A Little Bit Country, The Ween Way

You might think you know Ween by now. You might have all four of their

albums, from their debut The Pod to 1994's Chocolate and

Cheese. You might have spent hours trying to perfect their haphazard

deconstructionist guitar solos. So when you heard they were putting out an

album of country and western songs, you might have headed straight

for the rec room to have a couple of deep breaths laced with Scotch Guard.

Hopefully you actually listened to Ween's 12 Golden Country Hits

before you took such drastic measures. Because the

brothers-who-are-not-brothers have, with their latest release, done what

they have always done: stocked their songs with surprises, creating a

cornucopia of noises no one ever expected to hear.

The only difference this time around is that Ween has invited some

honest-to-goodness talents -- from the crossroads where blues, rock, and

country once met -- to supply the grooves for their latest endeavor. These

men have played with everyone from Elvis Presley to Roy Orbison to Bob

Dylan. "Our time was spent laughing at each other for singing in a room full

of 50-60 year old guys playing songs that we wrote," explains Mickey

Melchiondo, a.k.a. Dean Ween.

12 Golden Country Hits is heavily stocked with true roughnecked

country soul. This is the real stuff, from back when blues and country did

the two-step together after several pints of beer. Its opener, "I'm Holding

You," is a horse-walking ballad rich with pedal steel guitar (played by Russ

Hicks) and soft, harmonized vocals. But its lyrics, as do those throughout

the album, remind you that this is still Ween: "I'm trippin', writhin'

and squealin', pukin', looking for someone like you/And I'm holding

something more precious than fine ore/Baby, I'm holding you." You have to

hear it to believe it.

The upbeat tracks are especially fun, like the speeding-train jig of

"Japanese Cowboy," the saloonside boy-meets-girl shred of "Pretty Girl"--its

rollicking fiddle supplied by Buddy Spicher--and the morning-after

shuffle "Help me Scrape the Mucus off My Brain," a mighty western ode to

whiskey hangovers, its bluegrass edges bringing to mind dusty, dry country

air and waving acres of grain.

A few songs on 12 Golden Country Hits aren't actually country tunes

at all; a couple even sound like traditional Ween (aside from the pedal

steel). "Mr. Richard Smoker," a jazzy scat tune which whisks us away to the

big city to dance the night away with a drug-dealing, womanizing,

dark-meat-eating scumball, features an enviable horn section. "You Were the

Fool" turns the steel guitar into an instrument of psychedelia, combining

country slide with early-Pink-Floyd-style vocals for lines like, "Curvy

sticks and wooden poles/Assisting you in plugging holes/Plug them holes

until you see straight through to the mind's eye."

"Piss Up a Rope" is nearly straight Ween, its girlfriend-loathing remarks

and pottymouth humor recalling earlier records. The closing tune, "Fluffy,"

bewilders in its sheer ridiculousness, attempting (perhaps) to poke fun at

the "oh-dear-Lord-my-dog-died" whimpers of traditional country by telling

the story of a dog that, well, doesn't do much of anything--unless you

count laying on the porch or chasing the other neighborhood dogs around. For

added color, "Fluffy" trades the smooth vocals of the rest of the album for

a half-choked, sickening moan.

12 Golden Country Hits is by far the most musically interesting

album Ween has ever produced. It is, by dint of its many-layered melodies

and prize collection of true talent, also the most listenable album they've

done. To some it may seem like a step away from Ween's musical intentions

for them to abandon (at least temporarily) their four-track, their

whimpering, melodically-challenged guitars and their immature humor.

But buried here, deep within the guitars, fiddles and harmonicas, is Ween

at its finest, returning to a form of music which was nearly dead and buried

before Billy Ray Cyrus and Shania Twain were born. On12 Golden Country

Hits the band pays homage to traditional American music while giving

those early sounds their sendup at the same time. The album may not be as

complex as the jukebox salads tossed by folks like Beck, but it's in the

same spirit. Perhaps these lines from "I Don't Wanna Leave You on the Farm"

will serve as a sign of hope for despairing fans: "I'll keep trucking and

getting myself stoned/I don't wanna leave you on the farm."