Many career-spanning rarities collections merely serve as companion pieces to an artist’s catalog, and in the best cases include unreleased or scarcely heard gems and cover songs that make the anthology worthwhile.
Then there is The Good Goodbye: Unreleased Recordings 1984-1990, a set of odds and ends by ’80s Boston rockers Scruffy the Cat that proves to be all of those things, with a bonus, yet bittersweet, twist. While most of the 23 offerings are outtakes or live-in-the-studio renditions of tunes that appeared on the band’s proper albums, the inclusion of a half-dozen impressive tracks from the band’s final recording sessions suggests it had one heck of an album in the offing, had the group not disbanded soon after that August 1989 trip to the famed Ardent Studios in Memphis, Tenn.
It’s a bit ironic then that this anthology closes with the swaggering title track, where the overwhelming sentiment is summed up with the line, “I’ve got nobody to come back to since I said goodbye to you.” That track, and a handful of others that close out the disc, essentially represent the band’s final days before it said goodbye to its place as ’80s college-rock darlings. (Just try to find someone who has heard Scruffy the Cat’s signature song, the infectious romp “My Baby She’s All Right,” and does not enjoy it. Go ahead. We’ll wait.)
And speaking of that era, the tracks from the Memphis sessions find Scruffy the Cat incorporating some of the soulful elements that fellow Bostonians The Del Fuegos infused into their brand of meaty guitar rock (see the prominent horns on “Sweet News”), while at other points they could be considered a lighter version of another contemporary: The Replacements.
Make no mistake, this is a compliment; the bands shared a penchant for punchy melodies and a generally defeatist lyrical outlook, it’s just that Scruffy the Cat retained more of an aw-shucks vibe. Still, “Love Song No. 9” (the lone cut on this collection that had been previously released, on an ’89 split single with The Young Fresh Fellows) recalls the Pleased to Meet Me-era ’Mats at their best, with a Rolling Stones bent — think “Can’t Hardly Wait” mixed with “Happy” — and “I Knew That You Would” rocks with enough bar-band swagger and raucous abandon to make both of those bands proud.
The earlier, somewhat less-polished material has its moments, too — sometimes of a more reserved nature. “Lover’s Day,” the lament of a lonely heart on Valentine’s Day, scores on the strength of singer-guitarist Charlie Chesterman’s sufficiently wounded vocals and Stona Fitch’s banjo, which also anchors the acoustic shuffle of “Tiger, Tiger” (yes, critically acclaimed bands were using banjos in the ’80s — take that, Mumford & Sons). That pair of tracks also highlights the group’s versatility, the breadth of which can now be experienced by new listeners, since The Good Goodbye comes on the heels of the digital release of its two studio albums and EPs (grouped together on a set titled Time Never Forgets).
The bad news is that The Good Goodbye was conceived due to the death of Chesterman in November 2013 of colon cancer, two years after Scruffy the Cat performed a reunion concert in Boston. While probably not an ideal starting point for the uninitiated, the collection can be viewed as a tribute of sorts to Chesterman, and it certainly contains enough triumphant moments to help burnish the legacy of his fondly recalled band.
— By George Henn