What they were

Yes, yes. Laugh all you want. C'mon, get it out of your system. Ask the inevitable question: A greatest-hits record? What--is it a CD single? Harharhar. Stop. You're killin' me.

The album will not be in stores till February, at the earliest, but already the folks at Geffen Records are prepared for the backlash, the jokes, the nasty little comments that will accompany the release of Edie Brickell & New Bohemians--The Best Of. After all, just how in the hell do you get a best-of out of two--count-'em, two--albums, one of which barely even went gold? (And that was the really good record.)

"It's not being culled from two albums," explains Geffen A&R exec Tony Berg, who's already fed up with the sniping...and the album's, like, at least three months away from hitting stores. Berg points to an item on Rolling Stone's Web site last week that said, "Given [Brickell's] and her New Bohemians have a greatest-hits record in the offing after releasing just two records, there's probably something to be said for Edie Brickell's measured musical philosophy." Then again, Geffen is the label that released a Jackyl best-of, so at least allow us a little cynicism. Especially since Brickell is no longer signed to Geffen, having ended a decade-old relationship at the end of 1997. Smells like a garage sale, don't it?

"It's a cynical world," Berg says, heading off the naysaying at the pass. "I'd just like to see Edie's material receive new attention, for people to see what an original talent she was. No, she is."

Upcoming Events

Actually, says Berg--the man who signed Beck and Aimee Mann to Geffen, so back off--the New Bos' best-of will consist of material not just from 1988's Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars and '90's Ghost of a Dog, but also from Brickell's 1994 solo debut Picture Perfect Morning. The disc will also feature at least one of the band's soundtrack contributions--a cover of Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" from Born on the Fourth of July, released in 1989--and "Big Day Little Boat" from Nobody's Child, a Romanian-children's relief disc released several years ago. There's also the chance the band's version of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" featured on the Flashback soundtrack, from 1990, will appear on the best-of. Nothing pre-dating the New Bos' signing to Geffen in 1987 will appear, including songs from the band's long-gone self-released 1986 cassette It's Like This (which featured the original version of "What I Am") or "Jamaican Lady" from the Sounds of Deep Ellum collection.

But the disc will contain at least two brand-new songs recorded only last week in New York by Brickell and a reunited New Bohemians, featuring Kenny Withrow on guitar, Brad Houser on bass, John Bush on percussion, and the long-exiled Brandon Aly on drums. (For those who don't remember Deep Ellum before it became the West End Annex, Aly was unceremoniously dumped from the New Bos by producer Pat Moran during the recording of Shooting Rubberbands.) Drummer Matt Chamberlain, who replaced Aly, wasn't included in the sessions; the reason given is that he's currently on the road with Tori Amos. And guitarist Wes Burt-Martin didn't make the cut, Berg says, because he wasn't an original New Bohemian. (Though, hyper-technically speaking, neither was Brickell or Bush or Withrow. Speaking of which, where is Eric Presswood, anyway?)

Berg insists there are no cynical motives behind the assembling of this collection. Rather, he says the idea of a best-of belonged to Jeff Nagid, an employee at the label whose sole purpose is to find new ways to "pique interest" in the back catalog. When Nagid brought up the idea of a New Bohemians disc, Berg (who produced Ghost of a Dog, which sold about 500,000 copies and came up well short of the two-million-plus mark set by Shooting Rubberbands) took it upon himself to shepherd through the project. He is allowing Brickell to assemble the collection; her song list is due to the label this week. As are the two new songs, which have been culled from six the band has written since the New Bos busted up in 1991.

"What compelled us to do [the best-of] was that Edie's no longer here [at Geffen], and there is a body of work that has a history of popularity," says Berg. "But when you consider what's gone on in pop music in the last five years, there's also a degree of influence, and that's not spoken of much, and Edie's deserving of the recognition. Someone like Jewel would most likely have listened to Edie. And it's not just 'What I Am,' which I listened to today and is still a pretty inventive song--it's got a wonderful guitar riff and a great lyrical motif. To imbue a song with that much personality, to be as revealing of the writer as she is, is very unusual. The fact is, Edie always had an original point of view, and isn't that the thing we applaud most in pop music?"

Berg says Brickell--or The Homemaker Currently Known as Mrs. Paul Simon--was initially cool to the idea of a best-of, especially since she was no longer with the label and was busy raising her children. Brickell and Geffen "had an amicable parting," Berg says, a little more than a year ago, when Brickell and The Slip--a side-project-turned-Real-Band featuring Withrow, Bush, and keyboardist Zac Baird, and bassist Scott Johnson--turned in their album to Geffen, only to have the label refuse to release it. According to Berg, Brickell wanted to do something more personal, more esoteric; the label, most likely, wanted another "What I Am." But once she realized this collection gave her the opportunity to perform and record with the lineup originally signed to Geffen, she agreed to participate.

"What was attractive to her was getting together with the original band, and I like what that says--there is still a great friendship there and affection for what they had done," Berg says. "I think they wanted to indicate that to the people who bought their records."

The best-of will likely quench the appetite of the hardy few out there who maintain their Edie Brickell Web sites with such vigilance; hell, those fanatics are still hoping someone's going to release the Slip disc, which Brickell now owns, and they anxiously await the results of the recent jam sessions in New York featuring Brickell, Withrow, drummer Earl Harvin, and pianist Dave Palmer. Me, I think the best-of's already out there, and it's called Ghost of a Dog. But unless the best-of contains "Oak Cliff Bra," it will likely remind those of us who fell off the bandwagon a while back that the New Bos were indeed a wonderful band fronting a great singer.

Scene, heard
Sad to say, but the last-oh-Lord-why? Bedhead release is in stores, and it's a vinyl farewell: The 12-inch single "Lepidoptera/Leper" is also one of the last things ever to be released on the Trance Syndicate label, which Butthole Surfer King Coffey is shutting down at the end of the year. The Bedhead single is a brilliant adios: Side one features "Lepidoptera," a song taken from the band's Steve Albini-produced album Transaction de Novo, while the second side's a version of the same song played, well, upside down. As Matt Kadane valiantly explains on the single's sleeve: "The bass clef became the treble clef, the treble became the bass. [I] played on a keyboard the new formation of notes that appeared on the page. It instantly made sense. It didn't sound backwards, but it sounded reversed turned inside out and over all at once." Which translates into: The song, as produced by Leaning House Record honcho Mark Elliott, is absolutely beautiful and hypnotic, like being inside a song instead of merely observing it from the outside. It's one more reason to bemoan the loss of Bedhead, a band so good we never deserved it...

Cowboys and Indians celebrate the release of the brand-new A Big Night in Cowtown with a free show at the Sons of Hermann Hall on November 7. Expect more swing than a playground.

Send Street Beat your best-ofs to rwilonsky@dallasobserver.com.

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