Murder Bay – Never Was An Angel

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Review by Brian McGowan

Based on the available evidence, there’s a never ending supply of long lost, unreleased recordings for niche record companies to sift through. Eonian Records are a little different. Thanks to the encyclopaedic knowledge (and exquisite taste) of owner/founder Stephen Craig, this label actively targets them and tracks them down. By doing so, Eonian has achieved a consistently high standard of releases over the short period of time since its inception. And arguably, their latest release – Murder Bay’s ‘Never Was An Angel’ – will become the inestimable gem in the label’s expanding catalogue.

Back In 1990 in San Francisco (where else?), Murder Bay’s fully formed sound, filled with slashing riffs and joyful hooks, all driven by a rolling groove, captured the imagination of a generation of California rock fans, raised on G‘n‘R, Motley Crue, Van Halen etc etc. Their early recordings were committed to tape by teenage prodigy, Eric Valentine (who 2 years later produced his own band’s self titled masterwork, ‘T-Ride’). The major labels were impressed, but were ultimately diverted North by the smell of teen spirit, and the tapes were shelved. 22 years later those half dozen Valentine recordings plus another seven produced by Rob (Rundgren/Buckethead/G’n’R) Beaton have now been released on one album, ‘Never Was An Angel‘.

Like Valentine, Beaton is an analog man, so these recordings emanate the kind of warmth that’s been lost with the advent of digital technology. That said, a less gracious person might condemn the music as a product of its time, leaning too much on genre formula to steady its aim. And yes, at first glance, the album and the band are hair metal, but at second or third listen you realise that it’s not your flatpack, copycat, Bay area rock that consigned so many pretenders to the bargain bins. Instead, this is brimful of energy and commitment and some brilliant guitar playing, and it’s peppered with jagged rock nuggets, all of them swathed in major colours.

It takes off with ’Land Of Plenty’s measured, propulsive riff, then touches down 13 tracks later with the bluesy, proto funkrock of ‘Song?‘. In between, it’s mostly adhesive. One listen to ‘Honey Child’s chorus and you’ll be fighting your way through a haze of hairspray, but that will be quickly remedied by ‘Outa Line’s and ‘Ultraglide’s insouciant cool…both lightly sprayed with a veneer of urbane sophistication. Most unusual for the genre and the era, and even more welcome as a result. Also welcome are the echoes of T-Ride found in ‘Dirty Works’s tight harmonies, busy, uncluttered bass line and shift of tone in the middle section.

There‘s an edgy intensity to the slowly unfolding title track, ‘Never Was An Angel’. Michael Karafilis’s spare axe motif stands shoulder to shoulder with Paul Trombetta’s drawling, knowing vocal, underlined by a bouncing bass and pounding percussive thump. Among many outstanding tracks, this one deserves its elevation to headline position.

Elsewhere, there’s lots of variation in approach, proving the band’s deftness and versatility. The real sad part is that we know there won’t be a follow up album. Still, ’Never Was An Angel’ is a legacy to be proud of.

Rated 8 out of 10