When a rock group falls apart and begins venturing into solo territory, you don't usually look to the guy who came in late and played second guitar to provide the follow-up excitement. Isn't the frontman supposed to be the one who makes the next big noise? Leave it to an alumnus from Grandaddy, an indie pop band known for compulsively playing it low-key, to break with this tradition. Band guitarist Jim Fairchild, doing the home recording thing, is releasing his first solo disc under the name All Smiles. The results are arguably the most appealing slice of self-effacing poppery since Richard Lloyd first took Tom Verlaine's place at the mic.
Recorded primarily in the kitchen and living room of the West Coast houses where Fairchild was then staying — he has since moved to the Chicago area — All Smiles' debut disc, Ten Readings of A Warning (Dangerbird Records), is a tunefully reflective bit of strummy guitar pop. Though it occasionally falls victim to its anti-production attitudes — the drum in full song opener, "Summer Smiles," could've benefited from some deepening — in general it seems to be a piece with the engagingly throwaway "other tracks", not unlike the Grandaddy disc, Concrete Dunes. Fairchild's singing voice is more lightweight than Big Grandaddy Jason Lytle's — if you can believe that — but still attractive, a less polished Badly Drawn Boy in spots. Though I have no idea in what order the material was actually recorded, listening to Warning, you can almost hear Fairchild growing more self-assured with his vocals as the disc progresses.
Among the highlights: the echoey Plastic Ono Band sound of "I Know It's Wrong" and "Leave Love," the simple piano & synth interaction in "The Velvetest Balloon" — its precious title thankfully not representative of the whole disc's lyrics, which tend toward the tiny rueful detail — the infectious chorus of "Moth in A Cloud of Smoke" and the finale "Of Course It's Not Up to Me;" which I'd love to hear some studio-happy type, Robert Schneider say, tackle if only to make its neat fuzz-guitar finish more imposing. Fairchild handles most of the instruments, basically leaving the drumming to alt-rock guest stars like Joe Plummer (Black Heart Procession) and Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney), and not too surprisingly it's his guitar work which provides the big draw.
Whether it's acoustic on a track like the folky "Pile of Burning Leaves" or radar 'lectric as on "Killing Sheep," his approach is modestly enticing throughout. What'd you expect from a guy who leaves in a neighborhood dog bark at the tail end of a track – or whose idea of a state-of-mind metaphor is "My belly is a pile of burning leaves"?