To understand why the deluxe reissue of Mad Season’s Above seems like such a big deal, you have to flash back to the days when grunge was a musical giant just about to nod off into a satiated slumber, rather than a dinosaur that’s been relegated to classic-rock nostalgia status. As the bands involved in the scene began to suffer from the temptations and pitfalls associated with success, some of them — in the case of Mad Season, singer Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, guitarist Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, bassist John Baker Saunders of the Walkabouts, and drummer Barrett Martin of Screaming Trees – banded together to seek not only a way out from their personal hells, but a way forward for a musical art form that seemed on the point of stagnation. Staley and Saunders wouldn’t live to see the decade in which Above, complete with its iconic cover art by Staley, would receive a deluxe re-release from Sony/Legacy. A terrific re-mastering job makes previously flat songs pop with new energy, and bringing in Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan to record unfinished material Staley had penned for a proposed follow-up album galvanizes the whole affair. The songs still aren’t the strongest, but DVD material (including their last live performance) and gobs of background material transport listeners back to a vital time that overcomes any resistance.
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