The Doors, Live in Philadelphia (Rhino
Handmade/Bright Midnight). One of several concerts from which 1970's
official live Doors album Absolutely
Live was sourced is offered in
its entirety on this double CD of a May 1, 1970 show, available through
the Internet only. Like Absolutely
Live, it finds the band in a
loosey-goosey state that drifts close to sloppiness, albeit with an
engaging tipsy humor. Except for a few obligatory staples ("Light My
Fire," "Break on Through," "Roadhouse Blues"), the group seemed
determined not to play overly familiar tunes, even reaching back on
occasion to their bar band days as a poor man's Rolling Stones for B.B.
King ("Rock Me Baby"), Elvis Presley ("Mystery Train"), and Chuck Berry
("Carol") covers. Most of the tracks are previously unreleased, and
it's not all hits or covers, the setlist including such relatively
little-traveled songs as "Ship of Fools," "Universal Mind," and "Maggie
M'Gill." Certainly Jim Morrison's in a lewd'n'bluesy mood, and for a
guy with obscenity charges hanging over his head (from the group's
infamous 1969 Miami concert), he lets it all hang out with surprisingly
graphic recklessness on "Rock Me Baby" -- could anyone have
doubted what "you feel so wet...let me slide inside" really
meant? In common with most of the limited-edition releases the Doors
have made available from their archive, this isn't up to the standards
of their official catalog, even the relatively loose ones of Absolutely Live. But it's a good
souvenir for committed fans, with
much better sound than the usual bootlegs of the Doors from this era,
though it's curious the material is split into a lengthy 76-minute CD
on disc one and a mere 26-minute CD on disc two.
Bob Dylan, Live/Finjan Club, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, July 2, 1962 (Yellow Dog). There are a number of live Bob Dylan recordings from 1962, and now that some of them have been officially issued (particularly on Live at the Gaslight 1962), this July 2, 1962 Montreal performance might not be considered the first place to look for such material. But if you do have a deep interest in Dylan, and particularly the Dylan of this era, this is recommended further listening. The sound quality is pretty clear, and almost up to the level you'd want from an official release. The eleven-song set includes a few Dylan originals, among them such relatively little-traveled ones as "The Death of Emmett Till," "Quit Your Lowdown Ways," and "Let Me Die in My Footsteps," as well as an early performance of "Blowin' in the Wind" (here memorably introduced as a kind of song that says "a little more than I love you and you love me, and let's go over to the banks of Italy and raise a happy family, you for me and me for you"). While there are other versions of some of the traditional folk and blues tunes on other Dylan bootlegs, "Rocks and Gravel," "Stealin'," Muddy Waters' "Two Trains Runnin'" (mistakenly listed on some bootlegs as a Dylan composition called "Still a Fool"), Robert Johnson's "Ramblin' on My Mind," and "Muleskinner Blues" (albeit a chaotic version where he stops, starts, and changes keys several times) are likewise not exactly among the more familiar items in Dylan's early repertoire, and interesting to hear in part for that reason alone. The main reason to listen to this CD, however, is the performance itself, in which Dylan sings and plays with commanding passion and sensitivity, at a time when he was both finding his feet as a composer and still maintaining deep roots in traditional folk music.
The Five Du-Tones, Shake a Tail Feather: The Complete One-Derful! Recordings (Shout). Though the Five-Du Tones did some subsequent recordings for other labels, their key output is contained in the sides they cut from the One-Derful label between 1963-66. All of that material is contained on this 22-track compilation, including not only all of the sides from their singles for the company, but also four songs that didn't surface until they surfaced on an obscure Japanese LP more than a decade after they were cut. Their only hit, "Shake a Tail Feather," is here, of course, and there's no getting around the conclusion that it's by far their best record. Still, the rest of the CD does contain its share of fun, wiggly dance tunes that helped bridge the gap between doo wop and soul music, with the occasional more serious romantic number thrown in. Most comparable to the Contours of "Do You Love Me" fame (and, as Clive Richardson's liner notes rightly point out, the Rivingtons and the early Isley Brothers, though more distantly), the Five Du-Tones had a roughly similar knack for putting wacky, at times almost slapabout humor into their uptempo dance discs. The fairly uproarious "Chicken Astronaut" -- about a spaceman who's too scared to go to the moon, yelping to be let out of his rocket so he can go back to earth and party instead -- is certainly the highlight, aside from "Shake a Tail Feather" itself. Much of the rest of it veers to the novelty side, without songs of the same strength. The group's zany playing-the-fool humor is unflaggingly spirited, though, and a few numbers (like the jazzy "Nobody But My Baby" and the smoochy ballad "Mountain of Love") show they could be skilled straight soul singers when the mood took them.
Grimms, Sleepers (Hux). Grimms' third and final album was done without some of the founding members, Mike McGear and Vivian Stanshall having departed, although Neil Innes, Roger McGough, and John Gorman remained aboard. Andy Roberts (perhaps better known for his early-1970s folk-rock-oriented singer-songwriter recordings) was on hand to give the comedy-rock group some more conventional musicality, and it was decided to fill the LP solely with musical tracks, although the two prior Grimms albums had mixed those with spoken word pieces. Sleepers was a commendably humorous collection of pastiches and send-ups of numerous musical genres, though it fell short of being as uproarious as the funniest efforts of the musicians (and of Innes in particular). Among the styles satirized were heavy progressive rock ("The Worst Is Yet to Come," where the grim prophesy is interrupted by happy-go-lucky whistling); white-boy blues-rock ("Blackest of Blues"); folk music (a warping of "House of the Rising Sun" that makes explicit what naughtiness goes on there); easygoing country-rock ("Sing Me That Song"); Beach Boys-styled retro rock ("Backbreaker," whose heroine is "pretty as a rose, if you disagree she'll smash her nose")and chin-up countercultural anthems ("Slaves of Freedom"). Though more a record that grows on you rather than one that sends you into giggles, its understated silliness is nicely complemented by accomplished musicianship.
The 2006 CD reissue on Hux adds historical liner notes and eleven bonus tracks, many of them taken from a work tape prepared by Innes, McGough, Gorman, and Roberts shortly in advance of recording the official album. Though not as sophisticated production-wise, these bonus cuts are nearly as witty and enjoyable as those on the Sleepers LP, including not only early versions of four tracks from the record, but also a number of songs that didn't make the final selection. Among the highlights of those is Innes' folk busk "Crystal Balls" (with its opening line "I've got my hand up the skirt of Mother Nature"), a desecration of the Beatles' "She's Leaving Home," and, most interestingly, an early version of the 1964 Beatles pastiche "I Must Be in Love," which Innes would use shortly afterward for his classic Rutles project.
The Kingston Trio, The Kingston Trio Story: Wherever We May Go [DVD] (Shout Factory). Combining excerpts from many vintage 1950s/1960s film clips/performances and interviews with the Kingston Trio's Bob Shane, John Stewart, and Nick Reynolds (original member Dave Guard having died years before this DVD was made), this is a fine documentary of the most successful folk group of its era (if not <I>any</I) era). The disc's hour-long breezily paced principal feature has excerpts of TV and concert presentations of most of their hits, although "The Reverend Mr. Black" somehow doesn't make it, and a few (though not many) of the performances are from post-1970 clips with different or reunion versions of the band, not their classic '50s/'60s lineups. The '50s/'60s clips in particular present a zany, comic energy that didn't always come through as strongly on their records, and even if it seems a little dated and corny several decades later, it does help explain their enormous in-person appeal. Unfortunately, the interview segments with Reynolds (showing effects of a stroke) are less extensive than those with Shane and Stewart, but gaps are filled in by comments from Reynolds' son, Kingston Trio biographer William J. Bush, and celebrities such as Al Jardine of the Beach Boys and Tom Smothers. There may not be many revelations for those familiar with the group's career, but it's a well-done general survey, with occasional surprising bits like Jardine's admission that the Beach Boys' early striped-shirt look was inspired by the Kingston Trio; a clip of the relatively obscure "Raspberries, Strawberries" that showcases the sweetest side of their three-part harmonies; tantalizingly brief clips of the group doing a 7 Up commercial and a pilot for a TV series (Young Men in a Hurry), featuring the Stewart lineup playing fictional characters, that never aired; and even a very brief scene from the Australian TV series Dave Guard hosted after leaving the group, Dave's Place.
Some viewers might feel the documentary skips over the basic details of their career a little lightly, but if you want more detail, a lot's provided by no less than about 90 minutes or so of bonus features. While it's true these are more for the dedicated fan than the viewer looking for an entertaining, concise history, these segments are not at all superfluous, though they emphasize talking heads more than the main documentary does. One section has the ex-members and others discussing the specific stories behind numerous of their more celebrated songs; another goes into their sound, personalities, and image in some depth; another profiles their manager, Frank Werber. Some very interesting interview subjects and vintage clips not in the principle feature show up in these supplemental sections, including scenes from the Hollywood film adaptation of "Tom Dooley" and a quirky juke box jury program in which four young adults explain why they think "Raspberries, Strawberries" will be a substantial hit (though it wasn't). There are even three of their original, reasonably amusing 7 Up commercials in their entirety. The part on obsessed Kingston Trio fans (some of whom even go to a Kingston Trio "fantasy camp" that allows them to meet and play with surviving ex-members) will be too much for even many committed admirers of the group, but fortunately the DVD doesn't go any more overboard than that.
Ramsey Lewis, The In Crowd Anthology (UM3/Island). A two-CD anthology of Ramsey Lewis' Chess recordings might seem excessive, but considering how much material he cut for the label in the 1960s, this set is actually fairly selective. Certainly it's good value, with 39 tracks and a running time of two hours and twenty minutes. As for consistency of style and quality, that's another matter, though generally it's a worthwhile summary of highlights from the prime of a rare '60s instrumental musician who combined jazz, R&B, and pop with considerable commercial success. While none of this could be categorized as raw or earthy, some of the tracks (particularly on disc one) are fairly gutsy R&B-jazz fusions, particularly the hits "The 'In' Crowd" and "Wade in the Water" (his two other Top Forty singles, "Hang on Sloopy" and "A Hard Day's Night," are also here). On the other hand, the covers of pop-rock hits (including several by the Beatles) veer toward lounge soul, even though there was no one better than Lewis at that kind of stuff. Occasionally there are flashes of a more idiosyncratic, jazzy originality that sound as if Lewis is playing for himself as well as the marketplace, particularly when he gets into some Latin-influence boogaloo grooves on "Blue Bango" (easily the most uninhibited piece on this collection), "Spanish Grease," and "Hey Mrs. Jones." The later cuts, while showing him capable of keeping up with commercial trends by adding funk and touches of psychedelia, also find him losing the distinctive mid-'60s nightclubbish pop-soul sound that had vaulted him to prominence in the first place.
Curtis Mayfield, Anthology 1965-1994 [DVD] (Footstomp). This 90-minute DVD, mostly taken from 1970-75 clips (and mostly from television programs), is a pretty enjoyable compilation of Curtis Mayfield performances, though the way it's assembled and packaged makes it pretty obvious it's not an authorized release. In its favor, most of the footage is presented in pretty good quality, though there's an annoying small logo of the Footstomp label in the upper right-hand corner -- a pretty rich pretense if the object was to present bootlegging, since this itself is not an officially blessed production. There are Japanese subtitles on some other segments, and to its detriment, the majority of the material is mimed, or at the very least sung to a backing track from the record. That's especially obvious in the 1971-75 material from the Soul Train TV program (which comprises about half the DVD), where Curtis does sing into a mike, but no other musicians are visible.
Still, this does afford the chance to see Mayfield perform, in some fashion, much material from his prime -- not only highlights from the Superfly album, but also such relatively uncelebrated tunes as "Check Out Your Mind" (done in 1970, when he was still part of the Impressions), "Back to the World," and "Future Shock." Also on the disc is one sole '60s Impressions clip (of "It's Alright," from 1965); a performance of "Freddie's Dead" at the 1972 Grammy awards; a live 1972 medley of "We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue" and "Give Me Your Love"; the clip of Mayfield doing "I'm Your Pusherman" in a nightclub from the Superfly movie itself; footage of him performing "Freddie's Dead" live in a studio in 1972 (though, unfortunately, this particular scene has subpar audio); and a live 1973 performance of "Superfly" on Midnight Special (introduced by Helen Reddy!) that's probably the highlight of the DVD. While the numerous Soul Train excerpts are fairly artificial in their lip-syncing, incidentally, they're not without some extra-musical entertainment value, in both the fairly amazing display of colorful period African-American fashions among the dancers, and a few segments where Mayfield answers some questions about his current releases, both from host Don Cornelius and (in a too-short segment, comprising just a few questions) from the actual Soul Train audience. The disc ends with the "bonus track" of a Mayfield tribute medley at the 1994 Grammy Awards, performed by musicians including Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, Tony! Toni! Toné!, Stevie Winwood, and Steve Cropper.
The Quiet Five, When the Morning Sun Dries the Dew (RPM). Both of sides of all six of the singles issued by this obscure British band between 1965-67 (including one released only in the US) are on this compilation, which also presents seven previously unissued tracks. With their clean-cut, American-influenced vocal harmony sound, The Quiet Five weren't too comparable to many other British Invasion bands; perhaps the Fortunes and Peter & Gordon, a bit, though they were earthier than the Fortunes and not as folky as Peter & Gordon. The influences of the Beach Boys and Merseybeat are also felt to varying degrees. While the material is uneven, and isn't stunning, it's a pretty respectable slant on the more lightweight side of the mid-'60s British Invasion. Certainly their moody, folky debut single "When the Morning Sun Dries the Dew" is a highlight, akin to Peter & Gordon in their more serious moods, making one wish Quiet Five singer-guitarist Kris Ife had penned more of the group's releases. The more energetic B-sides "Tomorrow I'll Be Gone" (a quite tough Merseybeat-flavored number) and the soul-pop-Mersey hybrid "Let's Talk It Over" are also quite satisfying, if not typical of the approach the band usually took. Indeed, the group's versatility sometimes worked against rather than for them, as they also delved into unimpressive updates of standards, limpid pop, and a not-so-hot cover of the fine Rolling Stones LP track "I Am Waiting." Still, there are more enjoyable cuts here than duds, including an uncharacteristically fuzzy stomper with lead vocals by P.J. Proby, "Didn't Give a Damn," among the unreleased items. Overall, it's a pleasantly worthwhile compilation, and recommended to British Invasion collectors trying to discover something new from the vaults, as the Quiet Five are a band of which even many serious British Invasion fans might remain unaware.
Cliff Richard, In the Beginning [DVD] (Music Reviews Ltd.). On the one hand, the availability of this look at the early years of Cliff Richard's music is welcome, both because he did some good rock'n'roll during that time that's undervalued, and because there's some good footage of early Richard performances. On the other, it's frustratingly disappointing, as it's too short (about 50 minutes), includes only portions of performances rather than full songs, and doesn't have interviews with Richard himself, or even with Richard associates. Instead, the commentary's supplied by fans, critics, musicians, and producers who, with the possible exception of British rock writer Chris Welch, will not be well known to the average rock'n'roll enthusiast (and certainly don't have direct connections with Richard's career). The talking heads are reasonably astute in their observations, but one would have to think that interviews with Richard and the Shadows, whether archival or done specifically for a project such as this, would have been more illuminating. In addition, the length and the way the program's structured doesn't allow for a great deal of depth. Richard actually recorded a good number of decent rockers in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but you don't hear about too many of them here, and the impression's given that he moved into all-around entertainment almost immediately after rising to stardom, which is partially but not wholly true. Worst of all, although there are some excerpts of Richard singing and performing in late-'50s/early-'60s TV shows and feature films, these are truncated (even an exciting live 1960 television version of the classic "Move It"), sometimes sharing a split screen with one of the talking heads. What vintage footage there is has its interesting points, also including 1959 TV covers of "Turn Me Loose" and the Coasters' "Three Cool Cats" (the latter sung with fellow early British rockers Dickie Pride and Marty Wilde). But given better resources, it must be possible to fill a solid 90-minute documentary on the same subject with much more old footage and more relevant interviewees.
The Rolling Stones, Sweet Black Angel/The Lost Sessions Vol. 1 (Empress Valley Supreme). The late 1960s and early 1970s didn't yield many (as far as we know) unreleased studio recordings of completed, otherwise unavailable Rolling Stones songs. But it did produce a wealth of fairly interesting alternate/working versions and song embryos that never got polished off, sixteen of which are presented on this compilation. As the title Sweet Black Angel implies, many are from that murky early-'70s period when the Stones were working, in fits and starts, on Exile on Main Street, and several of these tracks are different versions of songs that ended up on that album. Some of these aren't much different from the familiar renditions, but others are, like an early, much less fully formed version of "Tumbling Dice" with different lyrics (here titled "Good Time Woman"); a long version of "Shake Your Hips"; "Stop Breakin' Down" with no harmonica; and an instrumental backing track for "Sweet Black Angel" itself.
Also on hand, and perhaps of somewhat greater interest in most cases, are a bunch of instrumentals that obviously contain seeds of possible songs, but which somehow never quite got there. At the very least, these have that appealing rough'n'ready, scratchy soul-blues-rock feel so typical of the Rolling Stones in the early '70s. While some of them are on the generic side as far as the riffs go, some of them seemed to hold real promise, making one hope that tracks of these tunes with sung lyrics might miraculously be found one day. "Aladdin Story" in particular is a luminously sluggish, jazzy tune with entrancing guitar-horn-vibes interplay, perhaps abandoned because the key guitar riff is very close to the one that had been used on "Paint It Black." Closing out the disc are a few late-'60s cuts with vocals, and while a couple of these songs were used on Metamorphosis, the likably wistful if slight soul ballad "Hamburger to Go" never did find release anywhere.
Although all of this material had been around for quite a few years before this 2005 bootleg, the sound quality of this disc is much superior to many earlier circulations of these tracks, so much so that much of it could be used as bonus cuts on official CD reissues without raising any eyebrows (and those that aren't quite as spiffy still have fidelity almost as good as most officially released recordings). While these efforts are either too close to the official versions or too undeveloped to interest non-fanatics, anyone whose interest in the Rolling Stones' music from this era extends beyond what's been approved for the marketplace will enjoy this collection. (Note that some of the dates listed for the recordings do not jibe with those listed in other sources.)
Sly & the Family Stone, My Own Beliefs: Video Anthology 1968-1986 [DVD] (Avdenture). Although the image quality of this extraordinary two-DVD bootleg set is uneven, no serious fans of Sly & the Family Stone could fail to be impressed by it, offering as it does an astonishing four hours or so of vintage clips, mostly from television programs. The performances are almost all good-to-excellent and visually dynamic, featuring the band with colorful finery and clever dance moves/vocal tradeoffs in an assortment of TV/concert/studio settings. Most of their hits are performed -- in fact, most of them are offered in multiple versions -- and all but a couple of the clips are from their 1968-75 prime. The very earliest of these (listed as a "studio/promo" clip of "Dance to the Music") shows them wearing almost conventional clothes and hairstyles, but almost immediately they graduate to a presentation about as purposefully freaky as anyone's was in the psychedelic era. In addition to music performances, there are also a few expectedly enigmatic interview clips of Sly Stone on the talks shows of Dick Cavett, and a heated 1974 discussion of race and politics on Mike Douglas' talk show with Stone, Muhammad Ali, and (believe it or not) Congressman Wayne Hays, shortly before that powerful Democratic politician was disgraced by the revelation that a former secretary was on his payroll to be his mistress. A brief 1980s TV interview shows Sly in better health than one would expect, but is utterly unrevealing as to why he virtually disappeared from the music business. There's even footage (albeit amateurish) of his 1974 wedding ceremony at Madison Square Garden.
While all this material is very entertaining, and historically valuable, be cautioned that the visual quality is usually not up to the standard of authorized releases, though the vast majority is okay-to-excellent. The fairly lengthy set from the 1969 Texas International Pop Festival, for instance, suffers from subpar audio, and some of the footage has a running time bar superimposed on the frame. The songs performed don't vary as much as you might want or expect, usually being oriented toward familiar hits, with seven versions of "Dance to the Music" (and nothing, unfortunately, from There's a Riot Goin' On). The band's taste for presenting their hits in medleys gets a little tiresome when you see it done several times over. While the early-'0s clips with expanded and different personnel are good, they're not quite up to the level of the ones featuring the original lineup (which comprise about half the material), who had a chemistry subsequent aggregations couldn't match. And for all its length, this doesn't gather all the footage of the group known to exist. Like many other such releases, this ends up emphasizing the need for someone to compile this or similar footage from the best possible sources and give it official release. As of the time this DVD had appeared, however, there was no word of such an official release, making this the best known place to see as much of the band as you can, despite the inevitable shortcomings inherent in not having access to the best source footage.
Ike & Tina Turner, The Soul Anthology (Red
Line). Ike & Tina Turner put out so many recordings in the final
years of the 1960s that there was no way to meticulously craft each of
them. As a result the discs, while usually acceptable at the very
least, had an uneven feel, and were apt to present routine material and
arrangements that weren't always worthy of the Turners' talents. Most
general soul fans will prefer investigating this material through more
selective best-of compilations. But if you are a more serious
aficionado who wants to collect more, this two-CD, 44-track compilation
does a pretty good job of putting a lot of it in one place, in a more
thoughtful, logical grouping than many such CD anthologies do. Four
1968-1969 albums are presented in their entirety here, those being
1968's So Fine and 1969's Cussin', Cryin' & Carryin' On
originally issued on the Pompeii label), and 1969's Outta Season and The Hunter (both issued on Blue
Certainly the records were spotty, and (aside from Cussin', Cryin' & Carryin' On too oriented toward familiar covers of familiar blues/soul/R&B tunes. Accepting that this isn't Ike & Tina at their very best, however, it's certainly no disgrace to their names, as Tina Turner's singing is almost always involved and fiery, and the tracks always competent at the least, if not always inspired. Certainly the cuts from So Fine are the least distinctive, with something of a soul-by-numbers feel, though occasionally (particularly in the blues-soul slow burner "It Sho Ain't Me") even these rise above the average. The material from Cussin', Cryin' & Carryin' On is more interesting, if only because Ike Turner wrote most of it, though its zigzags between R&B ballads, girl group-influenced soul, and quite good funk-rock instrumentals with a menacing edge suggest it might have been culled from various sessions over a lengthy period. Both Blue Thumb albums (heard on disc two) are decisively bluesier and better than the two Pompeii LPs, though the song selection is a little unimaginative, with covers of well-known tunes like "Dust My Broom," "3 O'Clock in the Morning Blues," "Rock Me, Baby," "My Babe," and "The Things That I Used to Do." Ike Turner's guitar work is certainly more assertive on the Blue Thumb material, and while the songs themselves might not be the best interpretations, overall they add up to a pretty good blues-soul listen, highlighted by what's probably their most acclaimed cover from this era, "I've Been Loving You Too Long" (originally by Otis Redding). As nice bonuses, the compilers also tacked on the one track (the instrumental "Funky Mule") from their 1969 Pompeii LP Get It Together! that hadn't been previously released at the time, as well as the famous, original Phil Spector-produced 1966 single "River Deep-Mountain High," always good to hear even if it doesn't stylistically fit in with the rest of the compilation.
The Walker Brothers, Everything Under the Sun
(Universal). Everything under the sun from the Walker Brothers'
studio output is indeed here on this five-CD box set. It has not only
everything from their mid-1960s prime on the first three CDs, but also
the more neglected (though considerably less impressive) three albums
or so they did in the mid-to-late 1970s after reuniting. There are also
13 previously unreleased tracks from 1965-67, as well as a 48-page
booklet with an historical essay and oodles of photos and memorabilia.
Naturally, like many completist box sets, this isn't for everyone;
there's much superb material, but also a good deal of also-ran cuts and
covers. Too, the 1970s material is not only often rather dull pop
(sometimes with slight country overtones), but not too similar or
compatible with the lush 1960s productions. Plus, to be technical, it
doesn't have <I>everything</I> the Walker Brothers issued,
lacking the live album they recorded in Japan in 1968 (which, as of the
release of this box set, still had not made it to CD).
Focusing on the positive, however, this has a lot of quality music besides their familiar hits (which are also all included, of course). The R&B and soul covers the brothers sang to pad out their releases may not have been their forte, and sometimes the pop ballads were gushy, but Scott Walker's voice (and John Walker's second vocals) usually at least made them pleasant on some level. As for the booming, brooding ballads (with nods to Phil Spector and the Righteous Brothers) at which they excelled, there are plenty of those, including "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore," "After the Lights Go Out," "Another Tear Falls," "In My Room," "Everything Under the Sun," "Just Say Goodbye," "Deadlier Than the Male," and others. A few other songs have seeds of Scott Walker's more serious, arty side ("Archangel," "Mrs. Murphy," "Orpheus," "Experience"), and John Walker takes a nice lead vocal on one of their best obscure tracks, "I Can't Let It Happen to You."
The thirteen previously unreleased 1965-67 recordings don't add up to an unissued album of sorts; they're more an assembly of odds and ends with a bent toward mediocre soul covers ("In the Midnight Hour," "I Got You (I Feel Good)") and pop standards (such as "The Shadow of Your Smile"). Again, however, the vocals make even these erratic leftovers worthwhile to some degree, and a few of the songs are rather good, including the characteristically melancholy "Hang on for Me," the dreamily orchestrated "Lost One," and the relatively upbeat Burt Bacharach-like "I Got Lost for a While." (The writers of all three of those mysterious tunes, incidentally, are listed as "unknown," leaving it open as to whether these were original compositions.) Also among these thirteen unearthed items are alternate versions of two songs the Walkers did release, Randy Newman's "Looking for Me" and their big smash "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)." While these aren't as good as the official versions, they are at least notably different, and it's interesting to hear "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)" in a considerably tamer, more reserved arrangement.
Other than the obvious similarities in the vocals, discs four and five could almost be the work of a different group than the one heard on the first three CDs. While this latter portion does include their big 1976 UK hit "No Regrets," it's tough sledding, with much of it given over to middle-of-the-road covers of the likes of Jimmy Webb, Randy Newman, Kris Kristofferson, and Boz Scaggs. Suddenly, however, the torpor is interrupted by Scott Walker's four originals from their final album, 1978's Nite Flights. They're bleak, piercing, heavily electronic rhythmic numbers, wholly unlike anything else the Walker Brothers did in either the 1960s or the 1970s, and wholly unlike any other '70s Walkers recordings in that they sounded bold and adventurous, rather than just treading water. They're enough, just about, to justify the inclusion of the Walker Brothers reunion material in the box, though not enough to keep the inclusion of said material from making the box even more erratic than most such complete overviews of major artists.
Muddy Waters, Classic Concerts [DVD] (Hip-O). Classic Concerts is one of those rare historical music compilation DVDs for which there's nothing significant to criticize, and much to praise. The bulk of the two-hour disc is devoted to three Muddy Waters concerts from different eras, including his historical 1960 Newport Jazz Festival appearance, a 1968 show at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, and a 1977 gig at the Molde Jazz Festival in Norway. Although the black-and-white Newport footage does not capture the entire concert (much of which has never circulated), it does contain 26 minutes, Muddy backed by an excellent band including two blues stars in their own right (pianist Otis Spann and harmonica player James Cotton). This is definitely the most exciting portion of the DVD, including fine versions of his staples "(I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man," "Tiger in Your Tank," "Rollin' Stone," and above all an extended "Got My Mojo Working." Waters' shakes and shivers are truly spine-chilling on that last number, some levity introduced by a section where he dances with Cotton. The finale "Mean Mistreater/Going to Chicago Blues," where several other singers are brought on for cameos, is relatively inessential. But this segment is still one of the top vintage blues-on-film documents of all, enhanced for this DVD by the syncing of stereo live recordings to three of the songs to improve the audio (though "Rollin' Stone" and "Mean Mistreater" remain in the original mono film sound).
By the time of the 1968 Denmark show (also shot in black and white), only Spann was remaining from the Newport band. It's a somewhat staider and less electrifying performance, but still sturdy Chicago blues, though Paul Oscher's harmonica seems undermiked. Waters was less mobile by the time of the 1977 concert (shown in color), sitting on a stool throughout most of the show (whereas before a serious 1969 car accident he'd stood). Again, however, this is still a respectable showcase for his intact vocal talents, with "Got My Mojo Working" and "(I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man" remaining in his set (as they had at the Denmark gig as well). Brief but worthwhile bonus features include a 1977 London performance of "The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock & Roll"; a 1972 British TV interview; and an interview done at the 1977 Molde show where Waters patiently responds to rather cliched questions, asking his interrogator to "bring it to me straight, brother" when the interviewer gingerly asks whether Muddy's music has political aspects. Detailed liner notes, mostly written by Bob Margolin (who plays guitar behind Waters in the 1977 Norwegian footage) and also featuring an appreciation from Bill Wyman, are also included in this high-grade package.
Various Artists, Got No Shoes Got No Blues: The 1969 Texas International Pop Festival [DVD] (Keep on Truckin'). There were several large rock festivals in 1969 that never achieved the fame or notoriety of Woodstock or Altamont. One such event was the 1969 Texas International Pop Festival, which took place near Dallas on Labor Day weekend, just a couple of weeks after Woodstock (indeed, featuring some of the same performers). It's not well known that, as at Woodstock and Altamont, much film was taken of the event, though no movie was finished for commercial release. This DVD presents an 80-minute workprint (complete with running time codes at the bottom of the screen) of the film that, in the words of the back cover, was "undoubtedly assembled for the purpose of securing a pre-editing distribution deal"; according to the back cover, "the rough cut of the film was shown once in Dallas shortly after the festival, but the record companies told the guy who showed it that they would cut his ball [sic] off [if] he ever showed it again." On one hand, this is interesting rare document of both its era and of a festival that's not well remembered on a national or international level, with footage of a quality lineup of performers, including live clips from the sets of Janis Joplin, Santana, Grand Funk Railroad (introduced, amusingly, by the emcee as "Grand Funk Railway"), Chicago (when they were still known as "Chicago Transit Authority"), Led Zeppelin, Ten Years After, Tony Joe White, James Cotton, and Sweetwater. Several of these acts were or were just becoming big stars, of course, and footage of White (here singing his hit "Pork Salad Annie," which is one of the disc's highlights) and Sweetwater (most famous for being one of the least celebrated acts to play Woodstock) from this time isn't easy to come by.
However, as a film, or even a workprint, there are many important factors keeping this from being as notable or enjoyable as it could have been, even considering that this was not the movie in the final form it would have taken. The audio for the musical portions is frustratingly thin and tinny, and the sets themselves aren't too well shot in terms of lighting, editing, and camera angles, particularly compared to celebrated documentaries of similar events such as Woodstock and Monterey Pop. There's frequent cutting between the onstage performances and (sometimes wholly unrelated) audience frolicking, to the point where there's more audience than performance footage in some scenes. The quality of the print itself is erratic, and some of the segments are linked by hokey, verging-on-annoying staged clips of a beer-drinking cowboy listening to a radio show about the "hippie hypocrisy." And, finally, some of the performers listed in the credits -- including such interesting, relatively underexposed ones as Delaney & Bonnie, the Rotary Connection, and the Incredible String Band -- are not shown in the workprint, though presumably shots from their sets would have been added at a later stage. If you can put up with all this, there are flashes of worthwhile music, whether it's White's "Pork Salad Annie"; Chicago during that very brief time when they were considered a hip act; and the incredibly manic stage posturing of Ten Years After's Leo Lyons, who plays his bass as if the instrument is in the process of electrocuting him. The shots of hippies swimming in the nude and making out, as well as the police chief enthusiastically praising the crowd's peaceful behavior, are reminiscent of similar scenes in Woodstock. They cement the impression of this rare film-in-progress as documenting a minor-league Woodstock of sorts, in respects to both the Woodstock movie and the Woodstock festival itself.
Various Artists, Out There: Wild and Wondrous Roots of Rock'n'Roll Vol. 2 (Viper). Like the first volume of this delightful series, this digs out 20 tracks from the 1920s through the mid-1950s that illustrate the wide roots of rock'n'roll. Unlike many other such compilations, it doesn't just present the blues and hillbilly recordings that were most instrumental in leading to the fusion of R&B and country-and-western that gave birth to rock'n'roll, although there are some of those. There's also goofy pop-jazz (Ella Fitzgerald's "Two Little Men in a Flying Saucer"), jugband music, boogie-influenced jazz, virtuoso instrumental country boogie (a young Chet Atkins' "Oh By Jingo!"), old-time folk music with country and blues elements (Doc Boggs' aptly titled "Country Blues"), and even a field recording of a Native American peyote dance. And the Boswell Sisters' "Rock and Roll," cut way back in 1934, shows that the term rock and roll far predated the 1950s or Alan Freed, even if the track itself is far closer to harmony vocal swing jazz than blues. There are also, of course, some Delta blues from Son House, hillbilly from Hank Williams and Jimmy Dickens, and a few tracks that more closely approximate early rock'n'roll, both stylistically and chronologically: Louis Jordan's classic boogie "Saturday Night Fish Fry," Lightnin' Slim's harmonica blues/R&B "She's Gone," and Johnny "Guitar" Watson's astonishing instrumental "Space Guitar," which still sounds futuristic today, let alone in 1954 (when it was originally cut). Many of the preceding names are famous or fairly well known, but there are a few items here that might surprise and inspire even seasoned collectors, like the madly over-reverbed country swing of steel guitarist Billy Briggs' 1953 track "Alarm Clock Boogie." Combined with detailed annotation (recording dates included) that avoid stuffiness, this is a far more fun and imaginatively eclectic anthology -- in terms of both listening and packaging -- than most higher-profile releases that explore a similar theme, though this series, unfortunately, remains one of the more obscure such ones.
Various Artists, Protest! American Protest Songs 1928-1953
(Viper). Although it wasn't until the folk revival and folk-rock
movements of the 1960s that the protest song was a widely recognized
wing of popular music in the US, there had been socially conscious
protest songs of sorts since the dawn of the recording age. This
compilation assembles 20 of them, and refreshingly, it doesn't
emphasize material from the roots of the folk revival (though there's
certainly some of that). Instead, this comes from all over the roots
music map, from country blues and old-time folk/country artists to
gospel, hillbilly, and western swing. There are certainly a number of
famous artists and classic songs here, including the Sons of the
Pioneers' "Old Man Atom," Bessie Smith's "Nobody Knows You When You're
Down and Out," Big Bill Broonzy's "Black, Brown and White," Billie
Holiday's "Strange Fruit," and Woody Guthrie's "1913 Massacre." There
are, too, sides by Bill Monroe (as part of the Monroe Brothers), Uncle
Dave Macon, Memphis Minnie, and even Gene Autry, who shows a surprising
and little-known side of his repertoire with "The Death of Mother
Jones," inspired by the labor activist Mary Harris Jones.
Many of these tracks are not "protest" songs in the angry and earnest sense that many listeners associate with the style; they often take a more lightly satirical, even congenial approach. The enjoyable novelty-tinged pieces on the then-new threat of atomic energy ("Old Man Atom," the Golden Gate Quartet's alternately somber and swinging gospel number "Atom and Evil," Billy Hughes and the Rhythm Buckeroos' "Atomic Sermon") remind us of how ambivalently the nuclear threat was viewed when it was a new thing, and how songs commenting on it sounded rather like they were whistling in the dark. If you do want songs that were more audible ancestors of the folk revival, however, they're here in cuts like Josh White, Millard Lampbell, and the Almanac Singers' "Billy Boy" and Lee Hayes with the Almanac Singers' "The Dodger Song," the Almanac Singers being a huge influence in getting said folk revival off the ground in the middle of the twentieth century. Whatever your sociopolitical perspective, this is impressive on purely musical and lyrical grounds, and can be enjoyed for those qualites alone. This isn't the most extensive anthology constructed along this theme; Bear Family's massive ten-CD box Songs For Political Action: Folk Music, Topical Songs, and the American Left, 1926-1953 obviously has more. But as a single-disc overview of some notable entries in the genre, this is fine, with informative historical liner notes.
The Beach Boys, A Vocal Element: Live 1967 (Hang Ten). During their November 1967 "Thanksgiving Tour," the Beach Boys—without Brian Wilson, and with Daryl Dragon adding keyboards and Ron Brown bass—recorded several of their shows for their own personal archive. This two-CD set offers tapes of four of the concerts, taken from stereo soundboard recordings. In some respects, this is way above the average standard for unauthorized releases of 1967 live rock tapes; the sound is very good, and there's about two and a half hours of music. At the same time, the performances—in common with other live Beach Boys tapes from the last half of the 1960s—are not all that fervent fans might hope for. It might be due in part to the mixes, but the sound and arrangements are on the thin side (despite the innovative-for-1967 live theremin on "Wild Honey" and "Good Vibrations"), and the instrumental execution tentative. Plus, there's a lot of corny humor, both in the between-song patter and, more objectionably, sometimes within the songs themselves, where Mike Love not only acts the cut-up, but effectively manages to disrupt the flow of the music. Or do you really want to hear him pretend to forget a verse after the instrumental break of "I Get Around," substituting the line "we always take my car 'cause it's never been stolen"?
There's also no denying that hearing four similar sets in a row is going to entail too much repetition if you're not a serious Beach Boys fan, even if each of those sets is stuffed with classic hits, including "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "Surfer Girl," "God Only Knows," "California Girls," "Barbara Ann," "Darlin'," "Wild Honey," "Help Me Rhonda," "Sloop John B," "I Get Around," and "Good Vibrations." That brings up something that might be viewed as a plus or a drawback, depending on your perspective—while these are great songs, it might have been nice, both at the time and decades later, to hear some less predictable tunes. The first of these concerts (from November 17 in Detroit) does offer a couple of unexpected such items with a nicely harmonized "Country Air" and the less impressive good-time rocker "How She Boogalooed It," both from the soon-to-be-released Wild Honey. But these were thereafter dropped from the set, though "Johnny B. Goode" makes an unexpected appearance at a later one. It's often been noted how the Beach Boys suffered when Brian Wilson withdrew from an active role in their studio recordings in the late 1960s; it's less often observed that his retirement from the stage in the mid-1960s might have had a detrimental impact on their live performances. He might have done a lot to make recordings such as this more satisfying, even if they are respectably enjoyable relics with some good vocal harmonies. As bonuses, the CD also has a few spoken radio commercials the group did in March 1966 (though there's a snatch of a cappella harmonizing in one), the most interesting of which have some fairly humorous jabs between Mike Love and publicist Derek Taylor. Obviously some of the Love-Taylor dialogue is drawn from outtakes, particularly as one includes gay references that certainly wouldn't have been used in a Beach Boys promo in 1966.
Pete Best, Best of the Beatles [DVD] (Lightyear). For the most part, Best of the Beatles is a very interesting, well done supplement to the official Beatles story, this documentary focusing on Pete Best and his stint in the band in the early 1960s. Directed by the same man (Geoff Wonfor) who directed the Beatles' own famous Anthology documentary, it includes extensive interviews not only with Best himself, but also with quite a few others who were around him and the Beatles in their early days, including their Hamburg friends Astrid Kirchherr (who offers the memorable observation that they would have been popular even if they'd worn turbans) and Klaus Voormann; Best's brothers Rory and Roag; Beatles road manager Neil Aspinall; and John Lennon's first wife, Cynthia Lennon. While there's no moving sound footage of the Beatles from this period, the two-hour film does use a wealth of vintage still photos, covering Pete's association with the group from the time he met them in his mother's basement club to his inglorious sacking in 1962, just as the Beatles secured their recording contract. There's also some very interesting (if brief) actual footage of Best from the 1960s, including a television spot in which he was interviewed with his mother.
However, there's also the sense that the documentary is something of an apologetic justification for the man who was dealt one of the worst breaks in the history of show business. The points are repeatedly made that Best was a good drummer, and vital to their rise both as a musician and via his moody image, which gave him great individual popularity as the Beatles established themselves in Liverpool. But Best's own nervous, shy demeanor throughout his interview segments doesn't convince the viewer that he was ever too charismatic, or offer proof that he would have been nearly as good a fit for the group as his far wittier, more charismatic replacement (Ringo Starr) was. Nor is this question addressed: if he was so vital to the Beatles' rise to success, why didn't the group's popularity suffer (quite to the contrary, it mushroomed) after Ringo stepped in? Too, a crucial piece of information is left out of the documentary that comprises its objectivity: that just a month before Best was fired, his mother, then still married to his father, gave birth to a child (Pete's half-brother Roag) fathered by Aspinall, a boarder in the Best home at the time. Though still not a well-known incident, this has been documented in several places, including a book co-authored by Roag Best himself. It wasn't necessarily a factor in Pete's ouster from the Beatles, but it's certainly a complication that seems important to have noted.
Also on the DVD are an hour or so of extra features, including interviews with Kirchherr, Mike Smith (the A&R man who auditioned the Beatles for Decca Records in January 1962), Andy White (who replaced Ringo Starr on drums during the sessions for the Beatles' "Love Me Do" single), and Brian Poole of the Tremolos (the band Decca chose instead of the Beatles). All of these segments offer something of interest, although it does seem that memories had dimmed about the incidents that took place about forty years before the interviews. It adds to the appeal of a disc that will carry considerable interest for serious Beatles fans, though less intense devotees of the group might find it too specialized.
The Byrds, Another Dimension (Columbia/Sundazed). As exquisitely packaged as this release of Fifth Dimension outtakes is—presenting two ten-inch, six-song vinyl EPs in a gatefold sleeve—it's really for collectors only, though it doesn't pretend to be anything else. The first disc offers half a dozen instrumental backing tracks of alternate takes, two of them for outtakes that didn't even make the original Fifth Dimension LP. While there are definite differences to be heard (as well as an opportunity to focus on/study the instrumental parts without interference from vocals), most of the tracks aren't radically variant from the familiar official versions, though it's interesting to hear some different lead guitar work on "Eight Miles High" (and a considerably longer solo), as well as a long instrumental version of "2-4-2 Fox Trot (The Lear Jet Song)" without the sound effects. "John Riley I" is not merely a backing track to the "John Riley" song that appeared on Fifth Dimension, however; it's a wholly different, faster, and far more jazz-psychedelicized arrangement, with some quite interesting Roger McGuinn lead guitar work. It's also about a minute longer than the version that appears as a Fifth Dimension CD bonus track; adding all these factors together, it qualifies as the most interesting item excavated by this album, other than the alternate "Eight Miles High" backing track.
Disc two contains noticeable variations rather than wholly different performances, including "John Riley" (the vocal version from the actual Fifth Dimension LP, which is entirely different from the "John Riley I" instrumental) and "Wild Mountain Thyme" without string overdubs; a slightly longer version of "I See You," without overdubs; a longer version of "Captain Soul," again without overdubs; a longer version of "What's Happening?!?!," with a "partial alternate vocal"; and "Hey Joe," recorded not at the Fifth Dimension sessions, but for an April 1967 Swedish radio broadcast. So overall, Another Dimension is the kind of thing you find on bootlegs aimed at highly specialized collectors, but here given an authorized issue, with the top-notch sound quality achieved by using the original tapes. The inner gatefold includes the fascinating transcript of a March 1966 press conference in which Roger McGuinn and David Crosby discuss the raga-rock pioneered on the Byrds' "Eight Miles High"/"Why" single; it's actually the most interesting thing about this release.
Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bad Moon Rising from Woodstock to the Albert Hall [DVD] [bootleg] (Wild Wolf Video). In the absence of an authorized video compilation of Creedence Clearwater Revival, here's the next best thing: a bootleg DVD with nearly two hours of footage from 1969 and 1970, most of it in good (though not perfect) quality color. Almost half of it's devoted to a 12-song concert at London's Royal Albert Hall on April 14, 1970. That set alone includes several of their biggest early hits ("Travelin' Band," "Fortunate Son," "Proud Mary," "Bad Moon Rising," "Green River") and, for those hungering for something less familiar, a decent smattering of early album cuts ("Commotion," "Tombstone Shadow," "Keep on Chooglin'," "Midnight Special"). Clips from a few 1969 network television shows add more versions of big early hits, though these look to be largely/wholly mimed, not live. Though it's not nearly as lengthy as the Royal Albert Hall portion, the most interesting segment might be three color outtakes from Woodstock, where they do "Born on the Bayou," "Bad Moon Rising," and "I Put a Spell on You" with a little more spontaneity than is evident on the rest of the disc. Also on the DVD are some not-so-great black-and- white video of a few more Woodstock performances, and a "Proud Mary" promo film. Complaints? Well, to be honest, CCR weren't the most exciting visual performers. So while the music's impeccably tight, it's considerably more impressive and exciting than the fairly static presentation. Also some of the footage (including the Royal Albert Hall and color Woodstock sequences) suffers from imperfections that would probably be ironed out if a compilation of this sort can be cleared for official release.
Delaney & Bonnie, Delaney & Bonnie and Friends [DVD] [bootleg] (Silvertone). When Delaney & Bonnie went to Europe in late 1969, they were able to appear on television, and most of this bootleg DVD is devoted to black-and-white footage from a couple programs they did at the time. The big attraction here is the eight-song set in Copenhagen from December 1970, where the stage might have sunk from all the weight of the heavy talent on board. In addition to Delaney Bramlett and Bonnie Bramlett, there was Eric Clapton on guitar; Carl Radle (bass), Jim Gordon (drums), and Bobby Whitlock (organ), soon to team up with Clapton in Derek & the Dominos; and, most surprisingly, George Harrison on another guitar. It's a reasonably solid set of blue-eyed soul-rock, but it has to be said the while Delaney and Bonnie manage to keep themselves in focus as the featured performers, Clapton provides the highlight when he steps to the mike to take lead vocals on "Don't Know Why." It also should be noted that if your primary interest in this is because of Harrison's presence, that presence is very low-key. George seems to assume a low profile, not taking any lead vocals or (apparently) guitar solos; there were really too many guitars on one stage for him to get too creative in this context. (And there certainly aren't any Harrison or Beatles songs.) The video reproduction is watchable, but not great; it's a little blurry, and one would guess there's got to be a better source tape, or a better transfer that can be made. Also on the disc are a couple songs from a German television program in November 1969 (no Harrison there, though). As "bonus tracks," there are also a couple decent-quality songs (in color) that Derek & the Dominos did on The Johnny Cash Show in 1970, "It's Too Late" and (with Cash and Carl Perkins joining in) "Matchbox."
Bob Dylan, Ten Million in a Week [bootleg] (Hollow Horn). This two-CD bootleg is the first volume of an eight-volume series of double CDs, Performing Artist, on the Hollow Horn label. There have been many attempts to put Dylan's most significant unreleased work into a chronologically (or more or less chronologically) ordered bootleg series; there will doubtless be others after this one; and there will probably be more thorough ones. On its own terms, however, this particular anthology is a very worthwhile compilation of his very earliest non-studio recordings, mostly from 1960 and 1961, though four songs from a 1958 home tape and six from a 1962 home tape are included. It's a lengthy one, too, each disc filling up to nearly 80-minute capacity, with 67 tracks in total (although some of these are incomplete fragments). All of the material, in fact, comes from tapes done in homes or apartments; while the sound quality isn't exactly outstanding, it's listenable, and the May 1961 tape that takes up all of disc two actually sounds pretty decent. Aside from the four very historically interesting, but muffled and sloppy, 1958 rock'n'roll songs he did at home with friends while in high school, it's all folk music, and mostly covers. What it does convincingly illustrate is the pretty amazing breadth of his early traditional folk repertoire, especially considering this is a guy in or barely out of his teens, at a time when it wasn't that easy to collect a lot of this stuff on record all at once. It also offers convincing evidence that, even on the earliest of the folk tapes here (from May 1960)—a year and a half before he made his first recordings for Columbia—his style and command of the folk idiom was falling into place.
There are plenty of good-to-excellent performances here, and as sacrilegious as it might be to suggest, it might be that Dylan was never a better instrumentalist than he was on some of these 1961 tracks, playing both guitar and harmonica with real acumen. It's hard to single out highlights in a program that's so full, but he particularly excels in some of the bluesier numbers (like "San Francisco Bay Blues"), and there's a refreshingly appreciable percentage of tunes with memorable minor melodies, such as "Death Don't Have No Mercy," "Pastures of Plenty," "The Butcher Boy," and "Trail of the Buffalo." His early heavy Woody Guthrie influence is apparent in covers such as "This Land Is Your Land" (two versions, no less). The deeper, less rough voice he exhibits on the earliest folk tape (from May 1960) suggests that his trademark higher, more nasal vocal tone was adopted at least in part through some conscious deliberation. What he hasn't yet developed is his songwriting, and the few original tunes here are heavily derivative or semi-improvised. Adding on the relatively poor recording quality of much of the material on disc one, this thus couldn't be recommended to the general listener. Inquisitive Dylan fans, however, will find much to reward the time they invest with this set, both in terms of its the immense historical insight it yields as to his early development, and the not inconsiderable artistic merit of many of the songs.
Bob Dylan, Like Marlon Brando [bootleg] (Hollow Horn). Like Marlon Brando is the second installment in the eight-volume Performing Artist series of bootleg two-CD sets on the Hollow Horn label. It's entirely devoted to home tapes and live recordings from 1961, with the exception of three songs from Carnegie Hall on September 22, 1962, presumably included to fill out one of the discs to near-full capacity. Certainly there's a lot of unofficial early Bob Dylan here, each of the two discs offering just under 80 minutes of music. While much of disc one has somewhat subpar sound fidelity (though it's quite listenable), on the whole the material is essential to rounding out serious fans' full picture of Dylan's repertoire as his career got off his ground. Dylan was still singing few of his own songs at this point, and what few he had were pretty derivative. But he'd already reached excellence as a folk interpreter, both in terms of a uniquely powerful, earthy vocal style and the more overlooked aspects of his dexterous, expressive instrumental work on guitar and harmonica. Disc one is certainly the lesser of the pair, due both to the patchy sound and the cobbling together of performances from four different sources. Even here, though, the renditions of "Gospel Plow" and "Fixin' to Die" from a November 4, 1961 Carnegie Hall are penetrating in their intensity.
Disc two, recorded in the apartment of friend Bonnie Beecher in Minneapolis on December 22, 1961, is justly the most famous of Dylan's non-studio pre-1962 tapes. While he does a few songs he'd already recorded for his debut Bob Dylan album here, the performances are more intimate, and the 25 tracks allow him to include a number of worthy songs that didn't make that album. He particularly excels on some of the bluesiest items, such as a scarifying "Wade in the Water" (with slicing slide guitar), "It's Hard to Be Blind," another version of "Gospel Plow," and a thumping "Baby Please Don't Go," which has some of his most imaginative early guitar work. "Dink's Song," with its irregular rhythm and commandingly phrased vocal, is one of the best numbers he didn't record on his early records. Some revisionists go as far to prefer this over Bob Dylan itself, though it's not flawless, particularly when he does his set of songs based around VD. It does, however, emphasize that the Bob Dylan LP didn't capture everything there was to document about the earliest phase of his career, and the sound (taped by noted fellow folkie Tony Glover) is almost on the level of what you would have heard on an early-'60s official studio LP. Of course, this Minneapolis material in particular has been bootlegged for a long time (some of it even showed up on the first widely available Dylan bootleg, Great White Wonder), and many committed fans might already have much of all of it. But if you're looking for a good package of that material, supplemented by lesser but interesting similar stuff from the same era, this bootleg does a good job of grouping it together.
John Fahey, The Great Santa Barbara Oil Slick (Water). Most of this 76-minute CD of previously unreleased live performances was recorded at the Matrix in San Francisco on February 14, 1968; it's uncertain when the rest was done, but the liner notes guess they were done a year later, in 1969. It's a solid addition to the John Fahey canon, as the sound is clear and excellent, if drier than much of his studio work. (It also has its share of dead air between songs, punctuated by detached and laconic announcements from the guitarist, though these don't detract from its listenability.) Most of the material presents concert versions of songs that appeared on various Fahey LPs in the 1960s, performed with his usual eclectic taste and virtuosity. And as is customary for much of Fahey's work, it mixes the blues, Americana, and some experimental ideas without leaning too heavily on any of those poles. For dedicated Fahey fans, the big find is the six-minute title track, the only one of these songs not to be included on any of his his '60s records, though it contains portions of two compositions ("Requiem for Russell Blaine Cooper" and "Voice of the Turtle") that appeared on his 1967 album Requia and Other Compositions for Guitar Solo and his 1971 album America, respectively. "Dance of the Inhabitants of the Palace of King Philip XIV of Spain" lasts three minutes longer than the original Fahey version, too, with some interesting slide guitar work. Otherwise it's more a testament to Fahey's mastery of the tunes (and the guitar) than it is an exposure of unsuspected hidden sides of his art, but it's no less worthy for that.
Joni Mitchell, BBC in Concert [DVD] [bootleg] (Checker Entertainment). A bootleg this may be, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a better early live half-hour video of Joni Mitchell, done for the BBC on October 9, 1970. Performing solo on guitar, piano, and (most interestingly, on "California") on zither, Mitchell presented seven songs from her first four albums. The sound and image are excellent (and in color), and Mitchell looks happy and at ease as she delivers the material in fine voice, though she oddly notes near the end that her pipes are going. Though a few of the songs are among her most famous early compositions ("Chelsea Morning," "Both Sides Now," "Big Yellow Taxi"), for the serious fans there are also some less celebrated early album cuts ("Cactus Tree," "My Old Man," "For Free," "California"). The only mild complaints to offer are that it's too short (her comment to the audience that her voice wouldn't have allowed her to sing much longer notwithstanding), and that there's a time code strip on the screen. That latter problem would presumably be fixable if this could somehow be cleared for official release.
Ennio Morricone, Danger Diabolik (Sycodelic). One of Ennio Morricone's more obscure soundtracks was done for the 1968 movie Danger Diabolik. Even many Morricone fans have never heard it, and it wasn't even all that easy to find as a CD that was issued more than three decades later. That's unfortunate, as it's an impressive work, not to mention one of his most maniacal. Many of the Morricone trademarks are here: lush European sweeping orchestration, sunny romp-in-the-fields easy listening vocals, ghostly female singing, vicious twanging surf-spy movie guitar, atonal jazzy shrieks, etc. Rarely, however, did he throw so many of his identifiers together in such a concentrated dose, or jump-cut between them so quickly and unnervingly. To the list above, you can add some hot'n'heavy wordless sexual moaning, quasi-psychedelic horror movie touches, near-Eastern drones, and berserk organ playing that sounds like superamplified popcorn popping. The insertion of lo-fi (and cheesy) dialogue (in English) between many of the cuts, however, might add to the complete documentation of the soundtrack, but does impede both the flow of things and make for a less listenable overall experience. It sounds as if the music could have been taken from a better source, too. But despite these drawbacks, it's heartily recommended to Morricone fans, as well as general admirers of the unfathomably strange.
The Strawbs, Recollection (Witchwood Media). Recorded live in 1970 (the exact venue(s) and source(s) are not given), this 68-minute disc is a very good-sounding document of the Strawbs as they sounded shortly after Rick Wakeman joined the band, and as they were making their transition from folk-rock to harder progressive-edged music. Most of the material's from their early albums Strawbs (1969) and Just a Collection of Antiques and Curios (1970), and it's interesting to hear the Strawbs songs in particular undergo some rearrangement to integrate Wakeman's classical-influenced keyboards. Wakeman's contributions are very much at the forefront throughout the tracks, in fact, especially on his instrumental "Temperament of Mind." But they're always a factor in taking the group further away from their folk base into something artier, with a lengthy solo on a nine-minute "Where Is This Dream of Your Youth?," for instance, that makes the tune quite different from the sparer studio treatment. As for rarities of interest to hardcore Strawbs fans, there's a version of "We'll Meet Again Sometime," a song the group didn't put on their early albums, though Dave Cousins put it on his 1972 album Two Weeks Last Summer, and the banjo-organ-dominated instrumental "Dance On" (originally a hit for, of all people, the Shadows), which had never been previously included on any Strawbs or Strawbs-related release. Most listeners will be most pleased, however, by the well-sung, well-played, and well-recorded renditions of some of their more familiar early songs, such as "The Antique Suite," "The Battle," "Where Is This Dream of Your Youth?," "Josephine, for Better or for Worse," and "The Man Who Called Himself Jesus."
23rd Turnoff, The Dream of Michaelangelo (RPM). Although this 21-track compilation is credited to 23rd Turnoff, in fact it's a combination of recordings by the Kirkbys, the mid-1960s Merseybeat group led by Jimmy Campbell, and the 23rd Turnoff, the more psychedelic band they evolved into in 1967. It reveals Campbell as perhaps the most unheralded talent to come out of the Liverpool '60s rock scene, as he was a songwriter capable of both spinning out engaging Merseybeat and—unlike almost every other artist from the city, with the notable exception of the Beatles—making the transition to quality dreamy psychedelia. Both sides of all three of the Kirkbys' 1965-66 singles are here, a well as a bunch of unreleased recordings and outtakes by the group, all written or co-written by Campbell. While there's no obvious hit among them, they're catchy, Beatles-influenced tracks, showing some folk-rock and Revolver influence on the later efforts. The 23rd Turnoff material is more adventurous, though still retaining Campbell's knack for solid vocal harmony-driven melodies, "Flowers Are Flowering" sounding very much like Roger McGuinn singing Revolver material. "Michael Angelo," the A-side of the sole 23rd Turnoff single, is certainly the highlight, and indeed a highlight of 1967 British psychedelia as a whole in its hazy bittersweet swirl; you also get not one, but two unreleased studio versions of the same tune as well. It seems as if Campbell needed just a bit more encouragement, and his groups just a little more studio time, to develop into a notable British psychedelic group that could combine solid pop melodies, sophisticated lyrics and arrangements, and touches of English whimsy. Unfortunately they didn't get that chance, but what's here is satisfying on its own terms, bolstered by thorough liner notes explaining the complicated Campbell/Kirkbys/23rd Turnoff saga.
The Velvet Underground, Ultimate Mono & Acetates Album [bootleg] (Nothing Songs Limited). This three-CD set is indeed what the title bills it as, with rare mono versions of several of their LPs and singles, as well as a few items taken from acetates. There's only one portion, however, that's of truly outstanding interest if you want to hear genuinely alternate versions, but don't care too much about stereo/mono mix differences. This is the "acetate version" of The Velvet Underground & Nico, which according to the track listing is "taken from Moe Tucker's acetate EPs." These seem to be the same tracks that appear on the acetate (missing two of the songs that ended up on the official LP, "There She Goes Again" and "Sunday Morning") that was widely reported in rock collector publications in 2004 and 2005 to have been discovered at a yard sale in New York. While a few of the cuts simply use the same take as the official versions with a not-radically-different mix, "Heroin," "I'm Waiting for the Man," "European Son," and "Venus in Furs" are completely different takes. The arrangements are similar, but there are noticeable variations that intense Velvet Underground fans will appreciate. Like, for instance, the lyric "shit" in "Heroin"—no one was going to get away with that on a commercial release in 1967, not even Andy Warhol and the VU. On another track, Lou Reed sings the lyric "I'm waiting for the man," not "I'm waiting for my man," thus finally (possibly) solving the mystery of why the track was titled "I'm Waiting for the Man" on the released LP. That song has a bluesier guitar solo than the released version as well, which also holds true for "European Son." Plus, while "Femme Fatale" and "I'll Be Your Mirror" are the same takes, the mixes are substantially different, with much higher background vocal harmonies on the former, and no echo on Nico's lead vocals on the latter. Admittedly, these aren't the kind of revelations that will excite the general listener, and even for fanatics, the very scratchy surface noise from the acetate is a substantial drawback. (Not to mention the point where the needle gets stuck on the acetate, faithfully replicated on the CD, and the inaccurately sequenced track listing on the back cover.) But The Velvet Underground & Nico is a monumentally important album, and thus this acetate version is worthy of serious attention by serious fans of the band, even if the differences are largely minor.
The rest of the material—and there's a lot of it, adding up to more than two CDs' worth—is more reserved for the true fanatic. There are mono versions of the entire White Light/White Heat and Loaded LPs; mono versions of the "White Light/White Heat"/"Here She Comes Now," "What Goes On"/"Jesus," and "Who Loves the Sun"/"Oh Sweet Nothin'" 45s; single mono versions of "All Tomorrow's Parties," "I'll Be Your Mirror," "Sunday Morning," and "Femme Fatale," taken from the "promotional only US release EP mono version"; and four songs from The Velvet Underground that are, say the track listings, "taken from Sterling Morrison's acetate EPs," "found in Sterling's closet after his death." You'll have to strain pretty hard to hear significant differences between all of this stuff and the familiar versions, and the surface noise on much of it—obviously dubbed from original vinyl—doesn't help. It would have been better had the "acetate version" of The Velvet Underground & Nico been released on its own disc, rather than included as part of an expensive three-CD set, but bootleggers (and official labels, it should be noted) have never been known for catering to such conveniences. Even if that acetate of the first album is your primary interest, however, this will still cost you a lot less (and is far more accessible) than the original copy, one of the costliest rare rock records in existence.
The Velvet Underground, Under Review [DVD] (Sexy Intellectual). If you're going to do a Velvet Underground documentary without interviews of Lou Reed or John Cale (or key figures who were no longer living at the time this was done, including Nico, Sterling Morrison, and, except in a brief archive clip, Andy Warhol), you're already at a considerable disadvantage. Yet this surprisingly decent 85-minute production does a better job than could be expected. There are first-hand, lengthy interviews with actual band members Moe Tucker and Doug Yule; Norman Dolph, who played an overlooked key role in recording the group's classic debut album, The Velvet Underground and Nico; Warhol factory mainstay Billy Name; and a number of established rock critics/Velvet Underground experts. There are also clips (though brief, and sometimes just used as silent backdrop) of the Velvets actually playing in the 1960s, taken from art films by Warhol and others, along with vintage photos and tantalizingly brief excerpts of a concert Reed, Cale, and Nico did together in the early 1970s. While the narration might not provide the most exhaustive background information about the group and their members, the critical commentary is fairly astute, dealing with each of their four principal albums in reasonable depth. Some good stories that aren't overly familiar emerge, too, like Yule admitting he didn't know that "Candy Says" (which he sang) was about transvestite Candy Darling; Tucker noting how glad she was that Reed and Yule later told her they should have waited until she was able to participate in Loaded before recording it; and Dolph remembering the sessions in which he participated for The Velvet Underground and Nico. The extras include about 12 interesting minutes of outtakes from the interviews and a 25-question "The Hardest Velvets' Interactive Quiz in the World Ever." It's a small beef, but it should be noted that this quiz is not all that hard for Velvets experts, and—less forgivably—lists some incorrect answers.
The Who, Purple Hearts and Power Chords: The Who on Film 1965-1969 [DVD] [bootleg] (Hiwatt). Before this release, several other bootleg DVDs had compiled 1960s Who footage, with varying degrees of success. It's difficult, however, to imagine a better, more comprehensive one than this two-DVD collection, which assembles almost four hours of live, mimed, promo, interview, and documentary clips from various sources. The image and sound quality are usually as good as, or better than, what's seen or heard on those previous compilations, and most of clips appear in the most complete form known to exist. There are a wealth of riches here, from relatively common (at least to the people who collect this sort of thing) items such as their 1965 Ready Steady Go and Richmond Jazz Festival appearances to some little-seen sequences such as their mimed June 1966 appearance on the Swedish Popside show; a live July 1966 London college gig, including a not-too-audible version of "C.C. Rider"; the Monterey Pop film outtake "Pictures of Lily"; live and interview footage from Helsinki, Finland in May 1967; and promotional films for Tommy, linked by a few interview segments in which Pete Townshend explains the songs. There's even the US promo film for "Substitute," in which they mimed the amended lyrics (omitting the reference to a black father) in the American 45 version.
It doesn't gather every last scrap of 1960s Who footage: there's nothing from their Woodstock appearance, and their famous violent performance of "My Generation" on The Smothers Brothers in 1967 is missing the end bit where Townshend smashes Tommy Smothers' guitar. Some of the portions are obviously lifted from sources that are easily accessible via commercial releases such as The Kids Are Alright, Monterey Pop, and The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, and no doubt some of the clips could have been presented in better condition if this was an authorized production. The likelihood of such a thorough authorized compilation seems distant, however, leaving the gap for bootlegs such as this to exploit. Despite those very minor shortcomings, it's an amazing document, and totals up to the most convincing evidence ever assembled as to the Who's mesmerizing power as a visual performance act.
Neil Young, Live at the BBC 1971 + Ritz, New York 1981 [bootleg] [DVD] (Mainstream Visions). Neil Young's half-hour, eight-song BBC February 1971 color television broadcast takes up the majority of this bootleg DVD, and there's no better visual record of the singer-songwriter's early solo work. Here he plays and sings literally solo, with no accompaniment other than acoustic guitar, piano, and harmonica. Some of his best songs of the period are here ("Old Man," "Heart of Gold," "Don't Let It Bring You Down," "A Man Needs a Maid"), as well as less overly familiar (and therefore welcome) material ("Out on the Weekend," "Journey Through the Past," "Love in Mind," "Dance, Dance, Dance"). Young sings and plays brilliantly, and while there's not much between-song interaction with the audience, it's engagingly goofy and friendly. Although this is an unauthorized release, the video transfer is very good, though a tell-tale small circled "Trio" logo that appears throughout in the lower right-hand corner makes one suspect this was taken from a videotaped rebroadcast, not the original source. The four songs from 1981 are far less noteworthy on several accounts. First, it's not a Neil Young gig; Young was guesting with the Danny Shea Band and only taking lead vocals on one number, a cover of Jimmy Reed's "Baby What You Want Me to Do" (though he does play guitar and add backup vocals during the rest of the performance). Second, the grainy video is jumpy and somewhere between amateur and professional in execution. Also, the other three songs are all blues/rock'n'roll covers, including Guitar Slim's "The Things That I Used to Do" (which at least does have a Young guitar solo) and Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Rock'n'Roller" and "Nadine." At least it shows that Young's bar-band inclinations were evident long before he embraced them whole hog for his 1988 album This Note's For You.
Various Artists, Going Underground: Underground Treasures Vol. 1: 1969-1976 [bootleg] [DVD] (Missing in Action Archives). When the back cover blurb of this approximately hour-long DVD of vintage progressive rock proclaims "rare footage gathered from all over the world," it's no idle boast. Even many prog-rock aficionados, it's fair to say, will have not even heard of some or all of these artists, coming as they all apparently do from outside English-speaking lands. When a disc leads off with not one but several clips of Argentinean bands (Color Humano, Vox Dei, Orion's Beethoven, and Sui Generis), you know hard-core collectors have been at work. Too bad they didn't work so diligently as to identify the origins of the bands on the DVD itself, or for that matter give any other information about them (even the song titles) or the scenes in which they're shown. But it can be ascertained that groups from Finland (including Wigwam, perhaps the biggest name here), Sweden (Träd, Gräs och Stenar leading that nation's way), Denmark, and even Iceland (Thor's Hammer) are also represented. Understandably, not all of the clips (some obviously taken from television appearances, others from live festival-like settings) are in great shape, but it's all watchable, and some of the footage has been preserved quite well. The music's another matter, perhaps even if prog's your thing. These outfits aren't going to make anyone forget the best British (or even German and Italian) masters of the form, and while there are plenty of ambitious song structures and instrumental virtuosity, there's a shortage of memorable compositions. In that respect, it's a testament to just how eccentric the most progressive wing of rock music was getting by the early-to-mid-'70s, to the point of almost proud inaccessibility in some cases. Sui Generis does approximate prog-influenced pop-rock with folk-rock harmonies on their bit, and Thor's Hammer are likewise fairly song-oriented, but much of the rest makes you wonder how the musicians (and audiences) could have followed along with such obtuse, ponderous melodies—which is not necessarily a compliment. The performances are more straightforward than colorful, but if you are looking to zero in on the oddest slice, the high-pitched wordless scatting of the singer in Trettioariga Kriget gives Focus a run for its money in eerieness.
Various Artists, Out There: Wild and Wondrous Roots of Rock'n'Roll (Viper). It's now well known, even by many listeners who don't read music history books, that rock'n'roll had deep roots in numerous popular music styles that had previously evolved over the course of the first half of the twentieth century. There have even been numerous various-artists CD anthologies collecting pre-1955 songs that seemed to anticipate or even influence the birth of rock'n'roll itself. What sets this 20-song compilation aside from most of those, however, is that most such collections emphasize the decade or so before rock'n'roll took off in the mid-1950s. This disc has some such recordings, but goes all the way back to the early 1920s in search of rock'n'roll antecedents. It also, instead of wholly emphasizing blues, R&B, and maybe some country swing/hillbilly (as most such projects do), goes all over the map in its exposure of streams that fed into the rock'n'roll kaleidoscope. So you get not just the expected country blues (Charley Patton's "High Water Everywhere Part 1"), country boogie (Maddox Brothers and Rose's "Shimmy Shakin' Daddy"), and songs with obvious early uses of rock'n'roll lingo (Buddy Jones' "Rockin', Rollin' Mama"). There's also hypnotically eerie Native American traditional music (the Yaqui Tribe's "Deer Dance"), Hawaiian steel guitar (Kanui and Lula's "Tomi Tomi"), a mid-1930s Nigerian precursor to highlife (Tunde King's "Oba Oyinbo"), calypso (Wilmouth Houdini's "African Love Call"), and Tex-Mex border balladry (Lydia Mendoza's "Pero Hay Que Triste").
On a few early-'50s tracks toward the end, the journey toward something identifiably close to rock'n'roll becomes more apparent: Muddy Waters' instrumental "Evans Shuffle" isn't far from Cream's "Train Time," Arkie Shibley and His Mountain Dew Boys' "Dusty Blossom Boogie" is paving the way for rockabilly, and Cecil Gant's "Rock Little Baby" is straight boogie R&B. The set's greatest value, however, is in illustrating within a limited space just how wide rock'n'roll's roots were, without getting academic about it. These might be more rock'n'roll in spirit than in actual concrete style, but it's quite enjoyable and rollicking even if you don't have a scholarly interest in tracing musical evolution. If you do have academic inclinations as well, the set's well-annotated, and is heartily recommended to both collectors and general enthusiasts looking for something more vivacious than the usual anthology along these lines.
Various Artists, The Return of Mod Jazz (Ace). It took about five years for Ace to get from the fourth volume to the fifth one in its Mod Jazz series, but this 2005 compilation upholds the high standards set by its predecessors. The two dozen tracks represent 1960s jazz at its most accessible and dance-oriented, often (though not always) emphasizing groovy organ parts and swinging piano, mixing instrumentals with some vocal numbers. It's not the kind of stuff they'll teach in jazz history courses, but as for fun modern jazz with liberal blues, soul, and pop influences, it's hard to beat. As per Ace's formula, although a bunch of the names are well known (Gene McDaniels, Timmy Thomas, George Benson, Mongo Santamaria, Bill Doggett, Johnny Otis, Pucho & His Latin Soul Brothers, and Oscar Brown Jr.), none of the tracks selected by those artists are overly familiar. As for the rest of the cuts (save Mose Allison's "I Love the Life I Live"), it's doubtful that many outside hardcore collectors of this stuff have heard them. That doesn't mean, however, that the numbers by the relative unknowns are inferior, and in fact some of them rate among the disc's highlights. Googie Rene Combo's "Wild Bird," offers some ultra-tense, ultra-tight spooky choked organ; Kenny Rice & Leo's Five's "Hold It" has some real hot organ-R&B guitar interplay; and the Dave Davani Four's "Top of the Pops" can't fail to evoke the most jazz-oriented side of mid-'60s mod Swinging London. Of the other sides, Timmy Thomas' "Have Some Boogaloo," which predates his famous soul hit "Why Can't We Live Together" by a good five years, is a near-instrumental with garage jazz (if such a term exists) organ that shows a much different side of his music.
Various Artists, Unearthed Merseybeat Vol. 3: The Dawn of a New Era 1957-1968 (Viper). The third volume in the Unearthed Merseybeat series follows the same pattern as the previous two editions, with twenty rare, mostly unreleased cuts whose value might be more archival than purely musical. There's some genuinely good music here, though, and even what isn't so good helps illuminate the dustier corners of the Merseybeat sound, which encompassed more than just the Beatles or bands playing in what most people think of as the Merseybeat style. If you do like that Merseybeat style, however, there's some of that here, and generally they're the best tracks on the CD. The Kinsleys, a spin-off of the Merseybeats, offer some archetypal catchy, innocuous Merseybeat with the 1964 recording "Do Me a Favour," which the Swinging Blue Jeans would rework a little later for their single "Promise You'll Tell Her." The Merseybeats themselves are represented by a good 1965 outtake of "Soldier of Love," though it isn't nearly as good as the Beatles' 1963 BBC version. Both of these tracks are in excellent studio quality, but Gerry & the Pacemakers' 1961 recording "Pretend," like some of the other material here, is taken from a muffled, lo-fi source. The same thing goes for the two cuts by the only other group here to have hits in the US, the Swinging Blue Jeans, which were cut live in 1960.
Of the remaining songs, the best are the two psychedelic ones by Jimmy Campbell ("Michaelangelo") and his group the 23rd Turnoff ("Flowers Are Flowering"), which are among the few relics that show a Liverpool '60s band other than the Beatles convincingly moving into psychedelic pop. Some of the other tracks verge on the purely documentary in value, whether presenting average rock'n'roll covers or generic if modestly enjoyable early Merseybeat (the Four Originals, the Connoisseurs, Steve Day & the Kinsmen). Rarities by a couple more interesting names, however, are on hand with just-ex-Searchers-drummer Chris Curtis' unissued 1966 track "(Baby) You Don't Have to Tell Me" (shelved when the Walker Brothers issued the same song) and the Merseys' 1966 cover of Sam Cooke's "Nothing Can Change This Love." Like the other volumes in this series, this one is given comprehensive liner notes explaining the origins of these obscurities.
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Blackwell and His Orchestra, Those
Plucking Strings (RPM). Arranged by Charles Blackwell and
produced by the legendary Joe Meek, the instrumental LP Those
Plucking Strings was originally planned for release on Meek's
short-lived Triumph label in May 1960. Triumph went out of business in
1960, however, and Those Plucking
Strings didn't come out until this
2006 CD. Almost certainly this was mastered from the test pressing that
turned up in April 1997 at a London record shop, not the original
tapes, as there's some audible sonic imperfection (although this
doesn't seriously impair its listenability). As you'd expect from a
Meek-brainstormed instrumental album, the driving concept is pretty
quirky, setting skiffle songs (which were already out of fashion in the
UK) to orchestral arrangements with mild pop-rock touches. So it is you
get to hear classics like "Lonesome Traveller," "Rock Island Line,"
"Kisses Sweeter Than Wine," "Freight Train," and "Pick a bale O'Cotton"
played with an almost raw energy by pizzicato violins, cellos, and
violas, the rock quotient added by drummer Andy White (famous for
playing on the Beatles' "Love Me Do" single) and guitarist Eric Ford
(later to play on Donovan's "Sunshine Superman"). It's unavoidably
cheesy, yet at the same time it has a ridiculous energy that's
appealing in spite of itself. The strings dance through the songs with
real verve, the guitar and drums add some propulsive grit, and the
tempos often accelerate like a freight train with failing brakes.
Meek's hand can definitely be heard via the dense concentration of
instrumentation and considerable echo on the violins, and there are
definite similarities between these tracks and the orchestral backings
he'd oversee on many of his 1960s singles (like Heinz's "Dreams Do Come
True," for one). Plus the songs really are catchy. As contrived as the
whole project was, it's a likable guilty pleasure, for (or, perhaps at
least in part, because of) all its silliness and rushed-sounding
Graham Bond, Singles & Rarities Vol. 1 [bootleg] (Rock-In-Beat). While the appearance of rare Graham Bond material is welcome in any context, it must be acknowledged that this bootleg is a pretty patchy collection of odds and ends from his early recording career, much of which has actually been available on official CD reissue. There's little here that hasn't been officially issued at all, the big find being a version of "Wade in the Water" that's identified as originating from a 1963 EMI audition. It's actually not as good as the official versions of the song that Bond recorded later in the '60s, particularly as saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith does not appear on the track, but it's an interesting early relic nonetheless. After that cut opens the CD, the disc presents six sides on which the Graham Bond Quartet backed the fine, underrated British blues-rock singer Duffy Power. These numbers are okay (though not great), but all but one of them (an alternate version of "Farewell Baby") appeared on the legit 2002 Power CD compilation Leapers and Sleepers. And while the three subsequent live June 1963 recordings, which are pure jazz, are interesting, they were issued long ago on the Solid Bond LP compilation—not an easy thing to find nowadays, admittedly, but something that anyone likely to spring for a Bond bootleg in the first place might already own. Rounding things off are four fair, if unremarkable, rhythm-and-blues instrumentals from a rare mid-'60s EP by Jamaican guitarist Ernst Ranglin, on which Bond's band (billed as the GBs) served as the backup musicians. The packaging on the CD is minimal, further confining its value to completist collectors.
Kiki Dee, Love Makes the World Go Round: The Motown Years (Universal). This 18-track compilation includes everything from Dee's early-'70s Motown album Great Expectations, as well as two additional tracks from her time with the label that surfaced on the rare budget Kiki Dee album in 1974, along with four previously unreleased 1969-70 outtakes. While it's good to have this fairly rare material thoughtfully combined into one package, it reinforces the sense that neither Motown nor Dee realized the potential from their unusual association. Part of the problem is that there are too many undistinguished cover versions that can't help but suffer in comparison with the classic hit interpretations -- not only of songs made famous by fellow Motown artists like Stevie Wonder and the Miracles, but also hits by Dionne Warwick, Jackie DeShannon, Dusty Springfield, and Deon Jackson. Also, however, Dee's voice just isn't as powerful or imbued with character as those of Motown's top talents, and there's sometimes a sense of listening to an understudy for Dusty Springfield, albeit a competent one. So it's more pleasant than it is essential, though it's certainly pleasing enough if you're looking for enjoyable generic examples of the late-'60s Motown sound, albeit with a white British singer rather than a black Detroit one. Occasionally, too, she gets a chance to sink her teeth into some more satisfyingly adventurous material, like the luscious "Oh Be My Love" (co-written by Smokey Robinson) and the uncommonly stark (for Motown) ballad "Jimmy."
Floor, First Floor (Radioactive). The only album by the Danish band the Floor is heavily derivative of 1967 British pop-psychedelia, to the point where most knowledgeable listeners would simply assume the musicians were British if not informed otherwise. There are observational story-songs; upbeat pop-rockers with a mild vaudevillian/music hall bounce, a la some of the work from the period by the Beatles and the Kinks; baroque-classical-tinged strings; some flower-power-tinged lyrics; and an eclecticism that runs from relatively straight rock to self-consciously arty compositions. It might not be the most original piece of work, in the quite literal as well as musical sense, since none of the songs were written by the band, unless some of the songwriting credits were pseudonymous. But it's nonetheless decent, tuneful material with some attractive vocal harmonies, and more varied than many such records from the time. Some of the tracks are forgettable, yet others are a fair ways above average, including the delicately folky "Hush," which has a beguiling winding melody, and "Thinking Mr. Jones," whose "I'm Only Sleeping"-like backwards guitar features prominently in a tale of domestic infidelity that's very English in its gentility. "A Rainbow Around Us" rocks harder than most of the album, and is one of its highlights, with its mixture of sunny pop harmonies and well-oiled British Invasion/folk-rock-influenced jangling guitar.
Dorris Henderson with John Renbourn, Watch the Stars (Fledg'ling). The second and final record Dorris Henderson did with guitarist John Renbourn sharing billing as accompanist, 1967's Watch the Stars, was similar in most respects to the first, 1965's There You Go. Again, it matched the American folk singer's strong, emotive voice to Renbourn's excellent picking, through the guitar work isn't as flashy or striking as what he'd play on subsequent Pentangle and solo releases. A little texture is added via contributions by bassist Danny Thompson (who of course went on to play and record with Renbourn in Pentangle) and guitarist Tim Walker (who also wrote one of the better tracks, "It's Been a Long Time"). The material was a little more adventurous than the largely traditional debut had been; there were a few traditional folk songs here, but also covers of material by Bob Dylan, Hedy West, and British folk singer Anne Briggs, as well as a few originals by Henderson herself. To its credit, it includes some material which is more moodily melodic than much folk of the time. "Mosaic Patterns" (co-written by Henderson and Briggs) and "Gonna Tell My Lord" (written by Henderson alone) are particular standouts in that respect, the latter featuring some of her most stirring, spiritual vocals. The 2005 CD reissue adds, as a bonus track, the non-LP 1967 single "Message to Pretty," a cover of a song from Love's first album. Unlike everything else on the record, it's actual electric folk-rock, though it wasn't as good as the original, with a vocal that was a shade too melodramatic.
Lennon, D.J. Winston O'Boogie:
(Unicorn). This two-CD bootleg might not be a proper John Lennon
recording, or something of interest to anyone but diehard enthusiasts.
But for what it is -- a good-quality tape of Lennon's guest DJ spot on
WNEW-FM in New York on September 28, 1974, the commercials thoughtfully
edited to a minimum -- it's pretty good and entertaining. There are no
unique Lennon musical performances here, although some of his records
are played. Instead, you hear him banter with DJ Dennis Elsas; talk
about his own records and career, both solo and with the Beatles; and
hear him introduce and play a few of his favorite oldies, including the
obscure nuggets "Watch Your Step" (by Bobby Parker) and "Some Other
Guy" (by Richie Barrett). Lennon sounds pretty upbeat and happy to be
there, perhaps because his Walls and
Bridges album was about to hit
the shots, and he was eager to talk about and promote the LP (which he
did, playing and discussing several of its cuts). Most interesting,
however, are the opportunities to hear John talk about some topics that
didn't come up in interviews often, whether it's his rather dismissive
rating of the Yardbirds (Jeff Beck excepted); his disclosure that the
opening passage of "Some Other Guy" is similar to the intro to "Instant
Karma"; and the revelation that he was a fan of some of the Electric
Light Orchestra's early records. Elsas keeps him engaged with an
appropriate balance of questions and comments; it doesn't even annoy
Lennon when, as is inevitable, he's briefly quizzed about the prospects
of a Beatles reunion. While there's more conversation than music on
these discs, you also hear, in their entirety, the records they play,
whether by the Beatles, Lennon, the oldies Lennon brought to the
station, or, most unexpectedly, Splinter (produced by George Harrison).
It's a nice souvenir of one of Lennon's most open interactions with the
listening public during his solo years.
Makeba, Her Essential Recordings:
The Empress of African Song [DVD] (Manteca). The packaging on
this 40-song, two-CD anthology of this major South African artist—most
of it taken from recordings spanning the mid-1950s to late 1960s,
though there are a few from the 1970s too—leaves something to be
desired. The tracks are sequenced so that they jump back and forth
chronologically, and while there are well-written liner notes of decent
length, the song listings themselves do not spell out the dates and
sources for each recording. That makes it necessary to cumbersomely
shift back and forth between the notes and listings to figure out what
part of Miriam Makeba's career's being represented by what's coming
through the speakers. Whether or not you're one to get bugged by such
details, however, there's no denying that this set does contain a lot of good music,
even if its
sampling is rather scattershot. Her most famous recording, her 1967 hit
version of "Pata Pata," is here, but some tracks go all the way back to
mid-1950s South African recordings with the Manhattan Brothers. Again,
chronological sequencing would have really helped, but taken all
together, you do get a sense of the considerable ground she covered in
the 1950s and 1960s, from somewhat dated (but charmingly hokey)
jazz-pop backings to earthy rhythmic recordings that drew considerably
more from indigenous South African styles. There are also hints of
Latin music, torch jazz songs, duets with Harry Belafonte, gospel, and
even a bit of rock'n'roll. The constants, however, are Makeba's
reliably mellifluous, spirited vocals, as well as (with only a few
exceptions) a fine eye for integrating South African folk and popular
styles with some Western pop sensibilities. It might not be the most
coherently assembled Makeba compilation, but you'd have a hard time
beating it for the amount of diverse quality music it stuffs into two
Judy Mayhan, When I Think of You (Shayomi). Though a talented singer-songwriter, Judy Mayhan has only sporadically been able to release records. This archive release of previously unissued material, largely recorded in January 1979 (though three live tracks were done in March 1977), helps fill out both her discography and listeners' picture of her stylistic range. For while she's primarily thought of as a folk or folk-rock musician, Mayhan's singing and writing also encompasses jazz, pop, and mildly experimental shadings. The studio sides in particular are impressive: sparsely produced with a haunting, slightly reverberant atmosphere, they sound more like they were done in the 1960s than the late '70s, so free of 1970s slicknesss is the ambience. While her cover of Jimmy Webb's "The Moon Is a Marsh Mistress" is about as close as she gets to the mainstream, the wordless "The Bells" is something you might expect to find on an avant-garde album, her chilling wordless vocals backed only by chimes. At other moments, she sounds like a hip torch singer; on some originals ("Nobody's Home"), like a slightly dark early-'70s singer-songwriter. Most of the time, there's no instrumental backing save her own piano playing (and, on a couple of the live performances, bass). But her folkie roots resurface on the cover of Richard Fariña's "Swallow Song," where she switches to banjo, and which sounds just as stark and simply produced as any early-to-mid-'60s folk revival recording, though this too was done in 1979. It's the most memorable song on the disc, performed with an ageless scary conviction, though the warmer piano-based tracks have their merit as well. As an obscure reference point, those who enjoy the proficient yet slightly off-kilter, disquieting style of jazz singer Patty Waters might enjoy this too, though Mayhan is more conventional and accessible than Waters.
McKinley Mitchell, The Town I Live In (RPM/Shout). All of the material McKinley Mitchell cut for the small One-Derful label is on this 24-cut compilation, including everything he put on 1962-64 singles for the company; LP-only items from the sole album he did for the label; three songs that didn't show up until they were issued on a Japanese LP; and two alternate takes. While Mitchell may be a fairly minor '60s soul singer, within that category, he's one of the better ones, combining more-melancholy-than-usual gospel-fire soul with shades of blues, jazz, and pop. Too, although he recorded until 1985, this is certainly his most significant work. While he does recall Bobby Blue Bland on many of the sides, it's not in a blatantly imitative way. And if the arrangements likewise often look to popular trends in the early days of soul -- "Tell It Like It Is" is a little like early-'60s Motown, and "I Found an Angel" like Sam Cooke -- they're very well done. His R&B hit ballad "The Town I Live In" is an obvious standout, but there are numerous other fine songs, like its B-side "No Love (Like My Love)," on which he sounds rather like Howlin' Wolf gone slightly soul-pop. "You're Not Gonna Break My Heart" is about as raw as early-'60s soul got, though a smoother more Bland-ish style was more typical for the singer. Sometimes the songs were too obviously derivative -- "Watch Over Me" of the Miracles' "You Really Got a Hold on Me," for instance. But on the whole it's worthwhile stuff, from the era just before soul got codified into a more recognizable popular music style.
Clive Palmer, Banjoland (Sunbeam). Although he was part of the Incredible String Band when they recorded their debut album in 1966, Clive Palmer left the group after its release, largely vanishing into obscurity. He did keep recording and performing, however, and in late 1967, he recorded this solo album, produced by Peter Eden (who had been involved in Donovan's early management and productoin). Eden couldn't find a label to release it, and the material didn't come out until it was rescued for this 2005 CD reissue. Though its archaic, acoustic folk was, as Eden states in the liner notes, "wonderfully at odds with what the rest of the world was preoccupied with at the time," it's a surprisingly good listen. While all of the songs were traditional tunes (sometimes from quite ancient sources), it's not at all a stodgy revivalist exercise. It's hard to finger why this projects more charm and liveliness than many a similar folk revival recording, but it certainly does. There's a droll irreverence to Palmer's arrangements, banjo playing, and dry vocals, even though he apparently didn't bother to change the gender for passages that seem intended to have been sung by women. He also invests some songs, such as "Ma-Koush-La," "I Hear You Calling Me," and "Smiling Through," with an inviting bittersweet melancholy. There are virtually no nods to rock or pop in the production, but it's not solely Palmer and his banjo; Wizz Jones adds guitar occasionally, and "Stories of Jesus," far less expectedly, is graced with a string quartet. While this isn't incredibly similar to the Incredible String Band's work, it should appeal to many ISB fans, and isn't really that far removed from the ISB's more traditional folk-based stuff, which was heard more on the sole album they did with Palmer in the lineup than on anything else they recorded. The CD adds four quite tasty bonus tracks, two of them being country-swing-oriented Palmer-Jones duets from a late-'60s BBC radio program, the others recorded by the pair at Jones' house in late 1967.
The Rolling Stones, Touring History Vol. 5: Rare Video 1964-1968 [DVD] [bootleg] (Bad Wizard). This bootleg DVD compilation of performance clips from the Rolling Stones' career might not be complete or technically top-notch. But there's a lot of material -- almost two hours' worth -- and of the numerous unauthorized vintage Stones compilations, it's one of the better ones, if frustratingly imperfect. It includes some of their most significant early television appearances, such as their early-'64 live presentation of "I Wanna Be Your Man" and "You Better Move On," which seems to be the earliest footage of the band that's circulated; their infamous 1964 appearance on Dean Martin's variety show; their exciting spot at the 1964 NME Pollwinners' Concert; and their 1965 Shindig "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," their first live performance of that classic. Less excitingly, there are also numerous less compelling mid-'60s clips that were mimed to records; promo films for "We Love You," "2000 Light Years Away," "Jumpin' Jack Flash," and "Child of the Moon"; and their portion of The Rolling Stones Rock'n'Roll Circus, which, while good, is easily available on official DVD. While the overall quality's decent, there are also the usual not-quite-impeccable transfers common to bootleg product, as well as some clipped beginnings and endings. As entertaining as it is, it emphasizes the need for a legitimate discs, or discs, that would anthologize this material with the technological quality it deserves. There is one brief but amusing clip that will probably never show up on anything official, though: a 1964 cereal commercial for which the Stones provided the jingle (which is surprisingly bluesy and rowdy).
Bob Seger, Lookin' Back (The Limited Edition Company/Hall of Fame Recordings). Accurately subtitled "20 Early Seger Rarities On Compact Disc!," this brings together many of Bob Seger's hardest-to-find tracks from the first five years or so of his recording career, spanning 1966-71. The problem is that it's not exactly an authorized production, as its limited availability, sketchy liner notes, and lack of a catalog number make clear. Nonetheless, it does exist on a CD, the label given as "The Limited Edition Company" on the back cover and "Hall of Fame Recordings" on the disc itself. And it does include desirable rarities, particularly his first batch of singles from 1966-67. Those comprise about half the CD, and include some smoking garage-roots-rockers, particularly the gritty "East Side Story" and "Persecution Smith," a frenetic takeoff on Bob Dylan's "Tombstone Blues." Other of those early songs aren't so good, but there are other high points, like his soul-rocker "Heavy Music" (parts one and two both included), "Vagrant Winter," and "Chain Smokin'," as well as the novelties "Sock It To Me Santa" and "Ballad of the Yellow Beret." The last half of the disc is mostly taken from slightly later recordings, including "2+2=?" (one of the great underrated anti-war rock songs of all time), seven tunes that also appeared on his late-'60s LP Noah, and the early-'70s single "Lookin' Back." These tracks (and indeed all of the cuts on this disc) find Seger searching for a style to some extent, from garage rock and blue-eyed soul to the Traffic-style "Paint Them a Picture Jane" and protest numbers. Yet it's not a stretch to note that they also include some of the rawest, most passionate music and singing of his entire career. What's really needed, however, is an official release of this material that would not only boast the best sound possible (though the fidelity on this disc is pretty good), but also offer more than the mere fragmentary discography that serves as this compilation's thin excuse for liner notes.
Ananda Shankar, A Life in Music (Saregama). To most of the West, Ananda Shankar is most familiar for the records he made at the beginning (1970's Ananda Shankar) and end (2000's Walking On) of his recording career, which were the only ones to gain relatively wide distribution outside India. However, Shankar did continue to record fairly often for EMI India in the interim. That period's well represented by this overdue two-CD compilation, which draws from seven of his Indian albums between 1975 and 2000. On most of these instrumental recordings, Shankar pursued what has been generally, though pretty accurately, classified as an East-West fusion of sorts, melding sitar and traditional Indian music and instruments with rock and funk arrangements and modern recording technology. Often that's a recipe for disaster, or at least cheesiness, but Shankar usually managed to make it effective. On the earlier tracks in particular, there's often a lagging-behind-the-trends psychedelic funk feel, with unpredictable but galvanizing shifts between Indian-flavored melodies/rhythms, careening synthesizers, wah-wah guitars, acid jazz organ, dancing cinematic strings, and a quite hard-charging solid rock-influenced beat. From a twenty-first century perspective, these sound at once dated and futuristic, stuffed with quasi-psychedelicisms that some would consider passe, yet run through a blender in a way that has no obvious counterpart on more familiar American and European recordings of the period. Some other selections tilt more toward the Indian music-overlaid-with-modern-beats-and-production style, and are both more conventional and less impressive. The best half or so of this compilation, however, is quite dynamic, and makes a case for Shankar as one of the ablest and most balanced fusioneers of Western and Eastern forms.
Clare Torry, Heaven in the Sky (RPM). Clare Torry will forever be known mostly as the guest session vocalist on Pink Floyd's "Great Gig in the Sky" on the Dark Side of the Moon album. However, in addition to singing on many other UK sessions from the end of the 1960s through the mid-1990s, she also recorded some obscure solo singles and wrote some of her own material. Heaven in the Sky collects 18 recordings from 1967-84 on which she's the featured singer. It's not entirely clear what has been previously released from the otherwise thorough liner notes, but it does reach way back to the late 1960s and early 1970s for a few rare solo singles, including a 1970 45 she did under the name Alice Pepper. Because it's taken from numerous sources (including commercials, television themes, and soundtracks) reaching across almost two decades, it's unavoidably patchy. But it does sound as if, had things worked out a little differently, Torry might have had a career as a respectable singer-songwriter in her own right. She has a strong, soulful voice and exhibited some promise as a soul-pop composer, and certainly sounds to these ears like a greater talent than, say, her friend Kiki Dee. The highlights do tend to be the earlier tracks, such as the previously unissued 1969 outtake "Midnight Train," which is fine blue-eyed soul, and the melodramatic ballad (from the same year) "Love for Living," which Robin Gibb helped produce. And for those who liked her contribution to "Great Gig in the Sky," "Theme from Film 'OCE'" (from a 1977 film soundtrack) has more of the same kind of beautiful wordless high vocalizing, though she infers in the liner notes that she was reluctant to record in a style so explicitly reminiscent of that famous Pink Floyd guest spot. Much of the other material falls down not so much on the singing, which is usually good, as the material, which is often ordinary or even drab mainstream pop. Still, the better parts are impressive, and make one hope that some of the other rare/unreleased recordings referred to in the liner notes are eventually issued on CD.
Pete Townshend, Jai Baba (Eel Pie). In the 1970s, Pete Townshend participated in three limited-edition albums devoted to Meher Baba: Happy Birthday (1970), I Am (1972), and With Love (1976). While Townshend was just one of several musicians and poets involved in the recordings, they immediately became sought-after items among Who collectors, as they did include several genuine Townshend solo tracks that did not appear on standard commercial releases (although a few of those came out, either on the original LP or as CD bonus tracks, on releases of Townshend's first solo album, Who Came First). The idea behind this two-CD 2000 compilation, available through the www.eelpie.com website, was a very good one, combining all three of these scarce albums onto two discs, as well as adding one bonus cut (a live 1972 version of "Parvardigar"). Be cautioned that this is probably for serious fans only: there's only about one album of actual Townshend solo material here, and even this material generally isn't quite up to the standard of what he was putting on his commercial releases of the 1970s, whether for the Who or his solo recordings.
All that taken into consideration, almost all of the Townshend solo cuts are worthwhile, and if they have something of a one-man demo quality, that adds to the inviting sense of personal informality they project. The tracks he contributed to Happy Birthday in particular are standouts, including the brooding, reflective "Day of Silence"; the pious "Content," which did appear on Who Came First; his own version of the Who's hit "The Seeker"; the bright, country-influenced "Mary Jane"; the peculiar braggadocio of "The Love Man"; and a cover of "Begin the Beguine" that, while it sounds like a lousy idea on paper, is surprisingly heartfelt and appealing. The ten-minute instrumental version of "Baba O'Riley" (from I Am) is also more interesting than you'd expect, the clattering synthesizers evoking an eerie mystery of their own. His three songs from With Love have a delicate sensitivity sometimes missing from his Who compositions of the time, though all of them ("Sleeping Dog," "His Hands," and "Lantern Cabin") were officially issued as bonus tracks on a CD reissue of Who Came First.
The rest of these records are rather hit-and-miss, from highlights like Ronnie Lane's rough-hewn "Evolution" (which appeared on Who Came First), to interesting-but-esoteric items like experimental composer Ron Geesin's atmospheric instrumental "With a Smile Up His Nose They Entered" and Mike Da Costa's goofy poem "How to Transcend Duality and Influence People." Billy Nicholls does a few songs in an appealingly shaky, high Townshend-esque voice, but some of the other contributions are wimpy singer-songwriter efforts (albeit with a fascinatingly dated aura) and somewhat grating spoken word pieces. Still, even these are of interest for serious Townshend followers, as they give a sense of the context of his devotion to Meher Baba (and some of the other people he interacted with as a result of that association), which informed a great deal of his songwriting. The pieces of these recordings that have emerged on standard Townshend solo releases might be enough for general fans, but for specialists, it's quite enlightening (and usually entertaining) to hear them whole, as they were originally assembled.
Kim Weston, The Motown Anthology (Motown). The two-CD, 48-track size of this anthology might be taken to signify a definitive collection of sorts of Kim Weston's recordings for Motown. But while it's of considerable use to Motown collectors, it has to be approached with some caution by less completist-oriented listeners, and can't be classified as a definitive best-of. For one thing, it doesn't include any of her duets with Marvin Gaye, instead being wholly devoted to solo recordings. In addition, the emphasis is very much on rare material, as no less than 34 of the cuts were previously unreleased. So while it does lead off with some of her more familiar Motown songs that actually did find official release in the '60s (including her hits "Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)" and "Helpless"), it's for the most part a dig through unexposed vaults, and doesn't even include all of the solo Motown tracks she put out during the '60s. With your expectations duly adjusted, this is still a worthwhile compilation of one of the Detroit label's less celebrated artists, though it doesn't reveal Weston as one of Motown's more talented ones. She was more likable than spectacular, with a softer, sometimes jazzier edge to her singing than most of her peers at the company, occasionally slightly reminiscent of Dionne Warwick. The jazzy inclination really comes out on "Love Trouble Heartache and Misery," one of the highlights among the unreleased numbers, and the similarity to Warwick is strong on "I Don't Know If I'm Coming or Going," though at other times Motown seemed to be trying to put her into a Mary Wells bag she really didn't fit. Greatest Hits & Rare Classics remains a preferable compilation for the general listener due to its greater and more thorough concentration on her official Motown discography (including her "It Takes Two" hit duet with Gaye). For the Motown fanatic, though, this does offer a lot of unreleased (if somewhat second-division) material penned by major writers at the label like Smokey Robinson and Mickey Stevenson, the most interesting of those tracks being the earlier ones, when the Motown sound wasn't as formulaic as it would become later in the 1960s.
Various Artists, Going Underground Vol. 2: The Dutch Music Scene [DVD] [bootleg] (Missing in Action Archives). As unauthorized DVDs (as this one likely is) go, this one might strike even those who collect these kind of things as mighty esoteric, compiling about an hour of footage from Dutch progressive rock bands of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The general US/UK fan is likely to have heard of a couple of the acts, Focus and Golden Earring. Plus many collectors who dig further than the hit parade may have heard, or even own records by, the Outsiders (not exactly a "progressive rock" band, but they make the cut anyway), Group 1850, and Ekseption. The others—Sandy Coast, Earth and Fire, Solution, and Kayak—are barely known even in the dedicated collector world. If you do have a specialized interest in this sort of stuff, however, this is fairly well done, even if seems like most or all of it was taped from television retrospectives, and not taken from the original source. Too, much of the material is lip-synced; not all of the songs are performed in completion; and a few (though not most) of the clips are obviously not pre-1975, but taken from reunions. Still, there's some decent material here, like Earth and Fire's mixture of heavy rock, pop, and progressive elements; Group 1850's bizarre, cryptic "Mother Nohead" (unfortunately overlaid with distracting captions). The Outsiders, sadly, are represented by one of their least impressive recordings ("Cup of Hot Coffee"), and don't actually even mime a performance in that clip, instead romping around on a boat. Golden Earring's performance of their huge international hit "Radar Love" is mimed too, but by the standard of lip-synced videos it's pretty good, and quite dynamically executed.
Various Artists, The Philly Sound Get Down: Funky Philly Instrumentals (Distortions). No original labels or release dates grace this package of two dozens Philadelphia funk rarities, presumably from the late 1960s (and possibly very early 1970s) by the sound of things. Nor will any of the artists ring any bells of recognition, even with the vast majority of specialist soul/funk collectors. Nor do the paragraph-long liner notes give us any clues about who these cats were, and whether all of this stuff was even officially released at the time. In a way, though, that's cool, making you feel almost as though you're an archeologist digging up unidentified objects from a civilization that, while certainly not lost, isn't exactly well documented. For all its relative anonymity, however, the quality of the music is pretty good. Many of the cuts bear a specifically Philly regional spin on the funk sound: horn sections that sound as if they've sneaked off the football field to get into something hipper, peppy and upbeat rhythms, and a certain sweetness to the melodies and arrangements that set them apart from the more gutbucket variety of funk being ground out by James Brown and his imitators. There might not be anything here as hit-worthy as the chart singles by Booker T. & the MG's, but neither is it as faceless as so many rarity compilations are. And plenty of idiosyncratic touches bubble upward to catch your attention, like the elephant roar in Philly Four's "Elephant Part 2"; the oddly echoed horns of Willis Wooten Ork's "Do the Train"; the deft blend of brass and wah-wah guitar in RDM Band's "Butter That Popcorn"; the exceptionally tight party funk of Brass Rail's "Penguin Part 2"; and the almost doleful cast of the Interpretations' funk ballad "Lineman." The twenty-fifth and final track, "Bonus Funky Philly Virtue Acetate Beats," strings together snatches of cuts that (at a logical guess) come from acetates produced at Philadelphia's Virtue Studio, and might not have been used in full due to their deteriorated sound quality.
Various Artists, Scratch My Back: New Rubble Vol. 5
(Past & Present). The woman-sung wing of the British Invasion was
far more oriented toward pop and ballads than the harder-rocking sounds
associated with the male UK rock groups. There were, however, some
records by female artists with tougher rock and soul arrangements and
vocals, even if they were hardly on the level of raunchiness (or
quality) of the Rolling Stones or Who. This compilation brings together
17 such rare sides from 1964-70, mostly by names who'll ignite little
recognition on either side of the Atlantic, though Billie Davis had a
big 1963 hit in the UK (not included here). It might be longer on
energy than excellent material, but nonetheless it's a good listen,
both for the high-voltage performances and the sheer historical
interest of hearing a side of 1960s British rock that's rarely been
given any attention. And while it's uneven stuff with little in the way
of tunes that sound like they should have been hits, there are some
good, solid efforts to enjoy; considering how few people pay attention
to this sub-genre, in fact, it's likely to be the best comp of this
sort ever done. Davis's "Whatcha Gonna Do," which sounds more like a
tough girl-group record than the stereotypical British Invasion one,
does seem worthy of hit status. Tammy St. John does the rawest version
of "Boys" likely to have been recorded; Tracy Rogers offers a quite
good cover of the throbbing "Baby," first done by the underrated male
British R&B-pop combo the Sorrows; Alma Cogan, a pre-rock pop
singer, does convincing, even propulsive girl group music with "Snakes,
Snails, Puppy Dog Tails"; Samantha Jones summons credible blue-eyed
soul-pop with "Go Ahead"; and Dawn & the Deejays' "These Are the
Things About You" comes about the closest of anything here to the
catchy pop-rock commonly associated with British Invasion rock groups.
If you want novelty, there's "Sock It to Me" by Judy Carnes, who was
famous for dancing with that slogan written on her belly on the Laugh-In TV show.
Various Artists, The Stax Volt Revue [DVD] [bootleg] (Cat's Meow). The availability of any live footage of Stax/Volt performers in the 1960s is to be welcomed, even if it's in an unauthorized guise with slightly grainy image quality. That's what you get on this approximately hour-long TV, where the performances are good-to-superb, and the packaging subpar. Aside from the less-than-optimum (though perfectly watchable) quality and utter absence of track listings, liner notes, or extra features, it's billed as being "Live on Dutch TV 1965!" Not so -- it's certainly live and filmed at just one venue (Booker T. & the MGs also functioning as a backing band for other artists), but it's certainly not from 1965, as these performers didn't travel together to Europe until after that (and some of the songs they sing are from post-1965 releases). It's almost certainly from the Stax}/Volt tour of Europe in early 1967. All such shortcomings noted, these are still pretty exciting clips of Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Booker T. & the MGs, Eddie Floyd, Arthur Conley, and the Mar-Keys, playing and singing live, not miming to records. Redding and Sam & Dave's showmanship might come off best, but Booker T. & the MGs play a really hot version of "Green Onions" on their own, while Arthur Conley lets loose on his classic single "Sweet Soul Music." It's fine document of an important part of '60s soul music that would be yet finer if a better source for the material could be found, and the package correspondingly improved.
ALBUM REVIEWS: A SELECTION OF RECENT RELEASES, WINTER 2005-2006:
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.
If you like Ayers, it doesn't get much better than the 1970 material here, the first four songs featuring various members of his former group the Soft Machine in the backing group (including Robert Wyatt on drums and very active backing vocals). It's an invigorating mix of witty whimsy, art-rock indulgence, improvisational jazz, and absolutely unpredictable see-saws between profundity and inspired silliness. To name a few highlights, "You Say You Like My Hat" is a childishly infectious ditty that would do Syd Barrett proud, Wyatt's scatting backing vocals very much to the fore. The graceful, haunting "Lady Rachel" is a solid contender for his best song, here performed with his band the Whole World (including a teenaged Mike Oldfield on guitar), while "Shooting at the Moon," also with the Whole World, is an excellent, ferociously woozy, jazzy update of the early Soft Machine song "Jet Propelled Photograph." The mood lightens for the six tracks from 1972, on which Ayers' voice and guitar is accompanied only by bassist-singer Archie Leggett, including some of his more celebrated and accessible tunes ("Butterfly Dance," "Whatevershebringswesing") and a cover of the pop standard "Falling in Love Again."
With 1973-76 recordings, disc two might be less satisfying as it has a less idiosyncratic, more mainstream rock sound. Still, Ayers' diffident, almost tossed-off humor shines pretty strongly, and the songs include some of his better-known numbers, such as "Oh What a Dream," "Lady Rachel" (a 1974 version), and "Stranger in Blue Suede Shoes." The sound quality's not always top-of-the-line, but it's always listenable, ranging from fair (not very often) to very good (most of the time). Overall, the compilation might not be a match for the studio recordings, but they're quite worthwhile for any Ayers fan. It contains some uncommon songs; the arrangements sometimes differ substantially from the more familiar versions; and Ayers, unlike some artists at BBC sessions, often seems intent on presenting a unique performance, rather than just more or less re-creating his records.
Chicago Blues Reunion, Buried Alive in the Blues [DVD]. The Chicago Blues Reunion is a large group whose members include several esteemed blues and blues-rock veterans, among them Barry Goldberg, Nick Gravenites, Tracy Nelson, Corky Siegel, Harvey Mandel, and Sam Lay. This DVD mixes performance footage (all taken from a concert in Berwyn, IL in October, 2004) of the band with interviews and a few archive clips (some of them silent). Although there's considerable material of interest here, it's a bit of an odd jumble that's not wholly a document of the Chicago Blues Reunion itself, and not wholly a history of the Chicago blues scene in which these players were involved. It's some of both, and not nearly comprehensive or rigorously organized enough to be an overall history of the Chicago blues scene, or even an overall history of these specific players' involvement in that community. Instead, it presents the musicians telling stories about themselves and each other, usually rooted in their coming-of-age experiences as young blues or blues-influenced artists in the 1960s, with additional context supplied by interviews with non-Chicago Blues Reunion members like critic Joel Selvin and guitarists Buddy Guy and B.B. King.
The stories in the interviews are the highlights, like Barry Goldberg remembering the battle to win Muddy Waters' respect and playing with Bob Dylan at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival; Harvey Mandel recalling joining Canned Heat as an emergency fill-in, and playing Woodstock just a few days later; and various memories of the excitement and novelty of being among the first whites to venture into Chicago clubs to check out the blues first-hand in the early and mid-'60s. While the bits of archive footage are interesting, including silent sequences of the young Paul Butterfield and Elvin Bishop in Chicago clubs and sound clips of the Electric Flag, there's not enough to make it worth viewing on that account alone. The scenes of the Chicago Blues Reunion in performance are well done, and in addition to providing whatever thematic center this DVD has, they present a solid if somewhat workmanlike lineup of respected veterans. This underscores their function as a link to the classic Chicago blues sound, as Selvin notes, at a time when the original greats like Waters and Howlin' Wolf can't be seen anymore, and the closest you could come was to see people who did see them or play with them.
Although the focus of this is too scattered to recommend to general blues fans, admirers of these specific musicians may enjoy what they have to offer in both the interviews and performances here. (It should be noted that Sam Lay, most famous as a drummer, only vocalizes in his onstage footage with the Chicago Blues Reunion.) Accompanying the DVD is a full 14-song live CD of the band, mixing original material by Gravenites, Nelson, and Mandel with covers of classics by the likes of Slim Harpo and Willie Dixon. It's unfortunate, however, that there are no credits detailing who sings and plays what on each track.
The Delmore Brothers, Fifty Miles to Travel (Ace). This great country duo was in their prime when the material on this 24-song compilation was recorded for King from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s. This isn't the cream of that crop, as much of that was been collected on an earlier, superior Ace anthology, Freight Train Boogie. As a secondary collection, however, it presents some always respectable and often very good hillbilly music. It concentrates on sides that hadn't previously been reissued on CD, or reissued at all, including half a dozen outtakes and alternate takes that hadn't been released anywhere, and repeating little from the Freight Train Boogie compilation. While there's some hot country boogie here, there's a little bit more weight given to folky, more traditional-sounding songs such as "Midnite Special" and "Dis Train Am Bound for Glory" than there is on the best Delmore Brothers anthologies. It's often a little more sedate and less innovative than their best King stuff, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of exceptional harmonizing and bluesy guitar picking (as on the aptly titled "Fast Express"), occasionally embellished by the harmonica of Wayne Raney. Although most of these are from the less traveled corners of the duo's King output, the CD does have one of their most famous classics, "Blues Stay Away from Me," and -- of more interest to collectors -- a previously unissued alternate take of the song. There also unfortunate unflattering slang references to African-Americans in the otherwise stellar "Mississippi Shore," sung with a casual geniality suggesting such terminology was hardly out of the ordinary among the white southern country audience when this single came out in 1947. The tracks are taken directly from the original acetates, resulting in a clear sound that's quite exceptional for reissues of country music from this period.
Jackie DeShannon, Breakin' It Up on the Beatles Tour! (RPM). Contrary to what the exploitative title might have you believe, this was not recorded during a Beatles tour (though DeShannon was an opening act on their 1964 North American tour), or even a live album. Instead, it was something of a grab bag of a dozen tracks that had already been released on Liberty singles between 1962 and 1964. For all its scattered origins, however, it was a pretty good compilation of her early-'60s work, though it was neither definitive nor the very best dozen tracks she did during this period. The best stuff is extremely good, however, starting with her original versions of "Needles and Pins" and "When You Walk in the Room," both of which anticipated some of the elements that would make up folk-rock in the mid-'60s, and both of which were covered for much bigger hits by the Searchers. There's also some fine girl group-influenced pop-rock that she co-wrote with the young Randy Newman ("She Don't Understand Him Like I Do," "Hold Your Head High"), Jack Nitzsche (the very Phil Spectoresque "Should I Cry"), and Sharon Sheeley ("You Won't Forget Me"), as well as a good song Newman wrote alone, "Did He Call Today, Mama." Some of the other tracks, such as the covers of Buddy Holly's "Oh, Boy" and "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," come off as filler in this company, but overall it's a fairly strong set by this underrated singer-songwriter. The 2005 CD reissue on RPM adds considerable value with lengthy historical liner notes and eight bonus tracks from the same era, including a few standouts, like her folk-rocky "Needles and Pins" B-side "Till You Say You'll Be Mine," the zesty orchestrated pop-rocker "Try to Forget Him," and the girl group goodie "Breakaway." Collectors will also want this for the presence of three previously unreleased cuts among those bonus tracks, those being a pure blues-folk reading of "Mean Old Frisco" and the more routine early-'60s-styled pop numbers "Today Will Have No Night" and "Give Me a Break."
Lonnie Donegan, Lonesome Traveller (Castle). The idea behind this 27-song compilation seems to have been to cherry-pick Lonnie Donegan's most artistically credible performances, highlighting, in the words of the back cover blurb, "his skills as an interpreter of traditional American roots music." So while there are a few hits here (including the title track), his big skiffle hits are mostly absent, as are his novelties like "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour (On the Bedpost Overnight)" and "My Old Man's a Dustman (Ballad of a Refuse Disposal Officer)." Instead, this favors relatively obscure tracks from LPs, EPs, and B-sides, from the mid-'50s all the way up to the mid-'60s. Donegan's style is still too derivative, and the arrangements too dated (not to say occasionally corny), for these recordings to exert as much of a hold on modern listeners as those of, say, Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, to name two of Donegan's biggest inspirations. Still, there are some surprises here for those who dismiss Donegan as a mere popularizing entertainer, if only in the versatility of the material. There are some 1960 US-recorded pop-rock sides produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (who also wrote one of them, "Sorry, But I'm Gonna Have to Pass"). Some arrangements tentatively employ electric guitar and drums (such as a 1959 version of "The House of the Rising Sun"), and while these aren't exactly folk-rock, they do show that Donegan had an idea to combine folk material with electric amplification long before folk-rock became a craze in the mid-'60s. There's rather commercial sounding calypso in the covers of Mickey & Sylvia's "Love Is Strange" and "I Wanna Go Home," better known to rock fans as a variation of the folk song adapted by the Beach Boys on their 1966 hit "Sloop John B." There's even a 1965 Dylan cover ("Farewell (Fare Thee Well)"), as well as the occasional track that sounds good on its own terms, like his 1963 rock-ish full-band cover of the folk favorite "500 Miles Away from Home." This stuff's been reissued so many times over that it's hard to say exactly who might be snared by this attempt to group it under a vague concept, but it's not a bad sampler of some of Donegan's better work, though it shouldn't be picked up in lieu of a greatest hits or best-of compilation. Note, however, that this version of "Rock Island Line" is not the original mid-'50s hit, but a different 1956 recording that wasn't issued at the time.
Rogerio Duprat, A Banda Tropicalista Do Duprat (El). Duprat is most known as an arranger of Brazilian tropicalia music, but did also release music under his own name. This 1968 album will undoubtedly be of interest to collectors of '60s tropicalia and/or Brazilian psychedelia, if only because three of the 12 tracks are actually vocal numbers performed by Os Mutantes (though two of those are merely covers of the Cowsills' "The Rain, The Park, and Other Things" and the Beatles' "Lady Madonna"). Overall it's a bit of an odd endeavor, falling somewhere between easy listening music and the kind of madcap experimentation more typical of his most celebrated clients. It's of a higher class than most easy listening albums, from Brazil or otherwise, however. For even if the predominantly instrumental material is sometimes cheesy (and sometimes covers not-so-classic American and British hits of the era such as "Summer Rain," "Honey," and "Cinderella Rockafella"), the arrangements are often infused with off-the-wall zany imagination and wit. Nowhere is this more apparent than the interpretation of "Judy in the Disguise," which has to be the most vibrant and playful cover of that classic 1968 hit ever waxed, complete with infectious jazzy Latin rhythms, birdcalls, and honking horns. The fusion of foreign pop-rock, sexy soundtrack music, and relatively indigenous Brazilian popular forms is apparent to some degree on many of the other cuts, though some of the orchestration is fatuous. Songs by Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil are also given the Duprat treatment here, the soppy strings in Veloso's "Baby" nicely counterpointed by a (deliberately?) out of tune strummed guitar. It's doubtful many listeners will totally like or totally hate this, such is its uneven mix of elements. But most lovers of pop that doesn't take itself too seriously will get some fun out of it.
Champion Jack Dupree with T.S. McPhee, Dupree 'n' McPhee: The 1967 Blue Horizon Session (Ace).
The session at which these 16 tracks were recorded (in 1967, though there's some speculation it might have been done earlier) was a most unusual one for Champion Jack Dupree, and to a lesser degree for T.S. McPhee. Although Dupree was a pianist, not only does he play no piano here -- there is no piano to be heard. Instead, the sole accompaniment is the acoustic guitar of T.S. McPhee, soon to become famous as the figurehead of the British blues-rock band the Groundhogs. It's an unusual combination, and not the best or most characteristic Dupree recording. That doesn't mean, however, that it isn't worthwhile, particularly for some of the more open-minded fans of traditional-styled acoustic blues. Dupree's vocals are characteristically warm and inviting on this set of pretty downhome, rootsy blues, all written by Dupree and McPhee themselves. McPhee's guitar work might be the most noteworthy aspect of this recording date, however, even if he didn't get lead billing. His playing is both proficient and moving, particularly when he unleashes the snakiest of his slide guitar lines, as he does on "Get Your Head Happy," "No Meat Blues," and the brisk "Got My Ticket" in particular. It's a low-key group of recordings, but a pleasantly earthy one. Two of them, "Get Your Head Happy" and "Easy Is the Way," came out on a limited-edition 1967 single, and another on a 1997 CD, but all of the others made their first appearance anywhere on this 2005 compilation.
Mike Furber, Just a Poor Boy (Radioactive). The dozen tracks on this obscure Australian rocker's 1967 LP were, as was often the case for the time, culled from a variety of sources, including two 1966 singles that saw some Australian regional chart action, "Just a Poor Boy" and "You Stole My Love." It's fair British Invasion-styled rock, though it doesn't stop with just imitating overseas trends, as most of the songs are themselves covers of British and American tunes. Some of the British ones covered, in fact, are quite obscure: "You Stole My Love" was first done (and handled much better, to be honest) by Graham Gouldman's mid-'60s band the Mockingbirds, while "Stop" was an early Moody Blues original. Furber was an okay but uneven singer, and in fact sounds rather horribly off-pitch on "Stop."He also seemed to favor fairly tough R&B material that was actually a little too tough for his ordinary range, rather in the way British singers like Neil Christian and Dave Berry recorded some hard R&B that was a little at odds with their mild, pop-oriented voices. The moody, tuneful Merseybeat-ish beat ballad "You're Back Again" and the similar (but harder rocking) "Love Talk" are the standouts, both because they're not overly familiar songs, and because they're more suited toward Furber's voice than the soul-R&B stuff. Yet while it's good to have a CD reissue of this rare album available, as packaging goes, this makes even the skimpiest bootleg look good. Not only are there no liner notes or original release labels or dates; there are not even any song titles listed. (There are, however, two photos, each of them printed three times in various places on the cover and inner sleeve.)
Dave Hamilton, Detroit City Grooves Featuring "Soul Suite" (BGP). Dave Hamilton is known more as a Detroit soul producer than as a recording artist -- that is, to the relatively small number of serious soul collectors who are even aware of who he is. Hamilton did, however, record some material under his own name, dating all the way back to the mid-1950s. This CD compilation sticks solely to the instrumental soul-jazz-funk material the multi-instrumentalist cut between 1967 and the early 1970s, about half of which would have probably comprised an unreleased 1970 album called Soul Suite. While four of the tracks appeared on obscure 1967-71 singles and a couple of others showed up on CD compilations in the late 1990s, the rest make their first appearance on this disc. It might not be brilliant or exert a magnetic pull beyond aficionados of this particular form of groove. But it's actually quite nice instrumental soul mood music, more unassuming and easygoing than much of the stuff that's championed by devotees of this sub-genre. The frequent use of silky guitar lines, vibes, and Stevie Wonder-like harmonica pushes this a little into lounge-easy listening territory, but in some of the best senses of that description. Those who want something a little tougher won't go away starving, either, as "Brother Ratt" opens with some outer-space wah-wah, sliding into a nicely funky workout with astral vibes flourishes. The guitars (often using wah-wah effects) and basses can get pretty hard-hitting in a smoothly percolating way, particularly on "Yesterdays," where some just-slightly-dissonant harmonica bleats add a nice edge. It's a modest collection, but an attractive one, and a more pleasurable listen than many an acid jazz reissue with more hip credibility.
Hardin & York, Tomorrow Today (RPM). Hardin & York's debut album was quite competent yet derivative early progressive rock, and derivative of Traffic in particular. At least, however, it came by its influences quite honestly, Pete York having drummed behind Stevie Winwood in the Spencer Davis Group, and Eddie Hardin having joined the Spencer Davis Group after Winwood left. And the duo does get quite a lot of sound out of their keyboards and drums, although they had plenty of backup from some session musicians. Eddie Hardin sings and writes uncannily like Winwood circa Traffic's "Forty Thousand Headmen" period, but while that's a good standard to shoot for, therein also lies the problem: it's not quite as good as the Winwood-paced Traffic, and certainly not as original. All that noted, if you're looking for something in the mold of Traffic-lite and keeping your expectations realistically modest, this is pretty decent stuff. It might be a tad more rooted in soul-pop than Traffic, but it doesn't suffer for that. Hardin's vocals are impressively rich and gritty, and his piano and organ quite skillful. The 2005 CD reissue on RPM adds historical liner notes and four bonus cuts from the same sessions. These are of the same respectable level of the rest of the album, if a little more sparsely produced and gospel-rock-oriented, with the exception of an unnecessary cover of Chuck Berry's "Rock'n'Roll Music."
Buddy Holly, The Music of Buddy Holly & the Crickets: The Definitive Story [DVD] (Universal). Since the 1980s video The Real Buddy Holly Story was very good, some fans might have questioned the need for this entirely separate 100-minute documentary done years later. This DVD is very good as well, however, and -- remarkably, among projects of this kind -- really does concentrate on the music, rather than giving the personal life of the subject equal or greater priority. The basic outline and highlights of Holly's career are here, but the real focus is on interviews with several of his closest surviving associates, including fellow Crickets Jerry Allison and Joe B. Mauldin; Sonny Curtis; Sonny West, who wrote Buddy's hits "Oh Boy" and "Rave On"; Peggy Sue Gerson, who married Allison in the late 1950s and was the inspiration for the title of "Peggy Sue"; and Carl Bunch and Tommy Allsup, who were part of the Crickets for Holly's final, ill-fated tour. And these are good interviews, not the sort where they just tell stories that were funny at the time they happened, but don't mean much these days. Even for dedicated Holly fans, there are some little-known stories about both his early days and his brief period of fame, and some very astute musical analysis by his cohorts. Particularly interesting are the segments in which it's revealed that the arrangement for "Maybe Baby" was inspired by Little Richard's "Lucille"; that the quirkiness of Allison's drum part in the instrumental break of "That'll Be the Day" is a goof, owing to his belief that they were only doing a demo; that his classic drum part on "Peggy Sue" was partially inspired by the percussion on a pop record by Jaye P. Morgan, "Dawn"; and that the melody for "True Love Ways" was adapted from a gospel recording by the Angelic Gospel Singers, "I'll Be Alright." About the only mild criticisms to offer are that the occasional voiceover narration is a little too dramatic, and that some of the general details of Holly's rise to fame aren't specifically covered, but those are minor drawbacks. The extra features are good as well, including 20 extra minutes of interview material with various of the participants; the complete clips of all three of the songs Holly performed on The Ed Sullivan Show; a sizable booklet with biographical sketches of his musical collaborators; and a "DVD Juke Box" of 14 of his more interesting, lesser-known songs that's more worthwhile than you'd think, as montages of old photos, record sleeves, and memorabilia appear while the tracks play. Every feature of the DVD, in fact, surpasses the expectations rock'n'roll fans usually have of these documentary projects.
Gordon Jackson, Thinking Back (Sunbeam). Gordon Jackson's only album sounds a little like a Traffic LP with a singer who isn't in the band. The similarity is really no surprise, since Traffic men Steve Winwood, Dave Mason, Jim Capaldi, and Chris Wood all played on the record, and Mason produced. Other notables with connections to the Traffic family tree or Marmalade label also appeared, including Luther Grosvenor; Rick Grech, Jim King, and Poli Palmer of Family; and Julie Driscoll. There's a languid, minor-keyed jazz-folk-psychedelic vibe to the songs, which have a meditative, spontaneously pensive air, appealingly sung by Jackson. Touches of Indian and African music are added by occasional tabla and sitar. What keeps this from being as memorable as Traffic or some of the other better late-'60s British psychedelic acts is a certain meandering looseness to the songs that, while quite pleasant, lacks concision and focus. That was a quality also heard in the album from the same era by fellow Marmalade artist Gary Farr, Take Something With You, and while Thinking Back is better and more original than Farr's effort, the songs are more interesting mood pieces with a yearning, mystic tone than they are outstanding compositions. At times this is like hearing psychedelic sea shanties (as on "My Ship, My Star"), such is the lilt of the tunes, though hints of blues and more playful pop-psych whimsy are heard in cuts like "Me and My Dog." The 2005 CD reissue on Sunbeam adds lengthy historical liner notes and five bonus tracks, including the non-LP B-side "A Day at the Cottage"; a haunting, sparse home demo of "My Ship, My Star"; single mixes of "Song for Freedom" and "Sing to Me Woman"; and a long version of "Me and My Dog."
The King's Ransom, The King's Ransom (Positively 19th Street). The King's Ransom were one of a surprising number of groups from Allentown, PA (a little more than an hour's drive from Philadelphia) who made '60s garage rock records. The songs on this collection (including four takes of one of them, "Elevator Operator") might not be too remarkable when judged against the average cut on the Nuggets box set. But as the style goes, they're pretty decent, though the group didn't have much of a consistent sound or personality. "Without You," with its tense clock-ticking beat and false ending, is a quite good brooding garage rocker; "Ain't That Just Like Me," based on the Searchers' rave-up arrangement of a Coasters song, is almost as good and wild as that first-rate Searchers track. Some of the slower numbers drag on in a lugubrious fashion, and even the uptempo "Shame" is something of a cliched subdued rant against a no-good girl, though again (one guiltily admits) rather good as those things go. In line with most other groups of the period, they quickly changed with the times, getting into lighter harmony psychedelic pop with "Shadows of Dawn" and the beguilingly naive, meditative ode to a "Streetcar." Sometimes, too, they used the kind of florid keyboard arrangements that sounded like hand-me-downs from the likes of the Left Banke and some of the 1967 Beatles' output. Like much of the rest of the CD, these have a ragged charm, though the sound is usually only fair, sometimes with audible surface noise from original discs.
Mushroom, Early in the Morning (Radioactive). This rare album by this obscure early-1970s Irish folk-rock outfit is in some ways quite similar to the brand of British folk-rock pioneered by Fairport Convention in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Traditional Celtic folk-flavored melodies are given both delicate and hard-rocking treatments, the standard rock instruments given a British Isles folk tinge with embellishments of violin, electric mandolin, harpsichord, tin whistle, wind chimes, recorder, and bodhran. The similarity isn't extreme, however, as to start with the production's far funkier and more homespun -- not a bad thing at all, but a trait that needs to be noted in case you're expecting something on the order of Fairport's Full House. Just as crucially, there are definitely more influences from pop, psychedelia, and progressive rock in Mushroom's particular spin on the British Isles folk-rock genre. While at times this is very much in the rapid-fire lickety-split, ferociously rocked-up reels'n'jigs style that Fairport and such often used in the early '70s, there are also some nearly exquisite passages of melancholy Celtic folk balladry with a mild contemporary rock slant, such as "Tenpenny Piece" and the title track. Then there's the psychedelic guitar sustain and wah-wah weaving around the violin in "Crying," which otherwise would be a rather standard British late-'60s pop-rock song. And there's also the almost berserk keyboards of "Johnny the Jumper," where Fairport-style folk-rock meets the distorted roller rink sounds of early-'60s Joe Meek productions. It's far more naive a record than Fairport Convention or Steeleye Span ever made, and less vocally and instrumentally accomplished, not to say more rudimentarily produced. Yet for those very reasons, it's a fairly nifty relic in the genre, if only because it's not just an emulation of obvious influences, but a somewhat odd and original twist on the format.
Alastair Riddell, Space Waltz (RPM). Make no mistake about it -- this record would have not existed had it not been for David Bowie. It's not just that Riddell himself affected an androgynous look rather like Bowie's early-'70s visage. This New Zealander also sounded very much like Bowie in the 1970-72 period, with catchy pop melodies, glam inflections to the rhythm and vocal phrasing, and even the frequent allusions to science fiction in the lyrics. Bowie himself had passed through that phase by the time this was issued in Riddell's native New Zealand in 1975, but given how slowly trends traveled to that part of the world in those days, it might well have seemed pretty cutting edge. There's no getting past its blatant imitativeness, but if you are the kind who likes the early David Bowie sound enough to be satisfied by unoriginal approximations of the real thing, this is pretty good for what it is. Riddell goes through a gamut of glam affectations with convincing confidence, and if he's not the singer Bowie is, he's still okay. Nor is he on Bowie's level as a songwriter, but "Seabird" has the druggy, drawn-out downerisms of Bowie's bleaker side down pretty well, and both the 1974 New Zealand hit single "Out on the Street" and the melodramatically arching "Love the Way He Smiles" have a fairly authentic Ziggy Stardust outtake aura. According to the historical liner notes of the 2005 CD reissue on RPM, "most of the tracks were based on the Tellurians, a genetically engineered race from the planet Telluria whose inhabitants use sex purely as a reproductive process where no emotional love is involved." Well, you can't really tell without having read whatever book(s) sparked this brainstorm, but this doesn't mean this isn't a modestly enjoyable curio, little-known internationally before its 2005 CD reissue in the UK.
Twiggy & Linda Thorson, A Snapshot of Swinging London (El/Cherry Red). Twiggy and Linda Thorson were far more known for stardom in other fields than music in the late 1960s, Twiggy as a supermodel and Linda Thorson as an actress (in the role of Tara King in the television series The Avengers). They did, however, each record some singles at the time that aren't bad, even though they were likely only done as cash-ins on their celebrity. This compilation brings together both sides of the first two singles by Twiggy (from 1967), as well as seven tracks done by Linda Thorson in 1968. The Twiggy sides were produced by Tommy Scott, perhaps best known to British Invasion fans for having both produced and written some songs for Them; he also wrote or co-wrote all of the tunes here, one of them a collaboration with Phil Coulter, who wrote Them's great "I Can Give You Everything" with Scott. Nothing here, be warned, is anything like "I Can Give You Everything." Instead, these are slight if atmospheric songs with a period Swinging London pop-rock flavor, vaguely along the lines of some of the material the likes of Marianne Faithfull and Sandie Shaw were trotting out. Twiggy's voice is thin and shaky, but does have a fetching fragility, and it should be noted that these weren't one-offs; she made other records, off and on, over the next two decades. Thorson is a better singer, and favors more soul-pop-oriented arrangements and songs on her seven numbers, produced by British pop singer Kenny Lynch. The tunes, however, are on the bland side, though they're pleasantly credible reflections of trends in the lighter part of soul music of the era. It was a nice idea to package together material by these two singers on one CD, as they're connected by their status as '60s British-based young trendy woman media personalities who made rare records as a sideline. The packaging could have been more elaborate, however, with brief liner notes and incomplete details regarding on which discs these tracks were originally released.
Scott Walker, Classics & Collectibles (Mercury/Universal). While there's both much fine music here and many rarities that the dedicated Scott Walker collector will want to have, this two-CD anthology unfortunately falls into the "not quite one or the other" category. Disc one collects 22 songs from his commonly available early catalog, all previously issued on CD, mostly from his early solo releases (though some are by the Walker Brothers). Most of disc two, however, had not been released on CD before this compilation, drawing from numerous rare late-'60s and early-'70s discs, including several songs from his rare 1969 LP Scott Sings Songs from His TV Series, one ("The Gentle Rain") from a 1966 EP, and assorted singles and soundtracks. Here's the rub: the commonly available songs on disc one, which focus on his most subdued early ballads, are by far better than the rarities on disc two, which assembles far slushier middle-of-the-road pop and includes no Walker originals. So the general fan who wants to hear his best (or at least better) early stuff is stuck with a companion disc that's not as good as or stylistically compatible with the first CD, while serious collectors willing to put up with the pop covers for the sake of completism are lumbered with a whole disc of material they already have (likely more than once, in many cases). A Classics & Collectibles anthology for Dusty Springfield suffered from the same problem, though at least there the quality was pretty high on almost all the songs, whether rare or not.
If you're still interested in accepting the CD for what it is, disc one is very good, containing highlights of his early work like "If You Go Away," "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" (with the Walker Brothers, presented here in a mono mix that makes John Walker's vocal more prominent), "In My Room" (also with the Walkers), "Jackie," "Next," "Plastic Palace People," and "Just Say Goodbye." The accent's on moody ballads, but there is room for some of his acerbic, uptempo Jacques Brel covers, like "Mathilde." Still, it's not a best-of, not when it's missing such undoubted highlights as "The Seventh Seal" and "The Old Man's Back Again," for starters. As for disc two, once you get past the shock of hearing him croon straight pop songs and standards without much of an edge (by the likes of John Barry, Henry Mancini, Paul Anka, Jimmy Webb, Dory Previn, and Antonio Carlos Jobim, with Randy Newman's "Cowboy" sneaking in somehow), it's really not that bad, though nothing you'd play to convince novices of Walker's hipness. Walker simply had a superb voice, and even if the material and arrangements are often blandly sentimental ("The Impossible Dream" indeed!), he does croon these so well that most of them can be enjoyed on at least a modest level. Some are easier to take than others, of course, and it's a little saccharine in one concentrated dose. The larger point is, however, that it's really the rarities that give this package any value. If this rare material is to be issued at all, it should be issued as a stand-alone rarities disc; as a double-CD of nothing but rarities; or, by going the whole hog and putting out the rare albums, as flawed as they may be, with bonus tracks. This sort of compromise anthology doesn't wholly please anyone.
Various Artists, Alternative Animals (Alternative Animals/Shock). Accurately billed on the front cover as "an interactive documentary on the Australian punk scene 1976-1979," this two-disc set combines a CD of rare and unreleased tracks from the period with a CD-ROM containing graphics, interviews, and video footage. On some levels, it's a thrilling multimedia overview of an obscure (certainly on an international level) but interesting genre for aficionados. Yet at the same time, it's a somewhat frustrating viewing and listening experience due to some limitations and shortcomings in the packaging and presentation. The CD component, for one thing, doesn't identify which tracks are "rare" and which ones were previously unissued. Nor are many details provided about when they were recorded, except for the two Saints cuts, identified as live recordings from April 21, 1977. On its own terms, the CD is decent and quite energetic (if somewhat derivative) early punk music, mixing a few names known to international punk collectors with others that even experts might have never heard. The Saints, Radio Birdman, and Boys Next Door (who evolved into the Birthday Party) are all represented, as are the Australian band named X (not to be confused with the more famous Los Angeles act of that name), as well as less celebrated groups like Manikins (whose "Premonition" is the lone cut to approach pop-punk), the Chosen Few, and the Leftovers.
More interesting, and more frustrating, is the accompanying CD-ROM. Its assets include a wealth of video and audio interviews with members of dozens of bands, as well as vintage video footage of musical performances by the Saints, the Chosen Few, the Boys Next Door, and the Manikins. This must be among the earliest, if not the earliest, footage of Nick Cave, who performs two songs as singer of the Boys Next Door. (There's also an interview clip from the period in which he's asked if he has anything to say, to which he responds, "Yes, but don't ask me what. Which is what you would have asked me.") Also included are interviews with non-musical contributors to the scene (such Bruce Milne, founder of the Au Go Go Records label), band family trees, illustrations of (and some excerpts from) a surprising abundance of vintage fanzines, sleeves and basic information about late-'70s Australian punk records, and recollections of important venues. Yet for all the stuff to browse through, it's bulky and awkward to navigate, and if there's a way to make the tiny videos larger, it has escaped this user. It would also have been a great help if just a little more context was provided -- a basic bio and discography of each band, for instance -- to orient those who might not be familiar with much of this stuff (which would include most rock fans from outside Australia, and quite a number within Australia). Make no mistake -- serious punk fans with a deep reservoir of patience will find enough to keep them interested for hours, so much material is there to investigate on the CD-ROM. With just a little more attentiveness to user-friendliness, however, it would be a more entertaining and informative document of an interesting scene that's not likely to benefit from such in-depth treatment often (or, perhaps, ever again).
Various Artists, My First Day Without You: New Rubble Vol. 1 (Past & Present). As Nick Saloman rightfully points out in his liner notes, compilations of rare 1960s British rock tend to focus on raw R&B bands, psychedelia, and the hybrid of mod, R&B, and psychedelia known as freakbeat. In comparison, the more straightforward variety of British pop-rock has been only lightly represented. This compilation of 20 songs from scarce singles is one step toward correcting that imbalance, introducing the "cleanbeat" genre, to quote a term used on the back cover. As you might expect, the songs are shaded with Merseybeat and light Beatles influences, though not exclusively so. It's not great music; if you want really good non-Beatles mid-'60s British pop-rock, you're much better off with best-ofs for the Searchers, Dave Clark Five, the Hollies, and the like. Still, it's usually pleasant at the least, and sometimes better than that, even if some of the material's rather forgettably generic. Take the best half of this and you've have a pretty good compilation, including the constantly key-changing "Anytime" by the Llan; the peppy, moody Merseybeat of "Lies" by Johnny Sandon, who fronted the Searchers before they split to go on their own; the brooding, organ-toned "Jacqueline" by Bryan & the Brunelles; the Hi-Fis' quality cover of Chuck Jackson's "I Keep Forgetting"; the West Five's cover of Rod Argent's "If It Don't Work Out"; the Blue Rondos' Joe Meek-produced "I Don't Want Your Lovin' No More"; and the Mockingbirds' Beach Boys-influenced soul-pop ballad "I Can Feel We're Parting," co-written by band member and future 10CC guy Graham Gouldman.
Various Artists, Phil's Spectre II: Another Wall of Soundalikes (Ace). Phil's Spectre II: Another Wall of Soundalikes is very much along the same lines as its predecessor, Phil's Spectre: A Wall of Soundalikes. It's not the best group of Phil Spector soundalike productions; few of these two dozen obscure songs are strong enough that they sound as if they should have been hits; and while the Spector influence is strong to overwhelming on all of these tracks, you would certainly not mistake all of them for actual Spector productions in a blindfold test. But they're quite enjoyable for what they are, and certainly will be enjoyed by Phil Spector fanatics, including as they do many of the Wall of Sound trademarks, particularly in the dense orchestral production and some of the skipping, pummeling rhythms. Plus, from a pure collector standpoint, this is awash with big names, and not only via the little-known tracks by stars like the Righteous Brothers, the Beach Boys, Mary Wells, Dobie Gray (whose "No Room to Cry" is a highlight), Ruby & the Romantics, the Four Tops, the Knickerbockers, Joe South, Connie Stevens, and Nino Tempo & April Stevens. There are also numerous interesting names lurking in the credits, like Shadow Morton (who produced the Goodies' "The Dum Dum Ditty," subsequently done by the Shangri-Las); Harry Lookofsky, the orchestra leader for Reparata & the Delrons, and father of the Left Banke's Michael Brown; Jeff Barry, who wrote Reparata & the Delrons' "I'm Nobody's Baby Now"; David Gates, who arranged the cuts by Connie Stevens and Suzy Wallis; Bob Lind, who wrote the Satisfactions' "Bring It All Down," produced by Jack Nitzsche; Al Kooper, who co-wrote and co-produced Eight Feet's "Bobby's Come a Long Long Way"; and Van McCoy, who wrote and produced the Fantastic Vantastics' "Gee What a Boy." Then there's Clydie King, who did "The Thrill Is Gone" long before becoming a backup session singer for numerous stars, and Bobby Coleman's "(Baby) You Don't Have to Tell Me," covered for a hit in the UK by the Walker Brothers. There are also some of the most diligent imitations of the Righteous Brothers ever waxed, from Kane & Abel, the Dreamlovers, and the Knickerbockers. Detailed notes on these rarities by Mick Patrick add to the appreciation of this odd but entertaining journey through the web of sound Phil Spector spun throughout the industry.
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