It's a new album full of mostly unheard songs, but Streetcore feels like a career-spanning retrospective for Joe Strummer. With bits of reggae and troubadour folk welded to a rock 'n' roll chassis, Streetcore is a stirring tour of the music Strummer loved best.
The iconic former Clash singer died of a heart attack in December in the midst of making the record, so it's impossible to know how he wanted Streetcore to sound. His Mescaleros compatriots have done a fine job assembling the album, though, and here's why: Strummer's passion - for music, for humanity, for life - shows through everywhere, like rays of sunshine breaking through winter cloud cover.
The first song, "Coma Girl," opens with gritty guitar that could have come from the Clash's London Calling sessions, and a relentless reggae backbeat propels "Get Down Moses" as Strummer laments a litany of social ills with his gruff, worn - but always warm - voice.
He eschews full-band arrangements for acoustic guitars on "Long Shadow," a Dust Bowl folk tune worthy of Woody Guthrie, and a stark, wistful cover of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song."
Although Streetcore is Strummer's final album, the tone is decidedly different from the elegiac finales by Warren Zevon, say, or Johnny Cash.
Strummer had no idea the end was near, and the songs on the record reflect the defiant attitude of a man who had seen enough life to detest its iniquities while still holding onto the idealistic hope that they're not irreversible. Strummer wasn't ready to say goodbye with Streetcore, but his last words turned out to be a powerful statement.
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Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros
Streetcore (Hellcat Records) *** 1/2