Death of Samantha

If Memory Serves Us Well

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In rock & roll, it seems all roads lead to either Cleveland or Detroit, and the Buckeye State has produced enough great bands that more than a few of them have managed to wow the cognoscenti without making much of an impact in the mainstream music media or with the bigger record labels. Such was the the fate of Death of Samantha, a band whose music was a smart, snarky fusion of hard rock, early glam, punk, garage rock, and the Rolling Stones (or at least the idea of the Rolling Stones); it was the sort of music one might expect from record collector dudes in a college town, but with a beery, blue-collar undertow that kept their arty side firmly grounded and their guitar patterns big and anthemic. After achieving regional success that never quite threatened to go nationwide, Death of Samantha called it quits in 1990, and since then they have not been blessed with either a career-spanning anthology or a posthumous live album, but the band has managed to deliver a little bit of both on 2013's If Memory Serves Us Well. This album was recorded live in a Euclid, Ohio recording studio as the band rehearsed for a handful of reunion gigs in 2011, and if this isn't a substitute for a collection of the group's original out of print recordings, it's a powerful testament to what made Death of Samantha great. John Petkovic's vocals are strong, darkly funny, and clever without ever coming off as pretentious, while Doug Gillard is a guitar hero with the smarts to know when to wail and when to just let it growl, and bassist David James and drummer Steve-O lay down the beat with as much swagger as anyone in the band. On these recordings, Death of Samantha sound remarkably tight and emphatic despite a long layoff, and while there's no audience on hand, the energy and force builds with the same impact as a "real" show, and if ever there was a document of these guys having a good night, this is it, and with excellent audio to boot. Death of Samantha were good enough and important enough that their legacy deserves more attention than it's received (especially since Petkovic and Gillard went on to form the similarly excellent Cobra Verde), and while it's true that If Memory Serves Us Well isn't quite the victory lap they've earned, it documents one night in the life of a great band, and leaves no doubt that "great" was a fully deserved superlative.

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