Thursday, May 18, 2017

Gold: The Golden Palominos

Golden Palominos: Boy(Go)

The legendary supergroups like Cream or Blind Faith or CSN&Y were attempts to join musicians famous from other projects into a, well, super group, but they often foundered due to the conflicting egos of the members. The Golden Palominos, often referred to as an “indie-rock supergroup,” was different, gathering changing groups of generally less famous artists for each album.

Originally founded in the early 1980s by Anton Fier, a drummer who had been an early member of, among other bands, The Feelies, the first incarnation of the Golden Palominos was filled with avant-garde musicians like Fred Frith, Arto Lindsay and Bill Laswell, many of whom were influenced by the “No Wave” movement and often had as much jazz influence as indie-rock. Their self-titled debut was experimental, noisy and even featured turntable scratching, a rarity outside of hip-hop in that era.

My introduction to the band was from their very different second album, 1985’s Visions of Excess, which was significantly more accessible. The original attraction was “Boy (Go),” featuring lead vocals from R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, and guitar from Richard Thompson. The album also featured vocals from John Lydon (a/k/a Johnny Rotten) and supergroup veteran Jack Bruce, as well as the debut appearance of singer Syd Straw, who is on the list of people who should be way more famous. Despite the unusual roster of musicians, the album hangs together pretty well, and is never dull. Also, there’s a great cover of Moby Grape’s “Omaha,” also sung by Stipe.

The Golden Palominos put out albums every few years throughout the 1980s and 1990s, a few of which I own, with a constantly changing group of performers, including Matthew Sweet, T-Bone Burnett, Bernie Worrell, Bob Mould and Bootsy Collins, with Stipe, Thompson and Straw dropping by occasionally, joining core members Fier, bassist Laswell and guitarist Nicky Skopelitis for, not surprisingly, varied sounds and results. In 2012 Fier, and a different group of musicians joined Kevn Kinney of Drivin’ & Cryin’ for a new album, A Good Country Mile. That album includes a cover of a Jason Isbell written Drive-By Truckers song, “Never Gonna Change.” (Self-promoting side note—Drivin’ & Cryin’ was the band that Trucker Patterson Hood was opening for when he saw the incident that inspired the song “Opening Act,” which you can read more about here.)

Give Fier and his Golden Palominos sidekicks credit for pushing the envelope, trying new things and always making interesting music. They cannot be pigeonholed, and if that hindered them from gaining an identity and becoming a true “supergroup,” it never prevented them from following their muse wherever it took them. In a world filled with artists mining the same groove until it turns into a rut (thanks, Nick Lowe), it is refreshing, if not always easy, to listen to a project like the Golden Palominos that constantly challenges.

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