‘Big Country: Out Beyond The River’ reviewed

❉ Ange Chan on a comprehensive anthology of the rockers’ 90s output.

Fronted by the late Stuart Adamson, Scottish rock giants Big Country were at the peak of their popularity in the early to mid ‘80s, blazing through the charts with their own sound, blending Scottish folk and classic rock styles. After a highly successful run in the 1980s, the band was dropped in 1991 by Mercury Records, their home since 1983. After that time, without major record label backing, Big Country became somewhat of a minor act. However, the band found that it gave them more creative freedom, albeit at the cost of not achieving the commercial success that they had previously enjoyed, with the exception of 1993’s The Buffalo Skinners, which then had the backing of EMI’s Chrysalis Records, securing a brief return to form reaching the UK Top 25.

The album would receive enthusiastic critical acclaim, but although it produced two UK Top 30 singles in Alone and Ships, its sales were relatively meagre against their previous standards. Around the same time the mental and emotional health of lead singer Stuart Adamson was becoming increasingly worrying. He was suffering badly with addiction problems and had struggled with alcoholism for several years. He sadly passed away in 2001, ending what was considered to be the classic line-up of the band consisting of Stuart Adamson, Mark Brezezski, Tony Butler, and Bruce Watson.

Cherry Red have released a new 6-CD box set Out Beyond the River (The Compulsion Years Anthology) which comprehensively covers those early ‘90s years. Presented as a box set the collection has 5 CDs and a live DVD of their Barrowlands gig in 1993. The compilation box set contains an impressive 71 tracks over five discs, including their sixth studio album Buffalo Skinners with further discs including demo tracks, rarities, and cover versions as well as an informative 16-page colour booklet with photos and commentary. The DVD covers the double live album Without The Aid Of A Safety Net, recorded at Barrowlands Ballroom in Glasgow on 29 December 1993, together with promo videos for the singles Ships and Alone.

The album Buffalo Skinners is a pure rock music affair and gives a greater nod to their American market with titles such as The Selling of America and We’re Not in Kansas. The track Ships gives rise to Big Country of old, with the heartfelt , melodic track which has traces of country music within its instrumental section. The acoustic version of this song on disc 2 is pure beauty. The pace is well and truly resumed on this album with All Go Together setting the general tone for the rest of the album, guitar-heavy riffs and catchy hook lines that will stay with you as an ear-worm for days.  Lyrically, there’s tenderness hidden in plain sight, just beneath the powerful guitars and drums, and this is demonstrated no better in the track The One I Love.

Disc Two of the collection offers B-sides, bonus tracks and rarities all in one place. This includes the respectable if unexpected diverse cover versions of Jonie Mitchell’s Woodstock, Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, Fleetwood Mac’s Oh Well, Bowie’s Cracked Actor and Blue Oyster Cult’s (Don’t Fear) the Reaper among many other delights.

Disc Three covers the demos of the album Buffalo Skinner and are mostly unproduced rawer versions of the album. It gives the listener an insight to the skeleton of the songs and how the final produced versions compare.

Discs Four and Five comprise both volumes of live album Without the Aid of a Safety Net, recorded live at Barrowlands Ballroom in Glasgow on 29 December 1993. The first half of volume 1 presents acoustic versions of tracks such as Peace in Our Time, and Neil Young’s Rocking in the Free World, while volume 2 boasts hits like In a Big Country, Alone and an encore of Fields of Fire. On Disc 6 is a DVD presentation of the same concert containing 15 tracks but ending this time with Lost Patrol. The promo videos of Alone and Ships also sit at the end of this DVD, which will undoubtedly delight fans to view these previously unavailable videos.

This collection will appeal to fans of folk/rock music and those who are fans of Big Country’s work in general.  It presents the band at their most creative, full of vigour and positivity and is a joy to listen to and rediscover.

❉ ‘Out Beyond the River (The Compulsion Years Anthology)’ by Big Country is released via Cherry Red on 25 September, 2020 as a 5CD/1DVD box set. RRP £29.99Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.

❉ Cherry Red Records have been releasing and reissuing the most innovative and independent thinking music since 1978. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

Ange Chan is a freelance writer, having produced two novels and six volumes of poetry.  She was also prolific contributor in the anthology collection Me and the Starman, (now available by Cult Ink on Amazon) and is a lifelong lover of music, having first been published in the 1980s music press. As well as being a frequent contributor to the pop culture website We Are Cult, she is working on her long-standing third novel Champagne Flutes and Pixie Boots.

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