Bentley's Bandstand: Semi-Twang, Wages of Sin

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Semi-Twang, Wages Of Sin, ST Records

In Milwaukee it’s often said that there’s a bar on every corner. And in those bars, most likely, a band will end up playing sooner or later. That’s a lot of bands, so the city was known for a brisk music scene, from the Violent Femmes to the BoDeans at the very minimum. But add to Milwaukee’s musical roll-call Semi-Twang, an easy nominee for a group that should have been big but somehow eluded the intrusive glare of fame and fortune.

Their first album in 1988 was called Salty Tears, and for a brief moment Warner Bros. Records seemed to have it slotted in the number one starting position. Whoops. It didn’t quite blast out of the gate and by the time 1989 rolled around things changed and the Replacements had been picked to be the Last Best Band of the ’80s. That didn’t work out as planned either, which is a whole other enchilada.

Semi-Twang was a wonder: a mix of stripped-down rock, backroom soul and just enough country to keep the snuff dippers happy. Naturally, everything was well-oiled with beer and backbeats so it was impossible to sit still at the handful of shows outside the band’s home turf. Singer-songwriter John Seiger was a reluctant star, but brother did he know how to hit the monkey nerve. Those songs on their debut album still stand as highlights of the era right before alternative music’s tsunami drowned out deserving bands from the heartland like so many unlucky ducks. Semi-Twang was all dressed up with nowhere to go, and before long they disappeared back into the grandstands at Brewers games.

Flash forward twenty-odd years and guess what? Semi-Twang is back and better than ever. Wages Of Sin is like some long-lost gem from the golden era of rock. Even better is it doesn’t sound remotely retro. Instead, these six Wisconsonites have knocked out a dozen songs that faithfully capture the freedom of what a three-minute song is supposed to do: free the heart from its harness and let it run slipshod over open fields and empty freeways. There is heartbreak, hope, happiness and even a touch of haunting despair pulsing through these gems, whether it’s the opening knock-out “Sonny Liston” or the ending near-weeper “When My Angel Smiles.”

It’s an amazing feat the Milwaukee mellow fellows have accomplished: they have maintained greatness against all odds. Played back to back, Salty Tears and Wages Of Sin are a seamless peak at everything American rock has always promised: freedom. What made Milwaukee famous has made a winner of these men. In the land of last call, it’s time to order up another one–on the house.

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

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