Archived Reviews

Family, BBC Radio Vol. 3: 1970 (Hux). All three of Family's 1970 BBC sessions (all of them previously unreleased) are on this 77-minute CD, all of them dating from the time when Poli Palmer had joined the band to fill out their sound on flute, piano, vibes, and percussion. Only the first of the three sessions is taken from the master tapes, with the other two surviving only in the form of the off-air recordings sourced from on this CD. Too, that first session (from January 1, 1970) wasn't a typical performance by the group, as since singer Roger Chapman was ill, the band performed two instrumentals (one of which, the jazzy "Here Comes the Grin," makes its first appearance anywhere on this disc). But while the back cover note takes pains to emphasize that most of this material is from off-air tapes and not of the highest technical quality, it's really erring on the side of caution – the off-air tapes sound basically fine, if not as pristine as the session from the original tape, and are highly listenable. Understandably, the songs rendered on these sessions tended toward the tunes included on their 1970 album Anyway, with two versions apiece of "Holding the Compass" (done with a more electric arrangement than the one on the LP) and "Lives and Ladies." Some tracks from their earlier records do appear in BBC versions here as well, including their epic "The Weaver's Answer" and a medley of two songs that originally appeared separately ("Procession" and "No Mule's Fool"). There's also as a bluesy jam-sounding instrumental, "Blow By Blow," that has never appeared elsewhere in any form. True, these tracks don't show a side of the band seriously different enough from their studio recordings of the era to make this CD a necessary addition to the Family fan's collection. But for the very serious Family fan, it (as well as the previous two Hux collections of BBC Family sessions) is a highly recommended and well-played document of the band in a live setting, with excellent thorough liner notes.

Erma Franklin, Piece of Her Heart: The Epic and Shout Years (Shout). Though it's reasonably well known that Erma Franklin did the original version of "Piece of My Heart," the prime body of recordings by Aretha's older sister was still pretty ill-served by CD compilations until this 2009 release. Its 26 tracks contain everything she recorded for the Epic and Shout labels between 1961 and 1968. That includes her 1962 Epic LP Her Name Is Erma, various early-'60s non-LP Epic singles, and the seven tracks she recorded for Shout in 1967-68 (among them the 1967 Top Ten R&B hit "Piece of My Heart"). Like Aretha Franklin's pre-Atlantic work for Columbia during the same era, Erma's Epic output in particular was pretty uneven, with too much emphasis on orchestrated popular standards. Yet mixed in with those were some gutsy early soul and girl group-style sides, a few of which – especially "Don't Wait Too Long" (penned by sister Carolyn Franklin) and the downright terrific "I Don't Want No Mama's Boy" -- were arguably grittier and stronger material-wise than anything Aretha was doing in a similar vein in the early 1960s. More suitable soul tunes became less of a problem in her short but impressive stint with Shout, which included the down'n'dirty, bluesy Carolyn Franklin composition "Don't Catch the Dog's Bone" and the obscure Carole King-Gerry Goffin number "Don't Have the Right to Cry." To repeat an unavoidable comparison, Erma's voice wasn't quite as amazing as Aretha's, but it was real good, and deserving of more success than it got at Epic or Shout (or her subsequent time at Brunswick, unrepresented on this compilation). This well-annotated package is a fine commemoration of her underrated talent, though audiophiles should be aware that two of her Epic singles had to be remastered from vinyl here as the master tapes are missing.

Johnny Hallyday, Johnny Hallyday (Cherry Red). Johnny Hallyday's self-titled 1969 album was not one of his more typical releases, going into heavier British-influenced rock (though all the songs are sung in French) than the poppier rock'n'roll for which he's more widely known. It could be, however, the Hallyday album most likely to interest non-French listeners, if only for a strong if unlikely connection to a famous British rock band. For the Small Faces – then on the verge of breaking up – backed him up for three of the tracks, all recorded at a January 3, 1969 session. These included a French-language cover of the group's "That Man," plus two songs by Small Faces members Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane, "What You Will" (later cut by Humble Pie for their first album) and "News Report," never done by the Small Faces on their own records. What's more, all but one of the other songs were penned by Mick Jones (the same Mick Jones who'd go on to Spooky Tooth and Foreigner) and Tommy Brown, who also did arrangements and played on the album. So after all that, how's the music? Well, it does sound a little like cookie-cutter early British guitar-organ hard rock with a somewhat overwrought French singer. Not that it bothered Hallyday's following, with the album going to #1 in France and yielding a hit single there, "Riviere...Ouvre Ton Lit," that became a staple of his live sets ever since. Nonetheless, Johnny himself said in his autobiography that he hated the record and considered it his worst to date. There probably won't ever be a consensus among Hallyday fans (or other rock fans) as to the album's worth. But it does get very respectful treatment for the English-speaking audience on its 2009 reissue on Cherry Red, with extensive historical liner notes and photos/sleeve illustrations.

Ill Wind, Flashes [Expanded] (Sunbeam). The expanded edition of Ill Wind's only album presents the original Flashes album on the first disc, and an entire CD of extra material from the era on the second, which amounts to no less than fifteen bonus tracks. The additional recordings aren't enough to make most listeners elevate their ranking of Ill Wind to major late-'60s band status. But whatever one thinks of this talented but seriously erratic Boston outfit, the tracks on disc two are a significant augmentation of the group's slim legacy. For one thing, only one of the fifteen songs ("People of the Night") appears in different guise on the Flashes LP. Also, some of the bonus cuts show Ill Wind putting an appreciably greater folk-rock/pop slant on their sound than the more generally psychedelic Flashes album offers. In part that's because most of disc two's recordings predate the release of Flashes, with four demos (in very good sound) done in Boston in 1966; five demos done for Capitol Records in New York in 1967, with Dick Weissman producing; a live track from 1967; and five basement recordings (again in good sound) cut shortly after the release of Flashes in Wellesley, MA in 1968, with Michael Walsh replacing Carey Mann on bass and vocals. Still, in all the material is fairly similar to the heavily West Coast-influenced, slightly gothic folk-rock-psychedelic of Flashes, without any songs as strong as Flashes' "Dark World" or "Sleep." Among the bonus items, "Tomorrow You'll Come Back" definitely shows the band at their poppiest, almost approaching the territory of early folk-pop-rockers like We Five, while "Mauti" bears a heavy mid-'60s Byrds influence despite its 1968 recording date. Oddly, the bonus tracks also include songs named after the band itself ("Ill Wind") and the title of their only LP ("Flashes") that somehow did not find a place on the Flashes album, where their inclusion might have seemed logical. The twelve-page liner notes give a thorough history of the band, interspersed with related vintage pix and illustrations.

Paul Kossoff with Black Cat Bones, Paul's Blues (Sunbeam). Paul Kossoff, known mostly as guitarist with Free, did some time in Black Cat Bones before joining the more famous band, though the records that Black Cat Bones put out (subsequent to his departure) didn't feature him. Some documentary evidence of his time in Black Cat Bones does exist, however, and the double CD Paul's Blues has more than two hours of rehearsals Black Cat Bones taped in 1967 while Kossoff (still only in his mid-teens) was in the lineup. While on the face of it that sounds like it could make for a great archival find, excitement even among dedicated fans of the guitarist has to be tempered by the knowledge that these recordings are both lo-fi and musically rudimentary. We're not talking lo-fi just in the sense of them not being as polished as most of the era's studio recordings; the sound really is subpar, complete with occasional tape glitches and accidental feedback. To its credit, the package makes that quite clear in the back blurb and extensive annotation, but it doesn't help make it any easier of a listening experience.

Of more importance, nor do the quite raw and fairly unimpressive performances, which show Black Cat Bones at this point to be very much a just-getting-to-the-point-of-professional basic blues-rock band. Kossoff's guitar work is clearly the most distinguished aspect of the group, yet even this is far less refined and imaginative than it would be just a short time later in Free. The songs are largely covers of shopworn blues classics—some vocal, some wholly instrumental, some presented in two or three different versions—like B.B. King's "Rock Me Baby," Elmore James' "The Sky Is Cryin'" and "Shake Your Moneymaker," Sonny Boy Williamson's "Help Me," and Freddy King's "San Ho-Zay." British blues-rock bands could come up with exciting versions of even such well-traveled songs, but Black Cat Bones simply weren't at that point yet, with most of the songs plodding to some degree and going on way too long. As a fan of Kossoff's work (especially in Free), it's painful not to be able to find something more positive to say about the music. But it largely serves to illustrate just how much more effective he was when reined in by Free's massively tighter ensemble work and superior material. Even the one track with a guest vocal by Paul Rodgers ("I'm Ready") is a letdown due to the muffled singing. The compilation's value is exclusively to very serious Free and Kossoff fans, though in its defense it doesn't pretend to be any more than that, with interesting and affectionate liner notes by Peter James and Black Cat Bones drummer Frank Perry.

Lulu, Shout: The Complete Decca Recordings (Retro). Although Lulu's mid-'60s Decca recordings have been issued piecemeal on numerous anthologies, somehow no one executed the logical idea of putting them all together on one release until this 42-track, two-CD collection. All of her 1964-67 sides for the label are included, serving as a comprehensive document to the first three years or so of her recording career. Particularly in the US (where she really wasn't known until the 1967 chart-topper "To Sir With Love," not included here), this period has remained rather obscure, and certainly not as familiar to the general rock fan as her more commercially successful recordings of the late '60s. This is a shame, as this was undoubtedly the era—in spite of her tender teenage years—in which she laid down by far her most soulful, R&B-influenced, and raunchiest recordings. The 1964 British hit cover of "Shout!" is of course the most famous of these. But those who dismiss Lulu as a relative British Invasion lightweight might be surprised to find quite a few other first-rate combinations of soul and girl group pop here, like "Nothing Left to Do But Cry," "I'll Come Running Over," "After You," "Take Me As I Am," "Can't Hear You No More," and a rip-roaring "Heatwave." The completist nature of this project does mean you get a good number of mediocre songs that wouldn't have made the cut for a more selective single-disc Decca-era best-of. Too, some of the rarer numbers (including both sides of a German-language 45 and numerous non-LP tracks) just aren't in the same league with the more familiar tunes. But with comprehensive liner notes, this is a necessary acquisition for Lulu fans, and a pretty good one for more general British Invasion admirers.

The Majority, The Decca Years 1965-68 (Rev-Ola). The Majority issued eight UK singles on Decca between 1965 and 1968 without reaching the British charts, though they were a reasonably accomplished enough band, especially in the vocal harmony department. This CD has everything from those singles with the exception of the 1967 cover of the pop standard "I Hear a Rhapsody," omitted at the specific request of the group (and described as "horrific" in the liner notes). The Majority sounded more American than the typical British Invasion band, with harmonies and, usually, material more in line with US pop-rock acts like the Beach Boys and sunshine pop groups than most of their UK peers. While it's fairly enjoyable stuff, it's easy to hear why they became a sort of "in-between" group, with too much going for them to get dropped from their label, but not enough going for them to score hit records. One reason is that they didn't establish much of an identity, their arrangements veering from mild British Invasion sounds to quasi-Walker Brothers productions and late-'60s British orchestrated pop with the slightest of psychedelic touches. Another is that none of their material, most of it supplied by outside writers, was particularly great, though it was usually pleasant (if not much more). They did do songs by some outstanding composers, including Chip Taylor, who co-wrote "Wait By the Fire," and the Bee Gees, whose "All Our Christmases" was never issued by the Bee Gees themselves. British Invasion fanatics after rare original tunes donated to other acts by members of big groups will also want to hear "A Little Bit of Sunlight," a Ray Davies composition not issued by the Kinks at the time (though Davies did a demo that eventually circulated). The Majority also, incidentally, covered Davies' "Ring the Bells," though they did a far less notable job on that fine number than the Kinks themselves did. They were at their best when they sounded a bit like a poppier Zombies, as they do on "One Third" (which was included on the Nuggets II box), "Tears Won't Help," and "Wait By the Fire." So it's an ephemeral British '60s rock comp in all, but certainly put together with class, with comprehensive liner notes and rare photos.

Skeets McDonald, Goin' Steady with the Blues (Righteous). Skeets McDonald made records throughout the 1950s, but it wasn't until 1958 that his first album was issued. Goin' Steady with the Blues occupies a somewhat odd niche within the country and pop trends of its time, though the music itself doesn't sound at all forced or trendy. It's not rockabilly, or rock'n'roll, but certainly has some beats and swagger that show McDonald was being influenced by those currents. It's not straightahead commercial late-1950s country either, though it's somewhat in tune with where honky-tonk was moving during the era. It's just a comfortable mix of those styles, McDonald singing in a likeably laconic and slightly bluesy manner, at times recalling the most country-oriented sides of early Jerry Lee Lewis. If you need a reference to a another bigger figure from the era, if you like some of Marty Robbins' gutsier late-1950s work but want something rootsier, you might well take a shine to at least some of this. McDonald wasn't quite in the league of, say, Lewis or Robbins in either his material or his vocals, which makes this something of a minor pleasure. But it's certainly pleasing enough on its own terms, getting into a slightly tropical mood with "Hawaiian Sea Breeze." The 2009 CD reissue on Righteous adds considerable value with eight bonus tracks, including his most celebrated and famous venture into pure rockabilly, "You Oughta See Grandma Rock," as well as other cuts that generally go for a more frenetic mood and rhythm than the material on the Goin' Steady with the Blues LP (though "Mean and Evil Blues," "The Tattooed Lady," and "Birthday Cake Boogie" skirt novelty territory). It's too bad, however, that the package doesn't include any recording or release dates for the bonus tracks.

The Mojos, Everything's Alright: The Complete Recordings (RPM Retrodisc). There have been a couple of other good Mojos compilations that have gathered most of this Merseybeat group's work, focusing wholly on their mid-'60s Decca output. Since their Decca recordings comprise almost everything they released, there's not room for much more on a Mojos anthology. But Everything's Alright: The Complete Recordings does manage to beat out previous Mojos collections by a nose. For it includes not only all seventeen of the tracks they issued on Decca between 1963-67, but also the one they did for the 1963 This Is Merseybeat Vol. 2 compilation when they were still calling themselves the Nomads, as well as their obscure 1968 single for Liberty. These additions aren't exactly crucial: the Nomads cut, "My Whole Life Through," is basic-to-the-point-of-rudimentary Merseybeat, while the 1968 single shows them moving into somewhat more modern late-'60s pop-rock with unmemorable results. Still, with these additions and good historical liner notes, it stands as the absolutely definitive compilation of the Mojos' work. The 1963-66 Decca sides comprising the bulk of the disc will remain what they're most known for, however, including some decent if somewhat second-rank Merseybeat (highlighted by the hit "Everything's Alright"), the game attempt at pop-folk on their 1964 single "Seven Daffodils," and some poppier 1965 singles that show them moving in something of a Righteous Brothers direction.

The New Lost City Ramblers, Always Been a Rambler [DVD] (Arhoolie). There's nothing too fancy or controversial about the New Lost City Ramblers; they're just one of the most respected and influential of the traditional/old-timey artists to have emerged from the mid-twentieth-century folk revival. Accordingly, this hour-long documentary is a straightahead overview of their career and legacy. All three of the Ramblers in their longest-lived lineup (John Cohen, Mike Seeger, and Tracy Schwarz) are interviewed, as is the man from their original lineup who left early on, Tom Paley. Mixed in with the interviews are an impressive assortment of performance clips spanning nearly a half-century, in settings ranging from festivals and concerts to more informal environments in homes and the countryside. A good number of other folk artists offer brief testimonials to the Ramblers' importance and durability, from David Grisman and Maria Muldaur to Ricky Skaggs and (via voiceover) Bob Dylan. Attention is also paid and credit given to the Ramblers' work in helping to promote and popularize the music of other folk artists, including Elizabeth Cotten, Roscoe Holcomb, and Maybelle & Sara Carter (all of whom are also shown in bits of archive footage). If there's anything that might disappoint the less intense folk or popular music fan, there wasn't really a dramatic arc to the New Lost City Ramblers' performing and recording career; they became established in the folk revival and maintained their standing as respected artists for decades, even though their time would eventually be divided between the Ramblers and some other bands and musical projects. Perhaps partly for that reason, the documentary jumps around somewhat chronologically, but it still works well in conveying both their musicianship and their musicological/sociological contributions. As considerable bonuses, the DVD also includes a 24-minute 1969 color film of the Ramblers rambling around the countryside, during which they play eight diverse songs (with diverse instrumentation) and engage in some lightly comic banter apparently intended to reflect the slow-paced humor of rural life. A much shorter but likewise significant bonus is never-before-seen footage of the Paley lineup doing a couple songs in 1959 in a TV soundstage-like setting.

The 107th Street Stickball Team, Saboreando/Pot Full of Soul (BGP). In the late 1960s, producer and arranger Bobby Marin had the concept for an album based on the sounds and experiences of his youth in his Spanish Harlem neighborhood. Credited to the 107th Street Stickball Team, this LP was rehearsed and recorded on the same day, fusing Latin music with soul and a bit of pop and boogaloo. The liner notes to the 2009 CD reissue of this rarity infer that this was a concept album of sorts, but while Marin's background undoubtedly fueled his vision of the record, it's really a collection of unrelated songs, not a series of tunes that tells a story or elaborates upon certain constant themes.  It's a pretty fair mixture as far as such Nuyorican albums of the era go, but it's not quite as exciting or innovative as some of the collector buildup might portend. It does sound at times like the work of several bands rather than a single artist, with "On Old Broadway" fusing soul-pop with light Latin jazz and salsa; others, like the Spanish-language "Toma Guajira," getting into more straight salsa-jazz fusion along the lines of Willie Bobo; "Barbara with the Kooky Eyes" (great song title) going for an instrumental boogaloo; and other songs getting into more of an updated Latin/doo-wop hybrid feel. Though the sound and grooves are pretty cool, the material does seem to have been hastily written and recorded, with a shortage of really outstanding compositions and somewhat lo-fi sound by 1969 standards. It's not a plus, either, that the best song, "On Old Broadway," has a chorus that virtually replicates the one from Petula Clark's "Downtown" melodically. The 2009 CD reissue does benefit from thorough historical liner notes explaining the album's genesis, as well as three interesting bonus cuts from an unreleased boogaloo album from slightly earlier by the Nitty Sextet in which Marin was also involved.

The Parade, Sunshine Girl: The Complete Recordings (New Sounds). Although the Parade had planned to release an LP titled Sunshine Girl in 1968, that record failed to appear when A&M shelved it. This 23-song 2009 CD compilation is a kind of belated substitute for the record, including both sides of all six of the singles they issued in 1967 and 1968; a couple other tracks, "Lovers" and "Kinda Wasted Without You"; some demos and alternate/mono/45 mixes; recordings by the Roger Nichols Trio and Smokey Roberds in which some members were involved; and even a 1965 acetate by Connie Austin of a soul-pop song written by Paraders Murray MacLeod and Smokey Roberds. The crucial half of the disc are the dozen tracks from those 1967-68 singles, starting with the 1967 Top Twenty hit "Sunshine Girl," which is now regarded as one of the core anthems of the sunshine pop genre. While nothing else has the obvious hit singalong appeal of "Sunshine Girl," the other 45 tracks are well-crafted, cleanly produced exponents of late-'60s Southern Californian harmony pop-rock that are generally a bit more mature, and not as ornate or cheerily bouncy, as much other sunshine pop of the era. There's still some of that whitebread stuff, to be sure, like the vaudeville-edged "Frog Prince." But there are also cuts with echoes of moody flamenco ("She Sleeps Alone" and "The Old Melody") and dreamy baroque psychedelia ("Lullaby"), as well as ones that resemble the Monkees in a particularly upbeat frame of mind ("She's Got the Magic" and "I Can See Love"). "A.C./D.C.," meanwhile, is one of the most accurate mid-to-late-'60s Donovan soundalikes ever cut, to the point where it's hard to tell if it's an imitation or a parody. "Hallelujah Rocket" has some of the scatting pizzazz and wit you might associate with a Nilsson track; "everyone can have their own guided missile if no one blows the whistle" is surely one of the phrases most apt to be trotted out as proof that not all sunshine pop lyrics were piffle. While the non-45 tracks are as expected not quite up to the level of the rest of the material, they're good complements to the main body of the CD that will please anyone interested in hearing what the Parade were up to beyond "Sunshine Girl." All such listeners will also be interested in the very thorough liner notes, which do a lot to clarify the slightly confusing Parade story, with interview quotes from everyone in the group.

Various Artists, The Complete Goldwax Singles Vol. 2 (Ace). The second of Ace's three volumes documenting the Goldwax's label complete run of singles enters what most connoisseurs would consider to be its prime period, with all of the tracks having first been issued in 1966 and 1967. In particular, this era found Goldwax's most prominent artist, James Carr, releasing some of his most heralded songs, including "Pouring Water on a Drowning Man" and The Dark End of the Street." It's no surprise that Carr is the most heavily represented member of Goldwax's roster on this two-CD compilation, as he's responsible for ten of its 54 tracks. It's also no surprise that the kind of deep southern soul Carr sang is the most heavily represented style on this anthology, especially in the sides by Spencer Wiggins and the almost annoyingly Sam Cooke-like Ovations. But since Goldwax is so identified with the deep soul style, the big surprises for collectors are the numerous cuts that found the label venturing outside of the R&B field. Kathy Davis, Leroy Daniel, Carmol Taylor, and the Terry's all do relatively straight country-pop with a honky-tonk angle, though they're more competent than memorable. Jeannie Newman's 1966 single is country-meets-girl group pop that recalls, as the liner notes rightly point out, some of Sandy Posey's work. Yet more unexpectedly, the Yo Yo's play something of a mixture of garage rock and blue-eyed soul, though only "Leaning on You" makes much of a mark. Even the 1967 single by Timmy Thomas (later of "Why Can't We Live Together" fame) is kind of left field, offering organ-dominated soul instrumentals.

While Ace's completism is as ever admirable, the stew of deep soul and other genres makes one question who's going to find this a wholly satisfying listen. Deep soul fans can find entire CDs devoted to the output of Carr, Wiggins, and the Ovations, and aren't likely to be unduly impressed by the non-R&B oddities. While some of the soul rarities by Goldwax's lesser-known artists (like Barbara Perry) are okay, they're not stunning, especially when a past-his-peak Ivory Joe Hunter runs the Drifters and Arthur Alexander through a blender for the highly derivative "Don't You Believe Him." And while this opinion won't sit well with Goldwax advocates, even much of its better stuff was rather derivative of, or at least doesn't compare favorably to similar stuff from, the more famous soul coming out of Stax in Memphis at the same time. But a meticulously sequenced series such as this isn't really aimed at the most discriminating listeners. It's for those who want it all in a good package, and there probably couldn't be a better such package of the Goldwax catalog for those who want it, complete with Ace's usual thorough liner notes.

Various Artists, The Electric Asylum Vol. 3: Rare British Acid Freakrock (Past & Present). The title of this 20-track compilation might mislead some listeners to expect too much in the way of psychedelic music. Certainly there's some lingering influence from mod rock and psychedelia on this collection of early-1970s cuts. But really, it's more pop than anything else, and arguably glam rock is more of a factor than mod psychedelia, even of the slightly retro sort. It's not a genre easy to pigeonhole or, one would think, to market. That hasn't stopped Past & Present from dedicating a whole series to it, however, and this anthology is actually fairly entertaining and amusing on the whole, if lacking in killer songs and somewhat on the lightweight side overall. Certainly it's not stuff you're likely to have encountered before; one look at the track listings will be enough to zap any "seen that, heard that" collector smugness you might have out of your system, with only Roger Ruskin Spear (formerly of the Bonzo Dog Band) and the novelty group the Barron Knights likely to be familiar names even to Anglophiles. Occasionally the material is obviously derivative, if never quite annoyingly so. Part of M.A.S.K.'s "Gotta Get Away" can't fail to recall the Beatles' "Dear Prudence," for instance, while Shakane's "Rhona" sounds a little like a hybrid of "Honky Tonk Women"-era Rolling Stones and Creedence Clearwater Revival, and T. Rex are echoed on a number of tracks. But there are some quite cool more offbeat things here, like Spode's "Cincinnati Woman," which is an uncanny eerie early-'70s update of Joe Meek's productions; 1984's weird and wobbly cover of the Syndicate of Sound's mid-'60s garage rock hit "Little Girl"; and Roger Ruskin Spear's predictably absurd, monstrous heavy rock satire "Drop Out." There are also some connections to much more familiar names in some of these tracks, like Wheels' respectable modish groover "She Don't Mean It," featuring Crispian St. Peters.

Various Artists, Land of 1000 Dances: All Twistin' Edition (Ace). The twist, of course, was the most popular topic for rock'n'roll dance songs when dance craze tunes briefly became a dominant trend in popular music in the early 1960s. So it's not too hard to compile an entire CD of twist songs from the era, though you might think it another matter to make such a thing too listenable. But Ace Records, as usual, comes through with a well-selected and smartly-annotated volume of 24 such tracks with Land of 1000 Dances: All Twistin' Edition, though the limited subject matter does make this a little bit of a novelty compilation even if you're a big oldies collector. Some of the core classics of the mini-genre are here, starting with Hank Ballard & the Midnighters' original version of "The Twist," though nothing by the guy who stole his thunder, Chubby Checker, is here due to licensing difficulties. (Such hurdles unfortunately also prevented the inclusion of any material from Sam Cooke, who did one of the greatest twist hits, "Twisting the Night Away"). But as compensation, a couple other big smashes are here, namely Joey Dee & the Starliters' "Peppermint Twist (Pt. 1)," the Marvelettes' "Twistin' Postman," and Danny & the Juniors' less mammoth (yet still entertaining) "Twistin' USA," along with Petula Clark's British Top Twenty hit "Ya Ya Twist" (sung in French!). The emphasis, however, is more on rarities you probably haven't heard before, like the Top Notes' original version of the Isley Brothers/Beatles classic "Twist and Shout"; "Double Twist" by Howie Casey & the Seniors, a Liverpool band that actually released their first records before the Beatles put out "Love Me Do"; Les Chats Sauvages' "Twist à St. Tropez," from France; a horror-twist novelty in Tyrone A'Saurus & the Cro-Magnons' "The Monster Twist"; and Murray "The K"'s entertainingly awful "The Lone Twister," done under the pseudonym of the Lone Twister. There are also early rock'n'rollers trying to cash in on the craze (Bill Haley & the Comets' "Spanish Twist") and even non-rock'n'rollers trying the trend on for size (Louis Prima's "Twist All Night"). Admittedly, a lot of these non-hits are somewhat in the fun-for-a-listen-or-two category instead of being first-class tracks in their own right, the major exception being the Isley Brothers' terrific "Twistin' with Linda."

Various Artists, The Laurie Records Story Vol. 3: Girls & Girl Groups (Ace). Girl group records were just a part of what the Laurie label issued. But even excepting its big hits by the Chiffons, there were more than enough of them to fill up this 24-track CD (which does include a few Chiffons tracks, just not their big chart entries). Unlike, say, the Red Bird or Philles labels, Laurie girl group discs didn't have a particularly distinctive house sound, which is part of what makes this collection's appeal limited to genre specialists. As such anthologies go, however, it's a little above the average, with songs and performances that are largely respectable, if only seldom exciting. Certainly the pick that stands head and shoulders above everything else on this particular batch is Beverly Warren's version of the Carole King-Gerry Goffin song "Let Me Get Close to You." It wasn't a big hit, but is as indelibly melodic as most of their other famous classics, though to be technical this isn't the original version, the song having been previously released by Skeeter Davis. Another track which is an original version of a famous song is the Summits' 1963 single "Hanky Panky," covered with great success (and with far more exciting flair, it must be said) by Tommy James & the Shondells. Beyond that it's not such eventful sailing, but some decent numbers are present in the Charmers' "Shy Guy," which could come close to passing for an early-1960s Motown single by Mary Wells or the Marvelettes; the Cheese Cakes' (yes, that was their real name) "Heading for a Heartbreak," which has a touch of British Invasion influence; Bernadette Carroll's "He's Just a Playboy"; and Marie Antoinette's "He's My Dream Boy," a pretty blatant imitation of Phil Spector's Crystals/Darlene Love productions, if executed with rather less finesse. The most notable oddity is Reparata's death disc "Your Life Is Gone" (done solo sans her usual backup group the Del-Rons), which despite its 1972 date would come close to approximating a Spectoresque girl group production if not for an intrusive electric sitar.

Various Artists, Lost Highways: American Road Songs 1920s-1950s (Viper). Odes to the road are a beloved strain of American popular music, and Viper presents twenty such pieces of rural blues, hillbilly, rockabilly, early R&B gospel, and jazz on this outstanding compilation. There are quite a number of great performers, including Woody Guthrie, Buddy Holly, Robert Johnson, Johnny Cash, Howlin' Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, Nat "King" Cole, Hank Williams, Jimmy Reed, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and (as part of the gospel group the Soul Stirrers) Sam Cooke. There are even some familiar classics on board, like Cole's "Route 66," Johnson's "Cross Road Blues," the original version of "Down the Road Apiece" (by Amos Milburn, though that song might be more familiar as covered by Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones), and Guthrie's "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad." But the accent is more on tracks not likely to be staples of the average collection, with off-the-beaten-path selections by some of the stars, and a good share of artists who aren't legends, like Gatemouth Moore, Clarence Garlow, and McKinney's Cotton Pickers. Everything's good at the least, some of it's great, and it's cool to hear some quality relatively obscure cuts by major performers, like Holly's primitive early rockabilly number "Down the Line" (done as half the duo Buddy and Bob), Howlin' Wolf's "Driving This Highway," and Williams' "I've Been Down That Road Before" (from a radio broadcast). It's the kind of anthology that makes you want to get out on the highway yourself with this CD as the soundtrack, though it's more socially responsible to just enjoy it at home than waste fuel so frivolously.

Various Artists, Take Me to the Water: Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography 1890-1950 (Dust-to-Digital). As is par for the course for the Dust-to-Digital label, the exquisite packaging of Take Me to the Water: Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography 1890-1950 ensures that it will reach a wider and hipper audience than most releases of such frankly esoteric American roots music. There's a full 76-minute CD of music here, but it's just part of the deal, encased as it is in a handsome 96-page hardback book containing 75 sepia reproductions of photos of baptisms in the US between 1890 and 1950, along with essays on the pictures and detailed annotation on the tracks. It's the CD we're primarily concerned with in this review, and that is interesting enough in its own right, containing twenty-five songs and sermons from 1924-1940. While there's a good amount of sermonizing to be heard, it's not a primarily spoken-word disc, the sermons often sharing space with musical performances, and quite a few of the tracks presenting only music. The common thread is that all of the cuts relate to baptism in some form, sometimes quite head-on, though sometimes the relationship between the words and immersion baptism is more indirect. As you'd expect, gospel and spiritual music is prominent in many of the selections, whether the performers are white or African-American. But while much of this is fairly raw even for recordings of this vintage (complete with a good amount of unavoidable surface noise on many of the tracks), it's not totally unapproachable for the less specialized listeners. There are actually a few big names from early country music here, like J.E. Mainer's Mountaineers (whose "Goin' Down to the River of Jordan" is a highlight), Ernest Stoneman, and the Carter Family, and a few versions of one song in particular ("Wade in the Water") that will be pretty familiar to many pop and folk fans. The arrangements are fairly varied too, whether they're in the Appalachian folk, rural blues, Western swing (on Bill Boyd and His Cowboy Ramblers' "Sister Lucy Lee"), or choral a cappella veins. That said, this is pretty pious stuff even by the standards of devout vintage Americana, and those without a taste for faith-based roots music may find this of more academic value than something to hear for entertainment or artistic inspiration.

Various Artists, Theme Time Radio Hour: Season 2 (Ace). Ace's two-CD collection of records played on the second season of Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour series has 50 tracks that – like the series itself – cover an astonishingly wide range of high-quality music. True, although the chronology spans 1927 to 2004, it's definitely dominated by pre-1970 releases. It's also true that though it touches upon a lot of styles, there's definitely a pronounced leaning toward the more down-to-earth and rootsy sectors of American twentieth-century popular music. But while this particular goulash might not be to every radio listener's taste (let alone every CD collector's), it does offer quite an eclectic assortment of high-quality and, for the most part, not very well known cuts. Indeed the expanse surveyed is so wide it kind of defies summarization in a mere one-or-two-paragraph review. After all, how many other compilations out there include material by James Brown, Sun Ra, Captain Beefheart, Los Lobos, Nilsson, Loretta Lynn, Dionne Warwick, Porter Wagoner, Swamp Dogg, Lucinda Williams, Billie Holiday, Mose Allison, Miriam Makeba, Edith Piaf, and Desmond Dekker? Or genres encompassing mambo, free jazz, rockabilly, old-time folk, soul, Cajun, and numerous others?

Although a few hits and classics sneak in (Warwick's "Do You Know the Way to San Jose," Wanda Jackson's rockabilly stormer "Let's Have a Party," Billie Holiday's "Gloomy Sunday," Mose Allison's "Young Man's Blues"), usually these cuts are items that even collectors with big libraries are likely not to yet own. Picking out highlights is a bit hopelessly daunting with such a diverse set. But certainly the hot jazz of Baron Lee & the Mills Blue Rhythm Band's "Reefer Man," Miriam Makeba's buoyant pre-exile bopper "Make Us One," and Chris Powell & His Five Blue Flames' infectious calypso-jazz-R&B hybrid "I Come from Jamaica" (on which Clifford Brown made his recording debut) are, as just a few examples, top-rank items you're very unlikely to have heard unless you tuned in to one of Dylan's radio broadcasts during this series. They're also indicative of a tendency – and hardly an objectionable one – of Dylan to play pretty upbeat and witty stuff that is, on the whole, considerably more consistently effervescent than what he offers on his own recordings. You also have to wonder if he actually heard and/or selected all of the esoteric items here prior to the broadcasts – had he ever, for instance, really listened to something like the moody mod of French singer Jacqueline Taieb's 1968 single "7 Heures Du Matin" before it was part of his radio series?

Serious Dylan fanatics might be disappointed that these discs don't include his oft-witty spoken introductions. And while this is as wide-ranging and excitingly unpredictable as radio should be (and rarely is), its range is so wide that even some listeners with extremely Catholic tastes might not find it too conducive for repeated listening. Those qualifications aside, however, this collection does undoubtedly contain a wealth of fine music, albeit often of the sort you wouldn't suspect Dylan to have in his private collection. Ace's customarily fine liner notes also add to the anthology's excellent balance between highly entertaining music and highly educational introductions to records of which you often won't have previously been aware.


Archived Reviews


Archived Reviews

Blossom Toes, Love Bomb: Live 1967-69 (Sunbeam). Blossom Toes were one of the best late-'60s British bands not to make a big commercial impact, so the release, if belated, of two entire CDs of previously unissued live material is bound to perk up the interest of UK psychedelia collectors. Yet though it does help fill out the picture of a band whose official catalog was limited to a couple of albums and a few non-LP sides, it must be noted that this really isn't Blossom Toes at their best, for reasons that aren't entirely the group's fault. First, with the exception of a couple songs from an October 1967 UK radio broadcast, the sound quality isn't too good. More subtly, the actual songs are often pretty unlike the tracks on the group's admirable pair of albums – in fact, they're sometimes drastically different to Blossom Toes' studio output, and not always in a good way.

Disc one is entirely devoted to a live Swedish club performance on August 26, 1967, and fans of their fine 1967 LP of wistful pop-psychedelia We Are Ever So Clean might be astonished that just one of the eight songs ("The Remarkable Saga of the Frozen Dog") is taken from that record. Otherwise, the set shows a much looser, less song-oriented, improvisational blues-psychedelic sound than came through on their early studio output, including a cover of Captain Beefheart's "Electricity" and a pretty dire rendition of "Smokestack Lightning." It does also feature a stomping charge through a good tune from their second album, "Listen to the Silence"; a cover of folk-rock singer-songwriter Shawn Philips' "Woman Mind" that's somewhat more in line with the sound of their first LP than most of the set; and an original by guitarist-singer Jim Cregan, "First Love Song," that doesn't appear on their studio recordings, but is a fairly unfocused jam-type thing. As good as We Ever So Clean is, if not for the presence of "The Remarkable Saga of the Frozen Dog," you might never suspect it's the same band, and they're certainly not making music as distinctive as they did that same year on that LP.

The second disc starts with two decent-fidelity cuts from October 1967 radio broadcast, "What on Earth" and "The Remarkable Saga of the Frozen Dog," both of which are pretty faithful to the arrangements heard on We Are Ever So Clean. It's back to fuzzier-sounding concert recordings, however, for the final five songs, which come from Belgian festival performances in August and October of 1969. These include well-done live renditions of two of the highlights of their harder-rocking second LP (If Only for a Moment), "Indian Summer" and "Peace Loving Man"; a surprise in a swinging jazzy cover of Shawn Philips' "Stargazer," which has oddly superior sound quality to the other Belgian recordings; and, anticlimactically, a too-long drawn-out version of Ben E. King's "Grooving" on which Frank Zappa guests. While one appreciates that Blossom Toes considered themselves a harder-rocking, wilder group than was evident on the We Are Ever So Clean album, the fact is that the material that gave them a chance to stretch out onstage just isn't as impressive as what they devised in the studio. Combined with the largely substandard (if basically listenable) sound quality of most of this set, it has to be considered unrepresentative of Blossom Toes at their best, if of interest to serious fans of the group.

Sugar Pie DeSanto, Go Go Power: The Complete Chess Singles 1961-1966 (Kent). Although Sugar Pie DeSanto has had a long career, most would agree that her peak as a recording artist was with Chess Records in the 1960s. All of the tracks issued on her Chess singles are on this CD, including a 1966 UK 45 ("There's Gonna Be Trouble") not issued in the US, as well as a bonus previously unreleased bonus cut, the quite fine and tough "Witch for a Night." Nine of these cuts that appeared on 1960s singles, in fact, never appeared on an album anywhere prior to this CD. While not many of these sides made much chart noise, over these years DeSanto proved herself one of the finer, and certainly one of the grittiest, woman singers straddling the lines between bluesy R&B and contemporary soul. She's most known for the raunchier, sassier, bluesiest side of her repertoire, and there are as expected plenty such examples on this CD, including her moderate hit duet with Etta James ("In the Basement") and her witty answer record to Tommy Tucker's "Hi Heel Sneakers" ("Slip-in Mules (No High Heel Sneakers)"). Those who know DeSanto mostly as a soul-blues artist, though, might be surprised – and usually pleasantly so – to hear her do some quality material here that's more in the mainstream early-to-mid-1960s soul style. Some songs even approach the fringe of the girl group and Motown sound, and occasionally she even adeptly handles ballads, like "Ask Me" (more famous in its hit version by Maxine Brown) or the more memorable 1965 recording "Never Love a Stranger." Not every song here is too distinctive, but the batting average is pretty high. Considering how heavily the Chess catalog has been mined in the CD era, it's odd that it took so long for such a comprehensive DeSantos collection to appear, but Ace has done its typical fine job with the packaging, including detailed historical liner notes.

Fotheringay, 2 (Fledg'ling). In late 1970, Fotheringay began work on a second album. But after they'd laid down basic tracks and guide vocals and were still very much in the middle of the process, Sandy Denny left the band to pursue a solo career, leaving this second record unreleased (though versions of two songs from the sessions, "Two Weeks Last Summer" and "John the Gun," appeared on some Fotheringay/Denny reissues). In the twenty-first century, guitarist Jerry Donahue, with the help of the two other surviving members (bassist Pat Donaldson and drummer Gerry Conway), worked (according to this CD's liner notes) "on underpinning the original tracks, carefully identifying and assembling the best parts of the 1970 recordings from master tapes which had been dispersed to a variety of locations over the years." This doesn't quite spell out whether some modern overdubbing was undertaken, but however it was accomplished, it's an attempt to reconstruct what might have been Fotheringay's second LP. It's a qualified success in that it does represent a conscientious attempt to finish an unfinished record, even though it can never be finished considering that these cuts have guide vocals (albeit ones that sound pretty good). Even given that limitation, however, it has to be said that this was never going to be a great record even had the time been taken to properly complete it. It's solid early-'70s British folk-rock, but the material's uneven, varying from the excellent (Denny's "John the Gun" and "Late November," as well as their Denny-sung interpretation of the traditional tune "Gypsy Davey") to the rather humdrum (a Trevor Lucas-sung cover of Bob Dylan's "I Don't Believe You" being a low point). And though forgiving fans might be reluctant to point out the elephant in the room, it's plain that Denny's singing and songwriting make the tracks on which those feature leagues above the relatively unexceptional ones written and/or sung by Lucas. Get this by all means to enjoy those pieces featuring Denny's stellar singing, guide vocals or not, with sympathetic accompaniment (if not quite support on the level of Fairport Convention). Don't, however, expect a lost masterpiece.

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Live at the BBC (Universal). Two discs of 1972-1977 BBC performances by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band with excellent sound are collected on this set, though it's not quite as lengthy as you might assume, adding up to about an hour and a half in all (with only about half an hour on the second disc). There aren't great surprises in store for those familiar with Harvey's BBC work during this, his commercial peak. As was also true of his records, his reputation as a truly sensational live visual performer isn't quite mirrored by this audio-only document. Too, the only song that doesn't appear on his studio releases of his time is a 1972 cover of "Dance to the Music," which might be energetic but certainly wouldn't give Sly & the Family Stone cause to worry. Disc one is entirely devoted to two performances at BBC's Paris Theatre, one in November 1972 and the other in October 1973, where they run through the bulk of the material from the SAHB's first couple albums. Some of his most celebrated songs, like "Framed" and "The Faith Healer," are naturally included, as well as his oddball cover of the early rock'n'roll hit "Giddy Up a Ding Dong," though Harvey's manic-tinged vocals are more impressive than the period hard rock backing. Side two actually features 1973-1975 performances from the BBC television shows The Old Grey Whistle Test and Top of the Pops rather than radio spots, and the two songs from a December 1973 OGWT appearance—an anguished cover of Jacques Brel's infamous "Next" and a second version of "The Faith Healer" that utterly outclasses the one on the first disc from just two months earlier—are the highlights of the collection, though this "The Faith Healer" is actually a live Harvey vocal fronting a pre-recorded backing track. His 1975 UK Top Ten hit "Delilah" (from a 1975 OGWT broadcast) is another highlight, but take note that the final and least essential two tracks, from a 1977 appearance on the same program, are the SAHB without Harvey.

Brenda Lee, Queen of Rock'n'Roll (Ace). As good and successful as she was, Brenda Lee has often been underrated by rock historians. In part that's because plenty of people don't realize just how much straightahead rock she recorded in her early years, especially as her biggest hits tended to be more pop-country-flavored ballads. The 28-track anthology Queen of Rock'n'Roll is a handy primer to set the record straight, focusing on her most rock-oriented sides from 1956-1964. This isn't, it should be admitted, a Brenda Lee best-of; you really need some of those pop and ballad hits, many of which were quite fine, to get a fully rounded portrait of the singer at her best. But this is still very good, even if it's light on familiar hits ("Dum Dum," "Sweet Nothin's," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," "That's All You Gotta Do," and "Is It True" are the only ones here) and there isn't much truly searing rockabilly. Cuts from her early career in the mid-to-late-1950s like "Bigelow 6-200," "Dynamite," and "Rock the Bop" do rock pretty hard, though, and if some of the mid-tempo numbers are more sedate, her vocals could still border on the raunchy, as "That's All You Gotta Do" proved. There's not much here post-dating 1961, but one of those tracks, "Is It True" – produced in Britain by Mickie Most, with Jimmy Page on guitar – is one of her very greatest. Of special interest is its UK-only B-side, a good cover of "What'd I Say" that makes its first appearance on CD with this reissue.

Mighty Baby, Live in the Attic (Sunbeam). Mighty Baby's music wasn't extremely similar to the Grateful Dead's, but there are similarities in how their music is presented and received, albeit on a much, much smaller scale than the Dead's. Much of Mighty Baby's material was based around loose, semi-improvisational grooves combining numerous styles; their cult of fans, though far less numerous than the Dead's, exhibit similar ardor for their heroes; and that passion simply doesn't translate to many outside of the cult, who are a bit puzzled as to what the fuss is all about. All of the above applies to this extensive (63-minute) CD of previously unreleased material, recorded in 1970 between their two official LP releases. The first three tracks, in decent fidelity, are taken from a live gig in support of Love in March 1970, highlighted by the nearly 15-minute instrumental "Now You See It," which fuses their love for John Coltrane's Indian-influenced jazz with more rock-oriented instrumentation and rhythm. In contrast, the two other songs from that concert, "Stone Unhenged" (another instrumental) and "Sweet Mandarin" (which, like all of the songs on this disc, were not included on their pair of official LPs), are run-of-the-mill country-blues-rock – the kind of thing you could imagine an obscure local support band to the Grateful Dead playing in 1970, for instance. The remainder of the CD was cut in the studio soon after the March 1970 concert, and is devoted mostly to the four-part, 40-minute improvised instrumental "Now You Don't." This again draws from both the exotic jazz of Coltrane's final years and the more straightforward power of psychedelic rock, and fairly impressively, rather in the way – as much as some Mighty Baby fans might find the comparison odd or inappropriate – Soft Machine did on their early-1970s jazz-rock recordings. Closing the set is another cut from those studio sessions, the brief and seemingly incomplete "Winter Passes," which heads off in another direction, its mellow early-'70s-styled rock with Crosby, Stills & Nash-ish harmonies gliding into an extended instrumental laidback jazzy passage. The extended instrumental pieces far outdistance this CD's vocal numbers  in quality, and partly for that reason, on the whole the disc is erratic enough that it can't be considered on a par with the albums Mighty Baby officially released at the time. But as none of the songs appear on these albums, and those instrumental numbers in particular show sides of the band not fully displayed on those LPs, this should be considered as a vital missing piece to the Mighty Baby discography by fans of the band, if not quite something that could be considered an actual fully developed unreleased album.

Julian Jay Savarin, Waiters on the Dance (Esoteric). British keyboardist and songwriter Julian Jay Savarin was the guiding force behind Julian's Treatment, who put out one of the better obscure early progressive rock albums, the science fiction concept-driven A Time Before This. Even prog rock fans who are familiar with that album, however, are likely unaware that Savarin put out a fairly similar subsequent record as a solo artist, Waiters on the Dance. This too is motored by Savarin's fine powerful, haunting organ, as well as strident yet appealing female vocals. The woman singer (Cathy Pruden) from A Time Before This being unavailable this time around, those vocals are handled here by Jo Meek (no relation to the famous '60s British rock producer Joe Meek!), who'd formerly been in the band Catapilla. And also like A Time Before This, Waiters on the Dance seems to be a science fiction concept album of sorts, albeit one whose precise storyline isn't obvious, other than conveying a general mood of a dramatic epic. While some of the songs are on the long side (the two-part "Child of the Night" and "Dance of the Golden Flamingoes" both last nearly nine minutes), the whole album wraps up in a little more than half an hour. Waiters on the Dance isn't as good as A Time Before This, in part because it's rather more stern and bombastic. It's still on the less musically (if not lyrically) pretentious side of early-1970s British progressive rock, however, and recommended to those who like A Time Before This, or indeed art rock in general that features fairly melodic, tightly played songs with well-produced combinations of gothic organ, female vocals, tense guitar, and occasional orchestration.

The Yardbirds, The Story of the Yardbirds [DVD] (ABC Entertainment). Originally done in the early 1990s and not issued on DVD until about 15 years later, this is a fine 52-minute documentary on one of the greatest rock groups of the 1960s. Surprisingly given how many such projects fail to touch the essential bases, every single one of the Yardbirds – including the legendary guitar hero triumvirate of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page – was interviewed, with the exception of singer Keith Relf, who died in 1976. So too were managers Giorgio Gomelsky and Peter Grant, as well as producer Mickie Most. The interviewees' warm and witty comments pace the story well, and just as crucially, they're interspersed with plenty of exciting clips of all the lineups, even digging up one from the Clapton era. Those clips include most of their best and most famous songs, among them "For Your Love," "Heart Full of Soul," "I'm a Man," "Shapes of Things," "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago," "The Train Kept A-Rollin'," and even bits of "Still I'm Sad" and (in the final days with the Jimmy Page lineup) "Dazed and Confused." Beck is especially hilarious when panning Blow-Up director Michelangelo Antonioni, calling him a "pompous oaf." Yardbirds fans may well wish the documentary was longer – or at least that there might one day be a compilation of vintage Yardbirds performance film clips in their entirety – but within the time allotted, this covers their story well and very enjoyably. As a notable bonus, the DVD adds their 15-minute performance on a 1967 episode of the German television show Beat Beat Beat, showing the four-man Page lineup running through "Over Under Sideways Down," "Shapes of Things," "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago," and "I'm a Man." It's odd that much of the annotation in the booklet is devoted to a lengthy description of their 2003 album Birdland (on which Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty were the only remaining members from the '60s lineups), however.

Various Artists, Acid Dreams (Past & Present). It's hard to remember that way back in 1979, long before a zillion 1960s garage rock compilations had saturated the market, there were very few such various-artists albums on which to hear such rarities aside from Nuggets and the Pebbles series (which itself was just getting started). Acid Dreams was one of the first such comps, originally issued, according to the back cover blurb on this 2009 CD reissue, by a Berlin record shop owner who "pressed only 77 copies...aside from shipping to some friends or label owners, it was available only in his store." As you can guess from the title, it's a fairly psychedelic-oriented collection as far as '60s garage rock anthologies go, though it makes room for some more straightforward garage as well. Why someone would want to pick this up on CD thirty years later is a thorny question. Many of the eighteen tracks have since become available (sometimes several times over) on other comps and single-artist reissues, and the kind of garage fanatics likely to be interested in these cuts in the first place are likely to have many of them somewhere or other in their collection. On its own terms, however, it's a considerably above-average garage comp, in part because of its psychedelic orientation, but also since the quality of the selection is pretty good too. A few of these songs (the Mystic Tide's "Frustration," Faine Jade's "It Ain't True," Zakary Thaks' "Can You Hear Your Daddy's Footsteps") are out-and-out classics of the genre; some (especially the Unrelated Segments' "Where You Gonna Go" and the Balloon Farm's "Question of Temperature," the latter of which was an actual Top Forty hit) are classics of the more straightahead garage idiom; and some others (Teddy & His Patches' "Suzy Creamcheese," the Outcasts' "1523 Blair") are near-classics. And unlike the aforementioned tunes, a few of the better and trippier garage-psychedelic tracks, like the Velvet Illusions' anti-drug "Acid Head" and the Beautiful Daze's "City Jungle" (which has some of the gnarliest distorted garage-psych guitar ever), really haven't shown up on reissues that often. It's true the sound quality on some of these tracks doesn't match what you hear when they're placed on some other reissues, and that songs like the Music Machine's "You'll Love Me Again" and Zakary Thaks' "Can You Hear Your Daddy's Footsteps" are easily available on CDs entirely dedicated to those artists. In its favor, though, this reissue does have some basic track-by-track annotation. And now that so many inferior '60s garage compilations have flooded the market, a listen to Acid Dreams does remind us veteran collectors of how unusual and exciting this stuff sounded before the style had been mined to death on other reissues, and when the few compilations available really did tend to zero in on authentically killer tracks instead of lumping a whole bunch of generic items together.

Various Artists, Acid Dreams Testament (Past & Present). For the most part this is a first-rate collection of 28 mid-to-late-'60s garage rock/psychedelic nuggets. Only one (the Balloon Farm's "A Question of Temperature") was an actual hit, but much of the rest of the disc is only just below the level of the classic status that might have nudged the material onto the Nuggets box set. The Painted Ship's unusual moody, spellbinding "Frustration" is an all-time classic of the genre, and a good number of these tracks are almost as good: Zakary Thaks' "Can't You Hear Your Daddy's Footsteps?," Teddy & His Patches' psychedelic novelty "Suzy Creamcheese," Mouse & the Traps' pounding "Maid of Sugar," the Calico Wall's queasy "I'm a Living Sickness," Velvet Illusions' "Acid Head," the Music Machine's "You'll Love Me Again," and the Outcasts' smoking "1523 Blair," for starters. Some of the songs are just okay, but little is dull. So why the "for the most part" qualification at the head of this review? Well, quite a bit of this – including all the aforementioned goodies – circulated for quite a while on commonly available reissues for many years prior to this release. There's little here of note that has been hard to find, the one notable exception being Macabre's "Be Forewarned," an unexpectedly great and demonic slice of terror that's probably eluded other garage/psych comps owing to its 1972 release date, though stylistically it sounds like something that could have been cooked up four years or so earlier. Of weirder and greater note, no less than thirteen of the tracks also appear on the 18eighteen song garage/psych comp titled Acid Dreams – which, weirder yet, was released by the same label, in the same year, as Acid Dreams Testament. So to enjoy the CD without qualms, you really have to be a neophyte collector who's not too worried about overlapping cuts should you want to acquire a good deal of stuff in this style. If none of these curmudgeonly old-school/been there done that pokes bother you, though, it's a good place to pick up some quality extra-Nuggets material, with decent liner notes and discographical information.

Various Artists, An Outbreak of Twangin': Phantom Guitars Vol. 2: 26 Cool Early 60s Guitar Instrumentals (Psychic Circle). Just in case the mighty long title confuses you, this is indeed a sequel to the 2008 compilation Phantom Guitars: A Cool Collection of Twangin' Instrumentals from the UK 1961-1964, compiled by heroic '60s rock collector Nick Saloman. And like its predecessor, it has a heap o' early-'60s guitar rock instrumentals, most of them from UK groups, though a few artists from continental Europe and Australia are also on board. If nothing else, it testifies to the immense popularity and influence of the Shadows on the just-pre-Beatles British rock scene – a syndrome that's still remembered well in the UK, though the full measure of the Shadows' impact is still largely unknown in the US. None of these songs were hits, and few were by artists that even collectors will recognize. But if you like the kind of moody, twangy, somewhat surf-and-country-and-western-flavored instrumentals that were the Shadows' stock in trade, these is a pretty terrific listen. Sure, sometimes you'll be shaking the feeling that you're listening to a compilation of recently surfaced unissued Shadows tracks; it's not quite on the same level as hearing an actual Shadows best-of; and there's nothing that screams classic in the way that "Apache" or "Telstar" do. But the quality is pretty high, perhaps in part because this genre has been so much less often mined for rarities than styles like garage rock and British freakbeat have been. And it's not all Shadows wannabes/soundalikes, with the shadow of the Tornados (of aforementioned "Telstar" fame) coming through loud and clear on a few cuts, like "Polaris" by the Boys, the backing band of early British rock star Marty Wilde (who wrote the tune). Numerous other tracks have direct connections to major figures of British rock figures as well, like Alan Caddy (of Johnny Kidd & the Pirates) and producers Joe Meek and Shel Talmy. And Bert Weedon, if not exactly a rock star (though his "Ghost Train," included here, rocks pretty hard), was extremely influential on early British rock guitarists, through both some hit records and his massively popular guitar instructional book Play in a Day. The liner notes give useful thumbnail sketches of these mostly very obscure records and artists, though it would have been nice to have original release dates and labels included too.

Various Artists, Destroy That Boy! More Girls with Guitars (Ace). A sequel to the 2004 Ace CD Girls with Guitars, this likewise focuses on guitar-oriented, girl-sung 1960s rock from the 1960s, though to be technical one 1970 cut sneaks in. These aren't all self-contained female groups who played their own instruments (although a few of them are); in fact, a number of these artists didn't play their own music, and some of them were solo acts, not bands. The common factor, however, is that all of them did play rougher, more guitar-heavy rock than the norm for woman rockers of the era. There's a fairly narrow pool of discs to choose from when you're making an anthology like this (though not as narrow as many people realize), which makes it hard if not impossible to make an "all killer no filler" compilation. That's how it goes with Destroy That Boy! More Girls with Guitars, which is usually fun, and occasionally very good, but often more interesting for historical oddity and energy than for the quality of the songs or performers. Still, there are some genuinely standout tracks here, none more so than Beverley Jones' "Hear You Talking," which is average Merseybeat musically, but has a vocal that's incredibly vicious by 1964 standards, and a chorus ("I'll cut you dead...if I hear you talking about her") that's downright gangsta in this company. Also very good is Sharon Tandy's "Hold On," justly hailed as a first-rate mod rocker long before its appearance on this compilation, and Ann-Margret's unlikely (and mighty strange) psychedelic Lee Hazlewood-written-and-produced 1968 rarity "You Turned My Head Around."  Nothing else on the CD galvanizes like these three items, but it does at least present a wide range, from Merseybeat (including Liverpool's self-contained Liverbirds) and Beatles novelties to She Trinity's "He Fought the Law" (reportedly the inspiration for the Clash's "I Fought the Law" cover, according to the liner notes); a folk-rocker co-written by Erik Darling of the Rooftop Singers (Project X's "Don't You Think It's Fine"); and a rocking Donovan song that Donovan himself never put on his records (Karen Verros' "You Just Gotta Know My Mind"). Also neat is the Girls' previously unreleased "Here I Am in Love Again," with backing by the Beau Brummels, which was written and produced by Sly Stone, even if the vocals are pretty shaky.

Various Artists, Fading Yellow, Vol. 4: Light, Smack, Dab (Flower Machine). "Timeless UK 60's Popsike & Other Delights" is the apt subtitle of this 25-track collection, which spotlights obscurities from the lighter side of slightly psychedelic-influenced British pop-rock of the late 1960s. There are a few artists here who had commercial success, like Wayne Fontana, Dave Berry, future Foreigner member Mick Jones (as part of J&B), and future 10cc members Graham Gouldman and Kevin Godley (as part of the awkwardly named Frabjoy & Runcible Spoon). But basically this is a pretty deep archival dig through material that hasn't often seen the light of day since its original release, in a genre that's never been the most heavily mined of 1960s styles. It's one of the best such digs, too, even though it as a 1000-copy limited edition, it didn't get the exposure of some of CD reissues with a similar concentration. While some of the elements of pop-sike that drive earthier listeners up the wall – fruity orchestration, florid lyrics, twee preciousness – are here to varying degrees, their quotient is considerably lighter than usual on this anthology. It's true you still might want to be in the mood for something on the light side before hearing all of it at once, but the focus is more on decent pop songs with imaginative arrangements and an occasionally (admittedly mild) touch of freakiness than the airy-fairy stuff. Some of the tracks are outstanding, like J&B's unaccountably seldom-anthologized "There She Goes," which is like a cinematic look at the melancholic underbelly of Swinging London; the Candlelight's quite fine makeover of the Merseybeat-era relic "That's What I Want" into staunch baroque pop with stirring vocal harmonies; Piccadilly Line's "At the Third Stroke," which is as much melodic folk-rock as pop-sike; Toyshop's "Send My Love to Lucy," whose singer sounds uncannily like Stephen Stills; and Fontana's "In My World," perhaps his best solo effort sans the Mindbenders. Even some of the less distinguished and more ornate cuts pass listenably by without getting overly sickly sweet.

Various Artists, Fading Yellow, Vol. 8: Hymns for Today (Flower Machine). This limited-edition (to 1000 copies) compilation brings together twenty-one UK pop-psych-folk rarities from 1968-1975. And you'd better believe some of these are really rare, especially when it gets down to something (John Pantry's "Long White Trail") taken from a 1972 soundtrack to a film about a team of sled dogs. A few of these artists have connections to much bigger names, and a few are recognizable names in their own right, like British folk legend Wizz Jones; Fleetwood Mac guitarist Danny Kirwan; Tony Hazzard, who wrote hits for Manfred Mann and the Hollies; and Andy Roberts of Plainsong/the Liverpool Scene. Overall, however, you wonder whether more than a dozen people worldwide have all of the original releases from which these were taken in their private collections. That's part of the utility of an anthology such as this, of course, for those of us who are pretty deeply interested in the genre, but don't have the time or money to chase down all of these obscurities. Though pretty diverse as a whole, what these tracks share is a general simultaneous folky base and willingness to stretch outside usual folk-rock and singer-songwriter conventions of the era into something a bit stranger and freakier, without actually getting too freaky or electric. Certainly there are heavy echoes of some of the much bigger names exploring somewhat similar territory, like Donovan, Bert Jansch, Al Stewart, Nick Drake, or Sandy Denny; traces of major rock songwriters that sometimes approached the edges of whimsical folkiness, like Ray Davies or Roy Wood, can also be detected. If nothing here is as good as the finer work of those esteemed artists, usually these songs possess a quite engaging haunting and tremulous ambience, often embellishing reasonably melodic songs with interesting eccentric sounds, production touches, orchestration, and odd (if sometimes overly precious) lyrical viewpoints. The level of quality is high enough that there aren't many obvious highpoints, but certainly Nadia Cattouse's melancholy "All Around My Grandmother's Floor" will be heartily embraced by anyone who likes Vashti Bunyan or Bridget St. John"; Trevor Billmuss' "Sunday Afternoon in Belgrave Square" will likewise appeal to those who love the most ornate early Donovan/Stewart arrangements; and Vigrass & Osborne's "Ballerina" is first-rate dreamy pop-folk-psych. While some collectors might object to the following observation, frankly compilation CDs such as this make for much better listening than most of the original releases from which they're collated, as these intelligently culled highlights are far more consistently enjoyable and diverse than most single-artist LPs in this field. If you do want to track down more of the same on those original releases, the detailed liner notes give you a good starting point.

Various Artists, The Golden Age of American Popular Music: Hits with Strings and Things: Hot 100 Instrumentals from 1956-1967 (Ace). The point's been made elsewhere, but hit radio of the 1960s wasn't only devoted to rock and soul music, as dominant as those forces were on both record sales and youth culture. You could also hear non-rock hits slip into the playlist on a more or less constant basis. Instrumental Hits and Strings and Things has 28 such hits – some mild, some huge – from the decade (with a couple from the mid-to-late 1950s slipping in) that fit into the easy listening instrumental category. The "easy listening" label, though it's the one used more than any other, is a little deceptive. Some of these tunes are pretty forceful (though some are admittedly lush and meek), and quite a few of them borrow from aspects of rock, jazz, and even sometimes folk/country/world music in their arrangements, though at heart these are usually pretty smooth productions targeted toward an all-ages audience. Some of the biggest, and some of the best (the two are not necessarily the same), such smashes are here: Kai Winding's "More," Paul Mauriat's massive #1 hit "Love Is Blue," Percy Faith's much-derided "The Theme from a Summer Place," Lawrence Welk's "Calcutta," the Village Stompers' folk-Dixieland hybrid "Washington Square," Bent Fabric's jazzy piano outing "Alley Cat," Henry Mancini's "Moon River," Acker Bilk's "Stranger on the Shore," Bill Pursell's "Our Winter Love" (with its mesmerizing low fuzzy blasts), Al Caiola's rendition of the "Bonanza" theme, Sounds Orchestral's interpretation of jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," and the Bob Crewe Generation's archetypal swinging bachelor anthem "Music to Watch Girls By." Also here are a bunch of instrumentals that didn't quite make it to the Top Twenty (and sometimes charted much lower than that), though some of them are of notable fame as well, especially Walter Wanderley's effervescent bossa nova "Summer Samba (So Nice)."

This CD doesn't quite have all the most notable entries in this genre you might expect: notable absentees, for instance, include David Rose's "The Stripper," Ferrante & Teicher's "Exodus," Martin Denny's exotica-defining "Quiet Village," and Bert Kaempfert's "Wonderland By Night." All of those songs, plus a lot of the ones that did make onto Instrumental Hits and Strings and Things, are on the mid-1990s Collectors' Choice compilations Instrumental Gems of the '60s and More Instrumental Gems of the '60s. Those anthologies might have the edge for sheer quantity and range of material. But {^Instrumental Hits and Strings and Things} is itself a good-value 28-song sampling of the category, boosted by Ace's typically detailed historical liner notes. At least some of it is bound to appeal to any 1960s pop fan, even if some of it might fall in the guilty pleasure division.

Various Artists, Honey & Wine: Another Gerry Goffin & Carole King Song Collection (Ace). Like the previous Ace compilation {^A Gerry Goffin & Carole King Song Collection 1961-1967}, this CD has 26 vintage recordings of Goffin-King compositions, this one spanning the early 1960s to the early 1970s. And like its predecessor, it mixes familiar smash hits with rarities and obscure versions of songs that might be more familiar as interpreted by different artists. That guarantees a certain unevenness, but for anyone interested in Goffin-King or the Brill Building in general, it's a very good group of songs overall, illustrating varying facets of the team's songwriting genius. It's true that the big classic hits here – the Drifters' "Up on the Roof," Maxine Brown's "Oh No, Not My Baby," Gene McDaniels' "Point of No Return," the Monkees' "Pleasant Valley Sunday," and Gene Pitney's "Every Breath That I Take" – overshadow most of the rest of the tracks. But some of the rarer cuts are almost as good, foremost among them the Hollies' brooding, grooving "Honey & Wine," one of the group's best mid-'60s non-45 efforts; the Myddle Class' sinister "I Happen to Love You," one of the finest '60s garage-pop singles; the Rising Sons' (with Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder) version of "Take a Giant Step," more famous as done by the Monkees; Peter James' "Stage Door" (perhaps more familiar to collectors in the rendition by ex-Searchers member Tony Jackson), which sounds like it might have been a suitable tune for Gene Pitney to do; Chuck Jackson's minor hit soul ballad "I Need You"; and Marianne Faithfull's "Is This What I Get for Loving You," for which Phil Spector (who produced the original version by the Ronettes) also got a songwriting credit. You also get the original version of "Go Away Little Girl," by Bobby Vee (though it took Steve Lawrence to make it a hit), and Jody Miller's little-known cover of one of Goffin-King's strangest compositions, "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)" (originally done by the Crystals). If much of the rest of the CD has an also-ran feeling, it's seldom less than interesting, including Goffin-King songs by notable artists such as Barbara Lewis, Ben E. King, Jan & Dean, Freddie Scott, Nancy Wilson, and the Turtles.

Various Artists, Memphis 60 (BGP). The concept behind this twenty-track compilation of Memphis soul, blues, and R&B from the 1960s is a little vague around the edges. Basically the idea seems to be to compile some of the best such material that's both raw and rare, taken from the vaults of a bunch of Memphis labels. That includes not just Stax (which is well represented), but also smaller imprints, including the Goldwax} and XL labels, both of which have cults among collectors. The {^Memphis 60} title is pretty awkward too. But the quality of the music counts more than being able to neatly classify and file it, and on that score, this is a pretty good anthology, though not one that's a starter Memphis '60s best-of due to the absence of big hits or star artists. Spencer Wiggins, Barbara & the Browns, Ruby Johnson, the gospel group the Dixie Nightingales, and Isaac Hayes (on the rare 1965 single "Blue Groove" by Sir Isaac & the Do-Dads) all have some name recognition, and the original version of Willie Cobbs} blues standard "You Don't Love Me" is a highlight, but otherwise it's doubtful even big Memphis '60s soul collectors have much of this. The material tends toward the bluesier end of the Memphis R&B/soul scene, and while the grooves and the performances are more impressive than the material, it's a good cross-section of the style at its swampiest and funkiest. There are some near-gems in Prince Conley's brooding "I'm Going Home"; the Dixie Nightingales' spooky "Assassination," about the killing of president John Kennedy; and the Cobras' instrumental "Restless," which is like a very unrefined Booker T. & the MG's. Too, Junior Kimbrough (who became far more famous about twenty-five years later) is represented by his rare, and very gutbucket, 1967 cover of Lowell Fulsom's "Tramp." There's no sense in getting hot and bothered about the fuzziness of the CD's focus when the music is good, and this is recommended to soul fans looking for something different on a well-annotated compilation where rarity and quality aren't mutually exclusive.

Various Artists, The Real Thing: The Songs of Ashford, Simpson & Armstead (Kent). Ashford, Simpson, & Armstead were songwriters Nick Ashford, Valerie Simpson} and Josephine Armstead, who wrote many songs together in the mid-1960s, usually in the soul-pop style. Ashford and Simpson, of course, later became famous as both a songwriting team and hit recording artists in their own right. This various-artists compilation is another entry in the Ace label's excellent long-running series anthologizing recordings of compositions by major 1960s pop-rock songwriters. It features a couple dozen songs that the trio penned at the time, either as a threesome or in combinations of two, occasionally with additional co-authors, all but a couple of them drawn from 1964-67 releases. While this is solid stuff, it's not quite up to the level of brilliance of the best Brill Building songwriters, including most of the others spotlighted in this Ace series of compilations. Nor does it have any big hits, though there are plenty of efforts by stars (including the Shirelles, Betty Everett, the Crystals, Aretha Franklin, B.J. Thomas, Chuck Jackson, Maxine Brown, the Chiffons, Doris Troy, Ronnie Milsap, and the Coasters), mixed in with some lesser known names. Just because it doesn't have classic hits, however, doesn't mean it isn't good and very historically interesting listening for those who like the poppier end of mid-1960s soul. Ashford and Simpson had yet to really perfect their craft, but that's not a big loss as the less polished nature of the tunes might actually appeal more to fans of 1960s rock and pop than their slicker, more popular later material. True, not many of the cuts sound like they should have been big hits, exceptions being the Chiffons' terrific (if heavily Martha & the Vandellas-influenced) "The Real Thing"; the Coasters' 1965 single of "Let's Go Stoned," which soon became a big hit for Ray Charles; and "I Don't Need No Doctor," also a big Charles hit, though here represented by a rather oddball instrumental cover by drummer Sandy Nelson with Dr. John on guitar. But Betty Everett's "Too Hot to Hold," the Shirelles' "Look Away," Mary Love's "Baby I'll Come," Aretha Franklin's "Cry Like a Baby," and Doris Troy's "Please Little Angel" – to name just some of the obvious highlights – are well worth hearing, and little here is subpar, though some of the cuts are rather generic or derivative. The liner notes, as you'd expect from Ace do a great job in filling in the complicated background of both these (largely rare or little-known) recordings and the songwriters' early careers.

Various Artists, That Driving Beat: U.K. Freakbeat Rarities [5 CD set] (Psychic Circle). Devoted to the hybrid of '60s mod, British Invasion, and psychedelia known as "freakbeat," the series {^That Driving Beat} ran to five volumes in the first decade of the twenty-first century. This five-CD box set brings them all together, presenting around 150 rarities from the 1963-1967 era, most of them British (a few items from Continental Europe are also thrown in). Pinpointing to whom this should be recommended is tough, because any passionate collector of freakbeat is already going to have some-to-a-lot (but almost certainly not all) of it. At the same time, it's likely too much for the novice, for whom single-volume comps with a higher percentage of killer cuts make far better initiations. But make no mistake: this certainly is good value if you like the style and don't have the majority of the contents, and not just for the sheer quantity of the material. While (odd tracks like the Poets' "That's the Way It's Got to Be" and Him & the Others' "She's Got Eyes That Tell Lies" aside) there aren't that many absolute undisputed monsters of the genre here, most of it's at least decent, and good percentage of it is quite good. To name just a few songs, the Plebs' "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave you," the Remo 4's "Sing Hallelujah," the Hi-Numbers' "Heart of Stone" (not to be confused with the High Numbers who became the Who), and the Mike Cotton Sound's "I Don't Wanna Know" are all not only really good obscure British Invasion recordings, but not all that easy to find on other reissues.

On the other hand, a good number of selections are okay but nothing more, and there are too many covers of well known songs, though even those do tend to be above average as those things rank. There are also a lot of songs that are frankly more Merseybeat than freakbeat, though really there's nothing wrong with that, unless you take the "freakbeat" label at face value and are expecting nothing but mod-psychedelia. If you approach this as an interesting survey of bands and songs that sort of floated between the major and minor leagues of mid-'60s British rock – rather than a box set of similar size that that's going to be outstanding the whole way through, like Rhino's {^Nuggets} extravaganzas – it's certainly worth the investment. For one thing, though none of these songs were hits, it's astonishing how many records and bands had direct connections to bigger names, whether it's a cover of an altered version of the Who's "The Kids Are Alright" by the Rockin' Vickers (with a young Lemmy); obscurities produced by the Kinks' Dave Davies, Manfred Mann, and the Animals' Alan Price; no-hit groups including future members of Traffic, Manfred Mann, Fleetwood Mac, Deep Purple, and Yes, and ex-members of the Hollies, the Walker Brothers, and the Pretty Things; and little-known productions by Shel Talmy and Joe Meek. (The Meek-produced efforts by Heinz ("I'm Not a Bad Guy") and the Outlaws ("Shake with Me") aren't hard to get elsewhere, but are both really tough British Invasion pop numbers.) And while the packaging is similarly not on the {^Nuggets} scale, the track-by-track annotation by leading British collector/expert Richard Morton Jack has a lot of info on these obscurities.
Various Artists, We Can Fly, Vol. 1-5 [5 CD set] (Psychic Circle). The five-volume {^We Can Fly} series presented rare psychedelic rocks spanning the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, mostly centering on UK psych of the late 1960s, though there's a little spillover from both the British Invasion and early prog-rock eras. It's not all from the UK either, with a good number of entries from Continental Europe, as well as stray items from Australia, New Zealand, the US, and even Lebanon. This mini-sized box set compiles all five volumes, and while some of the 128 tracks have done the rounds on well-circulated compilations outside of this series, there can't be many collectors that would have all of them in one place before buying this anthology.

Though all of these cuts are unquestionably rare and as a whole representative of the scope of psychedelia in its British or British-derived form, they're pretty erratic in artistic quality, no matter what your taste. Some of these are unquestioned rare psych monsters that sound like tracks that should have qualified for the {^Nuggets II} box of non-US '60s freakbeat/psychedelia but somehow missed the cut. Among those near-masterpieces are the Lords' "Don't Mince Matter" (from Germany); Episode Six's brilliant "I Can See Through You," which is both tough and dreamy; Keith Relf's florid solo single "Shapes in My Mind," which hasn't been too easy to find on CD; the Afex's bopping mod rocker "She's Got the Time"; the Bunch's overlooked fanciful but melancholic "Looking Glass Alice"; the Peep Show's hazy "Mazy"; the Mickey Finn's crunchy "Garden of My Mind"; and Peter Cook & Dudley Moore's great psychedelic spoof "The L.S. Bumble Bee," often mistakenly bootlegged as a Beatles outtake, and surprisingly rarely reissued. There are also off-the-beaten-path items by well known or fairly well known acts like Shocking Blue, the Mindbenders, Jackie Lomax, Terry Reid, Eire Apparent, Kim Fowley, Murray Head, Mick Softley, the Smoke, and East of Eden that, though not their best work, haven't been too widely heard.

Much of this box, however, has some fairly generic or even mediocre psychedelia that sounds like it might be championed by the odd collector here and there, but certainly wouldn't be recognized as consensus picks among the cream of the genre. In that sense, it often sounds like an alternate {^Nuggets II} box set, {^Nuggets II} being the major league stars and {^We Can Fly} the players stuck at the higher levels of the minor leagues. Sometimes the connections the artists had to major-league players are more interesting than the recordings themselves. The Bystanders, for instance, evolved into Man; the Cedars (from Lebanon, of course) were produced by Tony Hicks of the Hollies; Italian singer Giorgio is Donna Summer producer Giorgio Moroder; the Glass Menagerie were produced by Chas Chandler; Kippington Lodge had a young Nick Lowe in the lineup; the Iveys became Badfinger; Tangerine Peel was led by Mike Chapman;  Trash were on Apple Records without releasing an LP; Danny McCulloch had been in Eric Burdon & the Animals; etc. All those loose ends and more are tied up in the 84-page booklet, which has plenty of information about the bands and their releases.


Archived Reviews


Archived Reviews

Chuck Berry, Rock & Roll Anthology [DVD] (Pinup Productions). It's most certainly an unauthorized compilation despite the presence of a prominent bar code on the back cover, but Rock & Roll Anthology does collect an astonishing quantity of Chuck Berry footage from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s, lasting just under three hours. Before you get too excited, it has to be emphasized that the image quality and transfer, while decent in most respects, is erratic and, more crucially, always has the slightly jerky motion typical of files downloaded from the Internet. Taking the attitude that seeing this in almost 100% of the quality it should boast is better than not seeing it at all, there is certainly a lot of interesting and occasionally historic footage on the DVD. A bunch of clips catch Berry in his 1950s prime, though most of these are lip-sync jobs from quickie rock'n'roll exploitation movies and TV shows, the only genuinely live bit being his performance of "Sweet Little Sixteen" (with an ill-fitting clarinetist in the band) at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. A bunch of mimed mid-to-late-'60s TV clips follow, in turn followed by some 1973-75 film and TV sequences (including a particularly bizarre medley of "Mr. Bojangles/The Good Ship Lollipop" from Donny & Marie with a Shirley Temple-like girl singer). As if that's not strange enough, Chuck also duets with Tom Jones on "School Days" in another clip from the period. Almost the entire second half of the disc is devoted to undated clips, mostly from the 1970s and mostly from European TV, including a British television interview shortly after the publication of his autobiography in the late 1980s.

There are a lot of good performances here; though obviously artificial, the lip-synced clips from the '50s movies are still electrifying in their display of Berry in his most gymnastic onstage glory. And though his later shows were often criticized for his use of inadequate backup bands, it must be said that on most of the 1970s material, he sings and plays well, never looking less than fully engaged, and usually enjoying sufficient musical backup. You do have to be a big Berry band to see so much of him in one go, as he plays his signature tunes over and over again – there are a half-dozen versions of "Johnny B. Goode" alone. Even so, there are some nice lesser-known classics and odd tunes thrown in, going all the way back to his rendition of "Oh Baby Doll" in the 1957 film Mr. Rock & Roll. Certainly it's fortunate the camera caught him doing the obscure B-side "Wee Wee Hours" on piano on German TV, for instance; also interesting is a rousing "Roll 'Em Pete" on Soul Train, though the '70s versions of "Reelin' & Rockin'" with updated obscenely suggestive lyrics aren't as fun. But while you marvel at such an abundance of visual documentation of a giant
who was both a great musician and a great showman, you're also frustrated at how much better this could be would only a legitimate company take the care to present it with the care it so richly deserves.

David Bowie, Space Oddities [DVD] (Pandora's Video). Unauthorized this hour-and-a-half collection of David Bowie clips may be; that's apparent not just from the low-tech packaging, but also in how much of the material has that slightly jerky downloaded-from-online feel. At the same time, it must be said that as such unauthorized products go, this is about as good as it gets in terms of intelligent clip selection and smooth transitional clip-to-clip editing, assembling various interesting bits and pieces spanning the late 1960s to the early 1980s. Even the slightly imperfect visuals aren't nearly so much a problem here as they are with many such items, as the transfers from the download files or whatever the sources might have been seem to have been done as conscientiously as possible within their inherent limitations. Most of these clips are quite good (and in color), but some particularly noteworthy highlights are a 1970 live performance of "Space Oddity" at an awards ceremony; an alternate take of "Oh You Pretty Things" from an early-'70s The Old Grey Whistle Test program; the bizarre 1973 Midnight Special duet on "I've Got You Babe" with dressed-as-a-nun Marianne Faithfull; and "Alabama Song" from a 1978 broadcast. You'd never call his duet with Bing Crosby on "Little Drummer Boy" a highlight of either man's career, but that stranger-than-fiction performance is here to savor in all its weirdness. Also of note, though David Bowie doesn't play music in these, are the 13-minute dialog-less 1967 film The Image (in which Bowie plays one of the two parts) and a very short late-'60s ice cream commercial in which Bowie can be briefly glimpsed.

Dr. Strangely Strange, Kip of the Serenes [Collectors Edition] (Hux). Dr. Strangely Strange's debut album, Kip of the Serenes, is here reissued in a Collectors' Edition (as it's formally labeled on the back cover) that presents the record in a spruced-up CD edition. Are the extras to this record – which is very much in the mold of the Incredible String Band, albeit in a milder form lacking the extremes of the ISB's innovations, and with Irish origins – substantial? They don't appear so at a glance, since there are just four bonus tracks, though audiophiles will note that it's a new 24-bit remaster at the correct speed. The added songs include an alternate, longer take of "Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal" minus overdubs that's a little folkier in its arrangement, and has a brief sea shanty tacked onto its end; an unremarkably alternate take of "On the West Cork Hack"; and an instrumental backing track for another of the album's songs, "Strings in the Earth and Air." There's also an outtake from their first session in January, the nicely haunting "Mirror Mirror," a later (and somewhat more elaborately produced and spooky) version of which shows up on the rarities collection Halcyon Days. The truly significant improvements, actually, are the historical liner notes, the 32-page booklet including a thorough account of the band's origins and the sessions for the first album; extensive comments on the songs by original members; full lyrics for the songs; and even reproductions of the original tape box and handwritten notes regarding the compositions. Like the Hux label's other packages of Dr. Strangely Strange and Incredible String Band material, they prove the company to be the best caretakers of the archeology of these two similar groups that anyone could hope for, even if this offers less in the way of enticing rarities than Hux's other such projects have.

Donovan, Sunshine Superman: The Journey of Donovan [DVD] (SPV). It's unlikely there will ever be a more comprehensive audiovisual document of Donovan than this two-DVD set. The documentary that occupies disc one of this two-DVD set is alone almost as content-rich as any such commercially available retrospective for a major figure in rock history, skillfully combining interviews done specifically for this project with a wealth of vintage footage and photos. The main interview subject is Donovan himself, who talks onscreen so often that he almost functions as the film's narrator as well as its focus. Fortunately Donovan's a good storyteller who's at ease in such situations, and he covers most of the main bases of his colorful career, from his modest boyhood upbringing and teenage beatnik adventures through international stardom as first a folksinger, then a folk-rock-psychedelic pioneer. As is the case with numerous similar documentaries, perhaps it might have been better to have some more space for other interviewees, although a few other key figures are heard from, including his wife Linda, his famed sidekick Gypsy Dave, and arranger John Cameron. As other fairly minor criticisms, certainly some notable details of his musical life (such as the business disputes that threatened his recording career in the mid-1960s) are sketchily laid out; the chronology of how events are sequenced is not always impeccable; a few film clips don't use soundtracks from the actual ones heard on their original broadcast; and the use of webbed borders for some archive segments is both puzzlingly unnecessary and mildly distracting. But not many viewers other than Donovan fanatics will notice or be bothered by any of this, instead getting entertained by the wealth of performance clips and personal reminiscing. As is proper, his mid-to-late 1960s heyday gets the most attention, with almost all of the hits discussed and performed. But subsequent decades are not avoided, if lightly covered in comparison, it at one point being revealed that he can't recall much about his most fallow 1980s period; though his mid-1990s comeback record Sutras gets some time, 2004's Beat Cafe is oddly absent from discussion. Donovan also takes care to relate his music to other issues such as his concern for peace, justice, romance, freedom, and spirituality, not to mention talking about his experiences while studying meditation with the Beatles in India.

Disc two isn't as lengthy, but while it has plenty of material, it's really for the Donovan devotee, and not so much for general rock fans, most of whom will enjoy the first disc but have trouble sitting through everything on its companion. In addition to extended interview segments done for the principal feature, there are past and present music videos dating back to the 1960s; performances, done not long before the 2008 release of this DVD, of some unreleased songs; a couple mid-'60s TV appearances (a great Swedish live one of "Sunny Goodge Street" in 1966 but a disappointingly short one of "Catch the Wind" done the previous year); a couple songs from a BBC concert around the early 1970s; and quite a few live clips done not long before this DVD was made, among them a whopping 14-minute 2008 jam on "Season of the Witch." The final section, labeled "The Private Donovan," might get too arcane even for some dedicated viewers, including scenes of Donovan rummaging among his archives, a clip of his father reading poetry, and scenes from his family album and acceptance speeches of honors. While it's still good to have this material available, it's unfortunate that precise details (and often, even years) aren't given regarding the origination of the TV clips and music videos, which are the kind of things fans serious enough to investigate such stuff want to know.

Marianne Faithfull, Live at the BBC (Decca). Fifteen tracks Marianne Faithfull recorded for the BBC in 1965 and 1966 (including two versions of one of the songs, "Go Away from My World") are featured on this compilation, which boasts fine sound and five brief between-song interviews that give us a chance to hear her poshly accented, articulate speech. This was the era, of course, in which Faithfull was still a fairly high-voiced pop-folk singer, and not the far earthier one she'd become when she emerged with a much deeper and more gravelly voice upon her late-1970s comeback. While it's a little disappointing there aren't more surprises – every one of these songs was also recorded on her mid-'60s studio releases – it does, as one would expect, afford us the chance to hear her do these songs in somewhat less elaborate arrangements than the versions that found official release at the time. On occasion, this can work to Faithfull's advantage; her cover of the Beatles' "Yesterday," not one of the highlights among her 1960s singles releases, is stripped of its too-fussy arrangement so that she's accompanied only by guitar. That's from a December 1965 session on which guitarist Jon Mark is the only backup musician, and those three songs are by far the folkiest of this lot. Still, the other sessions go down well too, including not only the hits "As Tears Go By," "Come and Stay with Me," "This Little Bird," and "Summer Nights," but also some relatively unheralded highlights of her early repertoire like the brooding "The Sha La La Song" and "Tomorrow's Calling." Faithfull's early British Invasion-era work is generally underrated, and this collection makes for a worthwhile addendum to her discography that some listeners might find more dignified and less dated in some respects than her more gushily produced studio records.

Tennessee Ernie Ford, 6000 Sunset Boulevard (Sundazed). In the spring of 1953, Tennessee Ernie Ford – then near the peak of his popularity – recorded an amazing amount of transcriptions for RadiOzark at Western Recorders on 6000 Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Twenty-three songs from those sessions are on this important archival collection, which isn't only of interest to Ford fans or early country scholars. For one thing, the sound, considering the age and source of the original recordings, is amazing – it's clear and full, on par with studio sessions for commercial releases. Also, Ford is backed by a fine band including pedal steel virtuoso Speedy West, a notable recording artist in his own right who gets an instrumental showcase for his astonishing steel guitar work on Rodgers-Hart's "Lover." Also in the lineup are a young Billy Strange on rhythm guitar, Billy Liebert on accordion and piano, George Bruns on bass and trombone, and Harold Hensley on violin and clarinet, with most of the guys also contributing backup vocals. Though Ford was nominally a country singer, the songs selected for this compilation show him to be at home with interpreting many strains of American popular music through his easygoing style, from covers of hits by Eddy Arnold, Bunny Berigan, and Fats Waller to standards like "Try a Little Tenderness," "There'll Be Some Changes Made," and Hoagy Carmichael's "Up a Lazy River" and "Georgia on My Mind." These might have been recorded in a professional studio for radio transcriptions, but the result comes off almost like an informal living room/front porch musical get-together, Ford joking around amiably with his band between songs. It should be acknowledged that for all its quality, this is nonetheless not the place to hear Ford at his best or most representative, it being light on the country boogies for which he was most known for playing on his hit records of the period, and heavier on his covers of non-country pop tunes than might be expected. But as good-sounding and well-played material showing another facet of Ford in his prime, it's hard to beat.

The Fugs, Don't Stop! Don't Stop! (Ace/Fugs). You might guess that a four-CD box set of 1960s Fugs recordings would almost by definition have to sample from most or all of their recording career during that decade. Fugs fans and collectors, however, should be aware that while this compilation has a lot of noteworthy music, its focus is somewhat selective. Basically, the first two discs are expanded versions of what remain their most famous recordings, The Fugs First Album and The Fugs Second Album; in fact, they're identical to the CD reissues of these albums that came out through Ace Records in 1993, containing the exact same wealth of bonus tracks. Discs three and four are the ones that will excite collectors the most, as they're entirely devoted to previously unreleased recordings from 1965-1969. That does mean, however, that there's nothing from their numerous releases on Reprise in the late 1960s (though those have admittedly been well represented on the Rhino Handmade box set Electromagnetic Steamboat: The Reprise Recordings), or some of their peripheral pre-Reprise efforts.

While the two discs (and approximately two hours) of unissued live/studio/miscellaneous material on the final two CDs are a boon to Fugs collectors/completists, these are, like much of the other live material and outtakes by the group that saw belated release, pretty uneven listening as regards the quality of both the sound and material. Some of the fidelity alone is funky enough to relegate some performances to the "of historical interest only" category, as are the less disciplined, more spoken-word-oriented, determinedly humorously wacky items. It's also true that while the five consecutive versions of "Nothing" (all taken from different times and places) illustrate the different approaches the band took to one of their more noteworthy early songs, they'll test the patience of all but the most committed Fugs lover, as will a 12-minute compilation of snippets from a cappella Tuli Kupferberg performances.

Nonetheless, if little of this is anywhere near on par with their better studio recordings, there are occasional cuts that hold their own as decent auxiliary additions to the Fugs library, like most of the alternate takes from their first Folkways session in April 1965; the 1969 effort "As My Moog Weeps," which does indeed include some early spooky Moog; and an exhilarating, if not quite wonderfully recorded, version of one of their best psychedelic songs, "Crystal Liaison," cut live the Fillmore East. Quite a few of the tunes illustrate Ed Sanders' exploration of what he terms, in his liner notes, "Country and Western Beatnik," and while these didn't represent his most satisfying excursions, they did point the way toward much of the music he'd make on his solo debut album Sanders' Truckstop; in fact, one of them, "Jimmy Joe, the Hippybilly Boy," would become that LP's leadoff song.  "Elegy for Robert Kennedy," on which Sanders' singing is accompanied only by Dan Hamburg's acoustic guitar, also proves he could write moving, fairly straight melodic folk music on occasion.

But the first two discs have the music upon which the Fugs' foundation was built, even if many of the fans likely to investigate a box such of this will already have those tracks. The Fugs First Album is featured on disc one, and while ramshackle in its amateurish jug-band-cum-rock-band way, it looks forward to punk and folk-rock while busting numerous lyrical taboos. The eleven additional studio outtakes and live cuts on that CD are largely on a lower and less original level, but do include a few worthy compositions, such as "We're the Fugs," "The Ten Commandments," "CIA Man," and "I Saw the Best Minds of My Generation Rock." The Fugs Second Album, featured on disc two, remains their best record, the band tightening immensely into a full-fledged rock group and offering some of their signature sex/protest/satirical tunes in "Frenzy," "Dirty Old Man," "Kill for Peace," and "Doin' All Right," along with some surprisingly tender folk-rock. The five bonus cuts on that disc include two live songs from 1967 and three pretty appealing tracks from an unreleased '67 Atlantic LP that make one lament the failure of the entire album to appear.

Unfortunately, while the dates and locations of some of the previously unreleased tracks are included, in many cases they're not noted; perhaps the precise information is no longer available, the unissued stuff having been compiled by Sanders himself after listening to about 100 hours of material. As some compensation for that missing info, Sanders supplies a lengthy and entertaining history of the Fugs in the 1960s in the sizable liner note booklet, which also includes a wealth of period photos and memorabilia. In all Don't Stop! Don't Stop! isn't a definitive box set retrospective, but if you know you want their first two albums in their most definitive versions plus a wealth of marginalia impossible to find anywhere else, it's a very well done package.

The Jesters, Cadillac Men: The Sun Masters (Big Beat). It might come as a surprise that a full-length CD credited to the mid-1960s Memphis band the Jesters even exists, since their total released output while they were active was limited to just one single. Ace researcher Alec Palao has done his usual impeccable job of digging through the vaults, however, to come up with this 18-track retrospective, featuring both sides of their 1966 Sun single "Cadillac Man"/"My Babe"; four tracks that came out on a 1989 various artists box set compilation; seven previously unreleased cuts, including an alternate version of "Cadillac Man"; a Sun recording on which the Jesters backed Jimmy Day; and four tracks by the Escapades, the band singer Tommy Minga fronted after leaving the Jesters in late 1965. Though "Cadillac Man" is interesting as a kind of mid-'50s Chuck Berry soundalike item, the band's truer personality seems to come through in the recordings not released at the time. In those, they sound a little like a crazed '60s garage band (if that's not a redundant description) that owe far more to '50s rock'n'roll, rockabilly, and R&B than the usual such group – not as if they've digested those influences primarily via British Invasion bands, but more like they've studied the original '50s performers themselves. Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry might be the most audible of those influences, but certainly you can hear some Carl Perkins (whose "Boppin' the Blues" they cover), as well as some raw frat rock and Chicago blues. To be honest, the songwriting is more okay than brilliant, and the musicianship a little unpolished even by garage band standards, but it certainly makes for an interesting deviation from the usual garage rock excavation. The Escapades' tracks are almost slick by comparison and far more in the standard garage-pop mold (complete with sullen lyrics and swirling organ), but they're hardly gratuitous inclusions, as "I Tell No Lies" is well above average for that style; in fact, it's the best song on the compilation.

Mick Jones/Tommy Brown, State of Micky and Tommy (Magic). It's not well known, but long before he joined Foreigner – and even before he was in Spooky Tooth – Mick Jones made quite a few records with Tommy Brown, the pair working in France for much of the period. This French CD collects 24 tracks in which they were involved between 1965 and 1971, encompassing recordings billed to several different monikers, including the State of Micky and Tommy, the Blackburds, Nimrod, the J&B, and Thomas F. Browne. It may be that the singles they released as the State of Micky and Tommy, obscure as those 45s are, are the most known of the lot, especially "With Love from One to Five," which has shown up on a few relatively high-profile UK psychedelia compilations. That does happen to be one of the better numbers, but generally this CD has fair, though not exceptional, music that reflects the British mod/pop-rock/psychedelic trends of the time with occasional hints of French and continental influences. "With Love from One to Five" is typical if classy 1967 orchestrated pop-psych; "Nobody Knows Where You've Been" strongly recalls the arrangements on Sgt. Pepper cuts like "Within You, Without You"; and "Frisco Bay" is nice dainty, dreamy pop with beatific Summer of Love lyrics and the lightest of hints of rage-rock. All of those songs were found on singles credited to the State of Micky & Tommy; the ones billed to the Blackburds are more like soul-flavored British mod rock that could serve as incidental film music, while Nimrod's 1969 single "The Bird" (previously included on several collector-oriented comps of rare British psychedelia) is a fairly strong relic bridging psychedelia with early progressive rock. The best track, however, is the relatively unheralded 1966 single "There She Goes" by the J&B, a quite haunting, dramatic song that's a bit like a mini-soundtrack to a story of Swinging London heartbreak. As a whole this will hardly qualify Jones and Brown as lost masters of mid-to-late-'60s British rock, but there's pleasant period music of the genre to be heard, virtually all of it from extremely rare recordings (including soundtracks).

Al Kooper, I Stand Alone/You Never Know Who Your Friends Are...Plus (Raven). Al Kooper is destined to be remembered mostly as an ace session player and band member (of the Blues Project and Blood, Sweat & Tears), not as a solo artist, despite the numerous albums he issued under his own name. But though this two-CD set covers only his earliest solo work, it could be argued that it's the best compilation of recordings he made on his own, though certainly not one that represents the scope of his career, whether done alone or with others. This Australian anthology presents both of his first two albums, 1968's I Stand Alone and 1969's You Never Know Who Your Friends Are, in their entirety, as well as five tracks from his third album (1970's Easy Does It) and a couple he contributed to the 1970 soundtrack The Landlord. While they didn't attract much in the way of sales or attention at the time or since, I Stand Alone in particular showcases his versatile facility with soul-pop and pop-rock with a baroque psychedelic tinge. Even if his vocals are only adequate and the use of numerous sound effects links has dated badly, it's worth hearing for "Right Now for You" alone, as that's the finest facsimile of the late-period Zombies ever cut (perhaps unsurprisingly so, as Kooper was instrumental in getting that group's Odessey and Oracle released in the US). The less impressive You Never Know Who Your Friends Are is more soul/R&B-oriented, but Kooper's skills as a keyboardist and arranger are consistently evident here and on the similarly eclectic bonus material, though his songwriting isn't up to the same level. The CD's sensibly sequenced so that I Can't Stand Alone and You Never Know Who Your Friends Are are placed on disc one and two respectively, with all of the bonus tracks being placed at the end of disc two.

Peter, Paul and Mary, The Solo Recordings (1971-72) (Rhino). This three-CD set is a rather odd entry into the Peter, Paul and Mary discography, as although it's credited to Peter, Paul and Mary, it in fact consists entirely of solo recordings by each of the group's three members. Each of the three discs is devoted to one of the solo debut albums that were issued around the same time by Warner Brothers, those being Peter Yarrow's Peter (from early 1972), Noel Stookey's Paul And (from mid-1971), and Mary Travers' Mary (from early 1971). There are no extra or unreleased bonus tracks, though there are lengthy historical liner notes with first-hand quotes from each of the singers.

Nonetheless, taken as a whole it does encapsulate that time in PPM's careers when the trio had just split up and were pretty much simultaneously venturing into solo careers. It's true that for general folk and pop fans (and for many serious Peter, Paul and Mary fans), these records are something of adjuncts or even footnotes to the work they did as a group. It's also true that these LPs sometimes to varying degrees sound like Peter, Paul and Mary records that are missing essential collaborative ingredients -- particularly vocal harmonies and stronger material -- that would put them more on par with the music they made as a threesome. Still, each of the records does have some worthwhile stuff, and none of them are poor or embarrassing. And while none of them would be commercial successes on the order of PPM's 1960s hits, they nevertheless were by far the most popular of their 1970s solo recordings.

In a surprise a little on the order of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass being the biggest hit of the Beatles' first round of significant solo releases, Noel Stookey's Paul And was the most popular of these three records, in large part due to the inclusion of the Top Thirty single "Wedding Song (There Is Love)." This was also the LP that fit in best with contemporary singer-songwriter trends in its comfortably easygoing rock arrangements, as well as being by far the breeziest and most good-humored of the three (as was no surprise to those who knew Stookey as the comedian of the group). The sentimental "Wedding Song" actually isn't too typical of an album largely given over to good-natured, even-tempered, at times even mildly rocking Stookey songs that sometimes owe something to fellow Albert Grossman clients the Band in tone. For those who pine for Peter, Paul and Mary's folkier elements, "Give a Damn" offers those in its wry talking blues and "Tender Hands" is a throwback to earnest '60s romantic folk troubadouring, though the more elegiac ballad "Sebastian" is the most impressive Stookey original on the record.

Since he was known as the most politically active member of Peter, Paul and Mary, some listeners might have expected Peter Yarrow's debut solo album Peter to be the most successful, or least most ambitious, of the three debut solo LPs issued by the trio in the early 1970s. Of those three records, it certainly is the one most in line with the uplifting socially conscious music often associated with the group's 1960s work, whether the lyrics are personal or political. It's also perhaps unavoidably true that the songs – all written or co-written by Yarrow – aren't as memorable as the best of Peter, Paul and Mary's, and that the arrangements can sound odd for those accustomed to hearing his vocals in the context of the trio's stirring harmonies. But gearing your expectations to an early-'70s singer-songwriter album rather than stacking it against Peter, Paul and Mary, it's a pleasantly accomplished effort, if a bit tilted toward the gentle and sweet (particularly in the vocal department). With backup from such accomplished musicians as guitarist John Till (who'd recently been in Janis Joplin's Full Tilt Boogie Band), Paul Butterfield, John Simon, and backup singers Libby Titus and Maria Muldaur, it also shows Yarrow adapting to the early-'70s soft rock sound expected of singer-songwriters, though things never get too cutting or fierce. "Don't Ever Take Away My Freedom" and the singalong-friendly "Weave Me the Sunshine" are the songs most imbued with the staunch liberalism Peter, Paul and Mary typified, but more effective is the more introspective "Take Off Your Mask," whose penetratingly strange Garth Hudson organ solos are the highlights of the entire album. Other superior cuts are "Wings of Time," the track that lies closest to traditional folk music, and the bittersweet "Tall Pine Trees," which is notably Russian-influenced in both melody and arrangement.

As the most popular and photogenic member of the trio, commercial expectations might have run highest for Mary Travers, but she was at a disadvantage in being far less prolific a songwriter than Peter Yarrow or Noel Stookey. Indeed she wrote just a little material (co-writing two songs) on Mary, which in broad terms saw her cast as an interpreter of songs by contemporary songwriters with a touch of arty orchestration, somewhat in the mold of records of the period by fellow veteran folk boom vets Judy Collins and (to a lesser degree) Joan Baez. Generally speaking, however, she didn't address material by composers as strong as Collins and Baez had, Mary featuring songs by Rod McKuen, Elton John, Paul Simon, and others, including some by John Denver (whose "Follow Me" gave her a minor hit single, and who also plays guitar on the album). More than Yarrow or Stookey, Travers suffered when taking the solo vocal spotlight for an entire album, not being as strong or varied a singer as, say, Collins or Baez. All those shortcomings noted, it was still an acceptable recording of its style (and the only Travers solo album to dent the Top 100), if perhaps one of more interest these days to Peter, Paul and Mary fans than anyone else. It's certainly on the earnest side – even more so than PPM's 1960s output – including new versions of a couple of songs she recorded as a member of that group, "The Song Is Love" and "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face."

Linda Ronstadt, Long, Long Time Ago: Video Archive 1967-1987 [DVD] (Foxberry). Almost two-and-a-half hours of color film clips of Linda Ronstadt, spanning the late 1960s to the late 1980s, are featured on this unauthorized two-DVD set. Starting all the way back with her days as lead singer for the Stone Poneys (on three songs done live at the Bitter End club), it's devoted primarily to television appearances, and also, refreshingly, consists mostly of live rather than mimed performances. No doubt there's more Ronstadt footage in existence, but it's hard to imagine a better retrospective of this period, particularly as a lot of space is given to her pre-superstardom era in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Most of that's found on disc one, which includes some surprising duets with Neil Diamond, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, and Bobby Darin (who backs her on acoustic guitar), as well as a set on Don Kirschner's Rock Concert on which she's backed by the Eagles, also playing guitar on an acoustic version of Buddy Holly's "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" with guitarist Bernie Leadon as sole accompanist. It's also a surprise to see her in unexpected settings like Playboy After Dark (at the outset of her solo career) and Tennessee State Prison (just as she was emerging as a big star in 1974). There are also, of course, a good of number of clips from her mid-'70s superstar era, as well as duets with Phoebe Snow, Smokey Robinson, Randy Newman, and at the very end, a 1987 Saturday Night Live appearance fronting the Mariachi Vargas. There are small drawbacks to this package: some might find five versions of "Long, Long Time" (people tend to forget that was her only Top Forty hit prior to 1975) too many, there are too many oldies covers in the later years, and the compilers have seen fit to periodically put a small unnecessary logo with the title of this DVD on the screen. But the audiovisual quality is consistently good to excellent, and though no doubt there would be small improvements in the presentation and sequencing should it have been assembled for official release, this is a fine collection as is.

Nina Simone, To Be Free (RCA/Legacy). There's no question that Nina Simone is richly deserving of a three-CD (plus one DVD), 51-song box set such as To Be Free. From the late 1950s until her death, she was one of the great unclassifiable pop singers of the twentieth century, and if her voluminous recording career was erratic, the first fifteen years at any rate had many highlights. Any complaint about this particular package has more to do with the balance of eras represented than the quality of the contents, which is generally very good. If one is to criticize, however, it's that it does seem heavily weighted toward her 1967-73 recordings for RCA, which take up about two-thirds of the three audio discs. Perhaps that's because it's on the RCA/Legacy label, but certainly a good case could be made that her pre-1967 recordings for a variety of other companies (most often Philips) were worthy of greater representation.

To focus on the positives, however, most of disc one does include strong pre-RCA tracks from the first decade of her recording career, including some of her best known classics of the time, like "My Baby Just Cares for Me," "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," "See-Line Woman," "I Put a Spell on You," and "Four Women." While the RCA era arguably saw her move too much into pop-oriented production on occasion and too many covers of pop-rock hits, the selections from that era are chosen with intelligence, including a good number of live tracks. The two post-1973 cuts – one from 1978, and one from her final proper album, 1993's A Single Woman – seem like afterthoughts to ensure that most of her career was covered in some way, but that's justifiable considering that the last three decades of her life saw little in the way of noteworthy recordings.

Though there's not much in the way of rarities, the set also does contain half a dozen previously unreleased live tracks of merit, as well as a couple (a live cover of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" and an alternate version of "Ain't Got No—I Got Life") that make their first US appearance. The most tantalizing item for serious Simone fans is the DVD of a 1970 television special, though it turns out to be a little less exciting than one might have hoped. Lasting just 23 minutes, it intersperses scenes of her recording, rehearsing, and performing onstage (most of the songs being fragments, highlighted by a complete live version of "Go to Hell") with interview snippets in which Simone offers basic comments on the rewards and difficulties of being a creative musician.

Still, in all this is a very good box set illustrating Simone's facility at jumping between and blending numerous genres, including soul, pop, rock, jazz, Broadway, classical, and even (on the previously unissued 1973 live performance "Nina") world fusion music of sorts with backing by sitar and kalimba. Just don't necessarily take it as a summation of all her greatest work, with much more from the pre-1967 period in particular thankfully available to investigate on other CDs.

The Swinging Blue Jeans, Good Golly, Miss Molly! The EMI Years 1963-1969 (EMI). Like the similarly extensive four-CD sets released by EMI in 2008 for Gerry & the Pacemakers and Herman's Hermits, Good Golly, Miss Molly! The EMI Years 1963-1969 – its four discs including a whopping 118 tracks – is an acquisition that separates the mere British Invasion fanatic from the dangerous obsessive. Its very existence is astonishing considering that the Swinging Blue Jeans had far less commercial success than either Gerry & the Pacemakers or Herman's Hermits, with just one Top Thirty hit to their credit in the US (and just three Top Twenty entries in their native UK). Nevertheless, very serious Merseybeat collectors will be pleased that this anthology not only has every last studio track that appeared on a 1960s Swinging Blue Jeans studio release, but also about a dozen previously unissued cuts. And even the previously released material includes some items that are hardly common fare, like four songs recorded in German specifically for the German market; numerous rare A-sides and B-sides that were particularly hard to find in the US; and tracks that first appeared on a Canadian LP or CD compilations that are now themselves not all that easy to find.

Like that EMI four-CD job for Gerry & the Pacemakers, however, it's padded by a fourth disc consisting entirely of stereo versions of tracks that are all included on the previous three CDs. And as with the Pacemakers set, it must be said that when you get beyond the two dozen or so songs that have been readily available on previous single-disc best-ofs, the standard drops dramatically, at times risking boring even enthusiasts of the group. Still, in addition to the expected highlights ("Hippy Hippy Shake," their British hit cover of "You're No Good," and unsung A-sides and B-sides like "Think of Me," "It's Too Late Now," "Shakin' Feeling," "Promise You'll Tell Her," and "What Can I Do Today"), there are a few things that'll excite even the seasoned Swinging Blue Jeans collector. There's a previously unissued early version of "It's Too Late Now" from their February 1963 recording test (at which they were still using a banjo in their lineup); an unexpected cover of the Beatles' "This Boy" that surfaced on a Canadian LP; a German version of "Shakin' Feeling"; and the 1966 arrangement of "Now That You've Got Me (You Don't Seem to Want Me)," which is considerably superior to the one that ended up on a 1968 single. There are also, it has to be said, a number of routine rock'n'roll covers (a la the previously unreleased "Dizzy Miss Lizzy," recorded at EMI in November 1963 well in advance of the Beatles' studio version), and the late-'60s efforts on disc three find the group struggling for a new style after the disappearance of Merseybeat and getting saddled with mediocre pop tunes. Nevertheless, there's more good brashly energetic Merseybeat here than not, and Merseybeat expert Spencer Leigh's customarily authoritative liner notes are welcome, as is the detailed sessionography.

Vince Taylor, Jet Black Leather Machine (Ace). Vince Taylor is a legend of early British rock'n'roll. He wrote and recorded one of the few pre-Beatles UK rock songs that can be hailed as a legitimate classic ("Brand New Cadillac"), and also led a madly colorful life that saw him eventually gain stature as one of rock's earliest demented burnouts. For all his legend, however, there's never been a compilation that effectively gathered the best of his recorded output onto one disc – until this one. Jet Black Leather Machine, finally, manages to cross-license the best and hardest-rocking of both his late-'50s British recordings and the early-to-mid-'60s tracks he cut in France, all but one of these 21 tracks originating from 1958-65. Does it live up to the legend of this manically energetic singer who tried to come off as a cross between Elvis Presley and Gene Vincent, as well as claim not quite genuine American origins (he did live there for a few years in the 1950s, but was born and raised in Britain)?

Yes and no, though any disappointment is negated by the surprising force and sheer enjoyability of most of this set. In all honesty, Taylor wasn't that great a singer, and though he did write "Jet Black Machine," most of his recorded repertoire was limited to American rock'n'roll covers that the original artists did better. Yet his lack of innate talent was compensated for by both an idiosyncratic, over-the-top enthusiasm – a faint precursor, perhaps, to the many punk and post-punk singers who similarly didn't let a shortage of standard vocal chops stand in their way – and some genuinely ripping backup musicians, even when he's accompanied by British ones in the late '50s. The menacing "Brand New Cadillac" alone would solidify his place in history, but he did manage a few other good sides that weren't American rock covers, most notably "Jet Black Machine." And even those covers of American rockers – which do comprise well over half of this set – usually pummeled along pretty hard, whether his 1958 debut single "I Like Love" (a Sun Records cover with a young, pre-Hamburg Tony Sheridan on guitar) or his 1965 version of "My Baby Left Me," which has some truly astonishing guitar leads that rank right up there with the most ferocious axework of the British Invasion. Bravo to Ace for intelligently selecting the best of this wayward British rock pioneer's highly erratic discography, complete with a fine career overview in Kieron Tyler's lengthy liner notes.

We Five, There Stands the Door (Big Beat). Though "You Were on My Mind" was one of the first and best big folk-rock hits, We Five's reputation as early folk-rock pioneers has suffered from the abundance of weak and ill-suited pop material on the spotty two LPs recorded by the original lineup. It's no exaggeration to hail the 22-track There Stands the Door as a major rehabilitation of the group's legacy. That's due both to the wise selection of their best and most folk-rock-oriented material, and to the inclusion of eight previously unissued cuts (and one non-LP A-side) that do much to fill out a fairer portrait of the group's strengths. Instead of sounding like a wildly erratic outfit prone to interpreting too many pop standards and show tunes, this cherry-picked anthology shows them more as a highly worthwhile, if a little lightweight, early folk-rock group who helped innovate the male-female harmonies characteristic of early San Francisco folk-rock in particular. The CD focuses both on the group's best original material (often penned by John Stewart's brother Mike Stewart) and their most appropriate choices of folky songs to cover, including several compositions by John Stewart and an obscure tune (the previously unissued "What'Cha Gonna Do") co-written by Bob Gibson, Shel Silverstein, and Fred Neil. All but a couple of the tracks were recorded prior to the first lineup's dissolution in spring 1967, and Beverly Bevin's vocals in particular anticipate aspects of the San Francisco folk-rock singing heard in early Jefferson Airplane recordings, particularly on the 1966 single "You Let a Love Burn Out." From the same year, the non-LP single "There Stands the Door" hints at some more musically and lyrically adventurous directions that went unexplored, even if its adventurousness is fairly mild compared to that of the Airplane. True, "You Were on My Mind" remains the best track they ever did by some distance. But much more than their original LPs, There Stands the Door stands as their true best-of, and if its concentration on folk-rock gives a somewhat incomplete document of their eclectic repertoire, it does indisputably focus on the best of that repertoire. Note that a couple of the unissued tracks (judiciously placed at the end of the CD) are actually taken from recordings they made for Coke commercials; while they're hardly emblematic of the group at their best, they certainly are rare and thus to be welcomed by hardcore collectors. A more significant bonus is Alec Palao's extensive annotation, in which first-hand interviews with surviving band members do much to flesh out the history of this ill-documented group.

Various Artists, Glitter and Gold: Words and Music by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (Ace). In common with Ace's numerous other anthologies devoted to compositions by major 1960s pop-rock songwriters, Glitter and Gold: Words and Music by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil isn't quite either a best-of or rarities compilation. Instead, it mixes some big and small hits with collectors' items, with just one of the 26 tracks (Dion's "Make the Woman Love Me") postdating 1970 and a few songs in which they didn't collaborate or other songwriters were also involved, though most of them are pure Mann-Weil creations. The average Brill Building pop fan will notice right away that a few of their signature hits are absent, particularly the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," and "(You're My) Soul and Inspiration," the Animals' "We Gotta Get out of This Place," the Ronettes' "Walking in the Rain," and the Crystals' "He's Sure the Boy I Love." Working on the assumption that the core audience for this reissue already has those songs elsewhere, however, this is an expectedly (given the standards Ace always brings to these collections) fine roundup of the best and rarest of the rest, even if the determination to include some collectors' items ensures a somewhat erratic listen.

As for the big hits that are included, you do get Mama Cass' "It's Getting Better," Gene Pitney's "I'm Gonna Be Strong," Paul Revere & the Raiders' "Hungry," B.J. Thomas' "I Just Can't Help Believing," and the Vogues' "Magic Town," and if some might be disappointed that the version of "Kicks" is by Del Shannon and not the Paul Revere hit, at least it's more off the beaten track. As for the outstanding tunes that weren't smashes, Arthur Alexander's "Where Have You Been (All My Life)" is a soulful ballad covered by the Beatles in their early days; the Girls' sinister Shangri-Las-like "Chico's Girl" is one of the greatest girl group rarities; Nino Tempo & April Stevens' "The Coldest Night of the Year" is a nice whispery, sexy number; and the Righteous Brothers' "See That Girl" has the same Phil Spectorian sweep of their big hits. Beyond that, things get spotty, if usually interesting, some of the more notable cuts including Joanie Sommers' "I'd Be So Good for You" (even if it sounds a lot like Skeeter Davis' "Let Me Get Close to You"); the uplifting "Girl, It's Alright Now" by Bruce & Terry, aka Beach Boy Bruce Johnston with producer Terry Melcher; and Bill Medley's small 1968 hit "Brown Eyed Woman," a veiled reference to an interracial romance. A bunch of the other selections are minor footnotes to Mann and Weil's greatest material, whether they're non-hits by stars like the Tokens, Marcels, Chiffons, and Turtles, or just plain obscurities by the likes of Bergen White and the 2 of Clubs. At almost all times, however, Mann-Weil's attentiveness to melodic detail and thoughtful song construction are in evidence, making this an illuminating anthology for all fans of one of the great Brill Building songwriting teams.

Various Artists, Holy Mackerel! Pretenders to Little Richard's Throne (Ace). Like any star who has a lot of big hits, Little Richard spawned his share of imitators in the late 1950s and early 1960s, or at least records on which a singer tried to sound like him. It's probably not realized even by most Little Richard fans in particular and rock'n'roll collectors in general, however, just how often other artists tried to hitch a ride on his bandwagon. Holy Mackerel! Pretenders to Little Richard's Throne compiles no less than 25 such examples (albeit one track, the World Famous Upsetters' 1962 cover of "I'm in Love Again," on which Little Richard himself sings without getting billing). The assembled perpetuators include some stars who tried their hand at Richard-esque songs, whoops, and hollers, if only briefly, like James Brown, Joe Tex (under the pseudonym of Little Booker), Lowell Fulson, and Dee Clark. They even include some women who aren't exactly no-names, like Etta James, gospel singer Marie Knight, and (with husband Ike Turner) Tina Turner. Is it entertaining? Well, sure – if you get this many examples of competent (and in some cases way more than competent) rock'n'rollers trying to replicate Little Richard to some degree, there's no way there can't be some good if somewhat exploitative fun. But here's the thing – even a Little Richard greatest hits collection doesn't exactly have as much variety as many best-ofs by early rock'n'roll greats. You'll have to have a big appetite for Richard's mannerisms to get a kick out of this nonstop, since none of the songs are on the level of Little Richard's actual big hits, even as they borrow heavily from various elements of his style, like his pounding piano and gospelish trills. There's only one track, Bunker Hill's truly demented "The Girl Can't Dance," that's highly memorable under its own steam, with a searing in-the-red vocal and clamorous backup (by Link Wray and the Raymen) that's astonishingly raw for a 1963 release. It's also odd to hear some talented singers for whom Little Richard imitation clearly isn't a forte, like Dee Clark, who seems a little out of his comfort zone on "24 Boyfriends." There's still reasonable fun involved, of course, in hearing such a concentrated dose of Little Richard as an influence, including songs here and there that stand okay by themselves, like Big Al Downing's "Miss Lucy."

Various Artists, Respect: Aretha's Influences and Inspiration (Ace). Aretha Franklin is not especially thought of as a "cover" artist since she wrote a good deal of her own material (and had many songs supplied to her to interpret first), but she has covered many soul, R&B, and gospel songs on record. The idea behind Respect: Aretha's Influences and Inspiration is a very good one: to collect a couple dozen versions of songs, often the original ones, that Franklin herself would record, usually on Atlantic in the late 1960s and early 1970s (though songs that she recorded prior to 1967 on Columbia and even on her teenaged 1950s gospel sides are also represented). A few of the tracks on this CD are very well known, and in fact were sometimes even big hits in their own right, like Dionne Warwick's "I Say a Little Prayer," Nina Simone's "To Be Young, Gifted and Black," Otis Redding's "Respect," Brenda Holloway's "Every Little Bit Hurts," Ray Charles' "Drown in My Own Tears," James Carr's "The Dark End of the Street," and Ben E. King's "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)." For the deeper soul fan, however, the chief pleasures are the more obscure templates that you might not already have in your collection, including cuts by legends like Wilson Pickett, Bobby Bland, Jackie Wilson, Ray Charles, Bill Withers,  Percy Mayfield, Johnny Ace, James Carr, Howard Tate, and Bobby Womack. Especially interesting are the more obscure source points for Aretha, like Thelma Jones' little-known original version of "The House That Jack Built"; Dinah Washington's "Soulville," one of the hardest-rocking tracks she ever did; efforts by singers (Jean Wells on "Sit Down and Cry," and Mary Wheeler on "Prove It") who are known almost exclusively to soul collectors; and lowdown blues by Big Maybelle (on "Pitiful"). Owing to Franklin's taste and the skills of her predecessors, the effect is very much like that of hearing a good soul/R&B mix tape, but one with thorough expert annotation and packaging. Even some of the well-known cuts are made more interesting to experts by the use of (in the case of Redding's "Respect" and King's "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)") rarer LP versions. It does have to be said that it can't quite maintain the level of songs that were classics in their pre-Franklin incarnations (like the aforementioned ones by Redding, Simone, King, and Warwick, as well as Don Covay & the Goodtimers' "See Saw") throughout. Little Miss Cornshucks' "Try a Little Tenderness," for instance, is quaint next to the soulafied treatments of Redding or Franklin. On the whole, however, it's that too-rare cross-licensed thematic compilation that's both highly entertaining and highly educational.

Various Artists, The Soul of Spanish Harlem (BGP). In the late 1960s and early 1970s, many New York Latin musicians became increasingly influenced by R&B and soul music. One could trace exchange among the styles all the way back to the birth of rock'n'roll if so inclined, but often the sounds cut by this circle were heard mostly or exclusively by a US-based Latin audience, with only a little crossover to pop and African-American listeners. The Soul of Spanish Harlem collects 20 such tracks from the era (a couple of them previously unreleased), done for labels that for the most part were targeting the Latin market, the most prominent of them being Fania (though releases by other companies are also included). Even if you're a collector of this stuff, it's likely few of the names will ring bells, with the exception perhaps of Joe Bataan and Monguito Santamaria (Mongo Santamaria's son). While mixtures of Latin music, jazz, and soul (and even a bit of doo wop) are the general focus, it's hard to categorize the tracks with precision, since the concentration of elements vary so widely. Some cuts are essentially Latin-flavored jazz with a bit of soul; others are vocal group soul with just a hint of Latin sounds in the melodies and rhythms. What matters most is that it's consistently earthy, heartfelt, and – at least to rock and pop listeners for whom these blends are unfamiliar – quite unpredictable. It is true that those stylistic combinations are more interesting, for the most part, than the tunes, which can be derivative (as the Terrible Frankie Nieves' "True Love" is of Barbara Acklin's "The Same Girl," or 107th Street Stickball Team's "On Old Broadway" is of the chorus in Petula Clark's "Downtown"). But it's rarely less than entertaining, and a few sides do stand out as particularly memorable, like the aforementioned "On Old Broadway"; King Nando's invigoratingly swinging (if melodramatic) "Maria, Maria," which could have stood a chance of crossover success in an edited version; or the delectably dignified doo-wop/Latin jazz hybrid of Ralphie & the Latin Lovers' "Lonely Has Been My Day." Though perhaps more remarkable for the form than the content of the actual material, this CD is a very worthwhile if fragmentary document of an important scene that remains largely unknown to fans of the rock and soul of the era, with (as is customary for the Ace family of labels) conscientious annotation and illustration in the accompanying booklet.

Various Artists, Woodstock 69 Extended Edition [DVD] (Johanna). For fans of late-1960s rock, and for fans of the Woodstock festival in particular, this unauthorized four-DVD set of footage from the event is in several respects a wonder to behold, though not without its imperfections. There are more than six hours of footage spread across the four discs, much of which has never made it onto the various versions of the movie and outtakes of same that have found official release. What's more, it's sorted into the actual order in which the performances were given, starting with Richie Havens and ending with Jimi Hendrix. To all appearances, most of the footage was actually filmed by the Woodstock filmmakers, and is of generally very good quality, though a few gremlins creep in with various slight image/sonic imperfections and gaps/incomplete performances. The highlights are numerous, including several songs by Jefferson Airplane at dawn that rank among the most interesting footage of the band ever taken. Too, a bunch of the acts here didn't make it into the 1970 Woodstock film, including some very noted ones (Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Band, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Johnny Winter, Ravi Shankar, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin) and a few very obscure ones (Bert Sommer and Quill, the latter of whom are only represented by a brief clip of them creating an onstage rhythm).

Before getting too ga-ga over this set, a few features that might be viewed as shortcomings have to be noted. There are a bunch of multiple versions of songs that aren't actually different performances of the songs, but different in terms of the camera setups used, which might try the patience of more conventional listeners. A good deal of the footage was done in the dark, and when you see the clips of Joplin, Creedence, the Dead, BS&T, Winter, and the Band, you wonder if their failure to make the film might have been a simple matter of the images just not showing up well enough to look as good as the sets shot in daylight. A few of the songs are incomplete – one guesses because complete versions don't exist – most frustratingly in the case of the Incredible String Band, for whom just a snippet of one tune is featured. And for all its length, this doesn't either include all the footage taken at the event – some other sequences have shown up on bootleg DVDs of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, CCR, and the Who, for instance, as well as an official DVD of Hendrix's Woodstock performance – or even all the performers (Melanie being a notable absentee). A few of the sequences, too, actually appear in the official 1970 Woodstock movie. Nevertheless, until such time as a mammoth official box of all Woodstock footage appears, this has plenty of unreleased material to enjoy, particularly outstanding clips including Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love"; Joe Cocker's "Let's Go Get Stoned"; and Janis Joplin's "Ball and Chain."


Archived Reviews



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


contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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