Outtakes and Demos 1975-2003
If Joe Grushecky had a quarter for every time someone called him a "local hero," he could probably quit his day job as a schoolteacher and finance a new album out of pocket money. In his native Pittsburgh, PA, Grushecky is revered as a rock & roll hero, while nearly anywhere else his name earns the reaction "Who?" Which is a real shame -- as a songwriter of the "heartland rock" school, his best work is every bit as strong as anything Bruce Springsteen or John Mellencamp has to offer, and his sophomore album with the Iron City Houserockers, Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive, is a lost masterpiece of busted blue-collar dreams and working-class rage. Grushecky still has enough of a following to merit releasing small-label albums every once in a while, which invariably contain at least a couple outstanding songs, and Outtakes and Demos 1975-2003 is an offering to his faithful fans, containing one disc of recordings that didn't make the cut on his albums over the years and another disc of demos and working versions of tunes that (for the most part) have been fan favorites. The Outtakes disc includes an early version (with different lyrics) of "Blondie" from Have a Good Time (he says in his liner notes the later version was written "with a certain British rock star in mind" -- funny, one might presume it was about Debbie Harry); the first Houserockers demo recording (when they were still called Brick Alley); two unreleased versions of "Cracking Under Pressure" (a compromised recording was the title cut of the original Houserockers' ill-fated final LP); the rare single "Goodbye Steeltown"; as well as some fine unheard songs, including "The Coach's Son," "Let the Boy Rock," "Close Enough," and "Cigarettes and Gin." While disc one is a good sampler that fans will revel in, the (mostly) solo recordings on disc two are considerably tougher going; most sound as if Grushecky was still working out the songs as he was taping them (and he probably was), and most of them sound better with the muscle of a full band behind them rather than with just Joe and his guitar. But even the weakest moments on this set are worthwhile as history, and though Outtakes and Demos 1975-2003 isn't likely to win Joe Grushecky any new admirers, fans will eat it up, and the scope of the material offers more evidence that this guy deserves to be playing in the big leagues rather than Steeltown club gigs.