Big Country – Driving To Damascus: Deluxe Edition (Cherry Red Records)

In the early ’80s, Big Country was one of a raft of Scottish bands who would take their sound south of the border and could be heard in the charts and clubs, caressing the sound buds of listeners with their Celtic charm. Big Country was perhaps one of the greatest proponents of this, whilst others were to follow the vagaries of fashion, this charm, coupled with singer/songwriter Stuart Adamson, was to record eight albums, before Adamson’s untimely passing in December of 2001. This was their eighth studio album. First released in 1999, after 15 years of recording, you might be forgiven for assuming that this might be a recording of tired tunes and near misses, but is, in reality, a fully engaging recording.

The final album to include the original line-up of Adamson, drummer Mark Brzezicki, bassist Tony Butler and lead guitar of Bruce Watson, is a peach of an album. Like a thirsty man might drain his pint, this album goes down extremely well. Having been familiar with their work during the time Adamson was to offer vocal duties, this might even come close to their breakthrough releases of The Crossing or Steeltown and was recorded at the legendary Rockfield Studios, in Wales. On this re-released set, you will find four CDs and over five hours of content. This not only includes the original album, but sessions the band recorded in Nashville, alternate mixes, and demos, all subtly different from the next. On this album, the band worked with vocalist Eddie Reader on the track that would become a single, ‘Fragile Thing’. Seeing five versions offered, covering both the original album version, one from the Nashville sessions, a demo version, and a ‘Vocal Up Mix’. Ray Davies provides another collaboration on both ’Somebody Else’ and ‘Devil In The Eye’. Again, these come with alternate versions, three in terms of ’Somebody Else’, along with the same for ‘Devil In The Eye’. Tracks of a particular note would have to be ‘Perfect World’ featuring the prowess of Brzezicki’s sticks, just over four minutes of pure magic, played at a frantic pace.

Not content with stopping, as part of the Nashville Sessions, the first disc also hears two of the band’s well-known songs. An absolutely sublime version of ‘Chance’, originally recorded on their debut album and from their third album The Seer, the track ‘Look Away’, is full of that promise from the deep south. The band performed their music with a Celtic charm, not heard those with a C&W feel, but is heard on the tracks ‘This Blood’s For You’, also the case on ‘Fragile Thing’ and is particularly the case on ‘Small Town Big News’.

As for this release, although Driving To Damascus is a very good start, perhaps the quantity of versions is a step too far. That said, some of the 72 tracks available can surprise, even raise a smile. Here I would have to mention the track ‘Birmingham’, a tale sung of the city, more likely in Alabama, as Adamson sings, “I’m stuck with a girl like you down in Birmingham/In the stormy weather/I’m just watching for the clouds to blow/For the rains to go/Feels like forever,” with references to dollar bills, the blues, as well as Alabama, a pretty big clue I would guess, that surely it’s not the UK’s fair city of Birmingham. And then in ‘Sun and My Shadow‘ where Adamson makes reference to his central character’s pending alcoholism, perhaps exorcising some ghosts, which sadly didn’t work. This album has many more great tracks, but in terms of this expanded edition, it seemed as if there were too many repeats, like watching television in the 1980s. Stuart, we miss you, man.


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