Release Date: Feb 1, 2011
Record label: 429 Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Unless you’ve been otherwise out of tune with the comings and goings of alternative rock during the past 25 years or so, David Lowery really needs no introduction. The 50-year-old Lowery is the mastermind between two of America’s better known alt-rock bands of the past quarter century. He is a co-founder of the quirky ‘80s group Camper Van Beethoven, mostly remembered for “Take the Skinheads Bowling” and its cover of Status Quo’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men”.
David Lowery made his first record with Camper Van Beethoven in 1985, and in the quarter-century that's followed, he's been content to project his distinctive musical and lyrical persona through the framework of CVB, and later, Cracker. But in 2011, Lowery has finally gotten around to releasing a solo album; The Palace Guards was recorded with a revolving cast of musicians at Lowery's own studio in Richmond, VA, and though parts of it sound and feel quite a bit like his work with Cracker and occasionally it reveals shadows of CVB's eclectic gumbo of sounds, the mood of The Palace Guards is decidedly different than what Lowery has offered us in the past. The Palace Guards is a far cry from a serious statement on the world, but for a guy who has built a career out of being a surreal smart aleck, this album embraces a worldview that's decidedly somber and contemplative.
Given that David Lowery has been at it since the mid-'80s with his bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, it's somewhat surprising that this is his first solo album. But despite the team player that Lowery is, The Palace Guards showcases his current musical vision in a way that neither of his bands could have done justice to. Overall, The Palace Guards is a laid-back and hazy, Americana-esque album that benefits from subtle instrumental flourishes of harmonica, violin, organ, and what sounds like the occasional horn, while putting at the fore the lyrical wit and wry storytelling that has become Lowery's trademark.
In his charmingly frank liner notes, David Lowery (Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker) points out that, though this is his first solo record, it is actually a collaboration between himself and his long-time pals at Virginia’s Sound of Music recording studio. Recordingwise, this may be true, but the songs are pure Lowery all the way: droning violins, drawled song-spiel singing, and lyrics that pierce the heart while revealing a slacker’s wit. Lowery claims that the lo-fi, herky-jerky acoustic title ballad is the best track here, and it certainly is interesting (bearing a passing resemblance to Ween’s early four-track efforts), but his craft is on better display elsewhere.