Music News

Miracle Worker

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Though recorded in Arizona, the album's themes are steeped in the seamy underbelly of Los Angeles, which has led several critics to deem Miracles a concept album about SoCal lowlifes -- something Wynn denies. While there are sections that could be interpreted as conceptual -- and admittedly, Wynn's writing does possess a literary bent -- it's clear the record was not intended as straight pulp fiction. (The notion may also have something to do with Wynn's recent association with hardboiled author George Pelecanos, who penned his bio and conducts an interview with the singer in the current issue of Magnet.)

Thankfully, when he does try his hand at noir imagery, Wynn succeeds where so many would-be musical Tarantinos fail, capturing a mood and a moment without merely relying on depictions of shock-inducing carnage. He details the first bloody stirrings of a life gone bad on "Blackout," later delivering the foreboding "Watch Your Step" before a farrago of death and deceit takes over on the jagged "Southern California Line."

"The whole noir, hardboiled thing is very comfortable for me because it's a form I really like and it's a big part of what I've read my whole life," he says. "But as far as all the California stuff -- Death Valley this, Topanga Canyon that -- it's weird, 'cause I lived here for 34 years, but I've never written about this area so much before. It wasn't intentional, it's just how it came out."

Ultimately, Wynn's lyrics rely less on setting than a combination of clever word play ("Well, you can strike up the band/With the back of your hand") and dark imagery ("Your ghost don't stand a chance when it's filled with flesh and blood"), yielding a platter that somehow manages to stay fresh over the course of 19 songs and 80-plus minutes.

"At this point in my life, I know I'm not U2 or somebody whose audience is going to feel obliged to say, 'Man, I gotta take and digest this whole thing.' Still, it felt like it made more sense as a long record than as a short record. It covers a lot of ground.

"In a way," muses Wynn, "[Miracles] sums up what I was doing 20 years ago, what I've done in the last 20 years and the things I'm more into now."

Critics claiming that Miracles is a nostalgic return to form, a flashback to The Days of Wine and Roses, are also off the mark. In fact, the album's grown-up garage rock probably owes more to the formative woodshedding Wynn did as a youth than anything he offered up with the Syndicate.

"Yeah, it's funny. The band I had when I was 12 -- doing covers of 'Riders on the Storm' -- it might have more to do with this record than something I was doing in 1982.

"The main similarity is that there was a lot of freedom in the Dream Syndicate. Letting things happen, in an extreme but unforced way. Just pushing it as far as you could. I think that's what this album has in common with The Days of Wine and Roses."

Last year during a visit to L.A., Wynn was dining with Rhino Records senior vice president Gary Stewart -- the man who'd hired him as a teenage record store clerk, then signed him as a solo artist a decade later -- when he found out the label had acquired the rights to the Slash catalogue, and The Days of Wine and Roses along with it.

Over the course of the meal, the two agreed that Days, which had been out of print since the mid-'90s, would be among the Slash titles reissued this summer.

"It couldn't have worked out better," says Wynn. "That record is just too important to me for it to have been done wrong. So I was really glad to have Rhino handle it."

The disc -- released in July -- receives the full Rhino reissue/remastering/repackaging treatment (see accompanying review). To some, Wynn's embrace of the project may seem a bit surprising. Or at least a turnaround for the man who, in the midst of a burgeoning solo career in the early '90s, wondered aloud whether he would still be talking about Days when he turned 70.

"Now," he says, grinning, "I've accepted I will be."

"But," he adds "I'm proud of The Days of Wine and Roses; I always have been." True to his word, Wynn has long retained Days cuts like "Tell Me When It's Over" and "Halloween" as staples of his live sets.

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Bob Mehr
Contact: Bob Mehr