MUSIC REVIEWS

By John B Moore

John Mellencamp
Other People's Stuff
(Island/Republic)

It's easy to see John Mellencamp's latest album as a placeholder of sorts. As the title aptly predicts, "Other People's Stuff" is a collection of covers Mellencamp has recorded, going as far back as 1993's "Human Wheels" sessions. The songs here have all appeared on various albums, soundtracks and compilations over the past couple of decades, so there are no real surprises on this 10-track record; but that doesn't detract from the fact that these are all solid reinterpretations in Mellencamp's trademark, gruff-voiced, relaxed style.

The songs re a mix of Blues staples like "In My Time of Dying," "Stones in My Passway" and Country classics ("Wreck of the Old 97," "Mobile Blue"), but two of the strongest songs here are his take on Stevie Wonder's "I Don't Know Why I Love You" and the powerful Civil Rights anthem, "Eyes on the Prize," performed at the White House in 2010.

While "Other People's Stuff" may not be a brand new Mellencamp, it pulls together a wide collection that have been scattered across Mellencamp's cannon and puts them all together in one place.

Reel Big Fish
Life Sucks… Let's Dance!
(Rock Ridge Music)

Southern California ska punk mainstays have been criticized for essential recording the same album again and again. That slam is a little broad, but even if partially true, at least it's a fun record they keep revisiting.

"Life Sucks...Let's Dance!" is the band's ninth album and first LP in six years and yup, it does sound like a lot of their other work - plenty of horns, goofy, fun songs and lots of shouted choruses - But fuck it; it's still a ridiculously enjoyable 40-or-so minutes.

Songs like the first single, "You Can't Have All of Me," "I Should Know By Now" and "Tongue Tied and Twisted Too" are all vying to become future show staples. There are a couple of filler songs on here that probably should have never left the studio ("Bob Marley's Toe" is as awful as you think it will be), but overall, the band perfected their blend of addictive, not-too-serious third wave ska around the mid-90s and keeps delivering the kind of music their fans have grown to love.

Reel Big Fish clearly aren't breaking any new ground with "Life Sucks...Let's Party!," but to be fair, there are many out there that would be disappointed if they did.

The Posies
Amazing Disgrace [30th Anniversary Re-Issue]
(Omnivore Recordings)

In 1993, The Posies turned in one of the finest power pop records of the decade with "Frosting on the Beater." So, it was almost a given that it's follow-up wouldn't stray too far from that formula. And thankfully it didn't. The 14-track "Amazing Disgrace," was just as accessible as it's predecessor, if a little less optimistic in tone, likely a result of troubles within the band (drummer Mike Musburger and bassist Dave Fox left before the recording of this one), and disagreements with their label at the time.

Omnivore Recordings has just re-issued "Amazing Disgrace," the final in a trio of the band's DGC albums getting the re-issue treatment this year. This two-disc set includes the original record and eight bonus tracks on one disc as well as a bonus CD with an additional 15 tracks, mainly boasting demos and alternate versions of earlier songs.

The album, their last for DGC, is easily one of their best efforts, second only to "Frosting on the Beating." Though there wasn't an obvious hit single in the U.S. from "Amazing Disgrace," the record still managed to become their biggest seller in Europe up to this point. Songs like Throwaway"" and the fantastic "Ontario" compete just as well as most of the tracks off of "Frosting on the Beater," but the album inexplicably didn't pay off as well here as it's predecessor.

This re-issue, just like "Dear 23" and "Frosting on the Beater" serve as a great second chance for people to rediscover these three extraordinary albums from one of the best power pop bands to emerge from the 1990s. And thankfully the band that is just as vital today as when these albums were first released, still touring and releasing new music.

Pale Mara
Pale Mara
(Self-Released)

There is something remarkably soothing about the debut LP from Brooklyn duo Pale Mara. The 10 folk/pop tracks that make up this effort is equal parts Cowboy Junkies and The Band. Pala Mara, comprised of Allison Robinson and Lee Bones, finds the duo weaving sweet male/female harmonies with languid, but hypnotic acoustic guitars and subtle drumming on their eponymous record. The result is 30 minutes of beauty that somehow manages to exist at a time when the world is anything by stress-free and beautiful.

The debut is full of great songs, but among the best are "My Curse with the Canvas," which finds Bones coming off like Harry Nilsson for 2019 and "Only Say It If You Mean It," a track that perfectly showcases Robinson's vocal depth. Pale Mara's is the ideal 30-minute escape from life we could all use right about now.

Leftover Crack
Leftover Leftover Crack: The E-Sides and F-Sides
(Fat Wreck Chords)

It's amazing the once forgotten gems you can find once you do a thorough cleaning. Leftover Crack - one of the most underrated punk bands making a go of it today, have just turned in a rarities collection that cram 30 (30! Counting the minute-long album intro), rare songs - including an instrumental or two - that go back to the band's late- '90s beginnings. The music skips in and out of genres seamlessly from hard core to straight-ahead punk rock. At times goofy, like the hilarious "Muppet Namblin' (we're blessed with two different versions) - sounding like Kermit The Frog morphed with pissed off Kermit, and times flat out great, "Nazi White Trash," this collection perfectly sums up this New York-based collective: loud, fierce, impressively creative and keenly relevant.

The band already has three solid full lengths to their name, but as Leftover Leftover Crack shows, even their orphan tracks deserve proper recognition.

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