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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Big Country

We're Not in Kansas (The Live Bootleg Box Set 1993-1998)

Review by Gary Hill

It's a pretty safe bet that for a lot of people out there Big Country is represented by one song - their big hit "In a Big Country." This new collection shows that the band had more than one trick up their sleeves. This compiles a series of bootleg recordings into a massive five disc set. The majority of these shows are unplugged, but the first couple discs are not. There is a wide range of sounds here, and it never feels stale. In addition to originals, they give us some stellar covers ranging from Blue Oyster Cult to Smokey Robinson, Neil Young and The Monkees. The sound quality from show to show varies a bit. Nothing is professionally recorded level, but nothing is "archive value only," either. Overall, I think this is a great set that serves as excellent way to get the feel for the catalogue and style of this band. They do earn a number of parental advisories for the stage banter.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2018  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc One
       
Minneapolis 1st Ave.
            
6/11/93
          
All Go Together

I love the hard rocking vibe on this. It has some alternative rock, some world music elements and even some psychedelia. The lyrics are very topical. It's such a driving, accessible tune.

We're Not in Kansas
This one is set more purely in that alternative rock sound. It balances between a more driving, rocking movement for the choruses and a mellower, slower one for the verses. While I like it, I don't think that it's as strong as the opener was. The mid-track instrumental section is pretty cool. The guitar solo section late in the track really soars, too.
Look Away
This is no big change, but another solid alternative rocker. It's packed with energy and has some great hooks.
What Are You Working For

With a bit of a parental advisory on the story told about this song, this cut is a smoking rocker. It has some definite topical lyrics and some great guitar riffs. It's also catchy. It's one of the stronger tunes on this first disc.

Chester's Farm
Arguably the hardest rocking thing here, this is a real powerhouse number.
Wonderland
I like this one a lot, too. It has a great melodic rocking vibe to it.
Pink Marshmallow Moon
Another solid rocker, this is a bit slower. It's not one of the strongest pieces here.
Ships
There is a healthy helping of country music in the mix here. This is more of a balladic piece. The structure around which this is built could probably best be labeled as folk rock.
Long Way Home
Another healthy helping of alternative rocking stuff, this is not a big change, but effective.
Alone
The start of this makes me think of The Who's "Baba O'Riley" a bit. It works out from there to cool hard rocker that's one of the standouts of this first disc.
The One I Love
There is a lot of Celtic rock in the mix here. It's also got plenty of alternative pop rock in the mix. I like the balance here quite a bit. This is a strong cut. I really love the instrumental section and the Celtic sorts of sound it brings.
In a Big Country
This is Big Country's big hit. There is a lot of energy and fire to this live version. The jam around the three and a half minute mark almost sounds like Hawkwind at times.
Disc Two
     
Minneapolis 1st Ave.
          
6/11/93
               
Chance

A mellower, slower tune, this is quite a strong one. It has some great hooks. Mid-track the band get their introductions. There is also an audience participation section here.

Lost Patrol
I dig this hard rocker quite a bit. It really drives with a lot of substance and some accessible hooks. This also includes some audience participation. There is a bit of a drum solo section, with the audience vocals as the only accompaniment, too.
Don't Fear the Reaper
I sure didn't expect a cover of the Blue Oyster Cult classic, but that's just what we have here. They play it fairly faithfully and put in a darned good rendition.
Hey Hey, My My
Now they turn to Neil Young territory for another cover. Again, they do it pretty close to the original and pull it off quite well. There is some screaming hot guitar soloing before it's over.
Glasgow Tower Records
        
23/06/95
                 
You Dreamer

I dig the slightly punky raw energy on this number. It has a lot more of an old school rock sound to it. The recording quality here is still pretty good, but not up to the level of the previous concert.

Look Away
The first repeat here, this melodic rocker gets a good live performance here. Again, the sound isn't at the same level as the first version. The crowd really seems to get into it, though.
I'm Not Ashamed
With a lot of hard rocking energy, this is fun.
One in a Million
The opening here is almost prog rock like. It eventually works out from there to a balladic kind of arrangement. The biggest issue here is that the audience really mars the recording at the start. As the song gradually gets louder that becomes less of an issue. This is an accessible, power-ballad kind of song. Mind you, I wouldn't call it a power-ballad, but it has a similar construction within a more alternative rock vein.
Send You
Another classy alternative rocker, this is a bit on the muffled side at times. That causes it to muddy up a bit.
We're Not in Kansas
I prefer the previous version of this, mainly because that recording was better. Still, this is an effective number here. The guitar solo on this is purely on fire.
Hey Hey, My My
I almost think that the rawer recording quality serves this number. I think I like this cover of the cut better than the previous one.
Rockin' in the Free World
Another Neil Young tune, they play this one pretty straight, too.
Disc Three
                  
Stirling Mc Robert Center
            
29/4/94
                   
All Go Together

This high energy rocker works well in this format, but the recording quality isn't great. Still, it's not to the point of being unlistenable or even close to it.

Harvest Home
More of an acoustic guitar based rocker, the vocal arrangement really sells this. It has a great energy and world music vibe to it.
King of Emotion
This is a melodic rocker that's quite catchy. There is a heckler after the song, and he's given a great humorous take-down. That earns a bit of a parental advisory. It's also very funny.
Look Away
Another acoustic rocker, I love this one.
Thirteen Valleys
The percussion is pretty active on this cut. It's an energetic acoustic rocker that's very classy. The sound quality on this recording seems a bit better than on some of the older ones. There is more humorous stage banter at the end of this tune.
One Great Thing
Another strong acoustic rocker, this is fun.
Winter Sky
There is a real folk music vibe here. This has a great rocking energy, too.
Long Way Home
Not a huge change, I dig the percussive element here. The whole cut has a great folk rock vibe to it.
Ships
I think I like this better in a full unplugged format than in the other arrangement. There is some more banter between the band and the audience that gets another parental advisory here.
The Storm
In this acoustic arrangement this really has a Celtic rocker kind of feeling to it. It has a lot of folk music in the mix.
Everything I Need
This is quite intricate and very pretty. It's a balladic number that works really well here.
River of Hope
The recording quality gets in the way of this one just a little. Still, this Celtic rocker is a lot of fun.
Just a Shadow
While not a huge change, this is another effective number.
We're Not in Kansas

I like this a lot in this acoustic format. It loses nothing in terms of energy and really gains some intricacy and magic.

Come Back to Me
We get a great Celtic styled folk rocker for the closing tune of this disc.
Disc Four
   
Stirling Mc Robert Center
      
29/4/94
           
Peace in Our Time

Continuing in the unplugged concert mode from the previous CD, this is quite folk based. The percussion adds quite a bit to it, but the vocal arrangement is the real shining star.

In a Big Country
I really like this song in the acoustic rocking styling a lot. The audience sings quite a bit of this later. While this loses something in terms of the layers of sound, it more than makes up for it with an intimate charm.
Chance
The crowd gets quite involved on this one, too. It's a fun acoustic rocker in this performance. This was the closing number of the show before the encore. As such there is a lot of crowd noise and some stage banter at the end of it.
Rockin' in the Free World
I love this acoustic rocking version of the Neil Young tune. I think this might be better than the original version. These guys really drive it. The recording on this is a detriment, though, as it drops out a bit at times.
Don't Fear the Reaper
An acoustic version of the BOC classic, I like this one a lot, too.
Rotterdam Rotown
    
28/8/95
           
Introduction By Mark

This is literally an introduction at the start, followed by a bit of tuning up and the like.

All Go Together #1

As this powers in to lead off another acoustic performance, it becomes obvious quickly that the sound is better on this recording than it was on the last one. They just get into this when they realize that something is amiss and stop to get things sorted.

All Go Together #2
They get it all together (couldn't resist) this time. This acoustic based version of the rocker is just so cool. It's energized and has some great melody and intricacy.
You Dreamer
I like this number quite a bit. It has a great folk music vibe to it. The percussive element works well. The whole tune is classy.
Look Away
With a lot of folk music built into it, this is a fun little acoustic rocker. There is some stage banter earning it a parental advisory. The quips from the previous show are reused here.
Ships
I really like this performance of the cut a lot. It seems a better than the version on the previous disc.
I'm Not Ashamed
I like this little rocker. This rendition is definitely stronger than the one on the previous disc, mainly because the sound quality is so much better. It lets the piece really shine.
Just a Shadow
Another strong acoustic number, this one works well here, too.
Long Way Home
Energized and rocking, this is another winner. This gets a parental advisory for certain.
The Storm
They have several false starts on this along with some banter that earns another advisory. The audience sings along at times here. This has a real Celtic vibe and is a lot of fun.
Thirteen Valleys
Another folk based rocker, we get some more audience participation here.
Disc Five
    
Rotterdam Rotown
        
28/8/95
                
Don't Fear the Reaper

Somehow they seem to bring almost a bit of a country folk edge to this acoustic version of the BOC tune.

We're Not in Kansas
There is almost a bluegrass vibe to the beginning of this number in this performance. It's possibly my favorite take of the cut here. There is some great instrumental work later in the piece in an extended section. There are some annoying high pitched bits of noise at times on this, though.
In a Big Country
This version of the hit feels so playful. It's just a lot of fun. It might be my favorite take in this massive set. As the closer before encore time, there is a lot of audience sound at the end of this. That includes singing.
Peace in Our Time

World music elements are on hand here in some ways. This is a folk rocker that's quite classy overall. It's just a fun tune here.

Found Out About You
Here we get a cool acoustic rendition of this classic Gin Blossoms tune. I think I like this almost as much as the original.
Rockin' in the Free World

The stage banter at the start and end of this earns another advisory. This is a killer acoustic rocking version of the Neil Young tune. I think I prefer the previous rendition, but this is great, too.

Chance

There is a sea of voices on this number, many of them coming from the audience at times. It's a strong acoustic rocker that starts closer to a ballad. It has a lot of real folk music in the mix.

Tracks of My Tears

They cover Smokey Robinson and the Miracles here. This has a smooth soft rock vibe to it. I like this a lot.

Dunfermline Tappie Toories
    
24/5/98
            
You Dreamer

With a lot of audience noise built into it, they turn in a cool folk rocking performance here. It starts with some Celtic sounds and works out from there into the song proper.

Look Away
This is another folk rock styled number that works well here.
Chance

 Another solid tune, I like the vocals on this version.

In a Big Country
Although the sound quality isn't the best here, this is one of the better live performances of the cut here.
Tunbridge Wells High Rocks
   
9/6/95
        
Daydream Believer

Here they deliver a tasty acoustic rocking version of the song the Monkees made famous. The audience sings along quite a bit. The audio on this isn't great, but it's adequate.

 
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