Slim Dunlap's solo albums
What did it take to reunite the legendary Minneapolis post-punk band known as the Replacements, 22 years after their initial 1991 breakup? A tragedy. Former guitarist Bob "Slim" Dunlap suffered a severe debilitating stroke in February of 2012, and the remaining surviving members of the Replacements recorded a new 2013 EP titled Songs For Slim to help raise money for Dunlap's medical costs. It contains five cover songs, two of which were originally Dunlap's solo songs.
Those surviving members are lead singer Paul Westerberg, bassist Tommy Stinson, and drummer Chris Mars -- although Mars did not actually work together with the other two on the EP. Four of its five tracks were recorded by Westerberg and Stinson, aided by Minneapolis musicians Kevin Bowe (guitar) and Peter Anderson (drums). Mars, meanwhile, contributed one solo track and the cover art. (Mars is also not involved with the live shows that the other two original members are performing this year). If you ignore those details and just listen to the end result, Songs For Slim is just what you would want such an EP to be, achieving a seemingly difficult balance between the 'Mats' early irreverence and their later maturity. More, please!
In the months since, various artists have aided the Songs For Slim project by recording their own versions of Dunlap's songs, and having them featured on colored 7-inch vinyl singles which were auctioned on the official site:
Dunlap was the 'Mats' late-period replacement for their original (and now deceased) guitarist Bob Stinson. Dunlap played on the last two Replacements albums: the mellowed-out Don't Tell A Soul (1989) and the virtual Westerberg solo album All Shook Down (1990). After the band's breakup, Dunlap recorded two solo albums in the mid-'90's for the Minneapolis indie label Medium Cool, an offshoot of Twin/Tone Records. The label is now defunct, and those two albums are out of print. The songs on those albums are the ones being covered by the artists involved in the benefit project.
On the first of these albums, the 1993 release The Old New Me, Slim shows his true colors as a lover of classic roots-rock. Alternately sounding like a clear-headed Keith Richards and a lively electric Bob Dylan, Dunlap plays old-fashioned, unpretentious rock and roll that sounds suitable for a small, intimate pub. You can almost taste the beer while you’re listening, but Slim himself sounds sober and in control. Although he gets down and dirty on “Just For The Hell Of It” and “Busted Up”, he doesn’t sound like he wants to start any trouble. He seems perfectly content to be exiled on Main Street on such Stones-like rockers as “Rockin’ Here Tonight”, “Ain’t Exactly Good”, and “The King & Queen”. And while he is clearly emulating Dylan on such tracks as “Partners In Crime” and “Taken On The Chin”, he doesn’t pretend to be Dylan, even though “The Ballad of the Opening Band” is good enough to be a composition by the Bard. He also shows a love for rockabilly on the tasteful boogie of “From The Git Go” and the gently lovely closing instrumental “Love Lost”. It was nice of Slim to share this display of his old new musical self, and another album like this one would have been welcome.
But on the 1996 release Times Like This, Slim’s second and apparently final solo album, he sounded less rootsy and more quirky, and usually not for the better. Paradoxically, this album sounds both more polished and less presentable than its predecessor. Where The Old New Me had a sort of dive-bar ambience, Times Like This has a more studio-based feeling. Unfortunately, the cleaner presentation draws more attention to technical shortcomings; to wit, Dunlap’s voice sounds weak amid many of these arrangements. This album is more reminiscent of the Replacements than the previous one. “Little Shiva’s Song” and “Cooler Then” recall the later years of that band, with Dunlap seemingly imitating Paul Westerberg’s All Shook Down-era vocals. “Nowheres Near” sounds like it was written by Westerberg at his most glib; “Radio Hook Word Hit” is a song that the ‘Mats might have recorded if they were still together during that same post-Nirvana time period. And Slim seems to have a case of the nightclub jitters on the sloppy jazz-rock number “Chrome Lipstick”. He didn’t completely abandon the previous album's roots rock, but this time it’s rooted more in folk than the blues. On the title track and “Hate This Town”, Slim once again sounds Dylanesque, but he comes on more like Jakob Dylan than Bob. And his love of the Stones is evident once again on “Cozy” (the album’s high point) and “Jungle Out There”, but those songs are more reminiscent of a later and less vintage Stones period (late ‘70’s/early ‘80’s?) than before. Times Like This has its charms, but it's something of a letdown after The Old New Me.
Update 3/10/15: The Old New Me and Times Like This will be available together as a limited edition vinyl 2-LP set from New West Records for Record Store Day 2015.
Slim Dunlap “The Old New Me” (Medium Cool MCR 89231) 1993
1. Rockin’ Here Tonight
2. Just For the Hell Of It
3. Isn’t It
4. Partners In Crime
5. Taken On The Chin
6. From The Git Go
7. Busted Up
8. Ain’t Exactly Good
9. The King & Queen
10. The Ballad of the Opening Band
11. Love Lost
Slim Dunlap “Times Like This” (Medium Cool/Restless MCR 89277) 1996
1. Not Yet / Ain’t No Fair (In A Rock ‘N’ Roll Love Affair)
3. Hate This Town
4. Little Shiva’s Song
5. Jungle Out There
7. Cooler Then
8. Chrome Lipstick
9. Nowheres Near
10. Radio Hook Word Hit
11. Times Like This