by Paul Lee
From the fruitful, darkened spawning ground of Seattle comes Mad Season and their debut, Above (Columbia). With Layne Staley’s (Alice in Chains) smooth vocals and Mike McCready’s (Pearl Jam) wailing Les Paul, could they go wrong? Add to these super Seattlites bassist John Baker Saunders and drummer/upright bassist/marimba player and cellist Barrett Martin and you have a hip, skilled group. Even Screaming Trees’ Mark Lannegan contributes vocals and songwriting.
The darkness you might expect from Mad Season is definitely there. But, overall, the heaviness is traded in for more somber and melodic songs. “Wake Up,” and a tune entitled, “Long Gone Day,” (with a smooth sax to boot) use string bass and marimbas to take you to a smoky jazz club with a bunch of drunk and drugged patrons. “Artificial Red” takes the tour to a Chicago blues club with those same damned patrons you heard in the other place! Mad Season even gets a bit Zeppelinesque with “Lifeless Dead.”
Fear not, dedicated Pearl in Chains fans, that unmistakable Seattle intensity and bleakness saturates Above in plenty o’ ways. “River of Deceit” has that old, familiar Pearl spirit and sound to it. The Alice boys could definitely get away with playing “I Don’t Know Anything” and not have their fans batting any eyelids. The psychedelic-depressive groove is all around. Check out the over-indulgent, seven minute instrumental jam of “November Hotel.” McCready wails a wee bit too long on this one.
There’s nothing innovative or risky with Above. It seems as though the guys in Mad Season wanted to pay some respects to their more traditional influences. But, in spite of the self-indulgence, Above is a hip time warp into some older, less twisted musical times. I still won’t listen to any more Pearl Jam than I have to, and Alice In Chain is still a more original band than either PJ or Mad Season. Staley does have some great vocal chords, I just hope he isn’t getting any delusions of grandeur. Don’t miss the ugly cover art that Staley himself created, I hope he isn’t taking that Perry Farrell trip in reverse.