See our Best of Detroit 2020 winners.

Wednesday, March 8, 2000

A jewel is a stone

Posted By on Wed, Mar 8, 2000 at 12:00 AM

On the title track of songwriter Brian Lillie’s remarkable third album, a town gathers to bid farewell to the departing fire chief. Among the crowd is the local mortician – an odd woman who "remembers the faces but buries the names" – and the town sheriff, who’s drunk. They all wish the exiting firefighter luck, then add sincerely: "Wherever you’re going, hope they’ve got buildings to burn."

It’s a great hook, and a rare theme for a folk record: One person’s tragedy can be someone else’s livelihood. Or put another way, even firemen deserve steady work.

Good Luck Fire Chief – the song and the album – is a study of these seeming contradictions in the things we value most. On "The Sound of Pretense Dropping," a bride’s mother laments over the happy couple’s decision to live together before marriage. "Inside the Sleeve" celebrates music and condemns the business that creates it. And the jaunty "Careful Lovers" glorifies passion, while inviting blind love to "come and tear us apart."

Lillie has assembled an impressive cast to play out this conflict, including a veritable chorus line of Ann Arbor’s finest players. Bluegrass savant K.C. Groves offers harmonies. Alt-country rocker Jim Roll lends his characteristic growl. And Lillie’s own band – the Squirrel Mountain Orchestra – strikes a formidable pose, with their best playing in years.

But if hardship is the songwriter’s stock in trade, perhaps Lillie is confessing something that lesser tunesmiths would rather we didn’t know. Life’s uneasy balance keeps him in business too. And that’s OK. As Billy Bragg once said, you just have to take the crunchy with the smooth.

Wrapping his words in reassuring Midwestern tones, Brian Lillie reminds us that happiness is calamity’s best friend.

Tags:

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at letters@metrotimes.com.

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.

More by Adam Druckman

Read the Digital Print Issue

October 21, 2020

View more issues

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit