It feels a little redundant to write a review of Songs for Slim, the new EP from The Replacements, which finally became available for download this week, because long-term Mats fans have been waiting for this album for 23 years (give or take). S0, a) the prospect of getting Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson into the same room together is so momentous it almost doesn’t matter what this EP sounds like and b) it’s for a good cause, as all proceeds from sales of the EP go toward guitarist Slim Dunlap’s medical bills in the wake of a massive stroke last year.
The EP was actually released in January, with 250 copies of special vinyl editions available for auction on Ebay. Those of us without the funds or organizational skills to participate in the auctions– the first numbered copy reportedly went for $10,000– had to wait until the download became available on March 5 (see iTunes, Amazon, etc.). A mass-market vinyl addition will also become available April 12. Additional auctions of albums by other artists covering Dunlap’s songs have been and continue to be available for auction. For details about these auctions, check here.
My initial thought about Songs for Slim was that its primary audience would be the long-term fans and that any listeners who were just becoming acquainted with The Replacements might be better served to explore their early catalog first to find out what the big deal is about this group. But after listening to these five tracks several times this week, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that this EP captures the essesnce of The Replacements quite well. It’s a stripped-down production that has the feel of those early underground bootleg-style recordings from the Minneapolis days– it recalls the eclectic style of Hootenanny more than the slicker production of later albums like Don’t Tell a Soul and All Shook Down.
Four of the five tracks on the EP are covers: Dunlap’s “Busted Up,” Gordon Lightfoot’s “I’m Not Sayin’”, Hank Williams’ “Lost Highway” and, from the Broadway musical Gypsy, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” Westerberg’s vocals and Stinson’s bass are joined on these songs by Kevin Bowe on guitar and Peter Anderson on drums. Chris Mars adds a solo performance of Dunlap’s “Radio Hook Word Hit” and the cover art. The participants’ comments about their participation in the project have been overwhelmingly positive, and the magic is certainly audible enough to keep fans hoping for more to come.
1) Busted Up– Jazzy, bluesy sound from Stinson’s bass riff and Anderson’s drums. Add piano, and you’ve got a solid jam session here, much lower-key. This is not the mania of the early Mats, but the musical interaction sounds genuinely fun.
2) Radio Hook Word Hit– All parts courtesy of Mars, with high tempo and a touch of feedback. This is the track that perhaps best reflects the bands early roots. Even without Westerberg delivering the vocal, the phrasing and delivery reflect his influence.
3) I’m Not Sayin’– I love the way these guys take a Gordon Lightfoot song and make it sound like a Replacements original. Sure, you can listen to this track and feel transported back to 1985, but the sound here– the clang in the guitar chords and the energy in the drums– also reveals why their sound is also timeless.
4) Lost Highway– See above, substitute Hank Williams for Gordon Lightfoot. Hank Williams wasn’t a punk, of course, but he’d approve of the sound of a little mayhem here.
5) Everything’s Coming Up Roses– A smoother sound than the previous three tracks, which provides a nice bookend effect for the whole EP. It’s peppy and cheerful, but also a little sardonic. I think I’d like musical theater much more if more of the performances sounded like this.