Alright anyone who knows me very well at all knows that I'm fanatical about the Replacements. They were (are?) a rock band from Minneapolis that had their hey day back in the mid-80's. They were influential on quite a few alternative, alt-country, and grunge bands that would begin to emerge around 1990 or so. I don't need to go into their past, I've probably done that enough already in other articles. All you need to know is that I love this band.
Last year, Slim Dunlap, who was a guitarist for the last incarnation of the band (replacing the beautiful mess Bob Stinson) had a stroke. A bad one. Being a struggling musician doesn't always afford a person with access to great health insurance (does being anything give you that access though?) and his long hospital stay put his family in a major league financial bind. So, his friends and fans swooped in to lend a hand.
People donated via Pay Pal and that was great, but the real big money help would come in the form of an effort by musicians who had a genuine interest in helping a good man out who was down. Musicians like Steve Earle, Joe Henry, Lucinda Williams, The Minus 5, Tommy Keene, Jakob Dylan, Lucero, The Jayhawks and many others recorded some of Slim's songs and they will be pressed into vinyl 45's and sold at auction on EBay. Following the auctions, they will be released in a more commercial form.
That's not the end of the story though. The story continues with Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson coming together to record a few songs to release on a limited edition EP. That EP included a song submitted by former Replacements drummer Chis Mars (who is also a fantastic and successful artist) and by virtue of having three of the four original band members on the EP, it was easy and non legacy threatening to slap the Replacements name on it. Mars also released a song called "When I Fall Down" (in my opinion it's among his best work as a solo musician) that he made available on the 'net with proceeds going to the Slim fund.
The EP is called "Songs For Slim". I don't really want to review it. It's not as if this is a comeback album in any traditional sense. They knew their loyal fans would want some fresh Replacements music and it was a great thing to do for a friend in need. How good it is really shouldn't matter. Personally, I was instantly drawn to "I'm Not Sayin'" which is a cover of a great Gordon Lightfoot song. Of course, they rock it up, but it's very much a Replacements tune. It has the lyrical twists of a typical Westerberg song and a supped up tempo that was a big part of the Replacements "sound". There is a really solid version of "Lost Highway" which was made famous by Hank Williams, and a fun, loose cover of Slim's "Busted Up". "Everything's Coming Up Roses" (which was Ethel Merman's signature tune) taken from the Broadway musical "Gypsy" in 1959, is on the EP as well and gets the Replacements tongue in cheek, "we'll try anything once" treatment. The other song was submitted by Chris Mars and it's a cover of Slim's "Radio Hook". Chris throws a little juice into the song and steers it away from the ever so slightly psychedelic direction that Slim recorded it with.
It's not "vintage" Replacements by any stretch. They can't reproduce that. Most of us can't find the inspiration or motivation in us that we had when we were teenagers or in our early 20's. Trying to duplicate that would basically reduce them to caricatures and if there is anything that Paul Westerberg probably would like to avoid, it's turning the Replacements into a critical dart board.
I'm more than happy with the effort and I'm likely in the majority of Replacements fans with that feeling. It's good to know that these guys have matured and grown enough to be comfortable settling back into old roles, even if for a short time to help out a friend. It may not seem that way in regards to Chris Mars, but I have to think that would be inaccurate to believe. Mars helped out and even made it in to do some backing vocals when Stinson and Westerberg got together to record a couple of songs for their retrospective disc a few years ago. He also provided the artwork for the "Songs For Slim" EP and apparently may do so for each 45 record that is released, although I'm not positive on that.
The Replacements members all have their places in life now and I'm just happy they saw fit to help out their friend and in doing so, gave me a few new songs to enjoy. By the way, the fans who purchased the Special Limited Edition EP deserve a pat on the back. 250 records raised over $100,000 to help with Slim's medical bills and home care. That's awesome! Now, the EP is being sold on Amazon and through other vendors and even more money can be raised to help out Slim. I've met Slim and got to spend some time listening to him talk about music at an in-store he did in Louisville when he toured with Son Volt. I even got to go on stage (in a drunken stupor) and "play" his guitar at the BBC. Why did I get to do that? Because, I can't play a lick and that's what he wanted!