Badfinger: Head First (Snapper Music). In December 1974, Badfinger recorded, under less than optimal circumstances, the ten previously unreleased tracks heard (in rough mix form) on this 2000 release. According to Badfinger biographer Dan Matovina's liner notes, the band were rushed into the studio with only a few weeks to record and rehearse material; some members suspected that this was because their business manager wanted to collect a quick advance. If that's the case, the rush shows in this erratic set, which other than a couple of nice Pete Ham compositions are average mainstream mid-1970s rock, and below-average by Badfinger's standards. These were also the band's first recordings with keyboardist Bob Jackson, who had just replaced Joey Molland, and his writing style (he has three full or partial songwriting credits) really didn't jibe with the band's knack for well-crafted, guitar-oriented pop-rock. There are inappropriately slick synth washes on some of the cuts too, but actually Jackson isn't the key reason this album is so-so at best. The chief culprit is the unremarkable songwriting, save Ham's "Lay Me Down," a typically (for Badfinger Paul McCartney-like number which might just have been a hit had enough people heard it, and his gentler "Keep Believing." Tom Evans weighs in with a couple of complaints about the music business that, while ham-fisted, do reflect the tense state of mind of the band at the time. It's for Badfinger fans only, then, but its worth is considerably inflated by the addition of a bonus CD of previously unavailable acoustic demos from the same era, only one of which ("Lay Me Down") was also recorded for the Head First sessions. These cuts are very nice, if tentative, tunes in the mold of acoustic-slanted White Album tracks, even if the songwriting of course is not as outstanding as Lennon-McCartney's. Six of the eleven songs on the bonus disc were penned by Ham; Evans, Jackson, and more surprisingly drummer Mike Gibbins (who wrote three of them) all offered some nice stuff too.

Dion: King of the New York Streets (The Right Stuff). At the time of this box set's release in 2000, Dion had been recording for almost 45 years, and gone through not just several different musical styles, but several different musical lives. There was the doo wop he did with the Belmonts when he started; the macho yet vulnerable pop-rock he did during his most commercially successful phase in the early 1960s; the folk-rock and blues-rock he ventured into during the mid-1960s; the soft folk-rock he made during his comeback during the late 1960s and early 1970s; and wanderings among roots rock, gospel, and adult contemporary singer-songwriting over the next few decades. Although his career wasn't over when this appeared, this three-CD package is likely to be the most thorough overview of his output to be heard in one place. "Most thorough" is not synonymous with "best music of his career," however, and while this box contains much of major significance, it really does slide downhill after the early 1970s. That point is reached around the middle of the second disc, so that leaves about half of this material as average, or duller than average, stuff. In its favor, it has all the familiar hits from the salad days, from the Belmonts' "I Wonder Why" through "Abraham, Martin & John," as well as a number of fine cuts that are largely only known to collectors. Those include his hard-rocking 1965 cover of the obscure Bob Dylan song "Baby, I'm in the Mood for You"; the folk-rock version of Tom Paxton's "I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound" from the same era; the little-heard 1966 ABC single "My Girl the Month of May" (with the Belmonts); the bluesy B-side "Daddy Rollin'"; and the anti-drug "Your Own Backyard." The post-early-1970s tracks do have their high points, like "(I Used to Be a) Brooklyn Dodger," and Dion sings well on most of these, but they're just not remotely on the same level of what precedes them. A half-dozen of these tracks are previously unreleased, yet it's impossible to tell which of these are otherwise unissued from the liner notes, and the track listings offer surprisingly incomplete original release/recording dates for the material as a whole. If you want to focus on Dion's best music, you can get more of it, in more concentrated doses and for about the same amount of money, by buying several other less extensive compilations that target a specific period of his work.

John Fahey: Vol. 4: The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party (Takoma). This hodgepodge of tracks from 1962-66 was among the last of Fahey's early Takoma albums to make it onto CD (which it did in 2000). Perhaps that's because Fahey himself has a low estimation of the record. Nevertheless it stands as his most, well, far-out work, and one of his most innovative. Edited together from several pieces, the 19-minute "The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party" anticipated elements of psychedelia with its nervy improvisations and odd guitar tunings. The six briefer pieces that comprised the rest of the record also broke ground with their unsettling moods and dissonances, "Knott's Berry Farm Molly" suddenly moving from a characteristically placid instrumental to backwards tapes that Fahey assembled on a tape recorder, and the lo-fi "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" putting some aggressive picking against a mysterious church organ played by Flea. The beautiful "900 Miles" also had unexpected instrumental accompaniment, by Nancy McLean on flute, while future Canned Heat member Al Wilson played "veena" (sitar) on "Sail Away Ladies." Despite Fahey's curmudgeonly dismissal of the record several decades later, it's an important, if uneven, effort that ultimately endures as one of the highlights of his discography.

The Fantastic Baggys: Anywhere the Girls Are! The Best of...the Fantastic Baggys (Sundazed). Along with the entire Tell 'Em I'm Surfin'] LP, this CD adds a heap o' extras: the 1964 non-LP single "Debbie Be True"/"Anywhere the Girls Are," a couple of songs which showed up on a 1966 South African LP, the 1965 non-LP single "It Was I," and nine alternate/instrumental/vocal overdub/variations/versions, most of them previously unreleased. "Debbie Be True," complete with "Don't Worry Baby"-type guitar chording, would have been pretty fair Beach Boys album filler; "It Was I" is a not-bad update of the old Skip and Flip hit rockaballad; and "(Goes to Show) Just How Wrong You Can Be," which would be re-recorded by Sloan in the mid-1960s as a solo artist, shows Sloan-Barri's growth into more serious directions. To be honest, though, most of those extras are nothing more than very modest variations from the official tracks. But what the heck, if you're bothering to hunt down a Fantastic Baggys compilation in the first place, you might as well have everything you can, right? In addition there are lengthy liner notes, even including first-hand quotes from P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri. It remains about the best Jan & Dean album you could track down that is not in fact Jan & Dean.

The Hullaballoos: England's Newest Singing Sensations/On Hullabaloo (Collectables). This CD combines both of the Hullaballoos' albums onto one CD, handily summarizing this British Invasion footnote in one place (and just 51 minutes, although it contains 24 songs). The group play like a cross between the Searchers and Gerry & the Pacemakers on amphetamines on most of their self-titled album, which includes both "I'm Gonna Love You Too" and "Did You Ever." Enjoyable despite itself, and "I'll Show You How to Love" is actually a pretty and tuneful beat ballad worthy of a more skilled group. Their second LP stuck to much the same format as their first. A few Buddy Holly covers  were stuck amidst new songs, supplied to the band, that aimed to combine Buddy Holly with the Merseybeat sound, in a simple and exploitative way. Like the debut, it's not bad in spite of all that, though the material is a little weaker this time around. "I Won't Turn Away Now" is about the best of the batch, with something of a melodramatic New York pop influence in the songwriting; it wouldn't be too hard to imagine the Shangri-Las doing it with a totally different arrangement, for instance.

Junior's Eyes: Battersea Power Station (Castle). Mick Wayne undoubtedly tried hard to be significant and progressive with his songs on Junior's Eyes' sole album. There were meter changes, skilled psychedelic hard rock guitar riffs, and moods both whimsical and cynical throughout. Although the predominant vibe was bluesy psych-prog, there were also quieter, more acoustic interludes. It doesn't add up to much without memorable hooks or vision, though, and the record fails to stick as a noteworthy effort, even by the standards of obscure late-1960s British psychedelia. If you disagree with that assessment, or in any case are still curious enough to track down this collectable release, the 2000 CD reissue on Castle couldn't possibly be a more thoughtful package. In addition to the songs from the original LP, it contains both sides of their three non-LP 1968-69 singles; four demos of songs from Battersea Power Station; and both sides of the 1967 psych-pop single by the Tickle, Mick Wayne's previous band, along with very extensive historical liner notes. Other than that Tickle single, the extra material doesn't contain anything too interesting, though a few of the 45 tracks are rather poppier in approach than most of the album. Unintentionally, no doubt, the Tickle gem "Subway (Smokey Pokey World)" blows everything else on the disc to smoke.

The Larks: The Best of the Larks (Jamie). These eighteen tracks, encompassing 1961-70 singles and a couple of unreleased cuts, are like a snapshot of Philadelphia soul during the time: almost pure doo wop at its conception, sweet and orchestrated at the decade's conclusion. Like many such releases, it's testimony to the depth of the Philadelphia soul scene, which harbored numerous groups like the Larks that made some local noise, recorded often, explored several different stylistic paths and devised a good chunk of original material, and never became nationally known. And, like many such releases, although the songs are fairly good, they're not so excellent, and the group does not exert such a strong, consistent, and innovative personality, as to qualify them as a major act. Indeed, as six lead singers are featured over the course of the disc, the tracks often sound like the work of different groups. It varies from the Flamingos-like doo wop (complete with dreamy organ) of some early cuts and the dead-ringer-for-Motown-circa-1962 sound of "For the Love of Money" to the competent sub-mid-sixties-female group production of "From the Bottom of My Heart (I Still Love You)" and the orchestrated pure circa-1970 Philly soul of "I Need Somebody to Love You." The mid-1960s Motown sound, truth be told, gets mined quite a bit (and pretty competently) on the songs featuring female vocals, including "Groovin' at the Go Go," "Without You Baby," and "Rain," the last of which leans more toward the more mature late-1960s Motown sound of Gladys Knight or the Temptations. Barbara Mason takes the lead on just one song here, the 1964 single "Dedicated to You," one of the Larks' last doo wop throwbacks. A nice fill-in-the-gaps compilation of a mid-level but worthy Philadelphia group, although the absence of any dates, songwriting credits, or original labels in the credits is lame.

Magnum: Fully Loaded (Jamie). The songwriting and innovation barometer may not be as high on this LP as it is on early 1970s discs by Sly & the Family Stone, Parliament-Funkadelic, Miles Davis, and Santana -- all of whom Magnum bear slight to strong resemblance to, at one point or another. Yet it's a pretty solid effort, and a reminder of a brief time when Black music effectively synthesized R&B with numerous progressive trends while remaining both optimistic and street-smart. The collision of influences makes itself known right from the opening "Evolution," with its celebratory/revolutionary lyrics, solid funk groove, James Brown-like horns, bongos, distorted hard rock guitar riffs, and intricate sailing background harmonies. The dragging beats and druggy ambience of "Your Mind" should recall Sly Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On period to many listeners. The wacky hallucinogenic sex sentiments of "Natural Juices" wouldn't sound too out of place in George Clinton's world, with its spaced-out narration "some people get off on a needle...then there is a thumb and blanket. But the ultimate pacifier is a warm, wet nipple." "Witch Doctor's Brew" and the more impressive, ten-minute "Composition Seven," by contrast, make much use of Miles Davis-ish jazz-rock fusion keyboards in their groove-oriented, jammy passages, the latter tune boosted by an irresistible Latin beat. The album was entirely overlooked in comparison to the more famous artists mining the same grooves, both when it was made and when such sounds have come back into fashion. And it absolutely demands a hearing by anyone who digs these sorts of combinations, even if the group were not as original as the giants of the genre.

Rick Nelson: Legacy (Capitol). As a four-CD set with 100 tracks spanning Nelson's entire career, this will likely stand as the most thorough overview of the singer's music ever issued. This doesn't mean, though, that it's the best anthology of his work, unless you subscribe to the viewpoint that his post-mid-1960s records were about as good as his pre-mid-1960s ones, since a full two discs (or half) of this package is devoted to that post-mid-1960s output. Basically, it illustrates his trajectory in phases: disc one, as a good-to-great pop-rockabilly singer; disc two, as a still-good but not quite as vital teen idol in the late 1950s and early 1960s; disc three, as a fair but not great country-rocker; and disc four, as a has-been playing out the string with uninspired, low-energy adult contemporary, country, and rockabilly revival tracks during his final years. It's an impressive feat of cross-licensing, though, starting with three songs from his first singles (for Verve, and never easy to find on reissues), drawing a lot from his creative peak at Imperial, and then from his spottier efforts for Decca and other labels. All of his Top Forty hits are here, along with a good helping of obscure early rockabilly cuts and late-1960s-early-1970s country-rock tunes. There are about a dozen previously unreleased tracks, none too remarkable, as well as an alternate take of "Just a Little Too Much" and the 45 single versions of a few early hits (which have sometimes been represented by different takes on albums and reissues). The song selection is very good, but not infallible: the absence of the moody "Mean Old World," which was about the best thing he did in the mid-1960s, is inexplicable. If you are a big fan and do like Nelson's country-rock phase, this is a reasonable investment, but if you don't, you should stick to those collections that focus on his 1957-65 recordings.

Gram Parsons: Another Side of This Life: The Lost Recordings of Gram Parsons 1965-1966 (Sundazed). The eighteen previously unreleased, solo acoustic performances on this collection were recorded between March 1965 and December 1966. These show Parsons not as a country singer, rock singer, or even folk-rock singer, but very much as a mid-1960s folkie, in the mold of so many artists to be heard in the Greenwich Village scene. There's no straight country music in his repertoire, comprised largely of covers of songs by then-contemporary writers such as Buffy Sainte-Marie ("Codine"), Tim Hardin, Tom Paxton, and Fred Neil, along with high-caliber compositions that would be popularized by rock groups (Billy Wheeler's "High Flyin' Bird" and Hamilton Camp's "Pride of Man"). There are also five Parsons originals, a few not available elsewhere, and others recorded at other points either by himself ("Brass Buttons" and "Zah's Blues") or different performers ("November Nights," placed on an obscure single by Peter Fonda). A bit of R&B pokes out in his covers of "Searchin'" and "Candy Man." This disc is definitely of historical interest, if only to demonstrate that Parsons' roots were certainly not country-soaked, but largely indebted to '60s folk as well. As music, it's very average (though certainly not bad) mid-1960s folk, of the kind you might hear by numerous coffeehouse support acts. He sings best on the jazzy "Zah's Blues," where he seems to reach further into himself than he does on most of the other material here.

The People's Choice: I Likes to Do It (Jamie). Collecting both sides of all four of their 1971-72 Phil-LA of Soul singles, and adding seven previously unreleased songs from the same era, this is notably rawer than their more famous material for TSOP later in the decade. Indeed, it's rawer than almost any soul-funk from the period that had a commercial impact, as three of these cuts did: "I Likes to Do It" made #9 R&B (and the pop Top Forty) in 1971, and "The Wootie-T-Woo" and "Let Me Do My Thing" were low-charting R&B singles. The People's Choice's stock-in-trade at this stage was loose, almost-improvised sounding funky workouts with basic but catchy riffing, semi-scatted vocals, and cool electric keyboard vamping, often devised by connecting a guitar wah-wah pedal to an organ. The what-ya-play-is-what-ya-hear production is a refreshing contrast to the slicker sounds that were so much more prevalent in early-'70s Philly soul. And that's the way it should have been: when they tried to play conventional vocal sweet soul with strings on "Magic," they sounded far more ordinary. The seven previously unissued tracks (including a much different version of "Magic") are nearly on par with the singles, though perhaps these lean toward more basic riffs and words (this is in a group that favored minimal song construction to begin with). Simplicity can be a virtue, though, and this is damned infectious stuff, really. It's quite a find for early funk fans, to whom this compilation is highly recommended.

Los Shakers: Por Favor (Big Beat). No doubt this will stand as the most definitive single-disc compilation of Uruguay's Shakers (referred to as "the Shakers" on some releases and "Los Shakers" on others, including this one). There are 32 tracks, and 79 minutes, taken from all three of the LPs they issued in South America between 1965-68, along with three cuts from 1966 singles, almost everything sung in English. It cements, as if any further proof were necessary, their well-deserved reputation as the top Beatlesque '60s band from South America, and indeed one of the most uncannily Beatlesque bands from anywhere, at any time. Does that mean that this is as good as, or nearly as good as, the Beatles themselves? No, but it's good fun all the same, even if much of the disc sounds like inverted, or at times barely altered, ideas from Beatles riffs and arrangements. They were at their best, perhaps, when mimicking the A Hard Day's Night-era fab four, as they did on their 1965 debut LP Los Shakers, most of which is here. They did, however, evolve to some degree artistically, albeit rather in tandem with how the Beatles' own records changed in 1965-67, adding some (but not much) native rhythmic styles and riffs here and there; putting Revolver-type vocals and meters into cuts like "Picking Up Troubles" and "Got Any Money?"; putting some downbeat jazzy riffs into the fine "Too Late"; using freaky backwards guitar and drones in "I Hope You'll Like It," their most advanced cut; and adopting the march-beat midtempo and sunny harmonies of many 1967 Beatles tunes on numbers like "On a Tuesday I Watch Channel 36." This anthology is not, incidentally, the last word on the Shakers' output: there are no tracks from their US-only 1966 LP Break It All (which featured re-recordings of their early South American sides), and a handful of other numbers show up on the Brazilian EMI CD All the Best.

Norma Tanega: Walkin' My Cat Named Dog (Collectables). Tanega's rare debut album, reissued in 1998 on CD, isn't bad, though it's not a major effort, and seems like it could have benefited from more polish in the vocal department especially. "Walkin' My Cat Named Dog" is here, of course, and the only track virtually any listener would know. Many of the cuts have a peculiar, if only in retrospect, blend of folky guitar and harmonica with full New York pop-rock-soul arrangements. Tanega's talents are moderate but appealing: decent melodies, even-tempered and slightly quirky folk-rock lyrics, and a low vocal range that's a bit out of the ordinary. Her vocals are erratic enough, however, to wonder if the album was recorded hastily, or at least if she had some serious trouble staying on pitch, particularly on the high notes. Some of the cuts are on or above the level of "Walkin' My Cat Named Dog" musically, if lacking the attention-getting lyrical hook of that song's title. "You're Dead," for instance, is fairly gutsy moody folk-pop, while "A Street That Rhymes at 6 AM" is probably the cut that would have been most likely to follow up "Walkin' My Cat Named Dog," with its rather AM-savvy tune. (In fact, it was the follow-up, but was not a hit.) At its worst, especially "What Are We Craving?" with its Napoleon XIV-like percussion, it can be grating, and somehow Tanega and Norma Kutzer end up with the songwriting credit for "Hey Girl," the song that was popularized by Leadbelly as "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" The liner notes mention a non-LP single Tanega did for New Voice, "Bread," and it's too bad that and any other non-LP New Voice cuts were not added to the CD edition.

Johnnie Taylor: Lifetime (Stax). Taylor gets honored with a three-CD, 65-song box set for this career retrospective. And it truly is a career retrospective: although it's on the label for which he had the most hits, Stax, it spans 1956-1999, including a good deal of material that he did for other labels before and after his Stax stint. It's true that you have to be a pretty deep Taylor fan, and a pretty deep soul fan in general, to commit to nearly four hours of his music. It's also true that even if you are big Taylor fan, you're likely to need some patience to last through some of the average cuts, or his stylistic transition from gospel to soul to disco and retro-soul. Overall, however, it's a fine commemoration of an important if not quite great soul star. The most valuable components of the set are found on disc one, which kick off with a half-dozen gospel tunes from his stints with the Highway Q.C.'s and the Soul Stirrers in the late 1950s, moving into some of his little-known sub-Sam Cooke soul sides for Cooke's SAR label in the early 1960s. For the remainder of disc one and some of disc two, there are plenty of fine soul-blues cuts from his early days at Stax in the mid-to-late 1960s that will be familiar to relatively few listeners, along with his chart singles, including of course "Who's Making Love." These aren't just box-fillers; they represent some of his finest work, both for his fine soul-blues-gospel vocal blend and relatively unknown songs by the Isaac Hayes-David Porter songwriting team, as well as some on which Stax stalwarts Steve Cropper and Booker T. Jones played major compositional roles. As time wore on -- even starting in the early 1970s -- Taylor's material got duller and more homogenized, though there were always some highlights to perk up your ears. Unsurprisingly, then, like most box sets, this gets less interesting the closer it draws to the finish line, although wisely his late-1970s Columbia era (yes, "Disco Lady" is here) and post-1970s Malaco output is represented by a mere four cuts each. One could make some minor quibbles about the track selection: although the inclusion of five previously unreleased alternate takes (and three songs previously unissued in any form) from his early Stax days will satisfy collectors, those of us who don't have comprehensive Taylor libraries will be left wondering whether those alternates are better than the official ones, or just placed on disc one to whet completist appetites. Ultimately, though, it's a well-done summation of Taylor's legacy, with an accompanying 50-page booklet including essay, discography, and photos.

Traffic: Paper Rain (Colosseum, bootleg). This very enjoyable bootleg is largely comprised of 1967-68 live performances by the band, including seven songs from a gig in Stockholm in September 1967; a couple from Fillmore West in San Francisco in March 1968; and three from Copenhagen in May 1968. Rounding out the disc are both sides of the rare and good (though not brilliant) Dave Mason solo single "Just For You"/"Little Woman," issued on Island in 1968, as well as a 1967 studio version of "Hope I Never Find Me There" (here retitled "Hope They Never Find Me Here"). Mason appears on all the cuts except the two March 1968 ones from San Francisco. The sound is very good for live recordings of the period, and the band play very well and spiritedly, even on the songs requiring duplication of relatively exotic effects. Even if the fidelity might be somewhat below the standards of official releases, it's not at all hard to dig, though it is odd to hear a male voice doing the spoken interlude in "Hole in My Shoe" rather than a childish female one. The songs encompass many of the best early numbers by the band: "Hole in My Shoe," "Feelin' Alright," "Paper Sun," "Smiling Phases," "You Can All Join In," "Coloured Rain." This is not just something for insane collectors; anyone who's a serious fan of the band, which you presumably are if you're even considering buying a Traffic bootleg, will find it a highly pleasurable listen.

Various Artists: Follow the Music (FirstMedia). While this compilation CD is commercially sold, take note: it is only available as a bound-in disc in the paperback edition of the book Follow the Music, the autobiography of Elektra Records founder and president Jac Holzman (written with Gavan Daws). The disc contains 26 songs from the 1950s and 1960s, and with just a couple of exceptions, none of them post-date the mid-1960s. This means that Elektra's ventures into folk-rock, psychedelia, and singer-songwriters  -- their most enduring contributions to popular music -- are heavily underrepresented. There's nothing by the Doors, for instance, or the electric-period Judy Collins, or Love, or the MC5, or the Stooges. On the other hand, just about every artist here was an important exponent of Elektra's acoustic folk and blues catalog. Included are cuts by Jean Ritchie, Josh White, Theodore Bikel, Cynthia Gooding, the Limeliters, Jean Redpath, the Dillards, Judy Henske, Mark Spoelstra, Korner, Ray & Glover, Tom Rush, Fred Neil, the Incredible String Band, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, and Judy Collins; the early Elektra electric rock period is represented, just barely, by Tim Buckley and the Butterfield Blues Band. There's another major reason that this CD is valuable, which is that most of the early Elektra LP catalog, lamentably, has not made it onto compact disc, which means that you'll have a hard time finding much of this material unless you're willing to shell out for scratchy out-of-print LPs. Actually, this isn't the ideal antidote, since many of these songs sound as if they were mastered from vinyl (surface noise intact) and not the master tapes. But that's not the point: this is a good, though not ideally packaged, CD surveying the growth of an important label, through its twee early White folk to important singer-songwriters of the 1960s and early blues-rock and psychedelia. Some of the cuts are downright excellent (Neil's "Blues on the Ceiling," Ochs' "I Ain't Marching Anymore," Henske's "Wade in the Water"), and most are at the least good. And there are some unexpected detours and collector's items: the early-music duo Kathy & Carol, the Ensemble of the Bulgarian Republic, and a cut by the Even Dozen Jug Band, whose ranks included a pre-Lovin' Spoonful John Sebastian. It's unfortunate that there are no liner notes whatsoever, but then again many details are supplied by the book that it comes with, which is an excellent oral history of Elektra and its artists. If you didn't get the hardback edition (published in 1998), here's your reward for waiting; if you've already forked out for the hardback edition, well, the $18.95 cover price isn't that much more than you'd pay for a CD anyway.

Various Artists: Great R&B Duets (Ace). The R&B duets that this 25-track anthology emphasizes are those from the early days of rock'n'roll, spanning 1954-1960. The song selection is a bit quirky and uneven, but generally it's a pretty good sampling of some hits and choice obscurities from the era, emphasizing male-female duets most often, but also including male duos and a solitary female duo (the Teen Queens, with their doo wop hit "Eddie My Love"). A number of these tunes are familiar hit classics: Mickey & Sylvia's "Love Is Strange," Brook Benton & Dinah Washington's "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)" and "A Rockin' Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall in Love)," Ike & Tina Turner's "It's Gonna Work Out Fine," Shirley & Lee's "Let the Good Times Roll," Johnny & Joe's "Over the Mountain, Across the Sea." More intriguing for those in search of something they might have seldom or never heard are cuts like Tarheel Slim & Little Ann's splendid "It's Too Late," a minor-key haunter with scarifying blues/gospel overtones. Also on hand are a number of original versions of songs that became more famous via subsequent White cover versions: Gene & Eunice's "Ko Ko Mo (I Love You So)," Marvin & Johnny's "Cherry Pie" (later a hit for Skip & Flip), Don & Dewey's "I'm Leaving It (All) Up to You" (later a huge hit for Dale & Grace), and most enticingly of all, Willy & Ruth's original 1954 version of Leiber-Stoller's "Love Me" (covered in 1956 by Elvis Presley). Some of the other relatively unknown selections are on the forgettable side, but overall this is a good alternation of familiar and unfamiliar performances in this early rock'n'roll sub-genre.

Various Artists: The Stax Story (Stax). The legendary Memphis soul label Stax's legacy is well represented by this four-CD, 98-song box set, which manages to do what many similar box retrospectives don't. That is to provide a well-balanced overview of a genre of music that mixes the essential hits with many noteworthy lesser-known singles and rarities, coming about as close as possible to pleasing both the collector and the less intense soul fan. It's much more manageable (and affordable) than that trio of mammoth nine- or ten-CD boxes in theThe Complete Stax-Volt Singles series, and gives greater weight than those boxes could to the first and more vital half of Stax's chronology. The first alone, subtitled "The Hits," takes care of most of the consensus classics most listeners would demand from such a box, by Carla Thomas, Otis Redding, the Staple Singers, Sam & Dave, Booker T. & the MGs, Rufus Thomas, Albert King, Johnnie Taylor, and lower-profile acts like the Dramatics, Eddie Floyd, and Jean Knight. Disc two and disc three chronologically survey lower-profile chart hits and flops, taking in additional material by all of the stars, as well as great songs that have escaped the net of oldies radio (William Bell's "You Don't Miss Your Water," Albert King's "Crosscut Saw," Mable John's "Your Good Thing (Is About to End)," and a few interesting cuts that really aren't too well known by anyone, like the T.S.U. Toronados' sexy 1970 near-instrumental funk workout "Play the Music Toronados." Disc four is entirely devoted to live recordings, most by the company's biggest acts, that sometimes give a rawer sense of the performers' charisma than was evident on their studio efforts. Some pretty minor reservations might keep this box from getting awarded the highest possible score: some of the non-hit cuts aren't that exciting (particularly from the label's later years), the track annotation doesn't make it clear whether some of the live cuts were previously unreleased in any form, Booker T. & the MGs' "Hang 'Em High" is represented by a live 1993 reunion recording rather than the original hit single one, and some good mid-level hits by the biggest Stax acts aren't here. Still, it's a very worthy summation of the label's highlights, augmented by detailed liner notes.



Peter Banks: Can I Play You Something? ( Blueprint, UK). While he is most known as the first guitarist for Yes, Peter Banks passed through four other groups in the four years before he joined the band in August 1968. Much of this CD is devoted to odds and ends from those projects, yet the subtitle "The Pre-Yes Recordings from 1964-1968" is a little deceptive. In fact, only a little more than half of the 22 tracks are from that era. The others are mysterious undated bits and pieces, most functioning as unnecessary arty "link" tracks and sounding as if they were recorded several decades later than the 1960s, although "Peter Gunn" is a live 1980 performance by the Peter Banks Band. What this manages to do is annoyingly impede the flow of rarities, which would indeed have sounded much more organic if Banks (who assembled the disc himself) had just slapped everything on in chronological order. Getting past the structural flaws to the bulk of the CD itself, it bundles a couple of songs (probably unreleased, although it's not totally clear from the annotation) by his mid-1960s group the Devil's Disciples; some but not all of the cuts from the 1967 singles by his fine, obscure psychedelic band Syn (which also included future Yes-man Chris Squire on bass), as well as a demo of one of those singles, "Flowerman"; and a few numbers by his subsequent, even more obscure psychedelic group, Mabel Greer's Toyshop. Syn's "14 Hour Technicolour Dream" is one of the greatest British psychedelic flower-power singles, and their "Grounded" is an excellent straight mod rock number; the Mabel Greer's Toyshop cuts are okay but rather par-for-the-course British psychedelia, replete with the usual harmonies and slightly distorted guitar leads. The Devil's Disciples tunes are nothing more than ordinary covers of Arthur Alexander's "You Better Move On" and the Yardbirds' "For Your Love." Some of the Mabel Greer's Toyshop songs are labeled as "radio fun" or "what bass?" mixes, yet the liner notes do not go into meaningful detail as to whether these are different mixes done in the 1960s, different mixes done recently, or how they are different in a way that should make us care. Banks has provided detailed and entertaining liner notes about many of the tracks, and a family tree of his progress through various groups up to Yes, yet manages not to make it entirely clear what the sources for all the vintage cuts were. There's some good music here, but the unnecessarily obtuse packaging makes it hard to fully appreciate; in addition, the best cuts (by Syn) have long circulated on numerous collector-oriented British psychedelic rarity compilations.

Vashti Bunyan: Just Another Diamond Day (Spinney, UK). About five years after briefly surfacing as part of Andrew Loog Oldham's stable, Vashti -- now billing herself with her full name, Vashti Bunyan -- made her only album. A folkier and more serious-minded effort than her initial mid-1960s recordings, it is a pleasing yet overly dainty slice of British rock-tinged folk, produced by Joe Boyd. A certain similarity to some other acts under Boyd's supervision, such as the Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention, was assured by contributions from the ISB's Robin Williamson and Fairport's Dave Swarbrick and Simon Nicol. For good measure, there were string and recorder arrangements by Robert Kirby, who had done some string arrangements for Nick Drake, another Boyd-produced artist. Comprised solely of original material, Just Another Diamond Day contained dignified yet slightly sad ruminations with a pastoral, indeed rural feel, imbued with images of solitary meditations upon rain, wind, sunsets, and open fields. The drumless, acoustic arrangements yielded an intimate ambience well-suited for Vashti's fragile, measured, almost despondently wispy vocals. These were rather in the manner of Marianne Faithfull's highest and most whispery early efforts, albeit with far folkier setting and more vivid lyrics. The CD reissue of this rarity (on Spinney) is enhanced by four bonus tracks that, with an oh-so-slight poppier bent, actually rate as the best material on the disc: the 1966 B-side "Love Song," a pair of unreleased 1966-67 acetates, and a 1969 version of "Iris' Song" (to be redone as "Iris's Song for Us" on the LP). It's too bad, though, that the other three songs from her official 1965-66 singles weren't added as well, to make this a more complete retrospective.

Comus: First Utterance (Get Back). Comus' first album contains an imaginative if elusive brand of experimental folk-rock, with a tense and sometimes distressed vibe. Although there are elements of traditional British folk music, there's an edginess to the songwriting and arrangements that would be entirely alien in a Fairport Convention or Pentangle disc. At times this straddles the border between folk-rock and the kind of songs you'd expect to be sung at a witches' brewfest, the haunting supernatural atmosphere enhanced by bursts of what sound like a theramin-like violin, hand drums, flute, oboe, ghostly female backup vocals, and detours into almost tribal rhythms. All of this might be making the album sound more attractive than it is; the songs are extremely elongated and fragmented, and the male vocals often have a grating munchkin-like quality, sometimes sounding like a wizened Marc Bolan. The lyrics are impenetrable musings, mixing pastoral scenes of nature with images of gore, torture, madness, and even rape, like particularly disturbing myths being set to music. It's been reissued on CD, but here's one case where you might want to get the LP reissue (on Get Back) instead, as it comes with a bonus 12-inch of three songs in a similar vein from their rare 1971 EP.

The Spencer Davis Group: Mojo Rhythms & Midnight Blues Vol. 1: Sessions '65-'68 (RPM, UK). This is a very full disc (23 songs) of BBC sessions recorded by the band in the 1960s, all but six of them by the prime Spencer Davis Group lineup featuring Stevie Winwood. It's a bit disappointing that all but one of those 17 songs with Winwood on board have been previously available in studio versions, and even the one that wasn't (the blues cover "Oh! Pretty Woman") had already been issued on the Eight Gigs a Week compilation of early Davis recordings. Still, it's a good solid selection, heavy on the R&B covers that made up the bulk of their early repertoire, such as "Dimples," "Watch Your Step," "I Can't Stand It," and "Mean Woman Blues." In fact there's not much in the way of non-covers, though renditions of the big hits "Keep on Running," "I'm a Man," and "Gimme Some Lovin'" are here ("Somebody Help Me," oddly, is not). The performances are not much different than the studio versions -- sometimes there may be a sense of less inhibition, but on the other hand "I'm a Man" and "Gimme Some Lovin'" are definitely superior in the more densely arrangements heard on the classic singles. The fidelity is superb. As for the six 1967-68 songs sans Winwood that conclude the disc, they are naturally of not as much interest as the preceding program. Yet they're not dispensable either, as the band plowed on with a somewhat heavier, more soul-psychedelic-oriented sound, emphasizing original material penned by Davis and newcomer Eddie Hardin.

Julie Driscoll: 1969 (One Way). Driscoll's solo debut album gave her the chance not only to write all of the material, but also to more fully explore the folk and jazz directions that only some of her work with Brian Auger & the Trinity (such as "A Word About Color" and "Vauxhall to Lambeth Bridge," from Streetnoise had hinted at. The energetic soul-rock characteristic of much of her output with Auger was toned way down, in favor of far more pensive and reflective tunes. In addition, the arrangements put her voice and acoustic guitar far more at the forefront, augmented on about half the cuts by jazzy brass and wind sections (including contributions by her future husband Keith Tippett as pianist and arranger); members of the Blossom Toes, particularly brother-in-law Brian Godding, pitched in with guitar parts. Most of the compositions were moody though not mordant, her words usually portraying a woman on an uncertain yet forceful search for a new identity and new experiences, mindful of a bittersweet past yet determined to put those memories behind her. Perhaps that reflected Driscoll's own search for a new musical identity, at the very least, as she cut off her ties with Auger and the Trinity and struck out on her own. By and large it was an interesting and artistically successful quest, her winding and passionate vocals sounding rather like a folkier Grace Slick on a set of melancholy, yet not gloomy, tracks. As a songwriter Driscoll's work was serious, mature, and affecting, reaching its peaks on the propulsive exchanges between strumming guitars and urgent brass on "A New Awakening," and the somber "Walk Down," which is somewhat reminiscent of Tim Hardin songs such as "How Can We Hang on to a Dream." There's still a feeling of untapped promise, however, which makes one regret that Driscoll did not do more subsequent pop- and song-based work before turning to more avant-garde pastures.

Bob Dylan: Broadside (Gunsmoke, bootleg). In late 1962 and early 1963, Dylan recorded fourteen songs for Broadside, the folk magazine that printed many of his early compositions and also recorded numerous folk singers, putting out some of the tapes on official albums. Indeed, half a dozen of these songs actually came out on the compilation albums Broadside Ballads Vol. 1 and Broadside Reunion, with Dylan using the pseudonym Blind Boy Grunt to avoid contractual problems, although those anthologies are hard to find now. This bootleg gathers all fourteen of the performances, adding three numbers (and some chat) from a May 1962 radio show for WBAI in New York. The show was never broadcast, but, to add to the discographical tangle, two of the songs ("Emmett Till" and "Ballad of Donald White") were officially released on Broadside Reunion, although these weren't actually cut for Broadside. Taken together, the cuts on this CD catch Dylan in his hardcore folkie phase, at a time when the songs were just beginning to pour from his pen like sugar through an hourglass. It's not the easiest listen, however, because the fidelity is very uneven, varying from acceptable major label studio quality to ragged and, well, bootleggish, in the bad sense of that term. In addition, the performances are not always optimum, sometimes breaking down or stumbling; for Dylan and others, it should be remembered, the Broadside sessions were often used as a way of getting a composition down on tape in any form for reference, and not as a commercial or polished rendition. Also, the songwriting itself varies widely in quality, from "Blowin' in the Wind" (the sole unreleased performance from the WBAI session) to some of his least impressive topical numbers, like "Talkin' Devil." This material is mostly of interest for several compositions that did not make it onto his official releases in any form, like "Train A-Travelin'," "Cuban Missile Crisis," and "I'd Hate to Be You on That Dreadful Day," although none of these are memorable; there are also unreleased versions of some of his most obscure numbers, like "Walkin' Down the Line," "Playboys and Playgirls," and "Paths of Victory." Capping the disc is a poor-fidelity version of "Only a Pawn in Their Game" sung by Dylan at the 1963 Washington Civil Rights March. If for some reason this CD was the only rare and unreleased Dylan from the early 1960s available, it would be of immense historical interest. As it is, it's only of historical interest for committed Dylan scholars, particularly as there are far superior bootlegs of unreleased material from this same period available, such as The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan Outtakes and the 1961 tapes he made in an apartment in Minneapolis.

Marianne Faithfull: True (Music Club). In early 1971, Marianne Faithfull -- whose personal life was not in the best shape, and whose commercial prospects were idle as she had released just one single since early 1967 -- recorded an album's worth of material with producer Mike Leander, who had worked with Faithfull in the 1960s. Leander hoped to place the album with Bell Records, but despite some initial positive feedback, Bell rejected the record after it was completed. The twelve songs on this CD were cut at these 1971 sessions, and eventually released in the mid-1980s on the Castle compilation Rich Kid Blues, which added most of the material from her 1978 album Faithless. Now isolated onto a disc of their own, these early-1970s performances turn out to be surprisingly worthwhile, even if they're not among her very best work. Faithfull's voice had now lowered about a full octave (actually it had already done so by her 1969 single "Sister Morphine"), and she gave dignified, knowing interpretations to songs with a folk-rock and country-rock bent, with suitably understated, low-key arrangements. Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, James Taylor, Tim Hardin, and Cat Stevens were among the composers covered, and pure country ("Long Black Veil") and folk ("Corinne, Corinna") tunes were also part of the program. This is best when the arrangements are stripped down to little more than guitar and Faithfull's sensually low voice, as on "Sad Lisa," "Southern Butterfly," and "Visions of Johanna." When a fuller electric band backing's employed, there's a more dated early-'70s mellow-rock sluggishness. Still, at its best this is actually very good stuff, and even at less than its best, it has its good points. A worthy transition from her '60s pop days into more serious material, it's worth finding (and has often been overlooked) by Faithfull fans.

Ella Jenkins: Songs, Rhythms & Chants for the Dance (Smithsonian Folkways). Jenkins crafted this album with the intention of presenting songs that were suitable for children to dance to. They could do that if they're so inclined, but really, you would not guess that this was the purpose of the record if not for Jenkins' accompanying liner notes. Whether it's danced to or not, it's another in a long line of releases that proves Jenkins to be perhaps the best and most intelligent children's recording artist of the twentieth century. The songs can be enjoyed by both kids and adults, and even if it's just kids that are listening, adults can be assured that these are performances that won't insult their intelligence by playing down to them. Musically it's very solid and often bluesy, and boasts better sound than many other Folkways releases (including some of Jenkins'). The material and arrangements are varied to avoid homogeneity, some songs making use of full vocal choruses, some using basic guitar accompaniment, some based around chants, others getting into rather jazzy grooves with electric organ. (Actually, three numbers played by the Larry Novak Trio are not just jazzy, but actual jazz.) The disc concludes with a few interviews about dance, not just with dancers but also with a dance student, a dance reviewer, a dance teacher of the blind, choreographers, and so forth. Not the kind of selections many will listen to repeatedly, perhaps, but as they're all placed together at the end they don't impede the flow of the music.

The Kinks: The Great Lost Kinks Album [Neue Revue][bootleg]. Right off the bat, a little unwieldy discographical clarification about this odd bootleg is necessary. First of all, it is not the same album as the legitimate (and long-out-of-print) rarities compilation titled The Great Lost Kinks Album, which was issued in 1973 on Reprise. Second, it is not the same album as the late-1990s bootleg that was also titled The Great Lost Kinks Album, which has almost entirely different music. It is yet a third Kinks album bearing this title, and the second bootleg to do so. How do you differentiate it from the other bootleg The Great Lost Kinks Album? That's not easy, since this boot does not have a label (though it has a long and cumbersome catalog number), but the lower left-hand corner of the front cover, for reasons known only to the compilers, sports the words "Neue Revue" in large lettering. Also this has 30 songs, whereas the other bootleg The Great Lost Kinks Album has only twenty-four. Got all that? So, what about the music? It's a mish-mash, and actually a pretty entertaining one, of rarities from 1963-70, some of them unreleased, others on hard-to-find legitimate releases. There are a bunch of tunes that have only shown up, on albums at any rate, on the compilations The Kink Kronikles, The Great Lost Kinks Album, and Dead End Street. Then there are a smattering of rarer goodies, such as the early demos that have shown up on the AIP various-artists CD English Freakbeat Vol. 3; alternate versions of "Got Love If You Want It" (interesting) and "Revenge" (not interesting); the outtake "Don't Ever Let Me Go," described in the liner notes as "projected third single," which is pretty good but also fascinating for boasting a riff very similar to the one in "You Really Got Me"; an acoustically flavored version of "Dedicated Follower of Fashion"; a take of "Mr. Reporter" with Ray Davies on vocals (rather than Dave Davies, who is heard on the rendition eventually legitimately released as a CD bonus track); "Ballad of the Virgin Soldiers," a tinny but nifty instrumental theme written by Ray Davies for a 1970 television play; and some slight but charming mid-1960s demos that have made the rounds on previous bootlegs, like "All Night Stand," "And I Will Love You," and "Tell Me Now So I'll Know." The sound is pretty good, though not without imperfections on numerous tracks. What's the problem with this endeavor, then? It's that unless you're just this moment starting to collect Kinks rarities, it's extremely likely that if you're interested in Kinks bootlegs in the first place, you already have much (yet not all) of it elsewhere. Until that unlikely day when the Kinks catalog is made entirely available legitimately, however, this is certainly a good assortment of good early rarities, albeit one bound to leave gaps that need filling.

Bryan MacLean: Candy's Waltz (Sundazed). Like the 1997 release If You Believe In, this is a dip into the vault of MacLean solo demos, revealing that the ethereal singer-songwriter had a wealth of compositions that never made it onto Love records. In fact, not a single one of these songs was included on Love's first three albums, though a few of them had been written before his departure from the band (and a couple of them appear, in different versions, on If You Believe In ). This collection might be considered less essential, for purist Love fans at any rate, than If You Believe In, as (unlike If You Believe In) this has no bona fide 1960s performances. Seven were done in New York in 1971, a couple were recorded live in 1976-77, and the rest date from the early 1980s (though, according to the liner notes, just five of the nineteen songs were written after 1970). As all of the songs feature nothing but MacLean's acoustic guitar and voice, though, they may as well have all been done in the late 1960s. Throughout MacLean's sound is an odd if alluring package: high, wavering, sometimes almost girlish delicate vocals, entrancing yet rambling melodies, and a similarly rambling lyrical focus of stream-of-consciousness romantic naivete. Be warned that some may find this way too sappy: MacLean often sounds as if he's composing/singing love letters right off the top of his head, with a sense of phrasing that would be as at home in theatrical musicals as folk coffeehouses. While some of these were written during the Love era and might indeed have been nice additions to Da Capo or Forever Changes -- MacLean in fact notes in his spoken intro to "Love Will Be Here" that the tune was going to be on Forever Changes until Arthur Lee vetoed it at the last minute -- you sense that the band would have really needed to knock them into more concise, rock-oriented arrangements to make them work in that context. Perhaps partially for that reason, nothing here sounds as good as "Old Man" or "Alone Again Or," which were more taut, in lyrics and structure, than anything here. Nonetheless, it's another useful volume for the serious Love fan's library, enhanced by a 13-minute 1998 radio interview at the end, in which MacLean -- with less than a year to live -- bubbles with enthusiasm and optimism for the future.

Mary McCaslin: Rain -- The Lost Album (Bear Family). It's not well known that McCaslin was very briefly with Capitol Records in the late 1960s, in her early twenties. Only one single, 1967's "Rain"/"This All Happened Once Before," was released, but in 1967-68 she in fact did a few sessions, resulting in almost twenty tracks. All of these tracks, including both sides of the single, were finally unearthed on this 1999 CD. While of undeniable historical interest, these really do show McCaslin to still be a fairly unformed artist, even relative to her very obscure (and good) 1969 debut album, {^Goodnight Everybody}, on Barnaby. She's just an average folk singer here, her voice not sounding as assured as it would be subsequently, with a repertoire entirely comprised of cover tunes. That's not necessarily a problem as McCaslin was a gifted interpreter as well as songwriter, but that interpretive gift is not as strongly in evidence as it would be later. In truth this seems to be bear the stamp of producer Nick Venet -- who also produced country-folk-rock artists Linda Ronstadt & the Stone Poneys, Hearts & Flowers, Fred Neil, and Karen Dalton in the same era -- more than it does the imprint of McCaslin herself. The low-key-to-the-point-of-sedate, lightly electrified arrangements will be extremely familiar to those who know the Stone Poneys and Hearts & Flowers records well. It's a good sound, but McCaslin at this point was not as original an artist as those acts, and did not have access to material that was as interesting. She does take in an eclectic assortment of songwriters on this collection, including Michael Nesmith, Hoyt Axton, the Bee Gees, Tom Paxton, Bert Jansch, and Leonard Cohen, as well as three Beatles songs, a harbinger of her oft-tapped love of Lennon-McCartney rearrangements. Yet of the songs that aren't well known, few are that memorable (the sad "Windigo" and "Please Don't Go" are exceptions), and some of the covers not only fail to leave a mark, but actually diminish the songs. Tim Buckley's "Aren't You the One" was handled much better by Buckley, for instance, and she changes George Harrison's Beatles composition "I Need You" so radically that she strips it of most of its recognizable melody, though to no good end. Incidentally, Bernie Leadon, Doug Dillard, and Larry Murray are among the country-rock musicians of note who contributed to the sessions at various points.

Annie Philippe: L'Integrale Sixties (Magic, France). The English translation of the title is "The Complete Sixties." Certainly it's hard to imagine that they've missed any cuts from the '60s discography of this minor (and unknown to the English-speaking world) French singer on this two-CD anthology, whose 50 cuts span 1964 to 1969. Mercurial in mood, production, and quality, it spins among genres like a bumper car, sometimes (but not often) approaching all-out rock or girl-group pop, at others getting into French easy listening pop, and at others into territory suited for musicals. There's more of a pop-rock sensibility than a straight pop one, though. Those who like the French '60s girl genre as a whole (a style that became much more well known among collectors in the US and UK several decades later than it was while it was happening) will probably like it, and those who like Philippe's more famous peer France Gall will definitely like it. Fifty songs is too much at once, though the best half is pretty good and uplifting, highlighted by fine orchestrated girl group pop like "Vous Pouvez Me Dire," the cool jazz organ-dominated "Je Chante Et Je Danse," the driving "J'ai Rate Mon Bac" (love that slightly dissonant chord at the end), the moody ballad "Tout Finit a St-Tropez," the ridiculously dramatic pizzicato strings on "C'est Loin Domani," the daughter-of-Little Peggy March romper "Lui," and the British mod-influenced "On M'a Toujours Dit" and "C'est La Mode." On the other hand, you have to put up with dross like a cover of Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender," and the faux Dixieland of "Cause Donc Toujours." The second disc, covering the years of 1966-69, does fade in imagination and the quality of material, though "Le Mannequin" (co-written by arranger Paul Mariat) is a dead ringer for France Gall's best circa 1967 tunes, and "Pour La Gloire" is a cool downbeat rocker.

Rod Stewart: 1964-1969 (Pilot). This double CD purports to assemble "every Rod Stewart recording from the sixties with the exception of his own work with the Jeff Beck Group." Given the various minor factual errors in the accompanying liner notes, it doesn't seem 100% certain that the compilers managed to do so. But even if they didn't, the thirty tracks on these discs must represent virtually everything Stewart did in the 1960s aside from those Jeff Beck Group tracks, and aside from his 1969 solo debut album (which is usually given the release date of 1969 in discographies). As with David Bowie, Stewart's 1960s years can be seen as a dalliance with various styles and musicians that was a long hard haul to finally get where he was going. Stewart did get there, artistically and commercially, just a bit sooner than Bowie did, but there's still a sense of a talented singer who took a long time to find his musical identity and secure first-rate material. Don't, nonetheless, think this disc is meaningless trivia; the music's good-to-not-bad, although the 1964-66 cuts are usually somewhat routine R&B numbers, assembled from a 1964 single as part of Long John Baldry & the Hoochie Coochie Men; his 1964 solo debut single for Decca; various 1964 soul/blues demos; his rather attractive late-1965 orchestrated pop single for Columbia; the demo cuts he sang on with Steampacket, which also included Baldry, Julie Driscoll, and Brian Auger; his third Columbia single, from 1966 ("Shake"); and his lone (and surprisingly poppy) track with Shotgun Express, also featuring Beryl Marsden on vocals. Post-1966, Stewart really starts to come into his own, with richer, grittier vocals and harder blues-rock arrangements, again in a wide assortment of contexts: his 1967 soul-pop single "Little Misunderstood" (also presented in its demo version); the 1967 vocal duet with P.P. Arnold, "Come Home Baby" (produced by Mick Jagger, with contributions by Keith Richards); a performance fronting the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation that was only released on a compilation album in the 1970s; the songs he sang on with Python Lee Jackson, including the famous "In a Broken Dream"; a track with the GTO's, with Beck on guitar; and finally two demos done in 1969 with Art Wood's Quiet Melon, an aggragation that grew into the Faces. The whole lot is accompanied by a 48-page booklet that has an interesting, lengthy interview with early Stewart associate Long John Baldry. Note that although the four tracks from 1965-66 singles are referred to as demo versions, they sound like the official 45s (and not like they were mastered from the best sources). Note also, finally, that "Sparky Rides," a Small Faces-like track that appeared on a single-disc compilation purporting to include 1960s Stewart sides (The Original Face), does not appear on this set.

The Third Bardo: The Third Bardo (Sundazed). In addition to both sides of their "I'm Five Years Ahead of My Time"/"Rainbow Life" single, this six-song, ten-inch EP adds four outtakes from the same session, including an alternate version of "Rainbow Life." It turns out, though, that "I'm Five Years Ahead of My Time" was their best song by some distance. The rest of the material was similar to, but not nearly as, impressive as that track, with a similar mixture of Eastern-influenced guitar/organ melodies in a sub-Doors vein, and self-conscious psychedelic weirdness. A good souvenir for garage diehards, but almost anyone will be satisfied just to have "I'm Five Years Ahead of My Time" on {^Nuggets} and leave it at that. Only one of the songs (Jeff Monn's "I Can Understand Your Problem"), by the way, is a group original.

The Troggs: Trogglmania [bootleg] (Hyacinth). Putting a couple dozen Troggs rarities on a bootleg CD is a good concept, if hardly one that seems guaranteed to turn a profit. But the execution here could have been better, in large part because of the existence of another Troggs boot, Prehistoric Sounds, which is not only better, but also duplicates no less than twelve songs from Trogglmania. So, of the 13 songs on this disc not on Prehistoric Sounds, what's that leave? There's the very pop 1969 single "Sweet Madeleine," which was a B-side (though the sleeve claims it was the A-side) of "Evil Woman"; the trivial 1973 Reg Presley single "'S Down to Marianne," with what sound like imitation Marc Bolan vocals in parts; the foolishly conceived "Troggs on 45" medley; and the yet more irrelevant 1982 comeback single "Save the Last Dance for Me." Then there's "Let's Pull Together," identified on the sleeve as an acetate of a 1970 flop single on DJM, which is confusing as it's listed in discographies as a legitimate 1971 release; who knows why it was taken from an acetate or whether it's an alternate, but at any rate it's an adequate low-key tune, reflective of the Troggs' softer side. Getting into some truly peripheral yet certainly rarer stuff, there are both sides of an undistinguished 1968 single by the Nerve, produced by Presley; their "Magic Spectacles" is in a sub-"Love Is All Around" style. Then there are three (and only three) songs from original Troggs guitarist Chris Britton's virtually unknown 1968 solo album As I Am, two of which are passable fey, gentle late-1960s British pop. And, finally, there's "Baby" (which sounds like an average Troggs late-1960s LP track), a B-side by the Loot, which included original Trogg member Dave Wright in the lineup. There's also what's identified as a "rare German-only single" by the Troggs, "That's What You Get Babe"/"I Don't Know Why," but it ain't that rare no more; it's included on the above-board Archeology compilation, which almost anyone obsessive enough to consider buying a Troggs bootleg will have already. If you don't happen to have the Prehistoric Sounds bootleg yet, you may be interested to know that the other songs on Trogglmania are similarly unearthshaking cuts from rare 1967-1973 flop singles and B-sides, along with seven okay BBC performances from 1966-68. Be aware, though, that Prehistoric Sounds has two such BBC cuts ("Wild Thing" and "From Home") that don't show up on Trogglmania.

The Untamed: It's All True! (Circle). Billed to Lindsay Muir's Untamed, this is the first legitimate album release of material by the Untamed, a 1960s British mod band that put out five singles in the mid-1960s, and are well regarded by many collectors. Before you reflexively note this as something to order sight unseen, however, bear in mind that this actually contains none of those five singles. It's entirely comprised of previously unreleased material, three of the songs taken from a BBC session in January 1966; three from December 1967 demos; one a December 1968 demo; and the remaining two May 1969 demos. For that matter, just one of these songs (a cover of the Who's "It's Not True") was one of the tunes released on their official 45s. So really, it's an entirely different set of material than you might be familiar with if you've heard their official output. And the sound is a bit different too, with the exception of those early '66 BBC tapes. The Untamed started as an organ-oriented mod rock-soul band, but on the 1967-69 selections (by which time they were billed as Lindsay Muir's Untamed, after the leader and singer), they were in a somewhat fuller soul-rock-jazz mold, Muir concentrating more on the keyboards than the guitar. Split about evenly between covers and Muir originals, it's decent, but not compelling, soul-leaning UK mod, Muir exhibiting his knack for vivacious jazzy phrasing and occasional unexpected (for mod-soul-rock, anyway) chord progressions. Sound quality is good to just okay. This is a fairly good set, but overall not as interesting as the more British Invasion-flavored 1964-66 singles. Those, along with three songs from a 1966 TV broadcast, are (with the exception of one track) available on the unauthorized compilation Untamed and Innocent, which also features material by the Sorrows, the Thoughts, and the Loot. As for It's All True!, it's a worthy supplement to their slim official discography, but at ten songs rather short value for an expensive import; at least there are liner notes and vintage photos/press clippings in the booklet.

Ronnie Walker, Someday (Philly Archives). This has all but one of the songs released on the seven 1966-72 singles by the obscure Philly soul vocalist (somehow the 1970 cut "Didn't We" went missing), padded with ten previously unreleased tunes. Walker was a solid falsetto singer, and his work on these sides is all the more impressive considering he was still of high school age when he made his first 45. It's also impressive that he wrote or co-wrote most of the tracks on the CD, yet in the end it's just good journeyman Philadelphia soul. That's a good thing, not a mediocre thing, but you can't really say that any of the numbers were so outstanding that they should have demanded national attention. Walker did vary the program to include uptempo sweet soul as well as ballads. But it was the slow and sad tunes on which he was at his best, particularly the local 1967 hit "Really, Really Love You" and "I'm Saying Goodbye," which have that sad late-night smoochy vibe so peculiar to Philadelphia soul of the era. On the later sides Walker got into a slightly slicker, more groove-oriented direction that could strongly echo Motown; it's easy to imagine Smokey Robinson doing some of this as album filler, for instance, and "Now That You're Gone" sounds like a late-'60s Supremes cut with a high-pitched male singer. This review might be making the disc sound less attractive than it is; although Walker's not a standout, this is certainly above-average by the standards of little-known soul from the time being excavated for the collector's market.

Various Artists: Doob Doob O' Rama 2 (Q.D.K. Media). Another volume of goodies from Indian film soundtracks, mostly vocal, all of them taken from movies spanning the 1950s to the 1970s. The fidelity, again, is extremely variable and often so tinny as to make one suspect that there was usually no access to the first-generation tapes, if such things existed. No matter, it's an ever-surprising and always fun ride through the jumble of disparate styles that are blended into Indian film music, almost always within the same song. The fragmented admixtures of genres will appeal to academics that find it a reflection of the globalization and atomization of the modern world. It should be kept in mind, though, that these musicians and composers weren't doing this consciously, or at least as consciously, as downtown New York post-modernists; they did so with a knack for fun entertainment. Still, the mix'n'match of approaches is rather mind-boggling, drawing from sources ranging from 1930s big-budget movie musicals and early rock'n'roll to surf music, psychedelia, funk, and early synthesizer technology. And even some Indian popular and classical music! Dig especially the spy movie guitars set to a harem beat on Asha Bhosle's "Ankhen Meri Maikhana." Bhosle provides a couple more highlights with the male-female duet "O Meri Jaan Main Ne Kaha," in which the guy's part sounds like a male Yma Sumac, and "Maine Dil Abhi Diya Nahin"; the canny blend of surfish guitars with infectious Bollywood tunes make one hope for an entire Bhosle CD, if one could be concocted. No years are given for any of the tracks, unfortunately, but the performers, and the movies from which they originate, are noted.

Various Artists: Hard-Up Heroes IV [bootleg]. This here's a pretty strange assemblage of mix of unreleased and rare British Invasion material, taken from television broadcasts and hard-to-find vinyl. It features four to nine songs apiece by Gerry  the Pacemakers, the Merseybeats, the Searchers, Billy J. Kramer, and the relatively unknown woman vocalist Beryl Marsden, with eleven of the 34 songs taken from the 1964 New Musical Express Pollwinners Concert (which was broadcast on British TV, and whose lineup included everyone on this CD except Marsden). Otherwise, you get four Ed Sullivan performances by Gerry  the Pacemakers, as well as one they did on #Shindig and two they did for the German TV show #Beat Club; rare German studio versions of "It's Love That Really Counts" and "I Think of You" by the Merseybeats, and their not-too-rare studio release of "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Cry Over You"; six songs from the Searchers' Live at the Star-Club Hamburg album; two Ed Sullivan performances by Billy J. Kramer; and five tunes from singles by Marsden, who did acceptable but not brilliant pop-rock with shades of soul and girl-group sounds. The fidelity is fairly good on most of this, and for the live material, certainly above average for live unofficial 1964 rock recordings. Is it essential for British Invasion fans? Nah -- the repertoire is largely taken from their familiar hits, and these groups weren't the sort to radically redefine the material in exciting live settings.  It's reasonably enjoyable nonetheless if you're into the genre. Of course, if you are so into the British Invasion that you'll consider buying a ridiculously limited-market bootleg such as this, the drawback is that you probably already have a considerable portion of this in your collection already, whether on legitimate releases or on an actual copy of the 1964 NME Pollwinners Concert, which has made the rounds as a bootleg video.

Various Artists: Let's Go Get Stoned!: The Songs of Jagger/Richard (Sequel, UK). A peculiar, uneven collection of covers of songs written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, released between 1964 and 1975. Some are rare, some are not; most were recorded by the Rolling Stones, although four of the 24 tunes were never released by the group; some are good, some are indifferent, and some are awful. Most likely the grab bag was chosen according to what was available for licensing, as much as it was chosen for musical merit. At any rate, Stones collectors will find this most interesting for those four tunes the group never released, including Gene Pitney's melodramatic 1964 ballad (and UK hit) "That Girl Belongs to Yesterday," Charles Dickens' sappy ballad "So Much in Love" (produced Beach Boys-style and actually done better by the Mighty Avengers), and the quite rare light British Invasion pop of the Greenbeats' 1964 single "You Must Be the One." The rarest find here is undoubtedly Teddy Green's 1964 single "Give Me Your Hand," boasting the highly unusual (for the 1960s) songwriting credit of Mick Jagger alone, unassisted by Keith Richards, though it's a mediocre bluesy pop tune with an over-the-top, untuneful vocal. Other oddities are comedian Jimmy Tarbuck's instantly forgettable mid-1960s pop single "Wastin' Time," although a Rolling Stones version did eventually show up on Metamorphosis, and Nicky Scott's lush 1967 single "Backstreet Girl" (produced by Mick Jagger and Andrew Loog Oldham). As for highlights among the covers of songs familiar in versions by the Rolling Stones themselves, there's a pretty cool funk-rock interpretation of "Gimme Shelter" from the early 1970s by obscure American soul vocalist Ruth Copeland, the Searchers' fine folk-rock version of "Take It or Leave It," and the Epics' lilting 1966 take on the surprisingly oft-covered "Blue Turns to Grey." On the other hand, there are five outings by blustery British white soul singer Chris Farlowe, and similarly unmemorable passes at Jagger-Richards compositions by P.P. Arnold, Twice As Much, and even lesser-known artists. The hard-to-find Japanese LP compilation Walkin' Thru the Sleepy City, by the way, collates thirteen 1960s Rolling Stones covers -- largely of songs the Stones did not release in the 1960s -- that do not appear on Let's Go Get Stoned!, and might well be of greater interest to dedicated Stones fans.



contents copyright Richie Unterberger , 2000-2010
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