Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Donner Party - Complete Recordings 1987-1989 (2000, Innerstate)

After some coaxing by one of my readers, I've decided to share this collection in it's entirety, as opposed to merely the album's worth of Donner Party tunes I put up as one of my Mystery Monday features a few weeks ago. Truly in a class by themselves, this mid-fi, Bay Area indie trio may ultimately be remembered as a footnote to the career of frontman Sam Coomes, who would eventually helm a considerably more popular band, QuasiIf that wasn't enough, Coomes also played bass with Portland's Heatmiser, who themselves featured a rising star in Elliott Smith, but I digress.

Out of all his ventures, The Donner Party fascinates me the most, not only by virtue of their small but excellent body of work, but by their strikingly casual and humble tact.  A tact, I might add, which was perfectly conveyed by Coomes fey croon, one that was apt to impart a bevy of wives tale motifs, morbid scenarios, character vignettes, and several benign, offhand references to Satan.  Frequently accompanied on backing vocals by drummer Melanie Clarin, the Donner Party had an endearing chemistry that sinks in the moment their records first grace your ear.

Sonically the band meshes well with early Camper Van Beethoven - a band who-not-so coincidentally released the Donner's second album on their in-house Pitch-a-Tent label.  You can throw in Let's Active for comparison's sake as well, and when D/P really get crankin' (i.e. "John Wilkes Booth") they even forecast the likes of Superchunk. In fact, a lot of territory is covered ranging from punk ("Sickness," "Treepig"), folk ("The Owl of Minerva"), a Sesame Street cover ("Up and Down") and even a dazzling foray into full-tilt bluegrass ("Halo").  And it all works, courtesy of Commes relentless whimsy, wherein mercurial gestures evenly split the difference with the macabre and misanthropic.

Complete Recordings features their two albums (both self-titled), a third unreleased LP, and closes things out with eight live cuts.  Over 50 songs total (far too numerous to type) but click the tray card scan
to your right.  Below is a breakdown where everything is sourced from.  Enjoy.

Disk One
1-15. first album (Cryptovision Records, 1987)
16-28. second album (Pitch-a-Tent Records, 1988)

Disk Two
1-4. second album continued
5-17. unreleased third album
18-25. live 2/2/89 at Berkeley Square

Disk One: http://www42.zippyshare.com/v/27823741/file.html
Disk Two: http://www42.zippyshare.com/v/62626655/file.html

20 comments:

Oxy said...

Coaxing? You're too kind!

Seeing this post was an absolute delight for me. I'll even it out with you some day. Can't thank you enough for this! I think others will feel the same way, too. Thanks again.

spavid said...

No prob. Pretty much the finest title I've shared this year so far, eh?

The Salvager said...

Thanks for sharing, excited to check it out!

Rev. Dave said...

RIP Scott Miller

http://www.loudfamily.com/

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Gavin said...

Bought this Complete 2CD on the strength of you posting the 1st album the other week. Somehow they'd passed me by in the 80's.

Gavin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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edison61 said...

Around 18 or so years ago, when I was still playing music, I did a live broadcast in SF with some other singer-songwriter types (John Wesley Harding, Guy Clark) that coincided with a show I was playing (as part of a 4-artist "round robin") at the Great American Music Hall. At one point during the broadcast, the DJ asked us all to pick a song that we'd wish we'd written and to play it. Harding did the Donner Party's "When I Was a Baby". I was blown away by the song and that was my introduction to this great band (I also started covering the song in shows I played in my hometown of NYC, always thanking Harding for turning me on to it). Thanks so much for the post; they were really a singular band with such great, odd songs.

Jesse F said...

I also saw Harding do "When I Was a Baby" back when he came to Amherst College in...'91? I was totally blown away too, but neglected to note the name of the band, and didn't make the connection until I picked the second album up around '96 in one of my "What's under $3 and got a B+ or better from Christgau?" vinyl trawls. That album became pretty much my favorite album ever for the next five years, and is still in my Top 10...my infinitely obscure band, Denver Zest, tried to cover song after song from it but always gave up because we couldn't do anything with them but pale imitations. At least three or four of our other songs were basically sideways rewrites of these, though.

Jesse F said...

The other two albums here are really, really good too. "Halo" might be my favorite song Coomes ever wrote. Didn't get to hear them until this CD set came out...I was one of the (hopefully many) people coming up to Coomes and pestering him about a re-issue after Quasi shows, so I like to think that, even if I never managed to pay musical tribute to Donner Party, I did my tiny bit to help nudge this into existence.

spavid said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Jesse. "Halo" is a near-mindblower, and I can imagine how difficult it might be to cover. Denver Zest as a band name? Why not. Works for me.

himynameisrobkelso said...

Any chance of reuploading this? The links are down.

spavid said...

The links have been updated.

himynameisrobkelso said...

Awesome. Thanks.