Davie Allan & the Arrows, Devil's Rumble: Anthology '64-'68 (Sundazed). Although Allan's semi-legendary for his '60s fuzz guitar instrumentals, prior to this release they hadn't been easy to hear on CD, with only the odd cut popping up on compilations. Nor had it been too easy to get a handle on his work even if you were willing to dig for the obscure original vinyl releases, as it had been scattered across so many albums and soundtracks, some of them quite obscure. This two-disc, 40-track set finally addressed that gap in as classy a manner as possible, the cuts carefully selected from his '64-'68 recordings for Tower and its Sidewalk subsidiary, drawing from the four actual Davie Allan & the Arrows LPs made during this time; no less than ten soundtrack albums to which they contributed; and a smattering of singles, including a couple of 45 versions of songs that showed up in different versions on the albums. The Top 100 chart hits ("Blue's Theme," "Apache '65," and "Cody's Theme") are all here, but most of it's far lesser known, though you might have heard some of it in the background to numerous biker-hippie exploitation flicks of the period. It reveals Allan as a master of combining surf, the twang of Duane Eddy, the distortions of Link Wray, and psychedelia into a distinctly mid-to-late-'60s instrumental rock sound, leaning hard on mind-melting fuzz guitar.

That's a good thing, but it should be said that even in a compilation as well-packaged as this one, it might be too much at once even for those who like the basic recipe. Allan lacked as much tonal variety, melodic imagination, and killer riffage as Link Wray, perhaps his closest counterpart, though each have their own distinct sound. The percentage of pedestrian tunes is high enough that it can blur together at times, and work against sustaining your interest for 40 songs of the stuff. And Allan leans on his patented fuzz guitar sound real hard, particularly the more time went on, which can grow a bit tiresome even if you're enamored of it. A single-disc compilation would certainly have been more killer, though it would have sacrificed some of this anthology's admirable breadth. Still, there's no shortage of cool'n'creepy cuts, starting with the surf-y update of "Apache" ("Apache '65") and the classic elemental fuzz damage of "Blue's Theme." More notably for those only familiar with those songs, it also takes in far lesser-exposed delights like "The Stompers and the Souls," with its ghostly upper-register squeals and scrapes; the epic surf reverb of "The Loser's Bar"; the far-out fuzz wah-wah of "Cycle-Delic"; the grand, James Bond-theme-quality "Another Cycle in Detroit"; "The Rebel (Without a Cause)," which sounds rather like a tougher version of Britain's Shadows; the sweet fuzz hum of the 45 version of "Devil's Angels"; and the cool update of the classic surf instrumental "Moondawg," titled "Moondawg '65" naturally. The liner notes do a lot to give Allan & the Arrows the place in history they deserve, even including a page of comments by producer Mike Curb.

Oscar Brown Jr., Kicks: The Best of Oscar Brown Jr. (BGP). With 23 tracks from all four of Brown's early-'60s albums for Columbia, this is the finest representation of the singer's work on record. It's true that it doesn't include some worthy post-Columbia material, particularly cuts from the 1964 live recording Mr. Oscar Brown Jr. Goes to Washington (such as "Brother Where Are You?"). It's also true that some fans might have minor quibbles with the songs selected for this best-of, which omits numbers like "Rags and Old Iron," "Brown Baby," and "Man, Ernest Boy" that could have made worthy inclusions. Yet it's hard to argue with what is here, including as it does standouts like the oft-covered "Work Song" (in two versions, actually); his vocal adaptations of Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue," Duke Pearson's "Jeanine," and Miles Davis' "All Blues"; "But I Was Cool," one of the most humorous jazz vocal pieces ever; and more serious numbers adapting the work of African-American poetry, "Elegy (Plain Black Boy)" and "When Malindy Sings." The four standards taken from In a New Mood are the least interesting numbers, but at least everything else on the CD is a Brown original, or an adaptation of a musical or literary work to which Brown added new words and/or music. Though he was perhaps a bit too theatrical in his singing and songwriting to get as hip a reputation as gutsier, moodier performers like Nina Simone (who covered several Brown songs in her early days), this remains some of the best music to fuse jazz, pop vocals, and African-American consciousness.

Cleaners from Venus, Living with Victoria Grey: The Very Best of Cleaners from Venus (Cherry Red). It's stretching things a little to call this a best-of (or certainly a "very best of"), since this draws from a fairly limited slice of Cleaners from Venus' prolific 1981-1990 output. It focuses on the late-1980s period when Giles Smith was primary CoV singer-songwriter Martin Newell's chief collaborator in the band, and when the group graduated from underground cassettes to more widely distributed LPs. Not that you'd necessarily be able to figure that out from the liner notes, which, while including a thorough discography, neglect to list original release details for any of the tracks on this anthology. It's not a trivial omission, particularly since, as the fairly small circle of Cleaners from Venus know, some of these 18 songs sounded better (and certainly less overproduced) in their original versions on those cassette-only releases. That's particularly true of the songs from their best cassette-only album, Living with Victoria Grey, several of which show up here in slicker, less effective arrangements. All those reservations out of the way, this is still a good, often charming selection of some of the group's more widely circulated tracks -- not that any of them were ever too widely heard. The melodies are infectious, the guitars ringing, the lyrics witty, and the sound indebted to '60s pop-rock without sounding revivalistic (a much rarer feat than it should be). It's one of the few best-ofs from a hitless '80s indie band that actually sounds like a collection of worthy hit singles, rather than songs that just wished they were hit singles, or were trying to be hit singles without the quality to justify such popularity. As a nice bonus, Giles Smith contributes a witty sleeve note, and on the CD's final four tracks, he reads four spoken extracts about his Cleaners from Venus experiences from his autobiographical book Lost in Music (which is well worth reading, by the way).

Donovan, Sixty Four (Donovan Discs). Recorded by Donovan in 1964 (the sleeve art implies it was in the summer of that year), these nine tracks predate the singer's first official releases on Pye Records, and represent the earliest studio recordings of his to have yet come to light. (Although two of the cuts, "London Town" and "Codine," did come out on the Troubadour box set in the early 1990s, the other seven were previously unreleased.) Donovan was at this point an acoustic folk musician, and these performances are pretty similar to the folk recordings he'd make for official release in 1965, though they're perhaps a bit more rooted in the traditional side of things. Though Brian Locking accompanies him on bass on "Crazy 'Bout a Woman," otherwise it's just Donovan and his acoustic guitar. And good it is too, his distinctive style of vocal phrasing and accomplished guitar work virtually fully formed, although the material isn't as striking as the songs that lifted him to stardom in the mid-1960s.

Donovan would in fact re-do a few of these numbers in the studio slightly later on, with Jesse Fuller's "Keep on Trucking" appearing on a 1965 release; "Isle of Sadness" getting remade with the title "Belated Forgiveness Plea," though otherwise the song and performance are quite similar to the later 1965 Pye Recording; and "The Darkness of My Night" getting retitled "Breezes of Patchulie" for his typically ornate mid-1960s folk-rock treatment a bit later on, though this version is purely acoustic, and considerably plainer. As for the best items that Donovan wouldn't release in any form on his early Pye Recordings, those include a good cover of Ewan McColl's classic "Dirty Old Town" and a decent gotta-travel-on-style troubadour folk original, "Freedom Road." The sole other original on the set, "Talkin' Pop Star Blues," would have given the Donovan's-a-Dylan-imitator crowd some additional ammunition had it come out at the time, sounding too close to some of Dylan's early talking blues for comfort. On the whole, though, Donovan has much of his original voice in place here, and this is worthy addition to his body of recordings, in fine official release-quality sound. (This CD is available via Donovan's own website,

Nick Drake, Made to Love Magic (Island). Hunger for "new" Nick Drake material had reached enough of a fever pitch by the twenty-first century for Island to try and dig up enough for this odd patchwork collection, combining outtakes with remixes of tracks that had been previously issued on the Time of No Reply album. The result is a curious disc that's not quite an anthology of wholly previously unreleased material, and thus of somewhat limited value to Drake collectors, though it contains much good music. The only song here previously unavailable in any form is the 1974 outtake "Tow the Line," a melancholic solo acoustic performance (as are most of the tracks on the CD) that's well up to the standards of Pink Moon and the 1974 tracks that previously surfaced on Time of No Reply. Also new to official release are spring 1968 solo acoustic versions of "River Man" (later to appear on Five Leaves Left with orchestration) and "Mayfair" (a later recording of which was used on Time of No Reply), as well as a March '69 version of "Three Hours" that's longer than the one later cut for Five Leaves Left. There's also a newly discovered take of "Hanging on a Star" (one of the 1974 outtakes used on Time of No Reply) with a different vocal. The differences between these and the familiar studio renditions aren't knock-your-socks-off different, but certainly good and well worth hearing by Drake cultists.

It's the rest of the material that might be the target of criticism from concerned consumers, whether for posthumous tampering or redundancy with previously available albums. Most controversially, two tracks from Time of No Reply -- "Time of No Reply" itself and "I Was Made to Love Magic" (the latter here, for some reason, retitled simply "Magic") -- have been altered to include Robert Kirby's original orchestral arrangements, recorded in 2003. Actually in both instances, the substituted orchestration is integrated very tastefully, but it can never be answered whether Drake himself would have approved or had it done the exact ame way. The remaining cuts are simply remixes or remasterings of six songs that appeared on Time of No Reply, the remixes of the 1974 songs "Black Eyed Dog," "Rider on the Wheel," and "Voices" (originally titled "Voice from the Mountain" when it first appeared on Time of No Reply) being done by the original recording engineer, John Wood. Though those remixes of the '74 tracks in particular are an improvement (the songs on the original release had been mixed onto a mono listening tape), again it's not the sort of thing that will generate revelations unless you're an audiophile. As everything Drake recorded was worth hearing, this CD too is quite worthy judged in isolation, and certainly full of the subdued mystery the singer-songwriter brought to his music. It's just not the goldmine of discoveries for which some might have hoped.

Exuma, Exuma (Repertoire ). Exuma's debut album was a real odd piece of work, even by the standards of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when major labels went further out on a limb to throw weird stuff at the public to see what would stick than they ever had before, or have since. Roughly speaking, it's kind of like a combination of the Bahamian folk of Joseph Spence with early Dr. John at his most voodooed-out, though even that nutshell doesn't really do justice to how unusual this record is. Often it seems more like eavesdropping on a tribal ritual than listening to songs. Some of the tracks, indeed, have little or less to do with conventional "songs" with tunes and lyrics; they're more akin to Mardi Grass street percussion jams, airlifted to the Caribbean islands. Exuma and his accompanists make quite a spooky clamor with their various bells, foot drums, chanting, gasps, sighs, shouts, and other percussive instruments, creating a mood both celebratory and scary. He's not totally averse to using more standard song forms, though, singing about "zombies walking in the broad daylight" in "Mama Loi, Papa Loi"; devising a simple, fairly singable soul melody for "You Don't Know What's Going On," his most famous song due to its inclusion in the movie Joe; and setting "The Vision" to an appealing, if again quite simple, folk melody. Exuma's rough, unschooled vocals cut off any prospect of mainstream accessibility, but they get the job done in getting both his uplifting and ominous spirituality over. It's a little surprising that this stuff hasn't undergone a sizable cult revival; many artists of lesser talent and idiosyncrasy have, and perhaps the 2003 CD reissue on Repertoire, with reasonably informed liner notes, will aid in its rediscovery.

Exuma, Exuma II (Repertoire). Exuma's second album is perhaps a little less strange, and a little more sedate, than his debut (also released in 1970) -- but only a little. It's another combination of folk music from the Bahamas with voodoo-esque ritual not far removed from some of the more extreme New Orleans music influenced by that practice. In places (like "Fire in the Hole," probably the most accessible cut) there's a spiritual lilt to the vocals that might remind some listeners, if only faintly, of some of the Rasta-fired reggae recorded by Bob Marley and others in the '70s. It's hardly just another day at the office for Mercury Records, though, when one of the first lyrics of an album blithely states, "you thought you married a woman, you married a big black bird." Too, "Paul Simon Nontooth" might even be further-out (and creepier) than anything on the first album, being more a zombie revival ritual than a conventional song. There are more tuneful items too, though, like "Baal," where Exuma's raw, scratchy vocals approximate an exotic soul-gospel feel. And even on the more laid-back tracks, there are all sorts of weird, spontaneous-sounding interjections of percussion, yells, and chanting voices, "We Got to Go" even sounding something like a nineteenth-century group trying to play like War, only lacking the modern technology to make the transition complete. Plenty of albums based in folk traditions, and plenty of albums that are very odd, have little variety from cut to cut. That, refreshingly, is something that most definitely can not be said of Exuma II, where you're never quite sure what's around the corner. Overall, however, it's similar enough to the first album that it sounds almost as if it could have been overspill from the same sessions. While it might not be quite as striking as his previous album, certainly anyone who likes that debut will like this as well (and vice versa), and its reissue on CD in 2003 made it more available than it had been for decades.

Fleetwood Mac, Helsinki Carousel [bootleg] (Hiwatt). Given that there are almost ten discs worth of officially released early live and BBC Fleetwood Mac when Peter Green was in the lineup, do you really need to seek out concert bootlegs of the group from the same era? Not unless you're a completist, but if  you are one, this two-CD set is at least not totally redundant with the live stuff that's made it onto legitimate releases. The first 18 songs -- all of disc one, and the first five tracks of disc two -- come from a show at the Carousel Ballroom in San Francisco in June 1968, hence documenting a slightly earlier period than the ones covered on most of the official live early Mac discs (which tend to come from 1969 and 1970). The sound on this portion is surprisingly good -- extremely clear, almost up to official release quality -- yet also curiously dead, as if it was recorded as the band was in rehearsal prior to a radio-only session (and in fact, the audience is virtually inaudible). Too, the vocals are fainter than they should be, though not buried or indecipherable. It all tends to make it sound less exciting than anticipated. Also, the song selection is a little too much on the conservative blues side, though it does have live versions of some of their better early tracks ("Got to Move," "I Loved Another Woman"), as well as some songs that didn't make it onto their early studio releases (like Freddie King's "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" and  a ten-minute instrumental "Jam" whose riff sounds much like Billy Boy Arnold's "I Wish You Would"). And as usual, there's a little too much of those early rock'n'roll oldies covers Fleetwood Mac were prone to throw into their live set, including "Willie and the Hand Jive" and three Little Richard numbers.

The final 13 songs on disc two are taken from a spring 1969 concert in Helsinki, and the band actually sound more much lively here. It also helps that by this time, they'd developed some better original material that was moving away from strict blues-rock limitations, playing "Man of the World," "Only You," "Oh Well," "Albatross," and "Coming Your Way," to name a few highlights. There's also energetic straight blues -- Otis Rush's "Homework" is pretty scorching -- including some songs that, again, they never got around to doing in the studio, like the superbly rendered slow blues "Got a Mind to Give Up Living." (There are also, alas, a couple more of those not-so-hot oldies encores, Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire" and Little Richard's "Jenny Jenny.") The main problem is that the fidelity, though listenable (certainly listenable by late-'60s bootleg standards), isn't that great, and isn't nearly as good as it is on the preceding 1968 Carousel Ballroom tapes. If only the Helsinki portion boasted audio as good as the Carousel section -- and if only the Carousel section boasted songs and performances as good as the Helsinki portion -- this would be a match for any live Fleetwood Mac recordings from the period. No complaints about the length, though, the two CDs totaling almost two-and-a-half hours.

Fleetwood Mac, Dead Bust Blues [bootleg] (Hiwatt). This two-CD bootleg of live performances in New Orleans on January 30, 1970 (on disc one) and February 1, 1970 (on disc two) would be much more valuable had there not been a good three albums worth of Fleetwood Mac live material from the same era circulating for a long time. In fact, the February 1970 shows at the Boston Tea Party that have shown up in numerous permutations on legitimate releases were recorded just days after these New Orleans gigs. So although the sound on this boot is very clear and good -- almost as good as what you'd expect on an official release, in fact -- it's rather redundant with the Boston Tea Party stuff, in both the arrangements and the actual songs performed. Since the sound is just a bit worse than the Boston Tea Party tapes -- it's a little flat, and the vocals are lower than they should be -- the Boston Tea Party releases must be given a substantial edge. If you're even considering getting a bootleg such as this in the first place, however, you probably have far less reservations about duplication and redundancy than the casual buyer who just wants one representative document of the period. If you are that brand of fanatic, this set does have its rewards, principally in the presence of a few songs that don't show up on the Boston Tea Party albums, including "Albatross," the despondent Then Play On standout "Before the Beginning," and most particularly the excellent, anguished slow blues "Got a Mind to Give Up Living." There are, as well, differences in some of the arrangements, "Coming Your Way" lasting a good 11 minutes. (Indeed, as on the Boston Tea Party-related releases, many of the songs are more drawn-out and extended than they should be, suffering in comparison to the more disciplined studio versions.) Plus you get to hear Peter Green clear up any possible speculation about the subject of "Rattlesnake Shake," which he straightforwardly introduces as a song about masturbation. And there are almost entirely different set lists for each night/disc; only three of the songs ("Only You," "World in Harmony," and "Stranger Blues") are represented by different versions on each CD. Certainly it's one bootleg that doesn't short-change the consumer, offering a good two hours and fifteen minutes of music.

The Kinks, Another Great Lost Kinks Album [bootleg] (Eye). The second of a three-part bootleg series of sorts that also includes The Great Lost Kinks Album and The Third (And Last} Great Lost Kinks Album, Another Great Lost Kinks Album, like those other two volumes, has a heaping helping of recordings from the 1960s and early 1970s that aren't in the group's official CD catalog. The bulk of these 25 tracks hail from radio and television performances, and even though the sources aren't always completely documented and the live versions sometimes don't differ very much from the studio arrangements, the fidelity is usually good, and some of the performances quite interesting. Among the better items are a live December 1964 recording of "All Day and All of the Night," aired on the American TV show Shindig!; an unusual June 1965 version of "Long Tall Shorty," on which Dave Davies is backed by the Shindig! house band, including guitarist James Burton; a 1965 BBC radio performance of a song that didn't make it onto their studio releases, "All Aboard" (actually titled "Hide and Seek" and originally recorded by Big Joe Turner and Bill Haley; a separate BBC version of this with vastly better fidelity appears on The Third (And Last) Great Lost Kinks Album. The fun continues with five live songs from a late-'65 German TV appearance; four from an October 1967 BBC radio session that didn't make it onto the official BBC Sessions 1964-1977 compilation, including the classic "Sunny Afternoon"; and, topping things off, five tracks from their January 1973 performance (mistakenly dated as January 1972 on the sleeve) on BBC TV's In Concert, including a cover of Little Richard's "Good Golly Miss Molly" and good updates of the hits "Dedicated Follower of Fashion," "Lola," and 'Waterloo Sunset." This is nothing to rival the Kinks' best studio work, but it's a very useful (and enjoyable) gap-filler for fans determined to assemble as many vintage recordings by the band as they can.

The Kinks, The Third (And Last) Great Lost Kinks Album [bootleg] (LOISIRS). The third (and, if the title is to be believed, last) in this bootleg series of 1960s and early-1970s Kinks rarities is actually more interesting than its predecessor (Another Great Lost Kinks Album), offering another mix of unreleased BBC sessions, studio outtakes, TV appearances, and the like. Packed with 30 songs and 79 minutes of music, the contents are too diverse to summarize in a single review. To begin with, though, there are 17 BBC radio recordings from 1964-1970 that aren't on the official BBC Sessions 1964-1977 compilation. The sound quality on these is usually excellent, and always listenable, including some real desirable rarities, namely two songs which never made it onto 1960s Kinks records in any form: a 1964 cover of Chuck Berry's "Little Queenie" and a 1965 cover of the far more obscure Big Joe Turner/Bill Haley cut "Hide and Seek." (The latter track is an entirely different version than a separate BBC performance of the same tune that's been bootlegged under the title "All Aboard," in more complete form and vastly better audio to boot.) While the other BBC cuts all have studio counterparts, they include some relatively infrequently traveled songs like "I've Got That Feeling," "You Shouldn't Be Sad," "Never Met a Girl Like You Before," "I Am Free," and "Mr. Churchill Says." Good stuff all, even if the arrangements aren't too different from the familiar studio takes, and some of the 1969-70 Beeb recordings are just different mixes of the official recordings with new vocals.

As for the non-BBC radio items here, the highlights are a late-1963 demo of a frivolously disposable early British Invasion-like song, "Obadiabloo"; an exciting, totally live September 1964 BBC TV version of "Got Live If You Want It"; and two solo Ray Davies songs, "Got to Be Free" and "Marathon," from the 1970 BBC television play The Long Distance Piano Player, Ray's piano and vocal being the only accompaniment. Some of the rest of the set is less interesting (stereo mixes of three Face to Face tracks) or disappointing (the mid-'60s outtakes "Listen to Me" and "She's My Girl," which have poor sound quality and aren't such great songs either). Still, the CD's very well packaged; it and the similarly bountiful bootlegs Another Great Lost Kinks Album and The Great Lost Kinks Album are essential supplements to the official 1960s-early-'70s  Kinks discography for fanatical fans of the group. (Incidentally, no label is listed on the spine or disc, but a logo reading "LOISIRS" appears in the upper left-hand corner.)

Curtis Mayfield, Keep on Keepin' On [bootleg] (Big 'Fro). The Big 'Fro label did a valuable if unauthorized service to soul collectors by making available a good amount of unreleased vintage material by soul stars, an area that has received relatively little attention from bootleggers. This CD compiles live, radio, and television performances -- as well as a studio outtakes of "Freddie's Dead" and "Eddie You Should Know Better" from 1972, although no details other than year of recording are supplied for those -- from what was arguably Curtis Mayfield's greatest period of a distinguished career. For all of the tracks hail from 1972-74, a point at which the Superfly soundtrack had vaulted him to superstardom. The sound is good -- in fact, sometimes it's release quality, though some of the concert material is a little below that standard -- and the performances excellent, although they don't hugely deviate from the familiar studio versions. In addition to renditions of a few Superfly highlights ("Pusherman" and two versions apiece of "Superfly," "Freddie's Dead," and "Give Me Your Love"), there are also a few of the better non-Superfly songs from Mayfield's most socially conscious period, including "Keep on Keepin' On," "We Got to Have Peace," "Stone Junkie," and "We People Who Are Darker Than Blue." If nothing else, it offers further proof of Mayfield's mastery of the soul-rock wah-wah guitar, as he uses the effects with as much assurance live as he did in the studio. Although 18 tracks are listed, that's a little deceptive; five of the "cuts" are actually excerpts of interviews with Mayfield, from undocumented sources.

The Misunderstood, The Lost Acetates 1965-1966 (UT). Although the Misunderstood were among the best obscure psychedelic bands -- indeed, among the best obscure '60s rock bands of any kind -- they barely got to record anything before tragic circumstances broke them up. The discovery of this bunch of previously unknown mid-'60s acetates, then, was big news to psychedelic rock aficionados, though most of this actually comes from their garage R&B days rather than the psychedelic peak they attained with their late-1966 lineup. The first nine of these 14 tracks come from sessions spanning mid-1965 to early 1966, and show them as a ferocious, above-average moody raw R&B-based group, somewhat in the mold of a more guitar-oriented Animals. It's tougher and more original than the earlier, slightly poppier garage sides found on the pre-psychedelic sides of the Before the Dream Faded compilation. But it's not nearly as innovative as the brilliant Yardbirds-taken-to-further-extremes freakout songs on Before the Dream Faded that were cut in London when Tony Hill was in the band. In fact, super-amplified steel guitarist Glenn Ross Campbell wasn't even in the band yet when these nine songs were recorded. Still, these cuts are at the least respectable and often exciting, like their rave-up treatment of "Got Love If You Want It" and Hoyt Axton's "Thunder 'N Lightnin'," as well as an earlier, more folk-rockish version of "I Unseen" (which they'd re-record in a far more psych-out fashion in London). Also on the album is their cover of Howlin' Wolf's "Who's Been Talkin'" from a rare 1966 single (predating their move to London) and alternate versions of four great songs they did in the Tony Hill era. These alternate versions -- of "My Mind," "Find the Hidden Door," "Children of the Sun," and "I Unseen" -- actually aren't that different from the ones on Before the Dream Faded, as they utilize the same basic tracks, which were later given some re-tracking and doubling of vocals at Philips-Fontana. Nonetheless, for completism's sake they're good to have, and as a whole the release does a lot to fill in the developmental gaps between the group's first known recordings and their psychedelic incarnation, with excellent annotation by Mike Stax.

Laura Nyro, Spread Your Wings and Fly: Live at the Fillmore East May 30, 1971 (Columbia/Legacy). While a couple of the medleys of soul covers have shown up as bonus tracks on the expanded edition of Laura Nyro's Gonna Take a Miracle, everything else from this 1971 show was previously unreleased. In fact two of the songs, the lengthy Nyro originals "American Dove" and "Mother Earth" (the latter clocking in at eight minutes), appear here for the first time anywhere. It's just Nyro and her piano on this recording, and while the sleeve note apologizes for the sound quality due to deterioration of the tape, actually it sounds pretty good, though not pristine. There are both positive and negative ways of viewing this archival find. On one hand the set list, oddly, contained none of her best-known songs ("Wedding Bell Blues," "Stoned Soul Picnic," "Sweet Blindness," "Blowin' Away," and "And When I Die" are all missing for starters), which might disappoint some fans. Also, the unplugged reliance on nothing but piano backup makes this less varied and, in some ways, less interesting than the full arrangements she used on her early studio releases. On the other hand the emphasis on lesser-known songs and soul covers -- as well as, for that matter, the use of solo piano arrangements -- means that both the material and the setting give us a glimpse of different sides of the singer-songwriter than are apparent in her more familiar studio albums. Nyro sings in a beautifully high range and her piano accompaniment is sensitive, though whether due to the recording flaws or the way she presented herself in live performance, the words aren't always wholly distinct. It's not on par with her early studio releases, and neither "American Dove" nor "Mother Earth" are great songs; they're okay and certainly in her soulful singer-songwriting vein, but a little meandering. But fans will treasure this as a document of Nyro in a more intimate setting than her early official releases allowed.

The Rolling Stones, Reelin' and Rockin' [bootleg] (Musik Fur Alle). Although this contains very little that hasn't made the rounds on other bootlegs of early Rolling Stones rarities, it does have at least one track that most fans are unlikely to have seen elsewhere: a bona fide studio outtake cover of Chuck Berry's classic "Reelin' and Rockin'," recorded in Chess Studios in June 1964. The problem is that the very insatiable fans most likely to snap this up will almost certainly have all or most of the rest of this already. Still, it's not as if established major labels are above adding just one or two uncirculated items to anthologies to force fans to fork over their hard-earned money. Plus, if you don't happen to have much early unreleased Stones in your collection, this is actually a very useful (and musically quite good) compilation of the most notable unissued studio recordings from their earliest days, with just two of the songs post-dating June 1964.

First, to the item about which avid Rolling Stones followers will be most curious. The outtake of "Reelin' and Rockin'" is okay, but surprisingly languid, the group slowing down the tempo from the Berry original to a more relaxed and blues-funky groove, as if they were casually using it as a warm-up number, rather than kicking out the jams as they did on Berry's "Around and Around." Much of the other 24 tracks are of substantially greater merit, including their March 1963 five-song IBC Studio demo, the recording on which the classic Stones blues-rock sound was first captured, with particularly exciting covers of Bo Diddley's "Roadrunner," Jimmy Reed's "Baby What's Wrong" (here mistitled "Honey What's Wrong"), and Muddy Waters' "I Want to Be Loved" (a different, though very similar, version than the one done for the B-side of their first single). There are also five additional June 1964 Chess studio outtakes that are for the most part almost as good as the material that ended up on the 12 X 5 album, particularly the covers of "Hi- Heel Sneakers," Big Bill Broonzy's "Tell Me Baby," and Howlin' Wolf's "Down in the Bottom" (though the latter, in an unusual example of a bootleg underselling itself, is not listed on the sleeve). If the versions of "Don't Lie to Me" and "Look What You've Done" from this session are different from the officially released ones, however, it's difficult to tell, though "Look What You've Done" does have the "bonus" of a brief spoken announcement of the track title of the beginning.

The rest of the CD's contents aren't as vital, but are always at the least interesting. These include some lo-fi home rehearsal recordings made by an embryonic version of the band in 1961; a brief, and very lo-fi, excerpt of an October 1962 demo of Bo Diddley's "You Can't Judge a Book By the Cover," probably taken from an airing during a radio broadcast; the satirical early-1964 outtakes "Andrew's Blues" and "And Mr. Spector and Mr. Pitney Came Too," which are musically routine and not incredibly funny; their infamous early-1964 Rice Krisipies jingle, which is actually fairly hot (if brief) R&B; and a mildly different alternate version of "Not Fade Away." Moving beyond 1964, there's also the bluesy late-'65 outtake "Looking Tired" (an original) and an early version of "Street Fighting Man" from 1968, "Everybody Pays Their Dues." Overall it's a valuable supplement to the early Rolling Stones' discography, and even if you have some or a lot of it, it might not be as redundant as you expect, since the sound quality on some of the material is definitely superior to versions that have appeared on numerous previous bootlegs.

The Searchers, BBC Sessions (Castle). Though this double-CD collection presents 30 songs recorded by the Searchers for BBC sessions, it actually spans a relatively small portion of their career, from January 1965 to March 1967 (with over half the material coming from 1965 alone). The band recorded yet more BBC sessions, but these are the only ones (except for a few similar duplicate versions, omitted to avoid redundancy) known to survive in releasable form, which is why there's nothing from 1963-64, when they were actually at the peak of their popularity. Incomplete though it is, it's a valuable archival find for serious Searchers fans, even if, like many BBC session compilations, the performances don't vary too much from the familiar studio versions (except for the arrangements often being somewhat more thinly produced). It does have six songs that didn't make it onto their '60s studio releases, though these aren't as major discoveries as might be assumed, since all six of these tracks were actually first issued in the mid-1990s as part of the 30th Anniversary Collection three-CD compilation.

All of these cautions shouldn't let your excitement level drop too much, as this is still reasonably well-recorded, and certainly well-performed, including BBC renditions of all of their chart singles from late 1964 through late 1966 (except "Love Potion Number 9"). Also along for the ride are numerous more obscure B-sides, album cuts, and flops that testify to their versatility, from the folk of "Four Strong Winds" to the rock'n'roll of "Ready Teddy," though as the liner notes admit, the vocal parts at the beginning of "Magic Potion" are certainly shaky. And the six songs with no studio-release counterparts are pretty interesting, including covers of Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen," Ike & Tina Turner's "Goodbye, So Long," Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," Mitch Ryder's "See See Rider/Jenny Take a Ride" medley, the Guilloteens' garage-folk-rocker "I Don't Believe," and the band original "I'll Be Loving You." A dozen brief BBC interview inserts with members of the band are here too, and while they don't contain any great revelations, the odd interesting bit of trivia pops up now and then, as when Chris Curtis explains how the band decided to cover Bobby Darin's "When I Get Home."

The Soft Machine, The Soft Machine/Robert Wyatt [DVD] [bootleg] (Anonymous Film Archive). Bootleg DVD releases on the Anonymous Film Archive label often spell trouble as far as visual and audio standards, but refreshingly this compilation of rare Soft Machine/Robert Wyatt footage -- running nearly two hours -- isn't bad at all. True, the quality would no doubt be better if it had the transferred-from-the-best-source standards adhered to by most official releases. But while this material obviously wasn't transferred from the best sources, it's quite watchable, and more importantly very interesting (and rarely seen). Five of the six segments are of the Soft Machine, with particularly exciting clips of the band in their early psychedelic phase performing "I Should've Known" and "We Know What You Mean" live in September 1967 on Dutch TV, with accompanying psychedelic graphics and grooved-out dancers. (Not that you'll necessarily know the source from viewing this; unfortunately there's no documentation for when and where the material on the DVD was filmed and broadcast.) A briefer scene of the band circa 1967 (with Daevid Allen in the lineup), apparently rehearsing in a house with some girlfriends in tow, seems to come from an Italian television program. There's a color clip, probably from the very early '70s, of the post-Ayers lineup playing instrumental prog rock-jazz fusion, with Wyatt still on drums. The dullest segment is probably the single Soft Machine performance here by a post-Wyatt aggregation of the band in the early-to-mid-'70s, playing long instrumental fusion pieces (in color). The Dutch TV clips are unnecessarily repeated in a mildly varying form before the single Wyatt segment. But that segment -- an hour-long black-and-white documentary from the late 1990s, Little Red Robin Hood -- takes about half the running time, and it's a quite worthwhile one, including as it does interviews with Wyatt and numerous high-profile associates and collaborators, such as Brian Eno, Paul Weller, Elvis Costello, Phil Manzanera, Lol Coxhill, Carla Bley, Hugh Hopper, and Noel Redding. It does jump around chronologically quite a bit, as well as inserting many arty gray shots of England, and some might wish there were more scenes of talking heads or music (and few vintage clips are employed). Of course if all the footage on this disc could be released legitimately and in better quality, it would be far preferable to this minimally packaged DVD. But as Wyatt's uncommercial cult status makes such an endeavor far from a sure thing, this may be the best such item fans can expect.

Pete Townshend, Wild Action: Solo Live at London Roundhouse April 14, 1974 [bootleg] (Fire Power). Though Pete Townshend had already recorded as a solo artist (on his debut solo album Who Came First and as a contributor to limited-edition records affiliated with Meher Baba), this April 1974 show was his first actual solo concert. While it's wholeheartedly recommended to serious Who/Townshend fans for its sheer historical value, this bootleg is problematic as both a performance and a recording. First, the sound quality, though not bad and reasonably listenable, is far from perfect, sounding somewhere between a subpar soundboard and a good audience recording. Second, the one-man-band setup of this gig wasn't conducive to either the best sound or the best performance of the material, with Townshend playing his guitars (electric and acoustic) and clavinet to the accompaniment of a rhythm box and pre-recorded tapes. Particularly on the numbers where he plays electric guitars, the guitar is too dirty and distorted, as well as edging into the clarity of the vocals; the use of backing tracks and the rhythm box, too, gives a slight sense of artificiality to some of the proceedings. Arguably he might have been better off doing the whole thing on solo acoustic guitar, though the "unplugged" concept didn't really exist back in the mid-1970s. All those serious reservations taken into account, it's still interesting to hear him do solo versions of numerous Who classics -- including "The Seeker," "Substitute," "Happy Jack," "Pinball Wizard," "My Generation," "Magic Bus," and the more obscure "Tattoo"-- with commendable passion. Even more interesting, however, is the presence of several songs Townshend and the Who hadn't recorded, including covers of Tim Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter," Bob Dylan's "Girl from the North Country," Jimmy Reed's "Big Boss Man" and "Going to New York," and, most unexpectedly of all, Veronique Sanson's "Amoureuse." Though the sleeve lists "I'm a Man" as one of the tracks, it's not a cover of the Bo Diddley classic, but something even more interesting: the quirky, proto-feminist Townshend original "Join My Gang," which had been covered on an obscure 1966 single by Oscar, though the Who never put out a version of their own. As another odd sidelight, there's also a segment where Townshend plays tapes of early demos of "My Generation" (pre-dating the Who's faster version) to the audience, though it would be better to hear these as sourced from the tapes themselves, rather than as a tape of these played over speakers to a concert audience.

Various Artists, The Best of the Johnny Cash Show [DVD] [bootleg] (K&M). Though Johnny Cash was a country music superstar, it's often not realized that his network TV variety show of the late 1960s and early 1970s often featured rock music. This bootleg DVD may be unauthorized, but the concept is excellent: a compilation of almost two hours of clips of guest spots on The Johnny Cash Show by rock stars (though somehow a segment with Roy Clark slips into the running order). And the roster is a real good one, including Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Derek & the Dominos, the Monkees (minus Peter Tork), the Guess Who, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Jose Feliciano, Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Wonder, Joe South, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Certainly some of these are obviously lip-synced, or sung to a pre-recorded backing track. But it's of major historical interest at the very least, and some of the performances are indeed very good, with Derek & the Dominos and Mitchell coming off best. The Dylan clips are famous as being among his few filmed appearances of the time, though his actual performances (some with Cash) are only adequate. The segments with Mitchell are surprisingly numerous, including several original songs (among them "Both Sides Now"), apparently filmed at various different times, as well as surprising Mitchell-Cash duets on "Long Black Veil," "I Still Miss Someone," and Dylan's "Girl from the North Country." In fact, there are a number of odd, you'll-never-believe-this-actually-happened combinations of Cash and various guests, whether it's Johnny dueting with Orbison on "Pretty Woman"; Feliciano jamming with Perkins and Merle Travis; or Cash and Perkins taking the stage with Eric Clapton (then fronting Derek & the Dominos). Cash himself is not featured on solo spots, though he's often present as an emcee or a duet partner, as well as sparring with Wonder in a bizarre sequence where Johnny sing-cues shots demonstrating Stevie's versatility on keyboards, harmonica, and drums. The image quality (all in color) is very good, and though perhaps it might be a bit better should this have been a legitimate release, by bootleg DVD standards it's exceptional.

Various Artists, Rocksteady Soul: The Original Cool Sound of Duke Reid's Treasure Isle (Metro). Like its competitor Studio One, Treasure Isle made so much classic early reggae that it's difficult to select the best various-artists Treasure Isle anthology, or indeed to assemble a wholly representative single-CD Treasure Isle compilation. If you're going to either stick or start with just one Treasure Isle collection, though, this 21-song disc is certainly an excellent one. Dates aren't given for most of the tracks (which is hardly unique among reggae comps), but certainly most of this comes from the circa 1966-70 era in which rocksteady was in its prime, though one of the numbers, Dennis Alcapone & Lizzy's "Ba Ba Ri Ba Skank," brings its span all the way up to 1973. Rocksteady is the dominant style here -- indeed, Alton Ellis' classic song that gave the music its name, "Rock Steady," is the first track. Some other big names in early reggae are found here, like John Holt , U-Roy, the Paragons (in fact both the Paragons and U-Roy do the Holt composition "Wear You to the Ball" here), the Melodians, and Phyllis Dillon (whose cover of "Perfidia" is superb). It's a very consistent, engaging listen, frothing over with heartbreaking harmonies, sultry rhythms, and soulful tunes. In fact, in feel it's pretty close to listening to a collection of classic '60s soul ballads, though the slow-rocking rhythms, breeze-blown vocals, and chunky instrumental accents give it a flavor all its own. Reggae would acquire more toughness and lyrical sophistication when it evolved out of rocksteady, and you can hear hints of the coming revolution here and there on some of this material, like Hopeton Lewis' "Boom Shaka Lacka" and Ellis' rude boy-directed "Cry Tough." But arguably reggae music was never as melodious and lovely as it was during the era on which this CD focuses, and certainly this disc contains many fine examples that could be used to support such a thesis.



contents copyright Richie Unterberger,  2000-2010
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