Various Artists – Through A Faraway Window: A Tribute to Jimmy Silva

January 01, 1970

(Steady Boy)

 

www.steadyboyrecords.com

 

This is one of those tribute albums that has, in the
parlance, legs. Boy, does it ever.

 

Now, you can flap your gums all day long about tribs and how
cool it is to hear one of your favorite bands cover a song by another one of
your favorite bands, but the bottom line is that most of ‘em are jerk-off
vanity exercises that serve no one other than the contributors’ egos. Oh, and
Gene Simmons’ ego too, since at last count, of the 867,531 tributes released
over the past couple of decades, 850,000 of ‘em are dedicated to KISS.

 

Tribute albums initially gained currency in the ‘80s when
Britain’s Imaginary Records started cranking out some intriguing homages to the
likes of Syd Barrett and Johnny Cash, neither of whom at the time had anywhere
near the hipster profile that they do now. Taking a cue from earlier genre
exercises such as Bionic Gold (NYC
artists performing Phil Spector) and Spitballs (the Beserkley Records crew tackling assorted ‘60s pop and garage tunes), the
idea was to spotlight the songwriting and the oeuvre of those who had fallen out of the spotlight. And for awhile, it
was a good idea, at least until every
monkey with a Portastudio decided that he or she could compile a Beatles,
Stones, Dylan, Led Zep, Hendrix and, oh yeah, KISS tribute. (Ironically,
Imaginary did the first Stones and Hendrix tribs.) Eventually the concept had
gotten so watered down that grassroots projects had to be geared to some benefit
or charity to gain any traction, while the major-label, big-budget tribs invariably
contained an appearance by Bono.

 

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. So what
I AM here to tell ya today, pal, is that the tribute at hand, Through A Faraway Window, is as pure a
throwback to those original Imaginary tribs as it gets – which is to say, a
labor of love all around, for both the contributors and the folks who
spearheaded it; and the proverbial spotlight on an utterly deserving musician
who was dearly loved by those who’d known him and worked with him but who never
really registered in the larger public consciousness. That Silva died
tragically and unexpectedly two days before Christmas 1994 at the age of 42- he
had contracted chicken pox, and subsequently succumbed to infection and organ
failure – isn’t necessarily a reason why you should care. It just means that
you’ve now got a second shot at discovering what a gifted musician and
astounding songwriter he was, because rock ‘n’ roll is all about second
chances, right?

 

Silva’s backstory, as related in veteran journalist (and
BLURT contributor) Jud Cost’s exhaustive, nine pages’ worth of liner notes, included
growing up in and around San Mateo, Calif., in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s,
with the inevitable succession of garage bands soon to follow. Following a
stint in the Navy to avoid being drafted into the Army, he resumed music-making
with his combo the Empty Set, and a transformative experience at a Flamin’
Groovies concert circa 1978 further convinced him he was on the right path.
Throughout the ‘80s he performed and recorded, frequently tapping Seattle
connections he’d established through an old friend, Scott McCaughey (of the Young
Fresh Fellows), who’d moved to the Northwest. Silva wound up splitting his time
between Seattle and San Francisco, and his band The Goats, though
never exactly burning up the charts, became a favorite on the West Coast and in
the pages of in-the-know international fanzines such as Bucketful of Brains and The
Bob
.

 

Along the way, Silva also picked up a lot of fans in the
musician community, and it’s those fans who’ve now convened to pay tribute to
the inveterate popster – everyone from McCaughey (with both the Minus 5 and the
Young Fresh Fellows) to John Wesley Harding to Jon Auer of the Posies to the
Smithereens’ Dennis Diken to Roy Loney. With 24 tunes here (including a Silva
track and one by The Goats; plus several Silva-related snippets/interludes), there’s
an impressively broad cross-section to sift through. A few that stand out for
yours truly:

 

*”May the 2nd” by The Flywheels: gentle Byrdsian
jangles abetted by quietly contemplative harmonica and the prettiest vocal
bridge this side of Tom Petty;

*”Tin Whistle and a Wooden Drum” by Freddie Steady Krc: a
dreamy, drifting mélange of psychedelia with a distinctive Beach Boys
undercurrent;

*”All the Places” by Sal Valentino: the erstwhile Beau
Brummels frontman had struck up a friendship with Silva in the early ‘80s, and
here he submits a Nuggets-worthy
slice of pop/garage;

*”Train Crossing” by The Goats: speaking of pop/garage, this
’86 recording of Silva’s band (remixed in 2009) should be required listening
for any student of the eighties revival of the genre;

*”Christmas is Holy” by John Wesley Harding: add this
gorgeously contemplative, Gene Clark-esque tune to your annual holiday mixtape
and you can’t go wrong;

*”Fair Exchange” by the Young Fresh Fellows: McCaughey &
Co. do their old buddy proud with an
easy-going, rootsy number alight with jangles ‘n’ twang;

*”Man of the Cloth” by Christy McWilson: Silva’s tunes could
be natural country-rockers too, and this one lands him squarely in Gram &
Emmylou territory;

*”City of Sisterly Love” by Jon Auer: as erudite a
dissection of the human condition as has ever been set to paper – funny, too;
it’s the only song I’m aware of that features Cortez having a conversation with
Bizarro – and with the Posies/Big Star mainman strumming up a talking
blues-style storm, is absolutely riveting on both rhythmic and melodic levels.

 

Through A Faraway
Window
was assembled by liner notesman Cost and Austin rocker Freddie Krc, whose Steady Boy
label released the CD. The labor of love aspect noted above certainly came into
play, as it took several years to bring the project to completion. But if the
term “worth the wait” has any application, well… let’s just say that second
chance aspect also noted above applies, too. Silva himself gets the final word
in via one final bonus track, the three-minute “Jim Silva Ad” (cut by Silva and
the Smithereens) featuring a smarmy, used-car-salesman type rattling off some
verbiage about Silva’s dubious/debatable talents. It’s as self-deprecatingly
hilarious as the backing music is straight-up rocking fun.

 

That’s just the kind of guy Jim Silva was, I guess.

 

Standout Tracks: “City
of Sisterly Love” (Jon Auer); “Christmas Is Holy” (John Wesley Harding”; “Jim
Silva Ad” (Jimmy Silva & the Smithereens) FRED MILLS

 

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