Music Monday: Mad Season “Above” Turns 26

mad season
The bands only album “Above” released on March 14 1995

There have been collaborations of band members from other groups that find their way to making music together. Sometimes an album gets made, like in the case of Mad Season which brings together four Seattle musicians that were going through various struggles with drug usage. John Baker Saunders met Mike McCready [guitarist for Pearl Jam] during rehab in Minneapolis, which is how he found his way into the band. Barrett Martin was the drummer for the band Screaming Trees [their biggest hit was “Nearly Lost You”] and jammed with Mike and John. Mike was hoping to inspire Layne Staley to remain clean, which during this time, Alice In Chains was on hiatus due to Layne’s heroin use. Once they all came together and decided on a name [calling themselves The Gacy Bunch at first], recording sessions during the end of 1994 were scheduled and produced what I call one of the greatest blues/rock/grunge albums of the 1990’s.

Track Listing

  1. “Wake Up”
  2. “X-Ray Mind”
  3. “River of Deceit”
  4. “I’m Above”
  5. “Artificial Red”
  6. “Lifeless Dead”
  7. “I Don’t Know Anything”
  8. “Long Gone Day”
  9. “November Hotel”
  10. “All Alone”

Seattle Supergroup

All 10 of the songs on this album are so very powerful. I purchased this album on CD during the summer of 1995. I was already a big fan of Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains, so it was natural to want to hear this album. After a dozen or more plays, I was hooked. It had the sounds of Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam but was heavy blues and pretty dark. The production was big and it comes out in each song in a big way.

The biggest radio hit that most people know is “River of Deceit” and is actually quite a great song on so many levels. The opening track “Wake Up” is haunting and punches you right in the eardrums with the vocals and bass that deserves to be turned up on a proper stereo system. Perhaps one of the greatest guitar solos by Mike McCready is on the song “November Hotel” which starts at 3:21 and ends at 6:10. I’ve played this part of the song so many times, I’ve lost count.

Dissolved

After this album was made, there were tour dates during the spring and summer of 1995. And then each band member went back to their respective bands to work on newer albums. Various efforts to reform the band failed due to various reasons. Layne ended up getting deeper into his heroin addiction after completing work on Alice In Chains’ self titled third full studio album. Mike worked on Pearl Jam’s next album “No Code” Barrett went back to Screaming Trees and John joined a band called The Walkabouts [I’ve never heard any of their music].

Some efforts to bring in another singer to replace Layne met with lackluster results. Mark Lanegan, lead singer of Screaming Trees, worked with the band. For a time, they renamed the project Disinformation. Chris Cornell of Soundgarden had a jam session, although there wasn’t anything recorded [at least released or announced]. And then in 1999, John died of a heroin overdose, which was the first seal of fate. Layne died in 2002 of a speedball overdose. Which left Mike and Barrett as the remaining members. There were a couple of partial reunions in 2012 and 2014.

A remastered version of the album came out in 2013 (I own a copy) with a few extra songs and a DVD of the recorded performance “Live At The Moore” which was filmed in April 1995 during the bands only tour. While I applaud the various reforming attempts, the original 4 members produced a great studio album that will live on forever in the migration of blues and grunge and one that gets played here often.

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