acoustic sessions

REVIEW: Harem Scarem – Harem Scarem (autographed)

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HAREM SCAREM – Harem Scarem (1991 WEA)

Harem Scarem didn’t emerge from the Toronto rock scene fully formed.  Rather, they first appeared as an AOR pop rock group, assisted by pro writers such as Marc Ribler, Christopher Ward (“Black Velvet”) and Honeymoon Suite’s Ray Coburn.   My sister Kathryn liked Harem Scarem because their singer’s hair made him visually resemble a lion!  It would take them until album #2 to shed the outside writers and find their feet as a progressive pop rock band more akin to Extreme than Bon Jovi.

They did, however, create a buzz by selling loads of copies of their demo CD.  This was a rare thing, since most bands released demos on tape.  Very few had the resources to put together a CD, and this got them signed to Warner.

The result is Harem Scarem, a somewhat faceless but incredibly hooky pop rock record waiting for radio play.  It spawned five singles, including the huge (Canadian) hit “Honestly”.  “Honestly” might be most notable today for its video, a cheesy affair starring Judge Reinhold!

What makes Harem Scarem special is the vocal work of lead singer Harry Hess.  The man has a powerful voice, and when teamed up with drummer Darren Smith, the result is a big thick layered harmony.  The band was rounded out by bassist Mike Gionet, and virtuoso guitarist Pete Lesperance, who really didn’t get to properly show off his chops until album #2.  He does shred here, but sparingly and somewhat buried in the mix.

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The debut album is loaded with mid-tempo rockers and ballads.  A few too many ballads if you asked me, side one of the album has three ballady tracks in a row.  It was 1991, grunge had yet to appear, and a mixture of ballads and rockers was the tried and true path to radio and video play.   The best ballad isn’t the hit “Honestly”, which I find incredibly boring, but the closing song “Something To Say”.  It’s an acoustic winner, and features plenty of Pete’s enviable chops.  Harry sings passionately; this is a song that fits in with the acoustic hits of the day such as “More Than Words” and “To Be With You”.

Rather than the ballads, I keep coming back to the rockers.  “Hard To Love”, which opens the album, is one of those AOR tunes that Bon Jovi only wishes he could have written.  “How Long” is similar, catchy as hell, a singalong rocker that begs the windows to be rolled down on a hot summer day.

The centrepiece of the album was “Slowly Slipping Away”, the debut single/video.  Still a great song today, this straddles the boundary between rocker and ballad.  Opening with acoustic guitars, it soon works its way into a killer chorus, with guitar hooks and powerful harmonies galore.  This is the song that got me into the band, as soon as I heard it, I knew this band had something uniquely theirs to offer.  Unfortunately it took them a while to fully expand upon their sound.

I saw Harem Scarem live at Stages in Kitchener early in 1992.  They played most of this album, some new material, as well as a couple covers:  “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”.  They complained that the bar owners made them play covers, but it was “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” that underlined their potential.  They absolutely nailed it and proved that they had a lot more to offer than the simple AOR of their album.

I signed up to be a member of the fanclub, and I still have my membership card.  I’m glad I was on board from the ground up, since the band grew by leaps and bounds in the years to follow.

The Japanese import version of this album had three bonus tracks:  acoustic renderings of “Slowly Slipping Away”, “How Long”, and “Hard To Love”.  Those songs were available on a limited edition Acoustic Sessions EP, which I reviewed here.

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If you’re into AOR rock, with lush harmonies, ballads, and melody, then you need to add Harem Scarem to your collection, particularly since the band have recently reunited.  If that’s not your thing, fear not:  I have a feeling you’d be into their later material such as Mood Swings and Karma Cleansing.  This band had a lot more to offer than just rockers and ballads.

2.5/5 stars

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Part 160/REVIEW: Harem Scarem – Acoustic Sessions (Limited Edition)

I’m going to try and cover more rarities from my collection in 2013.  Here’s a very rare one indeed!  First, the story of how I acquired it, then the review.

RECORD STORE TALES Part 160:  Harem Scarem Acoustic Sessions

Everybody at the store knew I was a big Harem Scarem fan.  A bunch of Japanese imports found their way into the store, and I bought them all.  I also played their music frequently in-store, as it was melodic and radio-friendly.  Their stuff ranged from early Jovi-goodness to mid-period progressive pop rock sounds, to later pop punk.  I liked pretty much everything they did, until they changed their name to Rubber and drifted too far into the pop direction for my tastes.

At one point in the early 2000’s, we had a large warehouse in the back of one of our stores.  The idea was, we’d warehouse stock for opening future stores.   There was a warehouse manager, and he would inventory everything in there.  We’d send him anything decent that we had too many copies of.  He’d also have stock from liquidations, or estate sales.

A lot of the time, the stuff from liquidations would include promo CD singles.  I have dozens of promo discs from him, that we couldn’t sell in store.  Usually these promo discs would have edit versions of album tracks.  I have stuff from him including promos from Metallica, David Lee Roth, Motley Crue, and King’s X.  Some of them, like the King’s X (which we’ll talk about in the future), had rare non-album tracks too.

He also ran our eBay store, and eBay have strict rules about selling promo discs.  So basically, anything that was obviously promo sat in boxes gathering dust in our warehouse.  On occasion, when it was a band like Harem Scarem that he knew I liked, he’d let me have it.  Otherwise it would have sat there for years, probably just to be thrown in the garbage at some point.

One of the discs that he sent my way was a Harem Scarem EP called Acoustic Sessions.  Subtitltled Limited Edition, there were only 500 copies made (see footnote for confirmation of this number.)

Most commercial retail releases have barcodes, and this one does not, indicating it probably was not a commercial release.   Yet it also doesn’t say, “Not For Sale: Property of Warner Music Canada Ltd.” like a promo should, so who knows?  It doesn’t even have a year printed on the case, only the CD itself (1991).  The spine of the CD doesn’t even have a serial number.  Maybe it was given to fanclub members or contest winners?

Either way:  Never seen it before, never seen it since.  I don’t truthfully know how it ended up in our possession, whether it was a liquidation, or just something we purchased off a regular customer somewhere.   The details are now lost to the sands of time, but either way it ended up in our warehouse and consequently my collection.  I also don’t recall what I paid for the disc.  Probably $3.  That would have been typical, with my staff discount, for something like this.  With hindsight, we probably could have sold it for much more than that, but the folks in charge always underestimated the selling power of bands like Harem Scarem.

If it’s true that there’s only 500 copies out there, then I’m thrilled.

Oh, who am I kidding?  It’s a rarity no matter what!  I’m still thrilled!

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HAREM SCAREM – Acoustic Sessions Limited Edition (1991 Warner Music)

The EP starts with a 3:16 edit version of their single “Something To Say”, the fifth single from Harem Scarem’s self-titled debut album.  It’s a ballad, pleasant enough, acoustic.  It has a really nice acoustic guitar solo courtesy of virtuoso player Pete Lesperance.  Otherwise I’ve never considered it a standout.  If you like “To Be With You” by Mr. Big or “More Than Words” by Extreme, this is another ballad for your collection.  This same version was later released on another EP called Live & Acoustic.

Onto the exclusive acoustic tracks.  These three songs were only available here, or the 1994 Japanese import version of the debut album.  Good luck finding that today at a decent price!

The debut single “Slowly Slipping Away” (co-written by songsmith Marc Ribler) is rendered in acoustic form first.  These acoustic sessions were recorded at Cabin Fever studios and self-produced by Lesperance and singer Harry Hess.  As great a song as “Slowly Slipping Away” surely is, I think it does miss something in its acoustic form.  That really nice electric guitar hook that precedes the verses, I miss it!  I also miss that throbbing bassline.  Yet the band’s incredible harmony vocals are just as powerful as ever.

“How Long” is next, a great album track in acoustic form.   The chorus is just as big and dramatic as the album version, thanks to the band’s trademark harmonies.  In my opinion, the band’s strength here was the original drummer, Darren Smith.  What a voice.  (The quartet were rounded out by original bassist Mike Gionet who stayed for three studio albums and a couple live releases.)

“Hard To Love” was not a single, but it works really well acoustically and maybe should have been a single after all.   Once again the harmonies soar, with Smith in particularly standing out.  I’ve always felt that the band really lost something when he left in the early 2000’s.  This is a great track, radio ready and full of hooks.

The fifth and final track is just the regular album version of “Something To Say”, at 4:41, with the full (intricate) acoustic intro.

For a five song EP, this one is a winner.  Just wish I knew more about its history!

4/5 stars

ADDED NOTE:  Reader Danny has emailed the haremscarem.net site, and heard back from somebody regarding there being only 500 copies of this CD:

yes it’s true. Very rare now, because it was released in this very limited quantity.
Take care,
Dan

Thanks for sharing!