Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Rediscover: The Dashboard Saviors: Kitty

Rediscover:
The Dashboard Saviors
Kitty
1992



The Dashboard Saviors released three studio albums in four years - 1992's Kitty, 1993's Spinnin On Down and 1995's Love Sorrow Hatred Madness - before disbanding. Not that many people outside of Athens, GA noticed. The band was met with commercial and critical indifference throughout their brief career; a feature write-up in Rolling Stone's "New Faces" section in December 1992 was the closest the group ever came to sucking at the mainstream teat, and time has done little enhance the band's legacy. Perhaps the supreme insult, Saviors vocalist Todd McBride is better known for his connection to Vic Chesnutt than for his work with his own band: he played with Chesnutt in the La Di Das and also asked the musician to write a song with the line that opens "Isadora Duncan" on Little.

Produced by Peter Buck, Kitty remains an overlooked masterwork, with scratchy, sometimes slightly polished country-rock songs featuring McBride's nasal, reedy vocals and a core group (Michael Gibson on guitar, Rob Veal on bass and John Crist on drums) that does balladry and hard rock equally well. Scattered throughout are contributions from Buck, Mike Mills, John Keane, David Blackmon and Tim White, with Chesnutt providing occasional backing vocals. Much of the album consists of character studies of life in the small-town South; indeed, the shadow of what Chesnutt once described as "that most famous Georgia college town" - or at least how we perceive small towns - looms large over the record.

Its songs are those of everyday small-scale misery where there is nothing romantic about rural life. One would be hard-pressed to find a character more pitiful than the nameless protagonist - a one-time, and one assumes, anonymous musician - of country weeper "A Trailer's a Trailer." Its desolate images - a swig of warm beer, a baby crying above the buzzing of a window fan, a broken-down shitbox Dodge in the yard (of course), a pawned guitar, his inability to correctly sing a song he knows by heart - are accented by fiddle and pedal steel and all convey a seemingly hopeless situation. What prevents the song from being just another clich├ęd, booze-soaked honky tune are its narrative details: a faded bumper sticker of a shark in sunglasses that deadpans "Ain't life hard;" a domestic fight after "The Cosby Show;" a cigarette lit on a hot plate. By the end of the song the man doesn't have much to show for himself other than some hard-learned wisdom: "A dead end's a dead end/ And a trailer's a trailer/ Even if it's double wide."

Several of Kitty's other characters similarly lead lives on the skids. Images of restlessness and boredom mixed with loneliness are frequent. "Tracy's Calendar" describes the archetypal sad-eyed female, this one apparently with a mental or physical illness, while the disconcertingly jaunty arrangement of "Been Meaning To Do" belies the desperation experienced by someone who wakes up to "another morning in sunshine hell" and can only pathetically "count your blessings and . . . come up short." This type of ennui also defines "Town," a somber ballad that examines how two polar opposites react to the confines of their hometown; delinquent Johnny lights up a Salvation Army box by making a Molotov cocktail from a "Boone's Farm bottle and an Aerosmith T-shirt and some gas from his daddy's car," while "daddy's perfect girl" Julie meets a man with a "greasy frown" and ends up with a ripped dress and "tears in her eyes/ Little bruises on her thighs." They beg for Jesus to get them the hell out; we never find out how their stories end, and we probably don't want to.

"If you think I'm being cynical/ Well yeah, you're probably right," McBride sings on "Cabaret College," and he's not joking. The title act of "Consummation" brings nothing but sadness and is reduced to a series of post-deed excuses - "You'll blame the wine and I'll blame the weather" - while on the combative "Dropping" he rails against a woman who's "dropping your trousers without any shame." Even the album's rare moments of humor are coated in such cynicism. The rollicking "Drivin' Blind" describes a woman who's either got the world by the balls or is cold as hell as she mocks the narrator as nothing more than a "nickel a half dozen" - dude sheepishly agrees - and is unmoved by a man begging for food. The satirical "The Coach's Wife" is driven by White's raucous barroom piano as McBride's ramshackle vocals talk about the title figure, an absolute souse who drinks "gin with champagne chasers" and dreams of a career in politics. Even the album's most tender moments - the childhood remembrances of "G.I. Joe" - are offset by the fact that those simple days exist only in memory. It's fitting that the album ends with the fire-and-brimstone, and probably shady, radio evangelist of "Brother Shiloh Collins."

Available on iTunes but a complete bitch to track down an original copy of, it's likely that for the near future not too many new listeners will come around to Kitty. It's worth the effort to locate a copy though, and of all the great lost Southern rock operas that have come out of Athens, few are better crafted and more deserving of recognition than Kitty.

1 comment:

chris said...

any chance you could hook me up with a link to this- I'd really like to hear it.

Thank you!