The name “Mad Season” refers to the time of the year when psychedelic mushrooms are in bloom. Which makes it a fitting, if ultimately sad, name for this Seattle supergroup, as drug use permeates the band’s beginning, the music, and quick dissolution. Nonetheless, the band’s album, Above, originally released in 1995, is a hauntingly compelling work, sinuous and seductive, drawing the listener in to its dark fantasy.

The band began when Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready met sometime Walkabouts bassist John Baker Saunders while both were undergoing rehab at a facility in Minnesota. When they were back in Seattle, they decided to form a side project band, with McCready reaching out to Alice in Chains lead singer Layne Staley to join. McCready knew of Staley’s own troubles with substance abuse and wanted to help; “I was getting sober and wanted to bring Layne along with me,” he recently explained to the Seattle Times. Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin was brought in on drums.

A number of the album’s original ten songs have allusions to drugs and addiction: “Slow suicide’s no way to go” from “Wake Up”; “My pain is self-chosen/At least I believe it to be” from “River of Deceit”; “Is this the way I spend my days/in recovery of a fatal disease?” from “Artificial Red.” They’re songs from a man caught in a trap he can’t escape, and all the more disturbing because of their authenticity. Neither Saunders or Staley ended up escaping that trap, Saunders dying in 1999 and Staley in 2002.

Which makes listening to the album somewhat morbid, like watching an accident you can’t prevent. But there’s no denying the power of the music, or Staley’s strengths as a singer. Anyone who’s a fan of Alice in Chains in particular should enjoy this release, while Pearl Jam fans can delight in how McCready really lets himself go on his guitar parts; now you know what a mash-up of Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam would sound like.

This new release has three bonus tracks; basic tracks recorded during sessions for the uncompleted second Mad Season album, with new lyrics and vocals by Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan. Lanegan’s the perfect choice for the job, as he made guest appearances when Mad Season performed live, as you can experience on the release’s other bonus features. Another of the bonus tracks is one of the best-ever John Lennon covers, when Mad Season tackles “I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier.”

A second CD has the complete set of Mad Season’s show at Seattle’s Moore Theatre on April 29, 1995. The DVD has footage from the same show, drawn from the 1995 Live at the Moore video and previously unreleased songs (though one wonders why the released and unreleased songs weren’t simply edited together to recreate the entire set). There’s also a nine song set from a New Year’s Eve show, two songs from the band’s appearance on Pearl Jam’s Self-Pollution Radio show (filmed at Pearl Jam’s rehearsal space), and a video for “River of Deceit.”

It’s a great collection of Mad Season’s output, and certainly a release that’s well worth the upgrade if you already have the album. And if you’re a fan, it’s a must have.


Label: Sony Legacy (the deluxe edition can be purchased here)