Twenty years into their career, the alt-country legends keep on keepin' on.
The last time we checked in with the Silos, for 2004's When the Telephone Rings, the band was still at the top of their game, and they still weren't famous. Nothing has changed in the intervening years, and by all indications that's OK with Silos frontman/driving force Walter Salas-Humara. Great things had been predicted for the band; they were named "Best New American Band" by Rolling Stone many moons ago. And while they've never disappointed, and can lay claim to being one of the most important acts in the rise of the alt-country movement of the 1980s -- Cuba and The Silos (the one with the bird on the cover) are de rigueur listening for anyone interested in learning more about that era's alternative music scene -- history's never given the Silos much of a fair shake. Perhaps that's the punishment for never going out and recording a Big Statement Record; Salas-Humara has always been more interested in making the universal personal, not the personal universal. And if that means that the Silos think small, then Come on Like the Fast Lane is a very big-sounding Small Record.
That mini-editorial out of the way, here in 2007, the Silos -- singer/guitarist Salas-Humara, lap steel guitarist/bassist Drew Glackin and drummer Konrad Meissner -- are content to turn out rocking albums like Come on Like the Fast Lane that may or may not be cultural touchstones, but definitely speak to the band's core audience: middle-aged alt-rock lovers who've been on board with the Silos since the Cuba days.
That said, we're not talking about "dadrock" here, with all the attendant baggage that term connotes. In the youth-oriented music world, Salas-Humara proudly makes music for grown-ups, without, ya know, being a wuss about it. Much of Come on Like the Fast Lane alludes to giving thanks for your blessings (sans religious undertones), appreciating the world around yet, and desiring to leave the world better than you found it. Granted, these topics could be tackled by anyone with a microphone, but they attain a necessary gravitas in Salas-Humara's weathered voice. Also, the lap steel guitar helps lend an air of respectability to the proceedings.
There's plenty of wisdom sprinkled throughout the album, from "Don't try to ask why or take more than you leave", on "Fall on Your Knees" or "Life is all around and we're just looking" on the loping "Sunset Morning". On paper, they may read as clichés, but Salas-Humara wrings genuine emotion from the lines. Those looking for less-obvious sentiment will find it in the execution row salvation tale "Behind Me Now" (co-written with fellow alt-'80s survivor Steve Wynn) and the jangly no-fault divorce anthem "I Won You Won" and the grown-up ballad "Never Leaving" ("You're never leaving her / She's the best thing come into your life").
Of course, it helps that the album rocks pretty hard, maybe a smidge harder than When the Telephone Rings did (though there's nothing as haunting on the new album as Telephone's "The First Move"); think Alejandro Escovedo unburdened by his baroque tendencies. It helps, too, that the current line-up has been together for nearly seven years. They move effortlessly through the album, from dusty country numbers like "People Are Right" to punk rave ups like "Out of Our Way", which oddly enough, sounds like a riff on Aerosmith's long-forgotten "Bright Light Fright".
There's nothing on Come on Like the Fast Lane to scare newcomers to the Silos, though newbies owe it to themselves to start with Cuba and the self-titled record. Longtime fans, meanwhile, will have no problem falling lockstep back into the band's sound and worldview, size be damned.