The Replacements' Tim gets stripped down, Maren Morris leaves country, Brent Cobb heads to Capricorn Sound Studios, plus the National.
The Replacements—Tim: Let It Bleed Edition (1985/2023)
"What might have been" is the question that pulsates throughout Replacements lore, feeding the fantasy that the group might've conquered the world if they only made better, smarter decisions. Bob Mehr's definitive 'Mats biography Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements puts the lie to this notion: any personality as self-destructive as Paul Westerberg would find a way to sabotage himself, taking down everybody around him in the process.
Nevertheless, the temptation to rewrite history remains tempting, particularly when it's as easy as commissioning a new remix of a notoriously over-mixed album, which is precisely what Tim: Let It Bleed Edition offers. Ed Stasium, a producer and engineer with a long history with Tim's original producer Tommy Erdelyi—a rocker better known as Tommy Ramone; the pair first worked together on the Ramones' 1977 album Rocket to Russia—has gone through and stripped away all the digital reverb and cavernous effects that makes Tim a quintessentially 1985 album. Stasium came close to working on the record back then but the prevailing thought was his professionalism might make the Replacements feel self-conscious, so Erdelyi was left as the lone producer. Eager to work with one of the best, hottest bands in the American underground, he tried every trick he couldn't convince the rigid Ramones to perform, resulting in an echoey murk that only belonged somewhere left of the dial: it was too punk for AOR, too overblown for indie.
Stasium does a remarkable job of transforming Tim into something that sounds like a credible big-budget sequel to Let It Be, the record where the Replacements found the ideal blend of trash and tenderness. It's deliberately dry and punchy, a sound that suggests a band playing loudly in a small room—a garage band stretching their legs in a studio designed for groups who have their shit together. The Replacements did their best to act as if they belonged and that gives the recordings real vitality: they're not attempting to sell out, they're trying to achieve their full potential. On the original mix of Tim, it was possible to hear the band's intent but you had to listen through and around the weird reverb intent on swallowing everything in its path. Stasium's mix requires no work on the part of the listener: the band's attributes are showcased at maximum volume.
If I prefer the original mix of Tim, that's no slight to Stasium or those who'd rather hear the Let It Bleed edition than the vintage LP or CD. Records are artifacts of a certain time and place. Bad production decisions not only carry a period charm but reveal much about the attitude and aesthetic of an era. No other 1985 album sounds quite like Tim but it couldn't have been made at any period of time. I find its misshapenness as much a part of the Replacements lore as the unrestrained roar on the Let It Bleed Edition. After all, the Replacements rarely made good choices so it makes some sense to embrace their bad decisions.
Maren Morris—The Bridge (2023)
Designed as a kiss-off to country music, The Bridge does indeed find Maren Morris pursuing a path that leads her toward a pop audience. It's not a long journey. Morris already had a pop hit five years ago with "The Middle," whose sleek surfaces weren't that far removed from the savvy, stylish gloss of her 2016 debut Hero. Morris excelled in finding the place where country and pop intersected, a talent that would seem to make her marketable because radio usually needs acts that can freshen old sounds. Over the last two decades, corporate radio has become calcified, particularly country radio, which not only doesn't make way for new aural trends but has a clear aversion to women. It's not that Maren Morris left country music behind: it abandoned her. "The Tree" and "Get the Hell Out of Here," the two songs that comprise The Bridge, find Morris processing her emotions about saying farewell to country. Bearing slight echoes of her breakthrough single "My Church," "The Tree" is angry, clear-eyed and lively in a way last year's Humble Quest wasn't. "Get the Hell Out of Here" is the quiet comedown, intimate even when the music gets opened up with strings, harmonies and keyboards at its conclusion. Excellent numbers both, they are proof that country music needs her more than she needs country.
Brent Cobb—Southern Star (2023)
Refreshed from his venture into gospel music, Brent Cobb—cousin of Nashville superstar producer Dave Cobb—headed to Capricorn Sound Studios in Macon, Georgia to cut Southern Star. Capricorn is where so many of the great southern rock records of the 1970s were cut--the Allman Brothers Band, for sure, but it's also where the Marshall Tucker Band and the Charlie Daniels Band laid down some of their finest works—so it would seem that Cobb wanted to tap into that vein of country-rock, where the beats are hard and the solo long. That's not what Southern Star delivers. It's sunbleached and mellow, filled with wily, relaxed funk whose grooves are punctuated by the occasional back porch ballad. Cobb's drawl may seem slightly exaggerated this time around but that only accentuates how Southern Star ambles at its own pace, its rhythms sounding easy and welcoming as a Saturday afternoon.
The National—Laugh Track (2023)
Of a piece with the immaculate meditations of First Two Pages of Frankenstein, which means the verve of the nervy drone "Smoke Detector" is the cut that commands attention.
Dan & Shay—Bigger Houses (2023)
They seemed destined for bigger things just an album ago, the rare group that benefited from an association with Justin Bieber. Now they're content to be a Rascal Flatts that plays it safe.