Yung Wu is/was a band, not an individual. With that sorted out, in my opinion this New Jersey five-piece may as well have dubbed themselves "That Feelies spinoff band." Not only does that denote there lineage, it invariably trails any mention of Yung Wu anywhere, be it online, The Trouser Press Record Guide, or even the occasional '80s fanzine that was thoughtful enough to offer them some press three decades back.
In a nutshell, the story goes like this. After the very belated release of the Feelies not-so-difficult sophomore LP, 1986's The Good Earth, yet another hiatus was in order. This sabbatical would entail the revival of Yung Wu, a band that had it's roots in The Trypes. Dating back to 1982, the Trypes were local indie scenesters who included a guy named Glenn Mercer in their ranks, who just happened to be the Feelies prime mover. In the ranks of this arcane indie curiosity sat Glenn on drums, a 180 from his role in the Feelies. In fact, there was a lot of musical chairs at play in the Trypes fluid ranks, but eventually, the Feelies full-time percussionist, Dave Weckerman, found himself at the head of the class, and with his acquisition of the microphone a fresh modus operandi was set into motion - and the birth of a new entity altogether, Yung Wu.
Essentially a slightly modified configuration of The Feelies, Yung Wu's lineup consisted of Weckerman on vocals, Stan Demeski filling in Dave's stead on drums, Glenn was relegated to guitars (as was Bill Million per his usual role), Brenda Sauter handled bass and John Baumgartner played keys. Intentionally or not, the Feelies settled on a highly effective formula of brisk, strummy chords, plaintive songwriting, and an indigenous angle of tension (loosely interpreted from the Velvets), all the way back to their 1980 debut, Crazy Rhythms. With YW's reshuffled lineup, largely consisting of the same members, the proceedings were logically a bit more creative, while still fitting quite solidly in the mold of their main gig. Shore Leave's opener (and title track) doesn't stray far from the Feelies ranch, at least not sonically, but Weckerman brings a welcome narrative touch to the table. "Aspiration" exudes soft, rustic overtones with glints of everyone from Chris Knox to Television, and is mightily catchy to boot. Shore Leave's master stroke arrives relatively early in the guise of "Spinning," bearing a juicy, opulent chorus hook that arguably ranks within the top-ten songs in the entire Feelies orbit, period. And if you're desperately hankering for something in the Feelies vein proper, "Modern Farmer" could sit comfortably on their first two records.
Per Weckerman's liner notes. Yung Wu weren't offered the opportunity to cut an album until 1986 or so, but even with their moderately lengthy tenure they only had eight original songs to lay down. To flesh out an entire LP, some supplemental covers were in order - and boy, did Yung Wu pick some splendidly suitable tunes. We're treated to a fairly straight but effective reading of Neil Young's "Powderfinger," and ditto for an old Stone's b-side, "Child of the Moon."
Shore Leave isn't a start-to-finish classic, but try telling that to a die-hard Feelies acolyte and see how far that gets you. It is however a cut well above most spinoff "projects," in the respect that Yung Wu treat the record in the same thoughtful, par excellence mold of Crazy Rhythms and Good Earth. Equally striking is the fact that going into Shore Leave doesn't require any level of Feelies fandom for optimal appreciation...but it doesn't hurt to have a foot in the door. Shore Leave is available physically and digitily straight from Bar/None, Amazon and iTunes, however the vinyl version was a strictly limited Record Store Day title. I understand a few copies remain through bar-none.com, but otherwise your local mom and pop may have a stray copy in stock. As a bonus, the LP version contains a bonus flexi-disc of an early Dave Weckerman single.
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