Reviewer Dr. Wesley Britton: Dr. Britton is the author of four non-fiction books on espionage in literature and the media. Starting in fall 2015, his new six-book science fiction series, The Beta-Earth Chronicles, debuted via BearManor Media. For seven years, he was co-host of online radio’s Dave White Presents where he contributed interviews with a host of entertainment insiders. Before his retirement in 2016, Dr. Britton taught English at Harrisburg Area Community College. Learn more about Dr. Britton at his WEBSITE
Musician: Scruffy the Cat
Audio CD (September 16, 2014)
Label: Omnivore Recordings
I have to admit I've never heard any of the original Scruffy the Cat releases from Relativity Records that, apparently, earned considerable critical favor throughout the latter half of the '80s. Reportedly, should you be interested in their official catalogue, this August Sony Music made 38 tracks available on Time Never Forgets: The Anthology as a download at various venues.
So when I listened to The Good Goodbye, a collection of unreleased material including 23 demos, outtakes, and live recordings, I was rather confused regarding many of the comparisons to other performers like Elvis Costello posted online. Scruffy the Cat has been described as "roots rock" and a precursor to the alt country genre. That's not what I heard. While the band hailed from Boston, they sound, to me, more like they might have served as a decent warm-up band for West Coast groups like The Grateful Dead or the second generation Byrds back in the days of the Fillmore and the Avalon Ballroom.
Scruffy the Cat was Charlie Chesterman (guitar, harmonica, very plaintive vocals), Stephen Fredette (lead guitar, vocals), Mac Paul Stanfield (bass), Randall
Lee Gibson IV (drums), Stona Fitch (electric banjo, mandolin, accordion, keyboards) and Burns Stanfield (keyboards 1987-90). Judging from the tracks on The Good Goodbye, these capable instrumentalists provided laid-back folk/rock support for Chesterman's quirky songs. (For the record, Chesterman died last year of cancer.)
In fact, the term that might best fit the group would be Psych folk, a label given to New York's Holy Modal Rounders, a '60s outfit that perhaps is unintentionally evoked in Scruffy songs like "Everything." Speaking of the '60s, I was reminded of another Beantown outfit of the era, the country/rock Ultimate Spinach.
There's also echoes of Boston's Jonathan Richmon, partly because of Chesterman's wistful singing as well as the often oddball lyrics. The name of the ban itself is a signal of the humor in the verses, along with song titles like "Big Fat Monkey's Hat." At one point, Chesterman advises us not to be afraid of small animals, and in "Tiger Tiger," Chesterman asked that tiger what he's supposed to do with him.
Twice we get a hint of "roots rock" when the group covers Larry Williams' "Slow Down" and Buddy Holly's "Well All Right." But Scruffy doesn't really rock out until live numbers like "Red Light" and "The Doctor Song." In a few tracks, the group is joined by a horn section as in "I Knew You Would." But you got to wait 15 songs before such energy kicks in.
In the main, The Good Goodbye is for Scruffy the Cat completists or those who would like to hear Scruffy music they haven't experienced before. I doubt it's a good introduction for those who haven't previously heard, or heard of, this band. I suggest rooting around online and checking out some samples and then decide if you want to dive deeper into Scruffy the Cat. Meow.
Follow Here To Purchase Good Goodbye: Unreleased Recordings 1984-1990