Review by Ritchie Birnie for MPM
There were many names that burst forth from the 1980s but one that was unfortunately (and wrongly in my opinion) ignored for the main part was the awesome Mama’s Boys.
I first came across them live supporting Thin Lizzy and I was instantly impressed and hunted down the holy grail that was called “Official Bootleg”.
That album is first up in disc one of this box set and it is as scratchy, tinny and as rough as I remember but it captured the magic. This album was recorded in four hours so there is no way you could hope for pristine sound and despite the dodgy sound it got people noticing the band.
Although the band honed themselves to another Irish band Horslips they didn’t go for the Celtic fusion and focused on a harder edge and to my ears always were closer to Rory Gallagher. The three brothers were incredible musicians which shone through on songs like “Belfast City Blues”, the Thin Lizzy steeped “Highland Rock”, “Record Machine and a seriously trippy, jazzed up cover of “Summertime”.
This was an album that was driven by guitars, sheer talent and about £3.50 worth of production but it put the boys on the map and I am glad that this has been rereleased in its original form for all to hear and own.
On the follow up “Plug it in” the dials were turned up and maybe a tenner spent this time. Joking aside the difference in sound is night and day and the songs are far fuller, the guitars tighter and the vocals now sounded like they were not done underwater.
The opening number “In the Heat of the Night” slotted right into that NWoBHM sound. I loved this album when it came out in 1982. I was 100% immersed in that movement and as much as bands would come along and do better the quality of Mama’s Boys was far superior.
This was another self released album so it did not get a lot of travel but media powerhouses of the time in Sounds and Kerrang noticed the band and picked up just how good they were. With tracks like “Burnin’ Up” taking on a 70s Ted Nugent feel to single “Needle in the Groove” which is probably the song that lead to most peoples discovery of Mama’s Boys” and it still stands up today.
They hit us with AC/DC riffage on “Reach for the Top”, they rocked it up to 11 with “Silence is out of Fashion” and “In the Heat of the Night”. They also re recorded a few numbers from the debut and this album was leaps and bounds ahead of the bootleg and it set us up for third album “Turn it Up”.
Every album was showing progression and the press really jumped on board with this album and they even got some MTV exposure and although it did not catapult the boys like other bands were seeing it opened new doors and you really felt the band were going to take off.
Opener “Midnight Promises” slotted into the soft Rock genre, they slowed it down on “Too Little of you to Love” which misfired a bit for me. The real rockers were still there with “Late Night Rendezvous”, the strangely titled “Crazy Daisy’s House of Dreams” and “Face to Face” which for me is one of their strongest tracks.
They went full on blues for “Lonely Soul” which is a stunning track and if this came out today I would still by it.
With the success of Turn it Up the band finally got picked up by an American label in Jive records and in 1992 they released “Relativity” but with Grunge being king and far too long between albums it was a little and too late.
This was such a shame as this is a killer album but if you have to bow out you can do far worse than leaving us with an album this good.
This album saw a new vocalist in Mike Wilson and if this album had been released just 5 years earlier they would have been huge. Opener “Judgment Day” would have received heavy rotation on MTV as it is a killer track. Mike gave the band a new dimension and his powerful pipes would have been a dream in the 80s.
This album is packed with pure bangers, “What You See is What You Get” is a powerhouse, “Cry Salvation” is a blues rock monster. It ticks every box for inclusion on all those 90s compilation CDs that flooded the market. “Rescue Me” is a stunning ballad that I will hold up as one of the best there is.
This CD has a host of bonus tracks with live versions and it rounds out this wonderful album with the excellent “Fallin’” being the highlight. This album was the jewel in the crown for Mama’s Boys and you wonder what the band could have produced if they had not hung up the guitars after the sad and untimely death of Tommy McManus.
The final CD is all manner of B sides, rarities and demos and it rounds out the collection with the highlight a live cover version of Slade’s “Mama We’re All Crazee Now” which gives you a little hint of how good the band were on a stage.
This five CD box set is a perfect compilation off the bands career. As I revisited the songs it took me on a journey through my teenage years and in playing these one after the other you feel the progression of a band that should have been far bigger. It made me feel grateful for following their progress at the time and more importantly catching them live in their heyday.
This is a beautiful homage to the brothers McManus and a marker in time to the amazing music they made. Whether you were there in the 80s or never heard of the band get this box set, you will not be disappointed.
Mama’s Boys Box Set now available on pre order from Cherry Red Records…..