This week’s mp3 collection comes from a band you’ve probably never heard. Or heard of. Or if you’ve done either, it was probably so long ago you’ve forgotten about it. I’m talking about Andrew Hyra and Kristian Bush, together formerly known as Billy Pilgrim. They released two albums of well-written folk-pop for Atlantic in the mid-’90s:
Billy Pilgrim (1994)
Critics dismissed them as “The Indigo Boys” when this came out, and it didn’t help that they had the Indigo Girls doing background vocals on one song. The production was what passed for “rootsy” on a major label at the time–lots of gummed-up acoustic guitars, multitracking galore, etc. The end result is a good set of songs, but one that suffers somewhat from all the sheen. My favorite cut from Billy Pilgrim is “Insomniac,” the album’s first (and last) single. On the “tour” for my solo album, “Insomniac” was on the setlist for pretty much every show. I knew I needed to stop recording music when I found myself looking forward to performing it more than any of my own songs.
Here’s “Insomniac” and another of my favorites from the album:
Bloom followed a year later, and seemed to benefit from Billy Pilgrim’s resounding lack of commercial success–it sounds like it was recorded on a tighter budget, with minimal input from the shoe salesmen at Atlantic. Bloom is what music lovers call a “grower”: an album of songs that sound better the more you listen to them. On a geeky side note, it’s got probably the best-sounding acoustic guitars I’ve ever heard on an album; the engineer really knew what he was doing. You can get it for probably two bucks on Amazon. Here’s the first (and last) single from Bloom, “Sweet Louisiana Sound,” and another album cut:
After Bloom flopped, Hyra and Bush split up for awhile–I don’t think it was an official breakup, but without a record contract, I guess they had to find other ways of paying the bills. They found their way back to Billy Pilgrim toward the end of the decade, and issued a slew of live and unreleased recordings through mp3.com during that site’s all-too-brief time as a viable option for indie artists. (Remember the DAM program? Ah, good times.) They actually made a big pile of money this way, and used it to record what would be their final album:
In the Time Machine (2001)
The album’s title is a play on the band’s namesake, the time-traveling protagonist of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. And it’s a hell of an album. From the opening notes of “Open All Night” to the closing strains of “Epilogue,” it’s hard to imagine a more fitting swan song for a band whose intimate, well-crafted songs never managed to find a wide enough audience. Hyra and Bush sold every copy of In the Time Machine’s initial pressing, and for some reason, decided not to have any more manufactured. It’s out of print, probably forever, but I think it’s great and I want you to hear it. So without further delay, here’s Billy Pilgrim, In the Time Machine, in all its glory:
Full disclosure note: After the album came out, I did some work for the band on lyric pages for their site. Want lyrics? You can see them here.