What do you think of when you think of "alternative rock?" Do you think of the soaring guitars and "heartfelt" lyrics that really make you think? Though that the term is utterly worthless, Bill Janovitz is a definite veteran of those heady, "alt-rock" days. As leader
of Buffalo Tom, a band that always stood on the verge of making it, but always seemed to fall one short step of landing in the spotlight. Hits like "Sodajerk" and "Summer" were quite lovely, and deserved to be heard, but for whatever reason, Buffalo Tom's hard work for 15 years went unnoticed, while upstarts such as Gin Blossoms and Goo Goo Dolls capitalized on virtually the same sound and style and became household names. It's probably for the best, though, as both of those bands are considered the nadir of "alternative rock" and are a standard for mediocrity.
Up Here, though, finds Janovitz focusing on quieter, mellower, and more emotional sounds. Indeed, a few of the songs were holdovers from the Buffalo Tom days, for the simple fact that they were too mellow for Buffalo Tom. Most of the songs are very simple in structure, with just an acoustic guitar, piano, and occasional backing effects, creating for some rather sparse moments. Such minimal backing allows Janovitz's voice to illuminate the songs, making the lyrics resonate as he sings about lost love, the joy of love, the joy of parenthood, and the remembrances of younger, better days. Indeed, he takes the idea of "solo" record rather seriously; he played most all of the instruments on Up Here, and is occasionally backed by female vocals, care of Chris Toppin, who sang on his debut solo album Lonesome Billy, as well as his side project Bathing Beauties.
Up Here is a poignant, sad, yet satisfying album. Janovitz is a storyteller at heart; his voice echoes the tradition of such classic songwriters as Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello, as well as a touch of more modern songwriters Mary Lou Lord, David Gray, Ryan Adams and Eric Bachman. If Buffalo Tom is Janovitz as alt-rocker, then Up Here is Janovitz as alt-country folkie type. For some reason, I keep thinking about Austin City Limits when I listen to this record, because I think that Janovitz would sound quite at home on there. With Buffalo Tom on indefinite hiatus, and his side project Crown Victoria remaining homeless as of now, with no immediate plans, it's good to know that Janovitz is far from idle.
Up Here isn't going to change your world. It's not going to make you go out and form a band, and it's certainly not going to be on radio play lists in major markets across the US. It's not going to be the soundtrack of your life. It's not going to be something teens run out to buy because it's hip. It's not going to languish as a curiousity of hip writers who need something obscure to praise in their year-end "best-of" lists. The only thing Up Here can do is be itself--a man singing the songs that mean something to him.
God bless 'em for that.