The dB’s – Falling Off the Sky

January 01, 1970

(Bar/None Records)


Despite having some of the most infectious and richly
developed pop songs of the early 1980s, the first two albums by the dB’s went
virtually unnoticed at a time when melodic rock’n’roll was springing up all over
the place. While Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, XTC, and many others appeared
on the covers of the magazines, the dB’s were relegated to the tiny import
record review sections with Stands For
and Repercussion. The
band of North Carolina expatriates living in New York had cut their
teeth musically by falling in love with Big Star while the rest of the world
ignored their heroes, so the dB’s seemed fated to be loved by musicians and
critics without selling many records.


After those two perfect albums, Chris Stamey, one of the two
songwriter/vocalists who led the band, jumped ship. His cohort Peter Holsapple
took over as sole frontman, with bassist Gene Holder moving over to guitar and
drummer Will Rigby sticking with his regular position. The newly constituted
dB’s finally signed an American record deal, releasing Like This in 1984 on Bearsville just about the time label honcho
Albert Grossman was ready to get out of the business. Needless to say, this did
little to help spread the word. Carrying on, and changing bass players, there
was one more dB’s album, The Sound of
, in 1987 on IRS Records. Despite a couple of tours before and after
the record as support act for R.E.M., sales never matched critical acclaim, and
the dB’s called it a day.


So, here we are, 25 years after the last original album by
any form of the band, and 30 years after the last with the original line-up,
and Stamey, Holsapple, Holder, and Rigby are back with a new record. Falling Off the Sky lives up to their classic
legacy, but despite claims to the contrary, it doesn’t do so by sounding much
like the earlier dB’s albums. It does feel seamless if you’ve been paying
attention to Stamey’s infrequent solo albums or the two records he and
Holsapple did together (Mavericks in
1991 and hERE and nOW in 2009).
Holsapple’s own solo record and the work he did with the magnificent
Continental Drifters in the 1990s also provide touchstones. And it wouldn’t
hurt if you’d heard Will Rigby’s solo albums, either.


The dB’s of 1980 and 1982 were young and hungry, eager to
prove to the world that they had a million song ideas; the dB’s of 2012 are
older and more deliberate, careful to refine each idea into its most immaculate
design. There is a measured authority in the songs included on Falling Off the Sky. The material is
more complex, more carefully presented. The early records were rambunctious and
immediately exhilarating. The new one is more wide-ranging, unfolding in waves
of musical pleasures which slowly roll over the listener until there is no
resistance possible.


Stamey’s “The Adventures of Albatross and Doggerel” is a
perfect example. Opening with a quickly stated chord sequence, it jumps up a
half-step and Stamey starts singing, “The albatross is fading fast,  he’s falling through the looking glass.” The
guitars are thick, Rigby is crashing cymbals over his solid beat, Holder’s bass
is plowing through, and Holsapple adds a nearly buried keyboard counterpoint.
Stamey comes up with a delicious melody at the end of each verse for “ah-ha,
ah-ha” and then we start on the second verse about his friend Doggerel, who
also falls. Inside the looking glass, we come across a weirdly mutating
soundscape, with drums commenting on the action rather than driving it, and
keyboard flourishes up and down the scales as Stamey sings plaintively, “I can
see everything, I can hear everything, but I can’t do anything for you.”
Underneath, a flute holds long notes, and the fuzzed-out guitars start to come
back to the riff of the verse. The second time through the chorus is lighter,
with different instrumental sounds dancing behind Stamey. Then it’s the
powerhouse band sound as Stamey rings out a psychedelicized guitar solo based
on the melody, which gives way to Holsapple and a harpsichord sounding set of
chords. Another verse, and there are strings underneath the ah-ha’s which
remind us of the shower scene in Psycho. A longer sequence in the chorus the
next time emphasizes the impossibility of helping the characters out of their
dilemma, and it all ends with a nicely fuzzed out keyboard sound.


Yes, the dB’s paid close attention to their arrangements all
the way back at the beginning of their career, but they didn’t come up with
anything this densely packed with little musical twists and turns. And while
Stamey has taken similar approaches on some of his solo material, he didn’t
have the uncanny abilities of Rigby on drums, nor the melodic and harmonic
minds of Holsapple and Holder to help him.


Similar depth is
reached on Holsapple’s magnum opus “She Won’t Drive in the Rain Anymore.” And
the band still rocks out on songs like album opener “That Time Is Gone,” gets
goofy in an irresistible way on Rigby’s “Write Back” (the first song he’s ever
written on a dB’s album), goes all sweet and beautiful on “Far away and Long
Ago,” and delivers at least one old-style Holsapple masterpiece with “World to


Holsapple and Stamey remain two of the most intelligent and
moving songwriters in the business, and their reunion with Holder and Rigby shows
that these four friends who grew up together can still reinforce each other’s
strengths all these years after they last tried. Falling Off the Sky is a fresh start for the band that many of us
thought should have dominated the 1980s. Clearly, they still have the chops to
dominate the 2010’s.


whole darn record. Really. STEVE PICK



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