Feelies fans have long been aware of the strange and delightful parallel universe that is Yung Wu, a band featuring the same members (Glen Mercer, Bill Million, Brenda Sauter, Stan Demeski, and Dave Weckerman) supplemented by Speed the Plow keyboardist John Baumgartner and with the usually shy, quiet Weckerman taking on lead singing and songwriting duties. Released in 1987 on Coyote Records, the album made some waves on college radio before quietly going out of print, which has been its status until this year’s just-passed Record Store Day.
There’s been ample debate on social media regarding the benefits and drawbacks of Record Store Day, with cynics complaining of long lines of opportunists grabbing many of the day’s rare, limited press releases only to turn around and sell online at a quick profit. Sure, indie record store owners still get the benefit of those sales, but the complainants will argue “At what cost?” Meanwhile, well-intentioned artists who make this material available often hear complaints about the inflated post-Record Store Day prices of the online auctions.
Bar-None’s aligning the re-release of Yung Wu’s lone album
Shore Leave to Record Store Day is a kind of counter-argument to the cynics because this is an example of something that will benefit everyone, most importantly, the fans themselves. Making a long out-of-print record available as a regular, as opposed to limited-edition, pressing on RCD sends maybe the strongest possible message that this is a day about supporting the music itself by helping fans gain access to great, rare material while also drawing more bodies into indie record stores.
It doesn’t solve the problem or, no doubt, quiet the complainers, but it certainly answers to a frustration for those of us who believe in supporting independent music and who still enjoy or prefer a physical product. Perhaps more labels will look to their vaults in search of similar worthwhile but out-of-print albums and make them available in future RSDs as broad releases. That will certainly draw more people into the indie stores. And by no means am I arguing that labels should stop creating those limited edition pressings, just that emphasizing releases like this can be just as much a part of the draw.
Pardon if the past couple paragraphs were somewhat tangential to the point of a record review.
Shore Leave is, simply put, a must for fans of the Feelies who don’t already own it. Weckerman possesses an effective singing voice, hardly standard but expressive in a laid back kind of way, and compared to Glen Mercer’s usual whisper singing, Weckerman’s an absolute belter.
Shore Leave is a surprisingly spry and sunny record that clocks in at less than 40 minutes, a winning collection of understated pop songs. Its titular opener is wry and effective, featuring the kind of backward progression that identifies the Feelies’ signature sound but filled out by Baumgartner’s keys. “Spinning” is a jittery, upbeat dance number while “Return to Zion” builds its momentum into an uplifting crescendo of sung harmonies. The three cover songs are adventurous choices, including the rarely heard Rolling Stones B-side “Chile of the Moon” and Neil Young’s “Powderfinger”; most successful, though, is the band’s working of Brian Eno’s “Big Day” which comes across like a lo-fi “Walking on Sunshine”.
Weckerman’s brief, entertaining liner notes offer a history of Yung Wu’s origins as an offshoot of the legendary if under-recorded Trypes. It’s interesting to learn that the now long-standing Feelies lineup first performed on stage under the Yung Wu moniker. Further, Weckerman says that an “80’s-style party atmosphere permeated these sessions”, and that vibe comes through.
To repeat, any Feelies fan who missed this record at the time of its original release should take advantage of this opportunity to add it to their collection. (Oh, and give the rabid collectors and weekend entrepreneurs the first hour of RSD, then take advantage of its many joys).