Friday, March 27, 2009

Record Labels: Twin/Tone

"Massive success would have been a dream come true, but a person's dreams are so different at 30 than they are at 20. Maybe my dreams did come true and I didn't notice ... or maybe they weren't such great dreams to begin with." --Paul Westerberg

Minneapolis-St. Paul was an amazing place for underground rock 'n' roll in the 1980s and Twin/Tone Records was there to capture nearly all of it. Co-founded in 1977 by Paul Stark and longtime Replacements fix-it-man, Peter Jesperson, Twin/Tone all but documented the Minneapolis scene. The label peaked in the mid-'80s when The Mats went semi-large nationally and Soul Asylum followed closely behind. Sure, there were important bands not on Twin/Tone, Hüsker Dü most famously. But, no other label had so many essential Twin Cities acts: The Suburbs, Babes In Toyland, Poster Children, and today's three representatives, The Replacements, Soul Asylum, and The Jayhawks.

Twin/Tone went into hibernation in the mid-'90s, about the time the initial wave of indie-to-major signings ran its course. The label failed, not because of a lack of quality product, but due to simple economics. Said Stark, "Unless you were on one of the two coasts and had connections to major label distribution, there was nothing you could do. You need to go out to lunch and spend face time with people that are going to influence, whether it be press or radio or distribution, stuff like that. I just never really cared to play that game. I was more interested in developing groups."

Replacements - Take Me Down To The Hospital [purchase]

The kings of the drunk tank. From their 2nd album (and 3rd release), Hootenanny (1983), this is probably my favorite Mats song and a sleeper in their Twin/Tone catalog. Great dynamic, the song constantly threatens to fly apart, but never quite does. Chris Mars (drums) and Tommy Stinson (bass) lock into a tight, almost '50s kinda groove, Paul Westerberg (guitar/vocals) howls to perfection, and Bob Stinson (alien guitar spillage) plays lead like a madman falling down stairs. God bless Bob, perennial member of the All-Underrated Team.

Soul Asylum - Closer To The Stars [purchase]

Given Dave Pirner's later dalliance with Winona Ryder, this song has taken on an ironic cast. Nevertheless, this track from While You Were Out (1986) is one of Soul Asylum's best performances and remains in the setlist for a reason. Great vocal by Pirner (in his absolute prime), the band rocks, but it's original drummer Grant Young who steals the show. The production isn't all that good, but you can hear Young carry the band through a few different sections. Live, this would've been face-melting.

Jayhawks - Martin's Song [purchase]

The Jayhawks actually hit their stride after leaving Twin/Tone. I think Hollywood Town Hall (1992) and Tomorrow The Green Grass (1995), released on Def American, are equally brilliant statements and on the short list of best albums of all-time. But, Blue Earth (1989), from which "Martin's Song" comes, certainly has its moments. It's a great country-rocker, Mark Olson's vocals eerily echoing Gram Parsons. Meanwhile, Gary Louris' harmony vocals ride on top as his deft string bending pays homage to Clarence White. The drums kind of fall apart at the end, but hey, these were basically gussied-up demos. No one ever accused Twin/Tone of overdressing for the party.

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