While Mac McCaughan's Portastatic was getting ready for its first tour as a band, the group played weekly shows for a month in Chapel Hill. To keep things interesting, they learned a bunch of cover songs. They had so much fun playing them that they decided to record them in a studio and release them. Badfinger's "Baby Blue" gets a soulful reading with powerful vocals by McCaughan and Tift Merritt, Bruce Springsteen's "Growin' Up" is a spirited romp, and Ronnie Lane's "One for the Road" is a faithful cover full of Lane's ramshackle beauty, with McCaughan sounding eerily like Lane at times. At the same session, they recorded a new version of Summer of the Shark's "In the Lines" to reflect the way the live band played the song, as well a storming new song, "Autumn Got Dark," which is one of McCaughan's patented hook-filled anthems that you'll want to play at top volume next time the man gets you down. The rest of the disc is filled out by eight acoustic tracks recorded live on college radio stations in June of 2003, seven original songs, and a cover of Springsteen's "Bobby Jean." The sound quality of the first five tracks recorded on WPRB is a little thin and McCaughan's voice sounds strained (even more than usual), but the three tracks from the session on WERS sound great, with McCaughan in top form delivering a charged version of one of his best songs, "San Andreas," and getting behind the piano for a haunting take of Slow Note from a Sinking Ship's "Isn't That the Way." McCaughan is one of the true treasures of the indie rock scene in America and Portastatic is a really good band. Superchunk is too, despite how long it has been around. McCaughan and his bands are easy to overlook with all the hyped bands exploding and flaming out all around him, but he's always there, always delivering the indie rock goods. Buy this with the full confidence that you are getting your money's worth.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra