There’s a tendency in rock to lionize the early flameout and demonize any hint of maturity. “Hope I die before I get old,” they say, over and over again, even — and especially — the ones with the age of sixty already in the rearview mirror. It seems truer in some scenes than others, of course, and the bands from the alternative music explosion of the early ’90s seemed like poster children for trite early flameouts. It’s all too easy to imagine Kurt Cobain as a latter-day Mick Jagger, embarrassing the globe with his leathery gyrations at halftime of Super Bowl LXX, too weak to smash his equipment after the performance.
Which just goes to make it all the more exciting to see veterans of that scene not only survive, not only grow as artists, but actually flourish, which is what Chris Colbourn (of Buffalo Tom) and Hilken Mancini (of Fuzzy) do on their new collaboration. Mancini’s lead guitar still jangles and snarls the way it did on Fuzzy’s best tracks, but the gleeful sound is tempered by more ruminating song structures and contemplative lyrics. It’s not folk, by any stretch — not even alt-folk or acid-folk or nu-folk or any other made up compound-word-folk — but there’s a powerful folk influence on the approach to alt-pop songcraft that elevates the album beyond the generic.
The boy-girl vocal dynamic, always fun, works to great effect. Slower songs especially hearken back to the somewhat dour Buffalo Tom ballad sound that appears to be Colbourn’s métier, but Mancini’s guitar and vocals lighten the mood, avoiding the sameness that sometimes plagued Buffalo Tom’s output. It’s more a cohesive album than a collection of singles, but there are at least a few tracks worthy of particular mention: the giddy pop opener, “Saint Agnes Eve”; “Moonbeams,” Colbourn’s piano-driven bar ballad; and “Couple of Weeks,” which sounds almost like a lost Old 97’s tune.
This is a mature album in all the best senses of the word. It’s a pleasure to find some survivors of the early ’90s madness who don’t buy too deeply into the rock star flameout myth, and choose instead not to fade away.