The Replacements' replacement
Brent Best has always been respectful of his heroes, almost painfully so. Faced with the prospect of having breakfast with one of them, Peter Case (whose work with The Plimsouls, as well as on his own, has much to do with Best picking up a guitar in the first place), in Austin during the South By Southwest Music Festival, he no-showed. The Slobberbone singer-guitarist couldn't shatter the illusion, get too close.
But thanks to a recent merger between his record label, Austin-based Doolittle Records, and New West Records, as well as some luck when recording Slobberbone's latest untitled album (scheduled for release on July 11), if he couldn't hang with one of his idols, The Replacements' Paul Westerberg, he could do something better: He could be him. In a way, at least. After all, Peter Jesperson, the man who put out most of the Replacements' early releases on Twin/Tone Records, works for Best's newly configured label. And Jim Dickinson, the 'Mats former producer, sat in on some of the band's recording sessions at Memphis' Ardent Studios.
"That was just ecstatic for us," Best says. "There's a song on the album that was sort of meant to be our Replacements tribute song, but it turned out to be just a Replacements rip-off song, I think. But it sounds pretty good. He laid down this just blazing boogie-woogie piano part that we ended up not using, but it was kind of surreal to be there in Memphis, at the studio where he produced them, and we're playing our 'I.O.U.' rip-off song, and he's playing piano on it." He laughs. "It was pretty funny."
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Slobberbone hasn't released an album since 1997's Barrel Chested, and Best sounds as if he's anxious to let everyone else in on the songs he's been keeping to himself for the last few years. Especially since, as Best says, the album (at one point titled Trust Jesus before Best thought better of the idea) is different from anything the band's ever done before.
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"We had a bunch of songs, and I knew what I wanted for each song, but it's the first time I didn't go in with an idea of the album as a whole. Barrel Chested was pretty unified, even though it's varied from beginning to end. It's all very planned, in that sense. This one, the rock songs aren't near as preeminent as they were on Barrel Chested. There's a lot more going on on this one. It's the first time I did an album that leaned more that way than on the rock side. It was tougher to get a handle on and do a sequence. It was really hard to leave stuff off. But, who knows, all the songs may be crap."
As for the merger between Doolittle and New West (home of former Wall of Voodoo singer Stan Ridgway, among others), as well as the recent departure of the man who signed him to Doolittle, Jeff Cole, Best isn't too bothered by it. For him, it is, was, and always will be about the music. He's just happy people can still hear his work.
"The merger wasn't a total surprise," he says. "I knew that Jeff was on the way out, and the merger thing happened pretty quickly after that. It solidified any notions or questions about what shape the label would take with Jeff gone. I'm kind of nonchalant about the merger. I mean, it's pretty funny we're still playing as a band, much less making a living doing it. So I don't stress over the details too much."
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