind, Mighty Joe Moon remains that forgotten
piece of archeology that begs for both rediscovery and the respect of those who
now find bigger wallets from simply acclimating the same sounds and styles that
GLB did before them to more “exclusive” crowds.
Not that Mighty Joe Moon didn’t have a chance to turn a few heads twenty years ago; “Mockingbirds” found some lunar rotation on MTV at one point, never mind that the strategically placed strings and Phillips’ haunting falsetto definitely should have seen the light of day for a bigger audience.
In fact, Mighty Joe Moon finds a home perfectly suited for both the most discriminating pop elitist and the campfires of Spahn Ranch. At one point mysterious and strange, Mighty Joe Moon drifts languidly into memorable hooks that even twenty years after the fact sound surreal, novel, and vital.
Grant Lee Buffalo did manage to find increasing rewards for every subsequent record they released after Mighty Joe Moon, but the sales failed to be the large return on investment that Warner Brothers were looking for, and at the end of their contract with the label, the band decided to dissolve along with the legal document.
Ultimately, the only problem with Grant Lee Buffalo was their reluctance to compromise their integrity for the benefit of their major label owners. But that makes it only a “problem” for the record company who has hard time understanding that some bands don’t work well within a creative microwave.
Mighty Joe Moon possesses tons of hooks within its gramophone jive and sepia-hued jackets. They take their own sweet time in rising, but their lingering melodies are undeniable. It’s a timeless record that goes by surprisingly fast for thirteen tracks, but their impact is something not easily forgotten.
And if you can’t find a way to market something with this kind of lasting impression, then maybe the problem is with you.