Mad Season was an extraordinary group. On paper alone, having Layne Staley, Mike McCready and Barrett Martin in your band was substantial enough. Then when you put it all together, and the end result is the album, Above, you know it was all meant to be. This album is one of my all time favorites. “Wake Up” is one hell of a heart wrenching song. Lyrically it’s beyond dark and deep and the accompanying music really creates the right vibe. Then when Mike McCready’s guitar solo kicks in, it’s on a whole other level. Mad Season as much as it was a side project, really was able to showcase how truly underrated Mike is as a player but, more specifically as a writer. The music for “Wake Up” was actually written before Layne joined Mike, Barrett and the late John Baker Saunders. The solo though, is on a whole other level. And when you hear live versions of the song, it’s even more euphoric.
In 2015, the surviving members of Mad Season, Mike McCready and Barrett Martin reconvened for an evening to celebrate the band and it’s album, Above. This special concert titled “Sonic Evolution. At this show they were accompanied by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. The late Chris Cornell filled in on vocals for the dearly departed Layne Staley and Duff McKagan filled in on bass for the late John Baker Saunders. This concert is quite poignant and emotional. The songs picked for this show were quite interesting and the performances by each person really stand out. It just goes to show how great these songs are and how much of a lasting effect they still have. Enjoy this show!
While on my way to work this morning and enjoying the shuffle of my iPod, I came across a song I haven’t heard in a minute. At first I didn’t recognize it because it had been so long since I listened to it but, after a few seconds, it all came back to me. Now, I will share it with you all. Here’s Mad Season’s cover of John Lennon’s “I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier.” I also find this song very interesting for the times we live in now.
In celebration of what would have been Layne Staley’s 51st birthday, let’s take a closer look at the side project Mad Season. I’m sure most of you out there know about this band by now, but for those that don’t here’s a quick history lesson. Mad Season was formed originally by Pearl Jam guitarist, Mike McCready and bassist, John Baker Saunders. The two had met in a rehab facility and returned to Seattle after their stint there. Not long after the move back, Mike and John recruited Screaming Trees drummer, Barrett Martin, to join them. After only a couple of jams together, they had written the instrumentals for what would become “Wake Up,” and “River of Deceit.” Needing a singer, Mike sought out Layne Staley to front the group. It was Mike’s hope that surrounding himself with sober musicians might also help Layne to get sober as well.
The album they made together, Above, is one of the most haunting, beautiful pieces of work to come out from that era. It’s right up there with how sentimental and profound as Temple of the Dog’s album is. The band originally called themselves The Gacy Bunch, but later changed the name to Mad Season, which is an English term for the time of year that psilocybin mushrooms are in full bloom. The albums music was recorded in about seven days, while the vocals took only a few more days to complete. Before the band went into record the album, while they were still writing, Mike McCready had told Layne that he could do what he wanted with this and write all the lyrics. And so, he did, and it marked a profound moment for Layne, not just as a writer but set him on a spiritual path through music.
The ten songs on the album stretch across genres, such as rock, blues, jazz, and some tribal elements. Some critics thought that Mad Season was just as though Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam had a baby, but the fans, the people that really mattered, saw this album as a gem. Every song on the album had a deep meaning and musically pushed those feeling and emotions. When you have an album with songs like “Wake Up,” “River of Deceit,” “I’m Above,” “Lifeless Dead,” “X-Ray Mind,” “November Hotel” “All Alone,” and “Long Gone Day,” it’s pretty hard to not be astonished by the magnitude Layne, Mike, John and Barrett created. Something else that is worth noting is the inclusion of Screaming Trees singer, Mark Lanegan, on the songs “I’m Above” and “Long Gone Day.” His contributions on those two songs add an extra level of chills to the already spine-tingling album.
In 2012, there was a re-release of the album which featured four unreleased songs. These songs were from the bands unfinished second album. The songs were musically done, so Mike and Barrett asked Mark Lanegan to write lyrics and sing on these tracks. Also included in the re-release was a DVD of the bands show at The Moore theater as well as the bands 1994 New Year’s Eve show at the now defunct club RKCNDY. These performances of Mad Season will leave you with the hairs on your arms and back standing up.
Mad Season was a band that was meant to be. Their album, Above, is beyond tremendous. Mad Season wasn’t just a side project, it was a band that really allowed Mike McCready and Layne Staley to show what they could really do. Not to take away from their contributions to Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains, this band just really allowed these two to be free to fully express themselves in a different capacity. Mike McCready is seriously one of the most underrated guitar players ever. His playing and songwriting on Above proves that beyond a shadow of a doubt. Layne’s vocals and lyrics are absolutely on another level. The lyrics go deeper than his previous work in Alice In Chains. Here he gets a bit more introspective and finds a balance of what he dreams of and what is reality. Barrett Martin continued to prove how talented of a player he is on this album. And John Baker Saunders added a level of subtle cool to these songs, that only he could.
Mad Season still lives on just as the memories of Layne Staley and John Baker Saunders. I like to think of Mad Season as more than just a side project, but more of a band that gave new life to everyone involved in this. All you have to do is listen and let it all sink in and you’ll fall in love with this masterpiece.
About four years ago, a band from Seattle came on to the scene and brought with them rock and blues. Along with the Seattle gloom, Walking Papers used a more bluesy approach to stand out from others. It was truly a very welcoming sound that kept listeners engaged and gave something more to the rock world. The band is comprised of singer/guitarist Jeff Angell, drummer Barrett Martin (who you might know from Screaming Trees and Mad Season), keyboardist Benjamin Anderson and bassist Duff McKagen (from a little known band called Guns n Roses). The four of them released their self titled debut album back in 2012 and it was quite awesome. The album also features the very underrated Mike McCreedy of Pearl Jam on a couple songs. Mike is also known to make guest appearances on stage with the band as their lead guitar player. Songs like “Already Dead,” “The Whole World’s Watching,” “Red Envelopes,” “Capital T,” and “The Butcher,” are absolute stand outs from their album. Live, the band is quite the spectacle. They really hone in on their roots and summon the spirits of the past bringing the rock n blues every time along with some swagger.
After some time away, Walking Papers are getting ready to release their second album in 2018. I personally can’t wait for this album. I’ve been hoping for a long time that we would get to have a second album from them. Jeff Angell has mentioned that on this record “It perfectly captures the raw, explosive energy of a band primed from extensive touring while at the same time achieving the polish and elevation that comes from experimenting in the studio.” You can pre-order the new album HERE. I highly recommend you doing so as well as checking out their debut!
When you hear an album in its entirety it can change your life, set a mood, inspire and set you free. There are so many great albums that can do all that was mentioned. One that has always stood out with me since I first heard it many many years ago was Mad Season’s album Above. Comprised of Layne Staley (Vocals), Mike McCreedy (Guitars), Barrett Martin (Drums) and John Baker Sanders (Bass), there is not one thing that is wrong with this album. The performances are perfect. Musically it verges on blues and etherial bounds and reaches far beyond what anyone thought it would be. Vocally the honesty and melodies stay with you for eternity. Kicking off the album is “Wake Up” a sincere inner look at what Layne was going through and struggling with. The lyrics so personal and painful yet connects as a powerful message to anyone listening. “X-Ray Mind” has an amazing tribal drum intro that goes right into a sweeping bluesy riff that segways into a the crooning Staley’s distinctive voice. “River Of Deceit” is another song that is brilliant and is deep and personal. The way Layne sings, you the listener really can feel everything he is saying and the chills you get it unmistakable. “I’m Above” starts with a sweet mellowness that kicks into high gear with a crunchy blues riff, complimented by steady and sultry bass lines that are found on the entire record. “Artificial Red” is a simple blues song that has a sweet groove to it. “Lifeless Dead” and “I Don’t Know Anything” hit right away with another awesome dirty blues riff the is mixed with a drum beat that is behind the beat and a bass line that guides the song with powerful rhythm. “Long Gone Day” features Mark Lanegan on guest vocals. Mark and Layne have a perfect vocal balance and the pseudo duet is very haunting. The music behind the song is mellow and psychedelic, that send you on a deeper journey into your own mind. Closing out the album is “All Alone” a song that ventures into the more ambient and sedated of all the tracks, that slowly fades out at the end.
Recently, Above was re-released with an accompanying live album and DVD that shows just how amazing they truly were. There were also 3 new tracks released with it that feature Mark Lanegan on vocals. Sadly Mad Season lasted only one album. Barrett Martin is now playing in an exceptional band called Walking Papers, and Mike McCreedy is still playing with Pearl Jam. Layne has passed away as well as the very talented John Baker Sanders. They might not be here anymore but, the great thing is that this music and album live on. I can honestly put this album in my top 25 records of all time.
If you’ve never experienced this album you’ve missed out!