VID LIBERT & HIS PROBLEMS – Half Gone
Having dabbled in rock with the Nervous System, fused dub, punk and reggae with the Takebacks and perfected lo-fi indie pop under his own name, Vid Libert had one final frontier—country. As with the other genres, he settles into it easily and naturally, effortlessly producing a batch of terrific old school country tunes for this release. Granted, this genre shift was made even easier by already having one of the key ingredients in place in the person of frequent collaborator and multi-instrumentalist Miles Biswell, who is one of the most natural pedal steel players I have ever seen. In fact, he’s so good I’ve seen him play the complicated instrument in flip-flops, and his graceful work gives this release instant authenticity.
It also helps that apparently Libert has been writing country songs all along and didn’t even know it. Two standout tracks from his previous release A Return to Mayaguez, “Maybe That’s Enough” and “Tennessee,” reappear here. They are still familiar, but they get a makeover as the pedal steel gets turned up and Libert’s vocals smooth out into a comfortable country drawl. In fact, the only thing that gives away their secret is that the latter is actually about not going to the home state of the Grand Ol’ Opry. A gospel organ swells as he claims, “But now you’re talking crazy, hey man you’re scaring me, see no one has to go back to Tennessee.” There’s no shortage of authentic sounding material, though even those aren’t the typical tear-in-your-beer weeper. “Yer Kinda Man” claims “If you want true love, I’m yer kinda man,” but its ultimate message is more in the vein of “Don’t Fence Me In,” as he drawls, “I would never say ‘Forever’ or put a ring on your hand,” before ending with a pun, “I don’t ever want to fall in love again, because I would rather stand.”
The record is propelled by well-spaced, up-tempo numbers. The ode to Neil Young, “Shakey,” joyfully celebrates that “Shakey didn’t die, Shakey is still alive, Shakey ain’t ever gonna die” with a barroom piano and a chorus of voices on the refrain. “Don’t Matter Much” conjures up memories of the Band in their Basement Tape prime. The old-school backing vocals on “Just a Fool” offer advice like “I don’t think so” in response to his question, “If I came running to you would you understand?” and “Whoa no” to “Maybe I should finally show my hand?” Throughout the record the feeling that this is a true band record differentiates it from his solo releases, which were essentially the all-Vid show.
The liner notes claim that all songs were “written and recorded at the greenhouse by Vid Libert & His Problems.” The Greenhouse is actually a studio that Biswell built in his back yard. In addition to Biswell, Libert’s band consists of Christopher Buckingham on drums, John Nichols on bass and Ryan Miller on piano and Hammond organ. Unfortunately, Nichols and Buckingham moved away in May after the band recorded Half Gone and played only two shows. I guess Libert really does have some problems.