Monday, March 18, 2019

Forgotten Wax: Jules Shear & Reckless Sleepers' 'Big Boss Sounds'!

L TO R: Jimmy Vivino, Steve Holley, Jules Shear, Brian Stanley
When the Reckless Sleepers' debut album Big Boss Sounds came out in 1988, singer/guitarist Jules Shear was still trying to capitalize on the 1986 Top 40 success of "If She Knew What She Wants", which the Bangles had covered on their multi-platinum breakout album Different Light.

The single came three years after Cyndi Lauper had scored a Top 5 hit with her cover of Shear's "All Through The Night", during which time Shear's second solo album The Eternal Return failed to chart. Shear then collaborated with Elliot Easton of The Cars on Easton's solo debut Change No Change, which also failed to chart.

Shear's collaboration with Easton continued after those sessions and led to morphed into an oddball band by the name of Reckless Sleepers that featured ex-Wings drummer Steve Holley and Jimmy Vivino, who would go on to play in Conan O'Brien's house band, managed to land a deal with I.R.S. Records.

The resulting album was a punchy grab-bag of country-tinged rockers that arrived at a time when heartland rock still had a place on Top 40 radio. Reviews for the album were glowing, local station WXRT did their part by adding "If We Never Meet Again" to heavy rotation and then something odd happened: the promotional push surrounding the song just stopped.

Oddly enough, many of the same stations that had stopped playing the Reckless Sleepers "If We Never Meet Again" started playing Tommy Conwell & The Young Rumblers version of the SAME EXACT SONG, which wound up sliding into the Top 50.

A year later, I.R.S. and Shear had moved into "unplugged" territory for The Third Party, effectively ending the "Reckless Sleepers" chapter of Shear's career.

In revisiting Big Boss Sounds for the first time since its initial release, what stands out is how truly ambitious the record had been and how much musical ground Shear and band were intent on covering over the span of ten songs.

From the anthemic BoDeans-meets-Katrina & The Waves ""This Heart" (co-written by Heartbreaker Mike Campbell) to the surf guitar of "Big Before It Bursts" to the Bourbon Street swing of the title cut, this is an album of alarming depth that deserved more than one half-assed single release before being led out to pasture.

What's most alarming is how truly inspired Shear sounds throughout. Not exactly known for his vocal skills, Shear's limitations add a boyish charm to band performances that can be a little too slick for their own good sometimes.

Meanwhile, "I Wake Up Loving You" wouldn't sound at all out of place on a Bloodshot Records comp or Robbie Fulks album.

Scott Litt, who had produced R.E.M.'s stadium rock opus, Document, brought a keen attention to detail that fills each track with a plethora of interesting textures and overdubs while making sure to feature Shear's vocals prominently throughout.

What sounded just a tad too polished back in 1988 has actually become much more palatable over the years and the material itself is by far the best collection of songs on any Shear project, solo or otherwise.

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