Chris Chandler & the Mercenaries Emerge From the Underground

Think about how 2020 began – your life, your plans, your activities, the world around you – and then consider how it ended up, and all that transpired. Did things happen like you imagined they would?

Like, if you’d told me last January that a year later I’d be writing about a Decatur real estate agent and father of two in his early fifties who, despite never recording or performing anything before in his life, just sorta decided to cover an album about smack and sadomasochism – and that it actually turned out to be phenomenal – I’d have taken your keys and called a cab to cart you home before you hurt yourself or others.

If someone had told Chris Chandler that he’d be that guy, he’d probably have done the same thing – but the accomplishment in question is his, with the considerable assistance of many talented friends. He got a Fender acoustic guitar in late August 2019 and, after six months of lessons, started posting covers of some of his favorite songs on his Facebook page last spring. Having always wanted to be in a band, it wasn’t long before he got it in his head that he should record an album… but not just any album. Chris decided that his debut album would be a song-for-song remake of 1967’s The Velvet Underground & Nico, as iconic and influential a rock album as there ever was.

Now, I’ve known Mr. Chandler for many years. He’s a fervent music fan, goes to tons of shows, supports the local scene, and occasionally brings cool acts to Atlanta for concerts under his Party Panda Productions banner (we’ve even worked together on a few Stomp and Stammer shows). But when I caught wind of his recording plans, to say I was highly skeptical would be an understatement. But, damned if he didn’t pull it off – and he doesn’t even play his newly learned guitar on it at all. See, that’s the cool secret about Slow Peel, the debut CD by Chris Chandler & the Mercenaries: his “band” of Mercenaries are a loose assemblage of first-rate musicians and vocalists from the Atlanta scene, as well as a few conspicuous heavyweights who Chris has befriended through his years of concert promotion – namely Steve Wynn (The Dream Syndicate), who rips the guitar electric on “All Tomorrow’s Parties” and “European Son;” frequent Wynn collaborator Chris Cacavas (Green on Red, Dream Syndicate), who whips some Wurlitzer, synth and piano into the likes of those aforementioned renditions as well as four others; and Richard Barone (The Bongos), who adds guitar to “Venus in Furs,” “Sunday Morning” and “Run Run Run,” plus background vocals to the latter.

The Atlanta crew includes a core of Ambulette members Lee Kennedy (bass) and Jon Daly (guitar), the latter of whom immaculately recorded and produced Slow Peel with superb results. Pete McDade (Uncle Green and others) drums on most tracks; fellow music geek dad Alex McGill (Kenny Howes) is behind the kit on two others, and Michael Lorant drums on “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” which features magnificent lead vocals by K. Michelle DuBois. Lorant’s wife and Big Fish Ensemble bandmate Sheila Doyle strokes and scrapes the violin on three tracks; Georgie Harris (Roadkill Debutante) does the honors on “Black Angel’s Death Song.” Chandler himself quite ably sings Lou Reed’s parts, which means lead on everything other than “Femme Fatale,” “I’ll Be Your Mirror” (both Halley O’Malley, of Ambulette) and the aforementioned “ATP;” Kim Ware and others pipe in on background vox. And it’s great to hear Shane Pringle (Tiger! Tiger!, Bad Spell and others too numerous to mention) abusing his  guitar on “I’m Waiting for the Man” and “BADS,” and skronkin’ his sax on “European Son” and “Run Run Run.”

There’s no radical reinvention of The Velvet Underground’s first album taking place – some versions veer off course from the originals slightly more than others, but it’s more a celebration than a dissection. What’s most impressive is the care and respect put into the performances, and how wonderfully and genuinely the whole thing comes across. More than a slow peel, Chandler and his friends pull it off, completely.