What’s new: “American Water,” Silver Jews

by Jon E. Lynch

This coming Saturday marks the 20-year anniversary of the release of an era-defining album. Chicago-based Drag City Records, one of the preeminent purveyors of independent music, is re-releasing the album in honor of that benchmark. It is important to note that this is a re-release and not a remastered reissue. There are no extras, no demo versions or live cuts of era-appropriate tracks, no re-sequencing, re-working, or re-imagining. As Rian Murphy, sales and promotions manager for Drag City, so eloquently stated, “It would be an injustice to the record to alter it in any way, other than to improve fidelity. To do so would be invasive to the artists’ intent. At the very most, we’d like to blow a little color into the memory of the record.”

A dear friend of mine was the first to introduce me to the Silver Jews and David Berman’s unique brand of lyrically driven, baritone-delivered indie rock. Normally I would call this a perfect example of right place, right time, but what separates this record from others is just how resolutely this album has withstood the test of time.

Arguably the mark of a truly brilliant record, “American Water” is as fresh, vibrant, exciting, compelling, and riveting today as it was upon first listen two decades ago. Berman’s prowess to turn a phrase, his command of the English language, and the overall sonic composition, truly envelops the listener in a manner on par with that of the all-time greatest songwriters, regardless of genre.

It is a common occurrence to refer to the Silver Jews as a Pavement side project, but that isn’t so. It is true that the band was first conceived at the University of Virginia with Pavement front man Steven Malkmus and percussionist Bob Nastanovich, but it is Berman’s guitar playing, lyrical composition, and song structure that sets the band (and specifically this album) apart as its own entity.

When viewed as an entire piece, or on an individual track-by-track basis, “American Water” is an all-time record. It is one of a few desert island albums, and as another friend accurately conveyed, “It’s one of the records you grab as the house is burning down around you.”

“American Water” is available Friday, October 19, via Drag City as a digital download (your choice of high quality MP3 or FLAC), on compact disc, on cassette tape, and on vinyl.

And per the label, “the vinyl has been half-speed mastered at Abbey Road to provide increased depth and nuance for all future LP listeners. The CD will continue to represent the perfection of the original 1998 master. And the cassette makes its debut, to provide an alternative aural timestamp for intrepid audio voyagers who weren’t there the first time around!”

Recommended for preexisting fans of the inimitable David Berman and his Silver Jews, in addition to Stephen Malkmus & Pavement, Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers, Bill Callahan & Smog, Calvin Johnson & Beat Happening, Guided by Voices, Sebadoh and the classic indie and college rock canon.

Jon E. Lynch[email protected]


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