The way Jonas Parmelee of The Silks describes it, getting to work with legendary songwriter and Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg was a stiff penalty for tweaking the rock icon's work. After The Silks had finished tracking a handful of recordings at Machines With Magnets in Pawtucket, their manager passed the rough tracks along to Mr. Westerberg to see what he thought. He was apparently so taken with the recordings and the group that he wrote a song for them, “Colleen.” However, The Silks did a minor rewriting of the tune, which seemed to displease the college-rock master. Their punishment, Jonas says, was “getting sent out to Minneapolis to re-do the whole damn album with him.”
Not that they have any complaints about it. From the sound of things, the whole experience reads like the dream of any young scrappy band, in this case one who has a clutch of years experience under their belts and who have played shows under every imaginable circumstance.
The Silks ended up recording 12 songs in Westerberg's Flowers Studio in Uptown Minneapolis last winter, the centerpiece of which, the single “Down At The Heel,” a ballsy take at Faces-style cock-rockery (you can imagine Rod Stewart's sexed-up growl in there somewhere) sold out briskly.
For many young musicians, meeting your notoriously cranky rock ‘n roll hero would be the apex of intimidation - which could very well lead to some brick-shitting moments before actually settling in to work. But, as they recall, Westerberg showed up the first day wearing sweatpants, knew all their names already and had a big bag of warm clothes for them, it being January in Minnesota and all. Drummer Matt Donnelly remembers being struck by Westerberg's genuine affection for the songs the band brought with them and only made minor suggestions throughout, even playing backing guitar, piano and harmonica here and there. “One of the great ideas that Paul suggested we do to was tune down on half step for the song ‘Trouble,' resulting in a deeper tone that just makes the tune sound slightly sinister,” he says. Westerberg was also dead-set on getting a truly live sounding recording from the band, probably the only way the Silks should be recorded, and had the band play live; no headphones, straight through, with very minimal overdubs and editing after the fact. Says Donnelly, “We couldn't be happier with the outcome.”
The recordings sound wonderful too. I've always referred to Tyler James Kelly as a walking anachronism, some strange creature who crawled out of another city from another time wearing a years-old beard and weird pants, but what's often overlooked about The Silks' front man is that he is a tremendously accomplished songwriter and possibly the greatest guitarist in Providence right now. On barn burning tracks like the aforementioned “Down at the Heel,” Kelly plays like a man twice his age and with decades more experience, cycling through the myriad styles of playing that saturate the Silks' music with swampy slide guitar, deft and delicately finger-picked country folk and great swaggering waves of English blues and rock ‘n roll. Kelly channels dirty delta blues out of what sounds like a rusty tin can on “Mean Old Woman” as easily as the beautiful country blues of “Try All You Want,” and along with the incredible dynamics of Parmelee and Donnelly, they bring each fantastic song to barroom stomping grandeur.
The album swings with the emotional weight of a band who reportedly got kicked out of their hotel room their final night there, two police offcers sending them into the 15-below Minnesota night to presumably die, and recording sessions burdened with the knowledge that Slim Dunlap, longtime Replacements guitarist, was undergoing major surgery and whose survival was uncertain. By the time you read this, The Silks will have played Riot Fest in Chicago in support of the reunited Replace-ments, their highest profile gig to date, and will have the full length re-cord in hand, one which I highly rec-ommend, but only if you like music. The Silks debut album is only available at their live shows.