Seattle singer/songwriter Jimmy Silva’s death at the age of 42, two days before Christmas 1994, deprived the pop underground of one of its finest unheralded tunesmiths, one whose wryly inventive, offhandedly insightful lyrics were brilliantly balanced by jangly, hook-intensive melodies. After a stint in Vietnam, Silva played around the Bay Area with his band the Empty Set in the early ’70s, but it wasn’t until the next decade that he was discovered and embraced by indie-pop fans.
Remnants of the Empty Set, with guest appearances by Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken and Beau Brummels singer Sal Valentino, salvages some swell songs from the defunct band’s repertoire, with the warm-voiced Silva sharing lead vocals with a variety of pals. Fly Like a Dog continues in a similar vein, with the addition of kindred spirits the Young Fresh Fellows to the cast.
The consistently wonderful Heidi marks Silva once and for all as a master of his craft. His remarkable gifts are showcased on poignant, lovingly rendered songs like “Tin Whistle and a Wooden Drum,” “From Every Doorway” and “What Makes It Hard to Be Kind?,” sung by the Fellows’ Scott McCaughey. (The album’s other guest vocalists are Ken Stringfellow of the Posies and PopLlama boss Conrad Uno.) The CD adds the contents of Remnants plus two previously unreleased outtakes of similar vintage.
The posthumously released Near the End of the Harvest is a moving memorial to Silva’s talents, with a harder roots-rock sound than its power-poppy predecessors as well as a darker, foreboding lyrical edge manifested in songs like “Longshoreman’s Hall,” “Christmas Is Holy” and “Tell It to the Raven.” Silva’s vocals are warmer and more expressive than ever, making it all the more curious when he surrenders the leads to his bandmates on five of the album’s fourteen songs. Whoever’s singing, though, it’s a marvelous album, as well as a bittersweet epitaph for an underappreciated artist.