Death Of Samantha – If Memory Serves Us Well (St. Valentine Records)

The night before a reunion show has to be a nerve-wracking one, filled with sweaty palms, self-doubt and last minute attempts to remember songs you haven’t played in years. It definitely doesn’t seem like a great time to record an album, but that’s exactly what Cleveland’s Death of Samantha did with If Memory Serves Us Well, laying down eighteen songs from their 1984-1990 back catalogue at a band rehearsal the night before a reunion gig in 2011 – their first show in almost two decades. If the idea of a reunited band releasing a rehearsal recording has you picturing If Memory Serves Us Well as a poorly recorded collection sloppy performances, you couldn’t be further from the truth. In the interest of full disclosure I should mention that I’ve never heard any of these songs in their originally recorded form, so I can’t compare these versions to the originals, but I can, however, tell you that these songs smoke. The band are firmly rooted in the tradition of adventurous Midwestern bands like The Stooges and Pere Ubu, but with their own unique sense of poetry and passion. I can imagine them playing bills with similar-styled contemporaries The Gun Club, Leaving Trains or The Dream Syndicate and easily holding their own. Everything that the band does is great, but I’m most impressed with the guitar interplay of singer John Petkovic and Doug Gillard (both of whom would go on to play with Cobra Verde and Guided By Voices, among others) which is part Keith Richards/Ron Wood drunken bob ‘n’ weave, and part Verlaine/Lloyd’s highly refined cosmic explorations. Liner notes by mega-fans, and people who know their shit, Thurston Moore, Mark Lanegan, Robert Pollard and Byron Coley are just icing on the cake. Now if someone would only reissue the band’s back catalogue…

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