Monthly Archives: June 2019

Begin The Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years, by Robert Dean Lurie

Title: Begin The Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years

Author: Robert Dean Lurie

Publisher: Verse Chorus Press

Publication Date: May 14, 2019

Published by Verse Chorus Press, the 288-page volume is a crucial read that fully captures what made the Athens wonderboys so special in the first place.


There have been numerous books written about Athens-based R.E.M. dating back to the mid-1990s, but few seem as personal as the latest entry from former Athenian Robert Dean Lurie.

The book strength can also, at times, be its biggest weakness. The author, a BLURT contributor who moved to Athens, GA in the ‘90s, in part thanks to its burgeoning music scene, inserts his own narrative into some of the book. But while it can be a little distracting at times, overall, it’s these personal anecdotes and detailed descriptions of living in that college town that bring it alive and allow it to stand out among all of the other R.E.M. bios that came before it.

Another big advantage, along with having the hindsight to be able to look back on the band almost a decade after they dissolved, is that Lurie focuses a bulk of the book on the band’s founding and first few albums. He ends the narrative in 1987, before the band leaves their indie label for Warner Bros on a track that would bring them global stardom. By focusing on the early years, he can home in on what made the band so unique at the time. Through interviews with the band’s college friends, many who knew the members before R.E.M. came together, Lurie is able to piece together a detailed, insightful and thoroughly exhaustive narrative of the band at its founding and slightly before.

Begin The Begin may not be the first book on R.E.M., but it’s a crucial read for anyone looking to understand R.E.M. and how they were able to create such a massive impact on modern American music.

Full disclosure: Blurt editor Fred Mills contributed to the book’s selection of photos.

Kristin Hersh 6/27/19, Atlanta

Dates: June 27, 2019

Location: Terminal West, Atlanta GA

Live at the venerable Terminal West in hot ‘lanta…


Throwing Muses will be performing a few dates later this summer with Kristin Hersh, David Narcizo, and Bernard George in the band (no Tanya Donelly apparently), their first shows in  five years.   The trio has late-August dates in Boston, San Diego and the Pasadena Daydream Festival (curated by The Cure’s Robert Smith).  I caught the alt-rock legend singer-guitarist-songwriter Hersh’s own show at Atlanta’s Terminal West, performing songs from her long solo career and new stuff from her acclaimed new release ‘Possible Dust Clouds’  – Fred Abong was on bass, and Rob Ahlers was on drums and backing vocals.

Check out our shutterbug in Atlanta here:


OVER THE RHINE: Love & Revelation

Album: Love & Revelation

Artist: Over The Rhine

Label: Great Speckled Dog

Release Date: March 15, 2019

The Upshot: There’s no denying that when you stick to what you’re good at, you get very good at it – and that’s just their marriage! Yet, this talented couple have managed to turn real life into a bona fide art form that inspires the spirit as it soothes the heart.


Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist (aka Over The Rhine) are hardly spring chickens at this stage. The Ohio-based couple released their first – Till We Have Faces – back in ’90 (cassette), while Love & Revelation marks their 15th recording. Despite the inevitable road rash and scar tissue one might expect over any 30-year relationship, the duo remains a fresh and largely unpredictable musical force, skilled at communicating their inner states of contentment and mutual respect with each musical outing. That’s some feat.

What had begun as, by their own definition, “post-nuclear, pseudo-alternative, art-tinged folk-pop”, has gathered maturity and insight over time, the two remaining just as hopeful and thoroughly optimistic as they did when they first began so many years ago. Fans of Over The Rhine (OTR) have grown along with each experiment they’ve ever made and seem the better for it, the duo transforming their ‘life as art’ notions into a burgeoning musical family, nestled into their 20+ acre Nowhere Else Farm near Martinsville, Ohio.

Although the eleven tracks contained on Love & Revelation address themes related to the aging process – with topics ranging from grief and loss to managing disappointment and even fatalism – the music manages to transcend any and all darkness, transporting the listener to the joyful, ever-positive state that has its roots in their Ohio home (also the site of their annual Memorial Day festival). It is here, with an earthy appreciation for each colorful strand of calming sunset, each bloom of fresh lilac and every sacred Killdeer egg (guarded by Porter the cattle dog), OTR might sound like some ostentatious social experiment that shouldn’t have happened, let alone survive. Yet it did and it has. And the result is a down-home, creative hotbed of songwriting and fresh musical ideas – as if they grow them out of the good soil itself. With maturity comes wisdom and a weathered perspective. They seem to own the category of ‘melancholy’ – the clouds and overall greyness of the dramatic cover photo seemingly representative of what might be found inside. Yet, just as blues music can prove uplifting, these sturdy originals are as packed with as much optimism as they are with distress.

Both songwriters possess a gift and Bergquist’s otherworldly vocals captivate as they stir the senses. The contribution of this powerful duo’s band – the Band of Sweethearts – cannot be overlooked. Masters of their instruments, their ability to create the atmospherics critical to OTR’s sound is without peer: Jay Bellerose (drums/percussion), Greg Leisz (pedal steel, guitars, mandolin), Jennifer Condos (bass), Patrick Warren (keyboards, piano, orchestrations) and Bradley Meinerding (guitars, mandolin, vocals). The multi-talented Detweiler adds vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, Wurlitzer and electric piano while Bergquist adds acoustic guitar to her robust, authoritative and highly distinctive vocals. The ambience that happens behind her voice only adds to the overall level of enchantment of the band’s sound, taking nothing away from Bergquist’s eloquent sense of expression. And lest this description conjure visions of utter gloom, doom and wet handkerchiefs, exactly the opposite is true. Consider Bergquist’s own “Los Lunas”, which begins with simple acoustic guitar and drums. As Bergquist’s delicate spell is cast, pedal steel further elevates the sad split between an incongruous couple. Detweiler’s piano and Patrick Warren’s soft keyboards underline the somber separation.

Likewise, Bergquist’s mournful tone persists throughout “Given Road” as subtle effects – Bellerose’s masterful percussive touches, Leisz’s weeping pedal steel and Warren’s gentle orchestration all serve to underline the heartache of long-lost love. Before sustained exposure to this much bleakness can become burdensome, the calibre of OTR’s collective songwriting saves the day. The next three compositions are nothing if not stunning examples of exquisite songwriting. Although the Bergquist/Detweiler duet of “Let You Down” somewhat breaks the intimate spell created by Bergquist’s solo efforts, the song touts the strength and dependability of their relationship and, fresh touches like Warren’s B3 and the electric slide of Bradley Meinerding, keep the commitment buoyant, sincerely so, rather than err on the sappy side.

One of the disc’s strongest tracks is the beautiful, co-written “Broken Angels” – a near-perfect song that’s all about healing in a world too big to control. Acoustic guitar and Detweiler’s simpatico piano join the subtle skills of this sensitized band to focus on the sheer beauty of Bergquist’s voice. Likewise, the title track is head-turning – benefitting from Bellerose’s percussive gifts as Bergquist turns up her feminine wiles, injecting a more upbeat groove, revealing another layer of her musical personality. Powerful stuff – built around its distinctive drum sound. Beautiful piano and acoustic guitar set up the beguiling “Making Pictures’ as the band builds a lush backdrop of strings, pedal steel and light orchestration resembling the gentle swells of the sea. The mould is broken somewhat on Detweiler’s own “Betting On The Muse”, his voice tending to cancel out Bergquist’s on this highly personal duet, one that further illuminates their special relationship. Bergquist’s own “Leavin’ Days”, with its love vs. hate struggle, is the lone weak link in the chain – melody-lite, despite the contributions of Leisz and Meinerding’s mandolins. Instantly redeemed, the couple’s “Rocking Chair” has a life all its own – an infectious, ‘electric piano-driven’ ditty that is instantly memorable and enhanced by both electric and acoustic guitar, delivered with a slight country edge by Greg Leisz. Originally tagged a Christian band, “May God Love You (Like You’ve Never Been Loved)”, is the only outward reference to faith and is, nonetheless, a dynamic, yet delicate statement written by Detweiler and sung beautifully by Bergquist, the band treating the very personal sentiments with gentle reverence. If there could be a perfect song to close on – especially in light of such an emotional work-out – it would have to be Detweiler’s achingly beautiful “An American In Belfast”. With keyboards and pedal steel subservient to Detweiler’s deftly-played acoustic guitar – and only a hint of Bergquist’s humming in the background, this is a mere two minutes you’d wish was closer to twenty. Insightful. Revelatory. Ever-hopeful.

Breathtakingly beautiful. Uplifting. Love & Revelation is an articulate and deeply intimate reminder that life is beautiful and, no matter how hard it might seem to get, it’s always worth celebrating – resilience champions over the dark side. Once these songs set their sweet, impassioned hooks, they’ll soon become the perfect complement to everything you do.


R.E.M. – In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 LP

Album: In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003

Artist: R.E.M.

Label: Craft Recordings

Release Date: June 07, 2019


Despite breaking up nearly 10 years ago, there are still few bands from the ‘80s and ‘90s that can still command allegiance from the masses like R.E.M. Sure there are a slew of groups from that era that can brag about cult status, but R.E.M is among the few who have managed to hold on to their core early adopters from their I.R.S. years and bring along an entire generation of new fans when they moved onto the much larger Warner Bros label in 1988. Which brings us to this stellar vinyl reissue of In Time their best of 1988 – 2003 collections.

The set, released less than six months after the band’s Reveal album, covers their time on Warner from 1988’s Green up to this point. The label Craft Recordings, like they have with other R.E.M. vinyl reissues, have done a brilliant job. Released on 180-gram vinyl, they made a limited run on translucent blue – simply stunning. This marks the first time in 15 years this record has been out on vinyl.

The double LP set includes 18 songs, including two from soundtracks (the so-so “All The Right Friends” from Vanilla Sky and the stunning “The Great Beyond” from Man On The Moon) as well as two previously unreleased tracks, “Animal” and “Bad Day”. The records are housed in a deluxe gatefold jacket. Unlike many of the quickly thrown together vinyl re-releases that are almost routine nowadays, In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003, along from being crammed with great songs, is gorgeously designed, befitting a band as important as R.E.M.





Bad Spell 5/31/19, Atlanta

Dates: May 31, 2019

Location: Star Bar, Atlanta GA

Live at the Star Bar, and ready to wield some sonic magic…


When a band like Bad Spell jumps into the fray you kind of assume they are going to kick ass, and in fact they ought to damn well bloody rock because it ain’t the first rodeo for these cats individually, not by a long shot. Brian Malone (guitar) headed up The Forty-Fives, a definitive lights-out garage band. Shane Pringle (guitar, bass) was with the very active Tiger! Tiger! and others. And Pietro Digenarro on drums is a force of nature. They do not disappoint. We caught up with ‘em at Little Five Points’ famed Star Community Bar, where they blasted through material from their kickass new album Don’t Go Out Tonight (Midnight Cruiser Records) — which, incidentally, notched a 4-stars-outta-5 rave review here at BLURT recently. As our reviewer duly noted at the time, “Bad Spell’s energy level kicks the needle into the red, pulling back at just the right times, in order to make the next punch deadlier.” Which ain’t a bad description for their live show, too.