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PETE HAM

Golders Green (Rykodisc)

The core of Badfinger's bittersweet apple, Pete Ham wrote the group's hits — radio classics such as "Day After Day," "Baby Blue" and " "No Matter What." Badfinger conjoined charged-up rock and pleading pop, adding just enough English boogie (courtesy of guitarist Joey Molland) to stay nimble. By the time the compositions of Molland, Tommy Evans and Mike Gibbins could stand alongside Ham's without embarrassment, on the amazingly cohesive (and underrated) Wish You Were Here, a bad business deal had left them not just broke but without an album to sell — Warner Bros. pulled Wish You Were Here from the shelves faster than you can say "Come and Get It." Sadly, the fact that Ham and (much later) bassist Evans committed suicide can't help but legitimize the melancholy of Badfinger's lure.

Still, Ham's tunes had always been dark snapshots, albeit ones developing in the light of hope. A poet in a con man's world, Ham in songs like "Perfection" and "Carry On Till Tomorrow" (written with Evans) strove to get across not idealism but resignation, an acceptance of life's hard edges that belied his subsequent surrender. Ham was half missionary, half visionary and hopelessly lost in misery. Golders Green is the second CD (the first was 7 Park Avenue) that presents Ham's demos in all their homey rawness and melodic sophistication. Whereas in Badfinger Ham balanced the roles of ready rocker and heartstring-plucker, Golders Green casts him as a kind of pop Nick Drake — a pensive troubadour with a guitarful of troubles. A joyful exception to the sad rule is "Makes Me Feel Good," a catchy and complete pop song that could have been groomed into a Badfinger classic (and you get it in two versions). The autumnal woe of Ham's most revealing work is apparent in farewell-tinged ballads like "I'll Kiss You Tonight." I'd pit this song against any on Lou Reed's Berlin or Big Star's Third for sheer depressive potency. Purists take note: The demos on Golders Green were in some cases repaired by way of newly recorded nuances. But they were used only to replenish what was already, in theory, there — like a painting restoration.

You'd swear, though, that nothing here was recorded since the early '70s, because producer Dan Matovina is not only a brilliant engineer but a purist himself. He repaired these tapes with surgical precision. He also wrote a careful, thorough book on Badfinger (whose initial hardback run contained a CD with even more of this stuff.). The integrity of the late bloomer's archives are in Matovina's hands — hands that, fortunately, know which studio dials to rotate. If you're a Badfinger fan, you'll like Golders Green for its embryonic resemblance. If you're not, you'll still be moved by these tuneful, quixotic sketches.

 
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