together in the first
place and mix so cleverly that the listener has no
idea that work was involved. It is the sort of marvel that Sherlock Holmes did with his observations to Dr. Watson, who seeing the same things,
could never draw Holmes' conclusions. I listened to masterpieces like
"Witchi-Tai-To" with Dr. Watson's own delighted bewilderment. How on
earth did they do that to that...and to me? The voices and instruments
were so cleverly intermingled so unselfish about trading range and function
and pitch that is was like listening to a Persian rug.
People never cease to be amazed by Brewer and Shipley who
since 1967 have been assembling their careful albums with the same skill
fiddle makers use; each one an example of the best work that they had
learned to do so far. Like fiddle makers too, they have always
surrounded themselves with the best of materials and benefited from the
seasoned nature of them. Years playing with and listening to other
artists not only made them selective and knowledgeable, but more aware of
their unique ability to blend their skills and be themselves.
By the time the album Weeds came out in 1969, these
two talented craftsmen had become artists in the best sense, with an album
that had theme and purpose and better yet, the permanence of Mt. Rushmore in
the eyes of their fellow musicians. Weeds was one of those seminal
albums that define a time and place, and album of such style and character
that it was like visiting the Custer battlefield and hearing the wind in the
buffalo grass at evening and watching owls perch on the scattered
tombstones. Weeds created a place for your mind to be. No
wonder that the next album Tarkio had a ready audience. Brewer and
Shipley had captured our imagination.
And that of
course, is what they wanted to do. A friend of mine once paid them a
huge compliment, which I have never passed on until now. He said "The
first time I heard 'One Toke Over The Line' I didn't realize how funny it
was. I was listening to people singing such close harmony it was like
braiding hair". The friend was Hoyt Axton, who knew a hit song when he
heard it, having written several.
"One Toke Over The Line" became a hit single record, but that
was a small measure of the impact of Brewer and Shipley had on people who
listened to the sound they had created. Album buyers understood that
these men were designers, not pop music freaks, and as prolific as they
were, they didn't write songs to any formula. Each album, from Down In
L.A. to Heartland, was a meticulously woven tapestry of fabric they had
invented one song at a time. This was the stuff of dreams, as music
has always been.
I have feeling
that listening to this album will be a very good place to start for people
who have never heard Brewer and Shipley in person. It contains
highlights from Weeds and Tarkio and
Rural Space and Shake Off The Demon and gives you a sense of
not only what they are all about, but a good feeling about what they are
still to become. If you are fond of history and facts, and your
computer can supply both of these things better than I can and I urge you to
visit their website
and retrace the footsteps of these pioneers.
The in-person experience is far more revealing and twice as
delightful, at least to me. There is something nearly magical about
watching Tom and Mike live, perform the sorcery of blending their separate
skills in some kind of alchemy known only to wizards among us, and coming up
with a rare form of gold. But that's an old performer talking;
a person who likes to see how things are made. I can't help but
remember that the first time I heard Brewer and Shipley together was on a
record album, and it was a very private joy to listen again and again to
what they had done, all by myself in the world of their making. It was
a very good way to listen. Now it's your turn.
What occurs on this album is what you can expect from two
fishermen of time, reviewing their catches. These were the best they
could to that day - what with sun and wind and glittering water - to try and
capture an elusive creature for you and present it whole and shining.
There is no telling what they'll catch tomorrow.
(former member of the
who also fished these waters)