Forgotten series: Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros – Streetcore (2003)

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by Mark Saleski

I’m still kinda mad at Joe Strummer. I mean, did the guy have to kick off so early? He was still making great music! The Mescaleros were weaving together some unique and shakin’ stuff.

Couldn’t it have been Mr. Rotten? Don’t they discuss this stuff at the AgeingPunkIcons meetings? Surely they talked about the punk caricature that Lydon has become? Cripes, look at what happened after Joe’s death: Rotten was on a reality TV show, “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here!” What’s next? Do we have to watch him sitting around in his boxers chomping down a plate of sausages while looking at Young Ones reruns?

Man, this world sho’ gone crazy. Yeah, well … life’s hard and it sure ain’t fair. So I guess that, in addition to all those insanely great Only Band That Matters memories … I’ll always have Joe Strummer’s Mescaleros era.

Joe had pretty much finished this thing up when he passed away. It’s the usual burbling stew of pop, rock, reggae, hip-hop, electronica, folk, country and funk. You’d almost think that music sporting so many sound influences might be a little too eclectic for its own good. That’s not the case here. Somehow, Strummer was able to pull all of that stuff together and make it behave.

Streetcore opens with the Billy Bragg-meets-Clash “Coma Girl” and never lets up. There’s the tripped-out reggae of “Get Down Moses,” the rising anthem of “Ramshackle Day Parade,” a Combat Rock-era “All In A Day” and a Dylan-ish “Burnin’ Streets.” Part groove, part dirge, “Midnight Jam’ is the oddest thing here. It’s a sort of Mescalero dub … that Joe might have written after listening to Neil Young’s Greendale (well, you know … if he hadn’t died before that record came out). Ah, and I shouldn’t forget the cover of Marley’s “Redemption Song”: very simple, very nice.

In a way, Streetcore reminds me of Warren Zevon’s The Wind … except of course that it wasn’t planned. Somehow the slow songs are sadder and maybe a touch more meaningful. This is especially true of “Long Shadow”, a country ballad and Johnny Cash tribute co-written and performed with Tom Waits alum Smokey Hormel.

The whole mess ends with the Bobby Charles tune “Silver and Gold.” With lines like “..I got to hurry up before I grow too old,” it’s a fitting end piece to Strummer’s last statement.

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