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Review: Mad Season Revisit 90s grunge with Deluxe Reissue of “Above”

BY ALYSSA HOLCOMB

90s grunge super-group Mad Season may have only released one record, but it’s that lone album that brought some of the genre’s best and brightest together to rise “Above” the rest.

The band was comprised of Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, Screaming Trees’ Barrett Martin (drums), as well late members Layne Staley of Alice In Chains (vocals) and Trees’ John Baker Saunders (bass). When McCready met Saunders in rehab, the two joined with Martin to make their own brand of “healing” music. Staley, also struggling with addiction, eventually joined and the band set to recording “Above” in 1994.

 

Now being released as a double CD set featuring ten previously unreleased tracks, the album truly represents a mixing of sounds. Staley’s strangely smooth vocal style brings clear Chains influences into the simple intensity of McCready’s Pearl Jam background. Songs like “I’m Above” really show this influence – it’s only in the chorus where Staley’s voice changes to a harsher, more clipped tone, more akin to Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder.

Yet, songs like “Lifeless Dead” sound like it came straight off of a Chains record, complete with higher backing harmonies and a hard, heavy guitar riff. “I Don’t Know Anything” seems more heavily focused on the Pearl Jam influence, overall harsher and darker.

Obviously all of the bands’ sounds are heavy on every track, but combining the styles made for some different sounding tracks all together. For example, “Wake Up” and “Artificial Red” are slower and more drawn out. “Long Gone Day” and the instrumental “November Hotel” are also more unique, with the former having an acoustic upbeat and the latter opting for straight thrashing minus the vox. “All Alone” is a special case, with a softer instrumental background occasionally peppered with Staley’s spiritual harmonies.

Mark Lanegan photographed by Sam Holden

After the “Interlude,” vocals switch from Staley to Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan (Staley died of a drug overdose in 2002). “Locomotive,” one of the previously unreleased tracks from the band’s unfinished second album with new lyrics and vocals added by Lanegan, masters the perfect combination of hard vocals and hard guitars, easily balanced and sounding like it came straight off the radio in 1995. “Slip Away” is another slow one, sadder and punctuated more with Lanegan’s scratchy vocal gravel.

A series of live tracks are also featured, including a cover of John Lennon’s “I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier” (from 1995′s Working Class Hero, a tribute to John Lennon). A live concert is also featured on the deluxe edition (their “Live At The Moore” performance from Seattle, Washington on April 29, 1995), bringing a rare visual to the re-released sounds.

ROCK104.com is featuring an exclusive radio special on Mad Season and its story, straight from the members themselves. The story of the band’s overall struggle with addiction, as well as the magic behind the music, is told through this hour long special. Although Staley and bassist Saunders have passed, McCready got sober and teamed up with Martin and Lanegan to make the deluxe edition of “Above” and all of its hidden gems available to longtime fans.

Catch the radio special Friday, March 29th at 7PM, Saturday, March 30th at 11AM and 5PM, and Sunday, March 31st at 3PM and 9PM.

Enter to win 1 of 4 copies of the Columbia/Legacy Recordings Deluxe Edition of “Above” before it hits stores on April 2nd. Click HERE, fill out the short entry form, and you could be selected to win a copy of the set free! All winners must be at least 16 years of age and must be able to pick up the CD in person from the ROCK104.com offices located in Gainesville, Florida at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, 1200 Weimer Hall. We are sorry, but prizes cannot be mailed. Deadline for entries is Sunday, March 31st at 11:59 PM.

Watch the Above Deluxe Edition EPK (Electronic Press Kit) HERE: http://vimeo.com/60586756

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