At the risk of dating myself, Three Merry Widows was one of the St. Louis bands in that city’s burgeoning original, live music scene in the late 80’s and early 90’s that led to numerous local acts getting major label contrasts. No doubt, the rise of Uncle Tupelo, and eventually Wilco and Son Volt, led to on-going major label A&R interest that led to the signing of bands like The Urge, Pale Divine (The Eyes), and others. The Widows, who’s live shows centered around Alice Spencer’s larger than life vocal presence, and the band’s intricate jam band vibe, signed to TVT Records and recorded this debut in at Ardent Studios in Memphis before hitting the road and opening shows for a wide array of artists, from Nirvana and Soul Asylum to Trip Shakespeare and The Connells. TVT wasn’t interested in recording the demos that the band produced for their follow-up, and eventually the band broke up, most of the players producing music in new settings.
In 2019, the original band regrouped to record that second album they never got to release, I Was The Moon, playing a live reunion show that was recorded for a concert album, Live at Delmar Hall. Then to honor the 30th anniversary of their debut, the band has remastered the original recordings to meet contemporary standards, and re-issued their album for modern listening tastes. Since I had the original on cassette, it’s been a long time since I’ve heard this music, so in many ways the 2021 re-issue has felt like a visit from an old, fond friend that I’d lost contact with for a few decades.
But, these songs still stand up. Three Merry Widows sound was unique on the alternative rock scene in its heyday, thanks to the soaring vocal presence of Spencer, but recent listens to Which Dreamed It? have reminded me of the smart, guitar interplay of Sean Garcia and Brian Simpson, and the rock solid rhythm section of Charles Shipman and the band’s deceased original drummer, Matt Albert. While bluesier songs suggested the 60’s power of Janis fronting Big Brother & The Holding Company, while more Celtic folk songs like “Relevance,” which benefits from guest violinist Peter Hryka, hint at influences like the Fairport Convention. The result overall is a joyful blend of jam band flourishes with a mix of R.E.M.’s more acoustic modern pop, all with Alice Spencer’s heartfelt vocals to round things out. This record feels like a blast too good to remain in the past.
Key Tracks: “The Other Side” / “Black Halo” / “Rejected”
Artists With Similar Fire: Grateful Dead / R.E.M. / Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians
Three Merry Widows Review History: I Was The Moon (2019)