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The 1994 compilation HOTEL MASSACHUSETTS — centered around bands that played at the Bay State Hotel in Northampton, Mass. — included such indie luminaries as Sebadoh, Silver Jews, Lyres, and New Radiant Storm King. The CD was released on Chunk Records, a locally-based label that had released a stellar series of singles (Guided by Voices, DMZ, The Figgs, et al.), run by radio host/rock n’ roll frontman/would-be impresario Mal Thursday. The 23 track anthology represented a high water mark for the scene, the label, and the club that gave the album its name.
Both Chunk and the Bay State ceased operations in 2001.
20 years later comes a deluxe reissue of HOTEL MASSACHUSETTS, with a second disc that more than lives up to the first. With 51 tracks by 49 bands, the double disc offers a comprehensive overview of a particular regional scene over the course of a decade. With the exception of a few Boston bands (Lyres, Fuzzy) and one from Worcester (Preston Wayne Four), the rest of these bands hailed from the sleepy college/mill towns of Western Massachusetts. That they had such a vibrant scene — and that most of the music on these discs is so strong — is quite impressive, given the sparseness of the population. It was kind of a little mini-utopia of indie rock, with a bustling club scene, music festivals, and J Mascis, Thurston Moore, and Kim Gordon calling it home.
J’s still there, but y’all know what happened with Kim and Thurston.
While some cuts on the first disc haven’t aged well, others sound better today than they did back in ’94: Sebadoh (an alternate version of “Skull”), Lumber (“Hooked”), and The Unband (“You’re No Boy Wonder”) chief among them. There are some funny interstitials recorded at the Bay State that provide the appropriate ambience.
Disc Two, while it lacks the more familiar names, is actually the stronger of the two, with much better flow. Among the aces in the second deck: Humbert (“Strangel”), The Inskirts (“Skating”), Tag Sale (“Rocker of the Pack”), Aloha Steamtrain (“Last Week”), and King Radio (“DC-10”). Former Chunk Records/current Chunk Archives honcho Mal Thursday and The Cheetahs also score with “Get Outta Dallas,” a song that also appeared on CONSPIRACY A GO GO, a comp of JFK-related garage rock from 2013. The album closes with the greatest version of The Doors’ “The End” ever recorded, by Raymond & The Circle from Agawam, Mass.
The Deluxe Edition of HOTEL MASSACHUSETTS is a raucous time capsule of a lost era, an homage to a long-shuttered venue and the bands that rocked it. It also makes a prima facie case for Western Mass as one of the most underrated local scenes of the ’90s.
****1/2 out of *****