January 2022 rock record reviews
Rhino R2 659038 (4CD / 1LP). 2021. Peter Jesperson, Paul Westerberg, Steve Fjelstad, prods./divers engs.
Sonics *** (Intentionally Lo-Fi)
The replacements have a great history of rock’n’roll training: four restless Minneapolis kids, in and out of trouble, bitten by the music bug, and headed for stardom or dead ends. They chose to do everything possible and make this first album, which still warms the blood 4 decades later.
Leader Paul Westerberg sums up the spirit of Sorry, mom … in group biographer Bob Mehr’s essay booklet. Years of “playing with guys in garages, basements … (and in) barrels” eventually led him to brothers Bob (guitar) and Tommy (bass) Stinson and drummer Chris Mars. Westerberg: “It took me a long time to find guys who had no other fucking options in life. I needed desperation. Because that’s where I came from.”
That, added to a work ethic, allowed the band to sign a recording deal, and the arduous process of refining the group’s rowdy personality into a debut album is well documented in this set. Included are the first demos, studio shots and a flamboyant 1981 live set recorded at 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis. The LP, subtitled Deliberate noise, are alternate versions, in the same sequence of songs as the original album.
Considered a classic in punk and hardcore circles, Sorry, mom … has wider appeal as a touchstone of hard rock. The young group absorbed the new punk rock from London and New York and integrated it with older heavy metal, hard rock and rockabilly. The extent of digested and regurgitated music as original material is remarkable considering their age: Westerberg and Bob Stinson were 20, March 19, and Tommy Stinson 14.
The replacements have gone in different directions over a long career, but the work ethic and “desperation” have never left them.Tom good
The specials: Protest songs 1924-2012
Island Records 3840702 (Import LP). 2021. Horace Panter, Lynval Golding, Terry Hall, et al., Prods .; George Murphy, Tim Debney, P.Eng.
The Specials were a dose of musical adrenaline in the late 1970s, the first of several British groups to mix punk and ska, spawning the 2 Tone movement, which was named after the label created by the founder. from Specials, Jerry Dammers.
Social commentary has always been a big part of this music, so this album of cover songs of protest is hardly out of place. But there are a few surprises.
For a band steeped in the British experience, it is surprising and telling that most of the songs are American. In addition, the ska part has disappeared: the music is a mixture of pop, folk, soul and jazz. Then there’s the decision to avoid some obvious candidate songs. That’s right, there’s a Staple Singers (“Freedom Highway”) and a Bob Marley song (“Get Up, Stand Up”). But there are also fabulous versions of Frank Zappa’s “Trouble Every Day” and Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows”, both of which show that while Terry Hall may not have the widest vocal range, he can interpret a song well.
It helps to have quality fellow singers. Lynval Golding has been with Hall from the start. Her deep voice, with a Jamaican twist, always complemented Hall’s impassive delivery. One of the highlights of the album is his lead over a rhythmic version of Big Bill Broonzy’s “Black, Brown and White”. A new addition is Hannah Hu, an exciting young singer who duets with Hall on “Listening Wind” by Talking Heads.
The record left me cool at first, but then it grew inside me, my initial doubts dissipated. The stripped down production helped, reminding me of Fun Boy Three, the group formed in 1981 by three former Specials members. If an album like this had been too polished, it would have sounded wrong. This is not the case. Protest songs is genuine, relevant and fun.Phil brett