Although I saw Epic Soundtracks play several times in the 80's and 90's backing (among others) his brother Nikki Sudden along with Rowland S Howard and Jeremy Gluck and in These Immortal Souls it wasn't until Troubadour/Easy Action put out the excellent anthology Wild Smile in 2012 that I realized h had put out any solo recordings. So I was more than happy to get the chance to review the new 2 CD re-issue of Rise Above that contains that album and 30 bonus tracks; some of which appeared on Wild Smile and many more that didn't. The album originally came out in 1992 on Rough Trade.
If you're expecting wild, drugged-out rock & roll you may be surprised as this collection is about beautiful music rather than debauchery. Most of it was apparently recorded around the corner from me in Queens Park. Disc One begins with the Rise Above album as it was originally released and thus with Fallen Down: a nice, bruised piano led song about things not quite going right.
Farmers Daughter has some nice tinkly piano work and features an intriguing tale about wanting Emily who was the farmer's daughter. This is far less salacious than Farmer John, The Premiers' song on a similar subject. Ruthless, meanwhile, sounds like late night chill out romantic piano balladry.
Everybody Else Is Wrong has some really nice brass and a bit of a Burt Bacharach feel which is all the more surprising when you realize who's in the band on this album. Yes, sounding nothing like they normally do, there's J Masics on drums and cameos come from Lee Ranaldo, Kim Gordon and Rowland S Howard among others.
I Feel Good is a sad little tune about a lost love. Big Apple Graveyard has some extremely sad violin used very sparingly on it as well as some really cool, building drums and piano. A great song. I Don't Know is full of longing for a love that never really happened, while Meet me On The Beach sounds like a Scott Walker out-take full of echo.
Sad Song is not a Lou Reed cover but sounds more like something off Alex Chilton's Bach's Bottom with Liz Corcoran playing some wonderful violin on it. She Sleeps Alone/Love Fucks You Up is very contemplative piano-led dark heart of the soul ruminative song about the end of a relationship.
Wild Situation is the first song on this double album that sounds like you might expect it too with some really good distorted feedback guitars in the background. It's very cool. She Sleeps Alone closed the original album and it's another sad love song with J Mascis' very restrained drumming helping to hold things together as Epic tells us about how she lives and talks alone and the song builds and builds along with the string section and a very cool trumpet. It's the sort of song I'd expect on a Lee Hazlewood album.
The bonus tracks begin with an outtake, Hole Of A Heart, which is another wonderfully rueful piano ballad; naked and sadly intense. Caroline is a love letter to a woman who has already left from the sound of it. The first alternate take of Fallen Down is a bit more urgent than the album version proper. The outtake of I Don't Know is just a touch sparser but really makes the hopes of another chance seem more possible.
I Wish I Had A Girlfriend was apparently recorded live in the studio with a band and, well, it cooks along like a classic 70's middle of the road love song, even though somehow this has bags more class than that and some real nice brass. Can You Keep A Secret goes full on Val Doonican whistling wistful ballad time.
I Don't Trust A Soul is a very sad and forlorn tune that sounds like it was played with no more than three fingers on the piano for the most part. It's also an earlier version of Love Fucks You Up. The first CD closes with Stack-O-Tracks Part 3 Big Apple Graveyard where the slow gentle drums form a cool counterpoint to the ruminative piano playing before that gorgeous little violin part comes in and disappears a few seconds later before the song really lets loose like it should be the background music to the messy denouement of a thriller. Part 2 was on Wild Smile and I have no idea where part 1 is but I know I want it wherever it may be.
Disc two is titled "Work in Progress" and has the demos (more or less) for all of the album proper. It opens with the piano demo of Fallen Down and seems to have a longer piano solo than on the other versions on the album. Farmer's Daughter is the sort of piano piece that would sound cool being played before or after Temper Temper by John Cale and is almost supper club background music.
Ruthless is backed mainly by the piano and some harmonica which has a real Midnight Cowboy feel to it. It's so wonderfully rueful for the lost love. The demo of everybody Else Is Wrong sounds like he is singing through a muffler or something at times but is baleful and dolorous and quite beautiful.
I Feel Good has vocals that are a bit, well, Richard Ashcroft-esque anthemic but up against a soft gentle piano. It sounds like it could be mixed into a huge great indie anthem quite effectively. Big Apple Graveyard is slowed down as if he's staring out the window at drizzly old West Hampstead rather than the West Side as that piano solo breaks out like it's in some epic over blown film scene. Oh yes, it's rather magnificent. The slow version of I Don't Know does what it says on the tin: slow and telling it like it is.
The instrumental Meet Me On The Beach is all Spaghetti Western soundtrack-type music and very cool indeed. When You're Not Around is just wistful beauty and sad longuers. A similar mood is retained on She Sleeps Alone/Love Fucks You Up and you might need a gallon of red wine to get through CD2. The gentle percussive instrumental of Wild Situation will get you swaying along to it as it goes in and out of time and around the time. The next version of She sleeps Alone features multiple false starts as Epic feels his way into it to get properly downbeat.
Lay in Bed All Day is the prescription when your love goes away and it comes complete with some Roger Whittaker-esque touches. Beatles Song is another cool plea for love with epic singing some of the instrumentation he is obviously picturing going on the completed track. The Epic & Lee version of Caroline's Song has some of the spaciest touches anywhere on this collection while still being a beautiful, slow love song for the love that's already gone.
Meet Me On The Beach demo is sparse and guitar-based which is unusual on this collection. I Feel Good, the fast demo, is well, just that and the most upbeat (well only upbeat) thing on Rise Above and has some cool acoustic guitar. The piano demo of Black hole Girl is as dark as it sounds; really eerie and bleak.
Wild Kingdom Situation demo is slow strummed acoustic guitar balladry. You Still Shine is just nice; stripped back and as bare as Epic's soul in the vocals. The instrumental mix of Fallen Down becomes very filmic and would be a good soundtrack to a travelogue.
On Simple Two Part, Lee Ranaldo actually sounds like Lee Ranaldo but it's still pretty gentle no matter how amped up it might be. The album then closes with a message from Kim Gordon as someone walks across a room on Big Apple Graveyard.
This is another incredible release form Easy Action that should be in every good home. Find out more at: Easy Action Records online