Two Dollar Guitar began in 1992 when Tim Foljahn landed in Hoboken, New Jersey after several years spent nomadding about the country, absorbing the cultures of a vivid cross-section of American turfs: New Orleans, Albuquerque, Chicago. Armed with a book full of damned, heavy soul ballads inspired by both his psycho-spiritual and actual physical travels, he recruited his friend Steve Shelley to help animate them for public consumption.
The music mines a sound and vision based on "roots" music in the truest sense of the word, building on a tradition found in the work of fellow twisted classicists from Nick Cave to Townes Van Zandt, Serge Gainsbourg to Lee Hazlewood and Leonard Cohen, and transubstantiating these influences into something utterly its own.
The debut single, a skeletal unrosined violin-scrape and harrowing autobiography called "Lost Bird", was a mostly solo affair by Tim, with Steve percussing and producing. The first full length, Let Me Bring You Down, is a record crammed with squinty biblical allegory, more autobiog and tales of broken noses, buried babies and pussy-whipped philosophers. Around this same time, Tim and Steve were becoming a sort of an indie-rock Sly-and-Robbie for hire, rhythm sectioning in groups like Mosquito (with Jad Fair), Male Slut (with Thurston Moore) and Cat Power (with Chan Marshall). The follow-up, Burned and Buried, despite many guest musicians, fancy pedal steel, blues harp and a free-jazznik's piano clusters, is a more cohesive collection. Recorded at the famous Easley studios in Memphis, Tennessee, it finds Two Dollar Guitar connecting up with a pervasive delta spirit mingled with their northeastern (via Midwestern) urban grit and continental (c.f. Gainsbourg, et. al.) pop sensibility. Burned and Buried also marks the drafting of bassist Dave Motamed. A pair of singles, "Woman Killing Man" and "Erl King", featuring unused gems from the Burned sessions, were released in 1997.
1998 saw the release of two unique projects: Hotel Opera, a spare solo album by Tim recording under the name La Lengua Asesina, and an album of instrumental improvisations by the trio, called Train Songs. Where the former release consists of pure song material stripped to its most intimate and revealing state, the latter maxes out the band's rich musical interaction in sublime instrumental drifts. It's as if the group decided to split its two dimensions, sound and song, in order to refine each half before reuniting them for their next full-length album.
In 1999 Two Dollar Guitar set up shop at House of Soul studios with engineer Luc Suer to begin work on what would be their fourth record, Weak Beats and Lame-ass Rhymes. Working over the course of a year, numerous friends were brought in to help render the new songs; the result was a fully realized Two Dollar Guitar. The arrangements draw as much from Buffalo Springfield and Gene Clark as they do from people like Astrud Gilberto and the works of Brigitte Fontaine & Areski; Weak Beats and Lame-Ass Rhymes exemplifies the progression from the low-fi psychedelic folk-gone-country stylings of Two Dollar Guitar's previous outings.