Guadalcanal Diary: Walking In The Shadow Of The Big Man (1984)

Sure, they'll always be haunted by their reputation as that jangly-guitar mid-80s college radio band from Georgia that wasn't R.E.M. -- but this really doesn't do justice to some of the great music produced by Guadalcanal Diary, particularly on their first three albums released between 1984-1987.  The debut in particular has a nice blend of melodic midtempo Americana-tinged jangle pop and more buoyant rock, and while the album is definitely of its time, slotting alongside comparable work by bands like the Connells and Love Tractor and, yes, R.E.M., it's a pretty sweet listen even today.

You get the picture pretty quickly from the opening track, "Trail of Tears," a catchy mid-tempo rocker with a lovely, melodic chorus and just a touch of southern twang.  The album trades off between more upbeat tunes verging on cowpunk ("Ghost On The Road," "Watusi Rodeo") and pretty, jangly ballads ("Sleepers Awake" -- a quiet piece which would have fit in nicely with R.E.M.'s Fables of the Reconstruction the following year -- and the spooky instrumental title track), not to mention the charming, middle-of-the-road jangle pop track "Heathen Rage."  The album closes with an earnest, live, shout-along take on campfire song "Kumbayah," with a serious Pixies-styled (pre-Pixies) loud-quiet-loud dynamic; it's surprisingly awesome.

1985's Jamboree followed in a similar vein, while 1987's 2x4 amped up the volume a notch with some compelling rockers (overall, it may be their most consistently solid album). I'm less partial to their final album, 1989's Flip-Flop, which lost some of the melodic touches of prior work, though it does include the wonderful pop single "Almost Saturday."  (Vocalist Murray Attaway released a really fine solo album in 1993 called In Thrall; he also had an unreleased follow-up called Delirium which is worth tracking down online.) Sadly, Attaway's longtime bandmate Jeff Walls -- they had periodically regrouped for live shows -- passed away earlier this year.

Here's a clip of "Ghost On The Road" from some obscure (and god-awful-looking) movie I've never heard of but am delighted to know exists:
Here's an odd video for "Watusi Rodeo":
Here's a live take of "Trail of Tears" performed by a later band called Blasting Cap fronted by Attaway and Walls: