The Cassette Chronicles – BEGGARS & THIEVES self-titled debut

By JAY ROBERTS

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

BEGGARS & THIEVES – BEGGARS & THIEVES (1990)

Ahhh memories…I wish I could say that I had some when it comes to writing about Beggars & Thieves. Though I remember the band getting a promotional push when this first album of theirs was released, I’d be lying if I said that I remember much about them beyond that the lineup featured bassist Phil Soussan. I didn’t buy the album and can’t truthfully recall ever having heard any of the songs on the radio.

Of course, that’s part of the fun of this series. I get to look back at things I missed way back when and listen with mostly new ears. Sometimes that doesn’t quite pay off because the music isn’t great. Other times, it becomes a revelation because the music is so great that you find yourself becoming a belated fan. And then there are times when it is a mix of both of those trains of thought.

Such is the case with the band’s self-titled debut album. The album kicks off with a somewhat overlong intro to the song “No More Broken Dreams”. The intro went on long enough that I started wondering if the song was supposed to just be an instrumental. After that buildup the song started off in earnest. At first I wasn’t all that charmed by the track. However, the longer the song went on, it strangely grew on me. I think the vocals by singer Louie Merlino are what really captured my imagination.

Now I can’t say that I was that big of a fan of the rest of the songs on side one. Leaving aside my relative disdain for the ballad “Your Love Is In Vain”, the remaining three songs are all fast paced rockers. But the songs (“Billy Knows Better”, “Waitin’ For The Man” and “Isn’t It Easy”) all just failed to rise above much more than a description of “OK” for me. They aren’t bad songs, just kind of run of the mill with nothing you haven’t heard a million times before to set them apart.

After that somewhat disappointing first side, I wondered if there would be a change on the album’s second side. I wasn’t crazy about the side two opener “Let’s Get Lost”, but after that, the band rose to the occasion when it came to putting together some really great rocking numbers.

As a whole, the songs “Heaven & Hell” (not a Black Sabbath cover) and “Love Junkie” are just flat out fantastic tracks. But what really drove them home for me was the guitar work. Ronnie Mancuso was the guitarist for the band (with Merlino and Soussan credited with providing “additional guitar”) and he shined on these tracks in particular.

The oddly titled ballad “Kill Me” was just awful but the album closed out strongly with a the outstanding “Love’s A Bitch” and the title track. The band did a video for that title cut and the song was definitely worthy of being spotlighted for said video treatment

For a band that barely made an impression on me when they first launched, I was surprised to learn that they’d released four albums and an EP. The last album was released in 2011 and titled We Are The Brokenhearted. It reportedly got great reviews worldwide.

While I wasn’t overly sold on the debut album’s first side, the markedly improved songs on Side Two helped make this album an album that I’m happy to have finally discovered. More to the point, it actually created a desire to hear more of the band’s material to see just what I might’ve missed out on. I can’t think of a better endorsement than that.

NOTES OF INTEREST: Bassist Phil Soussan and drummer Bobby Borg left the band after this first album. Soussan left to join Vince Neil’s solo band. Borg would later play drums for Warrant on their Belly To Belly and Warrant Live 86 – 97 albums.

Though the band continued after the lineup changes (which included the addition of Billy Squier drummer Bobby Chouinard on drums) their second album, Look What You Create, didn’t come out until 1997. The album was recorded in 1992 but Epic Records dropped the band without releasing the album as the grunge music scene exploded.

Though he wasn’t a member of the band, Alan St. John played keys on the album. Like Bobby Chouinard, he played on a number of albums from Billy Squier, among his other credits.

 

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