In 1988 I bought the album Eden Valley by Timbuk3. I had heard it at the Amsterdam record store Concerto, where I was employed at the time. A look back at an undervalued album and an underrated band.
Timbuk3 was founded in 1984 by Pat MacDonald and Barbara K(ooyman) MacDonald, a couple, who composed and played their own music. Their main base of operation was Austin, Texas, US. Following a performance in the MTV program The Cutting Edge they were signed by I.R.S. Records.
In 1986 they recorded their debut album, Greetings From Timbuk3. The album reached the 50th position of the American album charts, primarily due to the success of their debut single The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades. The couple was socially and politically engaged. The “bright” future was caused by a nuclear disaster. The song was interpreted by many as a happy song about summer. It was the biggest hit Timbuk3 would ever have, which is the reason Timbuk3 is often regarded as a “one hit wonder”.
On April 18, 1988, the second album by Timbuk3 was released: Eden Alley. The album continued where Greetings From Timbuk3 had left off. Electronic rhythms form the base of the songs, upon which (analogue) instruments are placed. Once again, the vocal harmonies of the couple were beautiful, but the success was lessened.
Unbelievable, because the single that was culled from the album, Rev. Jack & His Roamin’ Cadillac Church is the best song the band ever made, by far. A well programmed rhythm combined with some kind of swamp-blues instrumentation and melody. It was a modest hit in the US.
I first heard the album at Concerto, the Amsterdam record store I was employed at between 1987 and 1990. It was love at first hearing. The combination of drum computers within traditional blues instruments (slide guitar, harmonica) still sound refreshing to this day.
Next to that; the group’s lyrics are wonderful, sarcasm combined with a political view that fits me like a glove, turn many songs into a little party, even though the subjects are heavy. The musical frame and the harmonies in particular, keep the message easily digestible.
The album comes highly recommended.
All songs written by Pat MacDonald, unless stated otherwise.
- Tarzan Was a Bluesman
- Easy (Barbara K MacDonald)
- Reckless Driver
- Dance Fever
- Sample The Dog
- Too Much Sex, Not Enough Affection
- Welcome To The Human Race
- Eden Alley (Barbara K MacDonald)
- Rev. Jack & His Roamin’ Cadillac Church
- A Sinful Life
- Little People Make Big Mistakes
- Reprise (Don’t Stop Now)
- Pat MacDonald – vocals, guitar, bass, harmonica, drums, drum machine, bongos, sampler
- Barbara K MacDonald – vocals, guitar, violin, drums, drum machine, percussion
- Ponty Bone – accordion on A Sinful Life
After Eden Alley
In 1988 the group played a part in the movie D.O.A. (starring Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan), where they can be heard as a house band with two songs.
In 1989 the band released their third album, Edge Of Allegiance. In 1991 Timbuk3 turned into a ‘real’ when they hired Wally Ingram (drums) and Courtney Audain (bass). Two more albums would be released, Big Shot In The Dark and live-album Espace Ornano. They were followed by an EP, Looks Like Dark To Me, after which the MacDonald marriage collapsed in 1995. That same year Timbuk3 released their last album A Hundred Lovers. Timbuk3 ended with the marriage.
In 1992 the compilation album Some Of The Best Of Timbuk3: Field Guide was released. In 2019 the album Austin City Limits Live From Timbuk3, a live recording from January 1989, was released.
Both Pat MacDonald and Barbara K are still active within the world of music.
What’s your opinion on Timbuk3 and Eden Alley? Let me know!
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Timbuk3 – Eden Alley. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.
Timbuk3 – Live Santa Cruz 08/16/1988 image: bbchron.blogspot.com
Timbuk3 – Eden Alley image: amazon.com
Timbuk3 – Eden Alley – Back cover image: discogs.com
Timbuk3 – Live image: timbuk3music.net