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What I Am – Edie Brickell & New Bohemians

Some artists sound connected, even though there may be generations and continents between them.

Madeleine Peyroux’s 2000’s records are dead ringers for the sound of Billie Holliday circa 1935.

Amy Winehouse channels the ghosts of 1960s Motown for her one-hit wonder hit “Rehab.”

The guy in Alias singing “More Than Words Can Say” sounds just like the guy in Sheriff when he sings “When I’m With You.” (Oh wait, they are the same guy: Freddy Curci with different bands separated by 7 years, numerous legal entanglements and two one-hit wonder ballads).

Add one more connection to that list: Edie Brickell’s singing sounds like it belongs on Maria Muldaur’s 1974 record, “Midnight at the Oasis.”

Brickell is the artist du jour as we honor Edie Brickell & New Bohemians’ one trip into the Billboard Top 40 with “What I Am.” Released on the New Bohemians’ breakthrough 1988 album titled Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars, “What I Am” is a leading indicator of where hippie jam bands would take music in the early 1990s (the era when Phish, Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors and Widespread Panic became fixtures of open-air stadiums that could be seen from miles away due to the thin haze of marijuana smoke that surrounded the venue).

Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars propelled Brickell and her well-dressed Bohemians to sudden stardom with critical accolades, songs that made listeners spontaneously bob their heads to the beat and pick up guitars to sit around in circles where they didn’t sing Kum By Yah (instead, they sang “Circle” by Brickell and the New Bohemians, which just missed the Top 40 when it stalled at #48 on the Billboard Hot 100).

Is “What I Am” some kind of post-modern ironic take on wisdom? Or is it just a bunch of Dylanesque lyrics set to a killer hook. I’ll choose the later for $500, Trebek.

But who cares what I think. “What I Am” struck a chord with the late-80s thinkers thanks to its, er, deep lyrics:

I’m not aware of too many things
I know what I know, if you know what I mean
Philosophy is the talk on a cereal box
Religion is the smile on a dog
I’m not aware of too many things
I know what I know, if you know what I mean, d-doo yeah

CHORUS:
What I am is what I am
Are you what you are or what?
What I am is what I am
Are you what you are or what

Click to read What I Am lyrics

The song transformed Edie Brickell & New Bohemians into media darlings…for about one year. Their follow-up record Ghost of a Dog was critically praised but never quite caught on. Not surprisingly, the band soon broke up.

But they live on with “What I Am” and “Circles” still sounding quite good, all these years later. Kind of the same way “Midnight at the Oasis” by Maria Muldaur (and her entire debut album) sounds remarkably fresh today as well.

Listen to What I Am – Edie Brickell & New Bohemians

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I'm an obsessive music collector, cataloger, commenter and trivia nut. Sometimes I'm even a listener. One-hit wonders have always been a guilty pleasure.

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