City Slang: “Mack Avenue Skullgame – Original Soundtrack” revisited

Not only does Mack Avenue Skullgame need revisiting, but Big Chief’s entire career deserves to be enjoyed all over again. The presence of former Necros singer Barry Henssler was enough to give Big Chief some cred before they’d even played a note. When they did kick in, it was the all-too-overlooked guitar pairing of Phil Durr and Mark Dancey and the almighty rhythm section of Mike Danner (drums) and Matt O’Brien (bass) that drove the whole thing forward into a previously undiscovered realm.

Mack Avenue Skullgame was Big Chief’s third and final full length studio album for Sub-Pop (the Platinum Jive record came out on Capital a year later). It was also, to these ears, their best. The band had gotten signed to Sub-Pop at the beginning of the ‘90s, just as the Seattle explosion – dubbed “grunge” by a lazy media – was breaking internationally, with that label at the center of it all. Trouble was, Big Chief didn’t sound like anyone else on the label. In fact, Big Chief didn’t sound much like anyone at all.

And so it seems, whether it be true or not, that by the time they got to this record, they’d pretty much given up hope of breaking big with Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, and decided instead to go out all guns blazing. To make the record that they wanted to make.

What a record. Despite the presence of the words “original soundtrack” in the album’s title, this isn’t the soundtrack to an actual movie. It should be though. It would be a cracker. The band touch on all bases here, from Isaac Hayes-esque soul to hardcore punk and everything in between. The presence of Thornetta Davis on more than a few of the songs is perhaps the most intense stroke of brilliance from the band. The contrast of her voice with Hennseler’s really works, against the odds.

This isn’t a record to pick tracks from. It has to be listened to in its entirety. However, the end of “One Born Every Minute”, where Davis is wailing and groaning over some incredible Durr guitar noise, is so good that I had to pull my car over on 13 Mile Rd. when listening to this CD just before writing this piece.

One final note – the art is by bassist Mark Dancey. He did all of the Big Chief sleeves, as well as Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, among others.

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