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John Stewart Link:

John Stewart

Appleseed Recordings

John Stewart
Wires From the Bunker
2000, Appleseed Recordings

There is a history to these "lost tapes" of John Stewart, recorded at various times in the mid-‘80s. The liner notes tell the tale of a decrepit box containing old tapes in a musty garage. John Stewart, long-time recording artist and songwriter, was clearing out his garage in 1991 and discoveres the forgotten music. Stewart, more artist than packager, badly duct tapes the box semi-together and ships, as is, to his friend (and more accomplished archivist) Tom Delisle for possible…whatever. The image of the UPS man, gamely trying to hold this duct tape-challenged package in one piece on Delisle’s front porch is quite comical. To make a long-though-interesting anecdote short, thanks to Tom Delisle, these recordings are available today. Stewart was merely cleaning out his garage.

These "lost" recordings were taped after Stewart had lost his big-label deal with RSO and was in an all-too-familiar state of "artist limbo." He had hit big on RSO with the single “Gold” from the 1979 album Bombs Away Dream Babies. The follow-up album, Dream Babies Go Hollywood, though most worthy, had stiffed and RSO, being the chart-obsessed “babies” they are, dropped Stewart from their roster. Stewart still recorded during this period of limbo and (thanks to Tom Delisle, duct tape, and UPS) the results can be heard on Wires From the Bunker.

Of the eighteen songs salvaged for this collection, most are Stewart originals that had never been released. A few, like "The Escape of Old John Webb," are songs that have appeared in other incarnations. ("The Escape of Old John Webb" was on a Kingston Trio album from Stewart’s days in that group.) The style of music is a mix. Stewart’s earlier, folkier days are represented, as are his later, echo-y, rock stylings. Of this latter approach, "American Way," "Cheyenne," "Tears of the Sun," and "When the Night Was Ours" are especially convincing. "American Way," for one, is a pumping rocker featuring friend and Fleetwood Mac alumnus Lindsey Buckingham on guitar and backing vocals. It is a strong song that would have been right at home on either of Stewart’s two RSO albums. In his folkie mode, on "The Escape of Old John Webb," ex-Trio mates Nick Reynolds and Dave Guard back Stewart on vocals to great effect.

How one views this collection depends on how one feels about John Stewart and "recovered" recordings in general. Stewart fans will see this as gold from the "Gold" years. And, considering a good eleven or twelve of these eighteen songs are airtight and album-worthy, who could blame them? —Steve Cooper