Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Replacements: Daring For Slim


In 1984, about three years after their first record, news of The Replacements rippled out from Minneapolis. Let It Be was their third album and I read enough about it somewhere that I was convinced to buy it sound unheard. The magnificent I Will Dare is the first cut and before it was over I was hooked. Let It Be occupied the turntable for a whole semester, only occasionally replaced by This Is Spinal Tap. In fact, my roommate Andy played Let It Be so much when I went on vacation that the vinyl didn't sound right anymore and he had to get me another copy. We had never heard anything like it - shambolic yet delicate, punk yet pretty, perfectly crafted songs alternating with pure chaos. This was diamond in the rough stuff and there were some heavy carats waiting to be exposed for all the world to hear.

With each new record I was ever more convinced that The Replacements were going to be HUGE, like REM big. That never quite happened - excessive drinking tends to get in the way of world domination. Nevertheless, they released many good records before imploding in 1990. Chief songwriter Paul Westerberg has carried on, as iconoclastic as ever and constantly taking a stand against too much roughness being polished away. One of my favorite things by him was from a few years ago and called 49:00 - 49 minutes of cheap cover songs, balls out rockers and beautiful ballads, all running into and over each other in an aural collage. It's a work of art and he sold it on Amazon for 49 cents for about a month.

In February 2012, Slim Dunlap, the lead guitarist from the band's second phase, suffered a massive stroke that left him in need of round the clock care for the rest of his life. So Westerberg did what you do in rock & roll when a situation like this crops up: you get the band back together (sort of) and raise some money. It's a testament to the legendary status of The Replacements that an eBay auction of the initial release from the Songs For Slim project raised over $100,000 for Slim and his family.

I did my part to drive up the auction bids but couldn't go the distance and ended up buying it from Amazon. Consisting of five songs, the EP is a bit of a hodgepodge and doesn't quite represent a reconciliation of the surviving and active members of the band. Westerberg appears on four of the songs, along with original bassist Tommy Stinson (who's been all over the map, including a time in Guns N' Roses), while drummer Chris Mars ( now a successful painter) only shows up on a solo track, a cover of one of Slim's own songs.

Overall it's never less then a heartfelt affair and there's a lot of fun to be had. The opening cut, a delightful take on Slim's own Busted Up, is the most fully realized and Westerberg sounds in fine form presiding over the louche Bo Diddley beat. He and Stinson also bash through Gordon Lightfoot's I'm Not Sayin', Leon Payne's Lost Highway (made famous by Hank Williams), and Everything's Coming Up Roses from the musical Gypsy. Slim's Radio Hook Word Hit is catchy and streamlined in Mars's hands and, along with Busted Up, has renewed my interest in Slim's solo work.

The love and affection come through loud and clear and one can only imagine how all this sounded to Slim and his family in his time of need. The project is continuing with further auctions and exclusive recordings - get in on it.

Here's Unsatisfied, a stunner from Let It Be, and Busted Up.



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