When Joe Strummer was around to take for granted, most of his solo projects seemed sadly desultory: Strummer's passion was never in question, but his band the Mescaleros suggested a toy Clash with more world-music spice. In his unexpected absence, however, their 2001 second album, Global A Go-Go, sounds stronger, more plugged into current conundrums, even as his old bandmate Mick Jones' Big Audio Dynamite records keep getting harder to reach for.
Now, Mescaleros guitarist Scott Shields and keyboardist Martin Slattery have finished what amounts to Strummer's detailed sketch for the group's third release. Streetcore continues the band's lightly amplified muscular-acoustic sound. Because his restless, barbed self will never be back to shake us awake, it's almost more fun to hear Strummer spill his subconscious in numbers such as "Ramshackle Day Parade" (Marilyn Monroe meets William Burroughs meets U-Roy) than to partake in the sturdy romance-adventure yarn "Coma Girl." A few songs give you an honest-to-goodness pang: The cover of Bobby Charles' "Before I Grow Too Old" (here called "Silver and Gold") is about kissing life on the lips before it's too late. And Strummer wrote his own finest eulogy in "Long Shadow," a number intended — talk about pangs — for Johnny Cash: "If you put it all together, you didn't even once relent/You cast a long shadow, and that is your testament/Somewhere in my soul, there's always rock & roll."