Music Review: The Bindlestiffs' 'Long Lost Tracks'
Long Lost Tracks
Mike Niewald is best known these days as Doo-Dad Mike. Along with the rest of the Doo-Dads, he performs retro-rockin’ sets for little kids all around the metro and beyond — and for their still-a-kid-at-heart moms and dads, too. It’s likely that quite a few of those parents saw Niewald perform, albeit at higher volume and later start times, in his earlier incarnations fronting the semi-popular KC outfits Absolute Ceiling and the Bindlestiffs.
The Bindlestiffs, in particular, might’ve been much bigger than they were with a little luck.
Niewald formed the band in 1990 with bassist Cory Corbino, and they quickly settled into a lineup featuring drummer Brian Clark and guitarist Jim Holopter. The ‘Stiffs, as they called themselves, played a brand of college-radio roots/garage rock — think early Del Fuegos; think late Green on Red — and by 1992, they’d caught the ear of producer/engineer Bill Halverson, who’d worked through the years with everyone from Cream and R.E.O. to Bill Withers and the Texas Tornadoes.
He tapped the Bindlestiffs to record a half dozen tracks for an affiliate label he was looking to launch with Warner Brothers.
“Santa Fe Freight Yard” was about a guy so lost and alone he’d determined to “lay my bones in an old box car” for relief, and it sounded as if the Alarm had determined to cover Elvis Costello’s King of America. “Good Girl Gone Bad” was updated rockabilly that managed to maintain the genre’s innocence and menace both. “I Had to Shoot My Horse” was the best of the bunch, a road song that takes place during some old-time war, or maybe is instead a vague metaphor for the unsuccessful war on drugs, but the horse ends up shot either way.
Halverson’s label deal didn’t come through so the numbers they’d cut with him weren’t released — until now.
Long Lost Tracks joins those long lost sides with 14 of the finest moments from the three Bindlestiffs albums that thankfully did see the light of day: Low Road and 13 FL. OZ (produced by Lou Whitney of the Skeletons and Morells and released in 1996 and 1998, respectively) and their self-produced Gone for Broke.
The six numbers the Bindlestiffs cut with Halverson turned out to be the finest work the band ever got on tape as far as songwriting was concerned. But their later work is a bit better overall. The later songs have more clichés, but the rhythm section drives harder and the sound is rougher — agreeably so for what they’re up to. That higher-energy music sells every line. And Niewald’s snarl just gets snarlier as he goes.
The Bindlestiffs may have come in with an unreleased whimper. But as Niewald rasps and rocks in a voice that might scare the kiddie set but is sure to get their folks dancing around the room, they for sure went “Out with a Bang.”