This Week in Music, April 2, 2013: The Band Perry makes The Album Killer Page 2
Mad Season: Above
Photo by Lance Mercer
It was the fall of 1994, and depending on your perspective, the classic period of Seattle’s grunge scene was at its height (after the March release of Soundgarden’s Superunknown) or had hit rock bottom (following the April suicide of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain). That fall and into the winter, three members of major grunge bands — Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready, Alice in Chains lead vocalist Layne Staley, and Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin — holed up with bassist John Baker Saunders to record as the side project Mad Season. Above, released in 1995, would be their only album. It has since become something of a cult classic, enough to warrant this 2-CD + 1-DVD Deluxe Edition.
The first CD begins with a remaster of the original album, and from the start of the leadoff track, “Wake Up,” it’s clear that this wasn’t your ordinary “supergroup.” A long, slow, smoldering, ultimately never-changing bass line tugs at you; not until the 4-minute mark does McCready take a solo. Martin, in his quite personal liner notes for the reissue booklet, explains it this way: “In hindsight, I think Mad Season was one of the heaviest blues bands to ever come out of Seattle.”
Still, you don’t really hear the true blues until Track 5, “Artificial Red.” And contrary to Martin’s generalization, there’s a lot more happening on this album, from the tribal-drum elements of “X-Ray Mind” and “November Hotel” to the macabre campfire trance of “Long Gone Day.” In one corner, you get a ballad with a light touch (“River of Deceit”). In other corners, you get liberal doses of hard rock, whether inspired by Led Zeppelin’s debut (“I’m Above”) or aligned with the modern version being perfected at the time by Soundgarden (“Lifeless Dead,” “I Don’t Know Anything”).
Throughout, Staley’s lyrics speak the mind of a troubled young man who would eventually die from a drug overdose (as would Saunders). Some of his lines are plain and simple, such as “The only direction we flow is down” and “Lord, it’s a storm, and I’m heading to fall.” Others are more artful: “How he’d wished that they would wed / ‘I promise on our love,’ she said / Promises were never kept / Alone on dirty floor he slept.”
That first disc is extended to a nearly 80-minute playing time by the addition of five bonus tracks. “Interlude” may be just an unissued snippet of acoustic guitar from the original sessions, and the cover of John Lennon’s “I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier” may be on loan from the Working Class Hero tribute album (in a new remix that isn’t particularly revelatory). But the other three tracks are ear-openers: The music is from recordings for a second album that was left unfinished, and whereas “Locomotive” shows the band taking one more (vivid) look back at grunge, both “Black Book of Fear” (co-written with R.E.M.’s Peter Buck) and “Slip Away” reveal a rapidly developing maturity.
Meanwhile, because Staley never contributed lyrics or vocals for those three songs, survivors McCready and Martin asked Mark Lanegan to fill the bills last year. (Lanegan, also of Screaming Trees, had guested on Above.) He’s a perfect match for the material, and some of his lyrics effectively echo those of his predecessor. Staley: “My pain is self-chosen.” Lanegan: “Your self-chosen cure is your self-chosen pain.” Staley: “Slow suicide’s no way to go.” Lanegan: “No time to ride on the back of a beast such as suicide.”
Original producer/mixer Brett Eliason has overseen the reissue with McCready and Martin. And thanks to legendary remastering engineer Joe Gastwirt, Above and its bonus tracks have a rousing sound, with a deep resonance to the bass and a natural punch to the drums.
But wait, there’s Moore: Live at the Moore, the 1995 VHS release, now re-edited by director Duncan Sharp, remixed in 5.1, and transferred to this set’s DVD. Also shown: a complete gig from New Year’s Eve 1995, the video for “River of Deceit,” and other visual extras. And the compilation’s second CD offers, for the first time, the entire Moore concert, with all 11 tracks in their proper set-list order.
Martha Reeves & the Vandellas: 50th Anniversary, The Singles Collection, 1962–1972
Archival release (Motown Select)
On the first two discs of this three-CD set, you get every A- and B-side. Among the classics: “Heat Wave,” “Dancing in the Street,” “Nowhere to Run,” and “Jimmy Mack.” You can also hear “Jimmy” in Spanish and in a previously unreleased stereo version. Nearly 30 more unissued recordings fill the third disc, including six tracks originally helmed by Deke Richards, one of Motown’s influential writer/producers. He mixed his tracks exclusively for this set before his death last month.
The Four Tops: 50th Anniversary, The Singles Collection, 1964–1972
Archival release (Motown Select)
Photo courtesy of Michael Ochs Archives/Universal
The Four Tops get the same three-CD treatment as Martha’s crew above. Just some of the 16 No. 1 pop and R&B hits: “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “I Can’t Help Myself,” “It’s the Same Old Song,” “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” and “Standing in the Shadows of Love.” Among the rarities: versions of “I Can’t Help Myself,” “Reach Out,” and “Walk Away Renée” in Italian (!) and 14 U.K.-only singles, which include five duets with the Supremes and one track, “Simple Game,” with support from the Moody Blues.
Albert King: Born Under a Bad Sign
Photo by Phil Bray
It was Albert King’s first album for Stax, backed by Booker T. and the MGs (and the Memphis Horns). Almost immediately upon release in 1967, it became a modern electric-blues landmark. This Stax Remasters Deluxe Edition includes previously unreleased alternate takes of four of the album’s signature songs: “The Hunter,” “Crosscut Saw,” “Personal Manager,” and the title track. The fifth bonus is an untitled instrumental. Music historian Bill Dahl contributes new liner notes. King, who died in 1992 at the age of 69, will be posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 18.
Rilo Kiley: RKives
Archival release (Little Record Company)
With Jenny Lewis out on her own, Rilo Kiley is no more. Hence, this dip into the vault, with 16 rarities that include B-sides and nine previously unreleased songs. Available in four formats: CD, vinyl (two LPs), FLAC, and 320-kbps MP3. There’s also a Deluxe Bundle, curated personally by the band, in which you get the CD, the double LP, a download, various physical extras (tote bag, poster, button, stickers), and a cassette tape with exclusive demos.
Chet Atkins & Les Paul: Guitar Monsters
Reissue (Real Gone)
This 1978 follow-up to 1976’s Grammy-winning Chester & Lester has guitarists Chet Atkins and Les Paul sparring on numbers like “Over the Rainbow,” “Lazy River,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Meditation.” No bonus tracks, but Chris Morris provides new liner notes, and the album has been freshly remastered for its first stand-alone appearance on CD.
Also out today from Real Gone, together on one disc: 1966’s The Pops Goes Country and 1968’s The Pops Goes West, from Arthur Fiedler & the Boston Pops, with Atkins joining them on Country.