Ars Nova, Ars Nova (Sundazed). Ars Nova's sole release was intermittently intriguing eclectic psychedelic rock with a slight classical influence, as well as some unusual instrumentation in the bass trombone of lead singer Jon Pierson and the trumpet and string bass of Bill Folwell. The songs --often linked by brief interludes -- are a mixed bag, though, that seem to indicate a confusion over direction, or a bit of a psychedelic throw-in-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. There are haunting tunes with a folk-rock base and a faint Renaissance ballad melodic influence; jaunty narratives with a vaudevillian air that bear the mark of then-recent albums such as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; and harder-rocking period psychedelic tracks with a bent for unpredictable bittersweet progressions and vocal harmonies. It's unusual, and in some senses attractive. But to be less charitable, there's a sense of listening to a generic psychedelic band that sounds better than many such acts mostly by virtue of benefiting from Elektra's high-class production, here handled by Paul Rothchild of Doors fame. Put another way, the songs themselves aren't as good as their arrangements. "Fields of People," about the best of those songs, might be the most famous one here due to getting covered in an elongated treatment by the Move, who did a better job with it than Ars Nova. The 2004 CD reissue on Sundazed adds historical liner notes by Jon Pierson.

Brigitte Bardot, The Best of Bardot (Mercury). Was Brigitte Bardot a "good" singer, in the conventional sense? No. Was the material she sang in the 1960s especially deep or brilliant? No. But is this 20-track compilation of the cream of her 1963-70 recordings a fun listen? Yes indeed. Although not the owner of conventional high-level vocal skills, Bardot invested her frivolous songs with a contagious sense of playful fun, and a refusal to take the music or herself too seriously. Certainly some of the tunes -- and their breathy delivery -- capitalize on her iconic sex kitten persona. But the guileless joy she projects is reminiscent of some of the early work by France Gall (one of the finest '60s French pop singers), though Bardot's voice is less girlish and more adult in tone. Like the better French pop of the 1960s, the tracks on this disc -- an "extremely selective compilation," the liner notes inform us, of a sixties discography that strung together "fine pearls and cheap imitations, scintillating gems and tawdry kitsch" -- have a likable giddiness that borrows from early '60s girl-group and twist rock'n'roll on the earlier sides, and bears a slight psychedelic influence on some of the later ones. It's a pretty versatile bunch, though, also venturing on occasion into melodic sentimental Continental ballads and (less successfully) theatrical chanson and vaudevillian territory. Some of the standouts, naturally, are found in the seven Serge Gainsbourg compositions, including the eerie Eastern-influenced "Contact" (arguably her most interesting recording), and "Harley Davidson," but also the famous Bardot-Gainsbourg vocal duets "Comic Strip," "Bonnie and Clyde," and "Je T'Aime...Moi Non Plus." (The last of these, unreleased at the time it was recorded in 1968 due to nervousness over its sexually explicit nature, of course became a big international hit when Gainsbourg re-recorded it using Jane Birkin as his duet partner.) The numerous tracks to which composers Jean-Max Riviere and Gerard Bourgeois contributed, however, have their share of highlights too, even if they lack the strange edge of Gainsbourg's songs.

Colosseum, Those Who Are About to Die Salute You [Deluxe Expanded Edition] (Sanctuary Midline). Colosseum's 1969 debut album was a notably pioneering endeavor in its combination of British blues-rock with British jazz-rock, even if the writing and singing weren't as impressive as the confident playing. Graham Bond and some of the horn-augmented late-'60s work by John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers had explored similar directions, but Colosseum did so with more confidence and a more comfortable blend of the differing styles, adding a nose for well-executed improvisation. The extra material on the 2004 expanded CD edition on Sanctuary Midline is not extraneous, adding six bonus tracks and informative, lengthy historical liner notes. All but one of those bonus cuts are taken from late-'60s BBC radio broadcasts (actually one of the two BBC versions of "Walking in the Park" is undated, but it seems almost certain that it, like the others, was broadcast in 1969). The oddest, and from a collector standpoint perhaps most interesting, of the BBC tracks is "A White Spade from Mayall," a song not included on Those Who Are About to Die Salute You. As the humorous title suggests, it borrows some of its melody from "A White Shade of Pale," also briefly quoting from the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"; perhaps it was felt to be too much of a goof-off to merit consideration for placement on the LP. This and the rest of the BBC material boasts excellent sound, with a few performances of songs that did make it onto the album -- Graham Bond's "Walking in the Park" (perhaps the finest item in the band's repertoire), "Beware the Ides of March," and "Plenty Hard Luck." Rounding off the dig through the archives is the studio outtake "I Can't Live Without You," an acceptable but unthrilling James Litherland song that has a little more of a standard blues-rock feel than much of the early Colosseum discography.

Colosseum, Valentyne Suite [Deluxe Expanded Edition] (Sanctuary Midline). There has been understandable confusion for decades about the overlap and differences between Colosseum's second UK album and their second US album. Their second UK LP was titled Valentyne Suite; their second US album, however, was not only given a different title, The Grass Is Greener, but featured a substantially different track listing, with only four of the eight tracks overlapping with Valentyne Suite (although the version of "The Grass Is Greener" on the US release has a guitar overdub by Clem Clempson, the original part by James Litherland getting lost in the process). The variance can partially be traced back to the US version of Colosseum's debut Those Who Are About to Die Salute You, which included three tracks yet to be issued in the UK, including the first two (but not the third) of the sections comprising "The Valentyne Suite." It's enough of a mess to instigate a booming headache among those trying to assemble Colosseum's complete early output. This deluxe expanded edition of Valentyne Suite, thankfully, completely sorts out this hassle for the CD era. With the sort of logic too uncommon in the record industry, it places the whole of the UK Valentyne Suite album on disc one, and the whole of the US The Grass Is Greener album on disc two, as well as adding a couple of tracks recorded for BBC radio in November 1969. That does mean that four of the tracks are heard twice, and that only the third part of "The Valentyne Suite" ("The Grass Is Greener") is heard on The Grass Is Greener, since the first two parts had already been issued in the US as part of the altered version of Those Who Are About to Die Salute You. But the redundancy is forgivable, considering this finally allows listener to hear all of the band's studio material from this era in the same place, with lengthy liner notes that explain the discographical tangle as well as possible.

Not to be overlooked, of course, should be the music, which in both albums found the band expanding their rock-blues-jazz format in interesting directions that encompassed more improvisation and a richer range of melodic colors, though the songs sometimes could have used some editing. Especially satisfying was the deft insertion of some classical influences from time to time, particularly in parts of the 17-minute "The Valentyne Suite." "The Kettle" was as close as the band got to catchy blues-rock-pop, and the jazzier "Elegy" (in which the vocals almost sound like a foreshadowing of Sting) was also one of their best songs. Both "The Kettle" and "Elegy" were placed on both Valentyne Suite and The Grass Is Greener, but the songs unique to the The Grass Is Greener (all recorded, unlike the rest of the studio material here, with new guitarist Clem Clempson replacing James Litherland) aren't filler. Of these, "Jumping Off the Sun" in particular got Colosseum more in the swing of hard-charging psychedelic-pop-influenced rock than anything else they did, while "Rope Ladder to the Moon" was a cover of a quality song from Jack Bruce's debut solo album, and Ravel's "Bolero" gave them a chance to plunge further into classical material. Finally, disc one adds the aforementioned two November 1969 BBC tracks, including a version of "Lost Angeles" (from The Grass Is Greener) and the fusion instrumental "Arthur's Mustache," which didn't find a place on either of the two albums.

Cream, Disraeli Gears [Deluxe Edition] (Universal). Intense Cream fans and collectors might be disappointed in the two-CD deluxe edition of Disraeli Gears for offering little in the way of previously unreleased material. There is a lot of extra stuff here, however, mind you, which makes it a nice expansion of the group's best and most focused album. There's the original album in both stereo and mono; five demos, and two outtakes of "Lawdy Mama" (all of which previously appeared on the Those Were the Days box set); and nine 1967-68 BBC recordings from the Disraeli Gears era (all of which appear on the BBC Sessions compilation). The only wholly previously unavailable item is an alternate version of "Blue Condition" with Eric Clapton on lead vocal, in both stereo and mono, which actually qualifies as about the least interesting track on the set. And why, pray tell, is the BBC version of "Sunshine of Your Love" -- far and away the album's most popular song -- present on BBC Sessions, but not included here?

That minor complaint aside, this is a fine listen, the main album enduring as the peak of Cream's artistry, as the group blended their original blues-rock with psychedelic pop on well-written songs with a mystical tinge. Almost every song is excellent, and "Sunshine of Your Love," "Dance the Night Away," "Swalbr," "Strange Brew," and "We're Going Wrong" are all among the very best tracks the band laid down. While the extras can't match the album itself, they're all worth hearing for both historical appreciation and actual listening pleasure. The five demos are considerably rougher than the much more polished final record, but offer three songs ("Hey Now Princess," "Weird of Hermiston," and "The Clearout") that didn't make the ultimate cut. None of them really deserved to, but the vituperative "Hey Now Princess" and more whimsical "Weird of Hermiston" are interesting relics of the Jack Bruce-Pete Brown songwriting partnership, while "The Clearout" is a pretty hot instrumental that sounds like a backing track only in need of some good lyrics to make for a worthwhile album cut. Six of the nine BBC recordings are versions of songs from Disraeli Gears itself, while two ("Politician" and "Born Under a Bad Sign") would appear on their subsequent LP Wheels of Fire, and one (the instrumental "Steppin' Out") had been previously cut by Eric Clapton in his Bluesbreakers days. In the usual BBC tradition, these nine tracks aren't up to the level of their studio counterparts, but make for worthy contrast to the better-known versions, with a certain live edge.

Jan Davis, Boss Guitar! The Best of Jan Davis (Sundazed). As Jud Cost aptly points out in his liner notes, Jan Davis combined some of the best aspects of the dark, lean instrumental guitar rock of the Ventures and the Shadows. There were also edges of the more R&B-oriented work of Lonnie Mack, and the more futuristic surf-into-dementia of someone like Davie Allan. Unlike any of these acts, he never did latch onto a piece of obvious hit material, but this collection of rare 1961-66 singles (along with a couple of previously unissued tracks) has plenty of worthwhile moments. The twenty tracks -- most, though not all, instrumental -- vary from the mundane to the near-great, Davis trying his luck at many different approaches, some of them rather off-the-wall, to see what might fly in the marketplace. As for the near-great, the hot rod anthem "Boss Machine" rollicks along like the sleekest of shiny just-off-the-lot roadsters; as for the off-the-wall, "Snow Surfin' Matador" sounds like a female Mexican yodeler trapped in a twilight zone between surf and Tex-Mex border music. Several of the singles seem like themes to television shows about fugitives and lost-in-space travelers that never made it past the pilot stage, with their menacing riffs, goofy sci-fi sound effects and organ, bee-simulating guitar swirls, and cheesy horror-movie yells. A few of them are routine R&B-anchored instrumental workouts, but Davis could always be counted on to come up with something unpredictable, including a pretty cool take on Kai Winding's easy listening instrumental hit "More (Theme from Mondo Cane)" and the mating of guitar twang with light dancing orchestration on "Hop, Skip & Jump."

Bob Dylan, World Tour 1966: The Home Movies Through the Camera of Bob Dylan's Drummer Mickey Jones [DVD] (Studio Works). Upon its release, this 90-minute documentary of sorts sparked immediate outcry among some fans, who felt deceived by a DVD prominently mentioning "World Tour 1966" in the title, on top of a groovy cover picture of Dylan from the same tour. For this does not contain any actual sound footage of Dylan's concerts on that legendary jaunt, on which he was backed by the Hawks, who soon (with the exception of drummer Mickey Jones) became the Band. Instead, it's largely a collection of silent home movie film clips -- most of them indeed from that tour, and some (and certainly not all) including Dylan in the frame -- taken by Jones, who also provides a lot of on-screen and voiceover narration. Once you get past the realization that this isn't really a Bob Dylan concert DVD, however, this really isn't that bad, even if its appeal might be limited to Dylanophiles. It's more notable, frankly, for Jones' narration than the film clips (in color), which are as basic in both content and technique as you might expect from a tour drummer making home movies. For Jones is a pretty good, affable storyteller, and he has a lot to say without (usually) getting boring.

In detail, he recounts his entry into the rock world with Trini Lopez (a segment including some brief silent snippets of the Beatles playing in Paris in January 1964, where Lopez shared the bill while using Jones as drummer) and Johnny Rivers; his subsequent recruitment into Dylan's concert backing band (interestingly, he says he was first under the impression that Dylan wanted him as a drummer for recording sessions); and the highs, lows, and hijinx of the tour itself. Jones gets some of the chronology mixed up (at one point he says he was with Dylan for two years, which seems to be more than doubling the length of his stint), but he has a fair amount of reasonably interesting stories about why Dylan decided to separate his sets into acoustic and electric ones; the musicians' bemused and at times hurt reaction to the booing on the electric sets; how Dylan would make a point of looking over at him before starting "Ballad of a Thin Man" (which of course prominently refers to a "Mr. Jones" in the lyrics); why Dylan decided to hang an American over the stage for a French show; Dylan's plan to tour in Russia (?!) before getting sidelined by the famous motorcycle accident; and other trivia of interest to serious Dylan fanatics.

The image quality of the home movies is good considering their age and that they were never intended to be shown publicly. While the scenes from those clips are not too interesting in and of themselves (though they do include some onstage footage, sometimes shot not by Jones but by others with the entourage), they make a suitable backdrop for the drummers' tales. The movies do include a lot of incidental horsing around and travelogue/tourist bits that, along with Jones' descriptions of these less vital aspects of the journey, will likely be the parts that viewers will find most exasperating and least necessary. The DVD also uses some still tour photos to complement Jones' dialogue, which is sometimes prompted by a rather wooden off-screen interviewer. Incidentally, the Dylan songs heard in the background during some of the DVD are not actual Bob Dylan recordings (let alone recordings from Dylan's 1966 world tour), but facsimiles of Dylan songs by the Bob Dylan tribute band Highway 61 Revisited.

Family, BBC Radio Vol. 1 1968-69 (Hux). These 16 tracks are almost wholly composed of BBC versions of songs from Family's first three albums, though one ("Holding the Compass") didn't turn up until their fourth LP; another ("No Mule's Fool") was a 1969 single; and another, "I Sing 'Um the Way I Feel," was a J.B. Lenoir blues tune the band never put on their official records. Some of this material has come out on bootlegs, but the sound on this is notably superior -- it's quite good for a BBC archive release from any era, in fact. And while the arrangements don't differ too drastically from the studio versions, these performances are excellent. There's a bit of a loose live feel, but they demonstrate that the band -- unlike some others of the early progressive rock era -- were capable of re-creating their intricate, disciplined rock-blues-jazz-folk-miscellany interplay in a live setting, without sacrificing any of their gritty energy. Some of these renditions predate the release of the studio versions, sometimes by quite a bit; in the case of "Holding the Compass," in fact, the lyrics would change by the time it made it onto the Anyway album. Some might lament the absence of some particular favorites from their early days; there's no "Hey Mr. Policeman," for example. But really there's nothing to complain about considering the strong selection of songs here, which include such highlights of their early repertoire as "See Through Windows," "Drowned in Wine," the distressingly haunting folk-rockish "The Weaver's Answer," and the wistful "Observations from a Hill."

Mable John, My Name Is Mable (Universal). Mable John's stint with Motown was sufficiently obscure that even some of the relatively few soul fans who know of her work at all aren't aware that she started her career with the label. She did record a fair amount of material while there, and the accurately titled My Name Is Mable: The Complete Collection has all of it, containing all nine songs that showed up on 1960-63 singles (including both the stringless and with-strings versions of "No Love," and both the 1960 and 1963 versions of "Who Wouldn't Love a Man Like That") and ten previously unreleased outtakes. It's fine music, not just as quality early soul by one of the style's more underrated vocalists, but also as a document of Motown when it was at its bluesiest, and still looking to nail down the pop-soul groove that would eventually become its strongest suit. Several of the figures who would be key to Motown's success were involved with these sides, among them (as producers and songwriters) Berry Gordy, Mickey Stevenson, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Clarence Paul, Brian Holland, and Lamont Dozier. Too, the then-hitless Supremes and Temptations supplied backup vocals. What, then, was missing, considering that John was a mature, passionately strong gospel-influenced singer? Not much, except perhaps truly great songs that would have been obvious hits. The songs are decent, and though they've been a bit lazily classified as blues by some, you can virtually always hear the classic Motown sound in embryo. "Who Wouldn't Love a Man Like That" doesn't sound much different from the early Miracles' material, for instance, and you could certainly hear other songs fitting into the early repertoire of fellow Motowners like Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells without a problem. Some fans might prefer the funkier stuff that John recorded later in the '60s for Stax (as heard on the Stay Out of My Kitchen compilation), but this anthology is strong enough to appeal to general fans of early soul music, not just specialist collectors.

John Mayall, The Godfather of British Blues/The Turning Point [DVD] (Eagle Eye). Two John Mayall documentaries are combined into one DVD with this release. The longer of them, The Godfather of British Blues, is an hour-long career-spanning overview produced by the BBC in conjunction with Mayall's seventieth birthday; the other is a 25-minute rockumentary from 1969, at the time he was working on the music that became the album The Turning Point. The Godfather of British Blues is a job well done: a straightforward documentary mixing interviews done at the time of the filming with old photos and some vintage footage, though unfortunately there are less old clips than some viewers might hope for. In addition to Mayall, a bunch of his numerous associates talk about their experiences with the bandleader, including Eric Clapton, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Mick Taylor, Hughie Flint, and producer Mike Vernon. It does seem that Mayall was rarely filmed in the old days, however, since the earliest live Bluesbreakers footage here comes from the 1969 Turning Point documentary, and there's actually not too much else. There are a lot of gaps here, but to be fair it would probably take about ten hours just to document the dozens of Bluesbreakers lineups, and frankly it was an appropriate decision to concentrate mostly on his pre-1970 work, which was much more interesting than what followed in the next few decades. Within the 60-minute format this does about as well as it can, integrating the pure documentary segments with briefer clips of his return visit to England to play a seventieth birthday gig, with Clapton doing a guest spot.

The Turning Point, filmed in black and white, is interesting primarily for glimpses of the band rehearsing and playing onstage circa mid-1969, when the drumless, acoustic-oriented lineup that would record The Turning Point itself started performing. It has also brief interview segments with other members of the band and then-recent Bluesbreakers, including, again, Clapton, Fleetwood, McVie, and Taylor. There also brief comments from Peter Green -- rather an event, considering how rare it is to view interview footage with him -- and Aynsley Dunbar. It's mostly for serious Bluesbreakers fans, since none of the performance segments or interviews are too lengthy, and those not well-versed in Mayall's 1960s career don't get enough context to really understand what's going on or how his music's evolved to this particular turning point. But it's a good archival extra to include on the DVD, and combines with the main feature to offer the best visual Mayall retrospective likely to be produced. There aren't any other extras, incidentally, except for a photo gallery of a few dozen photos of Mayall from throughout his career.

The Mothers of Invention, Pixel Dust [DVD] (Silvertone Films). Probably not wholly (or even semi-) authorized, this DVD collects about 50 minutes' worth of footage (mostly in color) of the Mothers of Invention in 1967-68. Actually there are only four sources for these clips, those being a 1967 promo film; a couple songs filmed at the Bitter End in New York in 1967; a brief snippet of the group performing on British TV in October 1968; and the band playing on the German TV program Beat Club on October 6, 1968. Overall the clips capture the band right after their move from song-based material to a more wholly instrumental-based fusion of rock, jazz, classical, avant-garde, horror movie soundtracks, and humorous novelty. There's little singing in any of the scenes, in fact, and what singing is here is sometimes wordless scatting (often in a sardonic high doo-wop influenced manner). The main criticism of what's on offer here is that most of the segments are too short. The promo film is just a montage of fuzzy black-and-white images of the band while part of the recording of "The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet" plays on the soundtrack; a running caption on the bottom explaining the early Mothers' history in the briefest of terms indicates that this was taken from a TV program broadcast long after the '60s, not from the "promo film" itself. Some of the group's loony humor is captured in the just-slightly-longer portion from the Bitter End, particularly when they seem to be deliberately messing up a mime to "Son of Suzy Creamcheese," though the visuals aren't quite as hilarious as the legend might lead some viewers to anticipate. The British TV clip is the shortest bit, with some shakiness to the image reproduction/transfer. It's the Beat Club performance (with sometimes distracting psychedelic color negative effects, interrupted by a brief Frank Zappa interview segment from 1970) which is most substantial, in fact taking up the majority of the DVD. At that point, the Mothers were well into their more improvisational and experimental late-'60s phase, playing on and on without discrete breaks between songs; even when they go into a snippet of "Let's Make the Water Turn Black" from We're Only in It for the Money, they do it sans vocals. On the whole this is a worthwhile collection for Zappa/Mothers fans, but you can't help feeling both that there's more video footage from this era, and that it could be transferred from better sources if it obtains a more above-board release.

The Nice, The Nice [DVD] (Anonymous Film Archive). This bootleg DVD has 45 minutes of Nice performances, most or all of them from British and German television (some of the sources are not specifically identified), all in black and white. In common with other such products, it's not up to the standards that would be required of an official release; there are varying degrees of blur and shake in the most-likely-several-generations-down copies, though all of it can be viewed without difficulty. Some slack can be cut, however, considered that it's really not easy to access vintage footage of the Nice. Additionally, the clips here -- most or all of them live, not mimed -- reveal the group to be a more visually exciting act than might be evident from only hearing their records. That particularly applies to the young Keith Emerson, who attacks his keyboards with knives during their showpiece cover of "America," plays the organ upside down, and generally acts the mischievous prodigal virtuoso. During part of one lengthy segment (date and location not given, though it's obviously from the band's early career as guitarist Davy O'List is still in the lineup), in fact, he wreaks so much havoc on his organ -- nearly tilting it over, climbing over it mid-song, messing with the circuitry -- that it's almost a keyboardist equivalent to the autodestruction Pete Townshend visited upon his guitar with the Who. The multiple versions of "America" dominate the proceedings, but there also renditions of some of their other most popular numbers, including "Rondo," "Ars Longa Vita Brevis," and (serving as evidence that not everything they did had to be frenetic pseudo-ceremonial rock) an extended cover of folk-rocker Tim Hardin's "Hang onto a Dream." It actually leaves you hungry for more when the screen goes blank, and certainly hoping for the day when this (and other such material, if it could be located) might find legitimate release from higher-grade sources.

Procol Harum, Procol Harum [DVD] (Anonymous Film Archive). Major Procol Harum fans will get enough out of this 75-minute DVD bootleg collection of archive footage to find it worth viewing, though it lacks the professional quality that it could boast if it was done right. The clips (none of the dates and sources identified) span the late 1960s to 1976, taking in footage both live and lip-synced of some of their most familiar songs ("Whiter Shade of Pale," "Conquistador," "Shine on Brightly") and some less heavily exposed numbers. In both color and black and white, the image quality is quite watchable, but obviously not taken from the best available sources; sometimes it's a bit like watching a television set with weak reception or an antenna that isn't doing 100% of what it should. Some fans might be disappointed to find that most of the clips don't feature Robin Trower, but the band does play well throughout, the focus usually being on singer/pianist Gary Brooker. As another problem that should have taken the compilers just a little more effort to fix, much of the footage comes from three lengthy clips, but instead of showing each excerpt start to finish, they're broken up and the sequencing zigzags back and forth between them (and other of the clips, for that matter). As a final insult, the disc comes to an abrupt end by breaking off in the middle of "Souvenir of London" in the 1976 segment. Hopefully someone else will run with the ball and do a documentary or video anthology of the band that gives the material the respect it deserves.

Red Krayola, Singles (Drag City). The very notion of Red Krayola putting out "singles" is a little surreal, since singles are by most definitions the most commercial face of the record industry. After all, if anything was consistent about Red Krayola throughout their career, it was their uncompromising underground uncommerciality. Yet the band actually put out a good number of singles in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, and 21 tracks from those releases -- some of them quite rare, and some them actually previously unissued -- are collected on this compilation. While it wouldn't be accurate to categorize this as a best-of, in its own way it reflects the band's evolution as well as almost any anthology could (though it doesn't have anything from their earliest, psychedelic-oriented recordings in the late 1960s), Mayo Thompson being the only constant throughout their ever-changing lineups.

Strictly speaking, not all of this is Red Krayola, as the CD begins with an unreleased 1970 solo Thompson non-LP B-side, and both sides of the very rare 1970 single by Saddlesore (who included both Thompson and another early Red Krayola member, Rick Barthelme). Those three tracks are rather fried Texas acid-country-folk, but by the time of the next Red Krayola seven-inch (the live, unreleased "Wives in Orbit"/"Yik Yak") in 1976, Thompson was already onto the sound that would largely characterize his next two decades or so of work: jerky-tempoed, irregularly-structured, at times jarring indie rock with oblique, discursive lyrics. The most satisfying tracks, perhaps, are those from the 1979-81 Rough Trade singles in which the band also included British punk-new wavers Gina Birch, Lora Logic, and Epic Soundtracks (and on a couple singles, Pere Ubu's Allen Ravenstine). This particularly brand of scratchy, at times even funky new wave will certainly appeal to fans of the Raincoats (Birch's principal band), though it's less accessible to pop ears, a highlight being "Born in Flames," described in the notes as "the Social-Democrats' Song from the eponymous film by Lizzie Borden." The final eight cuts come from 1993-99 singles, Thompson's deconstruct-and-reassemble-the-jigsaw-puzzle approach to rock music remaining in full force, though the jagged edges have slightly softened. Like everything here, these aren't for impatient listeners, but bear their fruits for those looking for intellectual avant-rock with some substance. The liner notes (sample excerpt: "The song title rather clings the existentialistic rejections of the Punk generation to the social norm, that was out of sight in that enthusive and nihilistic community for a short while") are about as obtuse and academic as you'll find on any rock compilation, though.

The Valentinos, Do It Right (Official). This 22-track anthology of Valentinos material is almost certainly unauthorized, though it's on the who-are-they-kidding-with-that-name Official label. While the packaging is substandard (with no discographical information whatsoever other than the song titles), as of 2004 it was really the best soul fans could do if they wanted to hear music by one of the finest 1960s soul vocal groups never to be properly honored with a compilation. That lack of discographical data makes it difficult to determine exactly how large a slice of the Valentinos' work this disc captures, and how much it leaves out. But most of it's first-rate early-to-mid-'60s soul, although the amount of stylistic territory they covered makes it difficult to pin an identifiable character on their sound. Sometimes it seems on the edge between doo wop and soul; at other times it sounds rather like the early Impressions; sometimes it's close in feel to their mentor Sam Cooke; and sometimes it's churchy Northern soul. The standouts, of course, are the original versions of two songs that eventually became more famous in subsequent renditions: "It's All Over Now" (covered by the Rolling Stones, though the Valentinos did it in a jauntier country-influenced manner) and "Lookin' for a Love" (which the group's Bobby Womack would revive for a Top Ten solo hit in 1974). Much of it has a satisfyingly rawer feel to both the vocals and guitar work than lots of comparable soul from the era, which is invaluable to making this more interesting than most comps of soul groups that never had a big hit. The sound quality is mostly pretty good, but some of the material is blighted by swish'n'hiss that wouldn't be acceptable in an above-board release. There are a variety of likely reasons that a sanctioned collection of Valentino sides hasn't appeared -- the difficulty in licensing from several different labels at once, the ownership of their SAR catalog by a company (ABKCO) that has declined to reissue much of its holdings, and the uncommerciality of a group without chart success. But it really is about time someone took on the task, so fans didn't have to settle for half-baked efforts such as these in order to be able to hear some of these rarities at all.

The Ventures, Live 1966 [DVD] (Anonymous Film Archive). With one not-so-notable extra, this is basically a bootleg DVD of the mid-1960s film Beloved Invaders, an 80-minute documentary of a Japanese Ventures tour. (Although this DVD is titled Live 1966, some sources give the date of the film as 1965.) While the film itself is an essential document for Ventures fans in some respects, in other features it's not so impressive. That holds true in ways particular to this specific DVD and to the actual movie, in whatever format it's viewed. As for the DVD, while the image transfer suffers no serious problems hindering watchability, it's obviously not taken from a high-grade source, though at least it's in widescreen format. Also, there are no English subtitles -- a real drawback for non-Japanese speakers, since the opening few minutes have Japanese narration over footage of Japanese life in which the Ventures don't appear. Finally, the non-performance segments of the movie show the Ventures roaming around Japanese streets, traveling the country by train, signing autographs for fans, etc., with considerable spoken dialogue among the band. What's the problem with that? Well, on this disc at least, the dialogue isn't in English, but in overdubbed (and, again, unsubtitled) Japanese voices.

What is good about Beloved Invaders? It has quite a few genuinely live scenes from their concerts, in which they play with real ferocity that shows a harder edge than many of their records. Those clips are quite heavy on Venture-ized cover versions like "Wipe Out," "Pipeline," "Caravan," "The Cruel Sea," and "Apache," but also do include some originals, like their then-recent hit "Walk Don't Run '64." Their stage presence is almost laughably business-like, the band barely moving in their almost studious poses, but Nokie Edwards does at one point peel off a cool peculiarly amplified solo that sounds almost as if it's coming from a high-voltage transistor radio. Most English-speaking fans, frankly, wouldn't lose much if the film was edited down to include little else besides the concert scenes, though there are some cool glimpses of young Japanese bands in action in the opening section. What this really needs, though, is an official DVD release (with English subtitles, if needed) mastered from the best available source, and it's hard to imagine that one won't appear eventually. The one annoying "extra" on this disc is a 1980s-looking clip of the group, dressed in punkish regalia, miming "Wipe Out" while a scantily clad woman prances through various paces. Even more annoyingly, it's placed at the very beginning of the disc prior to Beloved Invaders, an appetizer that leaves a foul taste.

Neil Young, Acoustic Young (Oh Boy, bootleg). All 20 of these songs, according to this bootleg's subtitle, were recorded "live in the USA, autumn 1976." And all 20 of them, right in line with the CD title Acoustic Young, are unplugged -- usually with Young on acoustic guitar, although piano, harmonica, and banjo also occasionally figure into the instrumentation. This might not be the most extraordinary acoustic Young available, official or unofficial, and while the sound quality is decent enough to make this effortlessly enjoyable, it's below the standard demanded by legitimate releases. Nevertheless, it's a very worthwhile listen for serious Young fans, with a good cross-section of acoustic performances of tunes both well known or fairly well known ("After the Goldrush," "Harvest," "Mr. Soul," "The Needle and the Damage Done," "Love Is a Rose," "Sugar Mountain," "The Losing End," "The Old Laughing Lady," "Tell Me Why," "Human Highway") and not as celebrated ("Here We Are in the Years," "White Line," "Give Me Strength," "Too Far Gone"). It's also interesting to hear the inclusion of "Pocahontas," a good two-and-a-half years before its appearance on Rust Never Sleeps. This is the kind of collection that exemplifies why devoted fans want to hear bootlegs: it's not likely to be released because the sound quality's not good enough and there are too many other versions of some of the songs in circulation, but it's nevertheless good and unusual enough to be a pleasurable listen.

Various Artists, Gather in the Mushrooms: The British Acid Folk Underground 1968-1974 (Castle). These 18 tracks give a pretty good idea of the gentler and spacier side of British rock in the late 1960s and early 1970s, though it's perhaps not as "acid," "folk," or "underground" as the title might portend. It's more an overview of some of the better music from the UK scene to fall in the hazy ground twixt contemporary British folk and the milder side of British folk, with just a few heavy rock and psychedelic influences coming into play once in a while. Not all of the performers are "underground," actually, if underground is taken to mean not well known to commercial audiences: the Pentangle, Sandy Denny, and Bert Jansch all sold decent amounts of records to both folk and rock listeners, and while Sallyangie weren't too successful, half of that brother-sister duo (Mike Oldfield) went on to stardom. But certainly, while other artists are fairly well known to British folk-rock cultists (Trader Horne, with ex-Fairport Convention singer Judy Dyble; Forest; Vashti Bunyan; and Shelagh McDonald), names like Magnet, Mr. Brooks, and Fresh Maggots will challenge the memory of both those who were there and those who try to collect this genre retrospectively. Pentangle's "Lyke Wake Dirge" and Denny's "Milk and Honey" (the latter an early, pre-Fairport Convention recording) are more accomplished and powerful than anything else on the disc. But the rest does offer its share of other fine moments, like Lesley Duncan's self-penned "Love Song" (covered on an early album by Elton John); Bunyan's haunting "Winter Is Blue"; Shelagh McDonalds's "Liz's Song," though it's derivative of both Denny and Joni Mitchell; and Comus' disquieting "The Herald," which is about the most psychedelic-influenced track. Most everything else is at the least pleasant, making this a good introductory survey if you're gearing up for digging into the more obscure British folk-rock of the period.

Various Artists, Soul to Soul [DVD] (Rhino). In its original form, the early-'70s concert film Soul to Soul offered a worthy if uneven assortment of footage of Wilson Pickett, Santana, Ike & Tina Turner, the Staple Singers, Les McCann & Eddie Harris, Voices of East Harlem, and Roberta Flack performing in Ghana during their prime, interspersed with scenes of African musicians and Ghanaian life taken during their trip. The DVD release offers such a wealth of worthy extras that it takes literally days to absorb them all, starting with a detailed 22-page small-print booklet that gives a thorough history of this previously ill-documented event. That's just a prelude to the special features, which include no less than four separate commentary tracks, with voiceover recollections by Mavis Staples of the Staple Singers (the only figure to get a commentary track of her own); Les McCann and Kevin Griffin of Voices of East Harlem (who do their commentary track together); original producer Tom Mosk, accompanied by reissue producers David Peck and Jon Kanis; and Ike Turner, on a track that also includes some observations by Michael Shrieve of Santana, Ghanaian drummer Obo Addy, and (again) Griffin and McCann. After viewing the commentary tracks, you'll know more than you ever thought you'd ever know (or perhaps wanted to know) about the musicians' trip to Ghana in early 1971, along with plenty of info about the genesis and realization of the film (from Mosk, Peck, and Kanis) and incidental asides about soul music in general. The bonus studio footage of brief excerpts of the commentaries actually being recorded is extraneous, but the sole outtake from the film itself, of Ike & Tina Turner doing "I've Been Loving You Too Long," is not. It's one of the hotter songs in the package, actually (perhaps the overtly sexual innuendo was considered too hot to make the cut for the initial release), and even this brief clip has a separate Ike Turner commentary track. And there's yet more: disc two of this two-disc set is a CD-only offering presenting the original soundtrack, with the addition of a few songs (including Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour") not on the original version. (Note that the soundtrack CD is not identical to the music heard on the soundtrack of the DVD; Santana, for instance, is not on the soundtrack CD, while some songs heard on the CD are not in the movie.) The only small complaint is that the sequences from the original movie involving Roberta Flack have, unfortunately, been omitted from the DVD release at Flack's request.

Various Artists, Teen Dance Music from China and Malaysia (Thrift Score). If the brief liner notes on the back cover are to be trusted, this CD was assembled by cherry-picking cuts from a batch of late-'60s/early-'70s-looking Southasian pop LPs found at a thrift store. While the cover design's on par with professional releases, there are no details on the specific cuts and artists other than the track listings, and even five of the song titles are given as "Indecipherable." So a state-of-the-art historical document this isn't, with surface noise and even a few skips to indicate that the music's been taken from vinyl rather than better sources. But if you're looking for something novel in the strip-mined field of 1960s rock reissues, this delivers the goods, though no doubt it sounds more exotic to Western ears due to its sheer difference from most pop-rock from North America, Europe, and Australasia. It's an unpredictable, ever-morphing (and largely instrumental) hodgepodge of Ventures-Shadows-style guitar, spy and spaghetti western soundtracks, lounge exotica, cheesy Southasian pop, go-go dance rock, and cheapo organs with an otherworldly shimmer. It's silly and not terribly deep, the Man Chau Po Orchestra even stooping to doing a go-go version of the theme from "Bridge on the River Kwai." Yet on the other hand it's pretty enjoyable, with a spirited fun in spite of this material's possible (or even probable) origins as exploitative quickie easy listening/dance rock LPs. One does wonder if much or any of this teen dance music actually came from China, given that country's historical official resistance to rock, even rock of this sort; perhaps some of the tracks with Chinese-language original packaging actually originated in Hong Kong, Taiwan, or other non-Chinese territories.



contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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