This is a record, one of many, that I love but often forget I love. Musicially, it drifts from hard-edged guitar rock to wistful acoustic balladry. Many times in the same songs. Powerful vocals with soft and beautiful harmonies. It's filled with little touches that make me wish I could do it with my band. Like the harmony vocal in the pre-chorus of "Sing Along." It's a small touch, but it adds so much life and vibrancy to the song.
Small touches are what really make an album for me. Naturally, great songs are needed to be the foundation. But it's the little details, the small touches, the attention to detail, that give me the goosebumps. It can be a harmony vocal, it can be a guitar fill, it can be a couple notes on the piano. But when you put the right touch in the right place at the right time.
Listen to Mighty Joe Moon and you'll hear these all over the place. Grant-Lee Phillips is the main guy, but the secret weapon is bassist Paul Kimble and his production and mixing. I don't know the details, but I am suspecting he had a real hand in the craft here. He must have if he mixed it. It's almost a miracle how good it is.
There's the lyrics. They are beautiful. A simple song like "Last Days Of Tecumseh" is poetry set to music. A heartbreaking ballad like "Honey, Don't Think" warning a lover not to look too close because she might not like what she sees:
Something wrong in my stars
Could you look at my chart
Help me healing these scars?
Could you learn to read minds?
In the case of mine
Do you read in the dark?
Looking at the CD, I am reminded The Band comparison is not far off. They are pictured playing in what looks like a cabin. Rustic, almost exotic instruments. Grant-Lee Phillips wears a weird bear head for many photos. It doesn't appear to actually been recorded there; that's okay. They still capture the spirit about as well as they possibly could.
I saw Grant Lee Buffalo twice. First was opening for R.E.M. on their Monster tour. When Bill Berry had his aneyurism on stage, it was Joey Peters (GLB's drummer) who stepped in to finish the set. I saw them again when toured behind Jubilee, which was two records after MJM. The middle record, Copperopolis, was good but did not grab me like MJM. Jubilee comes close, though. Grant-Lee Phillips went on to do his own thing after that. I saw him at Iota shortly after that. His solo records have been spotty. That's not quite right. They're good but they don't have the magic that MJM caught. Maybe it's just tough to come out of that shadow. I admire MJM so much, maybe to the detriment of the others.
I know if you watched Gilmore Girls, then you have seen Grant-Lee Phillips.
Let's listen to one of the songs. Here's one of the prettiest songs on the record, "Mockingbirds." And one of the prettiest songs, period.