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CELEBRATE: Re-released "Birthday" live LP a fine gift from Guadalcanal Diary

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ALBUM REVIEW: Guadalcanal Diary – At Your Birthday Party (Omnivore) 2018

A couple of months ago, while interviewing the editor of the Port Arthur News in Texas, while working on a book involving that Southeastern Texas city, he asked me if I was familiar with the 80’s college rock band Guadalcanal Diary. The editor said it in relation to the World War II-linked memoir of the same name by war correspondent Richard Tregaskis, from which the band took its name.

Of course! I replied. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the jangly, smart four-piece Georgia rock band was one of my top bands, particularly the 2x4 (1987) and Flip-Flop (1989) albums. They even had a minor hit in rotation on MTV in ‘89/’90 called “Always Saturday.”

It was a weird bit of synchronicity (the editor had done his thesis on the correspondent who followed in Tregaskis’ footsteps, it seems) but in the context of a fabulous band like Guadalcanal Diary, it makes a lot of sense.

And while they faded right before the rise of grunge-rock, the four band members – vocalist/lyricist Murray Attaway, guitarist/lyricist Jeff Walls (now with the fantastic Woggles), bassist Rhett Crowe and drummer John Poe (both of whom wrote songs for the band as well) – had crack-boom-bang, 60’s-garage-band-styled energy in a live setting when they were on stage together, playing from the ’83 Watusi Rodeo EP; Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man (1984); Jamboree (1986); 2x4 (1987), the above-mentioned Flip-Flop and was followed with Attaway’s sadly-underappreciated 1993 solo offering on Geffen Records – In Thrall, which included one of my favorite Attaway-penned songs – the spooky bluegrass/rock of “Walpurgis Night.”

And it was in January 1998, at Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta (not far from their suburban roots in Marietta) that the rock combo excited their old fans with a blistering 16-song set that covered much of their studio-recorded output in the mid-to-late 1980’s (save for the aforementioned “Always Saturday,” which was not included in this set for some reason).

Following the live show, which was recorded, the band had a limited release of what was titled At Your Birthday Party.

Well, for those of us who didn’t pick it up 20 years ago, Omnivore Recordings has kindly cleaned up that original live recording and re-released At Your Birthday Party for all of us graying scenesters who seriously dug the Diary back in the day.

Much to the glee of the audience that night, the exciting build-up of the opening song in the set, the instrumental “Gilbert Takes the Wheel,” which runs right into “Trail of Tears” (not hongs from Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man, gives the show a bit of buzzy melancholia, something Attaway offers up quite effortlessly, it would seem.

Jeff Walls is a guitar-slinging powerhouse, as evident on "Cattle Prod," which simply smokes. To have been in the room that night in Atlanta (I was over in Tuscaloosa, Alabama that night - if I'd only had a ride!). Rhett Crowe gets to be the voice on the bouncy "Pau Pau," which has an almost B-52's feel. 

The cowpunky “Country Club Gun” allows Walls to really showcase his guitar-playing chops as the band gallops at a steady gait while "Whiskey Talk" with Attaway sneering, "Promises aren't worth a dime / Plans you made are a waste of time / No one knows what you got in mind / Or if you've got a mind in you.

And while the recording takes us down memory lane (just a few blocks from Penny Lane), I want to urge my younger readers to give this record a serious listening to. Those open chords from Walls’ guitar, Poe’s cowbell flourishes on “Pretty is as Pretty Does,” to the high-octane guitar-pop of "Dead Eyes" and the short-n-sweet Three Stooges homage "I See Moe," done when the Jump 'N The Saddle Band was bringing goofy smiles to pimply adolescents like me with "The Curly Shuffle." Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!

Not surprisingly, their early hit "Watusi Rodeo" closes out this red-hot set. Now, I know the band went their separate ways because of other interests, commitments and artistic ideas and endeavours. Still, knowing that Attaway and Walls collaborate every so often leads me to believe that when the time is right, Guadalcanal Diary (which should have been as big as R.E.M. or even The Connells) still has a lot to offer, particularly in this soul-deadening time in "popular" music. Please come back, Guadals. We need you! It's all part of God's plan, right?

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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