At Your Birthday Party
It’s great to hear Guadalcanal Diary in their natural state. I only got to see them once in a little basement bard in East Lansing. I could have reached out and grabbed the mic stand (but that would have been rude). Roaring out of the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, Guadalcanal Diary were part of the second wave of rock bands to come out of the South in the wake of the success of REM, Pylon and the B-52’s. Their first album, Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man created a huge buzz that saw them getting signed to Elektra Records.
As often happens, the major label didn’t quite know what to do with them. Their second album had great songs but the production muted the passion that made Big Man pop and the band never quite recaptured their initial buzz. Guadalcanal Diary broke up after four albums.
At Your Birthday Party was recorded a decade after the band’s break up. The album grew out sessions for vocalist Murray Attaway’s second solo album, which featured the rest of the Diary crew playing on the sessions. They had fun. They decided to play some shows as Guadalcanal Diary. They had more fun and decided a live album would be fun, so they recorded one.
Fun is definitely being had. The sound is clean, crisp and in your face. Songs like “Cattle Prod” that suffered from muted production on the original release, jump out of the speakers here. The songs waver between the serious “Trail of Tears” (which has a bunch of Civil War and forced removal of Georgia’s native population references) and the silly “I See Moe” (yes, a Three Stooges reference). “Litany (Life Goes On)” hit the anthemic nail on the head and “Pretty is as Pretty Does” should have been a hit. “Dead Eyes” and “Whiskey Talk” are just good rock and roll songs. The set ends with a fun version of “Watusi Rodeo”, a song that I assume was inspired by a weird 1967 TV show, Cowboy in Africa. It’s a wonderfully silly song about riding zebra and roping water buffalo.
At Your Birthday Party is a very welcome blast from the past. It’s a wonderful reminder of a time and place. I do miss hearing the Guadalcanal Diary rocking out on “Kumbaya”. It was really fun when I saw them, but I suspect they were over it by 1999.