First look at “Black Cat”

LIVE AT THE BLACK CAT LOUNGE (2009)

Its fair to say the 2009 version of “Live at the Black Cat Lounge” is more than a digital remaster of the original. Instead, it feels like a re-imagining of what “Live at the Black Cat Lounge” might have been were it produced today instead of 1991. Taking the original release as a starting point, the new version fills-out the edges with several unreleased tracks from those shows. In doing so, it gives us a fuller picture of who Soulhat was as a band, after playing together for only one year. “Black Cat” still plays more like an album of live songs, instead of a continuous show. But these songs have lost none of their potency, giving us a glimpse into the birth of a band and what made Austin music so special at the turn of the last decade of the twentieth century. Its fair to say that no band before or since sounded quite like this. Prepare yourself to rediscover this band and the music that made us love them.

THE SOUND

We’ve been listening to the CD we made from our original cassette for the better part of ten years. Everything about it is burned into our brains: every lick, every word, every hiccup. But once we put this newly remastered CD in the player, we were literally blown away as if hearing it for the very first time. The music sounds as crystal clear as the day it was recorded (as if we’d know – our tapes have always had hiss). Certainly, Dualtone had the masters to work with and that helped. But the sound has been lovingly remastered in a way we did not anticipate.

THE SONGS

The first thing people who own the original cassette will notice – apart from the missing songs (we’ll get to that later) – is the track sequence. While bookended by the songs that start and finish the 1991 version, many of the songs you expect to find in a certain order have been rearranged or filled-out with new tracks. Here’s just a few quick notes on what we found.

  1. Find the Time – a few more seconds of jamming at the beginning. Sound is just beautiful: like sitting on the risers at the Black Cat, all over again. “Its just like any other night” still there!
  2. Garbageman – original version, originally on side 2 – never sounded better. The definitive version of the song. While “Garbageman” sounds good here, we would still love to see “Old Man Ken” occupying the second track spot. Oh well.
  3. Preacherman – original version, original track 3 – another Soulhat classic, which may be the only (certainly the first) song that immortalized drag worms. Do they ever play this live anymore? They should.
  4. Neighbor – original version, just as kick ass in pure digital glory.
  5. Revenge of the Electric Man – original version, with spoken opening line cut – gorgeous, haunting tune. Always been one of our favorites.
  6. Barely – original version. One of those songs that sounds like nothing before or since. Pure Soulhat.
  7. Skinny Dippin’ – added track – a crowd favorite, this is the song that to us most evokes the memories of the Black Cat days. With the exception of something like “Over Easy”, it might very well be the quintessential original Soulhat track.
  8. Write It All Down – added track – one of those tracks we heard a hundred times live, but may have never known the name. Very good original Soulhat songwriting, unreleased in any other form.
  9. Alone – added track – another very good Soulhat original, the only new song here that ended up on Outdebox. It certainly fits right in and probably should have been on the original release – considering its popularity and the fact it has had such a long lifespan.
  10. Wanna Know – added track – another really good original song from the early days. Fits in well with the rest of the songs, and many of you will recognize it even though you may not have heard it in 19 years.
  11. Better – a staple of live shows at the time and hasn’t lost any of its charm.
  12. Mailbox – another crowd favorite, “Mailbox” shows us many sides of Soulhat. Great songwriting, reggae groove, creepy lyrics (with apologies to Rich). From the original versions recorded during Kevin’s four-track days onward, this was always one of our favorite Soulhat tunes.
  13. Longtime – added track – another great song from the Soulhat vaults. Don’t worry, you’ll recognize it when you hear it.
  14. Son of Big Chief – added track – this is another forgotten original song. The only other recording we have of it is from the 1-19-92 KUT-FM live set, where it appears on the acoustic side.
  15. Love Me Now – alternative version, this one is almost 30 seconds longer than the version that appears on the cassette. Whether its better than the original, its hard to say. But this version is another amazing barnburner, and which at the time was the only song which managed to get Kevin off his acoustic guitar. Always the last song, and the best way to send the crowd home after a long show, long before “Bonecrusher” moved into that spot permanently.

THE MISSING

Owners of the original will no doubt notice the missing songs. “Old Man Ken” and “Captain Funk” are gone from the original lineup. While its certainly the band’s prerogative to remove songs they didn’t like (Kevin, in particular always thought “Captain Funk” was too silly), we’re surprised they didn’t try to preserve as much as they could of the integrity of the original recording. “Old Man Ken” was one of those tunes that defined the band for us.

What little crowd and room noise between songs has been cut. This no doubt helped make room for extra songs, where the CD clocks in at a very generous 71+ minutes. Also missing: the little drum fill at the start of “Mailbox,” Bill’s exclamation “we’re going to bring it down a little bit if that’s alright” at start of “Electric Man,” the little extemporaneous acoustic riff right before “Better” kicks off.

THE NEW TRACKS

If it seemed like a shame to excise two original tracks from this remaster, the additions nearly make up for it. Time is the great equalizer, and for the band, going back to these tapes might’ve been seen as a chance to rectify ‘mistakes’ they made when most of the band were barely in their twenties. Of course, few who own the original cassette would consider those little things mistakes. But picking the right songs, putting them in the right order, adjusting for flow and feeling — these are what separate good albums from great ones. For our part, we think the only “new” songs that add significantly to the original ten are “Alone” and “Skinny Dippin’.” And we have to admit, “Wanna know” also seems like a lost gem. But its great to rediscover these old songs, at any rate, which never appeared on any other Soulhat record. They are part of the band’s history and contribute to the Soulhat canon, any way you look at them. This is really what it was like to see a show at the Black Cat, direct to two-track, no overdubs, just one solid unit making music that has never sounded better.

CONCLUSION

10 out of 10. Thank you Soulhat. Thank you Dualtone.