Thursday, 18 October 2012

JOE STRUMMER & THE MESCALEROS – ALBUM REVIEWS


My girlfriend likes to tell people that I know everything about music, to which I smile and shake my head and secretly hope that nobody asks me to tell them the names of all the Rolling Stones albums or quote lyrics to songs by the Smiths (to be fair, I can’t stand the Smiths but that’s a different story). The thing is, I’m no good with facts or figures and I don’t like the approach to music that some people have where they just have to have ‘classic’ albums by ‘seminal’ artists in their collection to make it worthwhile. I’d rather stumble across great music in my own time and that’s exactly what’s happened with your man Joe Strummer. Now, of course I knew who he was and all about the Clash but I’ve never taken the time to seek out his other work so I was more than a bit chuffed when two 10 year anniversary remastered Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros albums flopped on to my doormat.

Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - Global A Go-Go
Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros – Global A Go-Go (Remastered) – Hellcat Records

First up was ‘Global A Go-Go’ which is full of treats, delights and surprises. Kicking off with the stripped-down folksiness of ‘Johnny Appleseed’, you suspect Arcade Fire may have listened to more than a little Strummer before they launched their assault on the musical world. Title track, ‘Global A Go-Go’, lilts with a reggae beat, swirling guitars and the many voices of Joe Strummer before breaking in to an African rhythm infused chorus overlaid with multi-instrumentation and a sense of joyous inclusivity. This album is a great example of World Music in the truest sense of the phrase as performed by a musician who has travelled to the four corners of the globe to select the best ingredients – a bit like Lloyd Grossman but without the inexplicable accent. Titles like ‘Bhindi Bhagee’, ‘Shaktar Donetsk’ and ‘Mondo Bongo’ confirm the albums international feel and cement Strummer’s reputation as a musical innovator. Here is a man who was the driving force behind one of the world’s greatest and most politically virile punk bands but who was also intelligent to recognise that each culture has its own musical heritage to pass on stories, to protest against injustice and to get people dancing. As an example, ‘At The Border, Guy’ starts off like a piano lead 90s dance tune straight outta Manchester before incorporating relexad West Indian rhythms and West Coast American organs. But most impressively, it’s the 17 minute opus of ‘Minstrel Boy’ that ends the album that is the most mind blowing experience in terms of coming out of the mind of a man largely known form writing sub 3 minute punk blasters. ‘Minstrel Boy’ starts off as a wistful, Celtic lament full of fiddles and military drums before building in to the kind of crescendo you would expect at the end of a large scale musical production for the Olympic opening ceremony or some other similar one-off event. ‘Global A Go-Go’ is the musical memoir of a musician and music fan who has travelled, seen, heard and embraced the music that our messed up world has to offer and should be on the curriculum for all music departments the length and breadth of the country - or at least free to download for everyone under the age of 16 as an educational tool.

Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - Streetcore
Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros – Streetcore (Remastered) – Hellcat Records

‘Streetcore’ shows a more direct connection between Strummer’s newer work and his more widely known output with the Clash. Opener ‘Coma Girl’ is a bonafide singalong hit with a crowd pleasing chorus whilst ‘Get Down Moses’ sees Strummer in full blown preacher mode mixing lilting dub beats with swathes of organ and some seriously soulful horns. ‘Long Shadow’ is pure Dylan and ‘Arms Aloft’ is a wondrous homage to the highs and lows of touring featuring the beautifully British lyric “May I remind you of that scene, we were arms aloft in Aberdeen”. Strummer has always been fascinated with all kinds of music and on his version of Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ he pays tribute to the powerful storytelling abilities of music – although it is slightly odd listening to a middle class white man singing a song about the Black slave trade. It kinda works though. For me, the stand out track is the winding, meandering ‘Midnight Jam’ which starts off like a WWII broadcast telling the world that this music is coming straight out of London, London Calling indeed, and all the multicultural joy contained therein. It’s not so much that this is the best song on the album but more that it clearly shows off Strummer’s love of being a musician and the satisfaction he gets from simply creating and performing music with a group of like minded people for a anyone willing to listen.

The live bonus tracks at the end of this collection are just that, a real bonus. Versions of ‘Rudi, A Message To You’, ‘Blitzkreig Bop’ and ‘Yalla, Yalla’ all go to show what a consummate performer, entertainer and storyteller Strummer was. Whether they are his words or someone else’s, this man knows how to weave a tale and enthral an audience. The really telling sign that this is a good album though is that it’s been stuck in my car stereo for weeks as I can’t bring myself to take it out to sit down and write about it. Discovering Strummer’s latter day output has been a real treat and I hope the late, great man is resting in noise. Lots of lovely, eclectic noise in that great jam session in the sky.

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