Let’s cut to the chase shall we?
You’re gonna wanna read about how great a band the Dream Syndicate was in the 1980s, about how it played its part in defining the “alternative rock” of its time. Forget it, I say. Because the man behind the power and authority of the Dream Syndicate is still creating music that makes a difference. Well, maybe not to your pre-pubescent weaned on modern-day bubblegum or even to your teenaged angst-ridden rap-metal kid, but to any and everyone who truly gives a shit about rock music in all its life-affirming glory, Steve Wynn is the real deal.
After releasing five albums of varying styles and qualities, but never giving less than his best in each instance, Wynn has perhaps turned in his ultimate artistic statement in the form of this seminal double-CD set. With searing intensity and borne by his enduring love for Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and Neil Young, Wynn and band (viz. Linda Pitmon, Chris Cavacas, Dave Decastro, Chris Brokaw, Calexico’s John Convertino and Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb) have hit a rich vein of magical performances among the layers of the mediocre dross that has passed for rock in the last decade.
Whereas Wynn’s previous outing—My Midnight—highlighted the singer-songwriter’s amazing eclecticism and versatility, Here Come the Miracles is focused and its aim is true. Right into the heart of psychedelic folk rock blues! The fact that the album was recorded in Tucson, Arizona may have something to do with its windswept, gritty, white-knuckled textures. Throughout this invigorating 19-track set, Wynn sets his sights on covering three fundamental musical approaches.
First, there are the garage rockers marked by their primal guitar riffs—taking their cue from the punky verve of early Kinks/Rolling Stones. The opening, title track sums this side up: fuzzy guitars and buzzy vocals highly reminiscent of Dylan’s “Tombstone Blues”, with an electric sitar solo that gives it a psychedelic edge. Wynn maintains this rockin’ vibe with the stampin’ “Southern California Line”, the drivin’ “Crawling Misanthropic Blues”, the Clash-invoking retro-delicious “Death Valley Rain”, the swampy “Strange New World”, the snarlin’ “Watch Your Step” and the pulsating “Smash Myself to Bits”.
Second, Wynn slows the pace with Pitmon’s belligerent pounding, grounding these slowburning “ballads” with a tone that evokes Neil Young with Crazy Horse on tracks like “Cortez the Killer”. In these songs, Cavacas’ superb keyboard work provides the dark and brooding accompaniment. There’s the moody drone of “Blackout”, the gritty yet precious (think the Velvet Underground with Beach Boys backing vocals) “Butterscotch”, the passive-aggressive military manner of “Let’s Leave It Like That”, the jazzy undertones of the touching “Drought”, the stompin’ dirge of “Sunset to the Sea”, the piano-driven simmering epic “Good and Bad”, the slinky, slightly funky “Topanga Canyon Blues” and the swirling, Hendrix-like “Charity”.
Last but definitely not least, Wynn injects the pop sweetener to keep the album on an even keel. “Shades of Blue” and “Sustain” provide deep country-pop satisfaction, “Morningside Heights” supplies an odd Brian Wilson soft-pop confection and the utterly sublime “There Will Come a Day” closes the album on an unexpectedly upbeat note.
Evoking Dylan’s musical peaks with The Band, “There Will Come a Day” manages to combine a Gospel feel, apocalyptic sentiments and subtle rays of hope into an irresistible sing-along chorus—“There will come a day / There will come a day / When all the evil will be washed away / The patient will be rewarded and all the tormentors will pay / There will come a day, Lord / There will come a day”. As the song ends, you will not be able to resist joining in with the spontaneous applause to acknowledge the gift that Wynn and band have bestowed on the rock & pop faithful. A tour de force in every sense of the expression.
// Notes from the Road
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