Archived Reviews

The Beatles, Magical Mystery Tour Memories [DVD] (MVD Visual). Though the actual onscreen presence of the Beatles in this documentary is light, it's a decent overview of their 1967 movie Magical Mystery Tour. As the title implies, it emphasizes memories of those involved in some way in the filming, the talking heads pepped up by a bit of home movie footage taken of the Beatles and others on the sets. In truth Magical Mystery Tour (the movie, not the album) was one of the group's least successful and least interesting major projects, but at least a good number of people who did know the Beatles and were in their proximity during its making are interviewed for this 55-minute DVD. Among them are Paul McCartney's brother Mike McCartney, who contributed some ideas to the film (most crucially getting the Bonzo Dog Band to play in one sequence); Neil Innes of the Bonzo Dog Band themselves; press officer Tony Barrow; Tony Bramwell, a personal assistant to the Beatles; Spencer Davis, who visited the group on the set at one point; Miranda Ward, a journalist who interviewed the Beatles during the filming; Freda Kelly, the fan club president along for the ride; and even some of the dancers in the "Your Mother Should Know" section. While Victor Spinetti would seem to make a good choice as the documentary's narrator as he acted in the film (and other Beatles movies), and he does offer the occasional anecdote, his links are actually a little overly campy, though not quite intrusively so. Since there aren't any major stories uncovered here, and since some of the memories by fans and miscellaneous people who happened to encounter the Beatles during the filming are kind of trivial, it's perhaps best appreciated by Beatlemaniacs rather than more general fans of the band. Note too that no actual Beatles music or clips from the film itself are seen or heard in the documentary (though the soundtrack has some facsimiles of Magical Mystery Tour songs). But at least there are plenty of still photos, some very brief vintage interview clips, some extracts of audio tapes from interviews Miranda Ward did with George Harrison and Ringo Starr while shooting took place, and some fairly entertaining storytelling from the more central participants. The twenty minutes of bonus features present less essential outtakes from interviews with some of the principals who give eyewitness accounts in the main documentary.

The Bee Gees, Odessa [Deluxe Edition] (Reprise/Rhino). Reprise/Rhino went all-out for their deluxe edition treatment of the Bee Gees' 1969 Odessa album. Disc one of the three-CD set has the album (originally a double LP) in its original mono mix; disc two presents it in its original stereo mix; and disc three, most excitingly for Bee Gees fans and collectors, offers 22 previously unreleased tracks (and one promotional radio spot). It goes without saying, perhaps, that this is a pretty specialized affair even by the standards of deluxe editions, especially as Odessa is not exactly considered a core classic late-'60s rock album by mainstream audiences. It has its merits, however, and even though ownership of both the stereo and mono CDs might not be considered essential by the average Bee Gees fan, fanatics will appreciate having both of them side by side (especially as the mono mixes were made available in the US for the first time here).

The real interest, of course, lies in the abundant previously unreleased material. Most of this, it should be cautioned, consists of alternate versions/mixes and demos of songs that made it onto the album -- in fact there demos or alternate takes for every song from Odessa besides "The British Opera" – although there are two previously unissued tunes, "Pity" and "Nobody's Someone," that didn't make it onto the album in any form. As is the case with alternates on many expanded/deluxe CDs, you'd never put these recordings on par with the officially released versions. Mostly they tend to confirm the Bee Gees' judgment as to what takes and arrangements were used on the final LP, with some obviously hesitant performances and a few songs lacking final lyrical polish. But there are some notable interesting differences in the batch, like the "You'll Never See My Face Again" minus orchestration; an early version of "Edison" with different lyrics, at that point titled "Barbara Came to Stay"; a much sparser, fairly rudimentary demo of "Melody Fair," one of the best and most famous songs on the album; "Never Say Never Again" with an upfront heavy fuzz guitar that was erased from the finished master; a demo of "First of May" with nothing more than piano backing; and, perhaps most unexpectedly of all, a version of "With All Nations (International Anthem)" with lyrics, although the one on the official LP ended up being instrumental. As for the two songs with no counterparts on the actual Odessa album, "Nobody's Someone" is a characteristically pleasantly sad, rather sorrowful (if rather lightweight) Bee Gees original that was covered almost thirty years later by a virtually unknown artist named Andrew (no last name); "Pity" is a more upbeat midtempo piano-dominated number, but with a skeletal arrangement obviously in need of completion.

Thorough liner notes explain the origination of the tracks and the differences between the official and previously unreleased versions. Thus overall this, like Reprise/Rhino's box set The Studio Albums 1967-1968 (which gives a similar expanded treatment to the three previous Bee Gees albums), is a valuable supplement to the group's standard 1960s discography. It is a release, however, that will be somewhat limited in appeal to the general pop and rock audience, who might not have the patience to sort through all the multiple versions.

The Doors, Live at the Matrix '67 (DMC/Bright Midnight/Rhino). When the Doors were playing at the Matrix club in San Francisco on March 7 and March 10 of 1967, unofficial tapes were made of their performances. Music from four sets (two each night) from these gigs have long been available on bootleg, and a couple tracks did show up on the Doors' 1997 box set. This two-CD package, however, marks the first official release of material from these shows in bulk. They represent the earliest concert recordings of the band that have been made available, dating from just two months after the release of their debut album (and from a few months before the "Light My Fire" single would catch on and make them superstars). While this by no means has the complete recordings from these two nights that have circulated on bootleg, it does contain one version of every single song captured on the tapes. The sound quality, too, is substantially improved from those bootlegs (though it's not true, as the liner notes claim, that all of those bootlegs had "the worst quality imaginable"). If it's not quite up to the level of the fidelity heard on most official live albums (or even some more adeptly recorded Doors live shows from later in their career that have seen official release), the instruments and vocals come through pretty well, and can easily be listened to for pleasure as well as historical archive value.

More important than the technical and discographical details, however, is the quality of the performances themselves. And while they're occasionally a bit ragged, and certainly not as sleek and cleanly balanced as their studio recordings, you could make an argument for this as the finest Doors live release, from the musical if not fidelity viewpoint. For these are the Doors, and Jim Morrison in particular, when they were still hungry and eager to make an impression, with little of the somewhat self-parodying theatricalism that Morrison would sometimes lapse into onstage after reaching superstardom. There are lean, urgent versions of most of the songs from their classic debut album, as well as, more surprisingly, about half the numbers from the yet-to-be-released Strange Days. "Unhappy Girl," "Moonlight Drive," "My Eyes Have Seen You," "People Are Strange," and "I Can't See Your Face in My Mind" especially have notably sparer arrangements, betraying the band's roots as more of a straightahead rock outfit prior to these songs getting effectively psychedelicized studio treatments. There's even a version of one tune, "Summer's Almost Gone," that they'd wait until their third album, Waiting for the Sun, to put on a studio LP.

Filling out the set are a good number of cover tunes that the Doors didn't release in the 1960s, including several blues and R&B covers. While these have their interest for documenting aspects of their repertoire that aren't fully evident from their studio albums, they also reveal the group to be much less interesting when playing such cover tunes – among them "Money," John Lee Hooker's "Crawling King Snake," Lee Dorsey's "Get Out of My Life Woman," and Them's "Gloria" -- than they were when doing their own material. Still, even these selections include some standouts, especially a burning version of "Who Do You Love" that outdoes the more laidback one on Absolutely Live, and an instrumental version of "Summertime" that gives Ray Manzarek a chance to showcase his organ chops. It's also odd to hear such a cool, almost non-reception from the sparse audience, giving the impression the Doors were playing to a near-empty club, though they seem to be putting as much or more heart into their performance as they would later do for most of their arena concerts. All told, it's an excellent document of their early days that's strongly recommended to Doors fans. It would have been even neater for hardcore fanatics had all four sets from the two nights been included, but admittedly the elimination of multiple versions and resequencing makes this a much more listenable product for the general audience.

Franco & Le Tpok Jazz,  Francophonic (Sterns Music). As his recording career stretched over about 35 years and more than 150 albums, it would be impossible for any Franco compilation, even a two-CD one, to give but a taste of his overall work. If you're willing to accept the limitations inherent in a two-CD set for such a prolific artist, however, Francophonic does a pretty good job of both assembling highlights from his discs and providing some sort of outline to his musical evolution. It samples from numerous eras over the course of its 28 tracks, spanning the years 1953-1980 and lasting a good two-and-a-half hours. In some ways it reflects the changes in African popular music as a whole during this period. It almost sounds a little like a light fusion of Latin and jazz influences in its early rumba-like tunes, growing toward a more steadily rhythmic and ebullient Zairian sound by the end of the 1960s, and stretching out into far longer groove-oriented pieces on the 1970s recordings that take up most of disc two. It's important to remember, however, that guitarist-songwriter Franco was not simply following trends, but was among the most prominent initiators of these developments in African music. The cluster of recordings from the early 1970s on this set seem to be the ones in which he both cements his musical vision and lays down some of his best tracks, particularly in the more haunting tunes that include some call-response vocals, and the tougher outings that contain some of his most forceful guitar work. The 48-page booklet presents an historical overview of his life and music (in both English and French), though some might find it frustrating that more thorough discographical information beyond the original years of release isn't included. It can be a little confusing for Franco newcomers in particular to get a handle on the personnel he used as well, though to be fair to the compilers, discographical data is hardly an easy thing to acquire for African recordings of this vintage, and the booklet does list years of service for many of the singers and musicians with whom Franco played in his bands.

The Incredible String Band, Tricks of the Senses (Hux). A product of remarkable archaeological-strength sleuthing, this double CD has 16 rare and unreleased Incredible String Band recordings from 1966 to 1972. The 95 minutes of material draw primarily from studio outtakes, but also include a May 1968 radio show in New York, a couple live performances from April 1970, and even a home recording from October 1966. Yes, this is primarily for the major ISB fan; some of these are alternate takes/versions, and none of the songs would have been hailed as major highlights of the albums on which they might have been included. Yet at the same time, none of them would have stuck out as especially ill-fitting or weak sore thumbs had they made the cut, making it a pretty enjoyable listen if you like the group, though the numerous eras and lineups represented also ensure that it's not the most consistent listen. Aside from the lo-fi October 1966 rehearsal tape of the band (then just the duo of Robin Williamson and Mike Heron) doing Leadbelly's "Relax Your Mind," the fidelity throughout is quite good, and the territory covered – as should be no surprise for those even casually familiar with the Incredible String Band – very eclectic.

On disc one alone, there's the ISB's own version of "Lover Man," a song covered on Al Stewart's first album; an alternate take of one of their better-known late-'60s tunes, "The Iron Stone"; a Williamson poem, "The Head," previously only known via the inclusion of its lyrics on an LP insert; and an impressive live 13-minute radio version of "Maya," sitar and all. On disc two, there's a 16-minute suite cut for (but not used on) I Looked Up, "Queen Juanita"; a fetching, wistful 1972 outtake with the mysterious Licorice McKechnie on lead vocals, "Secret Temple," previously available only as a BBC recording; a mere six-minute multi-part epic of sorts in a 1971 piece to accompany a mime play, "Poetry Play Number One"; pleasantly meditative Williamson-penned folky instrumentals; and relatively straightforward, stirring folk-rock in the alternate version (with an additional verse) of "All Writ Down." There are even a couple songs (represented by live recordings) from their somewhat notoriously extravagant onstage epic U that didn't make the corresponding double LP. Characteristically for almost any album billed to the Incredible String Band, there are liberal traces of world music, Indian music, American old-timey sounds, psychedelia, and other unpredictable influences embellishing the haunting British folk at the core of their sound.

The liner notes are extremely thorough in documenting the origins of the material, down to the extent of sidebars containing meticulous explanations as to how the recordings were discovered and restored. It's true that neither this nor another Hux double-CD ISB release, Across the Airwaves (of BBC recordings), could be considered among the group's most essential recordings. Yet each are way above average as archival projects dedicated to the margins of a significant act's work go, and the label deserves high commendation for assembling and packaging them with extreme loving care that is vital to filling out dedicated fans' appreciation of the ISB's large body of work.

Wanda Jackson, Live at Town Hall Party 1958 (Sundazed). Recorded at Wanda Jackson's performance on the Southern California television show Town Hall Party on November 29, 1958, this six-track, ten-inch EP isn't the greatest fidelity-wise. For that reason, purists might prefer to watch the performances of four of these songs on the Bear Family various-artists DVD of clips from that day's actual program. If you're forgiving of the sonic imperfection, this is still a pretty nifty souvenir from the heyday of one of the great rockabilly singers of the 1950s – and it's not as if you have a lot of, if any, other such vintage live Jackson recordings to choose from. Backed by a house band (led by the great guitarist Joe Maphis), Wanda's perhaps a little more country-oriented than some might expect on these numbers, especially considering the backup group includes steel guitar and fiddle. Still, she does rock out hard on "Mean, Mean Man" and "Hard Headed Woman," even if Cliff Crofford's trumpet makes for an unwelcome addition to the arrangements. While not as raucous, the covers of the country hits "Pick Me Up on Your Way Down" and "Alone with You" are done with feisty honky-tonk energy, and the Harlan Howard-penned B-side "Queen for a Day" serves as a reminder that she did record much straight country even in her early days.

Jefferson Airplane, Airplane Farm [bootleg] (Deep Six). Recorded live at the Family Dog in San Francisco on September 7, 1969, this bootleg is an excellent-sounding concert that would, under most circumstances, be quite up to snuff as a legitimate release. But as there's already an official live Jefferson Airplane CD with very pro sound recorded just a couple months later (Live at the Fillmore East 1969), as well as a couple other official live discs from 1968, this is redundant for all but serious Airplane freaks. If you're one of those, this is certainly a good listen, the set including a number of their more celebrated songs ("Good Shepherd," "Greasy Heart," "Crown of Creation," "Somebody to Love," "Wooden Ships," and "Volunteers"), as well as some less scintillating ones ("The Farm" and the traditional blues "Come Back Baby"). As for unusual moments, however, there aren't many, other than "The Ballad of You and Pooneil" segueing into a bit of "Starship," which would be a song on Paul Kantner & Jefferson Starship's 1970 album Blows Against the Empire. At the end, there are also about 23 minutes of instrumental jamming with guest Jerry Garcia that, like many such relics of the era, aren't too interesting or melodically developed.

Little Willie John, Nineteen Sixty Six: The David Axelrod & HB Barnum Sessions (Kent). Though no Little Willie John discs of material recorded after his imprisonment for murder in October 1964 were issued between that time and his death (in jail) in May 1968, he did actually record quite a few tracks for Capitol in February 1966. These recordings (supervised by David Axelrod and HB Barnum) were unreleased both at the time and for decades afterward, in part because King Records (John's previous label) contended Capitol's right to issue the cuts. This 2008 CD of twenty tracks from the sessions, recorded at a time when he was out on appeal, can thus be considered as a genuine lost Little Willie John album. (And despite the number of songs, there would have only been enough for one LP, since there are two versions of eight of the numbers.) For someone with a murder sentence hanging over him, John sounds remarkably unaffected and at ease, and indeed pretty much the same as he did in his classic King period, albeit a little more mature. Much the same can be said for the arrangements, which update his sound a little into the mid-1960s, but draw considerably from lightly swinging jazz and even a bit of easy listening pop in addition to soul. There are a few remakes of songs he'd cut at King, as well as some standards and R&B-oriented tunes (and, disappointingly, just one original John composition). Would this have re-established John as a star had he won his appeal and Capitol been allowed to put the material out? Probably not; there aren't any songs that scream "hit," and that was still the name of the game in the R&B market. But if it had been somehow marketed as a comeback album, without expectations that it would be a huge seller – in the manner that respectable efforts by R&B and rock veterans were, many times over, in subsequent decades – it would have been well received, as John sings well and the material is sympathetic, if not quite outstanding. For all these reasons, this doesn't rank among his best work; his best King sides remain the place to start. But for the same reasons, it will be enthusiastically and justifiably welcomed by Little Willie John fans as a significant discovery, at a time when few such substantial unreleased bodies of work from soul's golden age seemed to remain at large.

Johnny Johnson & the Bandwagon, Breakin' Down the Walls of Heartache: The Best of Johnny Johnson & the Bandwagon 1968-1975 (Kent). Johnny Johnson & the Bandwagon were kind of oddballs as soul groups went, not so much for their music as for their unusual career path. Though Johnson and his group had little success in their native US, it was a different story over in the UK, where they landed three Top Ten hits and a couple smaller ones in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This well-chosen compilation has a couple dozen of their tracks, all but one from 1967-1972 (the 1968-1975 date range of the title being off by one year), variously billed to the Bandwagon, Johnny Johnson & the Bandwagon, or Johnny Johnson & His Bandwagon. Certainly the biggest and best of them is the 1968 #4 British hit "Breakin' Down the Walls of Heartache," which sounds a little like a Motown record that you think you must have heard sometime on AM radio, but haven't (and which was later covered by Dexy's Midnight Runners). None of the other late-'60s cuts are in the same league, and the Bandwagon often sound like a Motown group that couldn't quite stay on the roster. Sometimes, indeed, it seems as if they can't decide whether to emulate the Four Tops or the tougher side of the Temptations, sometimes coming off like a somewhat more poppier version of the Four Tops. But while Johnson was far from the most original or talented of artists (and there are a few forgettable covers of soul and rock hits padding out his recorded repertoire), the discs he cut for Epic were on the whole pretty likable, if a little lightweight in their somewhat ersatz Motown feel. The Epic material takes up almost two-thirds of this compilation, but the disc does also include just slightly poppier stuff he did in the early 1970s, including the big British hits "Blame It (On the Pony Express)" (whose chorus lifts a hook from the theme to the Scooby Doo cartoon) and "Sweet Inspiration." Also among the later cuts is what has to be the strangest cover of "Mr. Tambourine Man" this side of William Shatner, done with such an overt belting early-'70s soul arrangement that you might not even recognize the song until the chorus.

John & Yoko Ono Lennon, Filming to See the Skies [DVD] (Sparkle Disc). It's well known among many Beatles fans that John Lennon and Yoko Ono made quite a few experimental/avant-garde films in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Relatively few of those fans, however, have been able to see those films, which have rarely been screened since the time they were made (and weren't screened all that often at the time). The absence of an official release of these works has left a hole for bootleggers to exploit – even if it's wildly uncommercial even by bootlegging standards – that's been met by the two-DVD set Filming to See the Skies, which contains a whopping five hours of films the pair made (usually together) during the era. Even this compilation does not contain everything John and Yoko did in the medium; the item most conspicuous by its absence is the notorious 42-minute 1969 film Self Portrait, which was not a film of John Lennon's head or face, but of the part of his body most likely to cause controversial offense upon public display (and not to be confused with his and Yoko's Erection, which documents the construction of a building). Still, what's here does present the bulk of their output as a filmmaking team. Even the most adventurous and dedicated Beatles/Lennon/Ono fans should be advised that these movies really are uncompromising experimental statements that many will find hard to sit through or unbearably tedious, much as John and Yoko's avant-garde albums are. Yet like those albums, they do contain some interesting ideas and give considerable insight into where the couple's heads were at during the period, even if they're more admirable as concepts than entertainment.

On disc one, Film No. 4 is actually an Ono film without Lennon involvement that precedes the pair's romantic relationship. Consisting solely of brief, serially arranged shots of 365 (sic) pairs of moving buttocks, in its repetition of banal everyday activity, it bears similarities to early Andy Warhol films (as indeed does much of the material on this DVD). It's more interesting, however, for the fairly amusing voiceover commentary about the shooting – from Ono and many others – than the images themselves. From mid-1968, Film No. 5 (Smile) has nearly an hour of Lennon gazing (and sometimes smiling) into the frame, shot with a high-speed camera.Two Virgins, shot around the same time, shows fusing images of John and Yoko while music from their Two Virgins album plays on the soundtrack.

On disc two, the more-or-less feature-length Rape is, by the couple's tough standards, one of their more accessible and watchable efforts, as a camera trails a woman around London and refuses to stop, driving her to anguished hysteria. The short Apotheosis is one of their more ingenious cinematic ideas, a cameraman ascending in a hot air balloon over a village and through wintry fog, several minutes of gray suddenly giving way to a blue sky over a field of clouds. The 19-minute Fly, which follows flies as they dance over a woman's nude body while Ono improvises harrowing wordless vocals on the soundtrack, is probably the pair's most original film; unfortunately, the print transferred onto this DVD, unlike most of the others used for this set, is quite poor and difficult to watch. The one-minute Freedom simply shows a woman (head not shown) taking off her bra as two cold electronic tones alternate on the soundtrack. The 19-minute Erection, via serialization of stills taken of a site over 18 months, shows the construction of a London building as disquieting experimental music (with Ono's trademark experimental vocals) plays on the soundtrack. Bringing the disc to a disappointing close is the brief To See the Skies, with poorly preserved footage of what seems like Ono explaining an exhibit of her work at some unspecified point considerably postdating Lennon's death.

Elvis Presley, Kiss Me Quick Little Sister [bootleg] (KMQ). This bootleg presents no less than 79 minutes of sessions for five songs that were all recorded by Elvis Presley on a single day, that being June 25, 1961. Three of the songs ("Kiss Me Quick," "That's Someone You Never Forget," and "I'm Yours") would be used on the Pot Luck with Elvis album. The other two, both of which were far superior to the other three, would become the A-side ("(Marie's the Name of) His Latest Flame") and B-side ("Little Sister") of what might have been Presley's best single of the early 1960s. Like many such bootlegs with multiple alternate run-throughs of the same songs – eleven of "Kiss Me Quick," three of "I'm Yours," six of "That's Someone You Never Forget," ten of "Little Sister," and 11 of "("Marie's the Name of) His Latest Flame"), to be precise – it's for fans only, there being just too much repetition for anyone else to find it listenable. Nor were the takes all too different from each other or the officially released track, and while this disc spreads out the different versions to keep consecutive multiple versions of any one song to a minimum, that also makes it a little difficult for more scholarly-minded listeners to keep track of each tune's evolution. Still, for those who dig fly-on-the-wall looks at a master's session, there are some things to notice here and there, like the use of an organ (rather than a piano) on early versions of "(Marie's the Name of) His Latest Flame," and the overall gradual addition of fullness and power to the arrangements and vocals.

Relatively Clean Rivers, Relatively Clean Rivers (Fallout). Many American rock LPs of the mid-1970s given very small pressings on tiny or vanity labels had something of a time warp hangover feel, as if the trends of hippie rock from about half a dozen years earlier were still in vogue. Relatively Clean Rivers' self-titled album is one such rarity, with an easygoing California folk-rock-psychedelic feel in which light-to-strong traces of Neil Young, the countrified Grateful Dead, and Quicksilver Messenger Service can be heard. It's different than the vast majority of such LPs, however, in that it's actually a fairly good collection of tunes with some decent songwriting and strong, professional playing and harmonizing. No one should investigate this under the illusion that it's nearly as good as the aforementioned influences, mind you. But it's quite alright, and also not as imitative as many artists from numerous eras were who claimed Neil Young and the Dead as influences. There's an attractive resigned, almost addled melancholy to the vocals and melodies that sets this apart from the usual such fare, though some of the songs could certainly have benefited from more structured composing and arranging. There's some variety to the proceedings (and from the general folk-rock-psychedelic prototype) too, with some extended instrumental acoustic passages and a middle-eastern influenced number, "The Persian Caravan," that recalls exotic early Country Joe psychedelic excursions like "Section 43." Overall the album almost gives the impression of documenting the dying embers of a band of hippies who've found refuge in one of the last safe places for souls of such a mindset, clinging to their credo as their species awaits oncoming extinction. The album became much easier to acquire following its CD reissue in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

Sam & Dave, The Original Soul Men [DVD] (Hip-O). It's unlikely that a better vintage performance footage-centered Sam & Dave DVD could be constructed than this disc, which features 18 clips, all but two from their 1966-1970 prime (though "Road Runner" features the Sam & Dave Orchestra rather than Sam & Dave themselves). Assembled from a wide variety of American and European sources (mostly but not always from television programs), it contains versions—usually, but not always, live rather than mimed—of all of their most popular songs and then some. "Soul Man" is here, of course, but so are "I Take What I Want," "You Don't Know Like I Know," "Soothe Me," "When Something Is Wrong with My Baby," "Hold On! I'm Comin'," "You Got Me Hummin'," and "I Thank You." The live performances are the ones that hold the most fascination, as you'd expect, both for the duo's energetic singing and animated stage presence, as well as (on the color clips) some very of-their-era loudly colored suits in hues of lemon, lime, and red. As unusual departures from their sweaty soul repertoire, there are also versions of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "Make It Easy on Yourself" and, less enjoyably, the pop standard "Lucky Ol' Sun," the latter sung with talk show host Mike Douglas. A 1980 revival of "Soul Man" on {#Saturday Night Live} and a 2007 solo Sam Moore rendition of "You Are So Beautiful" are by far the least essential items, to be honest. But overall the DVD does a fine job of surveying their career, taking care not to offer multiple versions of songs and drawing from a wider variety of sources than most fans would have suspected survived. As a small documentary element, interviews done specially for this project with Sam Moore, Stax Records executive Al Bell, Booker T. & the MG's bassist Duck Dunn, fan and Blues Brother Dan Aykroyd, and others are deftly inserted between clips without wearing out their welcome. The bonus clips of the Blues Brothers singing "Soul Man" on Saturday Night Live and the Sam & Dave Orchestra playing "Secret Agent Man" are extraneous. But a different version of "I Take What I Want" makes a more worthwhile extra, and rare 1963 clips of the Davis Sisters, the Soul Stirrers, and Jackie Verdell & Brother Joe May audiovisually illustrate Sam & Dave's gospel roots.

Patti Smith, Under Review [DVD] (Sexy Intellectual). Like other DVDs in the Under Review series, this 90-minute disc is a documentary heavily slanted toward critical evaluation of the performer's albums and songs, mixing vintage film clips and photo stills with interviews done specifically for the chapter. Patti Smith fans might be disappointed that the clips (though numerous and from various part of her career) are pretty brief excerpts of songs rather than complete performances, and that neither Smith herself nor some of her closest musical associates (like Lenny Kaye) were interviewed, although there are a couple Smith interview snippets from other sources. Otherwise, however, it's a pretty good overview of her career, properly concentrating on the four albums she issued during her mid-to-late-'70s peak, though cursory coverage is given to her work from the 1980s onward as well. Even by the Under Review series' standards, the circle of critics providing commentary on her music is heavyweight, including two Smith biographers (Victor Bockris and Nick Johnstone), Robert Christgau, Anthony DeCurtis, Jon Savage, and Mark Paytress. But there are also a few good observations from people who actually worked on her albums, particularly Radio Ethiopia producer Jack Douglas (who remembers being called in to work on the title track in the midst of a hurricane) and Horses engineer Frank D'Augusta (who praises producer John Cale's tactic of staying out of sight from the band in the control room to make them feel more comfortable). The minimal extras include a Patti Smith quiz and the strangely titled "Special Feature – Horses for Courses – The Making of a Landmark Album," which isn't a feature or about Horses at all, but a 90-second story about a Smith performance told by Victor Bockris.

Various Artists, The Big Top Records Story (Ace). Run as a sideline by the owners of the heavyweight publishing company Hill & Range (most famous for supplying songs to Elvis Presley), the Big Top label never really established either an artistic identity or much of a commercial track record. Despite landing the occasional hit, they remain most remembered by rock'n'roll fans for issuing Del Shannon's first hits. Perhaps because it was a secondary concern of the owners, the company didn't seem to have much of a focus, and listening to this 26-track compilation of 1958-64 Big Top releases is a little like getting a pack of random overstock 45s from one of those record stores that used to sell them in batches of ten for a dollar. But though the resulting unevenness means this compilation is unlikely to appeal to anyone but serious rock'n'roll collectors, it's actually a little better and more interesting than many such specialty anthologies. For one thing, it does actually have a few hits, including Shannon's "Runaway" (presented in a rare stereo mix with a slightly different vocal than the familiar hit single) and "Little Town Flirt," as well as Don & Juan's 1961 doo wop smash "What's Your Name?" Some of the smaller hits are very cool, for different reasons. Lou Johnson's 1964 single "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me" (covered for #1 UK hit by Sandie Shaw in 1964) is the original version of that Bacharach-David classic. The Dynamics' odd minor-key tail-end doo wop number "Misery" (from 1963) was rewritten almost note-for-note as the B-side of the debut 1964 single by the Who (then called the High Numbers), "Zoot Suit." (Although "Zoot Suit" is usually cited as a rewrite of the Showmen's "Country Fool," it clearly is far more similar to "Misery" in both melody and arrangement.)

Elsewhere, there are a number of intriguing oddities, even if some are more odd than good. Don & Juan's "True Love Never Runs Smooth" is another overlooked original version of a Bacharach-David tune (covered by a hit for Gene Pitney); Andrea Carroll offers quite good girl group-styled tunes with "The Doolang" and "It Hurts to Be Sixteen"; and Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman wrote a few of these rarities, including "White Bucks and Saddle Shoes" by a pre-teenage, girlish-sounding Bobby Pedrick Jr., who would in the 1970s later score hits as Robert John. There are also a few very early, clearly yet-to-hit-his-stride productions by Phil Spector, including one of ex-Chantels singer Arlene Smith's "He Knows I Love Him Too Much," written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King (and redone with more success by the Paris Sisters). Add in an "answer" record to Elvis Presley's "Return to Sender" (Gerri Granger's "Don't Want Your Letters"), a solo single by "Maximillian," aka Del Shannon's musitron player Max Crook, and quite interesting notes about the label's history and origins, and there are enough curveballs to keep serious early rock scholars entertained.

Various Artists, Break-A-Way: The Songs of Jackie DeShannon 1961-1967 (Ace). With this volume, Ace Records' songwriters series – which had previously documented such well-known early pop-rock composers as Burt Bacharach, Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, and Gerry Goffin and Carole King – takes a more daring step into the catalog of a writer less famous, though not less talented. Though she had a couple big hit records of her own in the 1960s and released many discs in the decade, Jackie DeShannon was even more active as a songwriter, with many of her compositions (including many she never released under her own name) getting covered by artists in both the US and UK. This compilation has 27 such songs, some written by DeShannon herself, and some in collaboration with noted figures like Sharon Sheeley, Jimmy Page, and Jack Nitzsche. Though there's one big hit here (the Searchers' "When You Walk in the Room") and another track that was on a famous hit album ("Don't Doubt Yourself, Babe," from the Byrds' 1965 debut LP), for the most part these are songs known only to record collectors, and in a couple cases more known by versions other than the ones represented here.

Like all of the other CDs in the Ace songwriters series, this isn't exactly a best-of as regards DeShannon covers, mixing some of her most famous tunes with rarities by big names, and just plain rarities by singers hardly anyone's ever heard of. While DeShannon went on to record quite a bit of material in a late-'60s/early-'70s serious singer-songwriter vein, these songs make plain her skill at creating catchy Brill Building-style pop, sometimes with a gutsy sexy and folky streak missing from the more pop-oriented Brill Building tunesmiths. For all her talent, however, these interpretations don't always do the material full justice. "When You Walk in the Room," "Don't Doubt Yourself, Babe," and Irma Thomas' "Break-A-Way" (a great song given wider exposure when Tracey Ullman made it into a Top Five British hit in 1983) are the only really superb tracks. A few others (P.J. Proby's "Just Like Him," Brenda Lee's "So Deep") are pretty good; a few of the better ones were done better by other artists (notably Cher's "Come and Stay with Me" and Gay Shingleton's "In My Time of Sorrow," both given superior treatments by Marianne Faithfull); and a few are disappointingly tame or clumsy versions of clearly fine songs (Diana Dawn's "Back Street Girl," the Bandits' "I Remember the Girl"). And while several other stars are represented (such as Duane Eddy, Rick Nelson, Peggy March, Bobby Vee, Dobie Gray), their cuts aren't highlights in either their or DeShannon's careers.

Break-A-Way, of course, is still a fine compilation, put together and annotated with Ace's customary expertise. But while this might be a somewhat insider collector-oriented point, such collectors know that DeShannon herself – a great singer in addition to being a great songwriter – recorded versions of some of these songs (like "Back Street Girl" and "Blue Ribbons") for rare publisher demo LPs that, both vocally and production-wise, were immeasurably superior. It's to be hoped that some or all of the material from those demo LPs eventually sees CD release to put the record straight, which doesn't seem to be as far-fetched a whim as one might think, since the Break-A-Way CD itself closes with a previously unissued folky 1967 DeShannon demo, "Only You Can Free My Mind." Even if such releases don't come to pass, DeShannon was so prolific that additional compilations of covers of her compositions would be welcome.

Various Artists, Do-Wah-Diddy: Words and Music By Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry (Ace). As part of its excellent ongoing series on major American pop-rock songwriters of the 1950s and 1960s, Ace presents a couple dozen '60s recordings of tunes penned by Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry – usually working together, though on occasion with others, Barry penning one alone – on this compilation. Like other anthologies in this series, it's not a best-of, instead being a more collector-oriented cross-section of hits, misses, original versions, and rare versions. That might disappoint some looking for a quick fix of the most well known covers of Barry-Greenwich songs, as this is missing most of the ones that became big hits, including all of the ones produced by Phil Spector and most of the ones done by the Shangri-Las. However, for those fans who have most or all of those tracks somewhere in their collection anyway, it's a very nifty selection of fine Brill Building records, more often than not of the classic girl group variety. It's true that the best tracks are the most familiar, all of them medium-to-big hits: Lesley Gore's "Maybe I Know," the Beach Boys' "I Can Hear Music," the Jelly Beans' "Baby Be Mine," the Butterflys' "Good Night Baby," the Chiffons' "I Have a Boyfriend," the Shangri-Las' superb drama "Out in the Streets," and the Exciters' original version of "Do-Wah-Diddy," soon covered for a chart-topping British Invasion hit by Manfred Mann. But there are some rarities to entertain the collector that are good on their own terms, especially the Darlettes' "Here She Comes," a first-rate vengeful girl group number, and the young Andy Kim's moody 1965 single "I Hear You Say (I Love You)."  Even some of the classics presented not-quite-in-their-original versions are cool, like the Summits' 1963 single "Hanky Panky" (the first occasion that song was released on 45) and Nilsson's respectable interpretation of "River Deep – Mountain High." It's only occasionally that there's a real misfire, like the Majors' "What Have You Been Doin'," which is a blatant rewrite of that doo wop group's only hit, "A Wonderful Dream." Otherwise it's a fine trawl through this great songwriting team's less anthologized contributions to the Brill Building sound, with Ace's usual fine liner notes and track-by-track annotation.

Various Artists, Golden Age of American Popular Music: The Country Hits (Ace). Twenty-eight country hits that also crossed over to the pop charts between 1953 and 1963 – albeit usually charting far lower on the pop side, usually stopping well short of the Top Forty – are assembled on this interesting compilation. It should be clarified at the outset that despite the somewhat similar titles and concept, this is an entirely different CD than another anthology on the Ace label, The Golden Age of American Rock'n'Roll: Special Country Edition. That disc had plenty of country hits that were really big pop hits (a la Marty Robbins' "El Paso"), some of which are still played on oldies radio. Golden Age of Popular Music: The Country Hits, in contrast, has very few such items, with exceptions here and there like Patsy Cline's "She's Got You" and Johnny Cash's "Don't Take Your Guns to Town." What this collection does do is give you a pretty good cross-section of country music as it moved away from hillbilly roots to more commercial, poppier, and more slickly produced sounds, though these particular cuts hardly sound slick per se. Many of country's greatest, and certainly most popular, singers of the era are represented, including Cline, Cash, Robbins, Jim Reeves, Ray Price, Bobby Bare, Lefty Frizzell, Roy Clark, Hank Snow, Eddy Arnold, Floyd Cramer, and Faron Young. To the pop and rock fan, however, there aren't as many songs that will stand out as there are on The Golden Age of American Rock'n'Roll: Special Country Edition; even the quite thorough liner notes admit at that "most of the inclusions here are of a gentler nature than those on its sister CD." But there are some actual classics on the track list, including Johnny Horton's "Honky Tonk Man"; Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You," later covered for a huge pop hit by Ray Charles; and Ferlin Husky's "Wings of a Dove." There are also some items worth hearing for their sheer offbeatness, such as Skeeter Davis' "My Last Date (With You)," a sort of vocal version/answer song to Floyd Cramer's huge hit "Last Date," and Cramer's own Top Ten pop instrumental cover of Bob Wills' "San Antonio Rose."

Various Artists, Hot Guitars: American Guitar Tracks from the 1920s-1950s (Viper). The concept behind this compilation is not only to present 20 tracks that showcase guitar virtuosos of various strains of American popular music from 1922 to 1957. It also gathers songs that were specifically constructed to spotlight guitars, or which were devoted to guitars, if only in their song titles. While the concept is a bit on the specious side, the important thing is that it does offer a good sampler of fine and sometimes spectacular recordings spotlighting guitarists in the electric blues, country blues, Western swing, hillbilly, swing jazz, and early rock'n'roll styles. There are, as you'd expect, some very famous names here, like Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Django Reinhardt, and Chet Atkins, though the tracks by which they're represented are by no means their most famous. There are also a few pretty famous cuts, most notably Johnny "Guitar" Watson's astonishingly futuristic-for-1954 blues/R&B workout "Space Guitar," and Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith's "Guitar Boogie." And there are numerous names and tunes that will be known mostly to specialist collectors, though the talent on display is of a similarly high level. It's true that, relative to other wide-ranging compilations of American roots music from the same era on the Viper label, the annotation is on the rather whimsical and general side, though at least the year of each recording is supplied. If you're not so concerned with background information and more with an overall glimpse of the evolution of the guitar in American roots music from the Roaring Twenties through the birth of rock'n'roll, however, this is a very good ride. It's especially to be complimented for giving some due to overlooked pioneers who are less celebrated than the names cited earlier in this paragraph, such as Adolph Hofner, Joe Maphis, and Leon McAuliffe.

Various Artists, Sing Me a Rainbow: A Trident Anthology 1965-1967 (Big Beat). In the mid-1960s Trident Productions, run by Kingston Trio manager Frank Werber, recorded quite a bit of San Francisco Bay Area rock, usually but not always leaning to the folk-rock side. Though they had a big hit right away with the We Five's 1965 smash "You Were on My Mind," that single (and, to a lesser extent, the We Five group) represented the only real success Trident managed, despite distribution for some of their recordings through A&M and Verve. Sing Me a Rainbow is a two-CD set of tracks cut by Trident from 1965 to 1967, the great majority of them previously unreleased. Those tracks that were released will be familiar to the San Francisco '60s rock fan, including "You Were on My Mind" and a few other We Five singles, as well as Blackburn & Snow's neglected folk-rock classic "Stranger in a Strange Land" and the Mystery Trend's garage-psychedelic 45 "Johnny Was a Good Boy." Otherwise, though, this is virgin territory for all but the most insider San Francisco '60s rock collectors, even if some of the artists (particularly the Sons of Champlin and John Stewart) went on to release reasonably high-profile records.

While it would be unrealistic to expect most of this to measure up to the better San Francisco rock of the early psychedelic scene, it does contain its share of cuts worth hearing, as well as generally contributing to a wider picture of the Bay Area scene at the time than is available through commonly available discs. Certainly not many people have heard the four We Five singles here other than "You Were on My Mind," which generally present a more straightforward and gutsier folk-rock combo than their LP tracks did. John Stewart & Randy Steirling's "Leave Me Alone" is a surprisingly early (August 1965) and brooding venture by then-Kingston Trio member Stewart into folk-rock; the Front Line's "Got Love" (later re-recorded for an official 45 outside Trident) is superb spiky garage rock; and the New Tweedy Brothers, known to San Francisco psychedelia aficionados for their rare 1968 LP, offer strong folk-rock on "Time," a song later re-recorded for that album. While much of the rest is rather average period folk-rock (though some British Invasion-influenced garage-pop is present too), sometimes with a soft pop bent, even much of this is invested with some of the bittersweet yet uplifting spirit particular to San Francisco rock of the time and place. Ace/Big Beat also deserves credit for giving dedicated collectors of the style something different from the few familiar names, including a few alternates/demos/backing tracks of recordings from Blackburn & Snow (the best of Trident's acts, the We Five included), the Sons of Champlin (in a much poppier style than their later, more psychedelic incarnation), and the Mystery Trend. Compiler/annotator Alec Palao, too, deserves much credit from rescuing this quite extensive archive of a nearly forgotten, but vital, corner of early San Francisco rock history for commercial release.

Various Artists, Still Dead: The Grim Reaper's Jukebox (Ace). Ace's 2006 compilation Dead! The Grim Reaper's Greatest Hits doesn't automatically seem like the kind of concept that would generate a sequel. But there were certainly enough rock'n'roll "death" discs in the 1950s and 1960s to fill up a series, and two years later, the label was back with 24 more such novelties from 1952-1969. As theme-concept various-artist rock anthologies go, songs about death certainly rank among the odder and more interesting subjects available, owing both to their morbidity and the sheer difficulty of making a record about death that's both commercial and avoids bad taste. Actually, such discs (including many of the ones assembled for this CD) usually weren't all that successful at doing so, but they're at least amusing to hear for their sheer weirdness, assuming they don't catch you in the wrong frame of mood. There is one out-and-out classic here, the Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack," as well as a couple other hits, Thomas Wayne's "Tragedy" and Billy Ward & the Dominoes' ridiculously over-the-top weeper "The Bells." Otherwise, you're likely to be hearing most of these ditties for the first time, and frankly, quite a few of them aren't all that good, with some exceptions. Little Caesar's "Goodbye Baby" is an incredibly risqué early-'50s R&B murder tune, while the same singer's 1960 rarity "The Ghost of Mary Meade" is an effectively spooky outing. The Whyte Boots' "Nightmare" is well known to girl group collectors as one of the best Shangri-Las imitations, and Vern Stovall's 1961 single "Long Black Limousine" was famously covered by Elvis Presley. Beyond that, it's very uneven sledding, perhaps highlighted, if that's the right word, by the so-bad-it's-fascinating 1969 single "The Year 2000" by Estelle (aka Estelle Bennett of the Ronettes), in which she awkwardly details the end of the human race by the end of the millennium. Likewise stretching the boundaries of good taste is an "answer" record to the Everly Brothers' hit "Ebony Eyes," the Beverly Sisters' "Flight 1203," in which in turns out Miss Ebony Eyes has missed the flight on which everyone else has died. Much of the rest falls into the fun-to-hear-once-or-twice (or less) category, preferably on Halloween, when you need an offbeat selection of seasonal tunes to impress your record collector friends. But it's good fun, if not exactly clean, with appropriately irreverent detailed liner notes as to the backgrounds of these unlikely deathsploitation records.


Archived Reviews


Archived Reviews

Mitty Collier, Shades of Mitty Collier: The Chess Singles 1961-1968 (Kent). Though Mitty Collier recorded fairly often for Chess throughout most of the 1960s, she experienced relatively little commercial success. A few of her singles – "I'm Your Part Time Love," "I Had a Talk with My Man," "No Faith, No Love," and "Sharing You" (all included on this release) – had some success on the R&B charts, but had Dusty Springfield not covered "I Had a Talk with My Man," Collier would be even more obscure than she is. This anthology collects all fifteen of her Chess A-sides, as well as nine of the cuts used on their flips. It might not quite make the case for her as a major lost talent, but it's highly worthwhile soul for those with a taste for something that's both earthy in performance and commercial in production. Collier has a considerably deeper, somewhat huskier voice than most woman soul singers, often taking a more assertive, no-nonsense attitude than was the norm for the era. As to why she didn't have more success, it's down to the most common reason: the songs themselves usually weren't that arresting, though some were quite decent. The best ones here tend to be the earlier tracks, especially "I Had a Talk with My Man," an inspired fusion of gospel and soul; "Walk Away," an intense ballad that also bears a heavy gospel influence; and her admirably tough reworking of Little Walter's "My Babe." Also of note is "My Party," which is almost frighteningly despondent in its full-throated anguish; "I'm Your Part Time Love," a soul-blues answer record to Little Johnny Taylor's "Part Time Love"; and "Miss Loneliness," a 1963 single that's a little poppier than most of her singles, and sounds more worthy of getting some airplay. Chess's production and arrangements are usually stellar on these sides no matter what the era, especially so on some sumptuously orchestrated mid-'60s efforts.

Country Joe & the Fish, What's That Spell?—Fish [DVD bootleg] (Foxberry). In the absence of any official documentary or compilation covering Country Joe & the Fish's peak years, this nearly two-hour unauthorized DVD assembles bits and pieces from 1967 through 1974. While it's uneven in terms of the quality and/or transfer of the original footage, as well as the content of the clips themselves, Fish fans are guaranteed to find much of interest here. First up is a half-hour documentary on "A Day in the Life of Country Joe & the Fish," made for San Francisco public TV station KQED in 1967, that's little better technique-wise than a home video. You do, however, get some scenes of the group rehearsing, as well as some fairly brief comments from all the members explaining how the band formed and what kind of musical/political stance they take. The Monterey Pop Festival footage is officially available and hence not of much value on a disc such as this, and the three songs from the Bitter End in 1968 are, unfortunately, mimed to a backing track, though the band have the good sense to comically camp it up. The best find by far on the DVD is the section of seven songs, mostly outtakes, from Woodstock, with numbers from both Joe MacDonald's solo acoustic performance (including "Janis," "Rockin' Round the World," and "Flying High") and less satisfying, lower-fidelity footage of the full Fish. Also good: three songs (including two versions of "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag") from a 1970 episode of Playboy After Dark (!); excerpts from 1968-70 hippie films in which the Fish have musical and acting cameos; and MacDonald's solo performance of "Freedom" from a Dutch 1970 rock festival. The three songs from a 1974 German TV broadcast that end the DVD are of an almost entirely different version of the band than the Summer of Love lineup, with ex-United States of America singer Dorothy Moskowitz on keyboards and backup vocals. As there's even more Country Joe & the Fish from this period known to exist that didn't make it onto this package, the material's certainly there for a good over-the-counter Fish DVD; whether anyone will take the plunge to do it right and at such length is a very open question.

Arthur "Big Boy"
Crudup, Gonna Be Some Changes: 1946-54 (Rev-Ola). This 27-track compilation concentrates almost exclusively on the recordings Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup made between 1946 and 1954 with band backup including drums, excluding any of the recordings he made prior to his first such session in 1946. So it's not the top pick for a Crudup compilation, and not just because it doesn't span his entire prime. It's also missing one of the three Crudup songs Elvis Presley covered, "So Glad You're Mine," which precludes it from being the top choice on those grounds alone. But if you do want a very lengthy disc focusing on his most rocking blues sides that clearly anticipate much of what would come to characterize early rock'n'roll, this is the place. The other two tunes Elvis covered ("My Baby Left Me" and "That's All Right") are here, along with the Top Ten R&B hit "I'm Gonna Dig Myself a Hole" and a heap of other brash songs that not only push electric blues toward rock'n'roll, but sometimes have more than a faint resemblance to primordial rockabilly. The usual criticisms that have kept Crudup from being judged as one of the great bluesmen apply here: many of the songs are quite similar to each other, and his abilities as a guitarist are limited. Yet such is the infectious good-spirited singing and playing that they overcome these limitations, adding up to music that remains an underrated source point for rock'n'roll.

Bob Dylan, Talkin' New York [bootleg] (Scorpio). Bob Dylan's performance in Carnegie Chapter Hall on November 4, 1961 is one of the first live recordings of the singer before a standard concert audience to have circulated (though numerous earlier tapes have been bootlegged in which he's playing live in more informal situations). Prior to the appearance of this 15-song bootleg in 2008, only seven songs from the show had made the rounds. It's rumored that there are even more, but at this length, it certainly makes for what could have been issued as a full LP – not as fanciful notion as it sounds, since the sound is pretty good. Dylan would record his first album just a couple weeks later, and in some ways this is almost an alternate version of the Bob Dylan LP, as six of these songs would also be done in the studio for that longplayer (and another, "Man on the Street," would be recorded during those sessions as an outtake). It might be coincidental, but those tunes tend to be the more memorable of the ones from this program, especially when he gets bluesy on "Gospel Plow," "Fixin' to Die," and "Freight Train Blues," and offers his first substantial early composition with "Song to Woody." "Talkin' to New York" is another early original that's present here, but otherwise he's still sticking to traditional folk songs, (including "In the Pines," perhaps better known under the title "Where Did You Go Last Night?") and Woody Guthrie tunes ("1913 Massacre" and, more notably, "This Land Is Your Land"). The strengths that would make Dylan a giant are already apparent: confident, forceful reinterpretations of a melting pot of traditional folk idioms; his unusual voice and phrase; his gutsy harmonica; and his sly comic banter with the audience. So, too, are the elements that made his 1961 work markedly inferior even to what he recorded and performed in 1962: a lack of much original material, far more derivative debts to traditional folk styles, and too many songs that rely on narration and talking blues. For those who want a somewhat bigger picture of his repertoire at the time he started his recording career, however – as well as an illustration of the distance he still had to travel, toward which he'd take huge steps within months by prolifically writing songs in which he found more of his own voice -- this is highly recommended.

Gilberto Gil, The Sound of Revolution 1968-69 (El). Gilberto Gil's second and  third albums, 1968's Frevo Rasgado and 1969's Cerebro Eletronico, are combined onto one disc on this CD reissue. These were the records on which Gil broke relatively radically with Brazilian folk traditions to absorb many psychedelic rock and pop influences. There were still quite identifiable Brazilian pop and folk traits from his roots, however; it wasn't simply a matter of a Brazilian artist trying to emulate the rock sounds of the UK and US, as many South American bands were, but the sound of someone trying to combine good elements of both worlds. Frevo Rasgado is certainly the more accessible of the pair to international ears, due in part to the backing of cult favorites Os Mutantes, and also to some overt if quality pop melodies and harmonies. Cerebro Eletronico, as even those who don't speak Portuguese can tell from the title, gets considerably weirder and more far-out. But neither of the records fall into a predictable bag; on his earlier record, he's as apt to break into a lush flower-powery ballad ("Luzia Luluza"), cuckoo psychedelia, and bossa nova-cum-surf music as more psychedelic rock. And Cerebro Eletronico, for all its odd and noisy sound collages, has a catchy big bossa nova-flavored hit ("Aquele Abraco") and some hot funk-rock with a Brazilian spin before things get kind of out of control on the Frank Zappa-esque "Objeto Semi-Identificado." These albums undeniably have the sort of inconsistency that usually comes with this sort of determinedly eclectic risk-taking. But while Gil of course would go on to achieve much more in his lengthy career, these might remain the records that will appeal most to rock fans outside of Brazil, making this two-for-one pack great value.

Kalyanji Anandji, The Bollywood Brothers (Saregama). The brother team of Kalyanji Virji Shah and Anandji Virji Shah scored numerous Hindi soundtracks, twenty-seven excerpts (spanning 1954 to 1980, though mostly from the 1970s) getting collected for this smartly chosen two-CD compilation. Even by the standards of the vintage Bollywood genre, this is maniacally, almost furiously eclectic stuff. James Bond chase-scene guitar and orgasmic sighs bump heads with son-of-Shaft funk rhythms and glide into wistful Subcontinental folk tunes in the blink of an eye -- not just from track to track, but within many of the songs themselves. Pour on some of the high  female vocals (Asha Bhosle and Lata Mangeshkar being the singers most apt to be recognized by non-Indian listeners), stray sitar twangs, and shamelessly silly boisterous chants common to many Indian musicals, and you have some grand if somewhat exhausting East-West fusions. It's true that some of the tunes are cloyingly sentimental, but even those will often unexpectedly break into something that takes, at least to Western ears not accustomed to the form, downright zany turns for the more dynamic and experimental. As for the featured vocalists, precious female singers are frequent but not dominant, some rather earthier and rootsier males also getting their chance to pace the tunes. Mainstream Indian entertainment in its day, it now seems stranger than all but the strangest psychedelia. Though the brothers' career is perhaps too long and prolific to cover extensively with the space allotted in the liner notes, these do include a brief overview of their work and track-by-track annotation.

Clydie King, The Imperial & Minit Years (EMI). Clydie King is most known as one of the top backup singers in late-twentieth century rock and soul, on tours and studio sessions by the likes of Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and Joe Cocker. She's also done a fair amount of recording as a solo artist, however, issuing her first disc back in the mid-1950s, and putting out a good number of records in the 1960s and 1970s. This 22-track compilation focuses solely on her mid-to-late-1960s material, with both sides of seven 45s she released on Imperial and Minit between 1965 and 1967 (one of them featuring duets with Jimmy Holiday), as well as eight previously unissued 1968 recordings that almost add up to an unreleased LP. In some ways, the material both explains why people kept recording King for years in spite of her inability to land a hit record -- and why she never did land that hit record. She has a  nice, somewhat shy voice and understated, subtle delivery that comes as a refreshing contrast to the usual soul belters who try so hard to sing their hearts out. But the voice isn't so outstanding that it demands the attention that, say, Ronnie Spector's does, and the songs aren't so good that they seem like they should have attracted a much bigger audience than they did. The earlier singles have pretty fair Phil Spector-esque production, while she gets into somewhat gutsier pop-soul on the later 45s. The previously unissued 1968 tracks show her trying some pretty unexpected tunes by the likes of Mickey Newbury, Bobbie Gentry, and Phil Ochs, as well as some rootsier stuff like the bluesy "I'm Glad I'm a Woman," but it's more acceptable than notable. So it adds up to a release mostly of interest to soul specialists, though as that kind of thing goes it's above average, helped by liner notes giving a career overview speckled with quotes from King herself.

John Lennon, Classic Album: Plastic Ono Band [DVD] (Eagle Vision). The Classic Albums series does its usual impeccable job with this hour-long documentary of John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band record, his first true solo longplayer. It's hard to imagine how they could have gotten more key first-hand interviews, with the expected exception of Phil Spector. Those offering their memories specifically for this documentary include Yoko Ono, Ringo Starr, Klaus Voorman (who played bass on the LP), several members of the Abbey Road production staff for the sessions, and (most surprisingly) Arthur Janov, the primal scream therapist who strongly influenced the tone of Lennon's singing and compositions of the era. Vintage footage of Lennon (and, often, Lennon and Ono) is featured from a variety of late-'60s/early-'70s sources, and John's own voice is heard discussing the album on some of the soundtrack via excerpts from interview tapes. Other cool aspects of the disc include Voorman running through some of the bass lines he devised; the engineers isolating some specific parts of the tracks; and brief snippets of some outtakes/alternate versions from the sessions. Even for those extremely knowledgeable about Lennon's career, there are some surprising nuggets, like the revelation that Spector actually wasn't at and/or heavily involved in some of the sessions; Voorman's illustration of how he sometimes played chords on his bass; and Janov's memory of how the opening lyric for "God" evolved from a discussion between him and John. Though the principal hour-long feature was broadcast on television prior to this DVD release, the disc also contains almost 37 minutes of pretty interesting bonus material, including more extensive discussion (especially analysis by the recording engineers) of some of the album's songs, among them some tunes not discussed in depth in the main section; Lennon's live performance of "Mother" at Madison Square Garden; and a 1970 Plastic Ono Band TV performance of "Instant Karma."

Darlene Love, So Much Love: A Darlene Love Anthology 1958-1998 (Ace). The twenty-four tracks on this nearly career-spanning anthology -- the great majority taken from between the late 1950s and early 1970s -- collect many of Darlene Love's most notable recordings. It has not only some of her efforts as a solo artist, but also a few she did as part of the Blossoms, as well as numerous cuts on which her contributions as a session vocalist are prominent. The reason it's "nearly" career-spanning, however, with "many" rather than "most" of her notable recordings, is that it's missing the most crucial Love tracks of all -- those being the ones such sang, as featured artist or session vocalist (particularly with the Crystals), with Phil Spector as a producer. Due to that very important factor, this can't actually be called a Darlene Love best-of, and to its credit Ace avoids using that phrase in its title. If you can swallow that disappointment, however (and at least Love's Spector recordings have been collected elsewhere), this is an interesting overview of her other (and usually less celebrated) efforts, including many hard-to-find singles and a few previously unissued cuts. Yet a problem that can't go unmentioned is that while Love has a first-rate impassioned, distinctively impassioned pop-soul voice and almost always sings her heart out, the average quality of the material simply isn't on the level of her vocal talents. Though personal differences between her and Spector apparently kept their collaborations from being extensive, he nonetheless was the one figure to give her the material and production she deserved; there's nothing here on the order of, for example, the Crystals' "He's a Rebel" (a song here represented by an inferior 1971 single credited to Moose & the Pelicans) or her small 1963 solo hit "Wait Till My Bobby Gets Home." Adjusting your expectations accordingly, there's some average-to-slightly-above average songs here (some written by top songwriters like Van McCoy, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Gerry Goffin, Carole King, David Gates, and Lee Hazlewood) with very above-average vocals. There are also some pretty forgettable tunes, as well as some almost novelty-like items on which Love and others provided singing for tracks by performers who were essentially instrumental artists (Dick Dale, Hal Blaine, Barney Kessel, and Duane Eddy). One of the best songs here, interestingly, is one that was previously unreleased: a 1963 demo of "Let Him Walk Away," produced by Jack Nitzsche and co-written by Nitzsche with Jackie DeShannon, that credibly approximates the ambience of her Spector recordings. The extensive liner notes feature track-by-track annotation and quotes from Love herself.

Joni Mitchell, TV Collection 1966-1996 [DVD bootleg] (The Wow Corporation). As is the case with many major popular music artists, there's a heck of a lot of interesting Joni Mitchell footage encompassing various periods of her career that has not been compiled for official release. That leaves the door open for unauthorized DVDs such as this one that, while quite flawed, undeniably do offer much material of great historical value. Certainly you can't accuse this of being short on running time, with a little more than two hours of clips, most indeed taken from TV broadcasts (though there's actually a bit from other sources as well). The major discoveries on this disc, by a wide margin, are the half-dozen black-and-white performances – in far-from-perfect, but perfectly watchable, quality -- from Canadian television in the late 1960s. This is among the earliest Mitchell on film to be found anywhere, including the outstanding songs "Night in the City" and "The Circle Game." Yet more fascinating, however, is the version of "The Dawntreader" (mistakenly titled "A Dream" on the back cover) with light orchestration, electric guitar, and drums that gives some hint of how she might have sounded had she gone for a fuller sound on her early records. There's also a song she never put on her official releases, the O. Henry story-inspired "The Gift of the Magi" (misidentified as "What a Fool He Is" on the back cover), and two versions of another tune not found in her proper discography, "The Way It Is." Also originating from the late 1960s are two other black-and-white clips from a Cass Elliot-hosted show on which Joni does "Both Sides Now" (with some orchestration) and joins Elliot and Mary Travers for a rendition of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released."

Much of the rest of the DVD comes from a period in Mitchell's career (1988-1996) that's not nearly as interesting. Still, the half-dozen songs from a 1988 Italian TV program at least benefit from sparse low-key arrangements featuring only her guitar and bass from then-husband Larry Klein, as well as a song that she largely scats instead of singing with proper words. Three numbers from Japan in May 1994 include a couple on which Wayne Shorter plays as accompanist, and one on which the Chieftains are heard; she also does "Harry's House" on a November 1996 episode of The Rosie O'Donnell Show, followed by an interview with the rather overbearing hostess. Finishing the disc are eight songs labeled as "promotional videos," and while the four from 1983-85 certainly are, the others don't quite seem to fit that description, with performances of "Marcie" and "Little Green" apparently filmed in the late 1960s, and versions of "Get Together" (with Crosby, Stills, and Nash) and "Woodstock" originating from the Celebration at Big Sur rockumentary of the Big Sur Folk Festival in September 1969. There's much more Mitchell on film from many sources that isn't here, of course, but everything here is in reasonable-to-very-good image and sound quality, and of considerable interest for serious Joni fans.

The Mojo Men, Not Too Old to Start Cryin' (Big Beat). For a minor mid-'60s San Francisco garage/folk-rock/psych group with very limited national success, the Mojo Men certainly recorded a hell of a lot of material. This compilation contains no less than two dozen previously unreleased 1966 recordings, cut in the uneasy period between when their original label, Autumn, had bit the dust, and they had yet to release tracks with their next company, Reprise. It's no less than the fourth CD of material from the group that's been issued, with no duplication between the discs. For that reason, even some enthusiastic '60s/San Francisco collectors might wonder whether it's only of peripheral completist-only interest. It's definitely not, however; a little surprisingly, it has much of the best stuff they ever did, with only a few of the songs that would be re-recorded at Reprise. Far more than their earlier, more garage/British Invasion-inclined recordings prior to the entrance of drummer/singer Jan Errico into the lineup, it has a folk-rock/slightly psychedelic feel slightly akin to the pre-Grace Slick work of Jefferson Airplane. Too, it's nonetheless less precious and slick than their more polished (if occasionally fine), baroque rock-influenced Reprise material. Bittersweet, wistful folk-rock with mild garage and psychedelic tinges (and more than a touch of the Beau Brummels) is the main vibe on this strong set of mostly original material, highlighted by the ones on which Errico's stirring, yearning vocals – the best qualities she brought into the band from her former outfit, the Vejtables -- are forefronted. While some of the tunes are rather run-of-the-mill, the best of them are really good, including the Beau Brummels-style "Is Our Love Gone"; "Not Too Old to Start Cryin'," represented by two versions (and later redone for Reprise); and, above all, "You Didn't Even Say Goodbye," where Errico's singing is a match for Signe Anderson at her best. Even the oddball cover arrangements of "She Cried" (formerly a hit for Jay & the Americans) and the late-'50s Bellnotes rocker "I've Had It" are cool. You could even make an argument for this as the best Mojo Men CD, despite the absence of their only two songs to make appreciable national noise, "Dance with Me" and "Sit Down, I Think I Love You."

Otis Redding, Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul [Collector's Edition] (Atco/Rhino). This two-CD edition collector's edition of Otis Redding's classic 1965 album Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul undoubtedly adds a lot of music, but collectors should note it's short on previously unreleased material. Disc one contains the original mono album, and disc two the original stereo album, with each CD filled out by a good amount of live and studio bonus material. However, the only three previously unreleased cuts are mono mixes of the stereo album versions -- that's the exact terminology used on the sleeve -- of "I've Been Loving You Too Long," "Respect," and "Ole Man Trouble." That only qualifies as "previously unreleased," at least in sense of hearing music that's never been on the market before, by the barest of margins, though at least all of them run a little longer than the previously available versions. The inclusion of two B-sides ("Any Ole Way" and "I'm Depending on You") is nice, as is a fast studio take of "Respect" that was first issued on the 1992 compilation Remember Me. Historical liner notes by Stax scholar Rob Bowman are another good bonus. But as good as they are, the six and five cuts respectively from Live at the Whisky a Go Go and Live in Europe must already be owned by most of the collectors interested in a release like this. As much good music as these two CDs contain, and as good as the packaging is, it falls into the uncomfortable gap of being too much for most fans -- who'll find the original unembellished album, in stereo or mono, just fine -- and not enough rarities for the true collector.

Marty Robbins, Legendary Performances [DVD] (Shout Factory). With someone whose career as a country (and sometimes pop) hitmaker spanned more than 25 years, it's inevitable that a video retrospective of his career can only hope to sample some highlights. This DVD, however, does present a reasonably strong survey of 15 songs/performances by Marty Robbins from 1957 to 1979. Plenty of his biggest hits are represented, including of course "El Paso" (taken from an episode of a 1965 series where Robbins played a singing cowboy), but also "Devil Woman," "Knee Deep in the Blues," "Singing the Blues," "The Story of My Life," "A White Sport Coat (And a Pink Carnation)," and "El Paso City." The clips certainly get slicker in presentation as the years go on; some guys in the band backing him on the pair of 1957 performances from Country Style USA seem almost embarrassed to be onstage, though Jack Pruett certainly plays sparkling guitar on the first of these, "Knee Deep in the Blues." Marty himself, however, is always at ease; in fact, it seems like nothing short of a tornado would ruffle his calm self-assurance. If there's any disappointing aspect to this DVD, it's that the musical performances actually only fill up 40 minutes. Too, the 1957 pop smash "A White Sport Coat (And a Pink Carnation)" would surely have been better represented by a clip of earlier vintage than the 1977 one selected for this disc. As some compensation, as a bonus feature there's a 40-minute interview (conducted in 1982, only nine months before his death) that's much more thoughtful than the usual Q&A with a country star, especially when Robbins discusses writing "El Paso" (though not so much when he talks about his auto racing exploits). Also included is a brief clip of Marty being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, less than two months before he passed away.

Joe Strummer, The Future Is Unwritten [DVD] (Legacy). When Julien Temple directs a rockumentary, you know it isn't going to be the usual straightforward assemblage of talking heads with archival footage. So it is with his acclaimed 2007 Joe Strummer documentary The Future Is Unwritten, even though it does actually draw upon many interviews and film clips dating back to Strummer's childhood. If you want to learn the basic outline of Strummer's (or the Clash's) career, this might not be the best place, since Temple as expected sprinkles the interviews/footage with plenty of arty graphics, edits, and effects -- particularly bonfires, around which many of the interviews take place -- to keep the visual interest afloat. Too, none of the interviewees are identified by captions, and even the major Strummer/Clash fan might be uncertain or puzzled as to the role some of them played in Joe's life (though if you don't recognize major figures like Mick Jones, who's interviewed extensively, you might have come to the wrong place altogether). If you're willing to go with the flow and take what Temple presents instead of fretting over grasping the entire context, however, there's a wealth of insight into Strummer's complicated character, as well as much exciting footage of Clash/Mescaleros performances and actual Strummer interviews. Though Clash bassist Paul Simonon and Clash manager Bernie Rhodes are notable absentees, an astonishing number of Strummer's friends and colleagues offer their comments, including Jones, Clash drummer Topper Headon, and other musicians with whom Joe worked; old buddies dating back to his childhood and college days; musicians Strummer influenced and inspired, from Bono and the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones; and director/actor chums like Martin Scorsese, Jim Jarmusch, and Matt Dillon. While Strummer's flaws aren't skipped over -- including some breaks with his past that some of those close to him were hurt by -- the overall tone focuses on his more artistic and humane qualities, with some surprises like the story of a brother who committed suicide when Joe was a teenager, and pictures of the young Strummer with long hair.

As a bonus feature, the 2008 DVD edition of the film adds audio commentary from Temple and an additional 100 minutes of interview footage with many of the subjects included in the main feature. That additional interview footage is more for serious fans than the general viewer, but does add some viewpoints and stories that will be of interest to intense Strummer admirers. Temple's commentary track is interesting not just for additional perspective upon and anecdotes of Strummer's life, but for background information as to how the film was constructed and how some of the rare source footage was found.

Various Artists, Always Something There: A Burt Bacharach Collectors' Anthology 1952-1969 (Ace). For all the hits that Burt Bacharach wrote (usually though not always in partnership with Hal David) over the course of his long career, many records featuring his songwriting never got a wide hearing, even though these were often by popular singers with chart singles to their credit. Always Something There: A Burt Bacharach Collectors' Anthology 1952-1969 has 26 such rarities, most of them from the early-to-mid-1960s, though there are a few stray items from the '50s (and a 1969 Dionne Warwick non-LP B-side, "Dream Sweet Dreamer"). These aren't on par with the best hits (or even best non-hits) Bacharach had a hand in, most of which are represented on the box set The Look of Love: The Burt Bacharach Collection. If you're motivated to go even a little further than that box and Dionne Warwick's catalog, however, this (as well as Raven's two-CD set The Rare Bacharach 1, which has almost no overlap with Always Something There) is recommended further listening. First off, obscurities by many major artists are represented, including Gene Pitney, Jackie DeShannon, Del Shannon, Trini Lopez, Brook Benton, Doris Day, Della Reese, Marty Robbins, and Gene Vincent. Also, there are some rare original versions of songs that became more famous in the hands of others, most notably Don & Juan's "True Love Never Runs Smooth" (which was given its definitive interpretation by Pitney) and "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me" (here represented by Lou Johnson's 1964 single). Most importantly, there are some pretty good tunes here, many of which bear not only Bacharach's unmistakable melodic slant, but also (whether he's credited or not) the kind of trademark lush-but-tasteful orchestration/production heard on many of his celebrated hits.

It's true that none of these tunes, other than perhaps "True Love Never Runs Smooth" and "If I Never Get to Love You" (here heard as done by Gene Pitney), are really outstanding; it's also true that many of them tend to remind you of other, better compositions in which Bacharach took part. But there are nonetheless some pretty nifty items here, whether it's Lopez's highly creditable "Made in Paris"; Burt & the Backbeats' 1961 single "Move It on the Backbeat," sung by sisters Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick; or the very first Bacharach item to find vinyl release, Nat "King" Cole's 1952 instrumental "Once in a Blue Moon." Superbly annotated by Mick Patrick, it also sparks hope that other such Bacharach rarity compilations can be assembled, as Serene Dominic's book Burt Bacharach: Song by Song makes it clear that there are quite a few other interesting seldom heard tracks that might be worthy of reissue.

Various Artists, The Godfather's R&B: James Brown's Productions 1962-67 (BGP). As prolific a recording artist as James Brown was in the 1960s, and as busy a touring machine as the one he lead on the road was, he somehow found time to produce and work on numerous discs by other artists. The Godfather's R&B: James Brown's Productions 1962-67 has 22 such tracks, one of them (the 1966 single "New Breed (The Boo-Ga-Loo)") an instrumental actually credited to Brown himself, though the others are billed to other performers. In one sense, these extracurricular activities gave Brown additional chances to test and refine some ideas, especially as his music moved from more traditional soul to funk. As Dean Rudland's fine liner notes point out, this was especially the case from late 1963 to early 1965, when legal problems prevented Brown from recording often as a singer. From these standpoints, this CD is a valuable document of an aspect of his career that's usually overlooked. From a pure musical standpoint, however, the sounds are more historical than outstanding, and with a few exceptions not nearly as vital as the records Brown himself was putting out in the same era. For one thing, the singers represented here, though competent, weren't in the same league as their mentor. For another, they often beg comparison with similar, but better, Brown records. In some instances (especially Dizzy Jones' "I Don't Care"), they sound like James Brown tracks with a singer instructed to lay down a guide vocal intended to simulate the Godfather.

All that noted, this music --  much of which Brown had a songwriting, as well as production, hand in -- certainly has its appealing aspects for Brown fans, not just Brown completist collectors, though it's more rooted in his early-'60s vocal R&B style than his more groundbreaking mid-'60s early funk outings. Though none of these singles were hits of any consequence, Brown fans will certainly recognize his right-hand man Bobby Byrd, and general soul fans will know Tammy Montgomery, who as Tammi Terrell went on to score hits for Motown. Ultimately, however, just two tracks are truly outstanding, both of those belonging to Yvonne Fair. One is her exciting raw cover of Frankie Lymon's "It Hurts to Be in Love"; the other, a far more momentous one, is her 1962 single "I Found You", a song that with substantial alterations would become Brown's huge 1965 hit "I Feel Good." Worthy of honorable mention are the Poets' organ-paced instrumental "Devil's Den Part 1" and Anna King's "If You Don't Think," which has some super-tight horn-guitar interplay behind a lusty vocal.

Various Artists, The Golden Age of American Popular Music: The Jazz Hits (Ace). Though the decade roughly spanning the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s is rightly remembered as the time when rock'n'roll asserted itself as the most popular music in the United States, pop charts and pop radio still accommodated plenty of non-rock singles. This volume of Ace's long-running, stellar Golden Age of American Popular Music series focuses entirely on jazz 45s that managed to make the charts between 1957 and 1966, sometimes in a very big way. Even casual listeners to oldies radio will recognize the biggest smashes here, including Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto's "The Girl from Ipanema," Ramsey Lewis' "The 'In' Crowd," Cannonball Adderley's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," Vince Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," Dave Brubeck's 'Take Five," and Cozy Cole's "Topsy II." What's great about this 28-track compilation, however, is that it also has quite a few songs that haven't been played a lot since their heyday, but have a similarly enduring combination of jazz with varying elements of pop, R&B, soul, bossa nova, and Latin music. There's Herbie Hancock's original version of "Watermelon Man"; Mongo Santamaria's instrumental "Yeh, Yeh!," later made into a vocal hit by Georgie Fame; Mel Torme's anguished classic "Comin' Home Baby"; Jimmy Smith's cinematic "Walk on the Wild Side"; the Young Holt Trio's exuberant soul-jazz novelty "Wack Wack"; Eddie Harris' interpretation of the film theme "Exodus"; Jimmy McGriff's explosive instrumental cover of Ray Charles' "I've Got a Woman"; Richard "Groove" Holmes' bopping cover of the overdone "Misty"; and even Nelson Riddle's "Route 66 Theme." The overriding common element is a catchy melody or riff, without compromising the straight jazz skills of the players. While some serious jazz buffs might scorn this set as sellout commercial fodder, in fact it's an exemplary anthology of the most accessible jazz of its era, and of jazz that crackled with pop appeal without losing its sense of swing or cool.

Various Artists, The Jerry Ragovoy Story: Time Is On My Side 1953-2003 (Ace). He might not be as well as known as Burt Bacharach, Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, or even other such behind-the-scenes figures as Bert Berns. But Jerry Ragovoy produced and/or arrangedand/or wrote many fine soul-pop records -- too many, in fact, to fit into one 24-track anthology. But this disc does have a lot of them, and gives a good idea of the breadth of his multi-faceted talents, heavily emphasizing (despite the half-century span indicated by the CD title) his most famous work of the 1960s and early 1970s. It's not quite Ragovoy's most celebrated material, as there's also an emphasis on rarities and original versions that will please collectors, including the Olympics' "Good Lovin'" and, more notably, the elusive rare original of "Time Is On My Side" by jazz trombonist Kai Winding, covered (with the addition of many lyrics) by Irma Thomas and then the Rolling Stones. There are a lot of fine songs here, often with memorably classy orchestration, including Lorraine Ellison's "Stay with Me"; Garnet Mimms' big 1963 hit "Cry Baby"; Miriam Makeba's 1967 hit "Pata Pata"; and the Majors' early-'60s doo wopper "A Wonderful Dream." Also on board are solid tracks by noted performers that weren't hits, like Dusty Springfield's "What's It Gonna Be," Irma Thomas' "The Hurt's All Gone," and Howard Tate's "You're Lookin' Good." To gain a full appreciation of Ragovoy's achievements, you really need to hear more material by artists he worked with extensively that are only represented by a tune or two or three on this compilation, especially Mimms, Ellison, Tate, and Thomas. This is a pretty good survey, however, bolstered by Ace's usual detailed liner notes, which include many comments supplied specifically for this package by Ragovoy himself. Like some other entries in Ace's series of compilations devoted to producer-arranger-songwriters, it also whets the appetite for further volumes, as many other well-known and rare such tracks that Ragovoy had a major hand in would certainly deserve to be anthologized.

Various Artists, Welsh Rare Beat (Finders Keepers). Starting in the late 1960s, the Sain label recorded many Welsh-language releases that few have heard outside of Wales. It's unfortunately hard to tell the exact chronological span of the 25 tracks assembled for this compilation, but basically it seems to feature the Welsh rock the company produced during the 1970s, the early-to-mid-1970s being the primary focus. Even within the collector community devoted to tracking down worldwide rock from the era that didn't get a wide hearing, these performers are unknown, the only exception being Meic Stevens, though even he isn't known to many listeners aside from British folk-rock specialists. The Welsh lyrics are going to make this hard to fully grasp for most listeners outside Wales, but basically this material combines some of the better elements of both '70s progressive rock and the era's British folk-rock, sometimes leaning in a decidedly folky direction. The thorough track annotation indicates that some of these cuts are inspired by mythology and folk tales, and much of the music does have a rather innocent, dramatically wistful air that will appeal to those who have a fondness for that sort of thing. It seems less pretentious than much of the English-language stuff produced in that vein during the same era, however, due in part to the relatively basic production (though almost everything sounds clear and professional), but also helped by some nice haunting melodies and singing. The folkier items tend to be the more pleasing ones here, but one the whole it's a nice and diverse listen, recommended to both progressive rock and British folk-rock collectors in search of something different that they likely haven't yet heard.

Various Artists, You Heard It Here First! (Ace). The original versions of twenty-six hit rock and (in lesser frequency) pop, soul, and country songs from the 1950s and 1960s are on this highly entertaining CD. These are not the sort of songs that will be recognized only by collectors and historians; these are songs that became big hits when they were covered by other artists, from "Rock Around the Clock" and "I Fought the Law" to "Wild Thing" and "Suspicious Minds." And even if you're an extremely knowledge historian/collector, it's doubtful you've heard, let alone owned, every single one of these tracks. A few of these originals are relatively well known, like Bessie Banks' soul classic "Go Now" (covered by the Moody Blues), Joe Jones' "California Sun" (made into a surf hit of sorts by the Rivieras), and Richard Berry's perennial "Louie Louie." But certainly relatively few people even know of the existence of original versions such as the Wild Ones' "Wild Thing," Sunny Dae & the Knights' "Rock Around the Clock," the Little Darlings' "Little Bit o' Soul," Carson & Gaile's "Something Stupid," and Eddie Riff's "Ain't That Loving You Baby" (the song made into a Top Twenty 1964 hit for Elvis Presley, not the Jimmy Reed blues classic), for instance. To some listeners, hearing these rarities might come as a disappointment when you hear how relatively little the hitmakers changed some of the arrangements, like Mark James' "Suspicious Minds" (redone by Presley) and the aforementioned "Little Bit o' Soul," done by the obscure British group the Little Darlings three years before the Music Explosion had a huge US hit with it. Yet there are also some songs that were substantially different and occasionally even superior in their first appearance, Gloria Jones' storming soul stomper "Tainted Love" being the most outstanding example. While not superior to the remakes, Hoagy Lands' Sam Cooke-like "Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand" is certainly way different from the Animals' mutation of the same tune into "Baby, Let Me Take You Home," just as Johnny Darrell's "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" is from the Kenny Rogers remake and Yvonne Fair's "I Found You" is from James Brown's "I Got You," which the tune evolved into three years later in the Godfather of Soul's hands. Most of the cuts, too, are just plain fine on their own terms, like Muddy Waters' "You Need Love" (the basis of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love") and, to again cite one of the most obscure tracks here, Diane & Annita's fetching soul-pop duet "A Groovy Kind of Love," made into a British Invasion hit by the Mindbenders. As one very minor criticism, "You Were on My Mind" (later a folk-rock hit for the We Five) is not represented by Ian & Sylvia's very first original version, but a later one that included some overdubbed drums.


Archived Reviews


Archived Reviews

Nick Drake, Under Review [DVD] (Sexy Intellectual). Any documentary about Nick Drake is going to be handicapped by the absence of any footage of the singer-songwriter as an adult, in performance or interview. While this 90-minute DVD does an admirable job of filling in gaps via plenty of photos and interviews with associates and critics, it's also hindered by the lack of interviews with producer/manager Joe Boyd, sister Gabrielle Drake, engineer/producer John Wood, and arranger Robert Kirby – all of whom appear in the 2000 documentary A Skin Too Few. For that reason, A Skin Too Few remains the preferable starting point, but if you're interested in Drake, this is certainly worthwhile additional viewing. Several peers, often ones who contributed in some way to his career and recordings, weigh in with their memories, including Ashley Hutchings of Fairport Convention; Fairport drummer Dave Mattacks; Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band; and British folk singer-songwriters Ralph McTell and John Renbourn. Also chipping in with critical commentary are Jerry Gilbert, who did the only press interview with Drake; biographers Patrick Humphries and Trevor Dann; boyhood friend Jeremy Mason; and a few other critics and musicians who are admirers of Nick's music. Each of Drake's albums is discussed in some depth, as is to a lesser extent his troubled psyche, the lack of popular acceptance he endured in his lifetime, and his posthumous rise to enormous cult popularity. The lack of actual Drake footage still means there need to be plenty of brief clips of fields, skies, and such to tide things over, though at least plenty of excerpts from his original studio recordings are heard on the soundtrack. Small additional extras are a scene of Robin Williamson doing a tarot card reading on Drake, and an interactive Nick Drake quiz.

Dr. Strangely Strange, Halcyon Days (Hux). An unsuccessful attempt to assemble an album of live/BBC material by Dr. Strangely Strange (not enough usable stuff could be found), unusually, led to something better -- an entire LP's worth of well-preserved 1969-70 studio outtakes. Those ten outtakes (with two versions of one song, "Cock-a-Doodle-Doo") form the bulk of this 2007 release, topped off by three 2006 recordings supplied specifically to this project. It's the 1969-70 material, naturally, that's the main attraction, and it's a surprise to find that -- unlike the unissued cuts excavated for most collections of this sort -- they're pretty much on a par with the two albums this fairly obscure Irish acid-folkish band issued during their brief lifetime. That is to say, they sound very much like the Incredible String Band without as much of an edge, a niche that cuts both ways. In some ways, more mainstream listeners (if any are indeed checking out a reissue such as this in the first place) might actually find their whimsical, drifting brand of barely-rock-influenced folk a little more pleasant and accessible than the ISB. That acknowledged, the songs, singing, and arrangements aren't as bold, striking, eclectic, or world music-influenced as those of the band to which they're inevitably compared. But those who like eccentric British Isles folk-rock in this mold, and certainly those who like the two proper Dr. Strangely Strange LPs from the era, will be pleased. The production (mostly by Joe Boyd) and sound are good, if on the low-key side; the songs are good-natured, if sometimes slight and addled; and the instrumentation quite varied, though only occasionally does this fit into what could be called rock music. Best of all, these aren't merely early demos or alternate versions, as the songs weren't used in any form on the two official albums by the band. This fits unexpectedly comfortably, then, into the primary Dr. Strangely Strange discography, though one of the outtakes (the droll disaster tale "HMS Avenger") is atypical even by the unpredictable, goofy standards of this oddball group. The three 2006 songs aren't as impressive (especially in the vocal department), but do fit in fairly well with the others in terms of both vibe and production. A bonus worth noting is the inclusion of very detailed, lengthy liner notes, which have a lot of info not only on these specific tracks, but also on the history of the band in general.

Lowell Fulsom, In a Heavy Bag (Sundazed). You won't read about it in many history books, but a lot of veterans of the 1950s R&B era were making soul and funk records by the late 1960s and early 1970s, long after their commercial peak. One of them was Lowell Fulsom, who acquitted himself much better than the average such singer trying to adapt to the changing times. This 1970 LP was cut in Muscle Shoals with noted session men Roger Hawkins, Eddie Hinton, Barry Beckett, and David Hood, and it's actually a pretty respectable soul-blues outing with considerable overtones of funk and hard rock. Though the thought of hearing some wah-wah guitar and generally heavy sounds as sung by Fulsom might offend some R&B purists, it's mostly quite a tasteful combination, and with a more satisfying raw gutbucket feel than you might expect given both the fame of the players and the urbane approach Fulsom often used in his earlier work. "Cheating Woman" and "Man of Motion" in particular are about as raw as soul-rock got in 1970, the Muscle Shoals cats sounding almost more like feisty garagey blues-rockers than slick session pros. Fans of odd Beatles covers will want to hear the soul-rock take on "Why Don't We Do It in the Road," which might be the only time that relatively obscure White Album track has been covered by a notable artist. Otherwise the material's almost all penned by Fulsom and/or one "Fats" Washington, and is sung by Lowell with a relaxed ease that seemingly finds him wholly unintimidated by the move to a heavier sound.

Bobbie Gentry, Patchwork/Fancy (Raven). While this two-LPs-on-one-CD combo is more for serious Bobbie Gentry fans than those looking for the best or most representative one or two compilations of the artist, it's a worthwhile roundup of two of her more overlooked records. From 1971, Patchwork is by far the more artistically ambitious of the pair, as it consists entirely of original (and self-produced) material, whereas 1970's Fancy is mostly cover versions. Patchwork, oddly, ended up being the still-young singer-songwriter's final longplayer, and found her Southern pop-country-folk-soul fusion going in a somewhat slicker, more orchestrated direction than her early work. That's part of the reason it's not one of the more impressive Gentry albums, another being that the songs don't rate among her very best, sometimes going off in unexpectedly bouncy or middle-of-the-road directions. Still, her singing remains fine, and some of the more serious and intimate songs ("Beverly," "Belinda," "Lookin' In," and "Marigolds and Tangerines") are fairly impressive. Fancy is an odd entry in her discography in that, though it features a self-penned title track, it's otherwise devoted entirely to outside material, recorded (a la several white blue-eyed soulstresses circa 1970) at Muscle Shoals. As such, it was never going to be among Gentry's more distinguished efforts. But that's not to say it's not enjoyable, mostly for her superb earthy singing on a varied assortment of tunes by authors ranging from Bacharach-David and  James Taylor to Leon Russell and Laura Nyro. If it's not nearly as good as a best-of, this 22-track CD's nevertheless good value, also including historical liner notes.

Grapefruit, Around the BBC (Retro). Grapefruit only made a couple of albums in the late 1960s, but they got to do a number of BBC sessions, probably because their connection to the Beatles initially excited a lot of media interest. Around the BBC has a dozen tracks they recorded for the radio network between January 1968 and July 1969, as well as some brief interview banter. Though this might be considered somewhat of a frivolous release by nonspecialists given the group's marginal impact on the British psych-pop scene, it actually turns out to be a pretty valuable supplement to their studio discography. For one thing, the sound is very good, the recordings somehow having been preserved in quite fine condition. Of yet more importance, no less than five of the twelve songs were not included on Grapefruit's official releases. These include not only three originals by George Alexander ("Breaking Up a Dream," "Somebody's Turning on the People," and "Trying to Make It to Monday"), but also covers of the Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody" and Denny Laine's "Say You Don't Mind." All of the Alexander compositions, especially the buoyant "Breaking Up a Dream," are -- like much of Grapefruit's debut LP, Around Grapefruit -- quality period British psych-pop, if more Beatlesque pop-rock than out-and-out psychedelia, and not quite up to the level of the Bee Gees (let alone the Beatles). Too, only two of the tracks are from the disappointing heavy rock phase they entered for their second album, and even the songs available in studio versions on the earlier Grapefruit versions are notably less ornate in these radio performances. Capped by good liner notes from Apple Records scholar Stefan Granados, it's a worthwhile package for this minor but decent group that helps give listeners a more rounded picture of the band's sound and repertoire than is available from their slim body of studio work.

Earl Hooker, The Genius of Earl Hooker (Sundazed). This rare circa-1967 album has what you'd expect from a vintage Earl Hooker LP: blues instrumentals with unfailingly stinging guitar, a relaxed groove, and soul-tinged arrangements bolstered by solid organ. If it's mighty reliable in what it delivers, it also has to be said that there aren't many surprises, the tracks coming close to very high-class blues background music in some senses. As that limited genre goes, however, this is at the top of that class, Hooker throwing in enough energetic flourishes, swoops, and musical equivalents of exclamation points to not just keep things interesting, but also keep a smile on your face. A few familiar blues and soul tunes are covered here, including "Dust My Broom," "Hold On, I'm Coming," and "Something You Got," the last of these unappetizingly retitled "Something You Ate." But for the most part the program is original, including one number, "Bertha," that seems to look toward Santo & Johnny's sleepy slide guitar workouts for inspiration.

The Moody Blues, The Moody Blues [DVD/CD] (Image Entertainment). It's very unlikely there will be a more definitive documentary on the Moody Blues than this three-disc set. Disc one is the main attraction, presenting a two-and-a-half-hour documentary on their career. Everything you'd want in the story of a rock band is here, starting with extensive interviews with everyone in the classic five-man lineup of the late 1960s and 1970s except Ray Thomas (though a few rather lo-fi soundbites with Thomas are included), as well as Tony Clarke, who produced their biggest-selling albums. It doesn't stop there, however, as the pre-Justin Hayward/John Lodge mid-'60s lineup is also given its fair due, including quite a few comments from original lead singer Denny Laine, and some observations from other musicians who played on the Birmingham circuit from which the Moodies emerged (including Bev Bevan of the Move/Electric Light Orchestra). For all the criticism of the band's music as overly earnest and pretentious, all of them come off as quite likable, intelligent chaps with a decent sense of humor. It might frustrate hardcore fans that no complete songs are used in the insertions of vintage footage, but at least there are many such clips, going all the way back to the "Go Now" days.

Even fairly serious Moody Blues fans will likely learn quite a bit they weren't previously aware of, such as the convoluted origin of their name (sparked by an attempt to capitalize on sponsorship by a brewery); the roundabout recruitment of Justin Hayward via Eric Burdon (who's interviewed for a bit as well); the gestation of Days of Future Passed, done almost behind the backs of a record company expecting a rock interpretation of Dvorak; the hassles of running their own label, Threshold; Mike Pinder's discovery of the Mellotron and his integration of the instrument into the band's music; and the tensions leading to Pinder's departure in the late 1970s. It's true that more time seems to be spent on discussing Days of Future Passed (which remains, after all, their most popular recording) than most of their other albums combined, and some fans might be disappointed that some of their popular post-In Search of the Lost Chord LPs from the late 1960s and early 1970s are barely discussed. It's also true that, in common with documentaries about many long-lasting bands, the final sections kind of drag as they cover years in which not much new music of consequence was generated, even as the Moodies continued to be a hugely popular touring act. But overall, this is excellent, informative, entertaining, and very professionally shot and assembled.

If you want even more depth, disc two has almost an hour of extended interviews with most of the participants. This leaves room for much  material that didn't fit onto disc one, including some pretty funny tour stories and mishaps; recollections of touring and socializing with the Beatles (Pinder saying he helped introduce the group to the Mellotron); and Pinder's full explanation of tensions between him and Edge during the Octave sessions, though some of the extended interviews with non-Moodies verge on the extraneous. Also on disc two are six promo films, including a ghostly one for "Go Now" with the original lineup, though unfortunately all of the others postdate the group's late 1960s/early 1970s prime. Filling out that disc are galleries of photos and memorabilia spanning the band's entire career.

The third disc, a bonus audio CD, will be particularly welcomed by major Moody Blues fanatics -- and, indeed, major British Invasion fanatics -- as it includes nine rare tracks from the group's early days in 1959-65, all but two of them previously unreleased. Only a couple of them, it should be cautioned, are actually by the Moody Blues, all of the others being from groups and solo projects that the members were in before joining the band that would make them famous. All of the pre-Moodies tracks show the musicians to have surprisingly conventional (given the progressive rock for which they'd become known) beat group origins, the clear standout being Denny Laine and the Diplomats' 1963 track "Forever and a Day," a Laine original in the Merseybeat style (but nonetheless with a bit of the haunting quality he'd bring to the early Moodies). There's also Justin Hayward's bustling folk-rockish 1965 single "London Is Behind Me," and two reasonably interesting actual 1964 Moody Blues outtakes, a demo of "Lose Your Money" (later to be re-recorded for their first single) and a cover of Arthur Alexander's "You Better Move On." (Note that although both of these are described as having been recorded at London's famed Marquee Club, they're not live tracks; they were done in the club's actual studio.) To harp a bit, it's disappointing more such rarities weren't included, as there are known to be a few other such tracks floating around on bootlegs and rare 45s; it's also disappointing that the liner notes on this disc aren't more thorough in detailing who's playing on what. Still, it's a highly worthwhile addition to what was already a first-rate package based on the DVDs alone.

Phil Ochs, Rare & Unreleased Demos (bootleg) (Handsome Devil). Not exactly easy to find is this two-CD bootleg of Phil Ochs demos, but it does exist, complete with label name, catalog number, and bar code. If it really was an official release, however, it would certainly have more information about the sources for these 45 songs; there's none here at all, in fact, except song titles, and even those are incomplete. Since all of these are acoustic, and some of the tunes are more basic versions of songs that made it onto his first three official albums, an educated guess would surmise that these were done around 1963-65. The fidelity is hissy but listenable, with occasional squiggles and ticks indicating that much if not all of the material is taken from tapes and acetates -- perhaps recorded in a studio, perhaps a mixture of studio and home tapes -- that aren't in pristine condition (and were never intended to be recorded with an eye for release in the first place). The performances are good, but often a little rough and hasty; you can just see a producer urging him to slow down when it came time to lay these down for proper vinyl.

All of those limitations noted, if  you're a serious Phil Ochs fan, this is pretty interesting to hear, both for early versions of some well known songs and a clutch of tunes that didn't make it onto his LPs. Among the more celebrated compositions represented by alternate (presumably earlier) versions than the officially released ones are "There But for Fortune," "Bound for Glory," "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore," "Power and the Glory," "One More Parade," and "The Bells." As for the many topical songs here that aren't so familiar, it's not a surprise that place wasn't found for all of them on his regular releases. He was simply writing at too fast a pace for a conventional release schedule to accommodate, and while his ability to write a tune about seemingly any sort of contemporary social/political issue was admirable, he couldn't maintain a high standard for all of them. Even if this was Ochs very much in his singing journalist phase, there are nonetheless solid glimpses of his growing capacity for more personal lyrics in "There But for Fortune," "City Boy," and a lilting countryish number (unlisted on the back cover) titled "This Was," which Ochs describes as "the only conservative song that I've written, conservative not in the sense of the clowns like Barry Goldwater, but the true conservative concern for the individual."

Pink Floyd, The Complete Video Anthology [DVD bootleg] (Cellar Dweller). Though this DVD bootleg by no means has all the footage of Pink Floyd worth watching from their early years, it certainly has more of it than any other disc, running more than two-and-a-half hours. Almost every snippet of the Syd Barrett lineup is included, including promo films for "Arnold Layne," "The Scarecrow," and "Jugband Blues"; their appearance on American Bandstand playing "Apples and Oranges"; and, most excitingly, their genuinely live performance of "Astronomy Domine" on the BBC in May 1967, followed by a hilarious interview in which a hostile musicologist asks sneering condescending questions to the studiously polite Barrett and Roger Waters. The Barrett years take up well under half of the disc, which also includes quite a few clips from the late 1960s and early 1970s. Included are some rarities only known, and sometimes still unknown, to major Pink Floyd fans, like the seven promos they filmed in Belgium in February 1968 just after Barrett's departure; live French TV performances from the same month, in excellent color, of "Flaming," "Astronomy Domine," and "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun"; live '68 performances of "Let There Be Light," "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun," and "Interstellar Overdrive" from various European TV sources; an apparent promo film for the obscure single "Point Me at the Sky" (not listed on the cover); and "Atom Heart Mother" as done at a windswept Japanese rock festival in 1971. Some of the other clips are a little frustrating for what they don't show; a curious montage of excerpts from European TV clips and promo films, for instance, has a portion of a performance of the non-LP single "It Would Be So Nice," not exactly common fare even among Pink Floyd collectors. There's just one song from their excellent 1970 concert for KQED television in San Francisco, and the two concluding items – an animation film with "One of These Days" as its soundtrack, and a surfing film with "Echoes" serving a similar purpose – are for diehards, even if that surfing film (Crystal Voyager) was used as a backdrop at actual Pink Floyd performances. Still, this is very good value on the whole, and even for the clips that have done the rounds for years before this DVD showed up, the condition is often in considerably greater quality than fans are used to. For a band that made much of having a cloudy mystique, Pink Floyd were certainly filmed a lot in these years, and the existence of bootlegs like these only serves to highlight the obvious need and market for officially sanctioned compilations of such footage.

The Rolling Stones, Under Review 1967-1969 [DVD] (Sexy Intellectual). The late 1960s were one of the most interesting eras of the Rolling Stones} career, one that took them from flirtations with psychedelia through hard blues-rock, and also saw the death of Brian Jones and his replacement by Mick Taylor. Under Review 1967-1969 has the usual format of Sexy Intellectual's Under Review series, emphasizing commentary by respected critics, interspersed with some footage, music, photos, and a few memories by people who actually interacted with the Rolling Stones. Those wishing for a more conventional documentary might be disappointed by some aspects, particularly the use of relatively brief excerpts from numerous Stones performances/promotional films (rather than entire songs), and the lack of first-hand interviews with the Stones themselves or particularly close associates. Still, the critiques and insights offered by rock journalists Robert Christgau, Anthony DeCurtis, Barney Hoskyns, Kris Needs, and Nigel Williamson are solid. You also do get some soundbites from people who did know and work with the Stones, albeit peripherally, including Merry Clayton (backup vocalist on "Gimme Shelter"), Byron Berline (who played fiddle on "Country Honk"), and rock journalist Keith Altham. The marginal extra features include Altham's memories of the press reception for the release of Beggars Banquet (with silent black-and-white footage of the reception itself) and an interactive quiz that will be fairly challenging even for Rolling Stones experts.

The Slits, Wanna Be a Typical Girl Video Anthology [DVD bootleg] (Adventure Disc). The Slits are one of those cult bands who are fringe enough to make a commercial DVD anthology/documentary a risky commercial proposition, but popular enough that a lot of people do want to see vintage footage of the group. Well, at least enough to instigate a bootleg release of such footage, which is contained on this erratic 68-minute disc. It's a slapdash mix of genuine live footage, promo clips, excerpts from retrospective UK punk TV documentaries, and interviews, as well as the bits from the film Jubilee in which they can be seen. As is sadly too true of many video remnants from punk's golden years, the live clips—which include examples of their ramshackle initial punk phase and, to an unfortunately lesser degree, the more dub-influenced sound toward which they evolved—are of fairly mediocre quality, both in sound and camerawork. More disappointingly, the promo clips really aren't in appreciably better shape, and are often filled with trivial scenes of the group horsing around, shopping, eating, etc. that really aren't much more interesting than the kind of trivial scenes that filled much slicker, more commercial promos in the early days of music videos. The scene of them doing "Typical Girls" in a park at least shows them playing (or, rather, miming) with energy, though it still falls short of being a pleasure to watch. Less pleasant are the bits from the documentaries and interviews, which are not only taken from ragged multi-generation sources, but are also jarringly edited together so that only the very short bits in which the Slits are shown or speak appear. There's obviously sufficient interest in the Slits for some enterprising video company to do a good break-even documentary that could draw upon some of this source material, but this raw collection of clips doesn't do this very interesting band justice.

Dusty Springfield, Brian Henderson's Bandstand 1965 [DVD bootleg] (Footstomp). This unauthorized DVD of an Australian TV program featuring Dusty Springfield holds some appeal for serious fans of the singer, mainly by virtue of its sheer rarity. At the same time, there are some serious drawbacks of which even serious fans should be aware. The image and sound quality of this black-and-white episode is acceptable, but certainly not impressive. Of perhaps more importance, most of the songs are simply mimes to recordings on stark sets. It's only half an hour long, and a couple of the songs (strange instrumental versions of "What's New Pussy Cat" and "Michelle" by percussionist John Sangster) don't feature Springfield whatsoever. On the other hand, it does include a good performance, sung indeed by Dusty herself, of a song (the Brazilian standard "Manha de Carnaval") not included on any of her records. Less impressively, there's also a duet between Springfield and the obscure American singer Freddie Paris on the corny pop tune "Anything You Can Do," another number not to find a place on any of Dusty's official releases. With an abundance of other, far superior 1960s Dusty Springfield footage available (especially on the Live at the BBC DVD), this is only for the hardcore.

Piero Umiliani, The Touch of Piero Umiliani (Bella Casa). Piero Umiliani isn't nearly as well known as Ennio Morricone or Nino Rota, in part because the films he scored haven't been widely seen outside Italy. But he was also an Italian soundtrack composer who was prolific during the 1960s and 1970s, with 30 excerpts from 1965-1975 films (all but two of the tracks hailing from 1965-70) jammed onto this nearly 80-minute CD. While it's not too similar to Morricone (though the grand finale to "Roy Colt & Winchester Jack" comes uncannily close, particularly vis a vis its spaghetti western guitar lope), Umiliani's work will appeal to fans of Morricone and Italian soundtracks of the era in general for its unpredictable, imaginative eclecticism. If what's on this disc is representative, he certainly favors the playful, whimsical side more than Morricone and some other high-profile Italian film composers do. There's a collision of elements that most listeners would think rare to find used in combination with each other, like go-go jazz, cheesy organ, dreamy European easy listening music, and bits of pieces from mariachi, twangy rock guitar, spy themes, chirpy (sometimes downright goofy) incidental vocals, and what would later come to be known as space age bachelor pad grooves. Taken as it is from ten different soundtracks, this covers enough different grounds and moods that's it's hard to generalize about the music or pick out highlights. The important thing is that it's consistently entertaining and grin-provoking, and highly recommended to those with even a fairly moderate interest in the style, even if it's a little to the lightweight side of the genre's true heavyweights.

Jennifer Warnes, Jennifer (Rev-Ola). Not to be confused with other Jennifer Warnes releases titled "Jennifer," this is a CD compilation that combines her first two albums onto one disc. As another point of confusion for both fans and retailers, Warnes was known simply as "Jennifer" when these LPs -- I Can Remember Everything and See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me, Heal Me -- were released in 1968 and 1969 respectively. Warnes was known primarily as a member of the cast of the TV program The Smothers Brothers and as part of the Los Angeles production of the stage musical Hair at the time, and these records were largely overlooked, the singer not really attracting attention for her studio releases until the 1970s. Although these efforts are dated in a lightly psychedelic pop-folk way, actually they're not without their attractions. Warnes' vocals are appealingly soft (in fact sometimes almost whispery) yet supple, and the production, especially on I Can Remember Everything, is commendably spare and understated. The same applies to some of See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me, Heal Me, yet that record was more erratic, in part because the tone was far less consistent, Warnes also throwing in some pedestrian country-rock, a selection from the comic opera Don Pasquale, and a couple songs from Hair. There are also arguably too many cover versions of rock numbers by the likes of the Beatles, Who, Rolling Stones, and Bee Gees, and the songs especially supplied to Warnes weren't outstanding, though they were largely likable and suitable for her style. If she'd only managed to latch onto one or two standout songs written especially for her, she almost certainly would have had a good chance at making a stronger commercial impact and getting her recording career off the ground sooner. It's understandable if many Warnes fans, and Warnes herself, view these LPs as unrepresentative of her work, as her approach would change considerably as she matured as a recording artist. Yet at the same time, such is its period appeal that it might well be enjoyed by fans of late-1960s pop-folk who might not hold affection for her later, more renowned records and wouldn't necessarily expect to like this stuff. The CD's value is enhanced by thorough and thoughtful historical liner notes, though it's noted that Warnes "respectfully declined to be involved with this reissue."

Various Artists, Change Is Gonna Come: The Voice of Black America 1963-1973 (Kent). The Civil Rights Movement had enormous repercussions felt at every level of society, including popular music. Change Is Gonna Come: The Voice of Black America 1963-1973 collects 23 statements of African-American pride from the era, largely by soul artists, though even the tracks by the more jazz-oriented performers represented here bear a heavy soul influence. None of these cuts were massive pop hits, though the Impressions' "We're a Winner," James Brown's "I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open the Door I'll Get It Myself)," Nina Simone's "To Be Young, Gifted and Black," and Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" are certainly well remembered. Even stars like the Staple Singers, Otis Redding, the Drifters, the Spinners, Parliament, the Chi-Lites, and the Temptations are represented by pretty uncelebrated efforts, and a good number of tracks are by artists known mostly to soul buffs. But unlike some compilations that largely eschew well known cuts in favor of more obscure items, the quality is uniformly high, and the cross-section of takes on black pride and protest intriguingly wide and eclectic. There's moving lamentation about barriers to interracial relationships on Patrice Holloway's "Stay with Your Own Kind"; a witty jazz take on the legacy of slavery on Oscar Brown, Jr.'s "Forty Acres and a Mule"; haunting uptown soul-jazz fusion on Lou Gossett, Paul Sindab, Joe Lee Wilson & Little Butter's "Blues for Mr. Charlie"; dramatic recitation on Yaphet Kotto's "Have You Ever Seen the Blues";  and characteristically eccentric Southern soul-pop by Swamp Dogg on "I Was Born Blue." Ray Scott's "The Prayer" is a blatant anti-George Wallace attack that retains the capacity to shock even forty years later, beginning with the plea "oh lord, let the governor have a 17-car accident," and getting yet more vicious with every subsequent line. The Drifters' "Only in America" is the infamous, but still seldom heard, version of a sardonically patriotic song made into a less ironic hit by white group Jay Black & the Americans. There's even a soul cover of Bob Dylan's early-'70s protest number "George Jackson" (by J.P. Robinson). With material so concerned with social commentary, there's always the danger of the music being not nearly so well conceived as the words, but almost without exception, these cuts have dynamic grooves as well as fiery, socially relevant lyrical sentiments. You'll rarely hear any of this on oldies radio, but it's as trenchant and musically stimulating a document of the Civil Rights in soul music as any that's been assembled, with Kent/Ace's typically fine liner notes.

Various Artists, Feline Groovy: 24 Purrfect Tracks for Kool Kats (Ace). Here's a concept bound to endear Ace Records to cat lovers around the world: two dozen songs that have something to do with the cats, even if it's just the use of the word "cat" in an instrumental, all from between the mid-1950s and mid-1960s. There might be more R&B here than anything else, but it's a canny mixture of blues, soul, rock'n'roll, folk, folk-rock, jazz, and even a bit of pop, country, and British Invasion. Just a couple of these were pretty big hits (Tom Jones' "What's New Pussycat?" and Norma Tanega's "Walkin' My Cat Named Dog"), and though the Coasters' ultra-hip B-side "Three Cool Cats" and Little Willie John's "Leave My Kitten Alone" are pretty well known, you'd have to have an incredibly deep and eclectic collection to have heard all of these tunes. Of course if you like cats at all, you'll be predisposed to like much of this. But by any standard, these are pretty fun and good-humored songs, grin-raising even when the songs and performers themselves aren't all that hot. Some pretty estimable artists weigh in with their takes on the cat world via New Orleans soul legend Lee Dorsey's "The Kitty Kat Song," organ jazz maestro Jimmy Smith's "The Cat," country star Sonny James' "The Cat Came Back," Latin jazz great Mongo Santamaria's "El Pussy Cat," and bluesman Charles Brown's "If You Play with Cats." Yet some of the most fun songs are the more obscure and frivolous ones, like Rene Hall's strange exotica-cum-rock'n'roll on "Cleo"; Lu Ann Simms' silly novelty "The Siamese Cat Song," a guilty pleasure co-written by none other than Peggy Lee; a vocal version of Bent Fabric's hit "The Alley Cat Song" (by David Thorne); and Noreen Corcoran's "Love Kitten," one of the best flop Phil Spector-styled girl group singles ever. The brief theme song from the Hanna-Barbera cartoon Top Cat tops off a comp you'd have to be a real diehard dog person not to like.

Various Artists, On Vine Street: The Early Songs of Randy Newman (Ace). Many Randy Newman fans are aware that before he began to focus on a solo recording career in the late 1960s, he'd worked as a jobbing songwriter for years, his compositions or co-compositions getting recorded by numerous other artists. Even fairly serious Newman fans, however, might be unaware of just how much such material he penned in his early years. Twenty-six Newman interpretations spanning 1962-1970 are on this superbly annotated compilation, and as much as it digs up -- much of it rare, one cut even previously unreleased -- it's just the tip of the iceberg. Some of the songs, and quite a few of the performers, are fairly well known: Alan Price had a British hit with "Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear" in 1967; Cilla Black had a UK Top Twenty single with "I've Been Wrong Before" in 1965; Gene Pitney went all the way to #2 in Britain with "Nobody Needs Your Love" in 1966; Nilsson's "So Long Dad" is from his well-regarded 1970 Nilsson Sings Newman album; and Eric Burdon & the Animals' "Mama Told Me Not to Come" is the original 1967 version of a classic later recorded by Newman himself and made into a hit by Three Dog Night. There's also "Old Kentucky Home," from the Beau Brummels' 1967 album Triangle, and Dusty Springfield's reliably fine version of "I Think It's Going to Rain Today." It might astound even collectors, however, to see just how many notable artists recorded Newman tunes in the 1960s, including the O'Jays, Irma Thomas, Erma Franklin, Gene McDaniels, Frankie Laine, the Fleetwoods, Jackie DeShannon, Scott Walker, Van Dyke Parks, Rick Nelson, Fats Domino...the list goes on. Also thrown in are some generally worthy obscurities, like "Happy New Year" by Beverley, who later became known as John Martyn's wife and musical partner, and Vic Dana's "Looking for Me," which sounds like a West Side Story outtake.

Newman scholars will find this interesting for strong hints of his later fusions of Tin Pan Alley, R&B, and various strains of Americana in his more mature solo work. General fans of 1960s rock, however, will find this surprisingly interesting and pleasing evidence that Randy Newman was adept at far more conventional music than what he'd become famous for under his own name, crafting quite catchy if somewhat erratic material with a much stronger pop-rock and soul bent than his later work. It's true that those familiar with this phase of Newman's career will find some favorites of theirs omitted. The decision to not feature more than one track by any one performer also limits the scope of the set, as some of the artists, such as Price and Nilsson, recorded quite a few notable Newman covers. Also, the existence of more than one decent version of specific songs, and the compilers' decision to choose no more than one version of any one tune, leads to some tough calls; Gene Pitney's version of "Just One Smile" is certainly more notable than the one included here (by the Tokens), for instance, though the Tokens were the first to put the song on 45. On the whole, however, Ace does an excellent job of representing the wide scope of both Newman's early songwriting and the performers who interpreted those compositions, without compromising the general level of musical quality. The obvious solution to the dilemmas in narrowing this body of work down to one disc would be to present several more volumes of such material -- a series that both Newman and fans of this important songwriter would richly deserve.

Various Artists, Phantom Guitars (Psychic Circle). The subtitle of this collection sums up its thrust in a nutshell: "A Cool Collection of Twangin' Guitar Instrumentals from the UK 1961-1964." The 25 tracks are very much a product of a time when the Shadows were not just the biggest instrumental group in Britain, but the biggest rock group of all in the least until early 1963, when the Beatles displaced them, though both the Shadows and their influence continued to be substantial for at least another year or two. Some British rock experts might be just about familiar with a few names here, those being the Fentones (though they usually backed singer Shane Fenton aka Alvin Stardust), the Gladiators (who were usually fronted by Nero), and the Executives (including future famed British rock journalist Roy Carr). But for the most part, most of these groups are unknown to all but the most devoted collector, one of whom, Nick Saloman, was responsible for compiling this CD. And really, if you've got a hankering for plenty of obscure Shadows-styled rock from the early-'60s period during which that style was its peak, it's hard to imagine doing better than this anthology. Most or all of the key elements are in force on every track: spookily reverbed/echoing guitar, moody melodies with liberal nods to surf/country/spy movie/Latin/Hawaiian licks, and oddball sprinkles of gimmicky sound effects. No, it's not quite as gripping as the Shadows' best material, but it's not in much lower of a league either, though you might not often be in the mindset for 25 illustrations at once if you're not a specialist, since that dark minor-keyed moods and those twanging guitars don't vary a whole lot. But as a genre anthology goes, it's considerably above the average, especially as this particular genre hasn't been anthologized too often. Saloman's liner notes also a reveal a surprising wealth of connections to famous figures in much of this material, ranging from John Barry, Cliff Richard, and Joe Meek to future members of the Kinks, the Roulettes, Unit 4 Plus 2, Ashton, Gardner & Dyke, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, and even Foreigner.

Various Artists, Rock You Sinners! The Dawn of British Rock & Roll (Rev-Ola). For most listeners around the world, the "dawn" of British rock & roll didn't take place until the Beatles started to make their first records. Even for those who grew up in the UK at the time, the true dawn of British rock often isn't considered to have taken place until the late 1950s, when the first credible homegrown singers in the idiom emerged, like Cliff Richard and Billy Fury. In fact, however, British rock'n'roll – or, perhaps more accurately, the influence of rock'n'roll in British pop music – was starting to be heard as early as 1953, when bandleader Ted Heath covered Bill Haley's "Crazy Man Crazy" (included on this CD). This intriguing 31-track compilation offers a wealth of pre-Cliff Richard & the Shadows recordings that, if not exactly rock'n'roll, showed British pop musicians trying to do something with the form. As it happened, they more often than not ended up sounding like rather staid swing jazz bands trying to broaden their appeal by putting a rock'n'roll or R&B song in their set without gaining any true grasp or appreciation of this new-fangled music that had originated on the other side of the Atlantic. It wasn't really until Tommy Steele's late-1956 hit "Rock with the Caveman" (also included here) that any British performer made a reasonable approximation of authentic rock'n'roll sounds, and even that hit was something of a clumsy novelty. But while this is by no means something you would put on the order of the later British pioneers like Richard, Fury, and Johnny Kidd, let alone jump blues and early rock'n'roll bands rocking the urban centers of the United States, that doesn't mean that this isn't a fairly enjoyable compilation on its own musical terms, if something of a crass guilty pleasure. Though many of these efforts to spice up what's essentially fairly square jazz-pop music with a bit of rock'n'roll (or at least do a rock'n'roll song with a jazz arrangement) sound a little unintentionally funny, much of them do have a somewhat appealing naïve energy, like that of performers suppressing a grin while they exploit a passing fad. Of course, that passing fad, both in the US and UK, turned out to be the most popular musical style of the twentieth century, relegating these early somewhat exploitative attempts to mimic it to the dustbins of history. This compilation is a small revelation, however, in exposing how the roots of the music's foothold in Britain run much deeper and earlier than is commonly assumed, almost amounting to documentation of a missing chapter in rock'n'roll history. Yes, there are some awfully stiff covers of early rock'n'roll hits on board, like Gale Warning's Mae West-ish take on "Heartbreak Hotel." But really, some of these tracks aren't bad by any standards, like Steele's credibly swinging "Doomsday Rock" and Tony Crombie & His Rockets' credibly pounding "Rock Shuffle Boogie," while the Goons' parody "Bloodnok's Rock'n'Roll Call" (an actual #3 UK hit in 1956) remains pretty funny.

Various Artists, Up Jumped the Devil: American Devil Songs 1920s-1950s (Viper). The devil is an archetypal character who has shown up as a key player in popular music ever since the dawn of the recording era, long before the dawn of heavy metal. In fact, it could be argued that he, or it or she depending on how you view the form of the demon, was referred to more often back in the early half of the twentieth century than in the new millennium. Twenty quality cuts in this vein from the 1920s through the 1950s are assembled on this superb compilation, which in keeping with the Viper label's aesthetic are incredibly eclectic in their stylistic breadth. Any compilation that starts off with Gene Vincent's breathtaking rockabilly classic "Race with the Devil" is on the good foot out of the gates, going on to encompass swing jazz, country blues, electric blues, doo wop, gospel, folk, and more. More often than not, the performers are well known, including Vincent, Fats Waller, Bo Carter, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Skip James, Bessie Smith, the Clovers, the Almanac Singers, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Washboard Sam, Otis Spann, Jack Teagarden, Jelly Roll Morton, and Robert Johnson. But with a few exceptions like the Clovers' doo wop classic "Devil or Angel," and perhaps "Race with the Devil," James' "Devil Got My Woman," and Johnson's "Me and the Devil Blues," the songs are not all that familiar, and likely to surprise and delight even roots music connoisseurs with very deep collections. What's striking is that, for all the fire-and-brimstone characterizations of the devil in religion and much popular culture, these songs are by and large quite joyous and irreverent – devil-may-care, you might say, though the dark side is represented by the haunting Delta blues of Johnson and James. You can't get too spooked out, though, by any compilation that includes Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "Little Demon," one of the most demented early rock'n'roll discs of all time – it even gives its more celebrated A-side, "I Put a Spell on You," a run for the money in that department. The annotation is thorough and lively, and also keep an ear out for an unlisted ragtime instrumental bonus cut at the end of the CD.


Archived Reviews


Archived Reviews

The Beach Boys, In the Beginning: The Garage Tapes (bootleg) (Sea of Tunes). Even with the dozens of discs' worth of unreleased Beach Boys rarities that the Sea of Tunes label had issued prior to the appearance of this 2007 bootleg, yet more material continued to be  unearthed. This compilation features two CDs of recordings from 1960, 1962, and 1963, and if it's hardly the kind of thing that can be recommended to the general fan (or even the kind of thing that ranks among their more interesting unreleased stuff), it certainly has its fascination for the dedicated Beach Boys fan. Disc one is a very varied assortment of 1962 and 1963 studio outtakes, including some sessions at which they were backing producer/singer Gary Usher, Sharon Marie, and the Honeys. While some of the April 1962 sessions are rather corny early-'60s pop-rock tunes, Brian Wilson has a very endearing high vocal on "The Beginning of the End"; he also takes lead vocal on the nice if dated ballad "Visions," which he co-wrote with Usher (and was later recorded and released by Rachel & the Revolvers). It's hard to specify what the Beach Boys' involvement in Sharon Marie's "Summertime" was other than perhaps being part or all of the backing band, but it's a pretty dynamite gritty version of the standard. There are also a whole bunch of mid-to-late 1963 outtakes/alternates of officially released songs similar enough to the commonly available versions that they're mainly of interest for scholars of how their tracks evolved and were produced in the studio, though the instrumental "Rabbit Foot" would evolve into "Our Car Club," and "Good Humour Man" into "The Rocking Surfer."

The second disc is almost wholly devoted to home tapes, apparently from 1960 (at least that's the date given on the track listings), on which you can hear the boys routining rudimentary versions of "Surfin'," as well as doing a cappella harmonizing on the obscure doo wop song "Bermuda Shorts." The amount of horsing around and jostling that seems to be threatening to erupt into fights indicates that the occasional similar verbal sparring on subsequent officially issued Beach Boys comedy tracks wasn't wholly contrived. Some female friends seem to be informally helping out the lads on some other, mostly a cappella tracks (including, interestingly, "Sloop John B," which would be a huge Beach Boys hit about five years later), and while it's slightly lo-fi and slightly juvenile, the material seems to demonstrate the group's remarkable facility for vocal harmonies was nearly fully developed before they ever entered a recording studio. The very last track on this CD, "Murry Directs Brian at the Organ," is definitely a later studio recording, not a 1960 home one; you also hear Beach Boy dad Murry Wilson on a brief trivial recorded phone conversation, which stretches the boundaries of something that will interest even fans of the group, bootleg or no bootleg.

The fidelity on disc one of this compilation is at or nearly of official release standard, and while the sound quality on disc two is lower, it's not at all difficult to hear. The rather extreme marginalia of these tracks to the Beach Boys' core legacy makes it something that should only be investigated by completists, but accepted on those terms, they're valuable, illuminating, and sometimes even enjoyable finds.

The Beach Boys, Endless Bummer: The Very Worst of the Beach Boys
(bootleg) (Murry Wilson Ltd.). In the tradition of bootlegs trailblazed by the legendary Elvis' Greatest Shit, here we have a compilation of about 50 minutes of the Beach Boys' most embarrassing moments to have been captured on tape. It goes without saying that this is not only not for the average Beach Boys fan, but not even for many Beach Boys fans who collect the group's unreleased material. Instead, it's something only for the completist, or those with a somewhat masochistic sense of humor. But if you are intent on investigating the most disagreeable skeletons in the group's closet, many of them are here, including really drunk (and long post-prime) vocals on live versions of "Good Vibrations" and "You're So Beautiful"; shamefully exploitative Mike Love-sung ads; a Carl Wilson anti-drug radio spot; Brian Wilson's infamous solo rap song "Smart Girls"; a Spanish version of their unloved comeback hit "Kokomo"; the notorious mid-'60s outtakes in which Murry Wilson rips into his sons and the rest of the group at a recording session; a bad Bob Dylan imitation/parody by Mike Love; and various ragged rehearsal tapes/outtakes. Actually, this material is more interesting than many a mediocre group's best efforts, as a band this good couldn't help from letting some talent, ingenuity, and humor seep through even when they were at their most painfully inept. But relative to the standards of the Beach Boys' usual work -- and even relative to the standards of many Beach Boys bootlegs -- it's oft-painful listening, with some historical interest for those cataloguing the band's oft-dysfunctional history, but little entertainment value.

Blossom Toes, If Only for a Moment (Sunbeam). Brian Godding and Jim Cregan were still Blossom Toes' chief songwriters on their second album, but the LP stands in bold contrast to their debut in sound and attitude. Having scuttled the orchestras and developed their chops in the two-year interlude, the record bears the influence of heavy California psychedelia and Captain Beefheart with its intricate, interwoven guitar lines and occasional gruff dissonance. The more serious instrumental approach spills over to the lyrics, which are somber and at times even gloomy, occasionally reflecting the social turbulence of the late '60s, with their uncertain tenor and references to ominous "peace loving men" and "love bombs." Far less uplifting than their debut, the weighty approach is leavened by the close harmonies and sparkling guitar interplay. While not as memorable as the first album, it's above-average late-'60s psychedelia that almost acts as the downer flip side to the stoned, happy-face ambience of their early work. The 2007 Sunbeam reissue adds much value with the addition of lengthy, historical liner notes with many quotes from the band members, as well as seven bonus tracks. These include both sides of the non-LP single "Postcard"/"Everyone's Leaving Me Now," the B-side of which is a fine wistful jazz-pop number; a demo of a song from If Only for a Moment, "Peace Loving Man," that's considerably different from the version on the LP; demos of a couple Brian Godding originals, "Ever Since a Memory" and "Nobody But," that didn't make the band's official releases in any version, though they were worthy enough to have qualified; a live version of another song from If Only for a Moment, "Listen to the Silence"; and a final unreleased cut, "New Day" (with Julie Driscoll and Reggie King on backing vocals), that would have been their final single, but only made it to the test pressing stage (and was subsequently re-recorded by B.B. Blunder).

The Blue Things, Blow Your Mind (Cicadelic). Blow Your Mind is easily the biggest single-release Blue Things collection ever (or likely to be) compiled. The two-disc set contains no less than 65 tracks spread across two and a half hours, including sixteen unreleased cuts and three radio ads (for the Blue Things, not by the Blue Things). Since this does have everything from their sole album and all of their non-LP A-sides and B-sides, one hesitates to point out some relatively minor problems, especially since the LP and 45s comprise some of the finest obscure mid-'60s American folk-rock and early psychedelia. Still, those flaws are the kind of things completists might want to know out. First, the unreleased versions of the outtakes "Desert Wind" and "Waiting for Changes" are distinctly inferior to the previously issued versions of these songs (which are not included on this anthology), missing some backup vocals in each case. While it's good for collectors to have the 45 version of "I Must Be Doing Something Wrong," with an oboe (missing from the LP version) that's alternately effective and irritating, ultimately it's not as good as the oboe-less one. The mix of "Now's the Time," a jangly folk-rock highlight of the group's LP, sounds oddly flat and unbalanced. And while all the previously unreleased material is a boon for Blue Things fans, much of it's devoted to relatively slightly different versions of songs that have already seen the light of day elsewhere, either on official mid-'60s Blue Things releases or reissues that dug up some unissued stuff. The previously unheard tracks do include a good straight-out rock'n'roll number from a 1964 session ("Punkin' Doodle") and a nice version of "I Can't Have Yesterday" with a significantly different folk-rock arrangement than the official LP rendition, but the hit covers from a December 1966 session are fairly uninteresting. And finally, though the 24-page booklet offers lengthy liner notes and lots of photos, it somewhat doesn't include songwriting credits anywhere. Do all these picky complaints mean you should avoid this release? Of course not; there's lots of fine music here that will appeal to both the general folk-rock/psychedelic/garage fan and the Blue Things devotee. Val Stecklein shines as one of the era's finest overlooked singers and songwriters throughout most of the program, and many listeners looking for something that crosses the Byrds, Beau Brummels, and early Beatles will be pleased and excited if they haven't yet come across the group. Still, the general fan's better off trying to find the 2001 CD reissue of their sole LP (on Rewind, with non-LP bonus tracks from mid-'60s singles). Additionally, the completist should also know for all this two-CD set's generous length, it doesn't quite have everything, a few outtakes remaining available only on some earlier Blue Things LP and CD collections on the Cicadelic label.

The Byrds, Byrds Eye View (DVD bootleg) (Bad Wizard). Lasting about two hours, this bootleg DVD was the most thorough compilation of Byrds 1960s video clips yet assembled when it came out around late 2007. The major, overriding plus is that this is very close to the most extensive such anthology that could ever be assembled, even including their three live songs (filmed in October 1965) from the rare movie The Big TNT Show. It has to be noted, however, that there are some flaws to the disc, most of them unavoidable, that make this a less exciting view than big Byrds fans might anticipate. First, the sound and image quality range from excellent to rather shaky and poor, depending upon what source has been available, though generally it's good or better. Also, it's far from a chronologically balanced assortment of footage, with well over half the clips originating from the ten-month span between May 1965 and March 1966. Ten of the better-quality clips are officially available on the There Is a Season box set, and eagle-eyed Byrds collectors will note a minor omission here and there of some footage that's circulated. There's an unholy amount of multiple versions of numerous songs, including seven of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and six of "Turn, Turn, Turn." And most importantly, the Byrds, though unquestionably one of the greatest rock acts of the era, weren't the most exciting performing band, especially so on this disc considering that the substantial majority of the clips are mimed, not live. All those negatives notwithstanding, here you have the ultimate visual record of the group in their prime, including some clips that aren't common fare even among dedicated collectors, like "Chimes of Freedom" on Shindig and a couple live songs from the Newport Pop Festival in June 1969. Though there's less post-early-1966 Byrds than everyone would like, it does have the three clips from Gene Clark's brief re-entry into the band in late 1967, as well as their highly amusing and well-played spot on Playboy After Dark in late 1968. Also on the DVD, at the very end, are two clips of the Flying Burrito Brothers with ex-Byrds Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons, and Michael Clarke, even if these are obviously lip-synced.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Big Sur Folk Festival September '69 (bootleg) (Mistral Music). There's a lot of good unissued live and studio material from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's 1969-70 heyday. There's so much, in fact, that it makes this two-CD recording of their performance at the Big Sur Folk Festival in September 1969 relatively inessential, even for CSNY fans devoted enough to seek out stuff beyond their official catalog. That's mostly because the sound, though actually decent by 1969 live bootleg standards and not all problematic to listen to, is certainly by no means up to release standard. There are also few surprises as far as the songs presented at this concert, with the possible exception of an acoustic version (with background harmony) of Neil Young's "Birds." Nonetheless, for the devoted, it does have its value as a record of a notable event in their early performing careers, even if the Big Sur Folk Festival itself isn't nearly as well remembered (despite being documented on film) as the most celebrated such events of the era. Disc one is mostly acoustic, highlighted by Stephen Stills' "4 + 20" and "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," with the additional surprise of a couple songs by Dave Mason in what sounds like an unscheduled guest spot. Disc two is electric, including versions of "Wooden Ships," "Down By the River," "Long Time Gone," "Pre-Road Downs," and the less expected/famous "Bluebird Revisited" (later done by Stills on his second album) and Young's "Sea of Madness." During the acoustic set, you can also hear some surprisingly testy and acerbic chatter between the band and fans (and among the band), particularly as Stephen Stills goes after a heckler—a scenario not clear solely from listening to this audio, but shown in the Celebration at Big Sur film documentary.

Sandy Denny, Live at the BBC (Island Remasters). Sandy Denny performed on the BBC as a solo artist quite a bit between the years of 1966 and 1973, a span that saw her evolve from an obscure folk singer to Britain's finest folk-rock vocalist. Twenty tracks from the early 1970s were briefly available on the 1997 release The BBC Sessions 1971-73, but unfortunately that CD went out of print after its limited edition immediately sold out. A decade later, the four-disc box set Live at the BBC rectified that wrong and then some. It includes not only all of the material from The BBC Sessions 1971-73, but 23 additional cuts as well, along with a DVD disc containing footage of the only three surviving songs she performed on BBC television. There's also an interesting seven-minute interview from 1972, and Denny also provides insightful comments on her songs between the tracks taken from her 1973 session for the Sounds on Sunday program.

Unlike many other BBC collections, this particular one is essential for fans of the artist, even those who already own a lot of Sandy Denny. First and most importantly, the performances are uniformly fine and often superb, particularly in the vocal department. Second, it includes some songs that she did not put on her official releases, among them some traditional folk songs from 1966-68 sessions done in her pre-Fairport Convention days; covers of Tom Paxton's "Hold on to Me Babe" and Jackson Frank's "Blues Run the Game"; and the traditional song "Sweet Nightingale," done as a duet with Mick Groves of the Spinners on a 1971 television show. Also, and very significantly, the arrangements are usually stark, emphasizing her singing backed only by piano or guitar. These are quite different from many of the arrangements she elected to use for the same tunes on her studio releases, and those who feel her solo albums suffered from over-production will likely judge these BBC versions superior.

Of course, as with almost any such ambitious box set, there are minor criticisms, or at least aspects of which some non-completists might be wary. The sound, though often very good, is variable, as some of the tracks are obviously not first-generation (and, to their credit, the compilers have separated "off-air" recordings onto disc four and labeled it as such, though the fidelity on those really isn't so bad). Many of the songs are presented in multiple versions, which might frustrate less indulging fans, though these have been intelligently spaced out within the set to enhance listenability. The DVD, though it has all of the BBC television solo footage there is of Denny (in good-quality color, all from 1971), nevertheless doesn't have that much material overall. It does also offer excerpts of song lyrics and drawings from her diaries that will interest serious fans (though these will need to be viewed on a computer screen rather than a television screen to be comfortably read), as well as a photo gallery. But considering that the DVD (on disc three) has just three songs and that disc four only contains a little more than a half-hour of music, perhaps the list price could have adjusted downward a bit—as it is, it's a pretty expensive set.

And, finally, this doesn't contain Denny's BBC performances as part of bands, and though the ones she did as part of Fairport Convention are on Island's BBC box for that group, the ones she did as part of Fotheringay haven't been assembled for proper official release. There are also a couple of solo tracks (one each from 1972 and 1973) that couldn't be found, though the annotation readily acknowledges this. All this really is nitpicking, though, and only stated so that the hardcore fans likely to pick up this box are fully aware of its contents. On its own terms, it's a superb production that assembles everything possible from her BBC radio and television performances, packages it well, and makes an important part of her recorded legacy available that more fully rounds out our appreciation of this magnificent singer.

Formerly Fat Harry, Goodbye for Good: The Lost Recordings 1969-1972 (Hux). Because Formerly Fat Harry did only one album, and because this CD contains just two songs from that LP (and even so, in different versions), this disc can be considered a missing second record of sorts for the band. "Of sorts" is an important qualification here: since the dozen tracks are taken from demos and live recordings not originally cut with the intention of release, and since they were done over quite a long period, it's not fair to judge this as a stand-alone album. Understandably given the sources and wide chronological range, it's erratic and lacks consistent direction, though there are the seeds of a decent record (or records) here. More often than not, however, this band of largely Californian expatriates based in England (including ex-Country Joe & the Fish bassist Bruce Barthol) wrote and played a mixture of fairly winning late-period psychedelia, folk-rock, and country-rock, though their styles were variant enough that this CD sometimes seems like the work of more than one band. A few of the songs are quite good, like the wistful folk-rock of "Girl on a Bicycle" (co-written by guitarist/keyboardist/singer Gary Peterson with notable British folk singer-songwriter Ralph McTell), "Corelia Correll" (which effectively mixes folk-rock with early keyboard-oriented Procol Harum-like prog rock), and another delicate folk-rock tune in "As the Rain Falls." There are also times in which the spacey vocals, minor-keyed melodies, and guitar reverbs can recall vintage Country Joe & the Fish, particularly in "Girl on a Bicycle," "Funky 8," and "Time Slips By," though that influence isn't wholly down to Barthol, since he didn't write either of those tunes (and in fact wrote very little of the material here). At other times, the band slip into pleasant but relatively pedestrian country-rock (a cover of "Wild Side of Life") and undistinguished bluesy psychedelic jamming, traits they share with many Californian bands of the time. Not everything here, then, was worthy of being enshrined on a proper album. But as a mop-up of largely interesting odds and ends, much of which is up to the standard of material that should have been considered for release, it's a worthy archival anthology, the liner notes giving an interesting summary of the band's highly unusual career.

Joy Unlimited, Joy Unlimited (Fallout). This 1970 album by the German group Joy Unlimited was, to the eternal confusion of discographers, issued under three separate titles. In Germany, it was called Overground; in the UK, Turbulence; and, in the US, simply Joy Unlimited. Although the band would later go in a more progressive direction, this LP was not all that progressive in nature, and not at all like the avant-art rock of the 1970s Krautrock movement. Instead, it was a competent amalgam of trends in American and British mainstream rock, pop, and soul, rather like the kind flashed by numerous bands emerging in neighboring Holland at the same time, like Shocking Blue. And, like Shocking Blue, Joy Unlimited sang entirely in English and were fronted by a woman singer (Joy Fleming); you wouldn't especially either identify them as a band from a non-English-speaking country, or be able to identify them as coming from any place in particular. There's nothing here as outstanding as, say, the best of Shocking Blue's stuff, but it's a fairly enjoyable set of very 1970-sounding material straddling the line of what was played on AM and FM radio in those days. Fleming has a good and gutsy (though not brilliant) voice, and the group's certainly versatile, whether it's the soul-pop of "Groove with What You've Got"; the powerful ballad "I Hold No Grudge" (which you could easily imagine fitting onto a record by Dusty Springfield or Lulu); the more Janis Joplin-like "Feelin';" the fairly catchy pop of "Have You Met Anyone Lately?" and "I Just Made Up My Mind"; the organ-guitar prog rock-tinged "Mr. Pseudonym" and "Helpless Child"; and the breezy "Mr. Slater," which takes its cues from observational storytelling late-'60s British pop-rock. And if you're looking for an oddball obscure Beatles cover, the heavy funk-rock take on "All Together Now" fills that bill and then some. The 2007 CD reissue on Fallout adds three bonus tracks from non-LP singles, including "Sunshine," which is more happy face pop-toned than anything on the album, and covers of Manfred Mann's "Each and Every Day" (which Joy Unlimited retitled "Daytime Nighttime") and the Beatles' "Oh! Darling." It's unfortunate, though, that a few of the tracks on that CD reissue suffer from obvious varispeed, as if they've been mastered from an LP playing on a system badly in need of a new turntable belt.

Dinah Lee, The Viking Recordings 1964-1967 (Canetoad). While this doesn't have every last track Dinah Lee released on the Viking label in New Zealand, it comes pretty close, cramming 34 songs from her 1964-67 45s and LPs onto one CD. It might not stand up to the best female British Invasion singers of the era, but if you've got a hankering for that sound, Lee's records were pretty close in sound those made by plenty of girls in the UK during the same period. Closest in style to Lulu from that school (if not as good), Lee took on a fairly wide variety of material, from 1950s rock'n'roll oldies to girl group, soul-pop, Merseybeat-style ravers, and even some ska. The main flaw is that there are too many covers of familiar American tunes; her passes at "Rock Around the Clock," "Kansas City," and hits by the likes of Jackie Wilson, Chuck Jackson, and Huey "Piano" Smith might have energy, but they're certainly not going to make anyone forget the originals. But there are a good number of songs here that come off better, like "You Don't Talk About Love," one of the most frenetic woman-sung Merseybeat-style recordings from anywhere in the globe; the 1965 #1 New Zealand hit "I'll Forgive You Then Forget You," which is quality British-style orchestrated girl group-soul-pop; a fine cover of Barbara Lewis' "Pushing a Good Thing Too Far" (a #3 hit in New Zealand); and a few songs ("That's Right, I Quit," "Too Many People") that could almost pass for mid-'60s Lulu outtakes. In fact, some of these songs were recorded by Lulu ("Not in This Whole World," "Chocolate Ice," "Try to Understand," "Too Many People," "He Don't Want Your Love Anymore") -- enough to make you suspect there were some conscious attempts to use Lulu as a model, though at least Lee could sing in the same room as Lulu and not embarrass herself. Though the 1964 B-side "Yeh Yeh We Love 'em All" is less impressive, it's an obscure must-have for those who collect shameless Beatles novelty discs. The 16-page booklet has detailed liner notes about Lee's 1960s career, an especially useful addition as the singer is virtually unknown outside of New Zealand and Australia, despite some attempts to break the US and UK markets.

The Rolling Stones, Time Trip Vol. 5 Surplus/Movin' North & More (bootleg) (Scorpio). Though the unwieldy title might lead you to believe this bootleg is a messy catch-all of unreleased/rare mid-'60s Rolling Stones, actually it has some very interesting items (all in very good studio sound), even if much of the disc is likely to already be owned by serious Stones collectors on other boots. The big finds here are the first three tracks, which seldom if ever showed up elsewhere prior to this CD's appearance. The first is a cover of Arthur Alexander's "Go Home Girl" from November 1963, done very much in the style the group brought to Alexander's "You Better Move On" around the same time, though "Go Home Girl" isn't quite as good a song or performance. The second is a November 1964 version of "Mercy Mercy" that predates the recording done for the 1965 album Out of Our Heads; this one is thinner and more threadbare, though hardly embarrassing. The third, also from November 1964, is an amble through the country blues "Key to the Highway," though it's done in such a low-key fashion that one wonders if it was ever seriously intended as a candidate for release. The rest of the CD goes into much more familiar (to Stones collectors, at any rate) territory with 1963-64 outtakes that had first been booted years before this release; the Italian version of "As Tears Go By"; and alternate mixes of some familiar mid-'60s classics, though one of these, of "19th Nervous Breakdown," has a distinctly different and more hesitant vocal than the one used on the hit single. The "Movin' North & More" component of the disc is a 40-minute compilation of footage from the group's 1965 Scandinavian tour, playable on home computers. You don't get much in the way of musical performances here; it's chiefly devoted to scenes of fan hysteria, airport landings, and backstage preparation, though there's one fairly extended interview sequence involving all five Rolling Stones. It's for fans only, but by those standards it's not bad, as the footage is in good condition, and the interview sequence in particular illustrates the nonchalant anti-establishment image for which the band were becoming renowned by 1965.

The Small Faces, Rollin' Over [DVD bootleg] (Bad Wizard). This bootleg DVD trumps all of its unauthorized predecessors in offering a lengthy compilation of Small Faces video footage, lasting 96 minutes and including no less than 35 clips. All of the phases of their brief 1960s heyday are represented, from their early mod hits through the psychedelic era. While the image quality is a little uneven, it's mostly very good (and sometimes in color), and in some cases a vast improvement over previous versions of the same clips that have circulated in the underground. The criticisms that can be offered are very small, though overall the compilers seem to have done almost well as they possibly could have with the material available. First, much of the material is mimed, not live. That's something you can say of many '60s rock clips, of course. But it's certainly frustrating considering that when the group did get the chance to play live on film, they proved they were an electrifying concert act, especially on the best clips here, in which they do four of their early hits on the German TV show Beat Beat Beat. Also, for some reason, not all of their Colour Me Pop appearance -- in which they played much of Ogdens Nut Gone Flake, complete with narration by the very man who does the same task on the album, Stanley Unwin -- is here, although at least the footage that makes it on is in good quality. Also, perhaps it would have been better to sequence the 35 clips in chronological order (as the same label, Bad Wizard, did on its similarly comprehensive Byrds compilation Byrds Eye View), though at least this disc is ordered so that the numerous multiple versions of songs don't follow each other too closely. Still, the Small Faces fan can hardly complain, especially when the selection includes items like a color version of "Tin Soldier" from Dutch TV (with P.P. Arnold also onstage), a performance of "Talk to You," and promo films of "Get Yourself Together" and "Hey Girl," none of which are exactly common fare even among devotees of the band.

Al Wilson, Searching for the Dolphins: The Complete Soul City Recordings and More 1967-1971 (Kent). Though Searching for the Dolphins was the title of Al Wilson's first album (in 1968), and though the entire LP is included on this CD, it's something more than a reissued or expanded edition of that record. In fact, the eleven songs from the original Searching for the Dolphins album (presented as the first eleven tracks of this CD) make up only half of this disc, which is augmented by eleven cuts from 1967-71 non-LP singles. As such, it's the definitive document of the first phase of this minor but interesting soul star's career. The Searching for the Dolphins material is good but a little unnerving in its stylistic inconsistency, including rather lush Jimmy Webb/Johnny Rivers/Fred Neil covers, as well as a version of the MOR standard "This Guy's in Love with You." Yet it was the peculiar, fetching swamp rock-soul of "The Snake" that gave Wilson his first big hit, and a funky cover of jazzman Oscar Brown, Jr.'s "Brother, Where Are You" also demonstrated the singer's harder edge. Though none of the non-LP singles were big hits, generally these too went into slightly eccentric pop-soul-rock territory, Wilson's delivery in particular showing more of a rootsy rock edge than most soul singers. His small hit cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Lodi" is a highlight, and also a general indication of the unusual non-soul influences Wilson admitted to his music, though these also included orchestrated pop, jazz, bluesy southern funk, and a even a bit of period psychedelia. The 1971 single "Sugar Cane Girl" is surprisingly close to a decent soul-shaded CCR imitation, in fact, and a track from the same year ("Falling in Love with You") verges on funky hard rock. In retrospect, it's easy to hear why Wilson didn't have much commercial success during this era, as both his material and stylistic approach was too erratic. However, those very qualities are also what, in retrospect, make this material rather interesting, as it's certainly not run-of-the-mill production line late-'60s/early-'70s soul.

Various Artists, Beat-Club: The Best of '66 (DVD) (Studio Hamburg/Radio Bremen). As part of a series of DVDs presenting footage from Germany's Beat-Club pop music television program, Beat-Club: The Best of '66 has 20 clips broadcast on the show in 1966. One feels that these certainly aren't the best 20 clips that could have been chosen, especially considering how many top British acts appeared on the program. Nonetheless, it does have its share of good, sometimes major artists and decent performances, most of them played live and not mimed. Among the highlights are the Hollies ("I Can't Let Go"), the Spencer Davis Group ("Keep on Running"), and relatively rare glimpses of the Denny Laine-fronted Moody Blues on "Bye Bye Bird" and the non-LP single "Really Haven't Got the Time." Also on hand are some German acts (the Lords' "Poor Boy" being the clear peak) and reasonably interesting second- and third-tier UK artists (Cliff Bennett & the Rebels doing their cover of the Beatles' "Got to Get You into My Life," girl-group-styled singer Twinkle doing the Small Faces' "Sha-La-La-La-Lee," the Remo Four with the instrumental "Peter Gun," and the Silkie with their one-shot hit cover of "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away"). Some of the other performers are mediocre; the Walker Brothers' "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any More," for reasons unexplained, cuts off in the middle of the song; and there's too much of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mich & Tich (four clips). Still, the image and sound quality is good to excellent, making this a good document of footage rarely seen outside of Germany, even if much more of interest from the program's 1966 broadcasts is circulating unofficially.

Various Artists, The Bert Berns Story: Twist and Shout Vol. 1: 1960-1964 (Ace). Like other compilations on the Ace label devoted to great Brill Building songwriter producers (Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, Gerry Goffin and Carole King), this volume on Bert Berns is a welcome retrospective of an important figure. Like those other volumes, however, it should be cautioned that this might be more for serious fans/collectors than the general early pop-rock fan, since its mix of hits and rarities means the quality's more uneven than what one might expect from a best-of anthology, and not as comprehensive as one might expect from a box set. In this particular case, it seems care's been taken not to offer more than one song from any particular artist, which means that quite a few noteworthy items are missing from the Drifters, Solomon Burke, Garnet Mimms, the Isley Brothers, and Ben E. King. So don't take the CD as a compilation of Berns' very best work—a separate project that someone should really undertake, especially as a previous attempt (The Heart and Soul of Bert Berns) was woefully skimpy in that regard. Judging this disc for what it is rather than what it isn't, however, it does offer an interesting cross-section of his early work, including the big hits "Twist and Shout" (the Isley Brothers), "A Little Bit of Soap" (the Jarmels), "Cry to Me "(Solomon Burke), and "Killer Joe" (the Rocky Fellers). There are also some good not-so-big singles from fine '60s recording stars Gene Pitney ("If I Didn't Have a Dime (To Play the Jukebox)"), Garnet Mimms ("Look Away"), and Little Esther Phillips ("Mo Jo Hannah"). And there are also some rare or at least uncommon originals of some very noteworthy songs made into bigger hits by others, including the Mustangs' "Baby Let Me Take You Home" (covered on the Animals' first single); Lulu's eerie and not wholly successful version of "Here Comes the Night" (covered by Them); and the Vibrations' "My Girl Sloopy" (redone as "Hang on Sloopy" by the McCoys). On the other hand, there are a bunch of rather generic pop/R&B/Latin combinations that stick with too many similar chord progressions, though it's interesting to hear a lick crop up in one of these, Marv Johnson's "Come on and Stop," that would be recycled to much better use in Them's "Here Comes the Night." When he was at his best, however, Berns could make that pop/R&B/Latin combo work as well as anyone, as the finest selections on this CD demonstrate. As is the custom for Ace, excellent liner notes detail both Berns' early careers and these songs/recordings in particular.

Various Artists, The Brit Girls (DVD bootleg) (Brit Records). Although this DVD looks professionally packaged, complete with bar code and Hollywood street address (which is actually the address of Capitol Records), it's certainly an unauthorized disc. That's made obvious by the lack of a standard commercial menu and the imperfect, though watchable-without-a-problem, image and sound quality. It's actually an hour-and-a-half compilation of episodes from The Brit Girls series of documentaries, which aired on British television in 1997. If the slightly below-par packaging doesn't bother you and you're interested in the general subject of 1960s British pop-rock singers, this is still recommended viewing, especially for US listeners who didn't have a chance to watch it when it was broadcast. Specific episodes are devoted to Marianne Faithfull, Lulu, and Sandie Shaw; another is a sort of survey of various British-based '60s singers who were only popular for a brief period, including Twinkle, Billie Davis, Millie Small, and P.P. Arnold. All of the singers were interviewed specifically for the program, accompanied by interviews with some of their friends and associates and high-profile British music critics and celebrities, as well as some fascinating (if often tantalizingly brief) excerpts of vintage '60s footage featuring the performers. The interviews seem pretty candid, occasionally offering some startling obscure anecdotes, like the report that Sandie Shaw couldn't get a green card to visit the United States due to criticizing the country's involvement in the Vietnam War. It would help to have a fair degree of familiarity with these singers' careers to get the most out of the program, since it's more a scan of highlights and retrospective memories than it is something that fully explains the trajectories of each artist's careers. Most viewers (particularly in the United States) will already be knowledgeable about such details, however, if they're interested enough in this subject to be interested by such a documentary series in the first place. Unfortunately, however, this DVD does not include the episodes in this series that were dedicated to Cilla Black and Helen Shapiro.

Various Artists, Garage Party! Best of the Sixties Garage Bands (DVD bootleg) (Cat's Meow). For something with such a generic title, Garage Party! Best of the Sixties Garage Bands turns out to be a lot more interesting and exotic than you'd anticipate. For this two-DVD, two-and-a-half-hour set features not the expected US '60s garage bands, but Australian '60s artists. (Actually a few from as late as the early 1970s creep in, but for the most part the clips are from the mid-to-late 1960s.) Especially outside of Australia, viewers will be stunned to see good-quality (albeit entirely black-and-white) performance clips of numerous of the Australian rock recordings that have the highest global profile among '60s collectors. Among them are the Loved Ones' "The Loved One," the Purple Hearts' "Early in the Morning," the Black Diamonds' "See the Way" and "I Want, Need, Love You," the Allusions' "The Dancer," Mike Furber's "You Stole My Love," the Sunsets' "When I Found You," the Masters Apprentices' "Elevator Driver," Running Jumping Standing Still's "Diddy Wah Diddy," and the Atlantics' "Come On." Those whose collections run even deeper will be surprised to see footage of the Valentines (with Bon Scott), Jeff Saint John & the Id, and even Python Lee Jackson (though not with Rod Stewart on lead vocals, of course). The downside -- and it's a considerable one -- is that every one of these clips is mimed, not live. As a result, it's somewhat of an artificial experience overall, especially as one would have to think it's certain that some of these groups could have smoked in a live performance situation. As some compensation, you do at least get to see and hear some songs that even many fans would massive collections might be unaware of, a few of which are quite decent, like the Mystics' "Don't You Go, I Need Your Love" and Phil Jones' "Pick a Bale of Cotton."

Various Artists, The Golden Age of Popular Music: The Folk Hits (Ace). Though Ace's Golden Age series of discs were initially devoted entirely to rock'n'roll, after numerous such volumes, it branched out with thematic installments covering other forms of music that experienced success on the US pop charts between the mid-1950s and mid-1960s. The Golden Age of Popular Music: The Folk Hits is another such imaginative anthology, compiling 28 folk singles that reached the Billboard charts during the era. There are, as you'd expect, some of the biggest such smashes, including the Kingston Trio's "Tom Dooley," the Rooftop Singers' "Walk Right In," Peter, Paul & Mary's "If I Had a Hammer," Gale Garnett's "We'll Sing in the Sunshine," the Highwaymen's "Michael," the New Christy Minstrels' "Green, Green," the Springfields' "Silver Threads and Golden Needles," and the Brothers Four's "Greenfields." What makes this several cuts above the usual Time/Life sort of collection of this material, however, is the inclusion of quite a few low-charting (or even barely-charting) 45s that never get played on oldies radio, and give us a more rounded picture of the style than is commonly funneled through mainstream historical media. From well-known stars, for instance, there's Johnny Cash's cover of Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me, Babe"; Joan Baez's "We Shall Overcome"; Pete Seeger's "Little Boxes" (his only chart single as a solo artist); and the Simon Sisters' "Winkin', Blinkin' and Nod" (featuring a young Carly Simon). There are also oddball items from less celebrated figures, like Bud & Travis' orchestrated, dramatic "Ballad of the Alamo"; Joe & Eddie's ridiculously exuberant "There's a Meetin' Here Tonite"; the Greenwoods' "Please Don't Sell My Daddy No More Wine," featuring C. Carson Parks, older brother of Van Dyke Parks; and the Shacklefords' "A Stranger in Your Town," co-written by group member Lee Hazlewood. If there are any grounds on which listeners might be mildly disappointed with this set, those would be that numerous major hits by the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul & Mary are missing (though to be fair each of those acts could easily fill an entire disc of hits on their own), and that there's a dated, cutesy pop-folk feel to much of the material. You certainly don't get earthy roots folk from the likes of Dave Van Ronk, Odetta, or a young Bob Dylan here, so it shouldn't be taken as a representative overview of the folk revival as a whole. But as far as providing a thorough single-disc compilation of the folk revival at its most commercially successful, it would be hard to beat, especially considering it's packaged with 32 pages of informative liner notes.

Various Artists, The Golden Age of American Rock'n'Roll: The Follow-Up Hits (Ace). Having run through a few hundred genuine classic hits from rock'n'roll's first decade in its previous volumes, the series The Golden Age of American Rock'n'Roll was starting to concentrate on thematic compilations by the time of this 2008 release. This one has 30 "follow-up hits," or singles released immediately or soon after a big smash 45 by the same artist. Most follow-up hits, of course, didn't so as well as what they were following up, usually because the songs sounded too much like their predecessors and/or weren't as strong. That's true of most of the cuts here, actually, but that doesn't mean this doesn't have some good (and usually low-charting) rock'n'roll chart hits from 1956-63. A good number of these were almost as good, and almost as popular, as the more famous songs they were following up, including Danny & the Juniors' "Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay"; Bobby Freeman's "Betty Lou Got a New Pair of Shoes"; Shirley & Lee's "I Feel Good"; Chuck Willis' "Betty and Dupree"; Chris Montez's "Some Kinda Fun"; and Dion & the Belmonts' "No One Knows." There are also some solid entries from a few bona fide rock'n'roll greats, even if those don't qualify as among their best recordings, like Gene Vincent's "Dance to the Bop" and Ritchie Valens' "That's My Little Suzie." You also, alas, get some numbers that were basically inferior attempts to replicate the mood of the big hit, like Mickey & Sylvia's 'There Oughta Be a Law" (following "Love Is Strange"), Joe Bennett & the Sparkletones' "Penny Loafers and Bobby Socks" (following "Black Slacks"), and Bobby Day's "The Bluebird, The Buzzard and the Oriole" (following "Rock-In Robin"). Some other selections are fairly unmemorable by any standard, and only occasionally do you get items that are genuinely fine overlooked obscurities (the Cascades' harmony pop-rock ballad "Shy Girl" and Joe Jones' original version of "California Sun," later covered for a hit by the Rivieras). And some cuts are pretty derivative of other artists, as the Velvets' "Laugh" is of the Drifters, though that song does have the curiosity value of being co-written by Roy Orbison. The strong thematic core, however, makes this CD a more interesting compilation than most other anthologies of lesser-known rock'n'roll hits from the era, with excellent liner notes summarizing the backgrounds of the songs and performers.

Various Artists, The Golden Age of American Rock'n'Roll Vol. 11 (Ace). The eleventh volume of this venerated series is split about half between out-and-out classics from rock'n'roll's first decade, and considerably lesser known (and usually much lower-charting) items from the same period. The benefit of this approach is that this makes available quite a few tracks that rarely get reissued, or at least rarely anthologized on all-purpose rock'n'roll oldies collections, while putting in enough familiar staples to avoid being tagged as a rarities collection. The drawback, of course, is that those relatively little-known singles -- all Top 100 Billboard hits to some degree or another, though seldom played on oldies stations today -- simply aren't nearly as good or memorable as the big hits with which they share space on this CD. The collectors might get frustrated by all the big hits that they already have in their collection several times over; the more general fans will find the quality of the disc erratic, owing to the presence of all those obscurities. Still, there's no arguing with the first-rate status of many of the big hits here, including great smashes by LaVern Baker ("Jim Dandy"), Dion ("Ruby Baby"), Mickey & Sylvia ("Love Is Strange"), Shirley & Lee ("Let the Good Times Roll"), Jimmy Bowen ("I'm Stickin' with You"), Hank Ballard ("Finger Poppin' Time"), and Nervous Norvus ("Transfusion," a novelty so gruesome it still remains astonishing it made the Top Ten in 1956). Among the less celebrated selections, there are a few standouts that are in or almost in the same league, like the Robins' wonderful "Smokey Joe's Cafe," Ruth Brown's "This Little Girl's Gone Rockin'," Carl Mann's late-'50s Sun Records rockabilly cut "Pretend," and Cookie & His Cupcakes' swamp pop standard "Mathilda." Much of the rest of the anthology is of a decidedly lower level, though they do include early efforts by some artists who went on to much bigger fame in different contexts,  like the 1956 doo wop single "(You're the) Apple of My Eye" by the Four Lovers (later to become the Four Seasons) and "White Bucks and Saddle Shoes" by Bobby Pedrick Jr. (later to have hits as Robert John). Rob Finnis' liner notes give excellent background information about each track, and cite one of the more obscure cuts, Jimmy Dee's 1957 Top 50 hit "Henrietta," as the first record Bob Dylan ever bought.


Archived Reviews


Archived Reviews

Syd Barrett, The Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett Story [DVD] (Zeit Media). In a couple important respects, Syd Barrett is a difficult documentary subject, as there isn't much film of him either performing or being interviewed. The 50-minute film (originally broadcast on the BBC) that's the main feature of this DVD, however, does an excellent job of summarizing the key aspects of his life and music. Its most important strength is its interviews with his close associates, scoring the hard-to-believe coup of first-hand talks with all four of Barrett's Pink Floyd bandmates (Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Rick Wright, and David Gilmour). Making briefer but meaningful contributions are such interesting figures as Bob Klose, Pink Floyd's original guitarist; early Barrett girlfriend Libby Chisman; early Pink Floyd co-manager Peter Jenner; and Mike Leonard, who worked on the group's early lighting effects. Mixed with those interviews are small but significant snippets of '60s footage showing Syd in performance with Pink Floyd, live and in the studio, as well as excerpts from home movies and the "Arnold Layne" promotional video; there's even a bit of the legendary unreleased Floyd/Barrett song "Vegetable Man" on the soundtrack. The brilliance of Barrett's music and the tragedy of his sudden and rapid mental demise is examined with intelligent and sympathetic detail, also encompassing his influence on the music that Pink Floyd went on to make without him.

The two-DVD edition released in 2007 by Zeit Media is the one for serious Barrett/Pink Floyd fans to get, as it includes quite a bit of bonus material. Disc one has additional interview segments, a basic Barrett bio, and a memorabilia section that, unlike many such things on DVDs, is not an afterthought, but offers dozens of quite rare and interesting vintage posters, ads, record sleeves, and photos. The second disc offers complete unedited interview footage done for the project with Waters, Gilmour, Wright, and Mason, as well as solo performances of Barrett songs by Graham Coxon of Blur and Robyn Hitchcock. The Waters-Gilmour-Wright-Mason interviews on disc two add up to 90 minutes in all, including almost an hour with Waters alone. While they might be more than general fans want to see and hear, for aficionados they're fascinating, affording the chance to hear the members' memories -- not only of Barrett, but of Floyd's early days in general -- at considerably greater length than the principal documentary feature allows. Those segments don't merely repeat obvious stuff that's been gone over many times elsewhere, digressing into such interesting tangents as Waters' recollections of Bob Klose's role in the early Pink Floyd, and Mason's accounts of the Barrett-Floyd outtakes "Scream Thy Last Scream" and "Vegetable Man."

Jeff Beck Group, Jeff Beck Group Supporting Pink Floyd: Messin' with the Blues (bootleg) (Empress Valley Supreme). A three-CD bootleg of the Jeff Beck Group at the Shrine Exposition Hall in Los Angeles on July 26 and 27 of 1968 isn't too much at once -- if it's recorded well. This material, including tracks from four separate sets, isn't, though it has some value for very serious Beck fans. It sounds like an audience tape, and by those standards, Beck's guitar work comes through very well indeed. But while you'd probably pick the guitar if you had to settle for just one element of the Jeff Beck Group to come through on an unreleased tape, his guitar wasn't the only thing that made the band worth listening to. There were also Rod Stewart's vocals, for one thing, which are pretty faint on these recordings. Beck's guitar is impressive, especially on his showcase "Jeff's Boogie," a holdover from his Yardbirds days, but here extended so that he throws in riffs from "Over, Under, Sideways, Down" and the theme to The Beverly Hillbillies. There are also a few songs that didn't make it onto the Jeff Beck Group's early LPs, including B.B. King's "Sweet Little Angel," Beck's British hit single "Hi Ho Silver Lining," and Elmore James' "The Sun Is Shining," as well as impressive workouts on the likes of "Shapes of Things" and "Beck's Bolero." If only this were recorded well, the performances are of a high enough level that it would be a significant piece of music. But you could say that about almost an infinite amount of bootlegs, and something like this really has to be captured in good fidelity to make it both important and enjoyable. Also on the set are a couple of instrumentals ("Interstellar Overdrive" and "A Saucerful of Secrets") by the act the Jeff Beck Group were playing with on these shows, Pink Floyd; in part because they don't have vocals, they're pretty good recordings/performances by 1968 live bootleg standards.

Big Maybelle, I've Got a Feelin': OKeh and Savoy Recordings 1952-1956 (Rev-Ola). This CD is just what its subtitle says it is, gathering 27 tracks Big Maybelle released on the OKeh and Savoy labels between 1952 and 1956, as well as a live version of "Ring Dang Dilly/Candy" (though it's not specified whether that's previously unreleased). Big Maybelle recorded for other companies before and after 1952-56, but this period was her artistic and commercial prime, including the R&B hits "Gabbin' Blues," "Way Back Home," "My Country Man," and "Candy." All of those cuts are included on this well-annotated anthology, along with a non-charting 45 that nonetheless remains her most famous recording, the original version of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" (later covered for a monster smash by Jerry Lee Lewis). Not every song on this disc is as good as the aforementioned titles, but Big Maybelle's raunchy, powerfully throaty vocals are consistently impressive on material that runs from jump blues shouters and earthy ballads to near-rock'n'roll. While "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" is an inevitable standout considering it's by far the most famous tune, it's quite different from Jerry Lee Lewis' rockabilly treatment; it's a much more measured midtempo R&B/blues hybrid in this incarnation, and it really took Lewis to kick it into much higher gear. Far less celebrated, yet far more impressive, is "I've Got a Feelin'," a great devious minor-key number that's the set's unheralded highlight, though the playful "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show" is almost as good.  Much like her version of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," Big Maybelle's somewhat forgotten today, but on the basis of these sides, she certainly deserves more recognition. For she's as good as quite a few other similar figures from the dawn of rock'n'roll who have, whether because they had a few more hits or for other reasons, attained higher profiles as innovators among rock and R&B historians. While much of this material also appeared on the 1994 compilation The Complete OKeh Sessions 1952-55, this CD might get the slight nod as the preferable choice, as the seven Savoy tracks include a hit ("Candy") postdating the OKeh era.

Canterbury Glass, Sacred Scenes and Characters (Ork). In 1968, Canterbury Glass recorded six tracks in London for an album that went unreleased at the time, the group disbanding after interest from a couple record labels fell through. Nearly 40 years later, many of the tapes were rediscovered and issued on this CD. This isn't quite the original album; two of the six tracks couldn't be found, and the "bonus" cut, a demo of one of the two missing songs, apparently bears no resemblance to the version recorded for the album. Still, since all four of the tracks retrieved from the original album sessions last around ten minutes, the CD does offer what would have been a healthy-sized LP by 1968 standards. Unlike many such relics to see the light of day in the CD age, it's not a run-of-the-mill psychedelic outing in terms of either style or quality. With the religious tones of both the music and lyrics (some of which are sung in Latin), it's a little like hearing the Electric Prunes' late-'60s pseudo-religious concept LPs, but as done by a British band who were playing it straight, rather than because some producers and arrangers foisted a gimmick upon them. There's a consciously cathedral-music-goes-rock flavor to the proceedings, the standard psychedelic guitar rock being augmented by churchy organ, harpsichord, flute, and male-female choral harmonies. In some respects, the blend resembles psychedelic-early progressive rock crossover bands like Procol Harum and Caravan, the difference being that while those groups used classical-religious influences as a prominent shading, Canterbury Glass employ them as driving forces. While there's an earnest naivete to the proceedings that might either charm or turn off listeners depending on their tastes, it's also haunting and unusual, and not nearly as explicitly derivative as many such unsigned bands of the era. It's a worthwhile curiosity for those who want to hear what was briefly called "God rock" done with accomplished integrity, though the bluesy demo of "We're Going to Beat It (Battle Hymn)" isn't nearly up to the standards of the rest of the material.

Caravan, The Show of Our Lives: Live at the BBC 1968-1975 (Deram). While this two-CD, nearly two-and-a-half-hour collection doesn't include all of Caravan's BBC recordings, it's indisputably the finest collection of the band's radio performances yet assembled. It doesn't quite include all of the BBC tracks that have appeared on previous releases; a couple songs from their first 1968 session are missing, as are most of the cuts from the Ether Way: BBC Sessions 1975-77 compilation. This is more than compensated for, however, by the inclusion of a half-hour August 2, 1973 session that appears for the first time anywhere on this anthology, as well as the much-improved fidelity on some material first issued as part of the Green Bottles for Marjorie: The Lost BBC Sessions set. Too, the absence of some mid-to-late-'70s material isn't a big blow, as it was during the period covered by this collection that Caravan were truly at their peak.

As for the music itself, while these tracks aren't radically different from the more familiar studio versions, they're fine testimony to the band's ability to deliver complex progressive rock with deft spontaneity in a live setting. The first disc is far more impressive than the second, the band sounding like a cousin to early Soft Machine (with whom, of course, they shared deep roots) in their ability to make the transition from psychedelia to progressive rock sound playful, humane, and for the most part based in strong songs and vocals. The most pleasing treasure is their fine nine-minute stretched-out cover of the early Soft Machine B-side "Feelin', Reelin', Squealin,'" which Caravan never recorded on their studio releases. The second disc, alas, finds the group becoming steadily less interesting with the onset of several personnel changes, documenting the band's (and indeed the entire serious British progressive rock genre's) growing inclination toward slicker virtuosity and less acute, distinguished songwriting. Nonetheless, the better portions are delightful and Mark Powell's annotation (which almost amounts to a band history in itself) excellent, and the compilation as a whole belongs in every serious Caravan fan's collection.

Susan Christie, Paint a Lady (Finders Keepers). The material on this album, heard by few until it was issued on CD in the early twenty-first century, might have been built up as a little weirder than it is by some of the collectors who've raved about it. While it's not the most uplifting stuff in the world, much of it is haunting but not all that out-there pop-folk. Susan Christie's fairly strong, strident vocals and moody melodies, occasionally embellished by strings, aren't the most uncommercial mixture that could have been concocted, though apparently they were too uncommercial to find release when they were originally recorded. What is unusual -- and what sets it most apart from some singers she might bear the vaguest of resemblance to at times, like Melanie, Tim Buckley, Sandy Denny, and Bobbie Gentry -- are the unexpectedly forceful distorted guitars, near-hard-rock organ, and angular rhythms and mild dissonance used in some of the arrangements. In addition, for an eight-song, half-hour album, it's certainly unpredictable in the wide territory it covers -- "No One Can Hear You Cry," unlike anything else on the record, is close to sounding like a fine lost Dionne Warwick outtake, though even that gets set aside from the usual Bacharach-David production by the insertion of off-the-wall exotic tinkles of descending instrumental glissandos. If that's not odd enough in this company, there's also a cut, "When Love Comes," that's not too far off early Marianne Faithfull at her best. In contrast, "Yesterday, Where Is My Mind?" is freaky at the outset, with its pummeling tumbling drum breaks, creepy organ, and trippy ominous whisper-to-a-scream recitation, but even that track settles back into a relatively conventional song after three minutes. "For the Love of a Soldier" is another standout, managing to mix affecting antiwar folk-rock with a funky hard rock chorus quite effectively. Though Christie's not quite a major talent based on these relics, this is nicely dreamy and varied folk-rock for the most part that shows a lot of sadly unfulfilled potential, and if it's more downbeat than the norm for the genre, it's hardly gloomy.

Edda Dell'Orso, Voice (Bella Casa). Edda Dell'Orso is best known as the haunting, oft-high-pitched voice heard on numerous Ennio Morricone soundtracks. Indeed, more than half of the 21 tracks on this anthology are taken from Morricone-scored films. But it's more of a Dell'Orso compilation than a Morricone one, as it also includes selections written by four other composers for Italian films, the material encompassing the years 1967-1982 (though just three of the cuts postdate 1972). In a world where too many reissues are hyped as thrillingly unclassifiable, this Dell'Orso collection is the real deal. There are elements of horror movie soundtracks, European easy listening late-'60s/early-'70s lounge music, operatic classical music, exotica, and almost pornographically explicit sexual innuendo, several of these genres sometimes (though by no means always) bumping heads within the same song. The constant is Dell'Orso's uniquely eerie voice, distinguished not only by its otherworldly range (especially at the high end), but also by her almost exclusive use of wordless phrasing. That helps get around any language barrier inherent in listening to Italian music, of course. But more importantly, it conveys a wide palette of emotions, from the funereally grim and space-age modernism to the out-and-out kinky. There are, as a matter of curiosity, three songs here with actual lyrics, but those relatively conventional outings are far outshone by the mystery of her lyric-free musings. It should be noted that this, like the 2005 CD compilation Dream Within a Dream...the Incredible Voice of Edda Dell'orso, does not feature any of her contributions to Morricone's famous Spaghetti western soundtracks A Fistful of Dollars, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and Once Upon a Time in the West. But like that 2005 compilation, it's a highly recommended sampling of her other work, both for its idiosyncratic vocal majesty and the equally idiosyncratic mix of pop and experimental qualities in the material.

Aretha Franklin, Live in Stockholm 1968 [DVD bootleg] (Mirage Entertainment). That this isn't an authorized DVD is made immediately clear by the presence of a time code throughout this concert, as well as the slightly grainy image quality, which is okay but certainly not from a first-generation source. Still, it's an opportunity for serious Aretha Franklin fans to see her live in concert at her peak, singing well and literally sweating with effort for much of the 49-minute black-and-white show. You could be forgiven for wondering if you have the right disc when Franklin opens the show with "There's No Show Business Like Show Business," which is certainly not the kind of material that was drawing fans to her concerts anywhere around the globe in 1968. She gets down to real business soon enough, however, and concentrates on real soul tunes throughout most of the performance. Oddly, it takes her a while to get to the big hits she'd chalked up by the time of this program, but that does give you a chance to hear some relatively little-traveled songs like "Don't Let Me Lose This Dream" and a cover of the Rascals' "Groovin.'" Though she's performing with nothing but a vocal mike for much of the time (with assistance from three female backup singers), she does go to the piano to play and sing one of the highlights of the set, "Dr. Feelgood." And toward the end, she finally does get to the hits the audience must have been anticipating most highly, including "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)," "Respect," and "Chain of Fools." The DVD's bumped up to an hour-long length with the addition of a couple lip-synced clips from a 1967 TV show hosted by New York DJ Murray the K, along with a couple pre-superstardom 1965 clips from the Shivaree program.

The Grass Roots, California Folk Rock Zeitgeist: Live at Fillmore San Francisco 1967 (Vintage Masters, bootleg).This bootleg is actually identical to the one issued on Hyacinth in 2002 under the title Live at the Fillmore '67; bootlegs of two different 1967 Grass Roots Fillmore gigs might be stretching the bounds of credibility. What is astounding, if only mildly, is that the set -- in good if not perfect sound -- shows the band to be a fairly credible live act. It's also considerably rawer than their famous studio hit recordings of the period would lead one to expect, almost verging on garage rock at times. Some well-done renditions of their folk-rock-pop numbers are on hand with "Let's Live for Today," "Look Out Girl," "Things I Should Have Said," and "Where Were You When I Needed You," though the version of "This Precious Time" is not only incomplete, but also sounds as if it's taken from an official live LP. More surprising are blues-rock numbers like "Got My Mojo Working," "Night Time Is the Right Time," and "Have Love Will Travel," as well as a garage-psychedelic "Jam," all of which give the impression the group welcome the chance to be less slick and more earthy in a live setting. Best of all is "Feelings," here done in a far rawer arrangement than the studio version, with thundering bass and a much more explicit similarity to the riffs in the Rolling Stones' "2120 South Michigan Avenue." Overall it's much more interesting and powerful than the average '60s rock fan would expect of a live Grassroots bootleg, if not wholly representative of what said average fan would expect given their poppier studio releases.

Otis Redding, Dreams to Remember: The Legacy of Otis Redding [DVD] (Reelin' in the Years Productions). There isn't as much Otis Redding footage as there should be (and, of course, there wasn't as much Redding as there should be period, owing to his 1967 death in a plane crash). There's more footage than many people realize, however, and more than a dozen surviving clips form the backbone of this fine DVD. Though the Reelin' in the Years company has made some DVDs consisting of performance clips almost exclusively, this isn't one of those. It's more a Redding documentary that includes plenty of clips, as the vintage Otis performances are broken up by numerous interviews (with guitarist Steve Cropper, trumpeter Wayne Jackson, Stax records executive Jim Stewart, and wife Zelma Redding) filmed specifically for this project shortly before the disc's DVD release. Though that approach can sometimes be problematic, in this case it works well. The interviews are genuinely interesting, informative, and entertaining without resorting to hyberbole or undue sentimentality. The clips themselves are more mixed in quality, both in terms of the surviving audio/image standard and performances. But Redding's onstage dynamism almost always comes through well, even though a bunch of these are lip-synced television shows (even his wife admits that Otis wasn't a good mimer). They include a version apiece of most of his most well-known hits, though it's on the genuinely live songs that Redding truly shines. The highlights of those include "Satisfaction," from a 1967 Stax/Volt revue show in London; "My Girl," from an Oslo date on the same tour (four additional songs from that filming are available on a separate Reelin' in the Years DVD,  Stax/Volt Revue Live in Norway 1967); "Shake" at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival (though, again, about fifteen additional minutes are available from that same performance on the DVD The Complete Monterey Pop Festival); and a couple songs filmed for Upbeat on December 9, 1967, just the day before he and several members of his backup band died. Worthwhile extras include bonus interviews with Cropper and Jackson, and an image gallery soundtracked by a rare radio interview.

Dusty Springfield, Live at the BBC [DVD] (Universal). In 1966 and 1967, Dusty Springfield did two separate six-episode black-and-white television series, simply titled Dusty, for the BBC. Although there was one featured guest per show, otherwise the focus was all on Dusty, who sang a half-dozen or so songs on each program. Unfortunately a few of the episodes have been erased or lost, but material from nine of the twelve -- three of the ones broadcast in 1966, and all of the ones aired in 1967 -- is featured on this remarkable DVD, which is a real treasure trove of footage largely unknown even to many Springfield fans, especially in the US, where this series wasn't shown. It would be enough in itself simply to see so much footage of Springfield in her absolute prime, the episodes edited so that only her solo songs and performances are featured. What makes it downright amazing, however, is that many of the 46 songs -- only a very few of them multiple versions, and one of them (one of the two renditions of Jacques Brel's "If You Go Away") not even transmitted at the time -- are numbers she never put on her studio releases. Among them are a wealth of American soul covers, including good-to-dynamic versions of Martha & the Vandellas' "Heat Wave" and "Nowhere to Run," Aretha Franklin's "Soulville," the Temptations' "Get Ready," the Drifters' "I Don't Want to Go on Without You," Mary Wells' "You Lost the Sweetest Boy," and Sam Cooke's "Good Times."

Springfield was always an eclectic chooser of material, however, and perhaps more so than ever here given that she was performing on a nationally televised variety show. That can be a mixed blessing -- there are too many middle-of-the-road pop standards, including a vaudevillian number so cutesy ("If My Friends Could See Me Now") that even hardcore Springfield fans might feel like shielding their eyes from the screen. Yet the non-rock items also include some quite moving and intriguing performances that bring sides of Springfield to light that aren't too prominent in her 1960s records, including a beautiful rendition of the Irish traditional folk song "My Lagan Love"; the folk standard "Poor Wayfaring Stranger," which Springfield states she actually learned from Jo Stafford's version; the Spanish song "Anna," on which Dusty plays guitar; and "Two Brothers," a tune she originally recorded way back in her Springfields days. General fans who might feel disoriented by the inclusion of so much (and such a wide assortment of) obscure material can be reassured that she does in fact do a few hits too, including "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," "All I See Is You," "Losing You," and "Some of Your Lovin'." It's great, though, to have the opportunity to hear (and see) her doing so many otherwise unavailable songs, and though the camerawork and sets are basic, her vocals are uniformly strong and her stage presence always elegant and ingratiating.

Also on the DVD are a few interesting extras, those being a version of the Rascals' "How Can I Be Sure" from a 1970 BBC program; covers of "Since I Fell for You" and (less pleasingly) "I Am Woman" from a 1972 episode of The Tom Jones Show; and a 1979 BBC performance of her lukewarm single "I'm Coming Home Again," preceded by almost 15 minutes of talk show chat in which she discusses her long stay abroad in Los Angeles. The photo gallery (some stills from the Dusty series accompanied by the studio version of "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" on the soundtrack) and "jukebox," mixing audio-only versions of a few of her '60s hits with audio-only tracks taken from the Dusty performances, are inessential bonuses, especially as it makes much more sense to just watch the footage of the Dusty songs instead of merely listening to them. As good as this DVD is, it could have been even better had not three of the episodes from the 1966 Dusty series been tragically lost. What's here, however, is voluminous -- adding up to more than two-and-a-half hours -- and, more importantly, is not only fine historical footage, but also adds significantly to Springfield's body of 1960s work considering the unavailability of many of the songs on audio-only releases.

Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Untouchable! The Classic 1959-1966 Recordings (Ace). Like many a journeyman bluesman, Johnny "Guitar" Watson led something of an itinerant recording life during much of his career, wandering from label to label in the 1950s and 1960s with just a little chart success. Untouchable! does a great service to collectors by assembling 27 tracks from 1959-1966, many of which, surprisingly, had not only never previously come out on CD, but had never been reissued in any form. While in general these are blues/R&B crossover sides, there's more variety than one might think, and though the hopping between styles makes it a little uneven, it makes for a better listen in one gulp than you might expect. There's some relatively straight blues, particularly in the earlier sides; there are rather more blends of blues/R&B with pop than many blues fans might realize exist, sometimes on covers of pop standards, and sometimes employing strings; and there are cuts, particularly in the mid-'60s selections, that verge on out-and-out soul. It's true that the three songs most likely to be familiar to general blues and rock fans are among the very best material here, those being "Looking Back," which was covered by John Mayall's Bluesbreakers (with Peter Green on guitar); "Cuttin' In," a 1962 Top Ten R&B hit, and one of Watson's most effective fusions of blues (with biting guitar) and orchestration; and "Gangster of Love," one of Watson's signature tunes (though this 1963 King single, fine as it is, is not his original version). But everything here is at least okay, and much of it's above-average-to-excellent, even on some tracks where the influences of others like Clarence "Frogman" Henry, the Olympics, the Temptations, and Ray Charles are obvious. There might be a little less guitar pyrotechnics than some straightahead blues fans would like, and it's unfortunate that a few interesting cuts referred to in the liner notes from this period were not available for licensing. But overall it's a solid overview of a time when Watson was among the more interesting (and certainly overlooked) artists building bridges between the blues, R&B, and soul.

Los Zafiros, Los Zafiros: Music from the Edge of Time [DVD] (Shout Factory). Though very popular in their native Cuba and Miami, Los Zafiros' very existence remains unknown to almost everyone outside of that region. The 80-minute documentary Los Zafiros: Music from the Edge of Time does much to illuminate their intriguing story, combining outlines of the group's history with scenes of the surviving group members revisiting friends and relatives about forty years after the peak of their stardom. Dominating the film are the memories of the two surviving Los Zafiros, Manuel Galban (better known as part of the Buena Vista Social Club) and co-founder Miguel Cancio, who by the time of this documentary had moved from Cuba to Florida, though he visited to Cuba to shoot many of the scenes in this documentary. It could actually be said that there's too much emphasis on the emotional reunions and nostalgic storytelling, and not quite enough on Los Zafiros' actual music and career, though fortunately the inclusion of fuzzy black-and-white vintage '60s clips of the group does much to vividly illustrate their charm and appeal.

At times it seems the film is more about the sentimental nostalgia and heartbreak of close friends separated by time, death, and relocation than it is about a '60s musical group, with plenty of teary and merry scenes of informal musicmaking and conversation about the good old days. Too, there are some interesting tangents to the Los Zafiros that aren't explored beyond the surface or at all, like their popularity among the expatriate Cuban community in Florida; the novelty of being able to perform in Europe and Moscow, at a time when traffic to and from Cuba was very limited; and any unusual challenges or difficulties that might have been encountered in professionally performing and recording music so heavily derivative of American doo wop at a time when relations between Cuba and the US were very tense. Several rough comparisons of Los Zafiros' significance in Cuba to that of the Beatles seem stretched, given that the two groups shared few stylistic similarities. If you're willing to indulge the performers and filmmakers obvious forgiving sentimentality for the era and what the group represented, however, it's a window into a music, time, and place of which many outside of Cuba remain unaware.

The DVD also contains a whopping hour and 25 minutes of extras, most of those being deleted scenes and interviews not used for the principal documentary. Although a few of these are interesting (particularly a segment with an original member who left before their rise to fame), frankly these portions are going to be too much to wade through for most viewers, with plenty of informal jams and conversations that don't add any more to the story than similar scenes from the main feature do. There are too many general reiterations of what a great group Los Zafiros were without much specific interesting elaboration, and one interview with a fellow Cuban singer seems to use a brief positive comment about the group as an excuse to feature her own performance and a cappella vocals for several minutes. On the other hand, footage of several archival Los Zafiros performances from the '60s is quite valuable and entertaining, as are some excerpts from other not-strictly-related '60s Cuban television programs, featuring both other musical performers and some Cuban TV commercials from the era.

Various Artists, Banged Up: American Jailhouse Songs 1920s-1950s (Viper). It's a lot more fun to listen to songs about jail than it is to be in jail. And if you do enjoy tasting the jail experience through the vicarious medium of early-to-mid-twentieth century popular song, Banged Up: American Jailhouse Songs 1920s-1950s is a very fine compilation of prison tunes from various strains of American music. There are just a few classics here that might be reasonably familiar to the learned listener with eclectic tastes, those being Johnny Cash's original single recording of "Folsom Prison Blues," Jimmie Rogers' "In the Jailhouse Now," Bukka White's "Parchman Farm Blues," and the Robins' great mid-'50s R&B-rock stormer "Riot in Cell Block Number Nine." Many of the performers here, however, are actually pretty well known within their genres, including country blues (Leroy Carr), classic vocal jazz (Bessie Smith), early Chicago blues (Big Maceo Merriweather), hillbilly (the Delmore Brothers, Jimmie Davis, the Blue Sky Boys), early New Orleans jazz (Henry "Red" Allen"), cowboy music (Gene Autry), and even swing jazz (Bunny Berigan's "Prisoner's Song") and R&B (Richard Berry, represented by  "The Big Break," his follow-up to "Riot in Cell Block Number Nine"). Considering how miserable and abusive prison life often is in reality, the songs usually have a fairly jaunty, if oft-melancholy and wistful, take on jail time, one recording (Carr's "Christmas in Jail, Ain't That a Shame") even combining the jailbird and holiday genres. The grimmer aspects of incarceration, however, get their due in Smith's "Send Me to the 'Lectric Chair" and the late-1940s track credited simply to "Alex," the harmonica-and-voice "Prison Blues," which is a field recording of an actual inmate of Parchman Farm. Steve Hardstaff's annotation gives useful histories of both the performers and songs, and the officially 20-track disc ends with an unlisted bonus track that sounds like a 1920s/1930s-era gospel field recording.

Various Artists, Fairytales Can Come True: UK Popsike from the Late 60's (Psychic Circle). The idea of this compilation is to present obscure British recordings from the late 1960s that had definite psychedelic feel, but also had a lot of harmony pop influence at work as well. Often this led to a particularly precious branch of psychedelia dubbed (long after the fact) by some collectors as "toytown" music, in part because of a preoccupation with British character sketches, childhood nostalgia, and fantasy that was largely absent from American psychedelic rock. There's some of that here, but fortunately this largely steers clear of excessively precious and twee material, though some of it does have the good-time bounce that leaked down to so many bands from the circa-1967 Beatles and Kinks. None of these were hits or anything close to it, of course, but some general '60s collectors might actually recognize some of the musicians, particularly the Searchers (represented by a fairly respectable, and seldom anthologized, late-'60s 45, "Umbrella Man"); Jackie Lomax, as leader of the Lomax Alliance; Los Bravos, of "Black Is Black" fame (here heard covering the Easybeats song "Bring a Little Lovin'"); Ian Matthews, heard on the Pyramid's breezy "Summer of Last Year," recorded shortly before he joined Fairport Convention; and Hedegehoppers Anonymous and the Roulettes, both of whom had a little UK success on record in the '60s. What's most impressive about this compilation, however, is that there's a fair amount of variety in the selections, encompassing an obscure Troggs cover (Barry Benson's "Cousin Jane"), almost raw folk-rock (Hedgehoppers Anonymous' "Daytime"), sub-Walker Brothers balladeering (the Virgil Brothers' "Look Away"), and nearly baroque moodiness with influence from both classical music and Beach Boys harmonies (Fred Lloyd's "You Kissed Him," Dreams' "A Boy Needs a Girl," and Dave Christie's "Penelope Breedlove"). If you want more sing-songy sugary stuff, that's here too, but not so much so that listening to the CD gets to be an overly sickly sweet experience. It's definitely an anthology for deep UK psych specialists, but one of the better ones in this subgenre likely to ever be compiled.

Various Artists, Goffin & King: A Gerry Goffin & Carole King Song Collection 1961-1967 (Ace). Like songwriter team-oriented compilations that Ace has produced for Doc Pomus-Mort Shuman and Jerry Leiber-Mike Stoller, this anthology of 26 tracks penned by Gerry Goffin and Carole King mixes a few famous hits with a bunch of items that are much more off the beaten path. It's a mixed, if overall worthwhile, blessing. For it's not the place to start if you want the best and most famous work in the Goffin-King catalog, missing the biggest covers of their compositions by the Shirelles, Little Eva, Bobby Vee, Herman's Hermits, Manfred Mann, the Chiffons, the Everly Brothers, and others. On the other hand, for those who already have those hits several times over in their collections, it's a good place to pick up 1960s recordings of many of their lesser-known songs, with a few smashes (particularly Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural  Woman" and the Animals' "Don't Bring Me Down") sprinkled in. The downside is that most of the songs, with some exceptions like the aforementioned pair, simply aren't as good or memorable as Goffin-King's most famous classics. But there are some very good tunes here, including a few that were small hits, like Tony Orlando's "Halfway to Paradise," Betty Everett's rousing soul-popper "I Can't Hear You,"  and the Tokens' "He's in Town" (which the Rockin' Berries made a much bigger hit in Britain). Also of note are oddities like the Crickets' "Don't Ever Change," a hit only in the UK (where the Beatles covered it in 1963 on the BBC), Bobby Vee's rare "The Idol" (a theme song for a 1962 TV documentary), and Dusty Springfield's version of "Wasn't Born to Follow" (a song much more renowned as done by the Byrds). Skeeter Davis' wonderful "Let Me Get Close to You" sounds like it should have been a big hit, but to be honest, most of the relatively unfamiliar tracks here simply aren't in the same league, though many have excellent period '60s pop-rock production. That's even the case when stars like the Drifters, Chiffons, Lenny Welch, Bobby Rydell, the Righteous Brothers, and the Everly Brothers take a crack at something, though Jackie DeShannon's girl group-flavored "Heaven Is Being with You" and P.J. Proby's Righteous Brothers-like "I Can't Make It Alone" are well worth hearing. Still, the CD's a smartly chosen sampling of material for those who want to hear more Goffin-King compositions than what's most commonly available, with excellent liner notes covering both the composers' early careers and these specific recordings.

Various Artists, Phil's Spectre III: A Third Wall of Soundalikes (Ace). Such is the wealth of Phil Spector soundalike productions from the 1960s, and such is Ace Records' industriousness in licensing a wide variety of them for the Phil's Spectre series, that there's no decline in either the quality or range of material selected for this third volume. The 26 tracks include actual hit singles (Lesley Gore's "Look of Love," Martha & the Vandellas' "In My Lonely Room") and a whole bunch of flops in the girl group, pop-soul, and pseudo-Righteous Brothers styles (as well as including an actual Righteous Brothers cut in "My Tears Will Go Away"). There's even a bit of folk-rock (the Ashes' "Is There Anything I Can Do," which sounds like a Spectorian cross between the Mamas & the Papas and the Byrds) and bubblegum (the 1950 Fruitgum Company's "When We Get Married"). One point the compilation does drive home is not just how extensive Spector's influence was throughout the industry, but also how much a good song, as well as a grand production, was necessary to make a Phil Spector production (or imitation thereof) good. Some of these tracks have some of the master's tricks down pat, but are simply missing a memorable tune to go along with it. Still, there are some very good cuts here, starting with the aforementioned Gore and Martha & the Vandellas hits. Also of note, though, is the pummeling Crystals-like, David Gates-produced-and-penned mid-charting single "My One and Only, Jimmy Boy" by the Girlfriends, one of the very best Phil Spector imitations (and very best girl group singles) of all. Other highlights are the Kit Kats' "That's the Way," which grafts Spectorian production onto a bit of Four Seasons-like vocals; Alder Ray's "'Cause I Love Him," which is not just a Phil Spector soundalike, but also a Darlene Love soundalike; and Bonnie's expansive "Close Your Eyes." Mick Patrick's liner notes provide an abundance of detail and vintage illustrations for those mostly rare and unknown releases.

Various Artists, Rock & Roll Years Vol. 6 [DVD bootleg] (Pinup). An unauthorized DVD compilation this may be, but it's still a pretty good way to view a 90-minute series of rare rock'n'roll television and film clips from the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s. An eclectic variety of stars and obscure performers are represented, many of the clips are live (though a good share are mimed), and the image and sound quality are pretty good, though a little below what you might expect of an official product. Some highlights include one-shot rockabilly group the Sparkletones doing electrifyingly kinetic live versions of "Rocket" and their hit "Black Slacks"; the Johnny Otis Show doing their hit "Willie & the Hand Jive," with backup vocals by the huge woman trio the 3 Tons of Joy; live performances of "Blue Jean Bop" and "Sexy Ways" by a leather-clad Gene Vincent; live Ed Sullivan Show appearances by Buddy Knox and Jimmy Bowen, who sing their rockabilly-pop hits "Party Doll" and "I'm Stickin' with You" respectively; Judy Tyler's energetic "Roving Gal," interesting if only for the sheer novelty of seeing an energetic unknown '50s white woman rock'n'roll singer; and Ritchie Valens' mime of "Ooh My Head" from the movie Go, Johnny, Go! A few of these performers, like Johnny Horton, Tennessee Ernie Ford (doing an elongated "Sixteen Tons" with audience participation), and Ferlin Husky, were country-pop singers rather than rockers, but they still fit in okay considering how popular they were at times with the rock audience during the era. It's true this does contain its share of comparatively dull mimed clips, but at least it affords you a chance to see artists like Jan & Dean, Brenda Lee, Eddie Cochran, Wilbert Harrison, and Billy Ward who don't pop up on archival television programs or film documentaries very often. Ending the disc is an exciting seven-song UK TV segment from January 8, 1964 featuring Little Richard live (with backup by British band Sounds Incorporated). It starts out a little more subdued than you might expect or hope, but soon gets rowdy enough as he rips his way through some of his big hits ("Rip It Up," "Lucille," "Long Tall Sally," "Good Golly Miss Molly," "Send Me Some Lovin'") and covers of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and "Hound Dog."

Various Artists, Stax/Volt Revue Live in Norway 1967 [DVD] (Reelin' in the Years Productions). Many soul fans are well aware of the lore behind the Stax/Volt Revue's early 1967 tour of Europe, especially as it generated several live albums. It wasn't widely known until the release of this DVD forty years later, however, that more than an hour of one concert was filmed for Norwegian television. Though this 75-minute DVD isn't perfect either musically or technically, it's plenty good, especially musically. Thus it has to get a five-star rating considering both the dynamism of the performances and the immense historical significance it carries as the only available lengthy document of the Stax sound as it hit its 1967 peak. Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd, Arthur Conley (not a Stax artist but along for the tour), the Mar-Keys, and Booker T. & the MG's all play 100% live on this black-and-white program, with the MG's and Mar-Keys also serving as the backup musicians for all the singers. Redding and Sam & Dave, as you'd expect, have the longest and best segments, both of them literally sweating buckets as they fire up a staid Norwegian crowd (who'd likely never seen anything like this before) with some of their most popular mid-'60s tunes. Nothing on the revue's a waste, however, as Conley has enough time to rip through his smash "Sweet Soul Music"; the Mar-Keys step snazzily through three instrumentals, including their big hit "Last Night"; Eddie Floyd does well enough in his only song, "Raise Your Hand"; and Booker T. & the MG's open things up with their instrumentals "Red Beans and Rice" and a smoldering, elongated "Green Onions." Though the footage is a bit grainy, the cinematography's fine if a little basic. And it's definitely better than the 55-minute version (duplicating the original broadcast) that's made the round on bootleg: not only is the quality considerably better, but the filmmakers also found twenty additional minutes of footage that didn't make the original program, including a second, different version of "Green Onions." Significant extras include interviews with Steve Cropper (of Booker T. & the MG's), Wayne Jackson (of the Mar-Keys), Jim Stewart (executive at Stax Records), and Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave) conducted specifically for this project. What's more, there's a full-length commentary track from Cropper, Jackson, and Stax authority Rob Bowman, who also wrote the comprehensive liner notes, sealing a great package that's essential for soul fans.

Various Artists, A Trunk Full of 60's Pop Exotica: Swinging London: The Accidental Genius of Saga Records 1968-1970 (RPM). In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the British budget label Saga recorded numerous albums designed to cash in on UK pop-rock-psychedelic trends. The LPs were quickie exploitation jobs, but as is often the case with such productions, some reasonably genuine stuff couldn't help sneaking through and finding status among serious '60s collectors decades later. This quite unusual compilation gathers 25 tracks that were scattered across numerous Saga releases, the common denominator being that all of them were plugged into British mod rock and psychedelia to some degree. It almost goes without saying that none of these songs were hits, and that very few of them are known even to veteran British '60s collectors, though some might be familiar with the Five Day Week Straw People, the Magic Mixture, and the Blackbirds (the last actually a German group whose material Saga managed to issue for the UK market). A few recognizable musicians do pop up here and there, even if the culprits most likely wouldn't mind having these relics buried deep within their resumes, including Mungo Jerry's Ray Dorset (here part of Good Earth), future Fairport Convention bassist Dave Pegg (as part of the Dave Peace Quartet), and original Fleetwood Mac bassist Bob Brunning (as part of Five's Company). As you also might expect, the actual music's not nearly as interesting as it is rare, since much of it's either heavily derivative and/or obviously trying to latch on to fashionable Swinging London-type grooves and the lighter side of psychedelia. Approached with the right level of expectations, however, that doesn't mean there aren't some fun or at least amusing moments along the way, if you're a fan of those genres and have at least a little irreverent humor about the styles' excesses and naivete. With one exception, you wouldn't say that anything here is a lost gem, but a good number of the tracks are fairly groovy in different and sometimes off-the-wall ways. Those cuts would include the Blackbirds' downright creepy "She," with its horror movie organ and Dracula-like vocals; the Dave Moses Group's cool Latin-tinged organ-based go-go lounge instrumental, "Quite Fast"; Linda & Noel's quite accomplished slice of toytown psych-pop, "Mr. Bantam's Fair"; New World's strange heavy psych adaptation of "Scheherazade"; Shake 26's hard-charging instrumental "Underground Set," which bisects mod rock and heavy psychedelia; Five Day Week Straw People's ridiculously echo-smothered "Sunday Morning" (not the Velvet Underground song!); and Magical Mixture's dreamy "Moon Beams," perhaps the one cut on the CD that can hold its own as a legitimate first-rate piece of UK psychedelic buried treasure. Others are just okay, or generic or even subpar, though sometimes in a manner that lovers of kitsch might appreciate. Stefan Granados' lengthy liner notes dig up more information about these obscure budget releases than anyone would have thought possible.


Archived Reviews

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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