# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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  by Malcolm Carter

published: 15 / 7 / 2003

Miscellaneous - Profile


Producer Mitch Easter has worked with R.E.M., Pavement, Dinosaur Jr and Velvet Crush , but for many years also fronted his own band Let's Active. With a Let's Active tribute album just out, Malcolm Carter takes the opportunity to assess his career

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been listening to two albums constantly, the new CD by the George Usher Group, ‘Fire Garden’, and Caitlin Cary’s first album, ‘While You Weren’t Looking’. Yeah, I know I’m a bit behind with the Caitlin Cary one but I somehow missed it on release and her brilliant new album ‘I’m Staying Out’ made me seek it out. So what has that useless bit of information got to do with this tribute to Mitch Easter’s band of the 1980's? Well, there’s that something special about those two albums. That magical something that turns a great collection of songs into an album that you know is going to be around for a long time and that is not locked into any particular time, or genre, come to that. When I finally read the sleevenotes (can CD inlays still be classed as sleevenotes?) I realised why these albums sounded so complete, so perfect. "Mixed by Mitch Easter" it states proudly on the George Usher release while the Caitlin Cary album tells us that the "basic tracks were recorded with Mitch Easter." Touched by the hand of Mitch, that would explain it then. Easter needs no introduction to those lovers of melodic perfect pop infused with touches of psychedelia and harder-edge rock sounds. But to recap for those still unfamiliar with the producer/musician’s work his list of credits is a long and varied one. He formed Let’s Active in 1981 after being in the Sneakers with Chris Stamey (dBs). The same year he set up his own Drive-In Studio in his parent’s garage and produced R.E.M.’s debut single, ‘Radio Free Europe’. He then went on to produce, engineer and mix R.E.M.’s next two albums, ‘Murmur’ and ‘Reckoning’. He has worked with Velvet Crush, producing their finest album, ‘Teenage Symphonies To God’, Game Theory, Pavement, Marshall Crenshaw and Dinosaur Jr. to name but a few. And that’s without me gushing over the Orange Humble Band or the 1989 Hummingbirds album ‘Lovebuzz’ which Easter produced and mixed and which I still play to this day. It’s a sadly neglected lost classic that really shows Easter’s production talents, more so to these ears than say the R.E.M. albums. This new tribute album, 'Every Word: A Tribute To Let’s Active' was put together by singer/songwriter and huge Let’s Active/Mitch Easter fan, Michael Slawter and it’s obvious that this 20 track collection of Let’s Active songs was assembled with the love and care these songs deserve. The first thing one notices is the absence of any really ‘big’ names; no Michael Stipe or even Ken Stringfellow (although Stringfellow does contribute to the sleevenotes). But does this matter? No, not at all. When Bill Lloyd kicks off proceedings with ‘Every Word Means No’ from the band’s 1983 six song ‘Afoot’ EP it nicely sets the mood for the rest of the album. The song is turned into a typical Bill Lloyd power pop gem; all jangling guitars and harmonies. Then we are treated to Don Dixon and Jamie Hoover’s rendition of ‘Horizon’ from 1998’s ‘Every Dog Has His Day’ album and it’s clear that these musicians have put a lot of thought and care into their contributions. With very few exceptions (I can think of only one other tribute album I can say this about) most tribute albums are a hit and miss affair; all they do is make me want to listen to the original but, (dare I say this?) some of these tracks are actually as good as the originals. In some cases the artists have stamped enough of their own identity/sound into the songs that I have no problem listening to them over the Let’s Active originals. The Doug Powell track ‘Waters Part’ where all the sounds are made by the talented Mr. Powell and the ever wonderful Spike Priggen’s take on ‘Last Chance Town’ are two examples of this which spring immediately to mind. There is little point trying to pinpoint one track as a highlight, each and every one would be a standout on whatever album it appeared on. But apart from those already mentioned give a listen to the Trolleyvox version of ‘ Crows On A Phone Line’ or the Crown Scene take on ‘Writing The Book Of Last Pages’, the latter being the best Beatle sounding song I've heard in a long while, it could almost be Lennon singing and the backwards guitar gets to me every time. The whole package is superb. The inlay book, and it is a book, contains comments from all the contributing artists as well as recording information and short essays from John Micek and Gil Ray(Game Theory) to name but two. The inlay is also littered with comments from Scott Miller, Peter Holsapple and Kimberley Rew. You get the picture. This is the way all tribute albums should be presented. With love, care, a real understanding of the artist’s work and enough of the contributor’s own identity to turn a ‘cover’ version into that something special. Of course, having songs of the calibre of Easter’s helps in the first place. With the re-release of ‘ Every Dog Has It’s Day’ and ‘Big Plans For Everybody’ on the Collectors Choice label in the States we can only hope that this is the beginning of a much needed re-appraisal of the music of Let’s Active.

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