Yung Wu - Shore Leave

by Mark Moody Rating:8 Release Date:2018-04-21
Yung Wu - Shore Leave
Yung Wu - Shore Leave

When I was a kid I had a 45 of The Beatles’ ‘Paperback Writer’ b/w ‘Rain’.  ‘Paperback Writer’ was fine, but the real score was the pre-Revolver psychedelic feel and sound of ‘Rain’ with it’s backwards vocals, Eastern chords and syncopated drumming.  If it’s possible to wear the grooves out of a record, I did my best.  Granted I wasn’t so old that this was a new release when I got it and The Beatles were already done at that point, but it was just a great song showing the band at the beginning of pushing boundaries.  After ‘Rain’’s release in 1966 flash forward two years and The Rolling Stones released a song called ‘Child of the Moon’ (which is a near copy of 'Rain') as the backside of the ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ single.  Frankly I had no familiarity with the song at all until Feelies side project Yung Wu, led by the band’s percussionist Dave Weckerman, did a cover of ‘Child of the Moon’ on their one and only LP 1987’s Shore Leave.  I owned the original version of this album at one point, but it’s been lost to the winds.  Fortunately, this obscure gem is being re-released by Bar/None for Record Store Day this April on vinyl, CD, and digital formats.    

I was a Feelies fanboy in the mid-80s and put myself more in the Americana tinged The Good Earth camp vs the fast twitch jumpiness of Crazy Rhythms but it’s all worthwhile.  As with all of the Feelies’ side projects, Yung Wu is essentially the same set of members rearranged.  As noted, Weckerman takes the lead here which primarily means songwriting and lead vocals.  Grossly overlooked guitarists Bill Million and Glen Mercer are on hand and these guys should be hailed as the more pastoral, but no less complex, Verlaine/Lloyd duo of Television.  Mercer’s later work on the Wake Ooloo spin-off was more incendiary if you want to go in that direction.  The trio are joined by Stan Demeski on drums, Brenda Sauter on bass, and Jon Baumgartner on keys.  If that sounds like a stage full, it is, but the simplicity of most of the songs makes sure it doesn’t sound like a crowd.

Weckerman’s voice is a bit thinner compared to the regular Feelies' frontmen, but makes up for it in earnestness and is a solid front for the wistful sound of most of the tracks.  Not sure of the story behind the band name combined with the maybe not so "P.C." by today’s standards cover picture - are those guys Japanese kelp farmers?  Regardless, whereas The Good Earth, which immediately preceded it, sounded distinctly American pastoral, the songs on Shore Leave have a far away feel about them.  From the cover art to lines about searching out over the sea; water flowing from on high; silver streaks across the sky; darkened streets; and saving up ones wages there is an air of traveling long distances.  The lyrics along with the spidery precision of the playing evoke spires and minarets, distant ports of call, or a caravansary at the edge of a vast desert.  If music should transport, Shore Leave does that exceedingly well.  

The bright guitar and harmonies of ‘Aspiration’ and the dark, droning arpeggios of ‘Eternal Ice’ sound like forgotten but brilliant outtakes from The Good Earth.  The Eno penned ‘Big Day’ (which originally appeared on Phil Manzanera’s solo album Diamond Head) is another standout where Demeski’s rat-a-tat drumming is front and center.  Eno’s cryptic but colorful lyrics along with the gentle roll of the song makes you want it to never end.  The previously mentioned ‘Eternal Ice’ and Scottish battle song feel of ‘Return to Zion’ (regardless of what it might truly be about) are the standout tracks for seeing Million and Mercer grapple.

As any good band should do if they are going to perform a few covers (there are three on Shore Leave), Yung Wu makes sure they are little known and then makes them their own.  It was the first time I had heard any version of ‘Child of the Moon’, and though the Stones’ version is almost a direct copy of ‘Rain’ with different lyrics, Yung Wu’s version contains only a twinge of the original feel of ‘Rain’ - primarily in the drum work.  The Eno cover also checks the obscurity box, while the more straightforward version of Neil Young's 'Powderfinger' not so much but it's a fine if faithful copy. 

Perhaps a bit much to write about a slight and very obscure album, originally released on Coyote who was behind The Feelies as well, but it is well worth seeking out and keeping from fading away again.  The Feelies were a collective of unheralded individuals that together formed a synergistic musical bond that has expanded and contracted over the years, but most importantly has always resulted in quality output.  Yung Wu serves to champion the unknown within the unheralded in a way that deserves your attention with the standouts being of course Weckerman as leader, but Demeski’s drumming in the remastered tracks also stands out.  Shore Leave is certainly worth saving up some wages to obtain.

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