September 1, 2002
"I think this is the best stuff I've ever done,"
says this week's radio.wazee spolight artist David
Baerwald of his new record, Here Comes the New
Folk Underground. Considering that his track record
includes the classic David + David album Boomtown,
his crucial contributions to Sheryl Crow's multi-platinum
Tuesday Night Music Club (you should recognize him
from Sheryl's debut music video as the cool guy with
the guitar!), and the recent Golden Globe nomination
for Moulin Rouge's show-stopping "Come What May,"
this is no idle threat. As contemporary songwriters
go, they don't come much better than David Baerwald,
whose finely tuned ear for human folly and exquisite
cruelty might make him rock'n roll's heir to Nathanael
West. "He took murder out of the parlor room
and gave it back to those who commit them for a reason,"
said Raymond Chandler of his fellow crime writer Dashiell
Hammett. Substitute "murder" with "songs,"
and it's tempting to make a similar claim regarding
the extraordinary qualities of David Baerwald and
the New Folk Underground.
The songs you find on Here Comes the New Folk Underground
all exist for very good reasons. You can hear it in
every single, passionate note, as Baerwald takes the
listener on a ride that, despite several close calls
and dark turns, ultimately strikes a defiant and life-affirming
chord. And he takes us to this place without resorting
to sentimentality or false bravado; the gritting of
teeth you can hear is not fake.
Subsequently, one shouldn't be
surprised to learn that what eventually became the
New Folk Underground was born out of a funeral. The
lead-off track "Why" starts here, at the
services for the seven-year old son of Tuesday Night
Music Club mastermind Bill Bottrell in Mendocino,
CA in 1998. Returning home to Venice, CA, Baerwald
rallied the troops that grew into the New Folk Underground,
and spent the next six weeks trying to make sense
of the senseless. The resulting blur of hard-fought
catharsis was eventually burned onto two CDs distributed
over the Internet as "A Fine Mess".
Which might have been the end of it if not one of
these fine messes landed on the desks of Lost Highway
who, to their credit, realized the power and value
inherent in this music. Baerwald in turn used this
opportunity to reconfigure what was once a howling
mess into a finely tuned, razor-sharp and frequently
funny narrative arc, a study in the art of remaining
on your feet no matter what. Life doesn't just throw
curveballs; a lot of times we're looking at a Roger
Clemens brushback pitch. "You might take it hard,"
said Woody Guthrie, another itinerant folk singer,
"but you take it." And other times you just
So at a time when concepts like courage, heroism and
the triumph of the human spirit is bandied about like
so much fluttering confetti, "Here Comes the
New Folk Underground" offers a gritty, brave
blueprint of the real thing. And with it, David Baerwald
confirms his rightful place in the long and crooked
line of American artists who, when all is said and
done, gave as well as they took, and along the way
found new ways to make great music from car wrecks.