002: The Mescaleros Years

Joe Strummer

Dark Horse Records, 2022


REVIEW BY: Tom Haugen


If you’re here, it’s probably unlikely that I need to educate you about who Joe Strummer was. What might be less known about the legend, though, is that in addition to his worldwide celebrated music with The Clash, he released three excellent records with The Mescaleros from 1999-2002.

Those three records are present here, remastered by Grammy winner Paul Hicks, and we even get a fourth disc of demos, outtakes, rarities and previously unreleased songs. Additionally, a 72-page book is included, with never-before-seen handwritten notes, lyrics, drawings, etc.

Rock Art And The X-Ray Style is the first disc, and it leads with the very Clash-like sounds of “Tony Adams,” but it isn’t long until the African nods of “Sandpaper Blues” and the electronic influenced “Techno D-Day” present much diversity. “Yalla Yalla,” the album’s best tune, arrives late, and blends synth, bass, drums and keyboards into a hazy folk song where Strummer’s distinct voice is quite agile.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Global A Go-Go follows, and presents plenty of worldly influences in Strummer and company’s very folk-rock centered effort. “Johnny Appleseed” starts the listen with a gritty yet breezy single that welcomes backing vocals from Roger Daltrey, and halfway through, the cultured percussion of “Gamma Ray” gets a bit avant-garde with its Hammond organ, congas, sheep charmer, raga riffs and A-Go-Go Bells. A few of these tunes made it onto TV and in movies, including “Mondo Bongo,” where accordion, glass harmonica, Spanish guitar and flute all make for a very soothing, textured highlight.

The final formal disc, Streetcore, was released after Strummer had passed away. It heads straight back to Strummer’s early days in rock, a la The Clash, and serves as a tragic swan song. “Coma Girl” starts the listen with scrappy melodies and crisp drumming, where the raw singing reminds us of all that we were initially drawn to when listening to The Clash.

Deeper on, the acoustic guitar driven “Long Shadow” was penned for Johnny Cash and sounds like it with its dark, country spirit, while “Redemption Song” puts Strummer’s inimitable spin on the classic Bob Marley tune. “Silver And Gold,” the last song, brings harmonica, violin and Wurlitzer to the cautious, almost stirring finish.

The 15-track final disc is a great mix of different ideas, including the piano and percussive “Oceans Of Dreams,” which would fit in quite well with today’s electro-pop scene, as well as the island flavor of the light “X-Ray Style (Demo).” “Secret Agent Man,” one of the most adventurous covers, then puts a bit of sci-fi slant on the ’60s classic, while “London Is Burning,” another very Clash-like tune, delivers plenty of punk spirit.

The impact on music and culture that Joe Strummer imparted could never be accurately described, and this box set is absolutely an essential collection of his later work that is such an important part of his legacy.

Rating: A

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