Downy Mildew in 1994
place of origin:
Los Angeles, CA. U.S.A.
care-free, breezy, jangle pop with a neo-psychedelic tinge
The Byrds, R.E.M., 10,000 Maniacs, Rain Parade, Dream Syndicate
Mincing Steps (1988)
An Oncoming Train (1992)
Slow Sky (1994)
Charlie Baldonado (guitars/keyboards/vocals) 1986-1995; Jenny Homer (vocals/guitar) 1986-1995; Nancy McCoy (bass) 1986-1993; Mike Marasse (drums) 1986-1988; John Hoffer (drums) 1988-1992; Salvador Garza (violin) 1988-1995; Rob Jacobs (drums) 1992-1995; Janine Cooper (bass/backing vocals) 1993-1995
If you begin listening to Downy Mildew these days, there's a real sense of having found a hidden treasure, of knowing of something that so many will never know. Downy Mildew may never have garnered the cult worship of their deepest influences, R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs, but they certainly made some of the most dreamy and delightful alternative jangle rock you'll ever come across. They weren't simply another of R.E.M.'s or 10,000 Maniacs' many sound-a-likes either, as they took the jangle pop sound to its dreamiest, most care-free hemispheres (revealing strong Rain Parade and Dream Syndicate influences). Their sound is defined by soaring melodies and chiming guitars over poetic, wandering lyrics, delivered beautifully by Jenny Homer's sweet, toneful vocals and Charlie Boldonado's Byrds-like guitar shimmers. Homer's voice is absolutely gorgeous, strong yet astoundingly pure, and capable of commanding a wide and emotional range. This further beffudles me as to why Boldonado ever sang lead on so many Downy Mildew songs, as the man simply hasn't the voice (although his backround vocals against Homer's leads are wonderful). Steven Gustafson of 10,000 Maniacs has an excellent voice, yet he never sang outside of concerts; Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies can deliver pleasant vocals, yet he only hums the occasional harmony; yet for some reason, Downy Mildew chose to give Charlie Boldonado lead vocal duties on an average of three songs per album. All this aside the man was the creative life-force behind the band, writing the better half, if not all of, the music and creating a glistening guitar atmosphere that so compliments Jenny Homer's vocals. I am not sure why it is that Downy Mildew never quite acquired a following as devoted as 10,000 Maniacs or R.E.M., but at this point I don't care. They are a great band.
Downy Mildew formed around the musical partership of songwriting team Charlie Boldonado (guitar/keyboards/vocals) and Jenny Homer (vocals/guitar) along with Nancy McCoy (bass) and Mike Marasse (drums). They first began working L.A. in 1986, and released a self-titled EP that year on Texas Hotel. They released a full-length album, Broomtree, in 1987. It was a youthful and playful record, offering an introduction to Downy Mildew's embryotic jangley, dreamy world. Between this point and the release of 1988's Mincing Steps, Marasse was replaced by John Hoffer (ex-Leaving Trains) and a fifth member was added, violinist Salvador Garza, who's haunting string cascades added to the all-around artsy, sophisticated feel of what was quickly developing into a progressive alterna-pop band.
By 1991 Downy Mildew had acquired a contract with indie label High Street (a subsidary of Windham Hill). Hoffer was replaced by yet another new drummer, Rob Jacobs, in the middle of recording, resulting in the listing of two drummers in the liner notes of An Oncoming Train (1992, High Street). It was a melodic, breezy record, marking the band's full transformation from a college jangle pop band to a progressive alternative folk pop outfit. "An Oncoming Train" and "Elevator" are spright, sweet melodies augmented by shimmering atmospheres, while the album had its darker, more reflective moments in the form of "A Borrowed Chant" and "Child". The lyrics ("I will not be released/My blessings/I left them on the sink/Save them for a traveling salesman"; "He'd like to do the noble thing/Like kneel before and oncoming train/The stainlessness of that act of pain/Is used upon the other one/To make them feel again") were as fleeting and ambiant as ever, marked by a well-worded sense of poetry and vivid images of abtract emotional reflections. At this point High Street re-issued all of the band's previous releases. Nancy McCoy also departed to raise a family, and was replaced by former Pet Clarke member Janine Cooper (bass/backing vocals).
1994 saw Downy Mildew hit their peak, with the brilliant Slow Sky. If you just buy one Downy Mildew album, make sure it's this one. It is without question the perfect realization of their psychedelic free-spirited jangle-pop style, perfectly sweet and perfectly melodic. The energetic, dreamy "Left Foot Down" is without question one of the best songs written in the last ten years. "Your Blue Eye" is a slow, crooning reflection and "Girls by the Lake" is a glistening, thoughtful bit of melodic-cholia. This was the last Downy Mildew album to appear. I am unsure if they are still together or not, although I tend to doubt it. It is unfortunate that more individuals, especially fans of jangle-pop, aren't exposed to this band, for it is a fairly great deprivation. Perhaps one of these days, we'll all be graced with another Downy Mildew album.
Downy Mildew in 1992