Hi Fi – The Complete Collection


Review by Brian McGowan

Another fabulous re-release from Rockville. Following hard on the heels of their Pavlov’s Dog reissues comes this “2 albums on 1CD” (and DVD) release.

Back in 1981, PD members, David Surkamp and Douglas Rayburn escaped from “the hell that the ‘Dog had become” by decamping from St.Louis to The Pacific Northwest, setting up home in Seattle. There they met Ian Matthews, late of Fairport Convention and Matthews Southern Comfort, and fresh from the Billboard Top Forty with solo single, ‘Shake It’.

Strange bedfellows perhaps, but Surkamp and Matthews hit it off and soon started writing and recording together. The results were the studio album, ‘Moods For Mallards’ and the live album, ‘Demonstration Record’.

This Collection brings the recordings together on 1 disc. Completists will love the fact that also included are “both sides” of the band’s Christmas single and Surkamp’s last 2 solo recordings from the “Seattle Years”. All lovingly re-mastered.

It is truly a dazzling array of songs, an album crammed with fabulous songwriting collaborations and arcane, yet astutely chosen covers. There are Prince, Shadows and Troggs’ covers, but the picks are the rifftastic, driving ‘9 O’clock’, originally recorded by the Snips (Steve Parsons, Chris Spedding and Bill Nelson), and ‘Man In A Station’, where Hi Fi celebrate John Martyn’s highly original brand of rock’n’roll spirit.

On their own stuff, ‘Heart Of Mine’ (featured on the recent Pavlov’s Dog Live album) would be most notable for the piercing vocal performance if the chiming guitars and axe solos – one moment measured, the next raging – had not surpassed it. Matthews evokes the Talking Heads’ avant-garde pop sensibilities on the magnificent ‘I Can’t Fade Away’, and his sweet tenor beautifully compliments Surkamp’s shimmering, high toned vocals on ‘Walk Away’. Surkamp sounds truly galvanised by this new partnership and determined to try something different, while at the same time allowing classic rock and new wave influences to show through.

Two albums’ worth and 5 bonus tracks is a lot to wade through, but strangely, even though it goes off tangentially at times and shunts us down a few cul de sacs, it’s a rewarding journey. Even the bizarre, spoken version of Richard Berry’s classic ‘Louie Louie’ – a new if hardly compelling take on a vital element of rock music’s heritage – doesn’t seem in any way out of place here.

The DVD is a genuine bonus. Only five tracks, all recorded live in the studio, before an invited audience.

The real interest, and pleasure, is the “between tracks” interview/commentaries from Surkamp and Matthews. They skim the surface a little, but over thirty years later, the pair’s story of their coming together in Seattle in 1981 still holds fascination.

Highly Recommended