The Geraldine Fibbers’ Debut Was a Country Feedback Masterpiece
A recent re-release of 'Lost Somewhere Between The Earth And My Home' gives the semi-forgotten 1995 critical darling a new sheen.
Back in the dark ages of music on physical media, albums that were "out of print" were inaccessible and hard to find. Now, with wide swathes of popular music history readily available on major streaming services, the albums that aren't a click away can feel increasingly distant. In The Unstreamables, Noisey takes a look back at the blockbusters, intriguing footnotes, and cult classics that you might have to try a little harder to find.
Last month, one of Record Store Day's more unexpected exclusives was a 1995 rock album released on vinyl for the very first time, the California band The Geraldine Fibbers' debut Lost Somewhere Between The Earth And My Home. On May 5, that limited edition reissue was made more widely available by Jealous Butcher Records, with an added bonus: the fourth side of the double LP contained four bonus tracks, including "Thank You For Giving Me Life," the first new Geraldine Fibbers song in two decades.
For the time being, the reissue of Lost Somewhere seems to be limited to vinyl; the album hasn't been in print in years, and it has never been available on iTunes or streaming services. Its absence is curious because the band's other album, Butch, released two years later by the same label, Virgin Records, has remained available for purchase and streaming all the while. But Lost Somewhere Between The Earth And My Home deserves to be heard. A collection of cathartic noise rock anthems that combine winsome country melodies with roaring guitars, it is, in all sincerity, my favorite rock album of the 90s.
Riding a wave of rave reviews in Spin and other publications , Lost Somewhere Between The Earth And My Home was a critical hit at the time, voted the 26th best album of the year in the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop critics poll. It finished ahead of blockbusters like Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill and enduring indie rock touchstones like Alien Lanes by Guided By Voices. 1995 represented perhaps the peak of mainstream visibility for bands like Sonic Youth and Pavement. Geraldine Fibbers songs like "Dragon Lady" present similarly squealing guitars and abstract wordplay—but with an unlikely country twang as well as a gripping vulnerability, romance, and sincerity that those contemporaries often shied away from. There's nothing tentative or half-hearted about the album's 12 tracks, each of which explode with color and emotion, tragedy and mysticism. It's easy to imagine a band like this conquering the world, but instead, the world kept spinning and more or less forgot about The Geraldine Fibbers.
Carla Bozulich formed The Geraldine Fibbers after a few years in the provocative industrial trio Ethyl Meatplow, best known for the campy 120 Minutes staple "Devil's Johnson. She grew up in San Pedro, the same Los Angeles seaport community that gave the world The Minutemen; I first heard her voice on Minutemen bassist Mike Watt's 1994 solo debut Ball-Hog Or Tugboat?, where her throaty wail stood out even in the album's crowded roster of much more famous guests.
Bozulich's country touchstones had elements of romance, danger, and self-destruction: She drew on George Jones's sad, funny songs about his struggles with alcoholism, and Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger, the 1975 concept album about a murderous preacher. The Fibbers also played Dolly Parton's "Jolene" on their first EP for the offbeat Olympia label Sympathy For The Record Industry, about six years before The White Stripes more famously covered "Jolene" for the same label.
But it was The Geraldine Fibbers' original songs that crystallized Bozulich's unique vision. Album opener "Lilybelle" presents a gorgeous, lilting interlude from violinist Jessy Greene and bassist William Tutton, on a bowed upright bass, before guitarist Daniel Keenan and drummer Kevin Fitzgerald come crashing in. After the song's dramatic intro settles down, Bozulich's voice finally enters: "In the dark, she is rocking / Not to records, but to voices in her head." Lost Somewhere is full of tales of death and addiction, otherworldly narratives that veer toward science fiction, and love songs about men, women, and the devil (who's identified with female pronouns in "Richard," the album's most mysterious and haunting song).
After Lost Somewhere, Keenan left the band, and one of the album's biggest fans, LA avant jazz guitarist Nels Cline, became The Geraldine Fibbers' new guitarist. Their next record, Butch, is a great album in its own right: its punk songs are more frenzied, its country songs are prettier, and its experimental tracks are more unpredictable. But for me, Lost Somewhere is the masterpiece, where all of the band's wide ranging influences come collide in songs like the epic closer "Get Thee Gone," which alternates between a gentle banjo-driven ballad and roaring noise crescendos.
It almost has to be a massive coincidence, but I'm fascinated by the idea that T-Boz and C-Boz were operating on the same cosmic wavelength at that moment.
By the mid-90s, the "alt-country" movement that Uncle Tupelo helped birth was in full swing. But The Geraldine Fibbers never quite fit in with that scene (although they weren't worlds apart, as evidenced by the fact that Jeff Tweedy invited Nels Cline to join Wilco a decade later). If anything, The Geraldine Fibbers were a throwback to 80s bands like The Gun Club, X, and the Meat Puppets, who fused punk aggression with the side of country music that romanticized the death and danger of the Wild West. The music press briefly slapped the silly label "cowpunk" on those bands, but it never really stuck, leaving spiritual successors like The Geraldine Fibbers to live in their own strange world.
One of the songs that best epitomizes Lost Somewhere's apocalyptic twang is the ominous waltz "Outside Of Town," on which Carla Bozulich sings "I never learned nothin', 'cept hunger and fear / And love that you gave me was lies to keep me near." Over the years that lyric has rattled around my head many times, because the only other place I've ever encountered the phrase "lies to keep me near" is in TLC's hit "Creep." TLC's lead single for CrazySexyCool and the Fibbers' Get Thee Gone EP that "Outside Of Town" first appeared on were both released in October 1994, meaning it almost has to be a massive coincidence. Still, I'm fascinated by the idea that T-Boz and C-Boz were operating on the same cosmic wavelength at that moment.
Carla Bozulich briefly played in an early lineup of Hole, and rumor has it that she was one of the singers approached to front Garbage along with Shirley Manson. But she decided to stick with her strange little country band, who wound up with their own major label deal. But The Geraldine Fibbers got lost in the shuffle while Hole and Garbage became two of the biggest alt-rock bands of the mid-90s.
Despite Lost Somewhere's lack of mainstream success or digital availability, the album has maintained a fervent cult. Westworld star Evan Rachel Wood, who was just 7 years old when Lost Somewhere was released, revealed herself as an unlikely fan in 2014: Performing at an event at the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, the actress did an impressive job of singing the Fibbers single "Dragon Lady."
After the tour in support of Butch, The Geraldine Fibbers went on hiatus, with Bozulich and Cline splitting off to form the duo Scarnella for a self-titled album in 1998. Bozulich returned to one of the Fibbers' early inspirations, Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger, covering it in full as her first solo album in 2003. But since then her musical journeys have veered more on the noisy, experimental side, particularly with her long running Evangelista project, which appeared on the cover of The Wire in 2008.
"Thank You For Giving Me Life," the surprise new Geraldine Fibbers song appended to the vinyl reissue of Lost Somewhere, features the later lineup with Nels Cline that toured in support of Butch. And the frantic, noisy track, which references The Minutemen album title What Makes A Man Start Fires?, has a bit more in common with Bozulich's Evangelista work than the twang of classic Fibbers. But it's still an exhilarating newly recorded song from a band that hasn't existed for nearly 20 years, and it gives me hope that this story of this amazing group is not yet over.
Al Shipley is a writer based in Maryland. Follow him on Twitter.