The Lemonheads – It’s A Shame About Ray [Collector’s Edition]

The jury will probably to be out forever deliberating whether Evan Dando will be remembered as the greatest lost hope of the post-Hüsker Dü world or as just someone who squandered their intuitive charms for the distractions of hedonistic highs. One thing however, that most Dando/Lemonheads observers can almost unanimously agree on, is that 1992’s It’s A Shame About Ray is the most consistently rounded and embarrassment-free album Dando has ever put his hands and regularly-flowing locks to. Sure, 1988’s Lick had a brilliant buzz-saw cover of Suzanne Vega “Luka”, 1990’s Lovey had the rueful “Ride With Me”, 1993’s Come On Feel The Lemonheads had more infectious eclecticism (and the divine likes of “Into Your Arms” and “It’s About Time”), 1996’s Car Button Cloth had the hilariously-definitive take on Smudge’s “The Outdoor Type” and 2003’s solo debut (Baby I’m Bored) had some sublime splashes of rustic Giant Sand-assisted maturity, but It’s A Shame About Ray is where everything Dando converged into one satisfyingly durable whole. With its thirty or so minutes running time it’s still the most portable fat-free Lemonheads LP to indoctrinate the uninitiated, hence why it’s the first (and perhaps only) record in the band’s catalogue to merit the deluxe reissue treatment.

The original 12-track album stills stands-up wonderfully with terrific no-filler tightness. Ably abetted by the honeyed-tones of bass-playing guest Juliana Hatfield and the loose lolloping drums of David Ryan (the longest-serving Lemonheads sticksman at three long-players), Dando strums and jangles his way through a bounty of blissful folk-rock (“Kitchen”, “Rockin Stroll” and “Rudderless”), ruminative country-scented balladry (“My Drug Buddy”, “Hanna & Gabi” and the title-track) and hyperactive Ramones-indebted power-pop (“Confetti”, “Bit Part” and “Alison’s Starting To Happen”). With seemingly effortless ease Dando turned the late-‘80s/early-‘90s power-trio indie-rock of Buffalo Tom, Dinosaur Jr. et al. on its side by realigning The Lemonheads more closely to the wistful ‘60s/‘70s Americana touchstones of the twilight-era Byrds, Gram Parsons/The Flying Burrito Brothers and CSNY, rather than to the amplified might of Nirvana and Sugar.

So what of the extras on this ‘upgrade’? Well, appended on the first disc you’ll find the delightfully splenetic melodic-hardcore stab at Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” (as previously included on 2nd generation CD editions) and the plaintive erstwhile b-side “Shaky Ground” (co-penned by future bassist Nic Dalton and regular Dando songwriting collaborator Tom Morgan) to augment the proper studio recordings. Thereafter, nine homemade demos for many of the key Ray album cuts make their first ever appearance; some are indeed lovely (notably a Hatfield-backed “My Drug Buddy” and a more gentile embryonic “Bit Part”) but some are so muddily lo-fi that it makes you wish that the more superior sounding alternate live/radio/acoustic versions from the contemporary glut of flipsides had been substituted for a better representation of Dando in his re-interpretative solitary troubadour mode. Whilst the bonus material on the CD lacks a ‘wow’ factor, the attached DVD reincarnation of 1993’s Two Weeks In Australia VHS compilation of period promo clips, live performances and off-stage whimsy should certainly boost the dewy-eyed nostalgia-levels, especially for those who once patiently waded through turgid Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots videos on MTV for fleeting glimpses of Dando at his long-haired pop peak.

So whilst this expanded reissue is a partly-flawed concoction, its good-heartened celebration of an album and a musical era that should not be forgotten makes it a retro release well worth indulging. Moreover, it’s a reminder that Evan Dando can be a truly great talent, despite himself.