January 2022 Rock Record Reviews

The Replacements: Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash (Deluxe Edition)
Rhino R2 659038 (4CD/1LP). 2021. Peter Jesperson, Paul Westerberg, Steve Fjelstad, prods./various engs.
Performance *****
Sonics *** (Intentionally Lo-Fi)

The Replacements have a great rock'n'roll Formation Story: Four rough-and-tumble Minneapolis kids, in and out of trouble, bitten by the music bug and headed for either stardom or dead ends. They chose to go all in and make this debut album, which is still heating the blood 4 decades on.

Front-man Paul Westerberg sums up the spirit of Sorry, Ma ... in band biographer Bob Mehr's booklet essay. Years of "playing with guys in garages, basements ... (and at) keggers" finally 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. 'Cause that's where I was coming from."

That plus a work ethic got the band to a recording contract, and the arduous process of honing the band's raucous persona into a first album is well-documented in this set. Included are early demos, studio outtakes, and a flaming-fast 1981 live set recorded at Minneapolis's 7th Street Entry. The LP, subtitled Deliberate Noise, is alternate versions, in the same song sequence as the original album.

Considered a classic in punk and hard-core circles, Sorry, Ma ... has wider appeal as a hard-rock touchstone. The young band absorbed the new punk rock out of London and NYC and integrated it with older heavy metal, hard rock, and rockabilly. The breadth of music digested and regurgitated as original material is remarkable considering their ages: Westerberg and Bob Stinson were 20, Mars 19, and Tommy Stinson 14.

The Replacements went in different directions over a long career, but the work ethic and "desperation" never left them.—Tom Fine


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, engs.
Performance ****
Sonics ****

The Specials were a shot of musical adrenalin in the late '70s, the first of several UK bands to mix punk and ska, giving rise to the 2 Tone movement, which was named for the record label started up by Specials founder Jerry Dammers.

Social commentary was always an important element to this music, so this album of cover versions of protest songs is hardly out of character. But there are some surprises.

For a band rooted in the British experience, it's surprising and telling that most of the songs are American. Also, the ska part has gone away: The music is a mix of pop, folk, soul, and jazz. Then there's the decision to avoid some obvious candidate songs. True, there's a Staple Singers ("Freedom Highway") and a Bob Marley song ("Get Up, Stand Up"). But there are also fabulous takes on 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 having quality fellow vocalists. Lynval Golding has been by Hall's side from the start. His deep vocals, with a Jamaican lilt, have always complemented Hall's deadpan delivery. His lead on an up-tempo version of Big Bill Broonzy's "Black, Brown and White" is one of the album's highlights. A new addition is Hannah Hu, an exciting young singer who duets with Hall on Talking Heads' "Listening Wind."

The record left me cool at first, but then it grew on me, my initial doubts allayed. The stripped-down production helped, reminding me of Fun Boy Three, the band formed in 1981 by three former Specials members. If an album like this had been too polished, it would have sounded fake. It doesn't. Protest Songs is authentic, relevant, and fun.—Phil Brett