Ass Ponys

The Okra Years

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The Ass Ponys were one of the hundreds of promising indie bands that got swallowed up in the major label feeding frenzy of the '90s, which in the long run probably did them more harm than good. While the band's first two albums, 1990's Mr. Superlove and 1993's Grim, were great records full of fine songs from Chuck Cleaver, and memorable performances from a band who knew how to be both noisy and melodically understated at the same time (sometimes sounding like R.E.M.'s unkempt Midwestern brothers in the process), there was a dark and troubling undertow to the Ass Ponys best work that would hardly qualify them as a sure commercial prospect. Their compassionate but bleak tales of ordinary folks in over-their-heads were hardly easy radio fodder (not everyone wants to hear songs about lovelorn, 700-pound men, abusive but delusional husbands, or a woman carving her lover's name into her skin), and much like their Ohio brethren Scrawl, there was a flinty honesty and blue collar despair in their songs that wasn't ever going to go over with the kids who made Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins megastars (or turned the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Tripping Daisy into one-hit wonders). The Ass Ponys deserved better, and while their albums for A&M (as well as their later work for Checkered Past) are currently stuck in limbo, their first two independent albums have been given new life on the compilation The Okra Years. Rather than offer a straight-up reissue of Mr. Superlove and Grim, Chuck Cleaver and his bandmates have harvested their favorite songs from both albums (as Cleaver says in the liner notes, "the simple fact is that we don't care for some of them anymore, so...goodbye") while adding some unreleased material to fill in the gaps, and remastering the whole shebang. The sound quality is a significant improvement on the previous releases of this material, and while some completists might squawk about the absence of a few tunes, it's hard to argue with the group's choices as this flows at least as well (if not better) than the original LPs, and it's a compelling testament to the strength of this woefully underappreciated band. Points added for a Pere Ubu cover that's as joyously eccentric as the original.

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