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Screaming Trees - Dust,
This review is from: Dust (Audio CD)
Screaming Trees album, Dust, could have been an iconic Seattle grunge album. It could have seen them mentioned by more than just die hard fans in the same breath as bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. But the band didn't tour the album extensively, and as a result it's something you may more likely stumble upon by chance if searching for the more famous acts of the early-mid nineties like the previously mentioned 'big three'.
Pounding opener `Halo of Ashses' sets the standard of the album, the melody lead by eastern flavoured guitar parts but powered along by Barrett Martin's relentless drumming. Second is `All I Know', possibly the most famous track on the album, played live on Jools Holland's 'Later...' show at the time of release in 1996, with one Josh Homme on rhythm guitar. (Homme went on to work extensively with Trees' vocalist Mark Lanegan in Queens of the Stone Age). `All I Know' is the archetypal grunge song, with the lighter, emptier verses supplemented by soaring choruses and excellent guitar work from Gary Lee Conner. On third track `Look at You', Lanegan's vocals are softer than his usual gruff, low end growl, and you begin to see that although not blessed with a voice like Eddie Vedder or Layne Stayley, he has to be one of the most distinctive, versatile and believable vocalists of his generation. `Dying Days' is an uplifting song, complete with 3 part harmonies driving the choruses and a brilliant guitar solo from Pearl Jam's Mike McCready, it's a song that, like the album as a whole, isn't quite as dark as you might expect from your average grunge band.
`Make My Mind' is driven by Lanegan's Vocals, backed by the rest of the band, and is another song from the lighter side of Screaming Trees, but also again illustrating what a musical chemistry the 4 of them had, be it live or on record. `Sworn and Broken' is a stripped down track in the verses, picking up in the choruses, with ghostly backing vocals and a string section in support. It's a track I find you need to be in the mood to listen to, but when you are it pulls you in, before hitting you with a keyboard solo from out of nowhere! `Witness' is one of the best tracks on the album, the stand out performer being stickman Barrett Martin who in the outro shows some brutal yet intricate skills. The man was a brilliant drummer. `Traveler' sees Lanegan sounding at his most vunerable, with stripped back guitars and string parts that sound like they were taken straight from a gramophone, it's a an atmospheric, Led Zeppelin-esque homage to life's journeys and trappings. Penultimate song `Dime Western' has a haunting guitar part that coupled with Lanegan's double tracked vocals and keyboards from another world, giving a detached, almost sinister atmosphere.
Closer `Gospel Plow' is the Trees' take on the traditional biblical folk song, that starts off very basic, and you almost wonder "Is this it?" until the band kicks in and the duelling lead guitars backed by a rock solid rhythm section bring the curtains down a brilliant body of work, from one of many superb bands from the Seattle grunge era.
I once read an article on the band, and the writer said "If Screaming Trees were better looking they might have been called Pearl Jam", and there really is no better way to describe them. Screaming Trees were not the popular kids, they were somewhere between the nerds and the jocks, leaving the limelight to those that seemed to want it more, which is a shame, as musically they stand toe to toe with the very best of their genre. After Dust, Screaming Trees disbanded following an extended hiatus. Without intending to label grunge as a morbid genre, I must point out that all four members are still alive and kicking, giving me reason to wait and hope for the day they one day reunite, and show the world why they are rated by purists and simply those who know of them, as one of the great acts to come out of Seattle at the end of the 80's.