The Dream Syndicate
What Can I Say? No Regrets… Out Of The Grey + Live, Demos & Outtakes
Fire Records 
Ask someone if they know the band Dream Syndicate, and if they were around back in the early 80’s you’ll likely hear something about the Steve Wynn fronted group with the female bass player, Kendra Smith, and their debut album, The Days of Wine and Roses, or maybe, like me, they were introduced to that version of the band when the opened mid-western dates for U2 on the “War” tour in ’83. But that line-up dissolved shortly after that tour, and Wynn soldiered on until 1989 with original drummer Dennis Duck, Mark Walton on bass, and second guitarist Paul B. Cutler. Wynn continued as a singer/songwriter solo artist, and with numerous groups, and then reformed The Dream Syndicate in 2012, replacing Cutler with guitarist Jason Victor.
In 1986, The Dream Syndicate released Out of the Grey, and it didn’t fair all that well commercially in a music market that had R&B and new wave dominating the pop charts, while hair metal had taken over rock radio. The band that had been compared in its early days to a cross between The Velvet Underground and Neil Young’s Crazy Horse, was hurt by bad mastering, which left the sound with inferior low end, and the drums and lead vocals recorded as if in a large echo-y arena. For this new re-issue, the album has been remastered to recover the song’s punch and depth and several songs from that year that were released separately. There’s a second bonus disc offers up a live album recorded in an intimate club setting in 1985, including many of these songs and previous hits, and the third disc is a collection of demos, and a. bunch of quick covers recorded in the studio and a couple stray live tracks.
With the improved audio, the attention moves where it should be, on Wynn’s songwriting and the band’s solid delivery. Cutler’s guitar’s cut a forceful swagger through the bold rocker “50 in a 25 Zone,” “Slide Away” embraced more of a jangly tone for Wynn as his pop/rock best, and the more bombastic “Boston” salutes the city when it hosted Van Morrison in the mid-60’s. “Now I Ride Alone” mixes the band’s darker rock instincts with a feel for bit of a country rock beat, while “Dying Embers” mixes that jangly guitar feel with the psychedelia of the 60’s. The 17 track album (the last 5 were added on the 1997 CD re-release) includes three covers from the classic rock of the previous decade, and two of them really work. Their take on Eric Clapton’s “Let It Rain” really emphasizes the hook’s framing power chords, which drives home what a great hook it has, Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde joins Wynn on lead vocal harmonies. The band’s cover of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl” speeds up the beat, and the faster punchier chords suggest a bit of the punk influence, and it gives the song some of the punch it’s missed. It’s hard to tell if they expect the cover of Alice Cooper’s “Ballad of Dwight Fry,” as Wynn’s voice never really does the vocal justice, the throw in less than a minute of “Shake Your Hips,” the Slim Harpo song which is served up with a ZZ Top feel in the guitars. They include one more by Wynn, then close the album with a rendition of “The Lonely Bull” the Sol Lake melody that had been an instrumental hit for Herb Albert, the guitars handling the sweeter and more Western tones nicely.
The live album gives us a chance to hear what the band was capable of, playing live for an audience without the pretense or the alterations that can happened in the heightened self-consciousness of the studio. You really get a sense for the power of this band when basic barroom rockers extend to longer jams, like “Dancing Blind” and “Blood Money” when they let the guitar player go out for a run. Of course, you also get a bit too much idle stage banter, Wynn pretending to do the “Ghostbusters” theme, or trying to graceful disabuse a request to play a song by Bryan Adams. Most of the songs here come from the studio album they would release the following year, they play a couple things from the debut including a stellar version of the title track, “The Days of Wine and Roses,” and their 1984 release, “Medicine Show,” including the final set closing 14-minute psychedelic jam on “John Coltrane Stereo Blues,” which pushes several boundaries in the song’s spirited delivery.
The first seven tracks are studio demos of life versions of the songs they hope to improve when they step up to record the final album version. While the disc one version often have stronger guitar parts, better solos, etc., Wynn’s voice is often better here going straight to tape without effects, and at times these drums track more naturally as well. Most of the rest of the album are loose, in the studio jams on pop covers, apparently without the benefit of working up a solid arrangement as they did for the Clapton and Young covers that made the album. Having viewed the Apple TV 8 hour Beatles’ “Get Back,” we’ve already seen recently how often musicians procrastinate in the studio by playing everything they know beside the song they’re supposed to be playing. They playfully run through Alice’s “Eighteen,” and a couple from Floyd where the guitar players have given much more attention to the parts than Wynn’s vocal suggests he’s given it. Most of this won’t get played much after the initial curiosity wears off although the brief guitar instrumental on “The Munster’s Theme Song” is fun. “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” deserves a lot better than it gets, and “Badge,” a Harrison/Clapton collaboration deserves the better, full cover treatment they gave “Let It Rain.”
You can certainly understand why many of the songs from the original album are something that Wynn and his current Dream Syndicate players would enjoy putting in front of their fans, and playing them again live. But only the most devoted fan is going to want the entire 3-disc package.
Key Tracks: “50 in a 25 Zone” / “Slide Away” / “Dancing Blind”
Artists With Similar Fire: Television / Neil Young & Crazy Horse / Big Star