Archived Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Archived Reviews

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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