Pop Culture Gadabout
Friday, January 11, 2008
      ( 1/11/2008 03:59:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"THERE'S ALWAYS BEEN AN ELEMENT NO ONE CAN SEE." As a fan initially attracted to the dB's for that band's nervous energy as much as its irresistible lovelorn pop-craft, I initially was rather coolish toward Mavericks, the '91 reunion disc by Peter Holsapple & Chris Stamey. In comparison to the NC band's addictive jangle, the two dB's song-crafters went for a less assertive sound on their nineties collaboration: lo-fi folk-pop more than power-pop. Perhaps this approach was just a little too unassuming. When the disc was first released on Rhino's RNA label, it quickly slipped into the cut-out bins, barely attracting the cult audience that had once made dB's albums steady sellers in the 80's import racks. At the time, I wasn't all that bothered by this fact, but listening to Collector's Choice Music's recent reissue, Mavericks proves to be more than just a musical footnote. Years removed from its New Wave-y associations, it's a sweet set of well-wrought pop-rock.

Primarily recorded by Holsapple and Stamey - with an assist on the drums and bass by a variety of musician friends - the disc is a smartly low-key set of acoustic-focused pop-tracks. If the early dB's records were the sounds of transplanted southerners in the Big City, looking at and appropriating every slick pop sound they came across, the duo's set proves less self-consciously over-clever. Though several of the cuts ("I Want to Break Your Heart," the Fab Four-y "Geometry," Stamey's engagingly woozy "Close Your Eyes") wouldn't sound out of place on a dB's disc, they also fit within Mavericks' cozier parameters.

With one exception (a harmonic cover of Gene Clark's "Here Without You," which was first heard on the Byrds' classic Mr. Tambourine Man), the material in Mavericks is all original. Only the country-rocking opener "Angels" is credited as a collaborative effort, with the remaining ten tracks on the disc evenly divided 'tween Holsapple and Stamey. In the dB's, Holsapple was typically the more openly poppish, yet on this disc, it's Stamey who contributes the most straight-ahead cuts. This mild switch of personas results in some surprising moments - Holsapple's quietly folkish "She Was the One," in particular - but, in the end, both singers' direct vocals and deceptively easy way with a pop hook are what carry the record. I was a dope for largely ignoring this album when it first came out, but I can take small comfort in the fact that I wasn't the only one. And thanks to the folks at CCM, we've all been given a chance to rediscover this guitar pop gem.

CCM's reissue contains the usual "bonus tracks," the only unfamiliar song being the most overtly countrified cut to emerge from the session, "Hollywood Waltz," which if nothing else deserves props for rhyming "waltz" with "balls." At the very end of the bonus section, though, the two throw in the opening lines to the Beatles' "Do You Want to Know A Secret?" just before fading out into a decade of cultish solo projects. It's the kind of throwaway moment that practically provides this disc's own tagline: for far too long, Mavericks has been an unjustly kept pop secret.
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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