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The dB's score high with new CD reissue

"More than a dozen years after their breakup, the dB's occupy a position of considerable prestige and influence," writes journalist Scott Schinder in the copious liner notes accompanying a new CD reissue of the first two albums by the much-loved NYC-by-way-of-Winston-Salem combo. "They're... acknowledged by pop history as a crucial link between Big Star's pre-punk power-pop and the wave of Southern guitar bands that R.E.M. spearheaded in the '80s. [However] bad timing, bad breaks and bad luck kept the band a safe distance from mainstream success, often overshadowing the craft, intelligence and inventiveness of the band's recorded output." Hard luck or not, 1981's Stands for DeciBels and its '82 follow-up Repercussion are indeed classics of their oeuvre in the same sense that the Velvet Underground's seminal offerings cast long shadows upon underground hipsters years earlier. The dB's were singer/guitarists Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey, who to many fans represented their generation's inspired merging of the McCartney/Lennon and the Alex Chilton/Chris Bell songwriting axes, plus the sublimely tight-but-loose rhythm section of drummer Will Rigby and bassist Gene Holder. They made their grab for the brass ring memorable for one simple reason: They had the tunes. From "Bad Reputation" (Creedence Clearwater Revival relocates to Carnaby Street) to "Living A Lie" (powerpop redux turns Stax/Volt baroque) to the complex "From a Window to a Screen" (Bacharach, Beatles, Elvis Costello, jazz/Caribbean nuances, and even Charles Ives all collide in an alarmingly compact 2-1/2 minute New Wave symphony), every song on the two records has stood the test of time.

Drummer Rigby, currently residing in Nashville as a member of Steve Earle's Dukes, has become the de facto dB's archivist of late and is largely responsible for accumulating and organizing the content for the recently unveiled official dB's website (see below). Of the group chemistry that sparked the dB's in New York in 1978, Rigby now observes, "I think we were fortunate to have a common background, not so much being from the South -- although that set us apart in NYC, for sure! -- as having heard the same things. We were old enough that we weren't all that influenced by the punk explosion, although we liked it. So our tastes tended to be more developed than those [bands] that came after and were more influenced by, say, the Ramones or the Clash. And while the initial burst of energy had, by the time the dB's formed, already dissipated, there was definitely still the feeling of something new going on in New York."

The dB's were by all accounts at the forefront of an early 80s East Coast pop and garage renaissance that included such disparate outfits as NYC's Fleshtones, Hoboken's Feelies, North Carolina's Let's Active and Georgia's R.E.M. Stamey had formed the band with Rigby and Holder in the summer of '78; Holsapple signed on a few months later as keyboardist in order to flesh out the group's live sound, but soon enough his songwriting talents began emerging to provide the crucial melodic yang to Stamey's more unconventional yin.

Quickly proving popular as a touring act, the dB's signed with British label Albion in 1980 and at first seemed destined to break out. However, with Albion ultimately unable to find a US licensee for the two albums, the band had to settle for the club circuit, critical kudos and some college radio play for import copies of the LPs. A frustrated Stamey eventually split to go solo in '84. The Holsapple-helmed dB's subsequently recorded a pair of excellent albums and toured nationally with R.E.M., but recurring financial and record label woes ultimately led to the band throwing in the towel in October of '88. (Ironically, in May of that year, the original dB's lineup had reunited for a one-off gig headlining a benefit concert for the homeless at Charlotte's Grady Cole Center. Rigby recalls the show as being "surprisingly good, considering that the four of us hadn't been on a stage together in six years," but goes on to suggest that as things abruptly came to a close when union stagehands, deeming that the curfew hour had been reached, pulled the plug on the dB's in midsong, it was perhaps a fitting omen that the band's time, too, had run out.)

All this and more is expertly unraveled in Shinder's liner notes accompanying the Stands for DeciBels/Repercussion CD. Collectors' Choice Music (a reissue label sharing both name and premises with the well-known specialty mail order operation) has rescued the albums from out-of-print limbo, pairing them onto a single 79-minute CD and adding a pair of bonus tracks.

Interestingly, the CCM reissue is only the latest twist in what's been a circuitous path in getting the dB's music to the marketplace. As noted, the Albion LPs maintained pricey import-only status; later, Line Records of Germany oversaw shoddy-quality vinyl and CD reissues for Europe; in '89, I.R.S. finally stepped in to issue remastered versions of the two CDs stateside; and a confusing array of import compilations of dB's material has surfaced over the years as well.

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