The Pacific Northwest music scene of the 1990s gave fans a laundry list of phenomenal bands, but before there was Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and so many more, there was Screaming Trees.
Formed in 1985 when America was still choking on Aqua Net and trying to fit into spandex, Mark Lanegan (vocals), Gary Lee Conner (guitar, vocals), his brother Van (bass vocals), and Mark Pickerel (drums) were throwing down heavy riffs in drop D and wearing whatever the hell was warm.
Screaming Trees released their debut album ‘Clairvoyance’ in the summer of 1986, and by the time the grunge movement broke, the band was already on their fourth full-length album, 1991’s Chris Cornell (Soundgarden) produced ‘Uncle Anesthesia.’ That same year, Barrett Martin replaced Pickerel on drums and the band didn’t miss a beat. They went on to release their two most successful albums — ‘Sweet Oblivion’ (1992) and ‘Dust’ (1996) — before breaking up in 2000.
HNE Recordings along with the Cherry Red Group have reissued Screaming Trees ‘Dust’ in a 2-CD deluxe edition complete with a booklet of liner notes and rare photos.
Produced by George Drakoulias (Black Crowes, Tom Petty, Primal Scream), the Ellensburg, Washington released the original album in July of 1996 and 21 years after its initial release, ‘Dust’ still stands strong.
Opening track “Halo Of Ashes” sets the table for ‘Dust’ behind Van Conner’s rumbling basslines, Martin’s tribal drumming and Gary Lee Conner’s brilliant sitar work to lay the foundation of psychedelia in which the album possess. The album’s first single, “All I Know” follows. The straight-forward rocker played out well reaching No. 9 on both the Alternative Songs and Mainstream Rock charts by Billboard. Lanegan’s vocals are still the earwig they were two decades ago. The album’s second single “Sworn and Broken” didn’t fare as well on the charts, but the track is just as beautiful today as when it was recorded. The lazy snap of Martin’s drum and the string arrangement bring brightness to this otherwise somber number. The final single of the album was “Dying Days” which features Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready. The song, which pays tribute to fallen Seattle rockers, takes a page straight from the book of Led Zeppelin with its acoustic intro blending into heavy guitar riffs and Bonham-style drumming. In his baritone, Lanegan does his best Plant impression.
Other shining moments on ‘Dust’ are Martin’s drumming on “Make My Mind;” the lonesome ballad “Traveler,” the trippy rocker “Dime Western,” and “Witness,” which is arguably the best song on the entire album. Also of note, Benmont Tench, of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers deserves a shout out for his standout keyboard work on this album.
The ‘Dust’ bonus disc features 11 tracks including the B-sides “Wasted Time” and “Silver Tongue.” There are live versions of “Butterfly,” “Dollar Bill,” and “Caught Between” / “Secret Kind;” and the band does cover versions of Tim Rose’s “Morning Dew,” “Freedom,” from the Australian band, Buffalo, and John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero.”
As Screaming Trees split in 2000, ‘Dust’ would turn out to be their final, official album, except for the posthumously released “Last Words: The Final Recordings” in 2011.
For longtime fans, ‘Uncle Anesthesia’ might be the favorite Trees record, or if you are going with the mainstream, it would be ‘Sweet Oblivion.’ For my money, ‘Dust’ shows Lanegan, the Conner brothers, and Martin at the top of their game. It’s a shame they called it quits after this record, but if you are going to leave, might as well leave with your best album.