Kevin Ayers, The BBC Sessions 1970-1976
(Hux). For a guy who never had a chart record (even in the lowest
rungs), Kevin Ayers sure managed to record a lot of BBC sessions in the
1970s. Several other BBC compilations preceded this two-CD set, which
repeats some, though not all, of what's been previously issued from
such sessions. One of the anthology's flaws is that it doesn't clearly
mark what has never appeared elsewhere; maybe designating such tracks
with asterisks would cut down on impulse purchases from discerning
shoppers, but it would sure help fans in straightening out what's
where. Disregarding this, it's a quite good, entertaining, and dare one
say intellectually stimulating sampler of work from his prime, even if
the earlier material on disc one is clearly superior to the tracks on
the second CD.
ALBUM REVIEWS: A SELECTION OF RECENT RELEASES, FALL 2005:
The Action, Uptight and Outasight (Castle). Although this is a two-CD collector-oriented set, the disc that will attract by far the most attention of the pair is the first, which compiles BBC and TV performances by the Action in 1966 and 1967. There's a bit of initial disappointment at the brevity of the disc, whose twelve tracks (one of which is a brief interview with lead singer Reg King) last only 31 minutes. Still, as the liner notes painstakingly explain, it's quite a miracle that even this much material was found. (There are frustratingly, a few other sessions from the period, including performances of some tracks never released by the band on record, that have not been found on tape and likely never will.) What was rescued for inclusion here is of highly uneven sound quality, and sometimes quite rough (particularly on the first two tracks, taken from a TV broadcast of unknown origin), but also sometimes pretty decent, and never frightfully hard to bear.
A few of the songs they cut on their mid-'60s Parlophone singles are here in live versions, but the greatest pleasure is offered by a number of songs that didn't make it onto disc at the time, including the Motown covers "Going to a Go Go" and "Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)," as well as a version of the obscure Olympics song "Mine Exclusively." Most interesting of all are four tracks from a July 1967 session that documents their switch from blue-eyed soul to psychedelia, including a number of songs they never got to release at the time, although studio versions of some of them have shown up on archival releases. Among these cuts are the breezy, jazzy utopian ode "Love Is All," probably their finest original song from their psychedelic phase; a respectable cover of the Byrds' "I See You"; and, most surprisingly, a version of John Coltrane's instrumental "India," the composition that partially inspired the Byrds' own "Eight Miles High." Also from this session is a version of the relatively conventional "Shadows and Reflections," their final Parlophone single.
While the "bonus" second CD in this package lasts for a little more than an hour, it will be of less interest to fans, as it's taken from a 1998 live reunion at the Boston Arms in London. Yet as reunion gigs go, it's way above the average: the sound is good, the performances spirited, and the original quintet intact (with the rather unnecessary addition of a sax player). On this live set, the psychedelic period of the Action is ignored in favor of their mod R&B, the songs including versions of a number of their mid-'60s recordings, but also quite a few soul covers that aren't represented on any releases of '60s Action material. The first disc remains the most valuable portion of this release, of course. It provides a worthwhile supplement to their body of studio recordings, and also a small window into their swift if little-noted transformation from a good mod-soul outfit into an interesting if little-recorded psychedelic one.
Peter Bardens, Write My Name in the Dust: The Anthology 1963-2002 (Castle). As a two-CD overview of the career of Peter Bardens, this manages to fit in a lot of material and display his work in different contexts, but also suffers from some problems that might prevent it from being wholly satisfying to some fans of his music. Despite the 40-year timespan of the title, it's not a chronologically balanced selection by any means; 23 of the 29 tracks predate 1972, only three postdate the mid-1970s, and those three are all from his 2002 album The Art of Levitation. Too, there are just three cuts from Camel, which to art-rock listeners might be the most familiar of the groups in which Bardens played. In fact, it's essentially a reissue of his first pair of solo albums (1970's The Answer and 1971's Peter Bardens) -- included in their entirety on discs one and two respectively -- with songs tacked on from a few of the '60s groups in which he played keyboards, Camel, and his final album.
The first seven tracks might be the ones that interest collectors the most, as they include cuts from various obscure '60s projects in which Bardens was involved. There's the 1963 R&B single "Respectable" by the Cheynes (with Mick Fleetwood on drums); two sides of a 1966 single, and an outtake, of the Booker T. & the MG's-styled Peter B's Looners, also featuring Fleetwood and guitarist Peter Green; and the 1969 psychedelic single by Village, also including future Elvis Costello & the Attractions bassist Bruce Thomas. (Unfortunately, there's nothing from his most notable '60s group, Them, in which he played briefly but memorably in 1965.) Most of these songs have their merits, illustrating the journey from R&B to psychedelia that Bardens, like many British musicians of his generation, undertook during the decade.
Bardens was an excellent keyboardist, particularly on organ, but not such a good songwriter, which made the two early-'70s albums that are the centerpieces of this compilation mixed affairs. Although there are flashes of engaging combinations of late psychedelia and early progressive rock, the songs are often too long and loosely structured, even if they do display Bardens' increasingly wide palette, also drawing from jazz and improvisation in addition to rock and R&B. Peter Green (not credited on the original album for contractual reasons) does provide a lift to The Answer, highlighted by the 13-minute Santana-like groove of "Homage to the God of Light"; a jazzier mood is struck by the nine-minute outtake from The Answer sessions here, "Long Ago, Far Away" (the only piece of unreleased music on this anthology, incidentally). Peter Bardens was more of the same, but more subdued, bluesy, and mundane, though there were times at which it verged on more concise and moody pop melodies, particularly on "Sweet Honey Wine." After just three samples of his progressive rock with Camel, the collection ends with three more new age-adult contemporary-oriented cuts from his final album that will likely be of limited interest to vintage prog-rock fans. Good liner notes by psych-prog expert David Wells help put Bardens' lengthy career trail in perspective, however.
The Beach Boys, Beach Boys Video Party! [DVD] (bootleg) (Scorpio). This two-hour bootleg DVD has no less than 43 clips of the Beach Boys in the 1960s and early 1970s (usually with Brian Wilson in the onscreen lineup), taken from live concerts, television performances, promotional films, and even theatrical movie releases in which the group appeared. Many have shown up, in part or full and often in better quality, on official video releases; the image and sound quality varies from excellent to funky; and some '60s Beach Boys clips that have surfaced elsewhere aren't included here. And yet there's no denying that this is a whole lotta fun, fun, fun, and perhaps the best performance-only Beach Boys video that's likely to be compiled, unless an official company is somehow able to compile a similar release from better or original sources. Although some critics have labeled the band a subpar live act, the pre-1966 footage (which fills up the majority of this disc) truly demonstrates this wasn't so -- they were an exciting and lively group onstage, if sometimes corny in presentation, and not fully able to reproduce the magnificence of their recorded sound. It's also good that many of the clips here are wholly live, or at least contain live vocals, though some are obviously mimed.
Highlights and/or rarities are many, starting with a live clip of "Surfin' Safari" when David Marks was still in the band, and running through numerous Ed Sullivan Show and Shindig numbers where they present many of their big early hits, including "I Get Around, "Wendy," "Fun Fun Fun," and "Help Me Rhonda." Britain's Ready Steady Go audience gives the band's "I Get Around" and "When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)" such a tumultuous reception that they all but drown out the between-song interview chatter. It gets even better with the inclusion of the four songs they did in late 1964 on The T.A.M.I. Show, which have been rarely screened as their section is missing from most prints of that classic concert movie. Beach Boys connoisseurs seeking a few non-obvious songs will be pleased by their performances of non-hits like "Please Let Me Wonder," "Long Tall Texan," "The Things We Did Last Summer," "Papa Oo Mow Mow," and "Johnny B. Goode." And then there are their fairly little-known cameos in the movies Girls on the Beach and The Monkey's Uncle, the band actually backing Annette Funicello singing the theme song for the latter film.
As good as much Beach Boys music was in the second half of the 1960s, it must be said that the clips from this era on the DVD are a bit of a letdown. Brian Wilson isn't always there; the gap between the sophistication of the studio arrangements and their relatively pedestrian onstage re-creations is often evident; and the band themselves are more subdued and less engaged. Still, it ain't all that easy to find celluloid representations of Beach Boys songs like "Breakaway," "Friends," and "Cool Cool Water," whether live, mimed, or via promo film. There's certainly more rare Beach Boys '60s footage out there, too, but what's here is certainly a plentiful helping of the band in their prime (and a little past their prime).
The Beau Brummels, Magic Hollow (Rhino Handmade). As a four-CD, 113-track collection of 1960s Beau Brummels recordings (nothing is included from their post-'60s reunions), Magic Hollow is an excellent overview of the career of one of the finest and most underrated American bands. There's a good balance between their most familiar material (including all of their hits) and rarities, 42 of the tracks seeing release here for the first time (though some of those are alternate versions). True, some of us diehard fans of the group would have welcomed a Bear Family-styled no-stones-unturned box, as for all this set's length, there are several CDs worth of cuts that don't appear here. Some of the Triangle album is missing, most of Bradley's Barn is absent, and there are a wealth of missing unreleased-in-the-'60s tracks that have shown up on other Beau Brummels comps. But if a four-CD size limitation had to be imposed, this is about as good as could be hoped for, chronologically sequenced so as to gracefully trace their evolution from the first truly fine American British Invasion-inspired band to folk-rock and country-rock innovators.
For those who've collected the Beau Brummels for a while, the most attention-grabbing items will be the rarities, which are both plentiful and usually of surprisingly high quality. "People Are Cruel," a September 1964 recording of a previously unheard Ron Elliott original even predating their signing to Autumn Records, has their excellent haunting British Invasion-style melodies and vocal harmonies already in place; the backing track "Here I Am in Love Again," sadly missing vocals, has an intriguingly complex, beguiling tune; "Darkness" is a fine Elliott solo demo from 1965. Though their Autumn era is heavily represented by two full CDs of music, there are less previously unreleased cuts on the set from the mid-'60s than there are from their stint at Warner Brothers in 1966-68, and discs three and four really pour on the vault discoveries. Disc three alone has a bunch of previously unissued Sal Valentino compositions that further prove him to be a fine composer in his own right, even if he was overshadowed by primary Beau Brummels writer Elliott. A wealth of early 1967 outtakes (including some solo Valentino demos, highlighted by "Only Dreaming Now" and "Magic Hollow" itself) show them moving toward the more sophisticated feel of Triangle, though without as orchestrated a sound. Most surprisingly, the wordless backing track "Glass" is very much in the mode of Brian Wilson's experiments for the Beach Boys in the Pet Sounds/Smile era, and quite up to Wilson's standards in that regard, though certainly not typical of the Beau Brummels aesthetic.
Disc four, in addition to containing much of Triangle and some of Bradley's Barn, rounds off the picture of their journey into countrified folk-rock with another generous helping of outtakes, demos, and alternates that are in most respects up to the level of the music they officially released between late 1967 and late 1968. Also, it should be noted that Magic Hollow contains all of the band's non-LP single sides from their Warner Brothers era, some of which have been fiendishly hard to find since the '60s. It's all iced with a fine 48-page booklet, jam-packed with photos, track information, and extensive interview quotes with band members that bring much of their less-documented history to light.
Edda Dell'Orso, Dream Within a Dream...The Incredible Voice of Edda Dell'Orso (El). Edda Dell'Orso might be most famous for supplying her high, often tremulously quasi-operatic vocals to numerous Ennio Morricone soundtracks, though her voice has been heard on many scores by other composers (mostly Italian ones) as well. This 17-track, 74-minute compilation gathers soundtrack excerpts featuring her (mostly wordless) singing from the late 1960s and early 1970s (with one later track from 1976). Perhaps this can't qualify as an Edda Dell'Orso "best-of," if such a thing is possible, due to its limited chronological scope. Too, it doesn't have any of her work on the major Morricone spaghetti westerns A Fistful of Dollars, The Good The Bad and the Ugly, and Once Upon a Time in the West, although more than half of the selections are Morricone compositions. But within the field it covers, it does a very good job of showcasing her lovely haunting, spectral vocals in a variety of atmospheric contexts. There's near '60s go-go music in the main title from Seli; sleazy listening evoking the ennui of the lounging swinger jet set; circus-like, vaguely horrifying sounds in "4321 Morte! -- Section 1"; serenity that glides like clouds across the sky on the "alternative version" of "Giu' La Testa"; and some pretty astonishing orgiastic simulations on the Morricone-penned "Scusi Vacciamo L'Amore?," where Dell'Orso shakes and contorts her voice to remarkable effect. The Morricone piece "Quella Donna" likewise comes off like something from the artiest of blue movies, though the concluding fourteen-minute "Venutte Del Mare (Concert Suite)" -- another Morricone composition -- takes her into the reaches of the eeriest meetings of the classical and avant-garde. There's not a bad track on this anthology, which is highly recommended not just to fans of soundtrack music and Morricone, but to any listeners who like music reflecting the most accessible matings of pop and experimental styles, with pinches of kitsch thrown in the mix.
Donovan, Try for the Sun: The Journey of Donovan (Epic/Legacy). As a three-CD career-spanning box set retrospective, this is an improvement on the more modest double-CD Troubadour collection of the early 1990s. Foremost among the pluses, obviously, is the greater amount of material. Though it makes sure to include all of Donovan's chart singles and most popular album tracks, there's also room for a good number of rarities, including the single version of "The Trip" (with a harmonica solo not on its LP counterpart); the B-sides "Preachin' Love" and "Poor Cow"; and two live 1973 tracks recorded in Japan that were previously unreleased in the US. There are also 13 previously unissued items, among them four outtakes from the 1967 live recording Donovan in Concert; five late-'60s studio outtakes, including a different version of "Lord of the Reedy River"; and three traditional folk tunes from a 1971 concert. Plus, a fourth disc offers a DVD of a previously unreleased 40-minute 1970 pseudo-documentary film in which Donovan wanders through Greek islands, reciting some poetry and playing some acoustic music with accompaniment from John Candy Carr and Mike Thomson.
There's a downside for Donovan completists, however, in that this came out just months after EMI UK issued four of his 1960s CDs with much bonus material, including quite a few rare and previously cuts that don't appear on this box set. Alas, most of the rare and previously unreleased material on the box, in turn, does not appear on those British CDs. So the faithful will need to grumble and buy quite a bit of music (much of which they probably already have) twice to get every morsel. As other minor criticisms, it can be noted that some of his finer LP tracks are missing, such as "Celeste" and "Summer Day Reflection Song," and that the third disc certainly isn't as interesting as the earlier music on the preceding two CDs. Pushing all the discographical pickiness aside, however, it's a good overall representation of the most significant work of a songwriter whose achievements in several fields -- the pollination between folk and rock, the weaving of psychedelic and world music influences into pop, and the introduction of mysticism into rock lyrics -- were substantial.
Bob Dylan, Don't Look Back: The Outtakes [DVD](bootleg) (Tambourine Man Vision). This two-DVD set presents two-and-a-half hours of unused footage from D.A. Pennebaker's documentary of Bob Dylan's 1965 British tour, Don't Look Back. It has undeniable archival historic value, yet its entertainment value is limited mostly to Dylan fanatics by the nature of the source material. Consisting mostly of concert sequences, many of the songs are incomplete, or suffer from sound dropouts (and even the occasional image dropouts). Most of the few non-musical segments are mundane ones where little happens, such as an airport departure, unrevealing snippets of press interviews, a piano improvisation, Dylan reading fan mail (mostly in silence), and a train ride (in total silence, without any sound whatsoever). All that explained, the image and sound quality is often up to the standards of what made it into the actual documentary. So fans will appreciate seeing numerous performances (and some songs) not represented in the Don't Look Back film itself, mostly focusing on prominent mid-'60s Dylan compositions such as "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," "Mr. Tambourine Man," and "It Ain't Me Babe," though less traveled tunes like "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" and "To Ramona" are present as well. There are, as a further caution, two, three, and even four versions of some of the songs, which is going to tax the patience of those who aren't committed Dylanophiles. Two sequences do stand out of particular interest, one being where Dylan rehearses "Outlaw Blues" in an acoustic version that's both folkier and gentler (somewhat in a "She Belongs to Me" vein) than the electric one he'd soon record for Highway 61 Revisited. The other is a performance, in the famous hotel room sequence with Donovan present in the small audience, of "Love Minus Zero/No Limit," which is the equal of any other music Pennebaker caught on film in the released movie. As a bonus, the second DVD tacks on the infamous twenty-minute-plus sequence of a delirious Dylan sitting with a sober John Lennon in the back of a limousine, done as part of the filming for the 1966 Dylan tour documentary Eat the Document.
Jimi Hendrix, Live at Woodstock [DVD] (Experience Hendrix). His iconic performance of "Star Spangled Banner" aside, Jimi Hendrix's Woodstock set was not among his greatest concerts. He was working with an unwieldy short-lived band that, in addition to drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Billy Cox, also included a second guitarist and two hand percussionists. He was playing before a tired, half-emptied-out crowd not long after dawn as the closing act of the festival, and his material sometimes drifted into unfocused improvisations. However, this particular DVD is likely to be the best visual document of that appearance. Unlike previous releases of the show, it has nearly everything he performed from that set, running over 80 minutes (as opposed to the 57 minutes of previous editions) and including six songs not seen or heard in previous versions.
Disc one of this two-DVD set focuses on the footage the Woodstock movie crew took of the concert itself, with a mix that heavily favors Hendrix's guitar and vocals and Mitchell's drums. Hand percussionists Jerry Velez and Juma Sultan, as well as second guitarist Larry Lee, are all but inaudible, though you can see them (indeed, Velez often seems in paroxysms of ecstasy, so exaggeratedly animated are his stage mannerisms). The camerawork heavily concentrates on Hendrix as well, and while it's an uneven show, it does contain some excellent highlights. His radical reinterpretation of "Star Spangled Banner" (used in the Woodstock film) is one, of course, and his explosive rendition of "Fire" is another. In addition to some of his most popular numbers ("Hey Joe," "Purple Haze," "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)," "Spanish Castle Magic"), room was made for some more recent and more obscure material as well, including "Message to Love," "Izabella," and "Lover Man." Generally, though, the longer the song, the less riveting the performance, with "Woodstock Improvisation" in particular veering toward unstructured aimlessness. The concert footage is bookended by documentary sequences with interesting interviews, done decades after the event, with numerous figures associated with the event, including Mitchell, Cox, Lee, Sultan, Woodstock promoter Michael Lang, and even Rob Leonard of Sha-Na-Na (who did their set right before Hendrix's).
The bulk of disc two is devoted to something of a low-budget alternate Hendrix-Woodstock film. Most of the footage in this version was shot on black-and-white videotape by college student Albert Goodman. As he didn't capture the entire set, the gaps are linked by excerpts from the Woodstock crew's color footage to create an uninterrupted whole. Goodman's footage is low-budget, with some wavy and broken images, but does record much of the concert from different angles than the Woodstock movie's cameras did. It also has some footage from a song, "Hear My Train a Comin'," that the Woodstock crew didn't catch, as they needed to change film when it was being performed. It's far less well-done and enjoyable than the footage on the first disc, but as a DVD extra, it does add to the visual material available from this historic concert, for those who want it. Also on the second disc of this DVD are interviews with engineer Eddie Kramer (who recorded the set); a segment with Cox and Lee, discussing their days with Hendrix in Nashville in the early 1960s; and film of a press conference Hendrix gave on September 3, 1969 in Harlem, where he answered some questions about Woodstock. The best of those soundbites comes when he explains his rendition of "Star Spangled Banner": "We play it the way the air is in America today. The air is slightly static, isn't it?"
Ennio Morricone, Ennio Morricone in Love (El). This collection of Morricone themes from 1969-77 (with just one of the tracks postdating 1973) focuses on the maestro's lighter, more romantic side. If you're going to contrast it with his other work of the era, generally it's more romantic than erotic, or more romantic than dramatic, though the Edda Dell'Orso-sung "Seena D'Amore" does have that singer's patented nearly orgasmic peeping vocals. That song, too, sounds something like a Bacharach-David-penned tune that got only as far as the backing track. It's not all as poppy as that, and usually the melodies and orchestration have a muted haunting feel. It does tend toward the daintier facets of his scores, and at times evokes images of the late-'60s/early-'70s jet set traipsing through Europe, removed from the cares of the everyday world if not from the valleys of romantic interplay. When vocals do enter the picture, it's often scatting wordless singing rather than proper songs, the soaring bossa nova male-female harmonies of "Belinda Mag" veering toward saccharine easy listening. The CD isn't as exciting as some of the other Morricone-themed compilations on the El label, but does serve as soothing if slightly sugary ambient music, as well as helping round out our picture of the prolific composer's work from the era.
The Rolling Stones, Live'R Than You'll Ever Be [DVD-A] (bootleg) (Genuine Masters). It's only a matter of time before new technologies filter into the bootleg market, and this disc was an early illicit DVD-A version of one of the most famous of the first rock bootlegs. The original Live'R Than You'll Ever Be LP was taken from a tape of the Rolling Stones performing live in Oakland on November 9, 1969. This disc presents both the afternoon and evening shows they did on that date in their entirety or near-entirety, with fifteen songs from the afternoon gig and sixteen from the evening. Don't get too excited about the visual component, which doesn't offer actual film of the performances, but simply color, silent Mick Jagger-dominated slow-motion footage and still photos of the band onstage on their 1969 tour. Since much of the appeal of the DVD-A is based around the enriched sound quality it's designed to offer, you do have to wonder about the logic of doing a DVD-A version of a bootleg whose imperfect sound is never going to match official standards, no matter what format it inhabits. Ditto for matching the sound to related images, in the absence of actual sound footage from the concerts; it makes for visual backdrop that beats just staring into space while the music plays, perhaps, but it's not that interesting, many of the scenes and images repeating themselves in order to fill out the lengthy program.
It's better, then, to treat this as a bootleg with two albums worth of music that happens to have some incidental visuals than a DVD-A with full features. The music's certainly of interest to Rolling Stones fans, capturing the band at their raunchiest and bluesiest during one of their most heralded tours (which was the first one that they did with Mick Taylor in the lineup). There's not too much difference performance-wise between the two shows, though the sound (and to some extent the performance) has more life on the evening portion of the program. (There's no difference between the song selection, either, except for a slightly different sequence in the early part, and the unexplained absence of "Gimme Shelter" from the afternoon concert, though it's on the evening portion.) What's most crucial to most Stones collectors, however, is that it offers much more material than the original bootleg LP (which had just ten tracks) offered -- about twice as much material, in fact, as the expanded single-disc CD update of the original bootleg LP offered. And it's your chance to hear Jagger throw a new section into the middle of "I'm Free," during which he sings at one point, "I won't give you no bullshit!" Overall, it's basically your chance to hear a rawer variation of the official live Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! album (also taken from the 1969 tour), with a number of songs that didn't make it onto that release, such as "I'm Free" (done in a slower, far more hard rock-oriented version than it had been in its original 1965 incarnation), "Under My Thumb," "Gimme Shelter," and the traditional blues numbers "Prodigal Son" and "You Gotta Move."
The Troggs, Hip Hip Hooray (Repertoire). Hip Hip Hooray is actually a retitled and slightly resequenced reissue of the group's 1968 UK album Mixed Bag (which never came out in the United States), tacking on 11 CD bonus cuts from 1970 and 1973 singles. The original title Mixed Bag was an appropriate description of this rather scrapheap assembly, as it wasn't really a regular album. Instead, it was a budget-priced compilation matching eight songs that appeared on British and American singles in 1968 with four others that made their first appearance on the LP. Although all but one of the tracks was a Troggs original ("Hip Hip Hooray" being the lone exception), and although there were a few solid cuts, overall it was disappointing due to the weakness and surprisingly low energy of many of the songs. "Hip Hip Hooray" was somewhat puerile bubblegum, and "Little Girl," a small British hit, was a lame attempt by Reg Presley to keep milking the pop ballad style he'd used the much better effect in earlier hits like "Love Is All Around." In brighter news, the old salacious Troggs sound surfaced to good effect in "Say Darlin'"; "You Can Cry If You Want To" was one of Presley's better soft numbers; and both "Purple Shades" and "Maybe the Madman" were two of the band's best ventures into psychedelia, albeit of the rather tongue-in-cheek sort. All of the best numbers, however, were the ones most likely to show up on later best-of compilations, making Hip Hip Hooray only of interest to collectors and completists. Repertoire certainly does such collectors a service, however, by adding a pile of rare 1970 and 1973 singles onto the disc, as well as three tracks from Reg Presley solo singles of the era. Alas, none of the bonus cuts are too good or memorable (the heavy "Feels Like a Woman" is the most well known), documenting a period when the band's original force and raunch were getting diluted amidst a clutch of substandard material.
Ike & Tina Turner, The Legends: Live in '71 [DVD + CD] (Eagle Vision). Filmed in Holland on February 11, 1971 for Dutch television, this hour-long DVD captures the Ike & Tina Turner show right around the time they were peaking in popularity with the rock audience, with an accompanying CD containing music from the concert. As a document of a exciting rock'n'soul revue, it's pretty good, well-shot and in restored color. The chief pleasure might be more visual than musical (although the soundtrack's in good shape as well), as Tina Turner and the three backing Ikettes go through their choreographed paces with earthy sensuality. (Indeed, at one point the camera angle seems deliberately set up to get flashes of one of the Ikettes' panties.) Ike Turner's camera presence is much more low-key; he's just part of the band for much of the proceedings, although he is sporting a pretty outrageous Beatle moptop-style hairdo. While the music side of things is good, somehow it's a little less overwhelming than the legend might have one expect. It's a very cover-heavy set with few surprises, expected hits like "River Deep, Mountain High," "Come Together," and Proud Mary" mixed with classic R&B and then-current rock covers like "I Want to Take You Higher," "Honky Tonk Women," and "Ooo Poo Pah Doo." But the ensemble doesn't seem to let it all hang out as much as they sometimes did, an exception being the cover of Bobby "Blue" Bland's "I Smell Trouble," where Tina's vocal is its most salacious and Ike steps forward to showcase his iciest bluesy riffs. Yet the excerpts from their African performance from the same era in the movie Soul to Soul in the brief bonus feature, for instance, are more galvanizing. The accompanying CD is basically a release-quality audio disc of the concert, though it has a few songs ("I've Been Loving You Too Long," "Respect," and "Land of 1000 Dances") that weren't included in the concert footage. Note, incidentally, that the first song on the DVD ("Them Changes") is just an instrumental by the backing band, while the second ("Sweet Inspiration") is by the Ikettes sans Tina Turner.
John Walker, If You Go Away (Philips). It's sometimes forgotten that all three of the Walker Brothers began solo careers after the group broke up in the late 1960s, although only Scott Walker's solo work generated substantial hits and critical respect. If You Go Away was John Walker's 1967 solo album, and while John was never the most talented writer and singer in the Walker Brothers (Scott was), even at the time it must have been a disappointment to Walker Brothers fans. There are inevitable comparisons to Scott Walker's early solo records due to the vaguely similar path this album followed of orchestrated ballads, with one foot in middle-of-the-road non-rock and the other in more contemporary pop-rock. The big difference, however, is while Scott Walker was the very best at doing that sort of thing, when John Walker did it, it just sounded bland and boring. His voice wasn't nearly as strong as Scott's as a lead instrument -- in fact, at times it's pretty thin and shaky. More crucially, though, the songs were gloppily arranged, and the several pre-rock standards along the lines of "It's All in the Game" and "Pennies from Heaven" were not just totally out of step with 1967 trends, but pretty poorly done. Not even a couple of songs co-written by Graham Nash escape the uncomfortable mediocrity of this colorless set, with Walker's one original composition (under his real name John Maus), "I Don't Wanna Know About You," being an unmemorable soul-pop effort. He also begged another unfavorable comparison to Scott Walker with a subpar interpretation of "If You Go Away," the kind of Jacques Brel composition at which Scott excelled in covering. As a final indictment of the album, the best track, the haunting little-known Gerry Goffin-Carole King composition "So Goes Love," had already been done better by British pop singer Dave Berry.
While If You Go Away is only needed by Walker Brothers collectors, the 2004 CD reissue of the album on Repertoire does at least enhance its value considerably with the addition of no less than a dozen tracks from 1967-69 John Walker solo singles. Unfortunately, these aren't much better on the whole than the album, but do at least show a greater range of material and a far greater presence of self-penned songs. Among these bonus cuts is Walker's sole (albeit low-charting) hit British solo single, "Annabella" -- another number co-written by Graham Nash, and one that rather resembles Bobby Hebb's hit "Sunny" in parts. There are also a couple of pretty dreary Bob Dylan covers, including one from the then-unavailable The Basement Tapes, "Open the Door Homer," that may have been the first version of that song to find commercial release. (The only other contender, as a trivial note, was the Danish group the Floor, who also covered the song on a 1968 single.) While some of his original material on these singles is lousy or inconsequential, at least some more personality comes through on some of them, like the melodramatic "I Cried All the Way Home" (which, again, sounds a little like a slight Scott Walker) and a few gentle, moody ballads ("I See Love in You," "Woman," and "A Dream") that indicate he was capable of better work than he generally delivered.
The Who, Tangled Up in Who [DVD] (bootleg) (Hiwatt). On July 7, 1970, the Who performed the final show of their American tour from that year in Tanglewood, MA. The concert was videotaped by the Joshua Television company, and originally designed to be used for a TV special of edited highlights of three summer concerts at Tanglewood. However, most of it was never officially released, although the opening three songs were included in Thirty Years of Maximum R&B Live. This bootleg DVD contains almost the entire show, and is an interesting document of the band in the first flush of post-Tommy success, although there are imperfections in the sound and image that would prevent it from finding official release in this form. Although the visuals are almost up to commercial standard, the first half has a running time strip and a logo of promoter Bill Graham at the bottom of the screen. Then there's an awkward cut from the middle of "Eyesight to the Blind" to the middle of "Christmas," at which point the time strip and logo disappear, but the image quality gets noticeably worse, though not difficult to watch for the most part. The sound's okay but not great, the vocal balance in particular falling off the mark sometimes.
All those technical flaws logged, how's the concert otherwise? It's okay, though not something that will astound the hardcore Who fans who will, almost without exception, be the only listeners to seek out this disc. The band perform in what by mid-1970 was almost their trademark animated fashion: Pete Townshend leaping and windmilling, Roger Daltrey rising to his level as quasi-operatic rock star, Keith Moon pounding up a storm behind the drums. Most of the set's devoted to songs from Tommy, though be aware -- as this and other bootlegs of the band from the era show -- that the Who did not actually do the entire opera in their concerts of this period. In fact, some of the better songs were left out -- like "Underture," "Sensation," and "Sally Simpson" -- though most of Tommy is here. Prefacing the Tommy stuff are five songs that don't come from the opera, and which might fascinate Who aficionados the most, as three of them ("Heaven and Hell," "Water," and "I Don't Even Know Myself") only appeared as non-LP B-sides at the time. The set concludes with a too-long version of "My Generation" that degenerates into grandstanding near-heavy metal (for that matter, the far more obscure "Water" goes on too long as well). As cool as this DVD is for Who collectors, it's short on surprises, the most unpredictable moment coming when Keith Moon makes a bizarre introduction to "I Don't Even Know Myself," referring to it as a song from their upcoming album (though it ended up not making that cut).
Brian Wilson, Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE [DVD] (Rhino). Issued shortly after Brian Wilson's SMiLE finally saw the light of day on both official record and tour, this double-DVD set combines a documentary about the legendary album with an entire live performance of the work in Los Angeles. Pile on the heap of bonus features, and it adds up to about four hours of material -- way too much to wade through in one sitting, almost to the point of being overwhelming. But hey -- if you waited 37 years for an authorized version of the SMiLE album to come out, what's another four hours spent on viewing an auxiliary offshoot, right?
The more interesting of the discs contains the documentary Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of SMiLE. This traces the history of what became perhaps the most famous unreleased album of all time, from its 1966 beginnings as a planned Beach Boys LP to its resurrection more than 35 years later with Wilson and other musicians. This is built around interviews with Wilson himself, as well as a good number of key collaborators and observers, most crucially co-writer Van Dyke Parks. (There aren't, unsurprisingly, any clips of comments from any of the other late or surviving Beach Boys, who had varying and mostly lackluster degrees of enthusiasm for the project.) The discussions with Wilson are really the highlights, whether he's illustrating some of his musical ideas by singing and playing passages on the piano, or reflecting on why the initial project fell apart in late 1966 and early 1967 under an assortment of pressures.
Though Wilson's mental and emotional problems at various times of his life are well known, here he talks about this most difficult and ambitious endeavor with candor and intelligence, though unpredictable glimpses of eccentricity and wacky humor in his demeanor hint at some of the demons surrounding his failure to pull it off in the 1960s. He offers some very interesting perspectives that don't often crop up in SMiLE criticisms. In his explanation of why it wasn't finished in 1967, for instance, he notes that he needed at least another year to do it, a year of work that wasn't possible to get at the time. As to why he didn't make it a Brian Wilson solo album, he piquantly offers that the vocal parts needed the other Beach Boys, a need that he could hear, but they couldn't. He also makes clear that he prefers SMiLE to Pet Sounds, using a scale of 1 to 10 to rate Pet Sounds a mere 7 and SMiLE the whole 10 -- an evaluation that might be contentious even among besotted Beach Boys/Wilson/SMiLE admirers. The album's unlikely resuscitation with the help of Parks and musicians of a younger generation is given about as much space as its initial conception, as is Brian's anxiety-ridden (but ultimately successful) decision to present it onstage. While scenes of an obviously disturbed Wilson walking out on a vocal rehearsal (and the revelation that he was again lapsing into psychic distress at this time) make for wrenching viewing, they perhaps inadvertently reinforce the image of a man who's being cajoled and babied into getting back in the public eye. Too, this is not the place to hear any less-than-fawning praise for Wilson or SMiLE, and the treatment of the man and the music verges on the overenthusiastic, though as a film it's well made. SMiLE was, after all, a nearly experimental song cycle mixing supremely uplifting melodies with whimsical humor and downright avant-garde sections and arrangements. It's not something that listeners, in the 1960s or the 2000s, will automatically find accessible or brilliant, and there are reasons that people in the Beach Boys' circle and Capitol Records were nervous that it might not have been a commercial or even artistic success back in 1967, even if time has judged the suppression of the album's completion an unreasonable action.
No nervousness on either Wilson or his accompanists' part is evident on the concert part of the disc, in which he, a backing band, and a mini-orchestra present SMiLE before an audience in Los Angeles. There's a minimum of theatrics here, being largely limited to good-natured touches like the use of actual vegetables as props during "Vega-Tables" and musicians donning firefighter helmets during "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" as a visual simulation of fire is seen onstage. It's a very well-shot and well-recorded live version of the album that might, considering it's in 5.1 Surround Sound, be as palatable an option as the CD for some fans. Numerous bonus features top off both DVD discs, the best of them being interview outtakes with Wilson (one of which has Van Dyke Parks doing the questioning). Also available as extras are Wilson performing a few songs on piano, either solo or with bassist Carol Kaye; a featurette on the recording of the 2004 version of the album, comprised mostly of footage from the sessions; a lengthy Brian Wilson photo gallery; and a featurette of post-concert reactions to the premiere of the work in London that, more than any other segment of this abundantly stocked DVD SMiLE celebration, lapses into praise so gushing it starts to become irksome, dozens of concertgoers declaring in quick succession how the show was one of the greatest events ever.
Link Wray & the Ray Men, "They're Outta Here," Says Archie (Rollercoaster). Link Wray hit the Top 20 with his classic instrumental "Rumble" in 1958, but -- incredibly -- it would be his only single, and only release of any kind, for Cadence Records. For convoluted reasons, Cadence boss Archie Bleyer decided he didn't want Wray on his label, although Link was soon picked up by Epic Records and embarked on a lengthy subsequent recording career on various labels. Bleyer's decision explains the pretty weird title of this archival CD, which performs one of those vault-clearing miracles collectors are starting to take for granted in the early twenty-first century. For it turns out that Wray actually did cut quite a bit of unreleased material in his brief Cadence era, with no less than 25 tracks (mostly instrumental, as you'd expect) surfacing here, all but two of them ("Rumble" itself and its flipside "The Swag") previously unissued anywhere. Like many such incredible finds, however, it plays better in the head than on the stereo. That's not so much because it's substandard in performance or fidelity -- it isn't -- as because it's pretty similar to the material Wray would do for Epic slightly later, in both sound and actual song selection. In fact, Wray remade a bunch of these for Epic, including "Raw Hide," "Walking with Link," "Comanche," "Dance Contest," and "Pancho Villa" (retitled "Guitar Cha-Cha" in its Epic incarnation) -- all of which are presented in two or three versions on this CD.
The other cuts -- and, to some extent, the songs that resurfaced later in slightly different arrangements -- are okay, but not as distinctive, adventurous, or wild as either "Rumble" or much of what Wray would do in the 1960s. There are also some unexpectedly mainstream, or at least mainstream by Wray standards, choices of material, with covers of "Heartbreak Hotel," Duane Eddy's "Rebel Rouser," Perez Prado's "Patricia," and Tony & Joe's obscure minor hit "The Freeze." In addition, Ray Vernon takes unexpected lead vocals on a couple of mediocre generic late-'50s rock songs. Of what's left, "Drag Race" (with some ultra-fast staccato picking), "White Lightnin'," and "Creepy" are fairly good, gutsy rudimentary rockers, though again nothing to put on the plane of Link's finest work, more hinting at his later explosive innovations than carrying through with them. Make no mistake, this is still a worthwhile discovery, with good sound and detailed liner notes that do their best to untangle the complicated story of what Wray did for Cadence and why his stay with the company was so short-lived. It's more for the dedicated Wray fan who wants as much of his vintage output as possible, however, than the more average Wray admirer who wants to concentrate on his best music.
Various Artists, Absolutely Allentown (Positively 19th Street). The compilation Allentown Anglophile demonstrated that there was a fair amount of decent rock produced in the not-so-big city of Allentown, PA in the 1960s, though it was fairly derivative of trends in the British Invasion, psychedelia, and soul music. Absolutely Allentown unearths more such worthy material from the time, and in fact a few bands (including the Shillings, Kings Ransom, and D.B.L.I.T.Y.) appear on both anthologies. It's not as consistent as Allentown Anglophile, however, by virtue of the inclusion of a few post-'60s tracks that don't measure up to the earlier stuff on any count. Starting with the better '60s-era items (which do comprise most of this 30-track CD), however, the Scott Bedford have a good commercial mid-'60s rock sound that borrows from soul and the British Invasion, particularly on "You Turned Your Back on Me." Occasionally (as on "Manhattan Angel" and "Last Exit to Brooklyn") they also draw from the harmonies of the Beach Boys and more mainstream groups like Jay & the Americans to pleasant effect. It's also cool to hear a ripoff, but a good one, of the Dave Clark Five on the Jordan Brothers' "It's a Shame"; it wasn't only snotty bluesy British groups that garage bands were imitating, and it's good to have that even tacitly acknowledged by the reissue of a recording such as this. Kings Ransom and the Shillings offer some solid sounds with more explicit folk-rock and Beatlesque influences, and the Rondells' "Parking in the Kokomo" is actually one of the best Beach Boys-inspired obscurities you'll hear. But the disc goes downhill when it goes beyond the '60s for a few tracks, a few of which are quite lame local mainstream rock to be harsh, though Slim Pickins' "Out on the Farm" is okay '70s country rock, and Daddy Licks sounds like a bar-band Elvis Costello. Even discounting the weakest cuts, however, that still leaves twenty-plus fair-to-quite good relics of the Allentown rock scene, refreshingly looking beyond (though not ignoring) the usual garage raunch that dominates many such '60s-oriented regional compilations.
Various Artists, Allentown Anglophile (Distortions). Allentown (about 70 miles from Philadelphia) is not among the first sizable towns that comes to mind as a hotbed of 1960s garage rock. Yet there were a good number of bands that came from the area and recorded, even if most of those recordings came out on very small labels (or didn't even come out at all). Allentown Anglophile has 21 songs by seven local groups of the era. Maybe it sounds like it might be one of the more bottom-of-the-barrel such compilations due to its relatively small sample size, but actually it's considerably above the average as these things go. Most of the material is original, and it's a pretty good, highly listenable mix of British Invasion, garage, pop, and psychedelic influences, not all that badly recorded for the most part. The Shillings are the most heavily represented act, with seven songs, and manage a pretty fair approximation of the early Beatles-influenced Byrds on "Lyin' and Tryin'," as well as offering a good cover of the fine obscure Jackie DeShannon song "Children & Flowers." Other goodies are Kings Ransom's "Without You," a first-rate moody garage semi-ballad; the baroque psych-pop of Blue Grass (surely one of the few bands audibly influenced by the obscure Philadelphia psychedelic group Mandrake Memorial), driven by the unusual RMI rocksichord instrument; and D.B.L.I.T.Y.'s likably bratty "Cut My Hair Today," which sounds like it might date from the early-to-mid-'70s. There's actually a pretty well-known soul group on here too in Jay & the Techniques, famous for their hit "Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie," and represented on this CD by two peppy Coke jingles.
Various Artists, Country Got Soul Vol. 2 (Casual). Country Got Soul Vol. 2 follows the same pattern as the first volume, collecting obscure southern mixtures of soul, country, pop, rock, and swamp from the late 1960s and 1970s. (For the most part, that is; obviously the duet from Dan Penn and Chuck Prophet, the latter an alternative rock singer-songwriter from a younger generation, is of later vintage.) Maybe there aren't as many big names here as there were the first time around, though some of these artists -- like Bobbie Gentry, Tony Joe White, Bonnie Bramlett, and Townes Van Zandt -- are certainly familiar to most fans who'd be tempted by such a compilation. Others, like Eddie Hinton and Travis Wammack, have sizable cult followings; others will draw blanks even from many listeners who think they know a lot about this stuff. Whatever the source, it's solid and funky material, and though it might not be as good as the cream of this genre, it's plenty satisfying for those who've worn out their Gentry and White comps and hunger for something that's harder to hear. Some of the best moments are indeed supplied by the higher-profile singers and songs. Gentry's sassy, risque "Fancy" is one of her finest recordings; Wayne Carson's "Soul Deep" gives you the opportunity to hear that Boxtops hit as performed by the songwriter; and Van Zandt's "Black Widow Blues" is a chance to hear him at an early juncture when he wasn't as folky or gravel-voiced as he would be in later years. There are excellent performances that hardly anyone outside of collector circles will have heard before, however, like Sandra Rhodes' tasty "Sowed Love and Reaped the Heartache." Like much of this compilation, it has an effortless boundary-crossing earthiness, well worth checking out even if the songs generally don't quite ascend to lost classic status.
Various Artists, Ska Anthems: The Essential Jamaican Party Album (Metro). Although this two-CD compilation of reggae from the 1960s and early 1970s contains universally fine music, sticklers might be a little miffed at the use of the word "ska" in the title. There's ska here, but strictly speaking, some of the later material is more often classified as "rock-steady" or just "early reggae" by purists. It might be better to just view this is an early reggae compilation, and of you don't object to the way the term ska's applied here, there's no reason not to enjoy what's ultimately one of the better various-artists anthology of early reggae sounds. There are some big names here, to be sure, like Desmond Dekker, Lee Perry, Jimmy Cliff, the Ethiopians, Clancy Eccles, and Tommy McCook. There are a few well-known classic tracks too, like the original 1966 version of "Rudy, a Message to You" (by Dandy Livingstone), the Ethiopians' "Train to Skaville," the Pioneers' early-'70s Top Five British single "Let Your Yeah Be Yeah," the Upsetters' 1969 #5 UK charter "Return of Django," and Bob & Marcia's "Young, Gifted & Black" (though the last of these is presented in its original stringless version, not the one with overdubs that became a big UK hit). Yet most of the cuts are not obvious, over-reissued selections, though they're as good or almost as good as the best famous songs in the genre. It's diverse enough, too, that there are too many pleasure points to namecheck in one review. Certainly some of the more interesting ones, however, include Sir Lord Comic & His Cowboys' "Ska-ing West," an early instance of DJ-style vocals from 1966; Clancy Eccles' chunkily joyous "Feel the Riddim"; the funk-reggae of Winston Groovy's "Funky Chicken"; Derrick Morgan's "Hold You Jack," the tune of which was later used for Max Romeo's hit "Wet Dream"; the early dub effects of the Destroyers' "Straight to the Head"; and the more experimental, even astral, early dub (from 1971) of Crepsoles' "Invasion." It's also fascinating the hear the intro to Harry J. & the All-Stars' 1969 instrumental "Liquidator," which was lifted almost verbatim for the intro to the Staple Singers' smash "I'll Take You There." Maybe this package is missing too many big names (no Wailers, Maytals, or Skatalites, for instance) and songs to qualify as one of the very most essential early reggae comps. But it's highly recommended if you're looking for some of the best such music that lies just beneath the cream of the cream.
ALBUM REVIEWS: A SELECTION OF RECENT RELEASES, SUMMER 2005:
PRESS BUTTON BELOW FOR MORE ALBUM REVIEWS, FROM 2000-2009:
Johnny Cash, On Campus [DVD bootleg] (Anonymous Film Archive). On February 17, 1971, Johnny Cash presented a special episode of his television program on which he traveled to Vanderbilt University to film a few scenes in which he talked with students, who also comprised the audience for him and other musicians in the performance scenes filmed in Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. It's sometimes forgotten that Cash featured a good number of rock acts on his show, and perhaps because of the "campus" theme, his guests on this particular episode were from the folk-country-rock world rather than pure country circles. This bootleg DVD contains the episode, which features not only Cash but also James Taylor, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt, Tony Joe White, and (doing comedy) a young Albert Brooks. The image transfer unfortunately isn't top-notch (indeed, material from other Cash shows has shown up in better shape on other bootleg DVDs), but it's watchable, the imperfection not seriously impeding enjoyment of the performances. Taken in that spirit, it's an interesting opportunity to see rarely screened footage of both Cash and the others. Neil Young is captured just at the time he was rising to solo superstardom, performing unaccompanied versions of (on guitar) "The Needle and the Damage Done" and (on piano) "Journey Through the Past." Linda Ronstadt isn't a big star yet, and is seen here doing a pretty good cover of Emitt Rhodes's "You're a Very Lovely Woman," the lyrics changed to reflect a woman's point of view. Cash also does a few numbers, including his first public airing of "Man in Black," though the brief clips of him rapping with students about issues of the day aren't too interesting. Like much and perhaps all of the material broadcast on Cash's television show in the late 1960s and early 1970s, this deserves official DVD release, taken from the best available source tapes rather than whatever bootleggers can get their hands on.
Johnny Cash, San Quentin and Nashville [DVD bootleg] (Anonymous Film Archive). The first half of this bootleg DVD has the 1969 TV documentary Johnny Cash in San Quentin, produced by Granada Television in Britain. From both musical and historical viewpoints, this is an important program, but this is hardly the optimum way to see it. The image quality is fairly lousy, and the film's flickery and grainy -- not quite so much that you can't watch it and enjoy it for the most part, but certainly annoying enough that you're constantly wishing it looks the way it should. That's too bad, because this prison performance is very interesting, mixing footage of Cash's show for the San Quentin inmates with images of prison life, as well as interviews with prisoners and prison authorities. The musical portions alone are enough to justify a viewing, as Cash and his band (including Carl Perkins) tear into some of Johnny's best songs with real fire. "I Walk the Line" and "Folsom Prison Blues" are taken at a hepped-up pace that's far more frenetic than the original studio versions. Cash alternates between two harmonicas on a fine "Orange Blossom Special"; duets with June Carter on a few songs, including "Jackson"; and adds some of his other classics, like "Daddy Sang Bass" and "A Boy Named Sue." And it took some real guts, though perhaps some foolhardiness as well, to sing the words "San Quentin, I hate every inch of you" in this setting -- a line greeted, not surprisingly, by wild cheers from the literally captive audience. In retrospect, perhaps it would have been better to have more Cash and less prison-related interviews, but those interviews do relay some genuinely grim stories of the culture of incarceration that put the performance in a wider context. It seems unlikely, however, that copies of this documentary in better condition will not show up, legitimately or otherwise -- it was, after all, broadcast on cable television in 2004, so surely someone has a much better version of this somewhere. As a worthwhile bonus, the DVD also includes an early-'70s episode of his television series, in better (though still flawed) quality than the San Quentin segment. Like most episodes from the series, it's above-average musical variety show television, with several Cash songs interspersed with guest performances by Linda Ronstadt (doing "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?"), O.C. Smith (one of whose numbers is a strange duet with Cash in which Smith sings the Beatles' "Yesterday" and Cash sings "I Still Miss Someone"), and the relatively unknown Lawrence Reynolds. Cash's numbers include "Ballad of John Henry" (on which he's placed in a corny railroad set), the witty "The One on the Right Is the One on the Left," and a duet with June Carter Cash on "If I Were a Carpenter."
Creedence Clearwater Revival & Booker T. Jones, Fantasy Session '70 [bootleg] (Main Street). It didn't get a lot of fanfare, and maybe it wasn't intended to produce any music for release. But Booker T. Jones of Booker T. & the MG's did record a jam session with Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1970 at Fantasy Studio. This bootleg documents it, with 67 minutes of music, in good though not great studio quality. Like many jams between superstars, of course, it doesn't sound as wonderful on disc as it might in your head. It just sounds like Creedence with a good organ player, running through some of their most popular songs rather informally. Apparently it wasn't seen as an opportunity to work up new material or take on cover tunes that CCR hadn't done on their records. In fact, six of the nine tracks were versions of songs that Creedence put on their early releases, including the hits "Proud Mary," "Down on the Corner," "Born on the Bayou," and "Travelin' Band," as well as and two versions of "Ninety-nine and a Half (Won't Do)." The other tracks are basic bluesy instrumental groove jams -- nice enough, but not ones with riffs that sound like they could have been developed into distinctive songs. (Note that the track identified as "I Put a Spell on You" is an instrumental that doesn't seem to have more than a casual resemblance to the Screaming Jay Hawkins classic that Creedence covered on their first album.) Part of the reason the CD's so long is that there's a fair amount of bumbling around between songs, and while John Fogerty does sing (and with passion), the instrumental balance and presence of the vocals in the mix aren't ideal (not to mention the presence of occasional loud electronic beeps). There aren't many Creedence bootlegs around, though, and this is a neat if not earthshaking chance to hear them playing live and playing fairly well, with a celebrity guest helping them out.
Creedence Clearwater Revival, Woodstock '69 [bootleg] (Great Dane). There's not a whole lot of live unreleased Creedence Clearwater Revival around. Plus, it's always seemed strange that they played at Woodstock, but were not featured in the original movie and soundtrack of the event (though four songs from their set eked out on the 25th anniversary box set edition of the soundtrack). So this bootleg with 13 songs from their Woodstock performance fills a couple of hungers, even if it's not so great in either performance or sound quality. It's certainly of decently listenable fidelity, however, and if nothing else it's always fun to hear John Fogerty's burning vocals in a live situation, though the band's a bit ragged and rushed, and the drums a little muffled and cookie tin-like. The songs selected for the set were a good, well-rounded portion of their early repertoire, including the hits "Green River," "Born on the Bayou," "Proud Mary," "Suzie Q," "Commotion," and "Bad Moon Rising," as well as standout album tracks like "Bootleg" and "Keep on Chooglin'." Their extended version of "I Put a Spell on You" might be a highlight, as the stretched-out interpretation lends itself well to a concert setting. If a better-sounding tape of this performance ever emerges, its release wouldn't embarrass the band at all; this doesn't embarrass them either, actually, but would probably never pass muster for official release due to its slightly-below-par audio.
The Spencer Davis Group, Gimme Some Lovin': Live 1966 [DVD] (Cherry Red). The featured part of this DVD (although it's actually not the lengthiest portion) is the half hour or so of footage of the Spencer Davis Group from a Finnish television show, shortly before Stevie Winwood left the band. (Note that although the date given for this program is 1966, it seems far more likely that it's early 1967; during the interview segment, the group refers to "Here Comes My Baby" by the Tremeloes, which didn't enter the British charts until February 1967, as a then-current hit single.) This black-and-white broadcast is really a valuable vault find: the sound and image quality are good, and the band perform well, if not that charismatically. The eight-song set includes their hits "I'm a Man," "Gimme Some Lovin'," "When I Come Home," and "Keep on Running," but also some less-traveled covers, among them "Dust My Blues," "Mean Woman Blues," and "Georgia on My Mind." In addition, the first three songs give us a chance to see Winwood on lead guitar, though he switches to his more customary keyboard position for the remainder of the show. The interview in the middle is a bit odd, as the band are interrogated while they're eating and smoking on the TV studio set, and Stevie Winwood has the least to say of any of the foursome. Indeed, he even seems stuck for words when asked to name some of his favorite singers! And in hindsight, it's sad to hear Spencer Davis diffidently declare that it's too early to tour America, seeing no need to go until the summer; by that time, Stevie Winwood would be gone, and Americans would never see the group perform live while Winwood was aboard.
The other part of the DVD is by no means trivial, presenting a circa hour-long German film documentary on the Spencer Davis Group from 1967. The catch is, however, that it was made after Stevie Winwood (and his brother, bassist Muff Winwood) had left the band. While this lineup (with Phil Sawyer and Eddie Hardin replacing the Winwoods) was by no means negligible, they couldn't compare to the previous incarnation. The documentary's still interesting as a record of the group in the wake of the lineup change, though it's not that interesting, mixing footage of the band onstage, horsing around backstage, doing a photo session in London, working out songs, talking with management, fleeting cameos by Mitch Mitchell and Mick Jagger, and recording a jingle (based on the "I'm a Man" riff) for Great Shakes. For English-speaking listeners, total comprehension is obstructed, though only slightly, by the periodic unsubtitled German voiceovers. Not much scintillating stuff comes out of the non-performance footage, but there are the odd illuminating moments. When Davis is asked about the group's "blue-eyed soul" flavor by an American-sounding interviewer, for instance, he notes that their music had been pulled from some black radio stations' programming after it became known the band were white. Also, a manager makes the bizarre prediction that Davis can become a bigger name in film composition (an area in which Davis was active in the late 1960s) than John Barry. What the film doesn't portray or address, however, is the absence of Stevie Winwood, and how that was obviously impacting the band's fortunes.
The Masters Apprentices, From Mustangs to Masters: First Year Apprentices (Mustang). On the surface, this sounds mighty appealing: a collection of 21 previously unreleased April 1966 demos by the Masters Apprentices, one of Australia's finest '60s rock bands. As it precedes their first official studio recording session by about six months, it's a previously hidden missing link in their evolution. Through no fault of the compilers, however, it's not as satisfying as it is enticing. First, the sound quality isn't too good -- which is understandable enough, as it was done on a two-track reel-to-reel recorder at one of the band's practice sessions. Second, although the band made their mark with fine original material as soon as they began releasing records for real, at the point these tracks were laid down, their repertoire consisted almost entirely of covers. So what you hear is very much the sound of a good but average, derivative punky British R&B band, heavy on covers of classics by the likes of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, as well as a few versions of early originals by the Rolling Stones and Them. In fact, there are just two Masters Apprentices originals here, the Bo Diddley-esque "Wild Wild Party" and the slow instrumental "John Street Blues." There are, too, no songs by Mick Bower, whose unusual moody compositions would be the group's greatest assets in their early days. Make no mistake, the band do sound fairly good here -- if the fidelity was better, it would be on par with the better recordings by the early sub-Rolling Stones British R&B bands. And it's certainly well-packaged, with a most interesting 32-page booklet documenting the band's early years, from their mid-'60s origins as an instrumental combo through the release of their first single at the end of 1966.
The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, Spreading from the Ashes (Big Beat). With 26 tracks from 1966 and 1967, this CD acts as a comprehensive supplement to the Peanut Butter Conspiracy's more widely circulated recordings for Columbia and Challenge. While seven of these recordings found official release in 1966 and 1967 on the Vault label, the rest were previously unissued. Too, it has seven cuts (both released and unreleased) by the Ashes, the group from which the Peanut Butter Conspiracy evolved, though most of this material was done in the early days of the era in which they were going under the Peanut Butter Conspiracy billing. Because a lot of this was done in the group's formative days, much of it's a little (and sometimes a lot) more folk-rock-oriented than the more psychedelic output on their Columbia albums. That's particularly true of the sides done by the Ashes, with a just-pre-Jefferson Airplane Spencer Dryden on drums. Like the Peanut Butter Conspiracy's more widely known work, however, the music here is a second-division (though not downright second-rate) and sometimes derivative mixture of folk-rock, psychedelia, and California pop-rock, though often a bit rawer than their more familiar stuff. There are some nice tunes here, like the 1966 Ashes single "Is There Anything I Can Do," a lost folk-rock gem co-written by Jackie DeShannon; "Dark On You Now," another moody Ashes folk-rocker that the band would remake on the first Peanut Conspiracy album; and "Free," which like some other of their more bittersweet tunes is a little reminiscent of the very early Jefferson Airplane with a heavier pop flavor. The 20-page booklet has Alec Palao's usual ace detective work on filling in the obscure history of the band with lots of quotes from interviews with some of the members.
The Alan Price Set, The House That Jack Built: The Complete 60s Sessions (Castle). Alan Price's 1960s recordings have often been hard to find on reissues, particularly for listeners in the United States. This two-CD set clears that difficulty up in exemplary fashion, gathering all 43 tracks he recorded for Decca (usually as leader of the Alan Price Set) from 1965-69, and adding ten previously unreleased tracks the Alan Price Set cut for the BBC in 1966-67. It's a worthwhile but somewhat strange journey, as Price's first few singles, and debut LP, found him still very much in the R&B-soul-British Invasion style of his former group the Animals, though perhaps with a jazzier flavor. Then he discovered the work of then-unknown songwriter Randy Newman, and from early 1967 through the rest of his time on Decca, he went into far more lighthearted, almost music hall-ish pop, on both his numerous Newman covers and his own material. Animals fans will like the earlier stuff better, particularly his marvelous cover of "I Put a Spell on You" (which was also a British hit), and appreciate the inclusion of obscure early B-sides, some of which sound like a cross between the Animals and Georgie Fame. Randy Newman fans, meanwhile, will enjoy the nine Newman covers, some of them quite obscure, though one of them ("Simon Smith & His Amazing Dancing Bear") was a big British hit. While it might be a lot to ask of those who already have Price's early work to buy this double CD for just ten tracks, certainly the items here of greatest interest to seasoned collectors are the previously unavailable BBC cuts. All are in good fidelity, and all are soul-R&B covers of hits by the likes of Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Percy Sledge, and Stevie Wonder that he didn't put on his official '60s releases. Very much in the jazzy R&B-soul style, these enjoyable performances also include Price's own version of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," which of course had been a hit for his previous band, the Animals.
John Renbourn, The Guitar of John Renbourn (Castle). In 1976, John Renbourn was commissioned to record an album of instrumentals for use as what is called "library music" in the UK -- i.e., soundtrack music that can be plugged into numerous films and television programs. Unknown even to most serious Renbourn fans in its original incarnation, it wasn't released commercially until 2005, when Castle issued it on CD with a historical liner note. With occasional help from Tony Roberts and fellow ex-Pentangler Jacqui McShee, Renbourn created a series of pieces designed to accompany certain moods. That's apparent from both the titles (such as "Introspection," "Summer Song," "Deserted Streets," and "Passing Time") and the "remarks" column on the back of the original sleeve, whose pithy summaries -- "gentle pastoral," "relaxed, carefree," "wistful, thought provoking" -- were presumably intended as shorthand aids for pros looking for specific musical backgrounds. By its very nature, of course, this couldn't be considered one of Renbourn's more essential works. That noted, however, it's really quite good, and performed with great care and genuine musical feeling. There's a soothing (but wholly non-sappy) quality to most of the material, particularly the numerous pieces that also feature recorder, and McShee adds some delightful (if a little faintly mixed) scat vocals to "Portrait of a Village" and "Summer Song." Renbourn's guitar work is excellent and varied, usually in the placidly bittersweet British folk-rock style, though there's some edgy strumming in "Light Traveller," jazz-blues on "Freedom Road," and some pleasingly haunting, spiky high reverberating notes on the guitar duet "Reflections (1)" (though it's not made clear whether those are the work of Renbourn or his accompanist). Not at all as superfluous entry in the Renbourn discography, it's heartily recommended to both Renbourn admirers and those who enjoy quality instrumental guitar folk music in general.
The Rolling Stones, Songbook [bootleg] (Musik for Alle). The concept behind this bootleg is an interesting one, even if it does present a lot of repeats of stuff that's circulated on other bootlegs (and even official releases): rare and unreleased material from the Rolling Stones' early days, in almost all cases written by the Stones themselves. That doesn't sound like a big deal, perhaps, but keep in mind that most of what the group recorded and performed back then were covers. There are some little-heard demos here of Jagger-Richard compositions (and even a Bill Wyman effort) that the band never released at the time, or never released at all. Mick Jagger and Keith Richard weren't such good songwriters at their outset (with some notable exceptions), and were also writing in a very pop-oriented, mild British Invasion style for much of the time before finding their feet in a much more aggressive pop-R&B-rock style. For that reason, this is hardly on par with the best early Rolling Stones music. But it does permit a glimpse into seldom-heard instances of the group trying things out as they struggled to become reliant on their own songwriting.
The most intriguing items here -- albeit mostly because they rarely appear elsewhere -- are their demos of a few songs they wrote in 1963 and 1964 but "gave away" for other artists to cover, or that never got recorded by anyone. There are demos of "It Should Be You" and "That Girl Belongs to Yesterday," covered by George Bean and Gene Pitney respectively; an early, more basic version of "Tell Me"; an acoustic demo of "As Tears Go By" with different lyrics (in fact, even the title, "As Time Goes By," is different); and one genuinely out-of-the-way 1964 demo never officially released by anyone, "We Were Falling in Love," even if that is a pretty sappy (if kinda catchy) number with woefully out-of-tune backing vocals. It's not all wimpy fare, either; another original never to surface in any legitimate form, "Leave Me Alone," is a pretty straightforward if derivative R&B-rocker, as is a 1964 recording of Bill Wyman's "Goodbye Girl" (with Jagger on lead vocals).
Alas, much of the CD's filled out with
the questionable "is this really rare?" material common to bootlegs.
are a number of songs that showed up on Metamorphosis that
identical to the actual Metamorphosis versions. Likewise the
of "Congratulations" and "Surprise, Surprise" seem to be the same as
ones on actual early Rolling Stones LPs, though it's good to hear a '64
demo of "Blue Turns to Grey" that's definitely different from the
Rolling Stones recording of the song. Other iffy peripheral items fill
out the disc, like the Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra's cover of "Da Doo
Ron Ron," on which Jagger took lead vocals; two 1964 singles credited
the Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra on which the Stones participated,
Are But Five Rolling Stones" and "365 Rolling Stones"; "Hear It," a
orchestrated 1964 backing track without vocals; and the Italian version
of "As Tears Go By," "Con Le Mie Lacrime," which actually came out on
official single. Most frustrating is a medley of about ten lo-fi
song fragments, most or all of them, apparently, featuring the Rolling
Stones, or at least Jagger on vocals. These include some further
drippy songs that never surfaced anywhere (though the Greenbeats
"You Must Be the One"), and for whatever reason, the full versions of
of these aren't either elsewhere on the bootleg or on any bootleg at
The Rolling Stones, The Rolling Stones [DVD bootleg] (Anonymous Film Archive). The absence of an officially sanctioned, thorough compilation of 1960s Rolling Stones videos leaves the path clear (and the demand) for bootleg DVDs such as this compilation of mid-'60s clips from the British Ready Steady Go! and Top of the Pops programs. The image transfer is not stellar, though it's usually not bad, and certainly better than that seen on many other releases by the Anonymous Film Archive label; most of the clips are wholly or partially lip-synced; some of the clips are incomplete; and the whole thing's less than an hour long. And guess what? It's still better than nothing. And it's still fairly fun to watch, particularly the Ready Steady Go! segments, which are in better shape (though in black and white) than the other sections of the DVD. It's unfortunate that the portion from 1966 on which they do "Paint It Black" and the obscure LP cut "I Am Waiting" seem to be mimed with the exception of Jagger's lead vocals. But on the other hand, clips from 1965 see them doing wholly live versions of "That's How Strong My Love Is" and "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" that differ notably from the studio recordings. Also here is their infamous mime to Sonny & Cher's "I Got You Babe" (with manager Andrew Loog Oldham and Ready Steady Go! host Cathy McGowan taking part too), which is as corny as it is outrageous. The Top of the Pops segments, all mimed, are less spectacular, though at least they present some different songs than the Ready Steady Go! ones, including "Get Off of My Cloud" and "Let's Spend the Night Together." As a bonus, there's also their strange promotional film for the "We Love You" single. A send-up of the legal trials Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were suffering in mid-1967, it also includes Marianne Faithfull, though this clip unfortunately cuts off before its end.
Phil Spector, The Phil Spector Sessions [bootleg] (Seven Stories UK). A four-CD bootleg of unreleased Phil Spector-produced sessions? That sounds like something even a bootlegger would make up as a joke. But it does exist, even if it'll take you some doing to locate it, and probably quite a bit of change to acquire it. Before you get too excited, however, be cautioned that this is not exactly full of the outtakes/alternate versions that are the staple fare of most studio bootlegs. Rather, these are more like backing tracks, unfinished works in progress, and combinations thereof. So while eleven takes of the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" and seven of the same group's "Walking in the Rain" might sound enticing -- and that's just disc one -- there's not as much variation, from either the familiar hit versions or among the different takes here, as one might like. Instead it's very much like eavesdropping on fine-tuning of arrangements where the difference is usually minor (and sometimes minuscule) to the typical listener, though likely something of monumental import to ears such as Spector's (or Brian Wilson's, to take another example). So it's more of a scholarly exercise for those wanting to analyze Spector's work than it is a groovy listening experience, particularly as most of this consists of numerous tweaks of specific songs, sequenced you hear ten or however many versions of the same tune all bunched together. Between the takes (and sometimes during them), you hear spoken comments and instructions, some of them comic, some serious, but usually not too elaborate. There are some interesting variations to appreciate -- "Be My Baby," for instance, didn't always have quite the same distinctive opening drum riff. The sessions for the Crystals' version of "Chico's Girl" are especially valuable, as that group didn't put out a record of the song (though it was done, without Spector, by a different act, the Girls). But while most of these are classic songs (also including Ike & Tina Turner's "River Deep Mountain High," the Ronettes' "Do I Love You" and "Walking in the Rain," the Crystals' "Uptown" and "Da Doo Ron Ron," and the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Loving Feelin'"), and the fidelity is excellent, it's very much for specialists, even among the bootleg community and Spector fanatics.
Dusty Springfield, Classics & Collectibles (Universal). As much good music as this two-CD, 51-song compilation contains, and as well packaged as it is, it suffers from a certain lack of direction. It's not a conventional best-of, although it has most of Dusty Springfield's hits; it's not a rarities compilation, although it has a good number of rare or at least obscure cuts. Instead it's neither one nor the other. All but the most affluent and forgiving of Springfield fans are not apt to be pleased at the prospect of shelling out for a few peripheral rarities they may not have, surrounded by quite a bit of stuff they likely already have several times over. And really, the rarities aren't all that mind-blowing, consisting primarily of some previously unissued remixes; the stereo soundtrack version of "The Sweet Ride"; the mono version of "Nothing," which has an alternate vocal; the "first time mono release" of "Standing in the Need of Love"; the full-length version of "Heartbeat," previously issued in the UK only in edited form; a mono version of "If Wishes Could Be Kisses," again with an alternate vocal; "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself" with a different vocal; and a mono mix of "I Can't Wait Until I See My Baby's Face" with additional background vocals. All this noted, the Dusty Springfield fan who wants the hits plus some stuff that's relatively unfamiliar will like this, though American listeners will miss "Wishin' and Hopin'," presumably not included on this UK release because it was not a hit in Britain, though it was a big 1964 smash in the States. Besides most of the hits, there are a lot of good-to-great LP cuts and B-sides, mostly though not exclusively from the 1960s and early 1970s. Some of the off-the-beaten-track items, like "Summer Is Over," are among the finer things she did; others, like her cover of Gloria Jones's soul stormer "Heartbeat" and the theme for the film The Corrupt Ones, manage to be obscure, good, and unusual all at once. It's well-sequenced and covers most of the important bases of her style, though it's not quite something that can be recommended as the first or second Dusty Springfield release that belongs in your collection.
X-Ray Spex, Germ Free Adolescents [Expanded] (Castle). X-Ray Spex's only album was one of the more important ones in late-'70s British punk, topping punk's visceral energy with jazzy saxophone, Poly Styrene's distinctive wailing vocals, and songs (all by Styrene) criticizing identity and modern consumerist society. It was always handicapped, however, by the absence of four tracks from non-LP singles, especially their debut "Oh! Bondage Up Yours!" -- not only X-Ray Spex's finest moment, but one of the peaks of British punk as a whole. All four of those tracks have been added to this expanded edition, which does previous CD versions of the album even better by also tacking on seven songs recorded for John Peel's BBC radio show in 1978. While there is more X-Ray Spex material than what's here (from both live performance and her return to recording in the 1990s), this is thus likely to be the definitive document of the band's late-'70s non-concert recordings. It's true that the Peel sessions don't offer anything in the way of incredible rarities; six of the cuts are radio versions of songs from the album (including the song "Germ Free Adolescents" itself), and a studio version of the seventh, "Age," appeared on one of the non-LP singles. It's still a fine package of the most significant material by one of the best of the short-lived early British punk groups, their story told in the accompanying historical liner notes.
Various Artists, Ars Longa Vita Brevis: A Compendium of Progressive Rock 1967-1974 (Castle). There's a heck of a lot of British progressive rock and prog-related music from the genre's heyday on this three-CD set, but it suffers both from an uncertain focus and erratic quality. Admittedly the definition of what constitutes "progressive rock" varies enormously, but it's still a surprise to see tracks by Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Small Faces, Fleetwood Mac, Humble Pie, the Kinks, Status Quo, Savoy Brown, and Chicken Shack on such a compilation. There are some no-doubt-about-it big names in the field too, like the Nice, Jethro Tull, Renaissance, Soft Machine, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. But, whether due to licensing limitations or some other barrier, numerous prog giants aren't here, and the ranks are filled out by lots of second-division acts who weren't nearly as influential or memorable.
Concentrating on the positives, some of the cuts are definite classics of the style, like the Nice's "America," and ELP's "Lucky Man." And it's not such a bad idea to widen the prog-rock umbrella to include some music that was more prog rock-influenced than pure prog, from both the light folk-rock and heavy hard rock sides of the British rock scene. A lot of people would argue that the Crazy World of Arthur Brown's "Fire," Fleetwood Mac's "The Green Manalishi" and "Man of the World," Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & the Trinity's "This Wheel's on Fire," Colosseum's "Walking in the Park," and the Kinks' "Shangri-La" are more properly viewed as ambitious psych-prog-influenced rock than actual progressive rock, but they're all classics, and it's kind of nice to have them aboard. And the famous tracks are definitely in the minority, with much of the set devoted to items by cult acts (the Deviants, Man, Comus, Gryphon) and obscure bands barely known outside of the record collecting world. That leaves the path clear for some quality songs that even many prog rock enthusiasts might not have heard, such as the B-side of Jethro Tull's debut single ("Aeroplane," which is as close to psychedelic pop as they got), the Mooche's Traffic-like "Seen Through a Light," and Wishful Thinking's "Hiroshima," which hones in on Moody Blues-like territory. David Wells' informed and witty liner notes, complete with track-by-track lowdown, are a big plus in guiding both neophytes and experts through this thicket of material.
Yet many of these obscurities are more obscure than they are interesting (and they're sometimes pretty derivative -- Jody Grind's "Bath Sister" strains awfully hard to emulate Cream's Jack Bruce-dominated songs). In fact, some of them are pretty mediocre tracks that can seem more influenced by hard rock and blues rock than art rock. There's a rather grim pretension to much of the material, and certainly only this era and particular genre could have given birth to an eight-minute song about "Mice and Rats in the Loft" (by Jan Dukes de Grey). It should also be cautioned that some of the selections by the better-known groups -- in particular Fleetwood Mac's "The Green Manalishi" and Tyrannosaurus Rex's ""One Inch Rocks" -- are not the most familiar versions, but alternates that were unreleased at the time. Mike Oldfield and the Soft Machine are represented by peripheral recordings, not issued until decades after they were done, that are hardly representative of those acts at their best. All told, Rhino's five-CD Supernatural Fairy Tales: The Progressive Rock Era is a much superior (and wider-ranging) box for those wanting an extensive survey of the style, though this anthology might hold some interest for more specialized tastes.
Various Artists, Detroit Tube Works '69-'70 [DVD bootleg] (Anonymous Film Archive). In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the locally broadcast Detroit Tube Works television show featured numerous rock musicians. This bootleg DVD has no less than two hours of rare footage from the programs, in both color and black and white, with spots from Johnny Winter, Humble Pie, Alice Cooper, Terry Reid, Fleetwood Mac, the MC5, Joe Cocker, and the one-hit organ-drum duo Teegarden and Van Winkle. If the image quality was in reasonable shape, this would be a great find for fans of blues rock and hard rock from the era. But it's not in such hot condition -- in fact, everything here suffers from imperfect visual transfer/preservation to some degree. That's a polite way of saying that a lot of this is pretty hard to watch, due to waviness, fuzziness, frame shakes, and worse. Still, it's rarely been screened since it was first shown, and it might never come out officially or in better quality, so it might be your only chance to see it whatsoever.
As for the individual segments, Johnny Winter's portion is surprisingly long -- at about an hour, it takes up around half the disc -- and mixes pretty sparse blues (on which his singing and electric guitar is accompanied only by bass) with interview excerpts so casual and rambling that one suspects this is raw footage that was edited before broadcast. The one song by Humble Pie, with both Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton in the lineup, is in horrendous shape even by bootleg standards; it could hardly be worse if someone had just pointed their home movie equipment at the TV screen. Thankfully, the Alice Cooper section (which, along with the Winter one, is the only part in color) is in nearly decent condition, finding the silver-suited band and their campily theatrical frontman at their peak on four songs, including "I'm Eighteen" and two performances of "Is It My Body." Terry Reid is just okay; Fleetwood Mac, from their early blues-rock days, is disappointing as the two songs seem lip-synced, and Peter Green is pretty curt and uninformative in the brief accompanying interview; Teegarden and Van Winkle are pretty cool, though they do just one song; and Joe Cocker does "Feelin' Alright" with his trademark puppet-on-the-string moves. It's back to some of the worst image quality on the DVD for the concluding MC5 segment, which is no big loss as it's an excruciatingly unstructured jam.
Various Artists, Dub: A Journey in Bass Culture (Metro). The style and indeed entire culture of dub reggae is so sprawling that it defies encapsulation in one 18-track, hour-long disc. And like many genre compilations on the Union Square family of labels, this one couldn't purport to be a definitive or even wholly representative/balanced best-of. Dub's very sprawl, however, makes compilations such as these about as good as any various-artists dub anthologies out there. And while dub specialists will no doubt bemoan the absence of some of their favorites, this is indeed a good collection of 1973-77 recordings, even if it might not have an apparent micro-focus. As Ian McCann's quite refreshingly (for a reggae comp) witty liner notes point out, it's hard to say who the "artist" on a dub recording should be, as it's more of a collective enterprise. It's fair to say, though, that dub listeners are more interested in who's doing the engineering/mixing than anyone else, and some of the biggest names in early dub contributed to these cuts in those capacities, including King Tubby, Prince Jammy, Bunny Lee, and Lee Perry. On the instrumental side, the Aggravators (also spelled Agrovators) were the heaviest contributors to this particular batch, playing on no less than eleven of the tracks. It's dub at its best, riddled with spaced-out echo and effects, with a hypnotic (and often minor-keyed) groove that's just as spellbinding as a blast of high-quality ganja, though it's better for you than drugs are. There's a consistent otherworldliness throughout this disc that makes it difficult to single out highlights, but certainly the opener, King Tubby & the Agrovators' "Brother Marcus Dub," has a throw-in-the-kitchen-sink arsenal that's difficult to top. Elsewhere, Prince Jammy's "Jammy & Shine" has some of the most outrageous oscillating-into-infinity reverb you'll hear on a dub recording; King Tubby & the Aggrovators with Horace Andy's "Dub Place" has an amazing combination of gunshots and a squeezed-through-a-fennel sound; and the vocals, squeaks, hums, and rattles on Prince Jammy's "Jammy a No Fool" float with a distorted serenity akin to a flying saucer disappearing over the horizon.
Various Artists, Glastonbury Fayre 1971 [DVD bootleg] (Anonymous Film Archive). It's understandable why the Glastonbury Fayre concert film didn't make much of an impact upon its initial release, and is now one of the less-remembered and infrequently screened such endeavors. In contrast to movies such as Woodstock and Monterey Pop (or even released-long-after-the-event rockumentaries like Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival and Festival Express), the performer lineup is a little second-division -- quite interesting, mind you, but not exactly filled with the likes of the Who, Hendrix, and Janis Joplin. Too, the delay of its release until 1973 -- two years after the Glastonbury Fayre festival took place -- helped bury the film commercially, as not only had the featured artists become less hip and popular, but the whole hippie movement and the music associated with it were fading from cultural prominence. Still, viewed out of the context of its original milieu today, it's of archival interest, if only because you don't often get to see footage of many of the artists. There isn't much else circulating of Family, early-'70s Fairport Convention, Arthur Brown, and Terry Reid, for instance, and while Melanie and Traffic are somewhat better represented on vintage film stock, they're not exactly overexposed. Unfortunately, both the performances and the filmmaking tend toward the ragged side (not helped by Anonymous Film Archive's usual subpar transfer job on this bootleg DVD), capturing a time at which much psychedelic/progressive rock was drifting toward a particularly shapeless and aimless direction. Melanie and Traffic come off better than the others, in part because they're playing much more structured songs, though it's a shame the sound quality isn't better on Traffic's "Gimme Some Lovin'." It's also a shame that Pete Townshend, David Bowie, and Marc Bolan -- all of whom performed here, and were filmed -- did not make it into the final cut, as their presence would have benefited the movie enormously. Interspersed with the music are kind of vague, uninformative interviews with festivalgoers that, like some of the other extramusical footage (including a lecture by Guru Maharaj J.), record the countercultural ambience of the event.
Various Artists, Immediate Mod Box Set (Castle). In the CD era, the 1960s Immediate label catalog has been packaged innumerable times, sometimes to the extent that it seems there will be no end to the tenuous concepts devised to hang an Immediate compilation around. This three-CD compilation is one of the more labored such efforts. It's frustrating to collectors in that it does include some fine music, and some rarities, but not really enough of either to make you feel good about laying out the cash for it. That's particularly true when you consider that many people interested in this stuff in the first place are bound to already have a good percentage of the material.
On its own terms, it's an interesting if highly erratic survey of almost all British mid-'60s rock styles. In particular, the Mockingbirds' haunting, Yardbirds-like "You Stole My Love" (written by young group member Graham Gouldman), the Poets' hypnotically gloomy "Some Things I Just Can't Forget," and John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers' blistering non-LP cuts "I'm Your Witchdoctor" and "On Top of the World" (both with Eric Clapton) are among the very best British singles of the era that failed to become hits. Immediate collectors and British Invasion fans in general will already be familiar with the music of Mayall, P.P. Arnold, the Small Faces, Amen Corner, and Chris Farlowe, and while none of those artists are represented by their big hits, at least this anthology presents some less obvious choices from their work.
That leaves a bunch of items by far more obscure artists, and while some of them are decent and many of them are rare, in truth not many of them are memorable. Among the better entries in that field are the decent girl group pop of Van Lenton's "You Don't Care"; the propulsive organ jazz-soul-rock of Jimmy Scott on the lengthy instrumental "Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da Story (Part II)"; and a young Tony McPhee's decent soul-pop cover of Bo Diddley's "You Don't Love Me," years before he led the Groundhogs to fame. The Fleur De Lys and the Australian Playboys do decent mod rock that's been appreciated by serious collectors for decades. Some other rarities, however, aren't as enticing as they might seem on first glance. Goldie, aka Genya Ravan (lead singer of Goldie of the Gingerbreads, and later lead singer of Ten Wheel Drive and a solo artist), does a Graham Gouldman cover on "Headlines," but the song is surprisingly mediocre; the great composer Mort Shuman does an unnecessary cover of "Monday Monday"; and actor Murray Head's "She Was Perfection" (penned by the singer himself) isn't anything remarkable. A bunch of fairly second-rate pop and soul tunes fills out a set that doesn't quite justify its length.
Various Artists, This Is Northern Soul! The Motown Sound Vol. 1 (Motown). Motown discs are a big part of the "Northern Soul" scene in Britain, where 1960s soul records are collected and spun at dance clubs with a fanaticism seen nowhere else. This two-CD, 48-track set compiles a lot of the rarer and more sought-after Motown items among the Northern Soul crowd. For those outside the UK with little or no knowledge of the Northern Soul cult, the raison d'etre of this compilation means little or nothing. That doesn't matter, though; regardless of your knowledge of Northern Soul niceties, this serves as a very good anthology of rare '60s Motown sides. And we do mean rare, or at least little known: none of these four dozen sides were big hits, and not many of them were even small ones. When the small Top Forty hits Brenda Holloway's "When I'm Gone" and the Marvelettes' "I'll Keep on Holding On" qualify as about the most widely exposed songs, you know you're talking deep dives into the Motown vaults. While the tunes on this collection aren't as good as familiar Motown hit classics (or, for the most part, as good as even the aforementioned Holloway and Marvelettes singles), and often have a certain generic Motown quality, they're of a quite consistent and enjoyable standard. There are obscure items by most of Motown's stars (including Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, the Supremes, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Junior Walker, the Four Tops, Martha & the Vandellas, and Tammi Terrell), plus a whole bunch of names that never had big hits (or at least hits on Motown), like Patrice Holloway, Frank Wilson, the Monitors, Virgil Henry, Linda Griner, Frances Nero, the Andantes, and Caroline Crawford. Some of the songs, too, are really good even when not heard in the lower-expectations context of a rarities compilation, like the Velvelettes' "Lonely Lonely Girl Am I," Walker's raucous instrumental "Tune Up," and the Detroit Spinners' soaring "What More Could a Boy Ask You." The anthology's a fine acquisition for those who don't collect Motown with an eye to piling up dozens of CDs' worth of rare material, but do want a lengthy, representative collection of seldom-spun tracks cut for the label.
ALBUM REVIEWS: A SELECTION OF RECENT RELEASES, SPRING 2005:
Afro Blues Quintet Plus 1, New Directions in Sound (BGP). With 22 tracks and 70 minutes of music drawn from numerous 1966-70 releases, this is a fine overview of a band that creatively and enjoyably combined jazz with soul, Latin music, and pop, as well as the odd far-out moment. In truth, Afro Blues Quintet Plus 1 weren't too adventurous, but that doesn't detract from the sheer enjoyment of a group that put across very accessible (for pop ears) jazz without selling out all that much. At times, it's like hearing a Ramsey Lewis with more guts (and certainly more of an affinity for Latin sounds), particularly on cuts like their cover of Stevie Wonder's "La La La." Or maybe you'll think it's more like a poppier Mango Santamaria. Certainly they didn't shy away from pop tunes that many jazzmen would have felt too compromising; this could be the only jazz version, one would think, of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra's hit duet "Some Velvet Morning," and the Rose Garden's "Next Plane to London" probably didn't find its way into too many jazz repertoires either. Occasionally, they did get a little weird, albeit in a trendy hippy-dippy way, and it's interesting to see the inclusion of a couple songs ("Freaks" and "Victims of Chance") penned or co-penned by Tandyn Almer, most famous for writing "Along Comes Mary." And once in a while they get into a pretty straightahead, very modern 1960s space that shows they probably could have been a credible, more seriously jazz-centered unit had they wanted, complete with sax showing the influence of the likes of John Coltrane. Whatever's on their table, they do it well, and these are good grooves for '60s soul-jazz fans.
The Beatles, The Paris Concerts 1964-1965 [bootleg, CD + DVD] (MBE). The Beatles played in Paris on two separate occasions: once as an 18-day residency in early 1964 (just before their first trip to the United States), and then for a much shorter visit on June 20, 1965, when they played two concerts. This quite elaborate (doubly so for a bootleg) two-CD, one-DVD package gathers every scrap of audiovisual evidence of their trips to Paris -- not just live concert recordings and footage, but also interviews they did while they were in town; the recordings (including outtakes) they did for EMI at Pathe Marconi Studios in Paris on January 29, 1964; interviews with a French fan and Sylvie Vartan (who shared billing with the Beatles in Paris in 1964); the Beatles' comments about their Paris experience upon their return to London, and then decades later for the Anthology videos; and even live recordings by some of the support acts on the 1965 concert. While it's way too thorough for all but the more rabid Beatles fan, there's some pretty cool stuff here.
By far the most notable material is found on the two 1965 concerts (comprising most of disc two), which were broadcast in their entirety on French radio. This is the only known audio document of their brief mid-1965 tour of the European continent, and while the sound might be just a little below what would be considered acceptable for an official release (particularly in the instrumental balance), actually it's pretty good -- extremely good, in fact, for a bootleg of a 1965 rock concert. These are probably the best (not to say among the very few) recordings of them doing "I'm a Loser" and "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby" in circulation, and generally the set sounds good and spirited, chock-full of mid-'60s classic Beatles songs like "I Feel Fine," "Ticket to Ride," "Can't Buy Me Love," "She's a Woman," and "A Hard Day's Night." The group gamely tries to introduce some songs in elementary French, and the crowd is a little atypical for Beatlemania, roaring quite enthusiastically but also actually singing along with some songs (particularly the chorus of "Can't Buy Me Love"). The evening (second) of these shows was broadcast in black and white on French TV, and as you'd expect, that concert takes up most of the DVD. This isn't the best of Beatles concerts to make it onto film, not so much because of the quite good performance as the not-so-hot image quality, which is certainly watchable without a problem, but is rather wavy and obviously not in the greatest of condition. Still, in all it's a quite fine addition to the fairly slim library of Beatles concerts that survive on film in their entirety or near-entirety. (For the record, it's presented in both its complete version and the slightly edited, altered "broadcast" version, though the broadcast version contains nothing that's not in the complete version.)
In contrast, the supplemental material from 1965 (interviews and live recordings by a bunch of unknown opening French acts, though there's a nice version of the Yardbirds doing "I Wish You Would") is extraneous. Too, the audio material from 1964, comprising all of disc one, isn't nearly as interesting as the second CD, since it has much less Beatles music, and since some of the tracks are fragments, not complete songs. For what it's worth, however, the group does sound pretty good onstage, on material taken from French radio broadcasts. Also, while Beatles lore usually has it that their reception in Paris in 1964 was pretty cool, actually the audience sounds reasonably enthusiastic -- they're just not at Beatlemania level yet, and do some odd and distracting handclapping during songs. The interviews aren't that interesting, with the possible exception of a fairly lengthy one they did for the American Forces Network on January 24 -- probably one of the first (if not the first) occasions on which the group were interviewed by an American reporter. Be warned that while the "outtakes" of "Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand" and "Sie Liebt Dich" listed on the sleeve sound tempting, actually these are very, very brief snippets of chatter and a passage of "Sie Liebt Dich" where they break up in giggles. For the sake of completism, stereo versions of both those songs (both of them done at the January 29, 1964 session) are included, as are a couple of alternate takes of "Can't Buy Me Love" that circulated widely on bootlegs for years prior to this 2004 release. There's a little bit of 1964 footage on the DVD, but these are just a couple of interviews, scenes of the Beatles (offstage) in Paris, and snippets of an onstage performance which isn't even synced to the sound. It's too bad, too, that such a nice-looking and pull-out-the-stops archival package has liner notes that were evidently written by someone who can't even speak English that well.
The Beatles, Unauthorized/ Fun with the Fab Four [DVD] (GoodTimes). Both of these ragtag compilations of Beatles-related film clips, each of which lasts a little under an hour, were originally released separately by GoodTimes. This DVD combines them both onto the same disc, and if you have any interest in the material at all, you should certainly look for this two-fer instead of the separate installments. The Unauthorized portion is dominated by footage from their first American concert (in February 1964 in Washington, DC), and while that's mighty exciting if lo-fi stuff, it's been superseded by better DVDs that offer more songs from the same show, or even (as on Beatles Around the World) almost the entire performance. Unauthorized is filled out by bits from Beatlemania-era press conferences, airport arrivals, and the like -- kind of cool to watch if you're a besotted fan, but assembled in fragments and without any context. At least it does have what seems to be most or all of a press conference they gave in Los Angeles in August 1966 just days before their final concert, which was one of their more interesting and serious ones as such presentations went. Fun with the Fab Four is devoted almost entirely to press conferences, interviews, newsreel bits, and such, with some overlap between the contents of Unauthorized. It's rather unsatisfying viewing, even if it does have some intriguing sections for serious fans, like a group interview from the brief time that Jimmy Nicol was substituting for Ringo Starr. Both Unauthorized and Fun with the Fab Four include one howler of a scene: Pete Best's appearance on the American game show I've Got a Secret (his secret being that he used to drum with the Beatles), which must be one of the only existing sound clips of Best in the 1960s. So overall, like most unauthorized Beatles-related DVDs, it's a bit of a ripoff. Is it sacrilegious, however, to say that this at least offers twice the value of the usual ripoff by combining two previous releases into one?
Burning Spear, Creation Rebel: The Original Classic Recordings from Studio One (Heartbeat). While it's not clear from the packaging whether this contains everything Burning Spear did for Studio One, certainly it has a lot of what Burning Spear did for the label in the first half of the 1970s. In addition, the 20 songs include a number of tracks that'll appeal to Burning Spear fans who might already have some or much of this in their collections, among them some stereo mixes previously unavailable on CD, as well as a couple of tracks not previously issued on CD in any form. More important than the assembly and packing, however, is the music, which is vital early reggae, and presented some of the first efforts in the genre to reflect a Marcus Garvey- and Rastafarian-influenced social consciousness. As such they're crucial and pioneering roots reggae, sometimes with a spare and spooky sound, particularly on "Door Pepper." Other cuts, like "This Race," have the kind of harmonic ebullience associated with vintage Wailers, and while "New Civilization" harkens back to ska in its rhythms, vintage ska didn't contain utopian brotherhood urges of this sort. This is punchy but uncluttered early reggae (with particularly deft incorporation of organ) with simple but heartfelt and proud messages. It's recommended to those looking for roots reggae with a somewhat lighter touch than some of the more renowned later recordings in the style.
Ray Charles, O-Genio: Live in Brazil, 1963 [DVD] (Rhino). Though the camerawork and image preservation aren't ideal, this DVD is nevertheless a remarkable document of Ray Charles in his prime, performing live on Brazilian TV in 1963. With a small snazzy big band and backup singers the Raelets in tow, Charles presented material including big rock'n'roll hits ("What'd I Say," "Hit the Road Jack," "Hallelujah I Love Her So," "Don't Set Me Free"); standards ("You Are My Sunshine," "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny," "My Bonnie"); country (his then-recent hits "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "You Don't Know Me"); and both vocal and instrumental jazz. While the relatively primitive production values are occasionally betrayed by shaky camera framing, it's a pretty straightforward and highly watchable black-and-white presentation, the highlights being those spots where the Raelets wail in Charles' support (although this live arrangement of "Hit the Road Jack," oddly, sounds tamer and inferior to the famous studio hit version). Rock and R&B fans might be a little disappointed by the absence of some of his harder-driving classics, like "I Got a Woman," and the slight lean of the set toward more pop and jazz than some might expect. Too, there's a good amount of repetition, with two versions apiece of seven of the numbers. It's a valuable and highly entertaining program in all, however, the period feel enhanced by the inclusion (in Portuguese) of several commercials from the original broadcast.
Gold, OreginsS.F. 1970 (World in Sound). With nine songs recorded in the studio at Golden State Recorders in San Francisco in 1969 and 1970, plus eight songs (in decent if imperfect fidelity) from a live show at the Fillmore West on March 3, 1970, this is a generous document -- lasting 78 minutes in all -- of a San Francisco band that only got to release one obscure single, never putting out an LP. (Both sides of that single, "No Parking"/"Summertime" -- the latter produced by Country Joe McDonald, who also plays clavichord on the track -- are here, though the notes don't make it clear if these were the same recordings used on the 45.) It's a decent slab of period late-'60s San Francisco rock, though Gold were neither top-tier when judged against the many similar bands from the time and region, nor possessed of a fully formed musical identity. Certainly you can hear bits and pieces of other major Bay Area acts -- "High on Love" and "When I Saw You" have the spacey languor of Quicksilver Messenger Service at their most folk-rocking wistful, and "Conquistadores" is very much in the spirit of Santana's first album (in fact both bands had "Fried Neck Bones," heard on the live portion of this CD, in their repertoire). Other tracks have a more macho, bluesy hard rock approach, and while eclecticism was a trademark of numerous San Francisco psychedelic acts, Gold were missing that something that might have elevated them to a notable rank. Despite their derivative nature, however, "When I Saw You," "High on Love," and "Colores" are all enjoyable songs for those who like the distinctively bittersweet sound of much gentler SF psychedelia. Other tracks indicate they could have done well with a Santana-esque fusion of rock, blues, and Latin rhythms had they wanted to go further down that route. The scattershot liner notes don't give you much of a coherent history of the band's life and times, however.
Tony Jackson, Watch Your Step! The Complete Recordings 1964-1966 (Castle Music). For a long time, the only Tony Jackson collection was Strange Things' Just Like Me, which itself got hard to find not long after its release in the early 1990s. This 2004 CD has everything that was on Just Like Me and a bit more. In fact, it's hard to imagine that there will ever be more Tony Jackson unearthed than what's here, as this disc has all 20 tracks Jackson released in the 1960s, along with four previously unreleased alternate takes and outtakes. Unsurprisingly, it sounds rather like (and sometimes much like) the Searchers, since Jackson was their original lead singer. And, to lay it on the line, it's not as good as the Searchers, though it's passable mid-'60s British Invasion music, and occasionally above average. The standout is certainly Jackson's folk-rock arrangement of Mary Wells' "You Beat Me to the Punch" (which liberally cops the guitar line from the Searchers' own arrangement of "Needles and Pins"). The high percentage of unmemorable covers of American R&B-rock tunes marks helped mark him, however, as a performer who didn't have nearly as much of distinction to offer outside of the Searchers as he did within that estimable band. Among the four previously unavailable songs, there's an alternate take of "Stage Door" with a somewhat less elaborate arrangement; an only slightly different alternate of "Is There Anything Else You Want"; the outtake "She Wanted Me" (by an unknown writer), which again recalls a middling Searchers; and an inconsequential jazzy instrumental cover of the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out."
The Mothers of Invention, We're Only in It for the Mothers(bootleg) (Zapperman). There isn't much non-Zappa-estate-sanctioned unreleased Mothers of Invention material from the 1960s, which makes this bootleg -- the core of which is a 1967 eleven-track demo acetate of material from We're Only In it for the Money sessions -- valuable to serious collectors, although the sound quality isn't so hot. That's particularly true of the tracks taken from the acetate, which are muffled and hissy, though not so much that they're hard to listen to. In truth, too, these acetate versions don't differ a whole lot from what ended up on the We're Only in It for the Money album, making them more items for scholarly comparison than excitingly unsuspected revelations. Sometimes the chief differences are the absence of vocals, or not-so-great variations in the mix. Still, it's interesting to hear this classic album in a less refined state, though it should be noted that some of the songs that made it onto the finished record, like "Flower Punk" and "Concentration Moon," aren't included. As the demo acetate lasts a mere 25 minutes in all, it's fortunate that the thoughtful bootleggers added 45 minutes of additional unreleased material from the late 1960s, all of it worth hearing, though none of it likely to interest many non-Mothers fanatics. These bonus cuts include a live New York 1967 performance of "In Memorium, Heironymous Bosch"; studio outtakes of the avant-garde "Randomonium, Take One" and the doo wop-ish satirical "Sell Us a President," partially done to a tune roughly based on Little Peggy March's "I Will Follow Him"; the US single version of "Lonely Little Girl"; and a 1968 performance on German television, by which time they'd gone into far more abstract, less song-based instrumental material than they'd played on We're Only in It for the Money. Incidentally, in keeping with the inconsistent labeling found in the bootleg world, while the front cover titles this release We're Only in It for the Mothers, the spine reads "Money Demos," and the back sleeve "Only Money Demos"; also, while it's "copyrighted" to Zapperman Records, a logo reading "Zipperman" appears right below that notice.
Charlie Rich, The Complete Singles Plus: The Sun Years 1958-1963 (Varese Sarabande). Both sides of all ten of Charlie Rich's 1958-63 Sun singles are collected here, with five LP tracks and outtakes added as demo tracks. Basically the album concept is just an excuse to repackage a bunch of early Rich sides that have made the rounds many times. But it still makes a good case for the best single-disc compilation of Rich's Sun output assembled, if for no other reason than the sheer quantity of material it manages to shove onto one CD. His only Sun hit ("Lonely Weekends") is here, of course, but overall the material is quite strong, despite the lack of exposure it received at the time. Cuts like "Philadelphia Baby," and the Jerry Lee Lewis-style "Rebound" and "Break Up," show that Rich could be a convincing rockabilly singer. Yet even at this early point in his career, he was skillful at blending rock'n'roll, country, pop, and bits of the blues, jazz, and gospel, "There's Another Place I Can't Go" being a particular standout in that regard. Too, his meek loser persona was already taking shape, on "Lonely Weekends," "Everything I Do Is Wrong," and "Who Will the Next Fool Be." True, some of the songs are fairly unmemorable, and overall the tone isn't as mature as Rich's best post-Sun work. Still, this is mostly real quality stuff, deserving of wider investigation by Rich fans and general pop-rock listeners who might not be aware of much of his Sun work other than "Lonely Weekends."
Tommy Sands, Man, Like Wow! The Sands Collection 1957-1963 (Raven). While Bear Family's 30-track compilation The Worryin' Kind also covers Tommy Sands' late-'50s and early-'60s material, and offers some songs that don't make it onto this later anthology, Man, Like Wow! is a slightly superior buy. There are a few more songs (a whopping 33 on a single CD), and it covers a slightly longer period of his early career, including ten of his chart hits and a few cuts that hadn't previously been issued on compact disc. It doesn't make a compelling case, it must be said, for Tommy Sands as a notable rock'n'roller; in fact, his stuff was among the most whitebread of any of the early white singers to score rock'n'roll hits. Sands was really more a mainstream pop singer, with some country flavor, who was put into some quasi-rock'n'roll arrangements (and marketed to the rock'n'roll audience) in order to fit into the trend of the day. Even when he tried to rock out and sound menacing, relatively speaking, on "Blue Ribbon Baby," "Man, Like Wow!," "I Ain't Gettin' Red of You," the "Fever"-soundalike "Doctor Heartache," and "The Worryin' Kind," he wasn't going to give Gene Vincent (who, like Sands, was on the Capitol label in this period) any sleepless nights. However they judge his talent, early rock'n'roll collectors might be interested to find a few obscure songs by notable writers here, including Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller ("Chicken and the Hawk"), Atlantic executives Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler, Bobby Hart, Al Kooper, and Paul Anka, even if none of those tunes are first-rate. As conscientiously assembled as this is, it's fairly tepid rock'n'roll without much in the way of memorable material, though not quite as mediocre teen idol fodder as some have led listeners to expect.
The Strawbs, Live in Tokyo '75/Grave New World -- The Movie[DVD] (Witchwood Media). This is a good-value, well-assembled 80-minute DVD of Strawbs film footage from the 1970s (save for one clip), built around the two mini-features in the disc's title. Live in Tokyo '75, done for Japanese TV, is a decent, straightforward concert document of the band at their commercial peak, the Dave Cousins/Dave Lambert/John Hawken lineup performing ten songs crossing the boundary twist folk-rock and prog-rock. The Strawbs weren't flashy stage performers, so what you get is just professionally filmed, sung, and played material, with a bit of a light show, an onstage statue of a flute-playing woman, and dry ice covering their feet in fog near the end. Grave New World -- The Movie is a far more peculiar item, as it's something of a video (all the music mimed) of the entire 1972 album Grave New World, with Cousins the only member of the band who'd still be with the Strawbs by the time of the '75 Tokyo show. Produced solely for cinema use, it's a little cheesily dated (though not unentertainingly so) in its occasional semi-psychedelic special effects and, more particularly, some contrived costumes and sets. At various times we see the band superimposed above London traffic in vaudevillian suits and singing in robes above clouds; a slinky bell-bottomed girl dancing in tripped-out bliss in the middle of a sun; stained glass windows with religious scenes; footage of then-contemporary war and conflict; and the like. The music, as you'd expect, is a lot different from that of the '75 version of the band, with a far heavier bent toward their brooding folk and folk-rock roots. As bonus clips, there's a yet different lineup of the group doing "Til the Sun Comes Shining Through" on TV in 1970, with Rick Wakeman on piano and (in his final appearance with the band) Lindsay Cooper on double bass; a 1974 news interview with Dave Cousins, who discusses the single "Grace Darling" aboard a lifeboat; and a video of "The Young Pretender," from Cousins and Wakeman's 2002 album Hummingbird (with Ric Sanders on violin).
The United States of America, The United States of America (Sundazed). In its original form, the United States of America's self-titled (and sole album) was one of the most exciting and experimental psychedelic albums of the late 1960s, blending searingly imaginative electronics with equally unusual songs that were both piercing and dreamy. Although a Sony Music Special Products CD with two added previously unreleased outtakes was briefly available in the early 1990s, Sundazed's reissue is the definitive one for those who want even more than the original album offered. While the two somewhat half-baked outtakes from the previous CD reissue ("Osama's Birthday" and "No Love to Give") are here, this disc adds a further eight never-before-released tracks, including yet more outtakes and some substantially different alternate versions of songs that did make it onto the final album. While none of the alternates are as good as the versions that ended up being used, it's fascinating to hear the cuts in cruder but equally trippy arrangements, particularly the three from their September 1, 1967 Columbia Records audition session (for which original organist Mike Agnello and original bassist Stu Brotman were still in the lineup). Less exciting, but also intriguing to behold, are three tracks done in July 1968 by a later version of the band, in which singer Dorothy Moskowitz was the only remaining member from the group that played on the album. Those three tracks are far more folk-rock-oriented than anyone would have suspected, two of them penned by Moskowitz, the third by Kenny Edwards of the Stone Poneys. Add detailed commentaries in the liner notes by Byrd and Moskowitz, and you have an expansion well worth picking up, even for those who've owned the original album for quite a while.
The Yardbirds, Even More Golden Eggs (bootleg) (Palm Drive). In the 1970s, a couple of Yardbirds bootlegs, Golden Eggs and More Golden Eggs, assembled hard-to-find, out-of-print studio cuts and other rarities by the band -- most of which would eventually get reissued legitimately. Even More Golden Eggs, which appeared 25-30 years later, is not exactly a sequel to those collections, as it focuses almost entirely on live recordings (mostly from the BBC). It's still valuable to serious Yardbirds collectors, however, for assembling a good number of tracks that haven't made it onto the official anthologies of Yardbirds BBC performances, even though the fidelity on these cuts isn't so good (and well below those of the Yardbirds BBC recordings that have been officially unleashed). Twelve of the twenty songs are mid-'60s BBC broadcasts from the Jeff Beck era, and are of particular interest for the inclusion of a few songs that didn't make it onto any Yardbirds release, back in the '60s or on retrospective BBC compilations. These include "Spoonful"; the unusual (for the 1965 Yardbirds) haunting folk song "Hushabye," with backing by acoustic guitar and bongos; the Impressions' soul ballad "I've Been Trying"; and the misleadingly titled "Farther on Up the Road," which is really the blues standard "Bottle Up and Go." Also interesting are a couple numbers that the band recorded for official release while Eric Clapton was still in the lineup, giving us a chance to hear the only existing version of "Louise" with Beck on lead. "Smokestack Lightning" (a different and longer version than the one that's been used on official Yardbirds BBC anthologies), also with Beck on lead, is particularly good, with a stop-go harmonica part in the instrumental break that differs significantly from the arrangement heard on other Yardbirds renditions of the song.
The CD's filled out rather haphazardly with a bunch of odds and ends, including the mono versions of "Hot House of Omagararshid" and "He's Always There" (which have been officially reissued elsewhere); an excellent but sadly lo-fi BBC performance of "Dazed & Confused" with the Jimmy Page lineup; two poor-fidelity, instrumental run-throughs of "The Train Kept A-Rollin'" and "Dazed and Confused" from the soundcheck of their show at New York's Anderson Theatre on March 30, 1968; three fair-quality numbers (including another "Dazed and Confused") done by the Jimmy Page lineup for French TV; and a BBC version of "Line of Least Resistance," undated and credited to the brother-sister duo of Keith & Jane Relf (and certainly done after the Yardbirds had broken up). Note that the disc includes Beck-era versions of "I'm a Man" and "Smokestack Lightning" that are not listed on the cover, in an unusual instance of a bootleg not puffing up its contents to the fullest.
Various Artists, Cambodian Rocks Vol. 1 (Khmer Rocks). As the anonymous compiler of this anthology of Cambodian pop-rock from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s confesses in his brief liner notes, it's hard to make a representative collection of this genre as so much of the information surrounding the recordings and performers has been lost. (Not to mention that many of the recordings are likely forever lost, and many of the performers slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge.) However, this and a very few other compilations, such as Sublime Frequencies' Khmer Folk and Pop Music Vol. 1, are doing their best to restore at least a bit of this intriguing style to wide availability, likely giving it more international exposure than it ever enjoyed at the time. Though this undeniably sounds strange to Western ears, it's not merely novelty. There are spirited vocals and off-the-wall combinations of bubblegum, garage rock, psychedelic rock, soul, melodramatic Cambodian pop vocals, surf guitar, and more, with more of a pop and rock influence than a folk or ethnic Cambodian one (though such elements aren't wholly absent). The songs are often pretty catchy, too, and though some are crude adaptations of big English-language rock hits ("Proud Mary," "House of the Rising Sun," "Gloria"), much of the material's drawn from other sources, and hence far more original-sounding. There are too many beguiling quirks to list in a single review, but Sinn Sisamouth's "Quando My Love" will certainly please fans of early Joe Meek productions, with its cheesy-yet-eerie guitar; Sisamouth's "I Love Petite Women" and Meas Samoun's "The Engagement" have a wicked sub-Santana menace; Ros Sereysothea's "I'm So Shy" is pretty gutsy soul-bubblegum with elephantine horns, lo-fi wah-wah guitar, and a lyric reading in part (English translations are given in the sleeve) "I'm still a virgin and I'm very shy"; and the same singer's "Wicked Husband" again sounds incredibly son-of-Joe Meek-ish. It seems like the organs and wah-wah guitars on much of this, in fact, must have been the most lo-fi ever manufactured, which makes them all the more interesting. The fidelity, as you might expect, is sub-standard in comparison with what was being recorded throughout much of the rest of the world at the time, but that's a small price to pay to hear these unusual recordings. Note that this is an entirely different anthology, incidentally, than the simply titled Cambodian Rocks, which came out on the Parallel World label prior to this compilation.
Various Artists, Cambodian Rocks Vol. 2 (Khmer Rocks). Like volume one of Khmer Rocks' Cambodian Rocks series, this assembles 17 Cambodian pop-rock tracks from approximately the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, exact details being scant as the Khmer Rouge wiped out this kind of entertainment (along with much else in Cambodia) shortly afterward. While it's quite similar to the first volume in its unusual combinations of Western psychedelia, garage rock, soul, and bubblegum with more Cambodian forms of pop, melody, and vocal delivery, it's by no means redundant. The quality of the material's just as consistent (if just as lo-fi in both recording quality and the grade of instruments used), and most every track is an adventure into what most rock listeners will find odd and occasionally thrilling sonic territory, even if it no doubt sounded far more normal to Cambodian listeners of the era. There are adaptations of English-language smashes like "Hey Jude," "Wooly Bully," "Never My Love," "A Whiter Shade of Pale," and "San Francisco," but it's the more numerous unfamiliar tunes that stand out more, particularly for their emotionally melodramatic (and, when sung by women, very high-pitched) vocals; mega-tinny organ sounds and crude, almost homemade-seeming psychedelic effects; feverish rock guitar, played with as much dash and energy as many an American or British psych-rock act; and some quite catchy pop melodies, some of which are almost sinister in nature (as a spin of Ros Sereysothea's "If You Wish to Love Me" demonstrates). Pan Ron's "Hippie Men" almost bends ska and African pop brass together, and many of the tunes are eerie in a way that Western bands might have been hard-pressed to duplicate, even though these tracks no doubt partially came about from Cambodian musicians trying to replicate overseas rock trends. As with volume one of this series, there's little in the way of liner notes, but English translations of the lyrics are provided.
Various Artists, Sick, Sober & Sorry: Great Country Hits of the 1950s (Indigo). While the annotation could be a better, and there's a sense of a whole lotta tracks getting poured into a bucket of convenience, there's no arguing that this three-CD, 84-song set of early-'50s country hits offers a whole lotta fine music. Each of the three discs covers a specific year, with 28 songs apiece offered from 1951, 1952, and 1953. There are many giants of early country music represented here, including Lefty Frizzell, Hank Snow, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Hank Williams, Eddy Arnold, Les Paul & Mary Ford, Ray Price, Webb Pierce, Hank Thompson, Kitty Wells, Slim Whitman, Marty Robbins, Faron Young, Sonny James, and Jim Reeves. Too, some of the specific songs are revered country classics, like Ford's "The Shot Gun Boogie," Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart," Wells' "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," Hank Thompson's "Wild Side of Life," Tex Ritter's "High Noon," the Davis Sisters' "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know," Darrell Glenn's "Crying in the Chapel," and Snow's "(Now and Then There's) A Fool Such As I" (the last two of which were later covered for pop hits by Elvis Presley). What really makes this a better-than-average package, however, is the sheer diversity of material on hand, from near-bluegrass and country boogie to primordial honky-tonk, hillbilly, and country-pop balladeering. The wealth of material also makes room for plenty of noteworthy cuts that have fallen into relative obscurity, like Arkie Shirley's "Hot Rod Race" (a country boogie that pointed toward rockabilly), Snow's Latin-tinged "The Rhumba Boogie," Moon Mullican's "Cherokee Boogie," Zeb Turner's silly "Chew Tobacco Rag" (which sounds like it just might have been an influence on early Bill Haley), the Carlisles' almost snide "Too Old to Cut the Mustard," the country swing of Goldie Hill's "I Let the Stars Get in My Eyes," Red Foley's bluesy "Midnight," and the ebullient proto-pop-rock of Bonnie Lou's "Seven Lonely Days." Maybe it's not the most comfortable fit for those trying to assemble a massive country collection without much overlap between albums, but if you just want a bushel of quality early-'50s country at one go, it's a good deal.
Artists, Young Gifted and Black (Trojan).
Along with the two-CD expanded edition of the soundtrack of The
They Come, this compilation -- also two CDs, and with a whopping 50
tracks -- is the best anthology of early reggae music. (In fact eight
appear on both compilations, though the duplication certainly isn't
Some more roots-oriented reggae fans might argue that the selection on
Gifted and Black is too obvious and too geared toward songs that
over into the pop charts. But for most general listeners, whether
reggae fans and elsewhere, this is simply a great collection of many of
the 1960s and 1970s reggae recordings that were both among the best and
most popular the style had to offer. Spanning 1960-78, it includes some
of the genre's biggest hits: Millie Small's "My Bob Lollipop," Desmond
Dekker's "Israelites," Johnny Nash's "Hold Me Tight," Jimmy Cliff's
World, Beautiful People," and Dave & Ansel Collins' "Double
There are also a number of tracks that were big pop hits in the UK,
not in the US: Bob & Marcia's cover of "Young, Gifted & Black,"
Max Romeo's controversial "Wet Dream," Greyhound's "Black and White"
same song made into an American smash by Three Dog Night), Judge
"Big Seven," and Susan Cadogan's delectable "Hurt So Good." And there
tunes that will be familiar to rock fans through covers, even if these
specific versions aren't: Dandy Livingstone's "Rudy, A Message to You,"
Eric Donaldson's "Cherry Oh Baby," the Paragons' "The Tide Is High,"
Junior Murvin's "Police & Thieves," for instance. That still leaves
room for look-ins at other major reggae performers (Bob Marley &
Wailers, the Maytals); good reggae covers of American pop and soul
and enough fine, relatively little-traveled tracks to ensure that
will hear something new and good they haven't come across before,
they're already a seasoned reggae collector.
ALBUM REVIEWS: A SELECTION OF RECENT RELEASES, WINTER 2004-2005:
Considering her meager (albeit appealing in their own way) vocal talents and the highly uneven quality of her releases, most such fans will be better off with an intelligently selected single-CD compilation, like The Best of Bardot, which focuses on her more pop-rock-oriented work and has all of her best interpretations of Serge Gainsbourg songs. The sporadic flashes of near-brilliance, mostly evident on the wilder late-'60s Gainsbourg collaborations -- particularly "Contact," "Harley Davidson," and "Bonnie and Clyde" -- make one wish that someone had possessed the vision to continue matching Bardot with such strong material. Yet there are some worthwhile, fun performances on here that don't always make the best-ofs, even if you have to swim through a bunch of her corny vaudevillian efforts (particularly in her early days) to get to them. Among those would be the sad, pretty ballads "Une Histoire de Plage" and "Un Jour Comme un Autre"; the faux mod go-go tune "Je Danse Donc Je Suis" (which translates to "I dance, therefore I am"); the breezy "Les Cheveux Dans Le Vent"; the almost sultry jazz-pop of "Les Hommes Endormis"; and the bouncy 1966 EP cut "Gang Gang," which has quite a few solid pop hooks that are almost reminiscent of the '66 Kinks, and would have a well-earned place on an average Bardot best-of comp. There's also the not-inconsiderable bonus of the 32-page booklet, even if you can't read the French notes, as it has a complete discography and is lushly illustrated with photos, many taken from rare picture sleeves.
Chris Farlowe, Handbags and Gladrags: The Immediate Collection (Castle). Zeroing in exclusively on his 1965-69 stint for Immediate Records, this is the best Farlowe anthology, with 27 songs and 77 minutes of music on a single CD. It was this era that saw Farlowe's only significant commercial success as a solo act, and the disc includes all half-dozen of his British chart singles (although only one of those, the chart-topping cover of the Rolling Stones' "Out of Time," was a truly big seller). It also has seven covers of Mick Jagger-Keith Richard songs (which were produced by Jagger as well), though all of these were done much better by the Rolling Stones themselves. To be harsh, as good value (and well-annotated) as this is, 27 songs might be too much for the more casual collector, some of the lesser tracks exposing Farlowe's weaknesses as a blustery blue-eyed soul singer. There are, however, some decent and overlooked cuts as well, like the original version of "Handbags and Gladrags" (though Rod Stewart's subsequent cover of the tune would become the definitive one), and the weirdly imaginative sitar-laden arrangement of the jazz standard "Moanin,'" which gave Farlowe a low-charting single. Too, some of the later efforts find Farlowe toning down his vocal excesses for some uncharacteristically gentle and effective numbers, like "Everyone Makes a Mistake" (which sounds quite a bit like early Rod Stewart), "Dawn," the folk-rockish "Paperman Fly in the Sky," and "The Last Goodbye" (penned by "Handbags and Gladrags" author Mike d'Abo). Odder items include "North South East West," co-written by Farlowe and Albert Lee, a one-time member of Farlowe's backing band; the soul ballad "Baby Make It Soon," co-written by Andrew Oldham and future Alan Parsons Project member Eric Woolfson; and a bizarre cover of Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," arranged to sound like (of all things) the Four Tops' "I Can't Help Myself."
Neil Innes, Taking Off/The Innes Book of Records (Hux). It may be that Neil Innes will always be most acclaimed for his work within the Bonzo Dog Band and the Rutles, particularly in the United States, where nothing else he's done has even gotten the cult audiences that those two bands did. His 1977 solo album Taking Off and its 1979 follow-up Book of Records (here paired together on one CD) might not be his best or funniest work, but they're certainly respectable efforts, even if they do tilt the focus away from his most riotous spoofs and toward his more conventional singer-songwriter talents. On each album, his skill for gently ribbing pastiches of a wide range of pop and rock styles is in abundance, though Taking Off (with fellow Rutle John Halsey doing some of the drums) is more musically satisfying. Taking Off covers a lot of ground in its slightly wacky tunes, from hoe-down country ("Crystal Balls," which opens with the memorable line "I got my hand up the skirt of Mother Nature") and gospel-rock ("God Is Love") to a moving ballad to an inflatable doll ("Randy Raquel), a cheery murder mini-epic ("Drama on a Saturday Night"), and easy listening pop ("La Vie en Rose"), as well as "Shangri-La," which was eventually redone in the 1990s on the Rutles' second album. It doesn't all border on satire, however; much of it's pleasingly melodic, if wry, observational-oriented pop-rock that shows Innes to be a pretty able fellow traveler in the steps of fellow British icons Ray Davies and Paul McCartney. While The Innes Book of Records is similar to Taking Off, it suffers a little in comparison, mostly due to a more mainstream, occasionally AOR-ish dated late-'70s production feel. It still has enjoyably affectionate, if low-key, knock-ups of late-'60s John Lennon-penned Beatles songs ("Montana Cafe" will find favor with Rutles admirers), lightly discofied '70s British pop ("Here We Go Again"), actual disco ("Amoeba Boogie," one of the least effective tracks), the British music hall, reggae ("Human Race"), Tin Pan Alley ("Spontaneous"), and Latin-lite easy listening ("Etcetera"). And there's still room for some pretty funny lyrics, a la "you're so spontaneous, please don't ever change."
Jefferson Airplane, Fly Jefferson Airplane [DVD] (Eagle Vision). This is a refreshingly straightforward, no-nonsense historical overview of Jefferson Airplane that, while not quite a documentary, sticks (unlike so many similar projects) to what the fans really want to see: complete archive clips of the band at their peak in 1966-70 (as well as "Embryonic Journey" from their Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in the 1990s), linked by interviews with band members. While some of this has circulated on other official and unofficial video releases, the dozen performances are first-rate. These include some rarely-seen items like a lip-synch of "It's No Secret" at the Fillmore Auditorium from August 1966 (with original woman singer Signe Anderson still in the lineup); a promo video-like collage of images to accompany "Martha," from a Perry Como television special; a New York City live rooftop blast through "House at Pooneil Corners," done for Jean-Luc Godard and D.A. Pennebaker's obscure film One P.M.; "Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil," done live at the Family Dog; and a promo film for "We Can Be Together." Strictly speaking some good footage doesn't make the cut, like "Today" from Monterey Pop and their segment from the 1970 Dutch festival documentary Stamping Ground. But what's here is fairly plentiful and plenty good, including versions of other of their most famous songs, like "Somebody to Love," "White Rabbit," "Crown of Creation," "Lather," and "Volunteers." The interviews -- conducted shortly before this 2004 release -- include comments by all six of the musicians in the Airplane's most famous lineup (Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, Jack Casady, Spencer Dryden, and Jorma Kaukonen), as well as brief snippets from Dryden's replacement, drummer Joey Covington. Those interviews aren't just window dressing intros -- they're fairly informative and entertaining, with comments on both crucial moments in the band's history and some of the specific clips, well-edited so that extraneous material is avoided (and if you find the alternation of music and talking heads distracting, the DVD gives you the option of just watching the performances). The bonus interviews include worthwhile segments on Bill Graham and their performances at the Woodstock and Altamont festivals, as well as brief chats with their light show operator Glenn McKay and engineer Maurice Ieraci. Liner notes by Jefferson Airplane biographer Jeff Tamarkin also provide useful context for the visuals.
Kenny Lynch, Nothing But the Real Thing (RPM). A couple dozen songs from 1960-69, all (with one exception) taken from Lynch's singles, are on this well-done retrospective of the minor British soul-pop singer. All of his '60s UK chart hits are here -- "Up on the Roof," "You Can Never Stop Me Loving You," "Stand By Me," "What Am I to You," "Puff (Up in Smoke)," "Mountain of Love," and "I'll Stay By You." There's also his weedy early-1963 version of "Misery," the first cover of a Beatles song ever to hit the market. In a way, it's a mini-catalog of some of the poppier styles of the British '60s scene, including American-style soul ("My Own Two Feet"); a Righteous Brothers near-imitation ("Movin' Away"); songs with obvious debts to the Bacharach-David school of composition; an obscure Gerry Goffin-Carole King cover ("The World I Used to Know"); and, weirdest of all, a detour into blues-rock that sounds like the early Rolling Stones trying to rewrite Chuck Berry's "Little Queenie" (on the 1963 B-side "Harlem Library"). At other points, there are echoes of the early-'60s Drifters, Phil Spector, Neil Diamond, and corny orchestrated pre-Beatles British pop-rock. And on the later sides, there's a growing measure of sophisticated soul, even laying on a tiny bit of bee-buzzing freaky psychedelic guitar on "Sweet Situation." What's it missing? Well, in a more conceptual sense, a strong musical identity: Lynch's voice is more versatile than distinctive, and though some of the songs are reasonably strong, none of them are really killer. In a specific collector-oriented sense, it by no means picks up all of his '60s output; the only other Lynch CD compilation, the probably-unauthorized 31-track The Very Best of...Kenny Lynch, has 19 songs that don't appear on Nothing But the Real Thing. Still, Nothing But the Real Thing covers Lynch's 1965-69 releases much more extensively (and also includes "Harlem Library," which The Very Best of...Kenny Lynch lacks). With better sound quality and good historical liner notes to boot, it's likely to remain the best Lynch compilation.
Bob Marley & the Wailers, Fy-ah, Fy-ah (JAD/Universal). Despite being encased in a handsome box set featuring a 16-page booklet decorated with nice graphics, the rambling liner notes and other documentation don't give a totally clear idea of when the 68 tracks on this three-CD package were recorded, or (less forgivably) a totally clear context of how they fit into Bob Marley & the Wailers' career. It's more important to enjoy vintage reggae than to get upset about the historical details, however, and all you really need to know is that this material was cut circa 1967-70, mostly for JAD (though there are a half-dozen sides identified as "Wail'n'Soul'm" versions, presumably indicating recordings done for their own Wail'n'Soul'm label). Most important of all, this is really first-rate early reggae music, from a juncture in the group's career that's been too ill-documented, despite having yielded much fine work. While relatively few of these songs will be familiar to many Marley/Wailers fans (an early version of "Stir It Up" and "Soul Rebel" being exceptions), it could be argued that at no other time did the band strike such an even balance between early reggae, lingering American soul influences, tender love songs, and stirring social consciousness. The production is for the most part pretty clear, and always lighter and more basic than the somewhat slicker recordings through which Marley and the Wailers would rise to international stardom in the 1970s. Sometimes there's even a mild pop touch, particularly as non-Jamaican musicians (including guitarist Eric Gale, drummer Bernard Purdie, and jazzman Hugh Masekela) play on some of the cuts. Too, there's a real sense of these singers being a true group, even if Marley wrote the lion's share of the tunes, as there's so much effective give-and-take vocal harmonies among the Wailers (with Rita Marley's voice frequently heard in the mix). There are too many quality songs to specifically cite in one or two paragraphs, but "How Many Times," "Gonna Get You," "Freedom Time," "Fire Fire," "Rocking Steady," "Hypocrites," "Can't You See," and "Mr. Chatterbox" are all among the outstanding ones. As for less expected covers, you have the Archies' "Sugar Sugar," the traditional spiritual "This Train," and pretty nice American pop-influenced tunes written by JAD's Jimmy Norman and his collaborators, while emerging Rastafarianism can be heard in "Selassie Is the Chapel." Eight "versions," less essential than the fully vocalized renditions but nice for collectors to have, fill out the CDs, the last of which ends with a demo of "One Love, True Love" and a "Dub Plate special" of "How Many Times."
The Move/The Small Faces, Colour Me Pop [DVD bootleg] (Silvertone). This probably unauthorized DVD is divided into two segments taken from late-'60s broadcasts on the British TV program Colour Me Pop, one devoted to the Small Faces, the other to the Move. Not a whole lot of Move footage has been seen since the group disbanded (particularly in the United States, where the band never had commercial success), so the availability of this disc is to be welcomed by Move fans, despite its imperfections. The only major flaw in the Move portion is the less-than-stellar image quality, though it's quite watchable and not a major distraction. Apparently taken from a single episode (as the group appears in the same clothes throughout), a guess would place this in early 1969, as one of the songs they play is their big British hit "Blackberry Way" (which made its splash around that time), and as the lineup is the quartet of Carl Wayne, Roy Wood, Bev Bevan, and Trevor Burton, original member Ace Kefford having departed. The stage presentation is straightforward, and not as flashy as some might expect; some earlier Move clips that have surfaced are more kinetic and colorful. But as compensation, the set is live, not lip-synced, allowing us to focus on the band proving themselves as a very capable concert unit. There are some mild surprises that wouldn't be evident from just being familiar with their records: their considerable skill at doing sophisticated three-part harmonies live, the occasional burst of lead vocals from unheralded bassist Burton, and the full sound they achieve with just Wood's guitar, Burton's bass, and Bevan's drums (though Wayne does play guitar on "The Christian Life"). The songs include some of their biggest hits ("Blackberry Way," "I Can Hear the Grass Grow," "Flowers in the Rain," "Fire Brigade") and better non-hits ("Beautiful Daughter" and a very Byrds-y cover of Tom Paxton's "The Last Thing on My Mind"), though "Blackberry Way" audibly suffers from the loss of the mellotron in the recorded version. Probably of most interest to the committed Move fan are a couple of songs they didn't put on their official releases, those being covers of "The Christian Life" and "Goin' Back," almost certainly based on the arrangements the Byrds used when they covered those numbers themselves on late-'60s albums. As for the Small Faces' part of the DVD, incidentally, while the content (the band playing much of their Ogden's Nut Gone Flake album live on Colour Me Pop in June 1968, complete with narration by Stan Unwin}) is enticing, both the image and sound are lamentably rather poor -- far more so than they are for the Move's performance on the same DVD.
The Pilgrims, Telling Youth...The Truth (LRL). Here's a real curiosity of the British Invasion: a band who sound much like hundreds if not thousands of third-string groups in England from the mid-1960s, with one crucial difference -- all the lyrics are of a devout Christian religious nature. Christian-themed rock groups of subsequent eras would often be musically mild and mainstream in stance, but that's not the case with the Pilgrims, who play in a pretty raw, R&B-influenced style on most of these 21 tracks. Recorded between 1962 and 1967 (in fairly primitive circumstances judging from the demo nature of the fidelity), they hover somewhere between amateurism and professionalism, though they're closer to professionalism. Most often they favor the early Rolling Stones-Pretty Things-ish styled of heavily blues-R&B-influenced British Invasion rock with a naive flavor, in the mold of countless obscure English bands of the time, though some of the material has a strong Merseybeat feel, and what sound like the very earliest recordings have a pre-Beatles Joe Meek-ish vibe. It's actually not at all bad -- and not as derivative (though it is pretty derivative) as some archival releases from UK bands with similar influences, as all the material's original. It's not all that great or remarkable either, and while the lyrics -- usually urging putting one's life in the hands of God and Jesus -- are certainly different for this particular thing, they're just as repetitive (and in some respects clumsy) as the basic love-centered lyrics by the standard struggling garage band of the era. Indeed, one's so much more accustomed to hearing lyrics about girls and young love by these kind of bands that the incessant use of words about the Christian faith is kind of jarring.
The Rascals, Come On Up [DVD bootleg] (Silvertone). Footage of the Rascals isn't too easy to come by except in bits and pieces. So this probably-not-above-board compilation of 1965-69 television clips is nice to see, even if the image quality and transfer aren't always up to accepted minimal industry standards. The 20 performances include (sometimes in multiple versions) some of their biggest hits, like "Good Lovin'," "People Got to Be Free," "Groovin'," "I've Been Lonely Too Long," and "A Girl Like You." There are also less celebrated tunes like "I Ain't Gonna Eat My Heart Out Anymore" (the earliest clip, from Hullabaloo in 1965), "Come On Up," "Heaven," "Love Is a Beautiful Thing," and covers of "Since I Fell for You" and "Slow Down." Visually, you get to see them change from the uniformed knickers-wearing, just-off-the-New York club-circuit combo to a far more hirsute psychedelic image, though the music always remains soulful. It's a mixture of mimed and more exciting genuinely live performances, making plain some aspects of the group that aren't immediately evident just from hearing their records, like Dino Danelli's muscular drumming, Eddie Brigati and Gene Cornish's excellent vocal harmonies, and (in some brief interview segments) their heavy New York spoken accents. Unfortunately the image quality is erratic: the Hullabaloo segments, for instance, are excellent, while others are somewhat marred by shakiness and garish color transfer. It's all watchable, however, the audio coming through better than the video.
The Staple Singers, The Ultimate Staple Singers: A Family Affair (Kent). Considering what a long, popular, and respected career the Staple Singers had, it's surprising that there was no comprehensive compilation prior to this 2004 release that spanned their gospel and soul eras, from the 1950s to the 1980s. You can count on the Ace group of labels to do these things right, however, and this two-CD, 44-song set is a very good summary of their career highlights, even if it inevitably can't include all of their outstanding performances. All of their big soul hits are here, naturally, but what makes this especially available is the presence of much material predating their hookup with Stax in the late 1960s. The earliest recording goes all the way back to 1953, and the first half or so of disc one is all pre-Stax, with gospel sides from the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s for various labels, including "This May Be the Last Time" (which famously helped inspire the Rolling Stones' "The Last Time"), "Uncloudy Day," and their cover of Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's a Gonna Fall." Their transition from gospel to soul on Epic in the mid-1960s is also represented by a handful of sides, including Pop Staples' "Why (Am I Treated So Bad)" and their low-charting cover of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth." And while their Stax era is understandably covered with far greater depth than any other, some relatively little-known worthy efforts from that period are here alongside the hits. There are, for instance, socially conscious "message songs" such as "The Ghetto," "Long Walk to DC," "When Will We Be Paid for the Work We Did," and "Who Took the Merry Out of Christmas"; unreleased solo sides by Pop Staples and Mavis Staples; and a remix of their "Oh La De Da" single that removes the fake audience noise. A few post-Stax tracks with slicker production are here too (among them their huge 1975 hit "Let's Do It Again"), and while it could be argued that a few more pre-Stax numbers would have been more artistically satisfying, it does round off the documentation of this major group's work, augmented by a detailed history in the 28-page booklet.
Charlie Tweddle, Fantastic Greatest Hits (Companion). Recorded in 1971 and originally released in 1974 in a small pressing of 500 copies (and credited to "Eilrahc Elddewt," i.e. Charlie Tweddle spelled backwards), this mighty eccentric acid folk rarity was reissued on CD thirty years later, complete with a half-dozen previously unreleased bonus tracks cut between 1971 and 1973. Coming perilously close to the "outsider" or at least "incredibly strange music" categories, it's a little like a combination of Wild Man Fischer, busking Bob Dylan imitators, the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, and the Holy Modal Rounders. Even that doesn't quite do it justice, as it's pocked with the idiosyncrasy (and low fidelity) of many a vanity pressing. Tweddle comes across as a hippiefied country-folk yokel, not as talentless as the worst such singers you'll come across strumming to themselves and passerby in public parks, but not one possessed of conventionally pleasing songwriting or singing abilities either. At times it's like hearing an unwitting self-satire of burnt-out '60s counterculture folk minstrelsy, the eight tracks from the original LP (all are untitled) not so much songs as scraps without beginnings and ends. To the somewhat dissonant clamor are added almost random but in-their-way-goofily-inspired sound effects, whether of pinging sliding guitar notes, animal noises, crickets, ocean waves, and way-too-long pauses between tracks. There are some (not many) bursts of amusing wordplay, though, particularly in the fifth track (it's untitled, remember), where Tweddle declares, "I love Lucy, she's so fat and juicy, like a hog in the mud," pig-like snorts added for emphasis. It's but a warm-up for the weirdness of the 22-minute (untitled, need we remind you) track that originally took up all of side two, starting off with an atom-bomb like explosion and consisting mostly of chirping crickets, with occasional snatches of acid-folk song and other oddments. In its own manner it's an interesting soundtrack to the more acid-fried underbelly remnants of the psychedelic community, though it's leaner on genuine talent and inspiration than period ambience. If weirdness is what you want, though, the six bonus tracks -- some, but not all, also untitled! -- offer more of it, the drawling country-folk continuing to fall between naivete and ineptitude, dressed up by more effects like crow calls, thunderstorms, and muted heartbeats.
The Velvelettes, The Motown Anthology (Motown). For a group that only released a handful of singles (and no albums) during their time with Motown, and never had a truly big hit, the Velvelettes sure recorded a lot of material if you count all the unreleased tracks they laid down for the label. This two-CD set is the proof, presenting not just most of their scant body of previously released Motown sides (some of which didn't see the light of day for decades), but also no less than 32 cuts that make their first appearance here (although half a dozen of these are just alternate versions, alternate mixes, or stereo versions). Does the availability of all this stuff redefine their legacy? Nope -- it, like prior Velvelettes compilations, solidifies their standing as a decent but second-string Motown group, although it's a goldmine of discovery for the serious Motown collector. Though the Velvelettes really weren't much different than the Supremes or the Marvelettes in the caliber of their talents, and they recorded songs by several of the best Motown songwriters, they just didn't get those special classic tunes that would have vaulted them over the hump.
Nevertheless some of those unreleased tracks penned by the likes of Mickey Stevenson, Norman Whitfield, Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland, Clarence Paul, and Barrett Strong are fun to hear, particularly the earlier ones from the 1963-64 era, which are good if slightly cookie-cutter slices of the classic early Motown sound as it found its feet. The recordings, whether released at the time or not, did get a little more generic as time went on -- perhaps the label's hopes for the group were flagging in the absence of a breakthrough smash. Padding out the anthology are some peripheral but interesting oddities, including five previously unissued live songs from a February 1964 concert that (in common with some other early live Motown relics) have a rawer, grittier edge than most of what the label cut in the studio. Yet more offbeat are four French-language numbers (including translations of Holland-Dozier-Holland's "You Lost the Sweetest Boy" and Smokey Robinson's "As Long As I Know He's Mine") that likewise find their first release here.
Note, however, that as comprehensive as this double CD is, it doesn't quite round up everything the Velvelettes ever released, as two of their best singles, "He Was Really Sayin' Somethin'" and "Lonely Lonely Girl Am I," are represented only by previously unavailable alternate versions, rather than the ones that appeared on the original 45s. Of course the fanatic collectors will welcome these, but as "He Was Really Sayin' Somethin'" is one of the only two Velvelettes songs the non-Motown specialist is likely to be familiar with (the other being the small hit "Needle in a Haystack"), it seems odd to include the alternate. Why not put on the official standard versions of those two songs as well? It's all the more reason to stick with a basic single-CD Velvelettes anthology, such as 1999's The Very Best of the Velvelettes, unless you're a serious devotee of the Motown sound.
Various Artists, Cambodian Cassette Archives: Khmer Folk and Pop Music Vol. 1 (Sublime Frequencies). Pol Pot's horrific regime in Cambodia wreaked destruction in multiple directions, including irreparable damage to the country's culture and musical heritage, as well as the loss of so many lives. It's sadly appropriate, then, that this compilation of Cambodian pop music, spanning the 1960s through the 1990s, had to be pieced together from more than 150 cassettes (described as "ravaged" in the liner notes) found in the Asian branch of the Oakland, CA public library. Though some of this was recorded in Cambodia before Pol Pot's ascension, much of it was likely done from the 1970s onward by expatriates in the United States and other countries (the presence of synthesizers on some cuts makes it pretty certain that they don't predate the '70s). Here is one case where you really can excuse the lack of documentation in a historical archive release: artists are known for only two of the twenty tracks, and even more than half of the song titles are unknown. Despite the mystery surrounding who made this music where (and the inescapably subpar, erratic sound quality), it's an interesting and, to an admittedly variable degree, fun anthology that captures different admixtures of Western pop-rock with more indigenous Cambodian influences. For Western listeners, much of the interest lies in the sheer novelty of hearing unfamiliar collisions, with melodramatic Cambodian vocals, melodies, and operatic orchestration charged by raw psychedelic guitar, cheesy organ, and fusion-like horns. Some of the later-sounding recordings suffer a little from mechanical synths and percussion, though even then there are some intriguing combinations, like "Sat Tee Touy (Look at the Owl)," which sounds a little like Fairport Convention gone disco. It gets even more unpredictable than that, with one sadly untitled, uncredited number (it's track #11 on the CD) fusing girl-group-inflected singing, British Invasion-type melodic drive, hi-life horns, and upper-register nasal vocal tone in quite invigorating fashion. Though we can probably never come close to documenting late-twentieth century Cambodian pop with any reasonable thoroughness, this unusual reissue captures at least a slice of it, performing a valuable artistic and musical service.
Various Artists, Gene Vincent Cut Our Songs: Primitive Texas Rockabilly & Honky Tonk (Ace). In the small East Texas town of Mineola in the 1950s, songwriter Jack Rhodes -- most known for writing material that Gene Vincent covered on his early recordings, as well as penning the country/pop standards "A Satisfied Mind" and "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" -- operated a demo studio in the hotel he ran. Specialized even by rockabilly collecting standards, this CD assembles 30 such recordings Rhodes made circa the mid-to-late 1950s, only four of which actually found release on singles at the time; all of the others came out for the first time on this disc. Yes, it's crude (and pretty crudely recorded, for the most part) and, to a point, generic rockabilly, some of the songs straddling that awkward bridge between honky-tonk and rockabilly itself. Yet it's also more interesting than the average obscure rockabilly anthology, for several reasons. First off, those two singles that actually did get released in the '50s include two highly sought-after, highly regarded items: Elroy Dietzel's "Rock-n-Bones" (covered in a more frenetic version by rockabilly great Ronnie Dawson, and then much later by the Cramps) and Jimmy Johnson's yet rarer original version of "Woman Love," which became the flipside of Gene Vincent's "Be-Bop-a-Lula" a few months later. Second, the unreleased stuff includes demos (all by really uncelebrated singers) of a few other songs that Vincent and Dawson later recorded, among them "Bi-Bickey-Bi, Bo-Bo-Boo" (redone by Vincent as "Bi-I-Bickey-Bi, Bo-Bo Go"); "Git It," "Five Days, Five Days," and "Red Blue Jeans and a Pony Tail," also cut by Vincent; and "Action Packed," which became one of Dawson's greatest songs. Third, the tracks themselves have a raw homespun quality, often with the tentative clumsiness of country musicians who aren't quite able to adapt to the rockabilly trend.
Though some of these tunes were picked up by Vincent, and others sound rather like the kind of thing that Vincent recorded in his early sessions, it's easy enough to tell why none of these singers became Gene Vincent: they lacked the youthful ebullience and recklessness via which Vincent, Dawson, and other similar talents transformed hillbilly into rock'n'roll. Play Jimmy Johnson's "Woman Love" and Don Carter's "Bi-Bickey-Bi, Bo-Bo-Boo" back-to-back with Vincent's far wilder versions, and it's like hearing the grandfather on the porch throw away his cane and get magically rejuvenated by the fountain of youth. That doesn't mean that these recordings don't have their own rustic country-blues-honky tonk charm, even if it's rather like hearing guys who can see the promised land but aren't quite up to storming its gates to demand entrance. Plus, not all of the demos lack pure rockabilly energy: Johnny Fallin in particular has genuine fire, and recorded with a band including a couple of latter-day members of Gene Vincent's Bluecaps. Add on Rob Finnis' quite absorbing liner notes, and it's like getting a fly-on-the-wall glimpse into the kind of backroom to the music business to which few outsiders ever gain access.
Various Artists, The Story of Treasure Isle (Metro). The story of the Treasure Isle company, which was crucial to the early days of reggae in Jamaica, is so extensive that it can't be comprehensively told in two CDs. Barring a multi-volume retrospective series, however, this double-CD -- with 52 tracks from the 1960s and 1970s, and about two hours and twenty minutes of music -- is a pretty good way to sample highlights of its extensive catalog, even if there might be room for argument on what tracks were selected. Several big names of the ska, rock steady, and early reggae era are here, including Alton Ellis, Phyllis Dillon, U Roy, the Skatalites, Justin Hinds & the Dominoes, and the Paragons (one of whose five tracks is the original version of "The Tide Is High," famously covered by Blondie). There are a lot of less renowned artists too, but there's little if any gap in quality between their offerings and those of their more famous labelmates. Whatever's playing, it's generally superior early reggae/ska/ rocksteady of varying stripes, spreading its wings from early ska instrumentals to rocksteady ballads with lovely soul-influenced harmonies and eccentric reggae covers of rock and pop hits like Stephen Stills' "Love the One You're With," the Beatles' "Blackbird" (here retitled "Blackbirds Singing" by the Paragons), and "Angel of the Morning." The program's large enough that singling out highlights depends very much on personal taste. But solid candidates for nuggets that haven't gotten the audience they deserve might include the Paragons' haunting "On the Beach"; Phyllis Dillon's "Woman of the Ghetto," where you can hear the social conscience that would help define modern reggae start to creep in; the risque soul of the same singer's "Don't Touch Me Tomato"; Errol Dunkley's sweetly despondent "Where Must I Go"; and Alton Ellis' self-explanatory "Rocksteady."
Various Artists, Unearthed Merseybeat Vol. 2 (Viper). Like its predecessor, this second volume of "unearthed Merseybeat" is truly archeological in its excavation of 1961-66 Liverpool-area rock. It's not just obscure; it's wholly unreleased, all twenty of the tracks seeing the official light of day for the first time here. Despite the presence of a few name bands (Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Swinging Blue Jeans, the Merseybeats), it should be emphasized that this really is for serious collectors: the sound quality is sometimes rough, there are an abundance of cover versions of early American rock'n'roll songs, and nothing here is on the level of the best Merseybeat music, whether by the Beatles, Searchers, or lesser lights. Too, it's not even quite as good as volume one of the series, in part because of the presence of a number of so-so cover versions, in part because volume one likely creamed off the very best unreleased Merseybeat there is to be found.
Nevertheless, it's a reasonably fun listen, and serious historians will relish the chance to hear those early recordings by Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Swinging Blue Jeans, and the Merseybeats in particular, as all of those tracks predate anything these bands released. Gerry Marsden and his boys are represented by a brace of 1961 cuts, those being a cover of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and the Marsden original "Why Oh Why," both recorded at a church hall; the Swinging Blue Jeans by live 1961 covers of Duane Eddy's "40 Miles of Bad Road" and the Ventures' "Walk Don't Run"; and the Merseybeats by home-recorded 1962 Everly Brothers tunes. The only other group most British Invasion fans might be likely to recognize are Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Ringo Starr's pre-Beatles band, though Ringo was long gone by the time they did the 1965 version of Carl Perkins' "Lend Me Your Comb" here. While most of the rest serves as evidence of the naive energy '60s Merseybeat outfits brought to rock'n'roll, what's missing, for the most part, is the outstanding original material that made the early recordings by the Beatles and some others from the region so significant. The welcome exceptions are the two mid-1960s numbers by the Kirkbys, which show them to be solid followers of the harmony-laden sounds of the Searchers and early Beatles.
Various Artists, Where Will You Be Christmas Day? (Dust-to-Digital). A holiday compilation with a difference, this assembles a couple dozen Christmas-themed recordings from 1917-1959 that represent roots music of all stripes -- blues, gospel, early jazz, early country, Appalachian folk, and even some ethnic sounds of Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Italy, and Ukraine. There are some pretty famous names here, like Leadbelly, Bessie Smith, and Lightnin' Hopkins, as well as some not-as-famous but still pretty renowned artists like Rev. J.M. Gates, Buell Kazee, and the Maddox Brothers and Rose. Yet as was the case on the Dust-to-Digital label's extraordinary six-CD box set of 1902-60 spirituals, Goodbye Babylon, there are a host of names here that will be known almost exclusively to serious old-time music collectors. That in itself makes this a pretty interesting and offbeat Christmas anthology. But even if you care nothing for rare record values, it's certainly rawer, more heartfelt, and just more musically interesting than the vast majority of what you'll find in the holiday bin. It's also a reminder of a time when Christmas discs could be relatively joyful and sincere expressions of religion and merrymaking, rather than just excuses to make a quick buck by cashing in on the time of the season. It makes for superior roots music listening whether you're in the holiday spirit or not, but some of the better tracks to keep an ear out for include the Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Singers' jovial Dixieland jazz-style "Christ Was Born on Christmas Morn," with its thrilling high female background vocal swoops; Leadbelly's highly rhythmic, infectiously joyous "Christmas Is a-Coming"; the exuberant early calypso of Lord Executor's "Christmas Is a Joyful Day"; the shuffling flamenco-like verve of Los Jibaros' "Decimas de Nacimiento"; and the electric blues of Lightnin' Hopkins' "Happy New Year," which verges on rock'n'roll. Being a single-CD compilation, the packaging isn't as elaborate as other Dust-to-Digital productions like Goodbye Babylon, but it's typically thoughtful, with a Christmas card-sized booklet of liner notes, coaster, and postcard. Note, also, how the tracks are sequenced almost like a chronological celebration of holiday themes, starting with Vera Hall Ward's "The Last Month of the Year," moving on through Leadbelly's "Christmas Is a-Coming" and Kansas City Kitty's "Christmas Morning Blues," and wrapping up with Hopkins' "Happy New Year." The four-star rating given this album is for its general musical value; judged by the standards of Christmas/holiday releases, it easily rates the full five stars.
The Mayor of the Sunset Strip [DVD] (First Look Entertainment). As a theatrical release, The Mayor of the Sunset Strip was a fine and creative documentary of Los Angeles radio personality and omnipresent rock'n'roll scenester Rodney Bingenheimer. The DVD version takes full advantage of the extras that can be loaded onto documentary films in this format, with two commentary tracks (each of which has two commentators) and around two hours of outtakes. Like many such DVDs, however, it can be fairly stated that you'll need to be really into the film (or, perhaps, a serious student of the documentary process itself) to enjoy all of the bonus material, though of course it's laudable that it's all there to partake of at one's discretion. One of the commentary tracks features director George Hickenlooper and editor/co-producer Julie Janata, and some viewers might be disappointed that it seldom actually discusses the on-screen action over which their voices are talking. It does have a great deal of information, accessibly given, as to how the documentary was conceived and filmed, and as to how the director views his subject; it just might have been easier to appreciate as a printed Q&A interview than as an audio track over the film itself, that's all. More entertaining, though perhaps not more insightful, is the track with commentary by one of the movie's producers, Chris Carter, and Bingenheimer himself. This has far more direct observations about individual scenes, and while some of their notes can be trivial, overall their repartee is fun to experience, even if Bingenheimer doesn't seem fully cognizant of the ironies in his life that the film reflects. The outtake footage mixes unused interviews (usually with celebrity friends of Bingenheimer's, not with Rodney himself) and cinema verite shots of Bingenheimer going about his business. While there are occasional moments on par with the main film -- like Lance Loud remembering how he pestered Andy Warhol with letters until the great man responded by anonymously divulging his phone number -- actually it emphasizes, whether inadvertently or not, how astute the filmmakers were in the editing and selection of material to use. Much of the interview banter in the outtakes is extraneous (though some of the more serious discussions, like the one with Alice Cooper, are more worthwhile), and the shots of Bingenheimer wandering around concerts backstage and hobnobbing in group photos are sometimes downright dull to sit through. None of this should diminish the considerable value of the main feature, which is not only vastly entertaining to rabid rock'n'roll fans for its mixture of Bingenheimer coverage and rare vintage star footage. It's also a wry, multi-level portrait of celebrity; how a man can rise to celebrity by surrounding himself with celebrity; and how the life of such a man can remain unfulfilled and impenetrable in many respects, no matter how many photo ops he's taken with stars over several generations.
Wattstax [DVD] (Warner Brothers). Sub-billed as a "30th Anniversary Special Edition," the 2004 DVD release of Wattstax restored to circulation the film based around the 1972 Wattstax concert, mixing musical footage with scenes from the African-American Watts community and Richard Pryor comic routines. The DVD version is a notable improvement on previous prints on several scores. The soundtrack has been remastered into Dolby 5.1 digital, but of greater importance, the original director's cut has been used. Actually this doesn't change the movie much, but there's one crucial difference. Legal reasons prevented the use of Isaac Hayes' concert sequence, including "Theme from 'Shaft'" and "Soulsville," in the original release, where a different song ("Rolling Down the Mountain") filmed on a soundstage to mimic the Wattstax environment had to be substituted. Now "Theme from 'Shaft'" is back where it belongs (complete with an introduction by Jesse Jackson), as well as "Soulsville"; the "Rolling Down the Mountain" is still present, too, though only as one of the supplementary extras.
The main bonus features are the two commentary tracks, one featuring Chuck D of Public Enemy and soul historian Rob Bowman, the other quite a multitude of voices, among them Isaac Hayes; Stax executive Al Bell; director Mel Stuart; cameramen; Little Milton; and members of the Bar-Kays, Soul Children, and Temprees. The commentaries are worthwhile and informative, but might occasionally frustrate some viewers in that there's actually not too much direct observation of the on-screen action. The Bowman-Chuck D track focuses on the musical and social significance of the event, with some rather long pauses at times. The other track is more centered on first-hand memories of Stax and the Wattstax concert, with the use of so many commentators necessitating a pseudo-narrator that briefly identifies each voice prior to most of the observations; it's a necessary device, perhaps, but doesn't lend itself to the smoothest of flows. Other, less interesting extras include a longer clip of Albert King's song from the film, "I'll Play the Blues for You" (though this version still doesn't seem absolutely complete), and trailers for both the original 1973 release and the 2003 special edition theatrical re-release. Altogether it's still a rich viewing experience, both for the opportunity to see some '70s soul performers in their prime, and for the film's presentation of a slice of African-American urban life of the era. -- Richie Unterberger
PRESS BUTTON BELOW FOR MORE ALBUM REVIEWS, FROM 2000-2009:
HOME WHAT'S NEW MUSIC BOOKS MUSIC REVIEWS TRAVEL BOOKS
LINKS ABOUT THE AUTHOR SITE MAP EMAIL RICHIE BUY BOOKS