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Buffalo Tom | Besides (Beggars Banquet)
With a quartet of tracks that would make any definitive 'Best of Buffalo Tom', this collection of b-sides and rarities is no hastily assembled set of off-cuts best left to gather dust. Simultaneously more experimental and casual than a regular Tom album, trademark guitar jaunts sit nervously alongside sparse ballads and an array of cover versions that collectively disclose the band's diverse influences. From Bob Dylan's She Belongs To Me to The Velvet Underground's All Tomorrow's Parties (both given the big reverb production at the same 1992 session), or the raucous rendition of George Harrison's Wah-Wah, to the loose blues of The Stones' own b-side The Spider & The Fly, the band retrace their musical upbringing. Touring partners My Bloody Valentine, The Spinanes and Teenage Fanclub complete the transatlantic inspirations, the former's Cupid Come the only misfire here, a home-recorded experiment that never quite gels. But Rebecca Gates' Hawaiian Baby described as 'delectable' on the band-penned sleeve-notes remains so here and the Chris Colbourn sung take on the Fanclub's Guiding Star (one of two previously unheard gems here) is an affectionate reading intended for an aborted split 7". Colbourn says of Blake, Love, McGinley and Co that 'it was rare to come across musicians during the Nirvana era that were just trying to be good songwriters and not rock stars,' a philosophy that has shaped (and perhaps hindered) their own career. With his curious laments to ex-babysitters and golden retrievers, Colbourn shines on 'Besides', opening proceedings with the rush of Witches, one of the band's finest moments given well-deserved pole-position here. Infectious pop confection is his forte and, under-represented as he's been on the regular albums, here he's up front on eight of the eighteen tracks, including 'fun rockers' Breathe and Clouds from the 'Sleepy Eyed' sessions and the tentative piano ballad Bumble Bee from '91. The more emotive rasp of Bill Janovitz propels the straight-ahead rock of Never Noticed, Does This Mean You're Not My Friend? and For All To See, holding back to great effect on Hawaiian Baby and the previously unreleased Anchors Aweigh (described, accurately enough, as a 'template for Wiser' a highlight from their last studio album, 'Smitten'). Completists may note the absence of Dear Doctor (a second Stones cover featured on the Beggars Banquet '21' promo), Merry Go Round from the 'Sweet Relief' tribute to Victoria Williams and, most notably (I jest), the classic Lolly, Lolly Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here from the kiddie-comp 'School House Rocks Rocks' (sic). A potential double album then (a dozen or so live and acoustic alternate versions of album tracks have surfaced on singles and compilations over the years), but a very welcome and worthy addition to one of the most enduring catalogues in classic indie rock.

Matt Dornan
August 2002