The Unforgiven: All is Quiet on the Western Front (1986)

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The Unforgiven: All is Quiet on the Western Front (1986)

Some time in the early Nineties I met up with two of the guys from Cracker at a bar in New York, and towards the end of our conversation the talk turned to what they had done before their alt.rock incarnation.

John Hickman said he'd been in another band . . . and after a long pause said they had been called the Unforgiven, but that I wouldn't have heard if them.

Not heard of them?

The Unforgiven were a particular passion of mine, the only band I knew which delivered a sort of Confederate/cowboy rock'n'roll album which not only made aural references to the soundtracks of Ennio Morricone and the Big Country but had songs titled Hang 'Em High, Roverpack, Cheyenne, The Gauntlet, With My Boots On, Ghost Dance, The Loner, The Preacher . .

The album -- the only one they made -- was soaked in the spirit of the James Gang (Jesse and Frank, not the rock band) and Clint Eastwood -- and on the cover they wore long Sergio Leone spag.western coats and were walking down a dusty street as if on their way to the OK Corral.

I think Hickman was surprised and slightly embarrassed that not only did I know of his previous band but that even at the far end of the world from New York they had made an impact. (I did assure him however that no one else I knew in New Zealand was aware of them, and he seemed a little relieved.)

When I asked him what happened to the other guys in the band he said dismissively, "I guess they went back to being teachers".

Not so surprising if it were true, because their songs -- all written by lead guitarist/singer John Henry Jones -- had the whiff of literary construction about them.

As with All is Quiet on the Western Front which reads like the start of a short story.

"I remember the soldier lyin' in the cold sun. Daddy said he wasn't much older than Corey'd be if he were alive today. I remember him breathing and I remember me screaming, 'Daddy, he's come back to life!' and Daddy said, 'Shh . . .' and put down his head to the blasted hole that was his chest and said, 'Yes, this boy's alive, you run and get your mother while I get him inside' . . ."

There was a bit of Ambrose Bierce in their songs as much as Eastwood/Leone westerns, and they also had contemporary resonance too: With My Boots On opens, "I walked into the room to see the strongest man I ever knew laid out flat and dead to the world and breathing through a tube. I staggered back into the hallway where I gasped for air and choked and said, 'No God nowhere could do this to this man of steel and rope'."

Tight-mouthed masculine stuff, gunplay and the brutality of war, cowboy fantasy or whatever you like to call it. Doesn't change the fact that the Unforgiven made a firecracker of an album which spat electric guitar rock like a six gun.

I liked Cracker who are still going today I believe, but I play The Unforgiven's sole album way more than their Kerosene Hat. 

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Robert - Sep 9, 2011

THANK YOU!!!

I've been searching for this album for years! It was one of the first that I bought when I joined the military and started to have my own money to spend on things. You are right about the story element of the songs which was one of the core reasons I really enjoyed it. Anyhow, over the years I either lost or wore the tape down to nothing and then couldn't find a replacement. Eventually it became a distant memory that blew across my path like a cliche tumbleweed.

Well, I'm off to hunt this down on iTunes or Amazon or somewhere, but if the group, or any individual from it is still reachable, please let me know. I would love to find a way to buy a signed copy of the CD from them directly if it is available.

Again, thanks for bringing back a memory from my youth that I thought was long long lost...

Don in Ithaca, NY - Aug 4, 2012

I owned a couple of indie music stores, one in NYC & the other on Long Island in the 80s & 90s.
I was looking for American roots rock to fill the void left from The Band, Little Feat etc. and had been pushing bands like Green on Red and The Long Ryders when The Unforgiven promo showed up in my store mail one day.
I flipped over their sound, purchased a half dozen of them from the local One-Stop wholesaler and played them hard in my shops.
I also compared them to The Alarm, with the comparisons to the music's urgency and sincerity.
Happily I saved one copy for myself which I just today recovered from my album collection over at my folk's home....can't wait to give it another spin!!

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