Until now, Jim Fairchild was best known as the guitarist for prolific Californian indie rockers Grandaddy, in addition to recent collaborations and production duties with Earlimart and Dappled Cities. Occupying a pivotal role in the group from 1995 until their recent demise, it was clear that Mr. Fairchild had much to offer. Often he played acoustic guitar, which might lead one to believe he served a nominal purpose in the hierarchy of the band. However, if you ever wedged yourself near the front of a Grandaddy show and listened as the structure rose, story by story, you realized Mr. Fairchild’s role was that of the glue holding the group together, enabling them to reach greater heights. When he picked up his electric guitar, the impression was cemented.
If you spoke with him after the show—which was easy to do—you realized that the playing was an extension of the player, and the self-effacing choice of the delicate instrument was no accident. He transcended the role and bound the whole together on and off stage.
Branching out on his own in 2005, Jim named his project “All Smiles” and his first release “Ten Readings of a Warning.” The two titles mark the zenith and nadir of his recent orbit. In Grandaddy it seemed as though Mr. Fairchild’s fortunes could go either way. In the turbulent blast of expression and consumption that is a touring band, he and they often seemed to be going both ways at once. Jim himself states that the titles are about “recognizing that there are a bunch of events and traditions that you become reliant on and are making you sick, and what is the way past that?”
Ten Readings of a Warning, most notably the first release from a Grandaddy member following their break-up, opens with acoustic guitar. Recorded in sporadic sessions between Chicago, Portland, and LA that began in the summer of 2005 and culminated in the fall of 2006, this album features many guest drummers (Joe Plummer of Modest Mouse, Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney, Solon Bixler of Great Northern, and Danny Seim of Menomena), but the rest of the instrumentation is all Fairchild.
The first four cues are lead by strumming before diverging into various slices of pop perfection: “Summer Stay” seeking sunlight, “Pile of Burning Leaves” lying down in the shade. On track 5 “The Velvetest Balloon,” Mr. Fairchild sits down at the piano, exposing the acoustics of a small room to reveal a much wider palette of sound. The production rises to warm, then recedes to reveal and frame. It’s all woven together with a cherub’s voice that stretches out most heartbreakingly on the final track.
Where did that voice come from? For a decade he had stood on stage without a microphone stand. It was like seeing an old favorite high school teacher out with an attractive date. No, it was better than that. Mr. Fairchild credits Dangerbird co-founder / labelmate Peter Walker for making him learn to sing. With much touring to come in 2007, its certain that All Smiles will present all of us with a brighter future.