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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Obscure Album Spotlight

This didn't start out being a double-album spotlight. I spent years trying to track down Polaris' only record. Polaris provided some incredible music for the Adventures of Pete and Pete back in the early '90's. Both the show, and the music especially, take me back to the days where summer seemed to last forever, but there was a bittersweet realization that it wouldn't always be that way.

I found that Polaris record two years ago. Recently I started to read about Miracle Legion, a Connecticut based American Underground band that was quite respected by their contemporaries but never made it big in national circles. I found a copy of their 1989 album Me and Mr. Ray and was blown away by how gorgeous some of the songs were, all sung by a voice...an aching voice that sounded so familiar. Turns out that like most of the bands I will feature in this column and especially American Underground bands of the '80's, record label issues got bad enough the band just quit.
The same year everything went south (1992) two huge Miracle Legion fans, who had just created a show on Nickelodeon asked for the band to provide the music. Mr. Ray Neal, who had survived the initial line-up change four-years earlier when the rhythm section left, was too burnt out by the whole record label experience, but the rest of the band, took on the name Polaris. The rest is history...well really, really obscure history.
To this day, however, most all of Miracle Legion's albums are out of print, mostly due to record label disputes.

Miracle Legion
Me and Mr Ray (Rough Trade, 1989)
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Me and Mr. Ray, refers to the fact that after 1988, the direction of Miracle Legion changed, and they became essentially a duo. They went from a more REM-like college rock band, who made an EP with Pere Ubu once, to a more laid-back power pop group, and this album was recorded at Prince's studio in Minnesota.
The result is a mature, mostly acoustic-set. Though that doesn't mean that it doesn't have a dark side. The incredible "Pull The Wagon" has a withering electric guitar bridge, a dark, wintry atmosphere, as well as pulling off using a cow bell.
The opening track "The Ladies From Town," is just pure gorgeous American pop music at its most stripped down best. Acoustic guitar, piano, harmonica, and a 2 piece drum set. The vocals by Mark Mulcachy, that aching voice I remembered so well, is just incredible. Like other great American rock voices; Chilton, Westerberg, Louris; his has layers of vulnerability, frustration, and hope.
There aren't many stand outs on this album. It's a beautiful album yes, and you can listen all the way through without finding anything frustrating, but at the same time you could also get a tad bored. The lyrics are solid, and at times painfully introspective, but the whole experience is a bit long. However, one listen to it and you'll, like me, be trying to track down the rest of the Miracle Legion catalogue.

Polaris
Songs from The Adventures of Pete and Pete
***
I was ecstatic finding this on Itunes, and that's probably the only place you're gonna find it. I'd been trying to find an EP I once had with a few of the songs from the show, but this album has everything. Twelve-songs from the show are here. Of course, "Hey Sandy" and "Summerbaby" are here, and both are amazing songs even out of the context of the show. But there's a lot of material in here that's worth listening to, though much of it, 16 years after it was recorded, sounds very much like a product of the time. But for fans of early '90's indie rock, or of the show, this is a must.

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