BELLWETHER with TUPPERT and FlangerS at the Rivoli (332 Queen West), Wednesday (November 7). $8. 416-598-1908. Rating: NNNNN
among the more stunning sur-prises at NXNE 2001 in June was the rousing local debut of Minneapolis roots-rock roughnecks Bellwether. While their recordings have largely been moody, downtempo affairs, the amped-up Bellwether -- given a case of brew and a live audience -- roared with the raucous spirit of Twin City heroes the Replacements.
So it was no great shock that along with the roaring response they received at Ted's Wrecking Yard (which mysteriously closed down last Wednesday -- see page 44), Bellwether also got a record deal out of the showcase with thriving Toronto-based indie Square Dog.
Only for some strange reason the label has decided to re-release Bellwether's self-titled second album from last year instead of the brilliant new Home Late disc they've just put out on their own Rustbelt imprint.
Admittedly, their prior album is an alt-country classic, the top-selling disc at Miles of Music's online mail-order site (www.milesofmusic.com) for the year 2000. But many of those CDs were undoubtedly bought by Canadians who, like me, long ago gave up trying to find U.S. independent country rock in local retail stores.
So why reissue the Bellwether album that many people already own when they've got a great new disc that's going to be difficult to obtain?
"Our new record is much more acoustic and less produced than the previous one," considers singer/guitarist Eric Luoma from his Minneapolis pad. "So I guess the reasoning was that our last disc had a more marketable sound. When people hear "acoustic,' they automatically think "folk,' which has a bad connotation for a lot of people."
It might've made good business sense to release a rockin' country record before O Brother, Where Art Thou? But since that whole soundtrack phenomenon, the trend in twang has been back-to-basics.
The fact is, there's a huge listening audience that wants to hear real voices and real instruments, and Bellwether's beautifully harmonized Home Late album has exactly the right sound for the moment.
"You might be right about the timeliness of it," concurs Luoma, "but we just tried to make the best record we could with our own money. The recording set-up, in the basement of our producer, Mike Wisti (Rank Strangers), wasn't conducive to a big production, or even drums really.
"We wound up breaking all the rules. You know that one about having everything well rehearsed before recording? Well, we'd just show up after work and sit around experimenting, putting together songs on the spot.
"We'd start recording the vocals and guitar parts together, then bring in the bass, and the percussion would go on last. That's completely backwards, but it came out sounding great, which just goes to show that there really are no rules."