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The Left 

Rare Grooves

Hagerstown, Md., is only an hour and a half northwest of D.C., but back in 1983 this rural 'burg might as well have been on another planet. Redneck bars + 7-Eleven culture = boredom, though, and that's the formula for punk bands. Enter the Left, weaned on 1960s crud (Sonics, Standells, Elevators) and '70s thud (Stooges, Dead Boys, Damned).

Bona Fide Records originally issued the two Left albums, 1984's It's The World! and 1985's Last Train to Hagerstown. (Fun Fact: in '88 the label also did Antiseen's Honour Among Thieves.) Now Bona Fide resurrects the legacy as Jesus Loves the Left: The Complete Studio Recordings. Both platters have been remixed, while detailed liner notes tell the tale alongside photos and reproductions of LP sleeve art, notably the debut's controversial depiction of a punks, metalheads, new wavers and Klansmen in a trash heap.

The music has definitely stood the test of time. World! lead track "Hell" is the proverbial shot across the bow, a shuddery, throbbing slice of Pere Ubu/Dead Boys spiked by Brian Sefsic's coiled-Iggy vocal. Hagerstown's highlights include "The Viet Cong Live Next Door" (think Radio Birdman does "Peter Gunne" -- Sefsic also channeled Birdman's Rob Younger, and guitarist Jim Swope was like Deniz Tek, Ron Asheton and Cheetah Chrome rolled into one) and, just to make the Stooges connection explicit, a dead-on cover of "TV Eye." Four unreleased tunes from a short-lived 1992 reunion are equally up to snuff - "State of Mind," in particular, has a Johnny Thunders vibe. Ensuring the CD title's accuracy, an '83 compilation track, "You're So" (featuring a great Monkees rip), is included.

The Left, who split in '85, may have been but a brief blip. But the group burned so brightly that the gleam of that flare arcing across the Hagerstown skyline could be spotted all across the country.

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