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-  Genre: 'Indie' -  Release Date: '8th March 2004'-  Catalogue No: 'GEN 9'

Our Rating:
If you've followed the Liverpool scene in any detail in the past, the name MIKE BADGER ought to have come to your attention as a prime mover in bands such as The Onset and, more famously, the early incarnation of The La's.

So, at a time when rumours persist on Merseyside of a La's reformation, could there be a better opportunity to check out the under-rated Mr.Badger's back catalogue?

Mind you, as the title "Lo-Fi Excursions" suggests, this isn't exactly a career retrospective as such, as the 14 songs contained within are stripped-down, intimately-recorded versions of some of Mike's career highlights to date, plus some previously ureleased tunes and a smattering of instrumental snippets.

And, bearing in mind the songs are sourced from a varety of locations and dates with numerous musicians and acolytes assisting Badger, the results are surprisingly consistent, with the album opening and closing with two great tracks in "2022 Blues" and "Life Story." The former is a jaunty, hillbilly-style voyage into a future where all the world's problems are sorted, and if the song's Phil Ochs-style protagonist decrying his lack of blus to sing sounds unlikely in these post-Madrid times, then the song itself is a corker, as is the autobiographical "Life Story."

In between, there are more highs than lows, too, not least songs like the wistful "No Bitterness Holds Sweetness" (which recalls some of the things on Cherry Red's evergreen "Pillows & Prayers" compilation to these befuddled ears) and the dark, hymnal "It's True": both of which contrast with unlikely heroes such as "South End Hoedown" - where ukelele, banjo and triangle conspire in a bluegrass plot equal parts Kentucky and Kirkby - and "Intermission" where Mike plays along to a Sci-Fi show on his TV and creates something special out of serendipity.

OK, there are a couple of misfires and the instrumentals ("Water Tiger" and the very lo-fi "Sacremento") are merely thumbnail sketches, really. Yet, when you add in the catchy, buskabilly shuffle of "Lovin' On Our Side" and a (sort of) lost La's track when Mike takes on country ballad "Cool Water" with Lee Mavers for company, you can't really go wrong.

So, while supposedly "lo-fi" recordings can sometimes be responsible for 'alternative' music's most heinous crimes, in Mike Badger's capable hands, these excursions are usually intriguing at least and always crackling with passion and soul.

  author: TIM PEACOCK

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