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Big Country: Out Beyond The River - The Compulsion Years Anthology

I must admit that by the time that Scot-rockers Big Country released their 1993 album The Buffalo Skinners I’d pretty much written them off. The band had ridden their - to me at the time - twee sounding e-bow laden rock to huge chart success in the 80s and as a hard rock and heavy metal man, their whole schtick just felt a little ridiculous. Following those years the band’s popularity dipped as they struggled to find a balance between repeating the formula over and over and finding something new to say, and as chart success slipped away, so it seemed the band themselves would soon follow. Hence, when a Big Country loving friend of mine implored me to give the band’s then latest album, The Buffalo Skinners, a whirl, to say I was sceptical would be an understatement.

Boom, bang and wallop, as the insta-memorable “Alone” boiled out of the speakers on my first spin of the album and large helpings of humble pie were being lined up in front of me. Just who the hell were this hard rocking outfit that I was listening to? Not that bagpipe sounding guitar lot surely? Suddenly hitting home like a mighty guitar totting pair, Bruce Watson and Stuart Adamson were grinding out big punchy riffs that hit low and deep while somehow finding a solo howl that still connected the band’s past. “Long Way Home” repeated the process but with an even bigger smack, while the re-recorded “We’re Not In Kansas”, which featured on the band’s previous album “No Place Like Home” suddenly became an anthem of epic proportions. Realising that they might just have previously lost their way (something alluded to in the interesting liner notes of this 6 disc box set featuring contributions from the band) “Ships” was also re-worked and with guitars added to the more atmospheric original, possibly even more effectively.

By this stage in the band’s career, drummer Mark Brzezicki had moved on (temporarily) and been replaced by session man extraordinaire Simon Phillips. The Toto percussionist actually doing his best here to sound like his predecessor, something that to me works in this album’s favour - as he joined bassist Tony Butler in powering along what is undoubtedly Big Country’s hardest hitting set of studio songs. In fact, from start to finish - and with the possible exception of the aforementioned, more refined, “Ships” - The Buffalo Skinners rocks and then some and whether basking in the shimmer of a “Pink Marshmallow Moon”, lapping up “Seven Waves”, or heading out to “Chester’s Farm” this self produced album never once dropped in standard. I’d go as far as to suggest that in the end The Buffalo Skinners was and remains Big Country’s finest moment.

As this box set’s title alludes, there’s also much more on offer here, with this reissuing of the 2005 remaster of the album replete with the 4 bonus tracks it contained, now joined by the excellent ‘B Sides, Bonus Tracks & Rarities’ disc where a selection of truly inspirational cover versions prove a real joy. Handling, amongst others, classics as respected and varied as “Rockin’ In The Free World” (Neil Young), “Paranoid” (Black Sabbath), “Cracked Actor” (David Bowie), “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” (Blue Oyster Cult) and “Woodstock” (Joni Mitchell) should have been utter folly but I can’t lie, I’ve loved each and every one! Factor in some alternate and radio mixes, and some instrumental demos and this disc also proves a cracking listen.

In truth, a full disc of drum machine led demos on disc 3 will prove more of a fan only experience and while hearing the early evolution of the tracks is an interesting experience, for me at least this disc will certainly receive the least attention. Thankfully, that’s not something I can say for the final three discs, with 4 and 5 being a 26 song live set from Glasgow’s Barrowland Ballroom from December 1993, by which time Brzezicki was back on drums and the band were in unequivocally fine form. Opening the show for themselves, the evening began with an acoustic set where the likes of “13 Valleys” and “Harvest Home” were reinterpreted in fine style, as Adamson proved what an engaging, easy stage presence he possessed. However, it’s the fully electrified main set that steals the show, Buffalo tracks, “We’re Not In Kansas”, “What Are You Working For” and “Alone” nestling in nicely with classic fare - which I have grown to hugely appreciate over the years - like “Look Away”, “Steeltown” and “Fields Of Fire”. First released in ’94, this extended version of Live Without The Aid Of A Safety Net is the same as the 1995 expanded release, however, with the addition of the 15 track DVD version as the final disc in this 6CD box, this set really says it all about the The Compulsion Years, even if the visuals on the DVD don’t really quite stand up to modern standards.

Sometimes you have to hold your hands up and admit you were wrong and I was totally off beam on Big Country. The Buffalo Skinners was where I started to put that wrong right and if anything, hindsight merely confirms what an excellent and under appreciated album it truly is.


Track Listing
DISC ONE: CD THE BUFFALO SKINNERS (2005 ISSUE)
1. ALONE
2. SEVEN WAVES
3. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING FOR
4. THE ONE I LOVE
5. LONG WAY HOME
6. THE SELLING OF AMERICA
7. WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS
8. SHIPS
9. ALL GO TOGETHER
10. WINDING WIND
11. PINK MARSHMALLOW MOON
12. CHESTER’S FARM
13. THE ONE I LOVE (US MIX)
14. NEVER TAKE YOUR PLACE
15. EASTWORLD
16. BUFFALO SKINNERS (DEMO)


DISC TWO: CD B-SIDES, BONUS TRACKS & RARITIES
1. ROCKIN’ IN THE FREE WORLD
2. WOODSTOCK
3. OH WELL
4. (DON’T FEAR) THE REAPER
5. BUFFALO SKINNERS
6. CRACKED ACTOR
7. PARANOID
8. SHIPS (RADIO EDIT)
9. ALONE (RADIO EDIT)
10. WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS (US ALTERNATE MIX)
11. THE ONE I LOVE (DAVE THOENER MIX)
12. I AM A SMALL REPUBLIC
13. DRAGGING MY NAME (AUDIOCRAFT DEMO)
14. SEVEN WAVES (INSTRUMENTAL DEMO)
15. EASTWORLD (INSTRUMENTAL DEMO)
16. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING FOR (INSTRUMENTAL DEMO)


DISC THREE: CD THE BUFFALO SKINNERS DEMOS
1. ALONE (DEMO)
2. SEVEN WAVES (DEMO)
3. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING FOR (AUDIOCRAFT DEMO)
4. THE ONE I LOVE (DEMO)
5. LONG WAY HOME (DEMO)
6. THE SELLING OF AMERICA (DEMO)
7. WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS (MONITOR MIX)
8. SHIPS (MONITOR MIX)
9. ALL GO TOGETHER (DEMO)
10. WINDING WIND (DEMO)
11. PINK MARSHMALLOW MOON (DEMO)
12. CHESTER’S FARM (AUDIOCRAFT DEMO)
13. EASTWORLD (DEMO)
14. ROCKIN’ IN THE FREE WORLD (MONITOR MIX)


DISC FOUR: CD WITHOUT THE AID OF A SAFETY NET: LIVE 29/12/93, PART 1
1. INTRODUCTION
2. HARVEST HOME (ACOUSTIC)
3. PEACE IN OUR TIME (ACOUSTIC)
4. JUST A SHADOW (ACOUSTIC)
5. 13 VALLEYS (ACOUSTIC)
6. WINTER SKY (ACOUSTIC)
7. THE STORM (ACOUSTIC)
8. CHANCE (ACOUSTIC)
9. TRACKS OF MY TEARS (ACOUSTIC)
10. ROCKIN’ IN THE FREE WORLD (ACOUSTIC)
11. ALL GO TOGETHER
12. WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS
13. LOOK AWAY
14. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING FOR
15. STEELTOWN


DISC FIVE: CD WITHOUT THE AID OF A SAFETY NET: LIVE 29/12/93, PART 2
1. STUART AND THE AUDIENCE
2. SHIPS
3. WONDERLAND
4. LONG WAY HOME
5. ALONE
6. IN A BIG COUNTRY
7. THE AUDIENCE (ENCORE)
8. LOST PATROL
9. (HEY HEY MY MY) OUT OF THE BLUE (INTO THE BLACK)
10. FIELDS OF FIRE


DISC SIX: DVD WITHOUT THE AID OF A SAFETY NET: THE VIDEO
1. INTRODUCTION / HARVEST HOME (ACOUSTIC)
2. PEACE IN OUR TIME (ACOUSTIC)
3. 13 VALLEYS (ACOUSTIC)
4. THE STORM (ACOUSTIC)
5. CHANCE (ACOUSTIC)
6. LOOK AWAY
7. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING FOR
8. STEELTOWN
9. STUART AND THE AUDIENCE
10. SHIPS
11. WONDERLAND
12. LONG WAY HOME
13. ALONE
14. IN A BIG COUNTRY
15. LOST PATROL
16. ALONE (ORIGINAL PROMO VIDEO)
17. SHIPS (ORIGINAL PROMO VIDEO)

Added: October 3rd 2020
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Score:
Related Link: The Compulsion Years @ Cherry Red
Hits: 259
Language: english

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