Between 1985 and 2003, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones were one of Boston's most prolific and beloved bands, as well as the pioneering force in what would eventually become known as the third-wave ska scene of the 1990s. Medium Rare is a collection of B-sides from their later years, along with three new songs recorded in 2007 in anticipation of a set of hometown reunion shows that December. The one outlier is a 1994 B-side, "Chocolate Pudding," with vocals by trombonist Johnny Vegas, with the rest of the material covering the years 1997 to 2001, when the Bosstones were at their highest period of commercial visibility thanks to hits like "The Impression That I Get." By this point in the band's career, all of the rough edges and hardcore punk influences of their early years (bassist Joe Gittleman was formerly of Boston skate punk heroes Gang Green, and the band originally formed in the midst of Boston's hardcore scene) are long gone, so songs like "Who's Fooling Who?" and "To California" are as poppy and polished as the band's A-side material from this era. Clearly, the Bosstones were not a band that held to the theory that B-sides were the place for bizarre experiments or stylistic changeups, because any of these songs would have fit comfortably on albums like Let's Face It or Pay Attention. The three 2007 recordings are, surprisingly, a bit punkier and a lot more rough-edged: even the tribute to a late ska hero, "Don't Worry Desmond Dekker," dials back the horn section and the skanking rhythms in favor of distorted, upfront guitars, and "The List" and "The One with the Woes All Over It" hark back to the tougher approach of the band's early albums on the local Taang! label. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones have announced that these recordings and the December 2007 live shows are the band's last stand, which is probably for the best; for one thing, the new songs reveal that frontman Dicky Barrett's voice, although never a thing of beauty, is pretty close to shot. Medium Rare is a nice parting gift to the faithful, but further reunions would likely only sully the brand.
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AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason