Archived Reviews

The Animals, Deluxe BBC (Hyacinth). Most, if not all, of the 54 tracks on this two-CD bootleg previously showed up on other unauthorized releases. Deluxe BBC, however, is undoubtedly the most thorough collection of the group's 1964-67 BBC recordings (although four of them did see official release on the 1990 Australian anthology Roadrunners!), adding a few other rarities from the same era for good measure. And it's not just a peripheral compilation of interest only to the most hardcore Animals fans; it's a worthwhile listen for any big Animals admirer. The sound quality on most of it is decent at the least, and excellent at best. That's particularly true of the majority of the tracks on disc one, which are obviously taken from a retrospective BBC radio special of the Animals' British radio recordings, complete with announcer comments and some interview material with Eric Burdon. Live BBC versions of some of their most popular songs are here, like "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," "It's My Life," "When I Was Young," "San Franciscan Nights," "Monterey," "Inside Looking Out," "We Gotta Get Out of This Place," and "Bring It on Home to Me." But, of probable even greater interest to serious Animals hounds, so are some covers they never put on their records, like "Ain't That a Shame," "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," "Drown in My Own Tears," "Shake, Rattle & Roll," "If I Were a Carpenter," "It Hurts Me Too," and (the biggest surprise) the Rolling Stones' "Connection." Since a few of these tracks are incomplete or of subpar fidelity, it's doubtful the entire set will ever be granted official release, but those imperfections are relatively minor, especially by usual bootleg standards. The non-BBC material includes a live 1964 New York version of "Baby Please Don't Go" (source unidentified) that seems pretty close to Them's famous hit arrangement of the same song; the UK-only B-side "Gratefully Dead"; "Club-A-Go-Go," from the Hullabaloo TV show; and four Ed Sullivan Show tracks that had been officially released on the various-artists compilation The Sullivan Years: The British Invasion.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Studio Archives 1969 (Voodoo Sounds). Though some unreleased Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young studio material from the late 1960s and early 1970s has come out in the CD era, it seems that more exists than was realized. It's not known for sure if everything on this 77-minute bootleg of studio outtakes was recorded in 1969. But at the least, most of it was, and whatever wasn't (with the exception of the Buffalo Springfield seven-minute psychedelic instrumental rarity "Raga III," recorded at the Hullabaloo Club in January 1967) must have been done close to 1969. More important than pinning down dates, however, is listening to the music, which proves to be always interesting, and often very worthwhile. There are a lot of goodies for CSNY fans to savor here, including four unreleased Stills songs, a couple of which ("Ivory Tower" and "Everyday We Live") have the hard rock/folk-rock blend of Stills at his best; an unreleased Neil Young song, "Everybody's Alone"; and Graham Nash, intriguingly, singing an acoustic cover of a David Crosby composition from the latter's days with the Byrds, "Everybody's Been Burned." It's true that much of the rest of the material on the disc consists of the sort of alternate versions with more hardcore collector appeal, and that the Stills-sung acoustic cover of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'" seems to be much the same version as the one that's on the 2006 expanded CD edition of Crosby, Stills & Nash. But even some of these are notably different than the familiar versions, a la acoustic takes of "Triad" and "Almost Cut My Hair"; a studio take of Young's "Sea of Madness"; and four takes of the Beatles' "Blackbird." The sound quality is superb, and fully of official release standard, though a few of the songs never released by CSNY in any form clearly seem unfinished (like Stills' "I'll Be There" and "30-Dollar Fire"). Certainly the caliber of the unissued ideas and songwriting is high enough to make one lament that the group didn't get it together to release more material before splitting in the early '70s, as they clearly had more to offer than what surfaced on the official records. And there's some real interesting chatter in the track titled "Black Queen Riff," which Stills refers to as his song for the Grateful Dead. "We oughta help them make a record," says Crosby.  "Oh, I'm gonna," responds Stills. Continues Crosby, "They're really dynamite musicians. They just don't know how to get it on tape." Admits Stills, "Hey, listen, I dug playing with them a shitload more than I dug playing with the Airplane." "The Airplane's always playing weird changes and strange times and shit," adds Crosby. At which point the engineer interrupts and asks them whether he should stop the tape during this kind of which they agree.

Billie Davis, Whatcha Gonna Do?: Singles, Rarities and Unreleased 1963-1966 (RPM). The split of Billie Davis' 1960s recordings between three different labels seems to have made it impossible to compile a truly definitive retrospective of her work, which would take two CDs if it were to be complete. Should you want everything she recorded between her two separate stints with Decca Records, however, this compilation is exemplary, even if its omission of that Decca material (which included all three of her British chart hits) means that this shouldn't be mistaken for a best-of. All of her 1963-66 singles for Columbia and Piccadilly (including her duets as half of Keith & Billie) are on this 28-track anthology, along with five previously unreleased 1963 cuts (two studio outtakes and three live performances). These show Davis to be a singer worthy of attention by serious British Invasion fans, yet not one who was quite good enough to demand reinvestigation by less intense specialists. Influenced by both girl group and soul, she had a perky, girlish, vibrato-heavy sound that wasn't far off the standards of, say, Lulu. Yet she was clearly not in the same league of Lulu either vocally or in terms of the quality of the material she recorded. Some of the tracks are dull or hindered with cheaper, more dated early-'60s British pop production than the likes of Dusty Springfield or Lulu ever had to overcome. Still, there are some very good songs here, like the sassy, swaggering "Whatcha Gonna Do" -- the one track here you could peg as a should-have-been-hit that never was -- and its swinging, infectiously catchy girl group-ish B-side, "Everybody Knows." Other singles (like 1966's "Just Walk in My Shoes"/"Ev'ry Day")  showed her gravitating toward credible blue-eyed soul, and "The Last One to Be Loved" is a good and sumptuously orchestrated cover of a Bacharach-David song that's highly reminiscent of Dionne Warwick's mid-'60s recordings -- no real surprise, since Warwick herself recorded it too. The duets with Keith Powell (billed to Keith & Billie), however, were tame soul-pop tunes that undermined her strengths. The liner notes give a good account of Davis' career during this hitless period, and if you pick this up in conjunction with the compilation Tell Him: The Decca Years, you'll have everything you need to hear by the singer.

The Doors, Live in Boston (Rhino/Bright Midnight). Several 1970 Doors concerts were officially recorded for use on the Absolutely Live album, including both of the shows they gave in Boston on April 10 of that year. This three-CD set has the early and late sets from Boston in their entirety, adding up to about three hours of music, all but two of the tracks previously unreleased. Well, three hours of mostly music, it should be clarified; it's padded by a whole lot of Jim Morrison raps and crowd reaction, to the point where it starts to seem like there's less music than speech by the end of the second show. Basically, this is the Doors very much as they sound on Absolutely Live -- bluesy, a little loose and sloppy, yet still high-spirited if boozy. It's yet sloppier and looser than Absolutely Live, however, if for no reason other than it doesn't benefit from the editing together of several different performances into one double LP.

That's part of the reason Doors fans want something like this, though -- to hear something different from what's already in the band's official catalog, not something that's more or less a duplication of a well-known live record that's been in print since 1970. On that count, Live in Boston delivers, both in the tone of the performance and the actual setlist, including several songs that aren't available in many live versions on legitimate or illegitimate releases, like "The Spy," "You Make Me Real," "Been Down So Long," and "Ship of Fools" (along with a few expected classics like "Light My Fire," "Break on Through," "Five to One," "When the Music's Over," and "Back Door Man"). There are also a bunch of unexpected covers that, as enticing as they look on paper, are rather fragmentary and half-developed (and sometimes thrown in the middle of another tune), like "Mystery Train," "Fever," "Rock Me," "Crossroads," "Summertime," and "St. James Infirmary Blues." Versions of all those songs have shown up on other live Doors releases (though not always in as good sound quality as they do here), and while they add to the value of this release by virtue of their falling outside the band's usual repertoire, they also demonstrate that the Doors weren't such a great straight blues-rock band -- something that it seems like the group are changing into at times when listening to this set.

Another big part of this material's attraction (and, to some less indulgent listeners, flaws) might be the extended between-song raps, which show Morrison in even more dissolute mindset than was his frequent wont. There's banter about voting, astrology, the already-issued line "Adolf Hitler is still alive...I slept with her last night," and the taunt, "would anybody like to see my genitals?" (The crowd roars in affirmation, though Jim declines, "Forget it!") Some of that diffident toying with the audience and its worship of rock stars spills over to the performances too, with Morrison at times playacting his way through the familiar songs the audience wants to hear most. That's especially true of the second version of "Light My Fire," where the band weaves in and out of "Fever," "Summertime," and "St. James Infirmary Blues," with Morrison wordlessly slurring rather than singing one of the verses. The band as a whole joins in the spirit on "Been Down So Long," with Ray Manzarek switching from organ to guitar, and Robby Krieger from guitar to bass, resulting in a novel but notably out-of-tune rendition. These kind of qualities might make Live in Boston too much of a stretch for typical Doors fans, as it's not the band at their best, and certainly not the band at their tightest and focused. For those many serious Doors fans looking for something different from what they have in their collection (official or bootleg), however, Live in Boston delivers a lot of it, in official-release-standard-sound that's far superior to what's offered on the vast majority of bootlegs.

Dyke & the Blazers, We Got More Soul (BGP). Subtitled "the ultimate Broadway funk," no one's going to beat this as the ultimate Dyke & the Blazers compilation. The two-CD, two-hour-twenty-minute set has everything the group released on 45 or LP between 1967-70, including unedited full-length versions of seven of their singles, no less than 13 previously unissued tracks, and even some radio station promos. It could be that less intense funk/Dyke fans might wish for a more succinct single-disc comp concentrating on the official singles, especially as, like many single-artist funk anthologies, the grooves get a little similar-sounding over the course of two-plus hours. Then again, if you like the group enough to get a Dyke & the Blazers collection in the first place, you might well be the type who thrives on such lengthy dwellings on the primeval funk groove. And as such grooves went, few were better (and very few artists, if any other than James Brown, did them earlier) or earthier than Dyke & the Blazers, even if turns out that session musicians (including members of the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm band) often played the parts of the Blazers in the studio. The anthology's conveniently divided into one disc of their 1966-67 sessions (all held in Phoenix, where the band was based at the time) and a second of their 1968-70 sessions (which all took place in Hollywood), though the quality remains consistent throughout. That counts the many unreleased tracks, which are generally up to the standard of what the band officially released, including some (like the ultra-kinetic (if marred by some out-of-tune horns) "She Knows It," the upbeat "Let's Do It Together," and the untypical serious ballad "Why Am I Treated So Funky Bad?") that would have ranked among their more interesting efforts had they been issued at the time. Alec Palao's magnificent liner notes are the most thorough history of the band yet put to print, including a detailed sessionography.

Fairport Convention, Live at the BBC (Universal/Island/BBC). Is a four-CD box set of Fairport Convention 1967-74 BBC recordings excessive? After all, even the Beatles only got two CDs of Beeb tracks into official release. But it really isn't too much for fans of the band, for the quality of most of the stuff here is truly good, even if the very best of it was already issued on the Heyday compilation. There's a lot more here, however. While the expanded Heyday CD contains 20 1968-69 tracks, this offers a relatively whopping 69, and where Heyday focused exclusively on late-'60s sessions done while Sandy Denny was in the lineup (which was admittedly their peak era), this has a few recordings predating Denny's entrance into Fairport, as well as quite a few postdating her departure (and a few from when she briefly rejoined the group in the mid-'70s). Most important of all, this has quite a few songs, particularly folk-rock cover versions from the late '60s, that didn't make it onto official Fairport Convention releases of the time.

Certainly the first two discs of the set are the strongest, as all but three of the tracks date from the '68-'69 Denny era.  If you're already heard Heyday, you know how good some of these gems are, like their superb interpretation of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne," and their fine reworkings of songs by Richard Fariña ("Reno, Nevada"), the Everly Brothers, Gene Clark ("Tried So Hard"), Eric Andersen ("Close the Door Lightly When You Go"), Bob Dylan ("Percy's Song"), Johnny Cash ("I Still Miss Someone"), and Joni Mitchell ("I Don't Know Where I Stand"), as well as quality originals like "Autopsy" and "Shattering Live Experience." This set includes a few other goodies, however, some of which were previously on bootlegs and benefit from much-improved sound here (Joni Mitchell's "Eastern Rain," "Marcie," and "Night  in the City"), and one of which ("Jack of Diamonds," an obscure Bob Dylan lyric set to music by Ben Carruthers from their first LP) had never even previously shown up on those old bootlegs. It's true the blues songs "You're Gonna Need My Help" and "If It Feels Good You Know It's Can't Be Wrong" are kind of lame, but at least they preserve one aspect of the early band's repertoire.

It's also true disc three (all taken from 1970-74 sessions) pales a little in comparison to the first pair of CDs, but these do document Fairport's transition to a much more English traditional folk-oriented group, with Denny re-entering on the four songs from 1974. The fidelity on disc four (subtitled "Off Air") is indeed taken from off-air recordings rather than original tapes, and has noticeably poorer fidelity, though it's actually not that bad. Even these performances, however (some of which found prior release on the Fairport Unconventional box set, as had a few other stray tracks from the first three discs), are quite enjoyable, with eight songs done in 1967-68 when Judy Dyble was still in the lineup. Some of these songs, too -- Eric Andersen's "Violets of Dawn," Bob Dylan's "Lay Down Your Weary Tune" -- never found release on their official albums, and there are other highlights (or at least intriguing oddities) like their December '68 send-up of "Light My Fire" and a 1970 version of "Tam Lin" with male lead vocals (though Denny had taken the lead on the familiar studio recording). In all, this is essential for Fairport fans, and is not solely or primarily of historical interest, making for quite fine listening on its own terms.

Heinz, Just Like Eddie: The Heinz Anthology (Castle). This two-CD, 49-track set beats the 44-track double CD The Complete Heinz by a nose as the most complete Heinz anthology ever likely to be assembled. Everything he released with Joe Meek as producer between 1963 and 1966 is here, including all of his A- and B-sides, everything from his sole LP, everything from his two EPs, and even a couple of live tracks from the obscure 1964 live At the Cavern LP. On top of all that are three previously unreleased tracks: a 1964 cover of Ritchie Valens' "Come On Let's Go" and raw live versions of the single "Questions I Can't Answer" and "Hound Dog," both of those live cuts coming from an October 1964 BBC television broadcast. (Note, by the way, that this two-CD set really contains 47 tracks, not 49; "Just Like Eddie," issued on both 45 and his LP,  and "Dreams Do Come True," released on both 45 and the Live It Up EP, appear on both discs.) Is all this too much Heinz? Perhaps; you could easily boil this down to a little less than half the quantity without losing much in quality. Still, the best dozen or so cuts -- "Just Like Eddie," "I'm Not a Bad Guy," "Dreams Do Come True," "That Lucky Old Sun," "You Were There," "Big Fat Spider," "The Beating of My Heart," "Movin' In," and "Heart Full of Sorrow" foremost among them -- are genuinely good obscure British Invasion-era recordings. Heinz wasn't much of a singer, but he summoned some likable enthusiasm; Joe Meek's production for his fair-haired boy could be relentlessly imaginative, though his taste in the material he selected (and sometimes wrote) for Heinz was sometimes quite poor; and there is some incredible, at times ferocious guitar playing on the best (and particularly the hardest-rocking) Heinz sides. David Wells' notes are quite thorough and enjoyable as well, making this something both Heinz and Meek fans should own.

The Incredible String Band, Across the Airwaves: BBC Radio Recordings 1969-1974 (Hux). While 20 of these 33 tracks had been previously released before this CD was issued in 2007, this two-disc set is undoubtedly the most comprehensive anthology of the Incredible String Band's BBC recordings. As with most BBC compilations, you couldn't put this on par with the group's best studio work in terms of content, performance, or the thematic flow of particular albums. Yet at the same time it's definitely a more valuable supplement to the band's official discography than is usually the case with BBC material, for several reasons. First and foremost, several of the songs never made it onto official ISB releases, including versions of "Ring Dance" and "Fine Fingered Hands" (both eventually included on Robin Williamson's 1998 solo album Ring Dance); "Beautiful Stranger" (which Mike Heron would do on his 1971 solo album Smiling Men with Bad Reputations); the Hindu devotional song "Raga Puti"; "Long Long Road" (the only song from the multimedia stage show U that didn't make it onto the ISB album of the same name); "Worlds They Rise and Fall" (a Heron original later used on the soundtrack of the film Hideous Kinky); the Carter Family's "You've Been a Friend to Me"; "Secret Temple," co-written by Licorice McKechnie; "Oh Did I Love a Dream," a Malcolm Le Maistre tune; and assorted other Williamson and Heron songs that didn't find a home in the standard ISB catalog.

Of perhaps more importance, no matter what you think of the Incredible String Band, the sheer stylistic range of the material here is astonishing. That could be said of many (and maybe most) of their official albums, too, but here it's even more eclectic. Perhaps that's because of the five-year chronological span of the set, which encompasses seven different lineups of the band (though Williamson and Heron are always present); perhaps it's also because they might have been inclined to put in a few off-the-wall items and side trips on their radio sessions that weren't top candidates for their studio releases. There's raga rock, rock-less raga-informed songs, relatively ordinary wistful folk-rock, amiable country barroom rambles, medieval-flavored minstrelsy, really spaced out quasi-world music/folk fusions, a cappella hymns, bluesy boogie, Cajun, a 12-minute suite ("Darling Belle"), and more. Yes, some of their oddest ventures are cringeworthy on occasion, particularly when they adopt fake Chinese accents for "Willow Pattern" (another Williamson song that, perhaps fortunately, never made it onto vinyl). But also there's an engaging merry looseness that, on some levels, make this more accessible to casual listeners than much of their more familiar, official discography. In addition, the sound quality is reasonable-to-excellent throughout; although the packaging is careful to note that some of these tracks are off-air recordings not made from the best sources, even the fidelity on those is quite satisfactorily listenable. Add marvelously detailed liner notes (including complete information on their 1967-74 sessions, though it's unfortunate that a few of these don't survive in releasable fidelity), and you have a collection that's recommended to all Incredible String Band fans, not just completists.

The Incredible String Band, Philadelphia Folk Festival 1969 (Tellulah). The woefully inadequate documentation on this CD -- there's nothing but a couple of band photos, an image from the l969 Philadelphia Folk Festival poster, and a list of the song titles -- can't help but fuel speculation that this might not be a wholly authorized disc. While the packaging might be disappointing, however, it's a pretty good-sounding live recording of the Incredible String Band, albeit perhaps a little more subdued and low-key than some fans might like. From the dates given on that poster, it can be assumed that this show took place on either August 22, 23, or 24 of 1969 -- just one weekend after their appearance at Woodstock (yes, they were at Woodstock, even if their disappointing performance wasn't captured on the film or soundtrack). This was the incarnation of the band in which ISB mainstays Robin Williamson and Mike Heron were joined by partners Licorice McKechnie and Rose Simpson, and endearing if somewhat amateurish female harmonies decorate much of the material. If they took many of the exotic instruments for which they were known onstage with them, it's not too evident on these eight tracks, which largely stick to an acoustic guitar-vocal base, though organ, hand percussion, bass, and fiddle can be occasionally heard. That might disappoint fans of the group's more acid-folk side, but it actually makes it a little more approachable in some ways than their official releases for those who found their more ambitious droning a little grating. The material's all from their late 1960s and early 1970s albums -- there's nothing at all that goes back as far as 1968's The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter -- and the ultimate result is enjoyably lilting, satisfyingly eccentric, eclectic folk with a mild rock influence. The fidelity is quite reasonable, though not perfect (at one point the group complains about microphone feedback). It's good to have a document of this particular lineup of the band, though the compilation Across the Airwaves: BBC Radio Recordings 1969-1974 gives a better, superior-sounding, and far more extensive look at how they could sound in a live situation.

Lady June, Lady June's Linguistic Leprosy (Market Square). Lady June, aka June Campbell Cramer, was a bohemian artist and poet who was something of an honorary member of the less commercial wing of the early-'70s British progressive rock scene. Numerous musicians lived and hung out in her flat in the Maida Vale area of London, which is most famous as the place where (at a 1973 party) Robert Wyatt fell out of the window at a party, paralyzing him from the waist down. She was already in her early forties when she recorded the debut album Lady June's Linguistic Leprosy. It's such an eccentric piece of work that it's safe to say it would never have gained release had she not had such strong art-rock connections, and had Virgin Records not been at the stage where it was issuing some of the least commercial progressive rock music ever (though it's been reported the LP did sell out its 5,000-copy pressing). While Lady June does take all of the lead vocals on the record, they're actually much more spoken poetry than singing, though she does occasionally hum-sing in a tentative way. Her pieces -- it's hard to call them songs, at least in the standard sense of that term in rock music -- are odd, whimsical, rather surrealistic spoken poems, delivered in a quirkily aristocratic manner.

Without demeaning her contribution to the record, it wouldn't be nearly as interesting a rarity to art-rock fans as it is without the substantial contribution of her producer and longtime friend Kevin Ayers. He composed most of the musical settings for the poems, as well as playing numerous instruments and adding a few backup vocals. Those musical settings change the album from the rather insignificant spoken word effort it could have been to something much more interesting, as this was the era in which no one was more skilled at devising varied, whimsical art-rock as Ayers was. There's blues, a snaky combination of harmonium guitar and bowed bass ("Tourist"), good-time near-reggae ("Bars"), minimal sustained classical-like piano, almost gospel-ish piano and chanting ("To Whom It May Not Concern"), and a good old-fashioned silly vaudevillian duet (between Ayers and Lady June, on "Mangel/Wurzel"). Most impressively, "Everythingsnothing" and the track it segues into, "Tunion,"  is a largely wordless, eerily hypnotic ambient synthesizer-dominated passage that stands up to the better mid-'70s work of Brian Eno. That's not such a coincidence, since Eno helps out on "Tunion" and was also sole composer of the music for one of the other tracks, "Optimism." At these and other points of the record, Lady June's voice is distorted in various imaginative fashions and merged with gothic sound effects so that her poem is just one element of a sound collage, rather than a conventional poem backed by music. The record's not for everyone, and not as accessible as even the albums of the era by Ayers and Eno.  But for fans of the likes of Ayers and Eno, this is an interesting and oft-entertaining curiosity, enhanced by detailed historical liner notes on the 2007 CD reissue on Market Square.

Joe Meek, They Were Wrong! Joe's Boys Vol. 1 (Castle). In the early-to-mid-1960s, Joe Meek recorded teen-oriented pop-rock with literally dozens of young British male singers. A few hit singles, and many flops, resulted. No less than 62 such songs that didn't become hits are on this two-CD set—in fact, eleven of them are previously unreleased cuts and alternate takes—and although a few artists who did have hits are here (John Leyton, Heinz, and Gene Vincent), the specific tracks representing them were not well known. The material on this compilation might not, in fact, be well known even if you have a bunch of Meek collections, as 22 of the tracks made their CD debuts here. Since many Meek sides were weak, innocuous teen idol fare, you'd have reason to be wary of an anthology assembled along this theme, even if you're a Meek fan in general.

As it turns out, however, this is a surprisingly listenable and likable compilation, even if many of the singers are no great shakes in the vocal department. The main reason is that Meek's production is quirkily intriguing even on the less interesting songs (and many of the songs, to be fair, aren't all that good). His usual bag of tricks—manic crunching drums, oddly treated pianos, weird backup voices, peculiar echo/reverb, zany sound effects, soaring orchestration, and so forth—are almost always in force, often succeeding in making even the meager songs and singers fun to some extent. Also, you can hear specific echoes/attempts to imitate several of the early major American rock stars Meek obviously admired, and while they're no match for the real thing, there are some pretty grin-raising, respectable emulations of Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley, and Roy Orbison. And of course there's an actual American rock'n'roll great here in Gene Vincent, whose "Temptation Baby" (recorded for the British film Live It Up) isn't the most typical Vincent fare, but works fairly well as rockabilly-pop with a distinctive Meek sonic stamp.

Traces of Merseybeat and even a little folk-pop make themselves known in some of the later recordings, and some of the songs—John Leyton's "Voodoo Woman," Chad Carson's credible Presley imitation "They Were Wrong," Billy Dean's equally haunting and cheesy "Ridin' the Rails," and Freddie Starr's "Just Keep on Dreaming" (which sounds like a gutsy Gerry & the Pacemakers)—are pretty good tracks on any level, not just from historical/novelty angles.  For aficionados of the truly strange, there are a couple previously unissued (shakily) Meek-sung demos, and the Checkmates' odd satirical song "You've Got to Have a Gimmick Today," which pokes instantly dated fun at a few vocal styles on early-1960s hits. David Wells' detailed liner notes give plenty of background info on all of the tracks, a welcome feature as so many of these will be unfamiliar even to collectors.

Joe Meek, Vampires, Cowboys, Spacemen & Spooks: The Very Best of Joe Meek's Instrumentals (Castle). It might be subtitled The Very Best of Joe Meek's Instrumentals, but this isn't the most selective compilation of instrumentals overseen by the British semi-genius producer, the two discs including a whopping 60 tracks. That's not to say, however, that's it's not selective at all, considering just how many instrumentals the prolific Meek cut in the early-to-mid-1960s. For those who like Meek a lot, but don't want to go to the insane extent of trying to track down everything he did in the studio, this is a very good-value distillation of his work in the instrumental rock realm. Also, Meek's instrumentals weren't as prone to sappy pop as his efforts with vocal artists from the era, and more likely to delve into purer rock. That hardly means that everything here is brilliant, and it might try the patience of those for whom a little Meek goes a long way. If you do like Meek to a significant degree, however, you'll find much to enjoy, as all the tracks -- even the ones of more marginal quality -- are stuffed with his sonic trademarks, including eerie out-of-this-world (if cheesy) electronic keyboards, crunchy compression, heavenly orchestration, twangy surf-country guitars, and numerous shades of weird and unclassifiable sounds, percussion, and miscellaneous tinkles. True, if you collect Meek to any extent, you're likely to already have some of these cuts, particularly those by the Tornados, though at least this includes several uncommon variations of Tornados tracks (a stereo version of "Telstar," a previously unissued "undubbed" version of "Exodus," the UK version of "Ridin' the Wind," the German version of "Life on Venus," etc.). It's also true that the best Tornados tracks tend to also be among the very best items on the anthology, as the production generally outpaces the tunes. Nevertheless, there are a few cuts that are both excellent and relatively unknown, like the Packabeats' "Theme from the Traitors" (which recalls the Shadows at their best), the Original Checkmates' creepy "The Spy" (with some great organ work), the Moontrekkers' devastating, lurching horror-rock classic "Night of the Vampire," and the same group's peculiar "Hatashiai (Japanese Sword Fight)." David Wells' liner notes are typically excellent and thorough.

Pentangle, The Time Has Come (Castle).  Like many large CD box sets, The Time Has Come is not quite a best-of or a rarities compilation, but something in between. That warning given, it also has to be added that as such things go, this four-CD, 65-track set -- drawn exclusively from their 1967-73 recordings, and ignoring any reunion efforts -- is one of the best. For one thing, it does include quite a bit of rare material that serious Pentangle fans will want to have, including an entire disc of previously unreleased live, television, and film recordings from 1970-73; a few more unreleased soundtrack bits and studio outtakes; and BBC sessions and B-sides that, while previously issued on CD, might not be in every Pentangle admirer's collection. Yet it doesn't lose sight of their strongest and most popular material. Most of their most essential songs are represented in either the familiar studio form or as a live/BBC/TV recording, although the absence of a few standout tunes like "Lyke-Wake Dirge" and "I've Got a Feeling" hurts a bit. The journey's also made more interesting by the inclusion of a few tracks from solo albums that John Renbourn and Bert Jansch issued during the 1967-73 period. The devotion of the entirety of disc three to all 19 songs officially issued from their Royal Festival Hall concert of June 29, 1968 (twelve of which were first released as part of their 1968 Sweet Child album, the remaining seven of which showed up on a 2001 expanded CD reissue of that record) might seem to give that material inappropriate weight. But even those tracks have been resequenced with (in the words of the liner notes) "much of the lengthy applause, between-song banter and tuning-up edited out," creating a more compact listening experience for those interested in re-experienced the cuts in such a fashion.

It's the rare material that the most ardent fans of the group will want to hear most, of course, and while the rarities are a little uneven in both performance and sound quality, they dig up some worthwhile oddities. Foremost among those are a couple extracts from their soundtrack for the obscure early-'70s movie Tam Lin, including a musical adaptation of "Tam Lin" that uses an entirely different melody than the much more celebrated version that Fairport Convention put on the Liege and Lief album. "The Best of You," also from Tam Lin, was Pentangle's deepest venture into pop-rock by far, and quite a nifty one, sounding rather like the theme to a '60s mod TV adventure series with its cinematic orchestration. "Pentangling," whose seven-minute length was bold enough when it appeared on their debut LP, gets stretched out to twenty minutes in the 1970 live version here, and while it's not entirely successful in that form, it's interesting to hear the quintet improvise at such duration. Also in the interesting-but-not-great category is the bluesy "Poison," a previously unreleased August 1967 outtake from their first studio session of a song that Jansch would re-record for his 1969 solo LP Birthday Blues. Live early-'70s television versions of two songs never included on their official releases of the period in any form, Johann Sebastian Bach's "Sarabande" and the American shape-note hymn "Wondrous Love" (performed with the early music group the David Munrow Ensemble), are outstanding examples of their ability to take pieces from unlikely sources and make them their own. The main attraction of this sumptuously packaged box, however, is the exhilarating interplay between the group as they blend folk, jazz, blues, and a little rock, pop, classical, and Indian music over the course of five or so years, whether on classics like "In Time," "Light Flight," "Basket of Light," "Travelling Song," and "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme" or less celebrated songs. Plus the 56-page liner notes, dominated by Colin Harper's historical essay, contain a more detailed overview of the band's career than anything else that has ever been published.

Dusty Springfield, The Complete BBC Sessions (Mercury). This 22-track CD isn't exactly the "complete" group of sessions Dusty Springfield recorded for the BBC. It's just all of the ones that have survived in good sound quality; there were some others, sadly, that the radio network didn't preserve (including her first solo session in November 1963, and performances of some songs she never put on her official record releases). Fortunately, the 22 that do remain (including three she recorded in July 1962 in a pop-folk style as part of the Springfields) make for a good and lengthy disc. True, it's a little short on the prime bonus 1960s BBC rock comps usually offer, namely songs that were never included on standard releases. But there are a half dozen of those, all of them quality covers that suit her style, including Bobby Lewis' "Tossin' and Turnin'," Stevie Wonder's "Uptight (Everything's Alright)," Dee Dee Warwick's "We're Doing Fine," the Rascals' "Good Lovin'," Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me)," and the Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody." The other tracks include BBC renditions of some of her hits ("Wishin' and Hopin'," "Little By Little," "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," "Son of a Preacher Man," "I Just Don't Know What to with Myself," "Little By Little"), though there are just as many lesser-known tunes from her '60s releases (including two notably different versions, oddly enough, of Betty Everett's "I Can't Hear You (No More)"). In common with many BBC releases, the arrangements and performances of the songs she also cut for records aren't too different from the studio versions; in fact, since Springfield habitually employed pretty elaborate orchestral production, they're noticeably thinner. But they're still good, and detectably different from their more familiar official counterparts. That's what you want from a BBC collection, and in some ways it's actually a more consistent listen than most of Springfield's non-best-of albums, since almost every song is a soulful pop number that suits her strengths.

Junior Wells, Live at Theresa's 1975 (Delmark). Recorded at two separate gigs in January 1975, but not issued until 2006, this captures Junior Wells onstage at Theresa's, one of the most esteemed Chicago blues clubs. It's a little rawer than most live albums; the sound is good, and Wells is in good form, but his band is a little rough (and, particularly on the tracks with guitarist Sammy Lawhorn, a little off-key). But the flaws really aren't too significant, as this is a pretty enjoyable set of Chicago electric blues in its unadulterated vintage form. Wells offers his trademark exuberant blues with touches of rock, soul, and funk, performing a few of his most popular tunes ("Messin' with the Kid," "Snatch It Back and Hold It") and a bunch of classic covers that are more identified with other performers (Slim Harpo's "Scratch My Back," Big Bill Broonzy's "Key to the Highway," James Oden's "Goin' Down Slow," Little Walter's "Juke," Tampa Red's "Love Her with a Feeling," and "Help the Poor," the last popularized by B.B. King). It might have been good to hear more Wells originals, but on the other hand it's cool to hear him bring his persona to that group of outside material, and a few five-minute-plus numbers allow him to stretch out more than he did in the studio. There's also some entertaining banter with the audience (and a version of "Happy Birthday") that adds to the intimate, earthy club ambience, though you do feel that a talent as major as Wells should have had slightly tighter backup musicians than the ones (including Buddy Guy's brother, Phil Guy, on guitar) playing on this CD.

The Wild Cherries, That's Life (Half a Cow). If you go just by the records they managed to release during the 1960s, there's not really enough to make a Wild Cherries album. This reissue, however, makes the most of out their slim recorded legacy, combining both sides of their four 1967-68 singles with sixteen previously unreleased 1965-66 bonus tracks. It's the eight tracks (all written or co-written by guitarist Lobby Loyde) from the singles, though, that are the truly significant ones, since it was on these that the Wild Cherries laid down the music that was among the most innovative in 1960s Australian rock. On the most notable of those 45s, the group fused psychedelia, early hard/progressive rock, and soul in a manner that no other Australian band of the time was doing on record, particularly on "Krome Plated Yabby," "That's Life," and "Gotta Stop Lying." These are somewhat similar to the rock being played by some Detroit outfits of the late '60s, and if they're certainly more pop-oriented than, say, the MC5, they do offer a pretty intriguing blend of creative ambition and muscular crunch. The other, far less well known songs from the singles might surprise listeners who've heard the other tracks on compilations, as they're more straightforward soul-rock than you'd expect (adding some pop-oriented orchestration on "I Don't Care"), though they're fairly good as that style goes. The remaining sixteen tracks -- taken from studio outtakes and home/live recordings -- capture the group at an earlier pre-Loyde stage at which they were much more an R&B/rock band along the lines of British bands like the Rolling Stones and Yardbirds. In fact, just one of these songs (the quite admirably mean'n'lean "Get Out of My Life") is a group original; not only are all of the others covers, but most of them are covers of tunes that major British Invasion bands like the Yardbirds, Who, and Manfred Mann put on their early recordings.  This section of the CD isn't nearly as original as the Loyde-led material, then, and it's not as well recorded either, though the fidelity's satisfactory. Still, the Wild Cherries do sound like a good tough mid-'60s British R&B band at this stage in their development, and without those tracks...well, there wouldn't be enough for a CD. As is standard for the Half a Cow label, the packaging is superb, featuring a 36-page liner booklet jammed with photos.

Various Artists, The American Folk-Blues Festival: The British Tours 1963-1966 [DVD] (Hip-O). Like the previous three volumes of this superb series, this DVD presents about 75 minutes of mid-1960s European television performances by blues legends. The only real difference is that all of these were filmed in England (hence the subtitle "The British Tours 1963-1966"), where appreciation of the blues was really taking off and, of course, making a big impression on the UK pop scene via artists like the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton. While the word "legends" is thrown around a lot in reviewing vintage blues compilations, this is one instance where it's not overhyping the case. Every single performer here is legendary. Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Sonny Boy Williamson were Chicago blues giants,; the more rural and rawer side of the form is caught by Lightnin' Hopkins and Big Joe Williams; R&B is represented by Big Joe Turner, and  soul by Sugar Pie DeSanto; and the blues' roots in jazz and gospel are captured by Lonnie Johnson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe respectively. Every single performer here is caught, in well-preserved black-and-white footage, at or near the peak of his or her form, sometimes with some of their very most famous songs, whether it's Waters doing "Got My Mojo Working," Williams playing "Baby Please Don't Go," or Williamson singing "Bye Bye Bird." That's not even mentioning the top talents that can be seen as accompanists at various points, including bassist Willie Dixon, guitarists Hubert Sumlin and Otis Rush, and pianists Sunnyland Slim and Otis Spann.

As for the most unusual and colorful performances, perhaps Williamson wins on that account -- though not by much -- by playing one end of a harmonica without holding it, as if he's chewing a cigar. Also novel is Junior Wells' 1966 performance of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say," delivered (and danced through) in modified James Brown fashion; it might not be the song you most associate with classic blues (or even Wells' blues), but it's interesting in part just for that reason. And while Johnson and Tharpe were long past their commercial prime on record, their clips (especially Tharpe's, which were done on a disused railway station) prove they still had plenty of gas left. It might be heretical to say so, but the arrangement Howlin' Wolf plays of his classic "Smokestack Lightning" is disappointingly different from the familiar 1950s single, removing the tune's distinctive menace and changing the melody almost entirely into a more ordinary standard amiable blues progression (though Wolf's actual stage presence and vocal delivery is still mesmerizing). As for another mild criticism, it would have been nice if more specific information about the filming of these specific clips was included, though there's a fine essay by Mike Rowe about the early tours of Britain by US performers in general. That's the smallest of complaints, however, about a set that presents some of the greatest blues film performances of all time, in some cases offering some of the few instances in which these vital artists were even filmed.

Various Artists, The Pomus & Shuman Story: Double Trouble: 1956-1967 (Ace). As most big fans of 1950s and 1960s rock know, Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman were among the greatest Brill Building songwriters of the period, writing mighty hits for Dion, Elvis Presley, the Drifters, and others. This 26-song compilation of versions of their songs (most written by Pomus and Shuman together, though some were composed separately or with other writers) inevitably contains much fine music, though it does seem indecisive as to whether to be a best-of or a more collector-oriented anthology. Some of their biggest and best hits are indeed here: Dion & the Belmonts' "A Teenager in Love," the Mystics' "Hushabye," Ray Charles' "Lonely Avenue," and the Drifters' "Save the Last Dance for Me," for instance, as well as pop and teen idol smashes like Andy Williams' "Can't Get Used to Losing You," Jimmy Clanton's "Go, Jimmy, Go," Terry Stafford's "Suspicion," and Fabian's "Turn Me Loose." Yet quite a few of their hits are missing -- all of the hit covers, in fact, recorded by Elvis Presley, as well as some by the Drifters. Much of the rest of the disc is filled out with pretty rare and obscure recordings that might not be known even to pretty knowledgeable rock'n'roll fans. The benefit of having such stuff on a Pomus-Shuman compilation is that a lot of those items are pretty hard to find, and some are pretty good, like early British rocker Marty Wilde's "It's Been Nice"; LaVern Baker's "Hey Memphis," an "answer" record to Presley's hit "Little Sister"; Gene McDaniels' "Spanish Lace," which is very much like the Latin-influenced work of the early-'60s Drifters; Irma Thomas' delectably soulful 1965 ballad "I'm Gonna Cry 'Til My Tears Run Dry"; and Presley's trashy, brassy "Double Trouble," which is not only the sole Elvis track here, but the last jointly copyrighted Pomus-Shuman composition.

Yet some of the other rarities here are routine exercises that aren't nearly on the level of the famous Pomus-Shuman hits, even though some of them were done by hitmaking artists (including Bobby Darin, Barrett Strong, Ral Donner, the McCoys, and Bobby Vee). And while Del Shannon's  "(Marie's the Name) His Latest Flame" carries some historical weight for having been recorded before Elvis' version, it can't compare to hit recording of the same song by Presley. Still, you could argue that almost anyone interested enough in Pomus and Shuman to buy a whole CD of their songs is quite likely to have the missing Presley and Drifters hits in their collection already, and more interested in getting a chance to hear some of the more seldom traveled efforts in their catalog, both good and mediocre. That chance is certainly supplied by this compilation, with fine annotation outlining the basics of the songwriters' careers and explaining the sources of each track.

Various Artists, Roots and Rumours: The Roots of Elvis Vol. 2 (Rev-Ola). The first volume of this series was confined to the original versions of songs that Elvis Presley is definitely known to have covered in his early career. There are a few such items on this 28-track follow-up, but many of the tunes are ones he's thought to have covered live or on unfound studio outtakes, two of the chief sources fueling the speculation being Elvis: A Musical Inventory 1939-55 and the 1956 songbook Elvis Presley's Album of Juke Box Favorites No. 1 (issued by Hill & Range publishers, supplier of many of the songs Elvis did record). That's a crucial difference, and one that, to liner note writer Dave Penny's credit, is fully acknowledged in this CD's excellent annotation. If you can accept that there might be some poetic license involved in the hypotheses, this is a highly enjoyable of hillbilly, country swing, country boogie, and early R&B songs that, whether Presley covered them or not, undoubtedly accurately reflect his early country and blues influences. There are a lot of fine sides from the '40s and '50s here, including some pretty well-known classics (the Delmore Brothers' "Blues Stay Away from Me," Ivory Joe Hunter's "I Almost Lost My Mind") and cuts by major artists whose work was vitally influential upon early rock'n'roll (Bob Wills, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Snow, Bill Monroe, Rufus Thomas, Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup). There are also a whole bunch of obscure tracks, as well as just a few instances of songs that Elvis did actually cover ("Milk Cow Blues," heard in its Bob Wills version, and "Just Because," here sung by the Lone Star Cowboys). It's interesting, however, that barely any of the 28 recordings actually sound that close to bona fide rock'n'roll. The most notable exception is Buddy & Bob's "Down the Line" -- an early, slightly lo-fi (but very good) rockabilly recording by Buddy Holly (with Bob Montgomery) of a song they offered to Elvis in hopes he'd record it for Sun Records. Just a couple of small complaints: there are no original release years and labels in the annotation, and Eddie Riff's fine tough 1956 R&B side "Ain't That Lovin 'You, Baby" sounds as if it was taken from a significantly warped source copy or tape.

Various Artists, The Song Before the Song (Viper). Many songs that became popular around the 1950s and 1960s actually had their roots -- sometimes general, sometimes very specific -- in earlier recordings of the pre-rock era, and sometimes earlier versions of the same song. The Song Before the Song presents 20 of these. A few of these original versions are fairly famous (within the record collector world, at any rate), like Josh White's "House of the Rising Sun," Nat King Cole's "Route 66," and a bunch of songs covered for hits by Elvis Presley (Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog," Arthur Crudup's "My Baby Left Me," Hank Snow's "A Fool Such As I," Smiley Lewis' "One Night," Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky"). Yet others might have even escaped the attention of diligent historically-minded fans. Keep in mind that sometimes these aren't exactly early versions of famous songs, but songs that contained elements of later hits and classics. Hal Singer's raw early-'50s R&B/swing number "Rock Around the Clock," for instance, isn't the same tune Bill Haley made into a huge hit, but there are things (the title and some of the riffs) that make one wonder if it was an influence that fed into the composition of the later song of the same name. The same could be said of jazzman Slim Gaillard's "Tutti Frutti," which definitely isn't the same tune as the early Little Richard classic beyond the title phrase; Bessie Jackson (aka Lucille Bogan's) "T & NO Blues" starts off with a lyric later used to open Junior Parker/Elvis Presley's "Mystery Train," but isn't the same otherwise. But don't take that to mean this CD is deceptive in its theme; those songs that aren't identical to the later famous versions are fascinating to hear in their own right. And there are a bunch of other actual original versions here, including Emmett Miller's "Lovesick Blues" (later done by Hank Williams), Big Joe Williams' "Baby Please Don't Go" (done by too many blues and rock artists to count), and Henry Thomas' "Bull Doze Blues" (adapted into Canned Heat's "Going Up the Country"). Plus, even if you're not the scholarly type, this disc makes for a good collection of early blues, country and jazz music on its own terms. If you are the scholarly kind, thorough liner notes make the connections between the versions clear in a most reader-friendly, witty fashion. It's another in Viper's underappreciated series of vintage roots music anthologies that illustrate where much of the music of the second half of the twentieth century came out of, without being at all stuffy about it.


Archived Reviews

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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