Soul Asylum, the quintessential American rock combo, is releasing Candy From A Stranger, the group's third outing for Columbia Records. The new music is the next step in the group's ongoing transformation from scrappy garage band to postpunk indie heroes to purveyors of world-class rock & roll. Of course, Soul Asylum has always been a "rock band," in the purest and truest sense. And though it hasn't always been obvious, within the volume and raucous crunch of the band is the voice of the outlaw poet, the disenfranchised blue-collar worker, the frustrated adolescent aching to conquer, if not the world, at least his own demons. Cnady From A Stranger expands the musical and lyrical vision of its predecessors; gleefully unaffected by the passing whims of pop-rock fashion, the album cuts into the very heart of rock & roll and finds that it's still beating loud and hard and full of unstoppable passion.
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Candy From A Stranger contains eleven songs, all penned by Dave Pimer--with the exceptions of "Blood Into Wine," co-written by Dan Murphy and New Orleans singer/songwriter Elizabeth Herman, and "Lies Of Hate" which Pimer collaborated on with Sterling Campbell. Campbell -- who joined the band as drummer for the Grave Dancers Union sessions and tour and continued on with Let Your Dim Light Shine -- recorded with the group for Candy From A Stranger but has since left the fold on good terms.
Candy From A Stranger is flush with an easy cohesiveness (a lot of the tracks were recorded live with minimal overdubs), yet displays Soul Asylum's continuing growth and evolution in lyrical and instrumental diversity: the slight sarcasm of "I Will Still Be Laughing" (the first single) asserts a stubborn declaration of independence; the rootsy wash of "Blood Into Wine" aches with frustration and misunderstanding, while the sassy "Draggin'The Lake" (not an homage to Elvis Costello's "Watching The Detectives") anthemically begs the musical question, "Just how much shit can one man take?" was recorded at Criteria Studios in Miami in late 1997, and Soul Asylum tapped Englishman Chris Kimsey to produce the collection of songs. Kimsey's credits include producing and/or engineering albums by the Rolling Stones, Gipsy Kings, Peter Tosh and Killing Joke. The members of Soul Asylum hailed Kimsey's extensive experience and unending "childlike enthusiasm" during the recording process was instrumental in achieving the fluid classic sound of Candy From A Stranger.
Soul Asylum's enduring success is as much due to the group's steadfast maturation as it is to a reputation for a clear sense of independence; few would disagree with the Village Voice's assessment of once crowning them with "Best Live Band" honors in their prestigious year-end music awards. Dave Pirner, Dan Murphy, and Karl Mueller played together in 1981, calling themselves Loud Fast Rules while rapidly becoming a steady draw at Minneapolis' legendary 7th Street Entry. After redubbing themselves Soul Asylum, the group cut its first two recordings -- the Say What You Will EP and Made To Be Broken -- with Husker Du's Bob Mould as producer; despite a deceptively hardcore veneer, hints of the music that more accurately informed their sound -- the broad, true sound of 70s FM AOR radio, the pop sensibilities of the Replacements and Big Star, and even the rebel acoustic folkisms of Bob Dylan -- were already beginning to surface. Both While You Were Out and Hang Time were solidly embraced by college and underground radio, and Soul Asylum had become a dedicated band of rock & roll road warriors with a steadily growing and increasingly enthusiastic fan-base. Soul Asylum's move to Columbia Records in 1992 found them taking a bold step forward and ascending the retail and radio airplay charts like never before with the release of the RIAA double-platinum breakthrough album Grave Dancers Union -- with the hits "Somebody To Shove" and the watershed phenomenon "Runaway Train" -- and the ambitious follow-up, Let Your Dim Light Shine.
Despite touring for almost two years behind the RIAA platinum Let Your Dim Light Shine, the members of Soul Asylum still found time to pursue other creative outlets. Murphy recorded Down By The Old Mainstream, the second effort by the twang-drenched Midwestern coalition Golden Smog (comprised of Murphy, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, the Honeydogs' Noah Levy, Run Westy Run's Kraig Johnson, and Gary Louris and Marc Perlman from the Jayhawks) and toured with the Jayhawks. Mueller began spending time spinning tunes with Lori Barbero (of Babes In Toyland) on Tuesday nights at the 400 Club in Minneapolis. Stepping away from the mic and getting back up on the drum riser, Pirner (the original tubthumper driving both Soul Asylum and Golden Smog) toured a bit with his side-proiect the O'Jeez, an across-the-board experimentally-oriented band made up of himself, Jessy Green (ex-Geraldine Fibbers) and Kraig Johnson. Pirner also wrote the score for Kevin ( Clerks) Smith's critically-acclaimed film Chasing Amy and has been traveling up and down the Mississippi River, exploring the cultural history and bona fide roots of rock & roll.
Pirner sees the band's extracurricular activities as beneficial for everyone. "It gives us a chance to do stuff that doesn't work with Soul Asylum," he says, "and it gives us a chance to grow and learn more about what playing music with other people is all about. I don't see how this couldn't bring something good to the band. Whether it's just Karl listening to Funkadelic and playing records or Danny learning things about band dynamics by playing with the Smog or the Jayhawks, I think we all come back to Soul Asylum being very thankful that we have each other, and in a way it makes us even more solid."
Ever the spiritual and social humanitarians, Soul Asylum even took some time out this past summer to make a command performance as the prom band at a Grand Forks, North Dakota, high school, helping the students of a flood-ravaged area put some closure on what turned out to be a very tough school year. "We basically played, well, music," says Murphy. "Not to sound like a guy, but... we just played music to get laid to." (And a very good time was had by all.)
So, at this point in Soul Asylum's career, is rock & roll a trip or a destination? "Well," answers Pimer, "it's a plea--a plea for redemption. To me, that's what it is. It's a trip and a destination. And it's something that you get to when you get there. It's a search, it's an experiment, it's an exploration, it's a journey... it's all of those things. And it continues to renew itself for me, and that's the best part of it. There's always something new and exciting that you can do with a rock band. And I'm real thankful for that."
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