The Replacements

Songs for Slim

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As the replacement for Replacement Bob Stinson, Slim Dunlap kind of got a raw deal, serving as a faithful guitarist in an era where the band was falling apart under the stress of Paul Westerberg's conflicted crossover ambitions. Dunlap was a rock & roll lifer, though, continuing to play as a solo act and sideman in the years following the Replacements' disbandment, eventually winding up right back where he started from: playing guitar in Minneapolis, playing because he loved it. All that changed in February of 2012 when Dunlap suffered a stroke, thereby racking up considerable medical bills, which in turn called his former bandmates into action. The Replacements reunited to record Songs for Slim, auctioning off a limited run as vinyl EPs early in 2013 before releasing it as a digital download in March of that year. "Reunion" is a bit of a loose term, as drummer Chris Mars still refuses to play with Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson (he also didn't appear on the new recordings added to the 2006 compilation Don't You Know Who I Think I Was?, the last time the 'Mats reunited), but he does contribute the album art and a solo cover of Dunlap's "Radio Hook Word Hit," an appealing blast of tightly controlled power pop. The remaining four songs, all sung by Westerberg and featuring Stinson, guitarist Kevin Bowe, and drummer Peter Anderson, could not be called tightly controlled, which is, naturally, their appeal. As the quartet stumbles through Dunlap's "Busted Up," Gordon Lightfoot's "I'm Not Sayin'," Hank Williams' "Lost Highway," and the Stephen Sondheim/Jule Styne Broadway standard "Everything's Coming Up Roses," they do sound like the Replacements — maybe not the drunken louts of 1985, but certainly the same band that knocked out covers of Slade, "Cruella DeVille," and repurposed Hank Mizell's "Jungle Rock" as "Bundle Up." Everything sounds like a first take: the tempos rush just slightly, the guitars distort naturally, and Westerberg relishes playing with his phrasing, stretching out syllables and tossing out jokes before ripping his throat raw. It's loose but sober, all the recklessness coming from the raggedness inherent in Westerberg and Stinson's chemistry. Nowadays, they bring to mind nothing so much as their idols Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood, two lifelong pals who have gone their separate ways but can still conjure that old magic whenever they get back together. That the reunion was done for the sole purpose of helping out an old friend just makes Songs for Slim sweeter.

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