WUTC intern Sean Phipps gives us an overview of the first solo release by Built To Spill frontman, Doug Martsch.
Chattanooga, TN – With nothing more than a guitar and a rootsy blues mentality, Doug Martsch (leader of the psychedelic alternative country band, Built to Spill) has created Now You Know, his first solo album.
A native of Idaho, Martsch's influences include such legendary alternative rock groups as the Pixies and the Replacements. However, on Now You Know, the songs are distinctly more blues-oriented with several tracks featuring rollicking acoustic slide-guitar licks ("Offer", "Gone").
His voice, reminiscent of a youthful Neil Young, is an acquired taste for many. But one listen to Now you Know and we see exactly Doug Martsch is a name that will be around for a long time. He manages to capture the raw emotion of the blues while, simultaneously, fascinating listeners with catchy melodies that make it impossible not to tap your toes along with the music.
The album's central moment comes when Martsch covers the classic gospel-blues number "Jesus" by Mississippi Fred McDowell. Martsch takes a very solemn approach to the song, utilizing his often underestimated guitar playing abilities. If his guitar playing ability was in question before, Martsch has managed to silence his critics with the solo release of Now You Know. Whether he's playing an acoustic guitar ("Dream", "Lift") or a distorted electric guitar ("Sleeve", "Instrumental") the sound is flawlessly produced.
It's hard to imagine that Martsch didn't like this album when he first recorded it in the fall 1999. In a recent interview with "No Depression", a magazine that focuses on progressive alternative country music, Martsch discussed the reason for the delayed release of Now You Know.
"It sounded crappy, and seemed sort of cheap and stupid. But then I made copies for my friends and they really liked it. Once it got a different reaction, I was no longer ashamed of it," Martsch said in the interview. "It was on a different sort of scale than the stuff I normally did."
Although the album is vastly different than anything Martsch has done before, fans of his previous efforts need not worry. There are several tracks here that will satiate the needs of a Built To Spill enthusiast. The song "Heart" is especially appealing to those fans of Martsch's previous efforts. It begins with a simple strum of the guitar and Martsch breaks in with his raspy, yet angelic, voice. He integrates the blues with his own personality exposing a talent often hidden within the sounds of his previous bands. It is different than anything Martsch has attempted so far, but this difference is what makes listening to Now You Know all the more exciting.