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Amazing Spirit

Badlees return with new album With the release of 'Amazing Grace,' band emerges with a new sense of focus

by Alan K. Stout
Times Leader Staff Writer

April 2, 1999

'Amazing Grace' is available now.
'Amazing Grace' is available now.

If the Badlees should ever be the subject of a VH1 "Behind The Music," special, the segment of the program devoted to the period the band is now going through would be the one where it bounces back from adversity and rediscovers its own resolve.

It's the point where — after two years of corporate mumbo jumbo and a record label fiasco that left more than 300 bands in legal limbo — the members of the Badlees return to what they do best.

Making music.

"Amazing Grace" — the band's first full-length CD since 1995's nationally released "River Songs" — is available now. And with the group finally free of the tangle of the Seagram's/Polygram sale, the album has been released independently.

Which, ironically, is just like the old days, when the band enjoyed its greatest regional success.

"We had a bunch of songs, and we were really excited about them, so we just decided to put it together," says guitarist and songwriter Bret Alexander, seated behind the control board of his home recording studio.

"When you start out, you just want to make some records with your buddies and tour. The deeper you get into it — when you get a record deal ... it gets to biblical proportions. This kind of brought it all back down to the music.

"I'm really happy with the songs."

"Amazing Grace" was recorded in February and March, though most of the songs were written over the past year. Because many of the songs came from the individual efforts of band members and side-projects, Alexander jokingly refers to it as the Badlees' "White Album."

One listen reveals it to be an appropriate analogy. Vocalist Pete Palladino is again at the microphone, but only on four numbers. And while Ron Simasek again mans the drum stool, there are other changes: Alexander sings lead on five songs, and guitarist Jeff Feltenberger and bassist Paul Smith each take lead on a track. And nearly everyone — plus longtime writing collaborator Mike Naydock — has songwriting credits on the album.

"I think it's the most diverse thing we've ever done, and it's kind of gotten back to the spirit of things and the way it used to be," says Alexander. "Whoever's songs sounded the best were the ones we would use. ... We're lucky enough to have a few guys that can carry a tune."

Such was the case, adds Alexander, with some of rock's greatest bands. He singles out one of the Badlees' favorite groups — The Band.

"The Band had three really good singers and several guys that wrote classic songs," he says. "With them ... there wasn't a preconceived notion of how it had to be. That's what gave them their depth.

Bret Alexander, shown playing banjo in the Badlees' home studio, feels 'Amazing Grace' is the band's most diverse album to date.
Bret Alexander, shown playing banjo in the Badlees' home studio,
feels 'Amazing Grace' is the band's most diverse album to date.

"This is more of the band I want to be," he adds. "Not because I'm singing a couple of tunes or anything like that. My thing is — I've said this for years — I'm all for whatever makes a song work."

Palladino, accustomed to singing most of the band's songs, understands the change in direction and also feels it served the band well on this particular album.

"A lot of these songs weren't ever intended to be on a Badlees record," says Palladino. "We put a vocal-mic up, and whoever sounded best and most believable singing the song sang it. My approach to these songs would have been a lot different than some of Bret's and vice-versa, but I think it all works for the band."

Songs on the new CD include "Poison Ivy," "Long Goodnight," "Amazing Grace To You," "Appalachian Scream" and "A Fever." Although it's not as cohesive or pop-oriented as some of the material on "River Songs" — or the unreleased album the band recorded for Atlas/A&M — it is, more than anything, an honest representation of where the band is today.

It is the Badlees.

"We certainly don't want to make the same record over and over again, and I don't think our true fans want us to make the same record over and over again," says Palladino. "If there are folks out there that want to hear more of the same, there are plenty of bands out there that are making the same record over and over that are cluttering up the airwaves.

"We don't want to be that band."

Now, only days after being freed from its recording contract — something that the band had requested — the group is quickly moving on.

"Our idea was, 'Drop us today, and we'll have a record out in a week,' " says Alexander with a slight laugh. "We wanted to have something ready to go."

Despite the band's prior accomplishments, Alexander feels the best days are still ahead. And while the Polygram/Seagram's sale may have broken the resolve of many bands, the Badlees appear to be relishing the task of starting anew with a clean slate.

"Amazing Grace," they say, marks only the beginning.

"We're just happy to still be here," says Alexander. "Through no fault of our own, we've been pretty dormant for a while, but I think we're playing better than we ever did. I'm looking forward to hitting a real creative period over the next few years."

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