Typical alt-country just wasn't going to do it for Jimmy Peterson. "It's all G-C-D, singin' songs about how black the coffee is and how good the pie is," says the onetime guitarist for Bellwether, the Twin Cities' best latter-day practitioners of a sound that had local dive bars bursting at the seams 15 years ago. "But that's not how life really is." Actually, life seems pretty good for Peterson, as evidenced by the grinning four-year-old terror racing through the handsome south Minneapolis home the musician shares with his pretty wife and sleepy dog. Entering this Family Circus scene, I half-expected to be offered some of that good pie and black coffee at the door. (I got PBR instead.)
Nothing on No Anecdote, the first full-length from Peterson's new band, Missing Numbers, bears any resemblance to this happy household. Unlike Bellwether, Missing Numbers abandon the hazy hangover feel of those easy alt-country tunes and adopts a lonelier groove, sort of like Morphine scoring a Raymond Chandler novel. In the company of upright bassist Mike Derrick, guitar banshee Casey Gooby, keyboardist and trumpeter Bobby McCreedy, and fellow Bellwether alum John Crist on drums, Peterson's gravelly vocals sound bent on exploring the darker side of his country-blues jones. But where does that darkness come from? Is life really not all about pie and coffee? To find out, I played the band (minus Crist) a few songs and asked them to describe the first thing that came to mind.
Golden Smog, "Glad & Sorry" from Down on the Old Mainstream
Jimmy Peterson: Is this Faces?
Bobby McCreedy: Golden Smog.
Peterson: It's a Faces cover though. This is when Golden Smog stopped playing Thin Lizzy covers and started playing Faces covers. That was a good period for them.
CP: Did you check out Golden Smog when they used to play around here?
Peterson: Oh yeah. In fact my previous band used to open for them. I remember this one time, we were sound checking and [Wilco frontman and Golden Smog contributor Jeff] Tweedy was sitting on the side of the stage. He had this long hair, and we were all young bucks with short hair. When we were done I heard him say, "What is this, fuckin' chess club?" And I thought, Damn. Your heroes always say the stupidest things.
The Black Keys, "Act Nice and Gentle" from Rubber Factory
Peterson: I've got a couple of Black Keys records, but I must have got the wrong ones. They don't sound like this. This is crazy.
McCreedy: These guys are from Ohio, right?
CP: Akron. Like Devo.
Peterson: We tried to do a Missing Numbers version of "Whip It" last night. Turns out when you slow it down 90 percent it doesn't quite work.
Hank Williams, "Lost Highway," available on The Ultimate Collection
Peterson: What can you say? Twenty-nine years old.
McCreedy: I'm pretty reverent to this.
Peterson: The thing about Hank is, nobody can cover him. It's stupid to try. It's like a woman covering Aretha Franklin. You just can't do it.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, "Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away" from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Mike Derrick: What, did Frank Black get into whip-its? Who is this?
CP: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
Peterson: Oh yeah, I've heard people going nuts over these guys all over the place.
McCreedy: He sounds like that guy from the Violent Femmes.
CP: Some people really hate his voice.
Peterson: Yeah. He sounds like a really unstable Rufus Wainwright.
McCreedy: Sounds like he's getting a reverse circumcision.
Casey Gooby: A what?
Peterson: [Laughing] That's good, Bob. I like that.
Bright Eyes, "The First Day of My Life" from I'm Wide Awake It's Morning
Peterson: Ah, Conner.
Gooby: Omaha, right?
CP: Yep. Bright Eyes. This is another one that people really love or hate.
Gooby: You can't deny it's good writing.
Peterson: I don't know why I like it, but I do. It has an innocence that was so appealing in the early days of alt-country.
Morphine, "The Night" from The Night
Peterson: This must be post-Morphine, without the Sand-man. [Deceased frontman Mark Sandman begins to sing] Whoa, wait a minute. What album is this?
CP: The Night. They recorded it just before he died and released it post-mortem.
Derrick: No wonder it didn't get any airplay. I love how all the instruments, even the voice, are all in that tenor range.
CP: This is the first thing that came to mind when I heard your new record. Do you get compared to Morphine often?
Peterson: Sometimes. Not really. Man, this is hot, I gotta get this. What a breath of fresh air. He died onstage in Rome, you know. Just had a heart attack and dropped dead. [Laughs] That's one way to do it, I guess.
Wilco, "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" from Kicking Television: Live in Chicago
Peterson: The cool thing about Wilco is that it keeps changing. It's always a work in progress. That's the coolest thing in the world. [Listening to a solo by guitarist Nels Cline] Listen to Nels, dude, he's crazy.
Gooby: Is that Nels? I don't think it is.
Peterson: Oh yeah, that's him. Tweedy doesn't do this. He's strictly rhythm--he used to play bass. This, this is Nels. He's not even playing the guitar at this point. I mean, he's playing guitar, but he's not approaching it as playing. He's searching for sounds. It could just as easily be a toaster with some microphones in it, [shakes imaginary toaster] and Nels is just trying to get the weirdest noise possible out of it. This is so good.
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