Albums from the Lost and Found: Boomtown

by Jeff Fiedler

Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.

Though she’s periodically put out some fine albums in the intervening years (namely, her impressive self-titled sophomore effort, The Globe Sessions, and, to a lesser extent, Detours), it’s hard not to wonder just what Sheryl Crow’s albums might have been like had she continued – if just intermittently – to work with Tuesday Night Music Club, the loose music collective that lent its name to the title of Crow’s debut album, as well as serving as her co-writers and backing band on that disc.  That album, of course, put Crow on the map and yielded two major radio hits in the Stealers Wheel-like shuffle of “All I Wanna Do” and the countrified ballad “Strong Enough” (and a lower-charting but underrated Top 40 hit in the appealing country-rock of “Can’t Cry Anymore”), but beyond just its chart success, it also still stands as one of Crow’s most interesting, eclectic, and edgy outings, boasting a sizable handful of underrated album cuts (particularly “Run, Baby, Run” and the slippery funk of “Solidify,” which nearly sounds like a lost Talking Heads song from the early ‘80s). As it would turn out, though, Crow had a bitter falling out with her original bandmates shortly after the release of the album, allegedly brought on by claims that she was taking too much credit for the songwriting in interviews and downplaying the contributions of the others. 

There’s a lot of evidence to suggest they may have had a legitimate grievance, not in the least that Crow’s catchiest songs since her debut album have all been penned with co-writers like Jeff Trott and Brian MacLeod, while her entirely-self-written songs generally tend to suffer from less memorable melodies. There’s also 1986’s Boomtown, the sole album released by the short-lived duo David + David, consisting of David Baerwald and David Ricketts, both future Tuesday Night Music Club members. (Baerwald is credited with co-writing seven of the eleven cuts on Crow’s debut, including “All I Wanna Do” and “Strong Enough,” while Ricketts co-wrote four, including “Strong Enough”, “Solidify,” and “Leaving Las Vegas.” Coincidentally, Crow’s first seven studio albums all came out on A&M, the same label that distributed David + David’s only outing, as well as Baerwald’s first two solo albums.) As Boomtown (produced by Davitt Sigerson, best known for producing the Bangles hits “In Your Room” and “Eternal Flame”) shows, Baerwald and Ricketts were pretty strong in their own right at coming up with sophisticated yet winning melodies.

The album’s opening cut, the epic “Welcome to the Boomtown,” also managed to squeak into the Top 40, reaching #37 in the closing months of 1986. It’s one of the more unlikely Top 40 hits of the late ‘80s, if only because it’s a very lyrically bleak track, detailing the horrors and consequences of urban decay, and spotlighting characters such as a college dropout who has resorted to dealing drugs out of a Denny’s. It’s not exactly uplifting, of course, but the story is welded to a very strong and easily memorable melody, and the cynical chorus boasts a real monster of a hook, helped by Baerwald’s extremely powerful and highly emotional vocal delivery on the cut. It may be that the song was simply too dark to become a bigger hit, but from a pure musical standpoint, it deserved to chart higher than it did and the song remains one of the most underrated and well-crafted Top 40 hits of the decade.

The follow-up single, “Ain’t So Easy,” may have similarly been too brutally honest in its lyrics to garner much radio play (it’s easy to imagine that program directors may have flinched at the line “I’m sorry ‘bout your eye / I’ll find a way to make amends / It’s only that sometimes I’ve got to break before I bend”), but the cut is still a knockout and it’s wedded to a melody even catchier than that in “Welcome to the Boomtown” and a much more playful – almost even danceable – vibe that makes it a lot more digestible to your average music listener than the stark soundscape of the first single.

The duo also impresses on “Swallowed by the Cracks,” which retains the same bleak outlook of “Boomtown,” if directed inward this time, as well as that song’s story-song lyrical style, but offers a slight glimmer of hope in its lyric and has a sunnier, more midtempo sound, and the song nearly sounds like it could be a lost Springsteen outtake from the Born in the U.S.A. sessions.

Much like Crow did on her debut album, Baerwald and Ricketts also have a lot of fun dabbling with different music styles here, “Being Alone Together” and “A Rock for the Forgotten” driven by reggae rhythms (the former even distinctly calls to mind The Police in the closing bars of its choruses) and “Swimming in the Ocean” flirting with funk. The album even unexpectedly closes with a full-blown – and very good – country song called “Heroes,” complete with dobro. 

Why exactly the duo formally packed it in as a recording act after Boomtown is a bit of a mystery, but Baerwald would remain with A&M Records and release two fine solo discs for them in the early ‘90s, Bedtime Stories and Triage, before he and Ricketts joined the Tuesday Night Music Club. After the unfortunate fallout with Crow, Baerwald would leave A&M but resume his solo career (his most recent outing, 2002’s Here Comes the New Folk Underground on Lost Highway, also comes recommended) while Ricketts would briefly re-emerge in the late ‘90s as the co-producer of Meredith Brooks’ hit album Blurring the Edges, on which he also plays bass and keyboards.