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

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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