Screaming Trees - Dust - Review
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critics' view

Coming through the grunge scene and seen very much as one of its instigators, Screaming Trees have remained oddly under celebrated. Maybe it's the band's own seeming disinterest in their past that's gone a long way to airbrushing out some of their mystique, or possibly a simple media fixation with Cobain, Vedder, Staley and Weiland, who knows? Dust was the band's final album before splitting in 2000 and that it took four years between those two events, illustrates the continual dysfunction that apparently made them the force they were - although Matt Reynolds interesting liner notes in this two disc reissue offer up some alternate theories. Either way Dust did for them, the Last Words: Final Recordings appearing some 11 years after their demise, although with four years between Sweet Oblivion and Dust, it was already clear that little was running smoothly in the creative camp. Hence, that the ten tracks that made up their final full album together are as compelling as they are, is testament to their stamina and dedication.

Comprising singer Mark Lanegan, brothers Gary Lee Connors on guitar and Van on bass, and Barrett Martin on drums, to pigeon hole this quartet as shoe gazing, flannel wearing grunge stereotypes is to dismiss a fixation with the past that much of the Seattle scene tried, initially, to pretend never existed. With more in common with The Byrds or psychedelic era Beatles than Nirvana, the only other band of the time who were trying to blend those styles with a harsher, ragged guitar grind was Masters Of Reality. So it's probably no coincidence that their leader Chris Goss adds backing vocals on a couple of songs, although if you're looking for 'star draw', then it possibly comes more from the guitar solo on "Dying Days" from Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, or the almost permanently in evidence mellotron and electric and acoustic piano of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers man, Benmont Tench.

In truth the real stars here are the songs, the middle eastern flavours of "Halo Of Ashes" a Neil Young meets Led Zeppelin skirmish, while "All I Know" sits as an uplifting celebration of swirling guitars and wailing vocals. When the latter calms itself down a 60s heart is revealed and in quite magnificent fashion. The surprisingly sprightly but still dowdy "Dying Days" illustrates real crossover appeal, the more considered but no less heady "Sworn And Broken" hits hard (Tench's contribution irresistible), while the lazy strum and hum of "Traveler" takes you on its intended journey. His tone may always be deep and down but Lanegan really is a singer who should have received many more plaudits than have ever come his way, while Gary Lee Connor's guitars, whether gentle strums, or soul juddering thunder, go a long way to dismissing any simple grunge notions.

Between 1985 and 2000, Screaming Trees came, they saw and well, they disappeared again. If that brief shining light didn't catch your eye, Dust is where you should start. There's little doubt that you'll wonder why twelve year-olds aren't walking down the streets 'ironically' wearing t-shirts emblazoned with Screaming Trees' name, but deep down you'll be glad there isn't.

Steven Reid
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