Joe Strummer 002: The Mescaleros Years
by Charles DJ Deppner
December 2022 marks the 20th anniversary of Joe Strummer’s passing. Released under late Beatle George Harrison’s resurrected label Dark Horse Records, Joe Strummer 002: The Mescaleros Years is a more than fitting tribute to mark the occasion and revisit a comprehensive and relevant legacy.
Olivia and Dhani Harrison (son of George) and David Zonshine are evidently intent on furthering the regard and craft by presenting music that lives up to the label’s standard and importance. The vinyl edition of Joe Strummer 002 is a well-crafted 6-record epic tome of his years with the Mescaleros that more than meets the Dark Horse Records’ mission by contextualizing Joe Strummer’s musical foot- and fingerprints with museum-like reverence.
The comprehensively designed package is bursting with Strummer’s handwritten and hand drawn writings, illustrations, and music, manually typed thoughts, philosophies, and photographs. Old and casual fans alike will be agog by the near-completionism in this delivery that truly captures the essence of one of the most unique voices in music.
Grammy Award-winning engineer Paul Hicks manages to strategically place 20 years of digital polish, almost catching up to the ahead-of-their-time nature of 002’s 46 tracks, including both double albums, Rock Art and the X-Ray Style, and Global A Go-Go, as well as the posthumous Streetcore.
Strummer’s short time with the Mescaleros was as an “elder statesman” of music, decades since having left behind the rough and tumble years with the progenitor punk rock band The Clash. During the late 1980s and through the ’90s, most of his focus was on becoming an unparalleled mainstay composer of soundtracks for independent film, while periodically working to contribute and support bands such as The Pogues.
The decade or so stretch between The Clash and The Mescaleros was not just a period of musical exploration, but practically necessitated by a yearslong court battle between Strummer and Clash label Epic Records. Once released from Epic Records, Strummer was free to make and create the music that would carry him through the last years of his life. By then, he had been building the formidable cadre of seasoned and intuitive muti-instrumentalists who made up his Mescaleros.
Strummer was certainly a person of the world, and like with The Clash, the Mescaleros were a constant evolution of the world he traveled and from which he openly gleamed and reflected. With the one constant evolving, punk, Latin, South Asian, funk, gospel, and folk blend into something distinctive, worldly, and increasingly important.
Along with the repackaging of all 3 Mescaleros albums, 002 includes 15 tracks of demos, outtakes, and unreleased songs, and the extensive quality of the material is indicative of how much more great material there is left to mine in the Strummer archives.
Mixed in with all the musical originality and competency is Strummer’s singular voice. There’s no denying the intense sincerity and gravitas Strummer brings not only to punk rock, but to music as a whole. His music transcends genre and generations alike, his take on Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” being a fitting good-bye.
As you sit, flipping and holding physical record art, reading lyrics and liner notes, listening along with the music, 002 deftly succeeds in evoking and raising Joe Strummer’s righteous and earnest presence in a world that could certainly use more of it. As the first song echoes, “There goes Johnny Appleseed. He might pass by in the hour of need.”