Mad Season ‘Above' (Columbia/Legacy)
One of the greatest side projects to spring from Seattle's grunge gold field was the gloriously gloomy Mad Season, made up of the late, lamented Alice in Chains lead singer Layne Staley, main Pearl Jam guitar slinger Mike McCready, Screaming Trees stick man Barrett Martin and one non-Seattleite, bassist John Baker Saunders of The Walkabouts and Lamont Cranston Band. Their chemistry proved near-perfect on their one and only completed album, “Above,” released in March 1995, and the just-released deluxe edition of that record is one of those rare reissues that improves on the original release.
They were dubbed the “rehab band” because McCready met Saunders while in a drug/alcohol treatment program, and the guitarist decided to form a side project that might help his friend Staley get sober as well. The resulting album, a mix of hard-edge rock, blues and melancholy ballads, still stands as a work of dark beauty, bearing strong similarities to Staley's and McCready's regular bands. Alas, although “Above” was well-received and writing and recording was begun on a second album, Staley failed to show up for work and the project was shelved. Saunders died of drug abuse in 1999 and the singer finally suffered a fatal overdose in 2002.
The good news is that McCready and Martin reteamed in 2012, along with “Above's” original producer Brett Eliason, recruiting Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan to pen lyrics and sing on three of the best songs from the aborted sophomore effort — “Locomotive,” “Black Book of Fear” and “Slip Away” — which prove superior to many of the original 10 tracks thanks to Lanegan's vocals, which prove more muscular and dynamic than the tortured Staley's moody ruminations.
The deluxe package also includes a second CD of the previously unreleased full set, “Live at the Moore,” recorded in Seattle in April 1995, and a DVD containing footage from that show and the band's complete concert on New Year's Eve 1995 at Seattle's storied RKCNDY venue.
— Gene Triplett