The back story on this release is worth repeating. Guitarist Slim Dunlap joined the The Replacements back in 1987 when the band fired original member Bob Stinson for bad behavior. By then, The Mats were on a major label and bound for success. Except The Mats never did live up to the glory of their early independent label releases; sure, they made some decent tracks and middling albums. They were destined for greatness and settled for good. The Mats broke up in 1991 (or 1993, depending on what source you believe).
Still, Dunlap acquitted himself well with the band. His mates considered him talented and likeable. Dunlap continued to rock afterwards and put out some decent solo material that resembled the music of The Mats. Unfortunately, Dunlap had a stroke in 2012. To raise funds to pay Dunlap’s medical bills, The Replacements had a reunion and released singles and EPs of Dunlap covers with the help of various artists.
This compilation disc features some great performances. Drive-By Trucker Patterson Hood does a plaintive, country-style, half-spoken, half sung take on “Hate This Town” that captures the pathos of the original without being maudlin. Lucinda Williams marches through “Partners in Crime” with a who-gives-a-shit attitude that conveys how one good friend is worth more than all the people in the world. Jeff Tweedy wistfully croons “The Ballad of the Opening Band” with the weariness of the road in his voice and a spark in his heart. These may be the best cuts, but there are lots of other pleasures here by acts including the Young Fresh Fellows, Craig Finn, Steve Earle, John Doe, Frank Black, and others (including the rest of The Replacements).
The narrators of Dunlap’s songs most frequently are life’s losers and backsliders, underdogs who wouldn’t be comfortable anywhere else. They often seem lost and confused by the people and events around them. They play their guitars too loud, piss people off, and veer from intensity to apathy in seconds flat. Sometimes Dunlap seems to reach back to the depravity of Exile on Main Street Rolling Stones for inspiration, while other songs have a sweeter tone that drips singer-songwriter sincerity. As these songs were released as singles, the juxtapositions of tone make sense and suggest the diversity of Dunlap’s creativity.
There’s a bonus disc included of 10 previously unreleased tracks by acts such as The Jayhawks, Soul Asylum, The Young Fresh Fellows, and Peter Holsapple. There is also an instrumental called “Love Lost” by The West Saugerties Ale & Quail Club featuring John Sebastian. As the tune features a harmonica solo, presumably this is the John B. Sebastian of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Lovin’ Spoonful. This seems a strange combination of artists from different eras and styles, but the instrumental and the performance are quite nice. The first disc overwhelms the second in terms of number of tracks (18) and talented artists, but the less flamboyant material serves well as a coda. Dunlap may no longer be able to perform live, but his songs will live on.