This late-80s Boston band barely managed to break beyond college radio adoration, but with their catalog back in print alongside this disc of previously unreleased demos, live-in-the-studio performances and unused session tracks, it’s a great opportunity for reappraisal. The group’s 1987 debut, Tiny Days, brought critical praise for its country-tinged Boston rock, while the less scruffy 1989 follow-up, Moons of Jupiter, garnered mixed reactions to its tighter productions and pop sounds. Whether or not the band was actively striving for broader success, this disc of material spanning the years before and after their formal releases demonstrates the many influences and broad aspirations that make them something of a Boston-based analog of NRBQ.
The band’s earliest tracks don’t evidence the overt country twang that would come shortly. “The Burning Cross” has a droning undertow that suggests Boston contemporaries like the Neats, as well as West Coast compatriots in the Paisley Underground. As the band developed, Stona Fitch’s banjo became a dominant flavor as songwriter and vocalist Charlie Chesterman even took to folk-country crooning for “Lover’s Day.” The group’s growing in interest in country sounds was inventively mated to surf harmonies for Leon Payne’s “Lost Highway,” and covers of Larry Williams’ “Slow Down” and Buddy Holly’s “Well… All Right” are given acoustic-roots twists.
The distance traveled from the garage-psych of 1984’s “The Ghost Psych” and the Beau Brummels’ inspired harmonies of “Tonight” to the horn- and organ-lined Memphis soul of 1989’s “Sweet News” isn’t as long as it might seem, and the path feels entirely organic. Though the latter sessions don’t exhibit the youthful abandon of the band’s earlier work, the barn-burning “I Knew That You Would,” powered by Burns Stanfield’s boogie-woogie piano, offers a return to the Boston club rock in which Scruffy steeped, and the closing “The Good Goodbye” shows off how seamlessly the band could combing its influences.
For a group with a small official catalog, their cache of odds & sods is impressive. Even better, Pete Weiss’ mastering of the disparate tape sources has sewn things together into a surprisingly consistent experience. The jump from 1985 (tracks 5-14) to 1989 and beyond (track 15 onward) leaves Scruffy’s commercial era unmined; perhaps nothing of value existed on tape, or the anthologizers felt the previously released recordings spoke best. Either way, what’s here neatly bookends Sony’s recent anthology, and offers a great spin for both Scruffy die-hards and those just seeking very fine 1980s indie-roots-pop. [©2014 Hyperbolium]