Retro Review: The Silos – The Silos (1990)

We could spend days splitting hairs about the origin of Alternative Country but it’s worth noting that NYC based The Silos, built around Walter Salas-Humara and Bob Rupe, released their first album, About Her Steps, in 1986, when Alt-Country godfathers, Uncle Tupelo, were still in high school playing covers as The Primitives.

In 1987, The Silos released Cuba and that led to being voted Rolling Stone’s Best New Artist of that year (the year after last weeks subject, “roots rockers” BoDeans, were awarded Rolling Stone’s Best New American Band). Following the then typical rock and roll trajectory, they signed a major label record deal with RCA Records.

And in 1990, The Silos delivered The Silos, their self-titled debut (sometimes called The One with The Bird on The Cover), produced by Salas-Humara, Rupe and Peter Moore.

Like a loud thunderclap, the album explodes with “Caroline” before it relaxes into a classic mid-tempo rocker. The Silos then pull back the reigns to tell the story of a lonely fisherman, “Commodore Peter” setting the tone for the album. Of course, all the songs contain the usual musical tropes.

Love? Check.
Heartbreak? Check.
Yearning? Check.

Beer and Cars? Obviously! Both serve as the penultimate middle finger in “I’m Over You”. At the other end of the  beer and car spectrum is the ebullient and adoring “Here’s to You” that closes the album. Two songs that cover both sides of the same coin that is a relationship.

The Silos work on a large musical canvas. From the foot stomping & barn burning “Anyway You Choose Me” to the plaintive & pleaful “(We’ll Go) Out of Town” to the poignant & wedding ready “The Only Story I Tell”.

But don’t let the seeming simplicity of these lyrics fool you. These lyrics are so unpretentious that they belie their emotional complexity. Lyrics so good that acclaimed writer Jonathan Lethem called Walter Salas-Humara “. . . a melodic genius, one of our greatest songwriters.”

Lethem is such a fan that he recorded 2008’s You Are All My People on Bloodshot Records with Salas-Humara (under the name I’m Not Jim).

The Silos was deftly produced to strip away any artifice to create a bare-bones, yet textured, sound that serves the lyrics, the music and the band perfectly. Unfortunately, though well reviewed and with an appearance on the uber influential Late Night with David Letterman (then at his peak on NBC), the album struggled to find an audience.

I suspect that the album was too rock for country and too country for rock. And college radio was too self-involved.

This album was the last time Walter Salas-Humara and Bob Rupe collaborated as The Silos. Salas-Humara quit the band and then purchased the rights to The Silos name from Rupe in 1991.  

Bob Rupe went on to play in several bands before joining Cracker from 1994-2000. He has also appeared as a guest artist on many other albums.

In addition to his art and solo work, Walter Salas-Humara continues recording and touring under The Silos banner.

The Silos debut album was both of its time & ahead of its time. Accordingly, it sounds just as good today as it did almost 30 years ago.

I’m confident it will sound just as good in 30 years.

Further Reading & Listening: