in performance: rosanne cash

rosanne cash. photo by clay patrick mcbride.

rosanne cash. photo by clay patrick mcbride.

“We love you, Rosanne,” shouted a zealous fan last night at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond.

On the receiving end of the adoration was Rosanne Cash. Rather than offering immediate reciprocation (it eventually came), the Americana songstress pondered before replying.

“Well,” she said, “I can be difficult.”

Be that as it may, what was offered during a 2 ½ program, which included a very unexpected intermission, was a cordial travelogue through the South courtesy of Cash’s Grammy winning 2014 album The River & The Thread and assorted delicacies from a career that stretches back well over three decades.

The material from The River & The Thread was presented in bulk at the beginning of the concert with the intention of running sequentially, as on the album. Aided by an expert five man band led by her husband and longtime guitarist/collaborator John Leventhal, Cash offered songs full of Southern inspiration that wasn’t always overt.

The opening A Feather’s Not a Bird was a Zen-like reflection where the open highway led to more than just a physical destination while Modern Blue stretched clear to Europe and back before making its Southern rounds.

Other Southern ruminations were more literal but not necessarily obvious, like a love song to the pioneering Memphis roots music radio station WDIA (50,000 Watts) and a beautifully rendered Civil War themed saga of romance and spiritualism (When the Master Calls the Roll).

Throughout The River & The Thread set were songs of love, family, faith, the earth, the Depression and numerous shades of the blues all delivered by Cash with a clarity and confidence that bordered on the serene and a band that generously colored the plentiful nuances of the melodies Leventhal penned for the songs.

But as richly devoted to the South as The River & The Thread was, it took a guest appearance by Mother Nature to bring the journey to a standstill. Six songs in, a tornado warning was sounded, causing a 20 minute relocation of the audience to the EKU Center’s ground floor level. The interruption was handled efficiently, calmly and professionally by the venue’s staff. A half hour later, Cash was back onstage offering a loose fitting cover of Heartaches by the Number before The River & The Thread music resumed.

A few older favorites concluded the evening, including Cash’s early ‘80s country hit Seven Year Ache and a lively update of father Johnny Cash’s Tennessee Flat Top Box that let Leventhal and bandmate Kevin Barry loose on guitar.

The evening’s true heartbreaker was saved for last with an encore reading of 500 Miles, one of four tunes played from Cash’s 2009 album of country covers, The List. A sentimental quagmire for singers of less finesse, the song’s sense of separation seemed far greater than its title suggested. But with Cash’s dignified singing, the feel was far more intimate yet, ultimately, just as devastating.

in performance: the fairfield four

The Fairfield Four. From left: Levert Allison, Bobbye Sherrell, Larrice Byrd Sr. and Joe Thompson.

The Fairfield Four. From left: Levert Allison, Bobbye Sherrell, Larrice Byrd Sr. and Joe Thompson.

The only hint of anything that even approached a put-on during the a capella revival the Fairfield Four presented earlier tonight at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church came when Levert Allison feigned the fading drive of a wind-up toy. It took fellow tenor Bobbye Sherrell to simulate a visual wind-up that brought his singing mate back to speed to tackle the hollers and moans of an almost defiant Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around.

It was an innocent but telling bit of playacting. But if you thought for a second the jubilant energy that has driven scores of lineups of this veteran gospel group since 1921 was expiring, the joke was on you.

For close to 90 minutes, the current Fairfield incarnation – Allison, Sherrell, baritone Larrice Byrd and 80 year old bass singer Joe Thompson – summoned a gospel parade that was as tireless in its gusto as it was unwavering in its spiritual solemnity.

The focus fell on songs, both traditional and contemporary, from Still Rockin’ My Soul, the first album by this lineup. The quartet offered seven of the record’s 11 tunes beginning with the welcoming Come On in This House. Led by Sherrill, it established a simple and effective sound pattern that dressed the Fairfield’s booming vocal blend with only one item of accompaniment – the percussive acceleration of their own handclaps.

The only pronounced departure from that game plan came during the traditional I Love the Lord, He Heard Me Cry, which was delivered like an incantation first with a lone wail from Allison and through a powerful vocal call-and-response with Sherrell. Spiritual? Without question, but it was also deliciously ghostly.

On the other hand, the encore of Four and Twenty Elders (from 1997’s I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray) made the impending end of days seem almost festive with harmonies that, like much of the evening’s repertoire, drew clear lineage from gospel to secular traditions of soul, pop and especially doo-wop.

The Good Shepherd setting was a huge plus, too. While the amplified sound mix was often too boomey and harsh, the church’s intimacy and regal architecture nicely enhanced a gospel vocal charge that was ceaselessly fresh, timeless and spiritually persuasive.

rolling on the river

rosanne cash.

rosanne cash.

At the heart of Rosanne Cash’s Grammy winning 2014 album The River & The Thread sits a Civil War themed narrative titled When the Master Calls the Roll.

While the tune is as epically romantic as anything Cash has written in a recording career that stretches back nearly four decades and as Southern accented as the other 10 original works making up The River & The Thread, it is also a wildly expansive family snapshot. It draws on inspiration from Cash’s children for the song’s construction, her ancestry for its characters, her husband (producer, arranger and guitarist John Leventhal) for its music and even her ex-husband (veteran country/Americana troubadour Rodney Crowell) for its recording.

“My son was doing a project on the Civil War and I showed him a picture of our ancestor William Cash on the civil war database,” Cash said via email last week. “My daughter Chelsea wrote a great Civil War song and I loved it and wanted to write one myself. I found Mary Ann Cash in my family history – 20 years old at the beginning of the war. It was all very compelling.

“John wrote this gorgeous melody that seemed to be in the tradition of those narrative folk ballads, so I asked Rodney to re-write the lyrics he had already written for the melody as a story about my ancestors. It was a powerful, almost overwhelming experience to write the song. The characters were alive.”

Family, of course, plays an almost unavoidable role in Cash’s personal and professional history. The eldest daughter of Johnny Cash, she has devoted her career to establishing a remarkable songwriting voice of her own. Though a champion of Nashville initially, she long ago cut ties with commercial country music for recordings of powerful personal reflection that included 1990’s Interiors, 1993’s The Wheel and 1996’s severely underrated 10 Song Demo.

Her father’s shadow was never far from Cash’s side, however. She addressed their relationship directly on 2006’s Black Cadillac and devoted a follow-up covers album, 2009’s The List, to compositions the elder Cash deemed “essential country songs.”

In a way, her father was a catalyst for The River & The Thread, as well. After assisting in fund-raising for Arkansas State University’s purchase and restoration of Johnny Cash’s childhood home, she and Leventhal journeyed throughout the South and gathered snapshots and inspirations for what would become her first album of new songs since Black Cadillac.

Among those she contacted along the way was Marshall Grant, the bassist for her father’s early Tennessee Two band. His relationship with wife Etta formed the foundation for Etta’s Tune, one of the most poignantly romantic songs on The River & The Thread.

“They don’t figure just metaphorically in Etta’s Tune,” Cash said. “It’s fairly documentary – the house on Nakomis Ave. in Memphis, the collection of artifacts from Marshall’s years on the road.

“But it wasn’t a reconnection. I’d stayed in touch with them my whole life and Marshall called me every six or eight weeks in the few years before he died to talk about the old days and go over all his memories. That’s why I said (in the song) ‘don’t stare into the past.’”

Leventhal again designed a delicate musical fabric to support Cash’s lyrics on the tune. While he has served as a vital contributor to his wife’s recordings (mostly as a producer) and concert performances (as a guitarist) over the last two decades, The River & The Thread is a project where the two are on equal standing. Cash penned nearly all of the lyrics while Leventhal wrote, produced and arranged the music.

“This was a total collaboration,” she said of the resulting recording. “We are good at very different things and brought our best selves to work. His great gifts in arrangement and melody writing really serve my lyrics and vice versa. I’m lucky to have found the perfect collaborator and get to sleep with him as well. For twenty years.”

That brings us to the here and now. With the The River & The Thread now 15 months old, Cash is facing a milestone event next month – her 60th birthday. But that serves to underscore the greatest strength of her newer music – an emotional and narrative maturity that can only be attained through life experience.

“Not a sensitive subject,” she said of her impending birthday. “It’s a matter of public record, so no way I can avoid it.

“No, I couldn’t have written these songs at 30. Life shows up in your writing and in your voice. Observation is keener, bittersweet becomes an overriding sentiment at times, awareness that time is limited, losses accumulate. They all become urgent topics.

My actual process is much the same, however – writing in spurts, lots of rumination.

“I feel …settled, but still very curious.”
Rosanne Cash performs at 7:30 p.m. April 25 at the EKU Center for the Arts, 1 Hall Drive in Richmond. Tickets: $31.50-$59. Call (859) 622-7469 or go to ekucenter.com.

critic’s pick 271: dwight yoakam, ‘second hand heart’

dwight yoakam“I’ll buy you a ticket to the big time,” beckons Dwight Yoakam near the conclusion of his new Second Hand Heart album. “Might need a loan, but that ain’t nothin’ new.”

How very typical. With a mile high heart and sense of reason that is almost morosely honest, Yoakam again asserts himself as one of the last great hopes of contemporary country music. Now, just how ready a Nashville marketplace obsessed with odes to beer, beaches and pickups will be for Second Hand Heart is a different story.

On his second album since re-signing with Reprise Records, the label that co-piloted Yoakam’s career during the ’80s and ‘90s, the Kentucky born, California reared country stylist rocks out with a lean, live sounding set that could have been cut in 1969 instead 2015. Eight of Second Hand Heart’s 10 songs, in fact, are premium blasts of electricity that favor the almighty power chord. It’s like listening to early’70s Elvis cross-referenced with The Who.

“You ought to record this just for kicks,” Yoakam barks into the microphone as the diabolically fun Liar gathers its propulsive wits and rips out of the starting gate. The resulting music, ushered in by howls of delight and a power pop charge weirdly reminiscent of The Monkees is a pure electric hullabaloo. But on She, the darker Byrds-meets-Led Zeppelin reflection Believe, Second Hand Heart’s title tune and the album-opening In Another World, Yoakam honors the guitar riff for a feel both anthemic and immediate.

The show stealer among this mayhem is the record’s lone cover tune, a version of the well worn country roots staple Man of Constant Sorrow refurbished with a heavy dose of cowpunk spunk. The arrangement owes more to Jason and the Scorchers via Chuck Berry than, say, Ralph Stanley. But the rootsy drive of Yoakam’s singing – a mischievous, modern slant on a traditional mountain tenor – allows for a country authenticity that makes the garage rock backdrop glisten.

Second Hand Heart slows only for Dreams of Clay, a mid-tempo mood piece that recalls both the twang of Yoakam’s hit ’80s cover of Honky Tonk Man and the guitar jangle of his ‘90s hit cover of Suspicious Minds, and the orchestral sweep of V’s of Birds, the only tune on the album that tips its hat a touch too deeply to sentimentalism.

Admittedly, there is almost nothing here for country radio to latch onto. Second Hand Heart is too playful and rustic in the way it hotwires country tradition for today’s Nashville to care. But, to be blunt, the record is also too smart. Three decades into the game, Yoakam remains the most daring country ambassador since Merle Haggard. Second Hand Heart is earnest, vital and exquisitely honest proof.

in performance: wrest

jack wright of wrest.

jack wright of wrest.

It seemed strangely fitting that the final word at last night’s performance from the free jazz trio Wrest at the Bryan Ave. performance space formerly occupied by The Bazaar should come from the streets.

After two spacious, set-long improvisations that often sounded like distinct yet complimentary monologues, veteran Eastern Pennsylvania improviser Jack Wright started to wind down the evening with patient but puncturing jabs on alto saxophone that triggered guttural sounds more indicative of a tenor. Having initiated numerous squall-like effects and clarion call rings earlier in the set, his final alto run was like an exhale, an approachable coda to a performance loaded with dissonant immediacy.

Then you heard it. With the door to the now-nameless venue open, the quiet of a spring Saturday evening was interrupted by an automobile that plowed down North Limestone. The trio – completed by percussionist Ben Bennett and bassist Evan Lipson – held the   concert’s gradual disassembly as the car roared with an even longer fade into the night. It was a finale as unexpected as the rest of the performance.

In the first of six recently announced programs to be presented by the Outside the Spotlights Series and WRFL-FM over the next two months, Wrest offered what could best be described as purposeful abstraction. Nothing from the stage simulated even a fractured groove or rhythm with all three players shifting between stunning tone and animalistic expressions seemingly intent on working against the instruments’ inherent voices.

Lipson attached clothes pins to his strings and slapped his acoustic bass with a drumstick, but would also create a quiet, punctuated richness when playing under his bandmates. Bennett sat on the floor with a series of small drum heads, what appeared to be a bodhran and pair of bricklaying trowels used as cymbals. There was also a tin can with a latex glove stretched as a lid that he blew into for sounds that oddly harmonized with Wright’s more caustic playing.

Wright anchored the performance on alto and soprano saxophones. While just as adventuresome as his co-horts (he used his leg to muffle a few alto blasts and, briefly played the soprano against the stage floor), Wright largely avoided expected free jazz turns of volume, intensity and speed. He instead luxuriated in all the discoveries around him, seemingly intent on enjoying the pace and purpose of this journey into bedlam.

record store day 2015

cd central's most honored employee, zena the wonder dog, prepares for record store day.

cd central’s most honored employee, zena the wonder dog, prepares for record store day. herald-leader staff photo by mark cornelison.

Eight years ago, the initiation of Record Store Day seemed like a last gasp promotion to save a dying industry. With the music industry in a tailspan resulting from digital downloading of music, retail outlets selling compact discs or any other form of recorded music began to disappear. Suddenly, the neighborhood record store – once an epicenter of sorts for rabid audiophiles to mull over new releases, rediscover forgotten classics and exchange views with like minded enthusiasts – seemed headed for extinction.

The premise of Record Store Day was simple and effective – to promote independent record stores by having artists big and small issue products, primarily vinyl recordings, exclusive for sale that day. Sometimes those treats would be as simple as a two-sided, two song 7” record of previously issued music. In other instances, it might be an album or CD-length concert recording never heard before that would disappear again after Record Store Day passed. In recent years, Iron & Wine, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Devo and Govt. Mule have indulged in the latter practice.

Then the artists got directly involved with performances and in-store appearances. My Morning Jacket, the Kentucky HeadHunters and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are among the acts that have stopped by vanguard Lexington record store CD Central over the years. On a national scale, artists as diverse as Metallica, Paul McCartney, Neko Case, Tom Waits and Steve Earle have been vocal supporters of Record Store Day.

Today, Record Store Day hits again. Over 20 stores throughout Kentucky and close to 1,000 nationally will be participating. Again, the list of artists issuing exclusive vinyl recordings is extensive and stylistically far-reaching. They include Ryan Adams, Asleep at the Wheel, Courtney Barnett, The Black Keys, David Bowie, Junior Brown, Buena Vista Social Club, George Clinton, The Decemberists, Bob Dylan, Brian Eno, The Flaming Lips, Foo Fighters, Jethro Tull, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Robert Earl Keen, The Mavericks, Father John Misty, Mumford & Sons, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Phish, Robert Plant, John Prine, Sun Ra, Steve Reich, The Replacements, Simple Minds, Todd Snider, Bruce Springsteen, Chris Stapleton, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, U2, Vampire Weekend, The Waterboys, Brian Wilson, Cassandra Wilson, Wu-Tang Clan and The Zombies – and many others. Not all stores will carry all the available product.

Three Lexington locales – CD Central, Sami’s Music/The Album and Pop’s Resale – will be celebrating Record Store Day. CD Central will again be turning the day into a mini-festival with an afternoon of free live local music. The store, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in addition to Record Store Day, will present performances by Ancient Warfare, Doc Feldman and the Infernal Method and The Footsteps. DJs from WRFL-FM will be spinning records, as well.

For more info on the national initiative on Record Store Day, go to recordstoreday.com.

in performance: california guitar trio/montreal guitar trio

montreal guitar trio: glenn levesque, marc morin and sebastien dufour.

montreal guitar trio: glenn levesque, marc morin and sebastien dufour.

If you were to judge last night’s perfectly wondrous joint performance from the California Guitar Trio and the Montreal Guitar Trio at Natasha’s by its first set, you would swear each group hailed from opposing universes of style and performance temperament. The beauty of such as an estimation, though, was that it turned out to be at least partly correct.

The first set was where each trio played separately. The MGT, which was making its Lexington debut, opted for a physical and percussive command that veered off into world music accents of flamenco drive, Latin lyricism and Eastern European fancy that culminated with the raga-like drama and texture of Garam Masala.

california guitar trio : hideyo moriya, paul richards and bert lams.

california guitar trio : hideyo moriya, paul richards and bert lams.

The CGT, a near-annual visitor to local venues for over a decade, again appeared relaxed and unassuming but used its five-song introduction last night to sail effortlessly through surf, Bach, originals rich with compositional finesse and its now-popular mash up of the cowboy classic Ghost Riders in the Sky with The Doors’ epic swansong hit Riders on the Storm, aptly dubbed Ghost Riders on the Storm. The seemingly disparate melodies meshed as readily as the medley’s title.

The latter piece seemed to preview the game plan of the second set, where the two trios played as a sextet. The differences in technique were spelled out in the combined group’s very design.

CGT members Paul Richards, Bert Lams and Hideyo Moriya all stuck exclusively to acoustic guitars while the MGT players frequently switched to electric bass and accordion (Marc Morin), charango (Sebastien Dufour) and mandolin (Glenn Levesque). The combination transformed the high-spirited Breizh Tango into a Greek dance, Penguin Café Orchestra’s Perpetuum Mobile into a minimalist meditation and Radiohead’s Weird Fishes into a folk-prog séance that left artists and audience with a few beats of glorious silence at its conclusion before applause erupted.

The show closing treatment of Ennio Morricone’s theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly even went so far as to combine arrangements the trios have recorded on their own – one studied and introspective, the other more openly buoyant. It was a blissful union of two guitar groups united in senses of playfulness and discovery.

two trios are better than one

The California and Montreal Guitar Trios: Marc Morin, Hideyo Moriya, Sebastien Dufour, Paul Richards, Glen Levesque, Bert Lams. Photo by Pierre Larue.

The California and Montreal Guitar Trios: Marc Morin, Hideyo Moriya, Sebastien Dufour, Paul Richards, Glen Levesque, Bert Lams. Photo by Pierre Larue.

What can be more striking than a trio of virtuoso guitar players busting stylistic boundaries from tune to tune in performance? You guessed it – two trios of like minded thrillseekers pursuing parallel musical missions while remaining distinct.

Such a game plan sits at the heart of the perhaps unlikely alliance of the California Guitar Trio and the Montreal Guitar Trio that will perform Thursday at Natasha’s.

The California Guitar Trio, which has been visiting Lexington for over a decade, brings together acoustic players of three nationalities – Paul Richards (American), Bert Lams (Belgian) and Hideyo Moriya (Japanese) – that studied extensively in England with King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp. Unassuming in its stage demeanor, the trio juggles classical, prog, surf, jazz, original works and more within its repertoire.

The Montreal Guitar Trio, which makes its Lexington debut with the Thursday concert, is as outward in its presentation as the CGT is reserved. All three – Marc Morin, Sebastien Dufour and Glenn Levesque – are French Canadians with strong classical backgrounds that, on recent albums, have reached out to tunes by modern rock vet Radiohead, tango giant Astor Piazzolla and fellow Canadian troupe Rush to intersperse with its own compositions.

A chance meeting at an Oregon conference led to a quick friendship as well as a part-time partnership that celebrated the trios’ stylistic similarities as well as often dramatically different approaches to the guitar.

“The differences, firstly, are in the guitars we use,” Richards said by phone from Los Angeles. “The California Guitar Trio plays steel string acoustic guitars while the Montreal Guitar Trio plays nylon string classical guitars, so the fundamental approach is quite different. The sound is very different.

“During the first half of the show, each group plays separately so people get to hear what the Montreal Guitar Trio sounds like on their own and also the California Guitar Trio for those people who haven’t heard us before. Then we play the second half of the show together. It’s important for people to hear the difference in the sound and the repertoire.”

The MGT’s Dufour agreed that differences in the guitars the trios play emphasize not only a difference in technique but how those techniques have led the groups to different stylistic terrains.

“Nylon string guitars also bring us to the flamenco music,” he said by phone from Montreal. “There are a lot of strumming techniques and rhythmic patterns that you find in Spanish and Latina music that have really driven the MGT. That’s something CGT has explored a little bit but not as much.

“The California guys have their repertoire from the progressive rock and the music they studied with Robert Fripp, whose influence is very obvious and present in their music. They have a kind of atmospheric approach to the music. We have more of Latina energy to the music. So when we bring the two things together, it seems to really expand the spectrum of what guitars can do in a normal ensemble. That’s what makes it so interesting to play together in this project.”

Another curiously complimentary aspect to this alliance centers around the on-and-offstage personalities that distinguish the trios.

“The Montreal guys are very wild, passionate French Canadians,” Richards said. “You can see that in the way they perform. Burt, Hideyo and I are pretty mellow. There is not much joking around, not much flashiness going on. They are really high energy players.”

“It’s a balance,” Dufour said. “The three of us in MGT are very energetic guys and the guys from California are really Zen. I think that’s why we’re able to stick together. It’s kind of a ying and yang. They’re really calm people. We’re talking all the time. They bring us a good vibe and we bring them a good balance. We like that.”

California Guitar Trio and Montreal Guitar Trio perform at 9 p.m. April 16 at Natasha’s Bistro. 112 Esplanade. Tickets: $20. Call (859) 259-2754 or go to www.beetnik.com

critic’s pick 270: the replacements, ‘the complete studio recordings 1981-1990′

the replacementsFeel like holding an entire rock ‘n’ roll era in your hands? Then grab hold of The Complete Studio Albums 1981-1990, which chronicles the entire recording history of Minneapolis upstarts The Replacements.

Born during the final crest of the punk revolution and a cultural shift that turned the pop landscape of the time into synthesized mush, The Replacements were the black sheep of the ‘80s. Led by the coarse, restless songs of Paul Westerberg, the band was an unknowing and perhaps unwilling architect of a movement that helped shaped indie rock as it exists today.

Such a legacy came at a price, though. There were fallouts along the way. Some were personal splits and casualties within the band, other centered around an eventual commercial breakthrough that bordered on heresy to the punk faithful that first championed the band.

Released in conjunction with a series of semi-reunion shows spearheaded by Westerberg and founding bassist Tommy Stinson, The Complete Studio Albums is a no-frills box set that gathers the eight recordings The Replacements plowed out in a 10 year span.

1981’s Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash (highlighted by the giddy yet caustic Shiftless When Idle) and 1982’s ultra raw Stink (an EP that bashes through eight songs in 15 minutes) define the band’s punk roots and garage rock sensibility. But it was 1983’s Hootenanny that centralized a boozy charge through nay-saying anthems like Color Me Impressed and the performance immediacy of guitarist Bob Stinson, Tommy’s older brother.

That set the stage for what were arguably The Replacements’ two strongest albums, 1984’s Let It Be and 1985’s Tim. The music retreated from a purely punk stance for power pop gems like Unsatisfied (from Let It Be) and Here Comes a Regular (the closing tune on Tim) that compromised none of Westerberg’s poetically disheveled outcast narratives.

The firing of Bob Stinson (who died in 1995) trimmed the band to a trio for 1987’s Pleased to Meet Me, an album full of wonderful surprises (the jazzy Nightclub Jitters) and familiar punk-pop drive (Alex Chilton). 1989’s Don’t Tell a Soul then cemented Westerberg’s more streamlined maturity as a writer and enlisted guitarist Slim Dunlap, a tempering, good-natured personality to compliment the band’s modestly retiring new sound. Punk die-hards hated it even though it remains The Replacements’ most fully realized and enduring album.

Mars left and was replaced prior on 1990’s fractured swan song record All Shook Down, the closest thing the band did to an incidental record, by Steve Foley (who died in 2008). The Replacements called it a day in 1991.

Now that Westerberg and Tommy Stinson have at least temporarily reassembled the band for a new generation, we have eight reminders, all packed together, of how The Replacements put a glorious hurt on the ‘80s.

cd central turns 20

steve baron at cd central. photo by herald-leader staff photographer mark cornelison.

steve baron at cd central. photo by herald-leader staff photographer mark cornelison.

Feel like holding an entire rock ‘n’ roll era in your hands? Then grab hold of The Complete Studio Albums 1981-1990, which chronicles the entire recording history of Minneapolis upstarts The Replacements.

Born during the final crest of the punk revolution and a cultural shift that turned the pop landscape of the time into synthesized mush, The Replacements were the black sheep of the ‘80s. Led by the coarse, restless songs of Paul Westerberg, the band was an unknowing and perhaps unwilling architect of a movement that helped shaped indie rock as it exists today.

Such a legacy came at a price, though. There were fallouts along the way. Some were personal splits and casualties within the band, other centered around an eventual commercial breakthrough that bordered on heresy to the punk faithful that first championed the band.

Released in conjunction with a series of semi-reunion shows spearheaded by Westerberg and founding bassist Tommy Stinson, The Complete Studio Albums is a no-frills box set that gathers the eight recordings The Replacements plowed out in a 10 year span.

1981’s Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash (highlighted by the giddy yet caustic Shiftless When Idle) and 1982’s ultra raw Stink (an EP that bashes through eight songs in 15 minutes) define the band’s punk roots and garage rock sensibility. But it was 1983’s Hootenanny that centralized a boozy charge through nay-saying anthems like Color Me Impressed and the performance immediacy of guitarist Bob Stinson, Tommy’s older brother.

That set the stage for what were arguably The Replacements’ two strongest albums, 1984’s Let It Be and 1985’s Tim. The music retreated from a purely punk stance for power pop gems like Unsatisfied (from Let It Be) and Here Comes a Regular (the closing tune on Tim) that compromised none of Westerberg’s poetically disheveled outcast narratives.

The firing of Bob Stinson (who died in 1995) trimmed the band to a trio for 1987’s Pleased to Meet Me, an album full of wonderful surprises (the jazzy Nightclub Jitters) and familiar punk-pop drive (Alex Chilton). 1989’s Don’t Tell a Soul then cemented Westerberg’s more streamlined maturity as a writer and enlisted guitarist Slim Dunlap, a tempering, good-natured personality to compliment the band’s modestly retiring new sound. Punk die-hards hated it even though it remains The Replacements’ most fully realized and enduring album.

Mars left and was replaced prior on 1990’s fractured swan song record All Shook Down, the closest thing the band did to an incidental record, by Steve Foley (who died in 2008). The Replacements called it a day in 1991.

Now that Westerberg and Tommy Stinson have at least temporarily reassembled the band for a new generation, we have eight reminders, all packed together, of how The Replacements put a glorious hurt on the ‘80s.

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