lowFLOWs: The Columbia Anthology ('91-'93)

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Released at the time the band announced a series of reunion shows for the first time after nearly two decades apart, Low Flows is a convenient enough summary with a couple of bonuses of the curious fIREHOSE, at least when it came to their concluding efforts on a major label. In a weird way, the band perhaps lucked out by being signed before Nirvana's success changed band and label expectations in general; listening to both Flyin' the Flannel and Mr. Machinery Operator from a distance shows them to be just as spikily independent -- at least sonically -- as their first SST releases were. Of the non-album tracks on both discs, the most notable by default are the cuts on the Live Totem Pole release that originally followed Flyin' the Flannel -- a concert EP, it had two originals plus an impressive range of five cover versions, going from Minutemen live standard "The Red and the Black" via Blue Öyster Cult to Public Enemy's "Sophisticated Bitch," to then-recent underground anthem "Slack Motherfucker," one of Superchunk's earliest attention getters. Beyond that, it's a bit of a mixed bag, and those who had both original albums and the EP won't need to rush out for a replacement or upgrade given what else is on offer. "Max and Wells," recorded for a film soundtrack, is an OK enough Ed Crawford-sung cut, while instrumental versions of "Down with the Bass" and "Blaze" are more curios than anything else, not to mention a "mersh again edit" of "Witness." The concluding live tracks from the Mr. Machinery Operator tour, though, do provide a bit of a hail and farewell to the group, at least in their first phase of existence.

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