Written by: Dave Cantrell
Though backstory’s certainly important with a talent-freighted reissue like this, to overly expand upon it in a quick review such as we have here tends to bury the context under a rockslide of detailese that can too easily derail the central critical objective, ie its purchase worthiness. Fortunately Yung Wu vocalist Dave Weckerman provides a background narrative rich in historical nuance inside the album’s packaging (which, yes, by implication answers the worthiness question but, really, was that even in question?) meaning for our purposes here it’s enough to attribute Shore Leave, originally released in 1987 on fabled imprint Coyote Records – which co-releases here with Bar/None – as a kind of Feelies/Trypes/Speed the Plough afterthought (sidethought?) supergroup and move on.
Appearing within a year of The Good Earth and featuring that same Feelies line-up (Mercer Million Sauter and Demeski) along with John Baumgartner lending some key keyboard chops, the forever out-of-print Shore Leave is notable not only due to the legendary Hobokenists involved but as well the extent to which, however inadvertantly (perhaps?), it splits the kinetic difference between the delectably hyperactive guitaring that so giddily embellished Crazy Rhythms‘ exquisite songcraft and the relatively more subdued bucolicism that distinguished the follow-up’s equally accomplished – if differently received – tracks. Consider it, then, the best of both worlds or simply another by-any-other-name Feelies album but however viewed from whatever direction what’s most clear maybe by this reissue is why the original has been so long sought after.
Eight originals – all penned by Weckerman though reflexively bent toward the Million/Mercer prism – fleshed out by three finely curated covers, the tracklisting, especially over the course of side one, tends to ping back and forth from The Good Earth‘s roomier contours to the debut’s jumpy restlessness, as if leaning, energy-wise, slightly more rural here, slightly more urban there. Thereby, the sunny lope of “Shore Leave” giving way to “The Empty Pool,” the album’s most VU-inflected cut, which in turn cedes the stage to “Aspiration”‘s mid-tempo sally through relaxed ecstasy before the aptly-named “Spinning” unwindes like the (only barely) more soporific cousin to “Fa-Cé-La,” Mercer letting fly with one of those delightfully dexterous Feelie-rific guitar solos. In essence, then, a kind of yin-yang Yung Wu balance, it’s only mildly undone by the arrival of the first cover, an adeptly fielded take on “Big Day” from Phil Manzanera’s overlooked (we blame its cheesy travel-agency-ad cover) Diamond Head LP that, thanks primarily to Stan Demeski’s hyperlite snare work, is the definition of mellow gone double time.
From there, though such assured gems as “Strange Little Man” with the fluid emphasis of Brenda Sauter’s bass leading from behind, the resurrected Stones B-side “Child of the Moon,” Baumgartner doing his best workingmans’s Nicky impression, the rendition of “Powderfinger” that’s as faithful to Neil Young’s version as it is a crispier re-owning of it to “Modern Farmer” finishing things in gently breathless fashion, it’s a headlong yet somehow unhurried rush toward a quiet – one might even say unassuming – perfection. If it’s possible for a band to sound extravagantly humble, Yung Wu on their debut – and only – album Shore Leave surely meet whatever criteria might satisfy such a curious distinction. Long short, it’s very nice to have it back in circulation.