“Thank the Internet for this one. In the late 1990s, a fan named Dan put together the David Baerwald Infosource, a place for DB fans to get together, talk about his work, and hope (seemingly in vain) for new music. As it turned out, the site was discovered by Baerwald’s mother, who passed word along to the man himself, and thus began a fascinatingly open public exchange between an artist and his fans.” JF
“It also turned out that Baerwald had been sitting on…two albums of new music. It was nothing he’d intended on releasing…but faced with more (and more intense) interest than he’d expected, he graciously arranged for the release of the double album A Fine Mess.” JF
“The full title is David Baerwald and The New Folk Underground (featuring Will Sexton) – A Fine Mess.” DB “There were roughly 500 of these produced. Most of the 500 were stamped with an individual number and signed by David.” DB
Baerwald’s previous album had been 1992’s Triage. Much of his work in the seven-year interim had been in contribution to various television and movie soundtracks, as well as contributions to others’ albums. In regards to the latter, his most famous work came on Sheryl Crow’s Tuesday Night Music Club in 1993. That album was the product of a loose collective of musicians who gathered at producer Bill Bottrell’s studio in the fall of ’92 to informally create music. The group would also work on Triage and, over the next few years, albums by Susanna Hoffs, Linda Perry, and Kevin Gilbert.
In regards to the latter, he was one of several fatal tragedies Baerwald would be forced to deal with in the ‘90s. Gilbert, a fellow TNMC’er, died in ’96. He was the second of Baerwald’s friends to die in the wake of Tuesday Night Music Club’s popularity. The first victim was John O’Brien, the author of Leaving Las Vegas, the book that was later made into a movie and served as the inspiration for the song of the same name on Sheryl’s album. The two deaths generated much ill will between Crow and Baerwald. He felt like Gilbert and O’Brien were both in depressive states brought on by Crow’s failure to properly credit others for their work.
Then, in 1998, Bill Bottrell’s seven-year-old son William died. The trio of tragedies makes A Fine Mess “sound like what it was – a wake.” JF Baerwald says, “‘When William died, I didn’t have that in me to continue what I was doing at the time. I needed to do something absolutely direct and absolutely lacking in trendiness; something that was expressing exactly what it was and nothing else’.” JC
“‘In L.A. in 1998, that felt like an extremely rebellious attitude. At Capitol Studios, they had this stamp that they put on rough mix tapes that were given to musicians and producers that was ‘NFU.’ That's what this felt like to me: Not for use. This is my own thing. This was not for money. NFU transmogrified into New Folk Underground’.” JC
“Baerwald claims he was listening to artists like Gillian Welch, Wilco, Dock Boggs, the O’Jays, and Curtis Mayfield while recordingNew Folk Underground and that they had a big effect on its sound. He says that he asked himself what these artists had in common.” JC
“‘The answer was that they that accepted pain and suffering as a given and found a way of fighting it without being morose,’ says Baerwald succinctly. ‘I felt that I was watching evil triumph, hypocrisy and propaganda ruling the airwaves, and the death of rock & roll, a medium that I felt really strongly about. The death of a lot of people that meant a lot to me in my personal life [was also a factor]’.” JC
“‘So whether I was this successful L.A. shithead or not, I was in pain. I didn’t have a way to express it, yet I was attracted to these acts that were so naked about it and unbeaten by it. That became my definition of what folk music is: It’s of the people. Music unbowed, sprung from an acceptance that life is difficult.” JC
With its “creaky joints and gloriously ragged edges,” JF the album “lives up to its title wonderfully.” JF With “guest appearances by Jewel, Sheryl Crow, Kevin Gilbert and many others,” DB the album was also filled with “hope; so much hope. Whether this is because Baerwald can see the sun again, or whether it’s simply a method of wrestling with his sadness, is impossible for the listener to say. But the effect is beautiful nonetheless.” JF
“Art work for the packaging was created by Jeff Wells. The final packaging, although not exactly as it was initially planned, gave the set that classic DIY appeal that it deserved.” DB
“The production, if not completely live, at least sounds like it, and there are liberal helpings of roadhouse piano; at times, it sounds like a lost Stephen Foster album, or like Gershwin on a three-week bender.” DB
It is a “tear-stained thing of beauty” DB that “hangs askew, like all of Baerwald’s finest work.” JF
“This set has long since sold out, but they occassionally pop up on ebay - with most selling for well over $100. The set originally sold for $20 which included shipping.” DB
It is, however, also possible to get copies of the collection via the website, with Baerwald’s blessing, no less. Click here for details.