Dates: 1992-1999
Label: Slash Records
Line-up: Grant Lee Phillips, Joey Peters, Paul Kimble

The Story

Having moved to LA in the 1980s, the three members of Grant Lee Buffalo all joined, at one time or another, a Paisley Underground band called Shiva Burlesque, fronted by Grant Lee Phillips and housemate Jeffrey Clark, who Phillips had met and played with before leaving his home town, Stockton, California. Shiva Burlesque's eponymous debut featued Phillips, Clark, James Bremner, and Joey Peters, with Bremner replaced by Paul Kimble (appearing in the sleeve notes as "Dick Smack") for the follow-up, "Mercury Blues". A cellist, Greg Adamson, also played on this second album.

When the group splintered shortly after the release of the second album, Phillips, Peters, and Kimble stayed together, and after a few false starts and a brief solo period by Phillips, became Grant Lee Buffalo. When Peters was poached briefly by Cracker, James Bremner returned to the fold. A first single, "Fuzzy" was released on Bob Mould's singles only label, before, in 1992, Grant Lee Buffalo signed to Slash Records, where they were to stay through to the end.

Grant Lee Buffalo split in 1999 after four albums. A posthumous 2CD collection was later released, featuring album tracks, alternative versions, and unreleased material.

Debut album "Fuzzy" was released in 1993. Having taken so long to get this far, Phillips wasn't sure whether he'd carried it off:

"There was so much pressure to make it great. Then there was the question in the back of your head: Will this be the last as well as the first?"¹

Once the album had worked its way into almost any Best of the year selection going, and was described by Michael Stipe as "The best album of the year, hands down", the fears began to pass. It's a tenderly gorgeous collection of folk-rock songs, produced by bass player Paul Kimble, with a stripped down back-to-basics feel that is surprisingly warm, mixing melancholy songs of love lost ("Fuzzy", "Jupiter and Teardrop") and brutal political and social statements ("The Shining Hour", "America Snoring").

Mighty Joe Moon, released the following year expanded and progressed the Grant Lee Buffalo sound.

"The confidence and solidarity was at its strongest when we made 'Mighty Joe Moon,' and because of that it's our best effort"²
"Mighty Joe Moon has an urgency to it and a cool kind of collage quality; this record feels more like a slice of time. Vocally, it's more ambitious; lyrically, it's much more involved. Sonically, it's more melodic; it's really pushing the emotional envelope. And the harmonic too. Yet there's a brute side, as well."³
Tracks like "Mockingbirds" and "Mighty Joe Moon" could easily have sprung from the same recording session as "Fuzzy", while "It's The Life" was originally written at the same time as several of the songs that made their way onto "Fuzzy". Meanwhile, a rockier edge (hinted at on "Fuzzy" in the form of "Grace" and "Soft Wolf Tread") was emerging, in the shape of "Lone Star Song", and "Drag".

"By the time we got to 'Copperopolis' I was writing songs and waiting for some kind of negative reaction from Paul [Kimble], who was still producing. It was becoming harder to communicate, and that was ultimately what fractured our relationship creatively and personally."4

After an exhausting tour schedule, with spots supporting the likes of R.E.M. and The Cranberries, Grant Lee Buffalo released "Copperopolis" (1995), but just when everything should have been falling into place, everything fell apart. Tensions within the group led to the departure of Kimble, and Copperopolis failed to make a name for itself. Of the group's four albums, it shows the least variety in pace or mood. Sumptuous production seems to detract from the songs rather than enhancing them, and despite some great moments - the raw power of "Homespun", the sullen majesty of "Bethlehem Steel" and the serene beauty of "The Bridge" and "Better For Us" and "The Only Way Down" - failed to live up to the promise of its siblings. The time had come to refresh the Grant Lee Buffalo vibe:

"I'm always longing to bring something new into the fold musically. It seemed the only way we were going to be able to do that was to continue as a two-piece."5

If you're gonna go, go out in style, and "Jubilee" does exactly that. After Kimble's departure, Phillips and Peters invited along session musicians, a few famous friends, and XTC producer Paul Fox. The result was a brilliant return to form. As with each of its predecessors, "Jubilee" opens strong, with "APB", and closes gently, with "The Shallow End". Between are 12 tracks, mixing perfectly the mellow folk of "Everybody Needs A Little Sanctuary" and "Come To Mama, She Say", and the power-pop of "Truly, Truly" (almost the radio single Warner Bros, who now owned Slash Records, were looking for) and "Change your tune".

The music
Albums:
The players
  • Grant Lee Phillips, band member 1992-1999
    Now hyphenated to Grant-Lee Phillips, currently pursuing a solo career. Has released two solo albums since disbanding Grant Lee Buffalo: "Ladies Love Oracle", a low-budget acoustic recording, and "Mobilize". Lush and more poppy than the band's albums, its nearest relative is "Jubilee". Update: April 2004 Phillips has released a third solo album, "Virginia Creepers". It's a mellow, melancholy affair, far from Mobilize, closer to Ladies Love Oracle.
  • Joey Peters, 1992-1999
    Ex-Cracker drummer, who also played with John Lee Hooker earlier in his career. Has more recently cropped up on the Blue Druids album "Roadsigns Towards Antiquity".
  • Paul Kimble, 1992-1997
    Produced "Fuzzy", "Mighty Joe Moon", and "Copperopolis", before leaving the band to concentrate on studio work. Has also worked with Madder Rose and David Gray, and co-produced the soundtrack to Velvet Goldmine.
  • Dan Rothchild
    Replaced Paul Kimble on bass on "Jubilee".
Notes:

1,2,3,5 http://www.eliotwilder.com/grant.asp
4 http://www.thei.aust.com/isite/glbuffalo.html
All Quotes are by Grant Lee Phillips

Sources:

  • Sleeve notes to Storm Hymnal
  • www.grantleebuffalo.com
  • www.grantleephillips.com
  • http://www.musiccity.com/artists/grant_lee.html

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.