Archived Reviews

Jackie Edwards, I Feel So Bad: The Soul Recordings (Castle). In the annals of 1960s Jamaican music, Jackie Edwards was something of an anomaly. Like so many Jamaicans, he recorded for Island Records, and was based in Britain. In truth, however, his music was often far closer to soul than reggae or ska, though a little bit of influence from those forms could be detected even when he went in a decidedly soul direction. It was also his lot to be more known to history as the man who wrote the Spencer Davis Group's early hits than as a recording artist, though he did cut quite a few discs in the 1960s. The documentation on this 22-track collection isn't as thorough as it could be, but it seems that all of it was done between 1965-68 save for one 1971 song. And though none of them were hits, it proves Edwards to be a fine soul singer in his own right. He's also distinguished from much of his competition by his strong songwriting skills (most of the material here is his own) and a certain British soul-pop touch to the occasionally orchestrated production -- usually by Chris Blackwell and Spencer Davis/Rolling Stones/Traffic producer Jimmy Miller, working together and separately -- that helped differentiate it from much American soul product of the time. Setting it aside from much US soul, too, were some slight ska accents that lent his arrangements, delivery, and compositions a certain light romantic sweetness entirely different from that heard on records by Motown or Philadelphia soulsters. There are lots of fine tracks here that are little known to either reggae or soul fans, including his own versions of "Keep on Running" and "Somebody Help Me," which were chart-topping UK hits for the Spencer Davis Group (though it doesn't have his versions of two Spencer Davis songs on which he was the co-writer, "When I Get Home" and "Back into My Life Again"). Also dig his stomping rendition of "L-O-V-E," perhaps known more to British Invasion collectors as recorded by the British soul-rock group Simon Dupree & the Big Sound. Edwards recorded more material than what's here, of course, not all of it as soul-oriented. But it's a fine summation of the most accessible soul-slanted sides by this undervalued artist.

Marvin Gaye, The Real Thing in Performance 1964-1981 (Hip-O/Motown). Here's a DVD that gives the music to you straight, without a fuss, presenting 16 full-length performances by soul great Marvin Gaye, taken from film and television clips spanning 1964 to 1981. Many of the core classics from Gaye's hit repertoire are represented, including "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," "Ain't That Peculiar," "Let's Get It On," "What's Going On," "You're a Wonderful One," "Hitch Hike," "Pride and Joy," "Can I Get a Witness," and (as a duet with Tammi Terrell) "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." Interspersed between some of the songs are interview excerpts from television music and talk shows, and while these aren't so lengthy as to make this a documentary that could tell the story of Gaye's career on its own, they're entertaining and do shed some light on his music and life. If there's any drawback, it's that many of the clips are lip-synced, including nearly all of the ones from the '60s (which comprise about half of the material on the disc). Still, Gaye always looks and moves fine, and the first six clips (all from the mid-'60s) are enhanced by syncing the images to the original stereo master recordings. There's some unpredictable entertainment to be had on both the mimed and live clips, too, including a filmed-outdoors duet with Terrell in which you can see their breath (presumably to indicate they are on an appropriate peak to sing "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"); "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," sung to a different track than the studio version, with Gaye on piano; and a fully live 1972 performance of "What's Going On," from the obscure film Save the Children. And while few Gaye fans would count "A Funky Space Reincarnation" among his greatest songs, its 1979 promo film is certainly amusing for its sheer gaucheness, complete with Gaye's spangled maroon wardrobe, clouds of dry ice, and writhing barely-clothed women. Adding to this high-quality package is a 24-page booklet with an essay by top soul historian Rob Bowman, and a bonus feature that allows you to hear Gaye's a cappella vocal tracks for seven hits in isolation, synced to the corresponding film clip to aid watchability.

Dana Gillespie, Foolish Seasons (Rev-Ola). Although she would eventually become most known as a blues singer, at the outset of her recording career in the mid-to-late 1960s, Dana Gillespie flirted with pop-rock, folk-rock, and mildly psychedelic baroque pop. All of those styles can be heard on her obscure 1968 debut album, which oddly was issued in the US but not the UK, despite the heavily British-European cast to the production and arrangements. The melange of approaches makes for an indecisive direction and uneven quality in certain respects. Yet at the same time, it makes the record an undeniably interesting, at times even exhilarating, slice of eclectic late-'60s Swinging London-tinged pop. Very roughly speaking, Gillespie echoed the material and vocals of fellow British woman pop-rock singers such as Marianne Faithfull and Dusty Springfield at points, though her voice was at once both huskier/smokier than the young Faithfull's and gentler and whispery than Springfield's. The styles tried on for size include the breezy psych-pop of "You Just Gotta Know My Mind," a Donovan composition that Donovan himself never recorded; the very Faithfull-esque (in the good sense) wispy folk-pop of "Tears in My Eyes" and Gillespie's own composition "Foolish Seasons"; the sunshine pop-influenced orchestral arrangements of "Life Is Short" and "London Social Degree," both penned by cult British pop-rocker Billy Nicholls; the gothic Europop of "Souvenirs of Stefan," which vaguely recalls the likes of Francoise Hardy; and the downright catchy, sexy mod pop of "No! No! No!" Further unexpected turns are taken with the almost pre-goth blues-pop death wish "Dead," and the haunting, eccentric cover of Richard Farina's "Hard Lovin' Loser." Sure, there are a couple of icky-sweet pop clunkers along the way (including Gillespie's sole other self-penned number on the album, "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not"). On the whole, though, it's an extremely likable (if somewhat stylistically confused) album, with nonstop unpredictably luscious and imaginative production. The UK 2006 CD reissue on Rev-Ola has thorough historical liner notes, including many quotes from Gillespie herself.

George Harrison, The Concert for Bangladesh [DVD] (Apple). The film made of the August 1, 1971 concerts in New York's Madison Square Garden to raise relief funds for Bangladesh was given a deluxe reissue on this two-disc DVD, one disc of which contains the original film, the other offering extra features. Organized by George Harrison and also featuring spots by Bob Dylan, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, and Ravi Shankar, the concert itself might not quite match the expectations some fans might have for such a star-studded lineup. The good-time rock-soul of Preston and Russell, though they were briefly hitmakers in the early 1970s, is on the slight side compared to Harrison and Dylan's music. In addition, the acoustic-based Dylan set is a little low-key; though he offers some of his top songs (including "Blowin' in the Wind," "Just Like a Woman," "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall"), the accompaniment seems tentative and under-rehearsed. Too, the onstage band is perhaps bigger than it needs to be, including not just Eric Clapton (who doesn't sing or perform any of his own material) and Ringo Starr, but numerous other guitarists, bassists, singers, and horn players, some of whom are basically swamped by the arrangements.

All that noted, there's still much to enjoy about this concert and film, particularly as it remains the best place to watch footage of George Harrison as a solo artist. While he's a bit nervous at times, he for the most part offers good versions of highlights from both his first solo album, All Things Must Pass ("My Sweet Lord," "Awaiting on You All," "Beware of Darkness"), and his Beatles-era compositions ("Something," "Here Comes the Sun," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"). The large complement of gospel-soul-flavored backup singers adds different shades than are heard on the studio versions, and "Here Comes the Sun" is performed in a touching acoustic rendition (with Pete Ham of Badfinger on second guitar). Ravi Shankar opens the proceedings with more solemn Indian music that helps remind the audience about the cause the event raised money for, as does Harrison's closing performance of the non-LP single "Bangla Desh." The filming itself might be a little less sophisticated than the best rockumentaries of the era, but satisfactorily captures the onstage action and sense of occasion. The bonus disc offers worthwhile bonus items, including a 45-minute documentary on the concert, with interviews of some of the participants; smaller features on the making of the film and the album; and just a few previously unissued performances from the rehearsals, sound check and afternoon show, including Dylan's "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" and "If Not for You," along with a cover of Robert Johnson's "Come on in My Kitchen" by Harrison, Clapton, and Russell.

John Holt, I Can't Get You Off My Mind (Heartbeat). Although the phrase "18 Greatest Hits" appears as a subtitle on the cover, this by no means concentrates exclusively on Holt's most popular recordings; you won't find "Help Me Make It Through the Night" here. Rather, it focuses on the Clement Dodd-produced material he cut for Studio One in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. Not that there's anything wrong with such a compilation, as this period yielded some of Holt's most enduring recordings, whether alone or (as was the case for three of the tracks) with the Paragons. With most of the songwriting is credited to the team of Holt and Dodd (though there's a dandy cover of George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord"), it's a fine set of sweetly sung tunes from the time when rock steady was changing into early reggae music, sometimes moody ("Strange Things"), sometimes happy-go-lucky ("Happy Go Lucky Girl," natch), sometimes with early dubbish effects ("Change Your Style"), sometimes with echoes of Drifters-like soul ("Depth of Love"), sometimes even with light orchestration ("Tonight"). Two of the tracks ("Anywhere" and "My Sweet Lord") make their CD debut here, while seven others are, in the words of the track listing, an "original stereo mix previously unreleased on CD." Its appeal isn't limited to the collectors who care about such distinctions, however; it's top-notch, varied early reggae, and more consistent than the usual single-artist anthology of the genre.

Alexis Korner, Sky High [Bonus Tracks] (Castle). Sky High was a typically uneven Alexis Korner album, on several accounts. First, the literally sky high level of talent among the backup musicians -- including future Pentangle rhythm section Danny Thompson (bass) and Terry Cox (drums), as well as Duffy Power on harmonica -- was not matched to universally high-caliber material. Too, while admirably eclectic, the array of styles on display -- from down'n'dirty R&B to acoustic blues, out-there jazz, and almost traditional jazz-blues -- seemed to indicate as much directionless as adventurousness. There was, too, no getting around Korner's severe limitations as a lead vocalist, a chore he undertook for five of the album's fifteen tracks. Fortunately, first-class blues-rock vocalist Duffy Power took lead vocals on four of the other tracks, and for that reason alone, Sky High is a worthwhile release. "Long Black Train" (which Power and Korner co-wrote) is a genuine lost British R&B gem, and the very best track Korner cut in that style, with its ominously echoing guitar, pummeling rhythm, and Power-ful vocals and harmonica.

Sadly, nothing else on the record comes close to matching it, though the album's not without its merits. There are, to start with, those four other tracks with Power on lead vocal, which are respectable R&B, though none of them are nearly as good as "Long Black Train" (and one of them, "I'm So Glad (You're Mine)," would be recorded by Power in a better version under his own name). There's also a raucous cover of Charles Mingus' "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting," though this and other jazz instrumentals on the record (including a horn section) are so different from the Power-led cuts that they could easily be mistaken for the work of a different band. The numbers on which Korner takes lead vocals, however, make one wish he'd had the humility and wisdom to let Power be the lead singer for most of the LP, though Alexis does okay with the nicely swinging jazz-blues tune "River's Invitation."  Too, the three Korner solo guitar instrumentals that end the album seem like slight afterthoughts.

The CD reissue of this rare album on Castle in 2006 improved it substantially with the addition of ten BBC recordings from 1965 and 1966, half of them previously unreleased. None of them feature Power (though all of them retain Thompson and Cox as the rhythm section), Korner handling the vocals on all of them except "I Got a Woman," which is sung by Herbie Goins. These BBC tracks also run the gamut of the blues and all of its jazz and R&B offshoots, including another Charles Mingus cover ("Oh Lord, Don't Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me," sung with particular hoarseness by Korner); shuffling Korner-penned jazz-blues instrumentals; a version of Herbie Hancock's famous "Watermelon Man" (with another wracked Korner vocal); Jimmy Smith's "Back at the Chicken Shack," with Brian Auger on organ; and a rather cool soul-jazz instrumental, "The Jailbird." While not great recordings in and of themselves (though the sound is very good), these too testify to Korner's versatility and a catholic taste that seemed to embrace jazz and R&B as heartily as purist blues.

John Lennon, The Dick Cavett Show: John & Yoko Collection [DVD] (Shout Factory). In September 1971 and May 1972, John Lennon and Yoko Ono appeared on three episodes of The Dick Cavett Show, talking about their music and lives. (To be technical, they only appeared on the program twice, but the 1971 interview was so long that it was used in two separate episodes.) This two-DVD, approximately three-and-a-half-hour set presents all three of the episodes in their entirety, even including Cavett's opening monologues and the other guests who appeared on the programs; nothing's missing, except the commercials. For Lennon fans, and for many general music and popular culture fans, these are unremittingly interesting, with Lennon and Ono discussing various aspects of their art, songs, records, experimental films (from which a few clips are shown), and social views. The Beatles are only touched upon at a few points, though John does make some general observations about the group and their breakup. While Cavett was not a rock music expert, he did set them at ease and draw out their chat in an informal manner that, certainly by the standards of talk show television, was intelligent and entertaining.

In the September 1971 segments, Lennon does far more talking than the much quieter Ono, coming across as a pretty likable, funny fellow who doesn't shoot as much venom here as he did at various other points of his solo career. Certainly the most interesting portion is the one in which the pair takes questions from the audience, with John delivering a very thorough, insightful answer as to how he wrote songs and how his composing method changed since the early days of the Beatles. As especially interesting points of trivia, he reveals regretting that he threw in a reference to Chairman Mao in "Revolution," worrying that it might prevent him from visiting China. He also names Frank Zappa and Dr. John as some of the musicians he was most enjoying listening to at the time, and expresses surprise that "Oh Yoko!" and "Imagine" are turning out to be the most popular tracks from his Imagine album.

Ono speaks more in the May 1972 segment, in part because much of that was devoted to her and Lennon explaining their search for Ono's daughter, Kyoko, in a custody battle with Yoko's ex-husband. This in turn was helping to lead to efforts to deport John from the U.S., which are also discussed (and which would turn into a battle lasting five years or so). In this episode (unlike the September 1971 programs, which were all talk), Lennon and Yoko also perform, using Elephant's Memory as the backing band. John sings "Woman Is the Nigger of the World," whose controversial title required Cavett (under network pressure) to insert a small introduction aimed at mollifying any viewers who might be offended. Yoko sings "We're All Water," which like "Woman Is the Nigger of the World" was bound for the ill-fated Some Time in New York City album.

For the record, these episodes also contain interviews with other guests who appeared on the programs, those being comedian/commercial producer Stan Freberg; actress Shirley MacLaine; and, as a far less recognizable name, Robert Citron, then director of the Smithsonian Institute's Center for Short-Lived Phenomena. Though not related to Lennon and Ono's work, those segments are actually pretty entertaining (even the Citron one), and you might as well watch them as long as you have these discs in the player. Rounding off a first-rate package are introductions specially recorded for this DVD by Cavett, shortly before its 2005 release; a 20-minute interview with Cavett about the Lennon-Ono programs; and a booklet with historical liner notes.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Give Peace a Song [DVD] (Hip-O). The centerpiece of this DVD is a 45-minute program on John Lennon and Yoko Ono's famous Bed-In for peace at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal in May and June of 1969. Much of this footage has been seen, and much of the subject matter covered, in several previous Lennon/Ono documentaries, particularly John and Yoko's Year of Peace and Bed-In for Peace: All We Are Saying Is Give Peace a Chance. This nonetheless does a good, succinct job of explaining the essentials of the event, balanced between archive footage of John and Yoko in their hotel room and decades-later interviews with people who were there. Among those interviewed for the project, and usually offering quite interesting memories/comments, are Ono, comedian/folk singer Tommy Smothers, journalists and record company figures in attendance at the event (including a then-young fan who sneaked in with a fake press pass), Andre Perry (who helped produce the "Give Peace a Chance" single, recorded in the hotel room), and Pete Seeger (who wasn't at the Bed-In, but offers recollections of singing "Give Peace a Chance" to hundreds of thousands of Vietnam War protesters). The short segments on mediocre updated versions of "Give Peace a Chance" recorded in the 1990s and 2000s by other artists are unnecessary, and John and Yoko's Year of Peace (which focuses on their entire year of peace-related activities in Canada, not just the Montreal Bed-In) is actually a better documentary, if you can find it. Still, Give Peace a Song -- which was actually directed and produced for the CBC by the same team that did John and Yoko's Year of Peace -- is educational and enjoyable on its own terms. Its value is greatly enhanced by about 35 minutes of interesting bonus features, including CBC television interviews and press conferences conducted with Lennon and Ono in December 1969; bonus interview material with Perry and Smothers; and an interview with Petula Clark, who visited John and Yoko at the Bed-In. In one of the DVD's most amusing moments, Clark remembers Lennon's advice when she told him about audience hostility to the bilingual show she was presenting in Montreal at the time as follows: "Fuck 'em!"

John Mayall, Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton [UK Deluxe Edition] (Universal UK). The 40th anniversary deluxe edition of John Mayall's classic Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton album, issued in the UK in 2006, is a two-CD, 43-song affair, even though the original LP had just 12 tracks. While the many extras aren't nearly as essential as the original LP itself, this reissue neatly packages everything the Clapton lineup of the Bluesbreakers recorded, while still making the Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton album the centerpiece. Disc one presents both the mono and stereo mixes of the record, which was not just Mayall's best, but also a cornerstone of both British blues and blues-rock, as well as being the first to showcase Clapton's talents in full bloom (and in a purer blues context than anytime before or since). In common with many such mono-stereo packages for CD reissues, most listeners won't find the differences drastic, but sometimes they're noticeable -- in mono Mayall's vocal on "All Your Love" has a much hollower, echoing feel, and "Parchman Farm" has keyboards that are inaudible in the stereo mix (which, in turn, has a longer harmonica intro for the same song).

Of more value, at least as far as the extras go, is disc two, which presents no less than 19 tracks that the Clapton lineup recorded in 1965 and 1966 that didn't appear on the Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton album. This includes the 1965 "I'm Your Witch Doctor"/"Telephone Blues" single, the A-side of which is not only one of the Bluesbreakers' greatest recordings, but one of the great rock non-hit singles of the 1960s by anyone, with searing futuristic distorted guitar. Also on hand is the fine late-'65 soul-pop-flavored studio recording "On Top of the World," and the less impressive, more traditional blues of the obscure "Bernard Jenkins"/"Lonely Years" single. Then there are eight previously unreleased 1965-66 BBC recordings, only one of them ("Key to Love") of a song that appeared on the Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton record, the other tracks including radio versions of "I'm Your Witchdoctor," "On Top of the World," the early Mayall single "Crawling Up a Hill"/"Crocodile Walk," and three cool numbers the Bluesbreakers never put on their '60s studio records ("Cheating Woman," "Bye Bye Bird," and "Nowhere to Turn"). Rounding out the disc are the half-dozen '66 live recordings (with both Clapton and Jack Bruce in the band) that have appeared on compilations (five of them on Primal Solos, and the sixth, "They Call It Stormy Monday," on the Looking Back collection). The sound on the BBC cuts is decent, though the performances not as full and cutting as the Clapton lineup's studio work; the live material is in fuzzier sound, though listenable. Despite the uneven nature of the second disc, however, it's great to have all of this Mayall-Clapton material in one place, and impossible to imagine a more definitive collection of the Mayall-Clapton Bluesbreakers recordings.

John Mayall, John Mayall Plays John Mayall [UK Expanded Version] (Universal UK). John Mayall's debut album, recorded live in December 1964, is a little unjustly overlooked and overrated, as it was recorded shortly before the first of the famous guitarists schooled in the Bluesbreakers (Eric Clapton) joined the band. With Roger Dean on guitar (and the rhythm section who'd play on the Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton album, bassist John McVie and drummer Hughie Flint), it has more of a rock/R&B feel, rather like the early Rolling Stones, than the purer bluesier material Mayall would usually stick to in his subsequent recordings. The record doesn't suffer for this, however, moving along quite powerfully, and -- unusually for a British R&B/blues band of the time -- featuring almost nothing but original material, all penned by Mayall. Nigel Stranger's saxophone adds interesting touches to a few tracks, the songs are quite good, and while Dean's guitar and Mayall's vocals aren't on the same level as the best instrumentalists and singers in the British blues-rock movement, they're satisfactory. The 2006 UK expanded CD edition adds five enjoyable cuts that round up everything else recorded by the pre-Eric Clapton version of the Bluesbreakers, including the 1964 single "Crawling Up a Hill"/"Mr. James"; the early-1965 single "Crocodile Walk"/"Blues City Shakedown"; and the February 1965 outtake "My Baby Is Sweeter," which first showed up on the early-'70s British compilation Thru the Years. "Crawling Up a Hill" and "Crocodile Walk" also appear on the original John Mayall Plays John Mayall album in live performances, but the bonus track versions are entirely different studio recordings done for those non-LP singles, and are pretty good as well.

Ennio Morricone, Happening (El). The scanty liner notes of this compilation of cuts from 1968-1973 Ennio Morricone soundtracks (save a couple from 1977) rather misleadingly term it "a psychedelic montage." Much of this is not exactly psychedelic, at least if you think of Morricone psychedelia in terms of genuinely way-out tracks like "Il Giardino Delle Delizie" or the weirder moments of the Danger Diabolik soundtrack. It's still a satisfying collection of 25 tracks from Morricone's arguable prime, much of them not easy to come by on CD anthologies. And a lot of it is imaginatively strange, like the combination of tribal drums and church-from-hell organs on Burn's "Quemada Secondo from Quemada" and the fire-licking choral vocals of "Studi Per un Finale (Secondo)" from the same source. Some of the other stuff is more meditative and whimsically evocative, even occasionally suggestive of '60s swinging Europe lounge sounds—not that there's anything wrong with that, just that it's not quite as strikingly odd. Groovy go-go organ sounds, haunting wordless spectral vocals, cherry circus-like riffs, and weird dissonant blends of twangs and pops are also heard, so the "psychedelic" element is more in the kaleidoscopic range than in any unrelenting weirdness in the music itself. Stranger than all-get-out, though, is the nine-minute "Erotico Mistico" (from Maddalena), where funereal organ, a rolling drum pattern reminiscent of Ringo Starr's brief solo in the Beatles' "The End," and Gregorian male vocals back Edda Dell'Orso's extremely orgiastic, if soft and subtle, moans and sighs. It's the highlight of this anthology, recommended to those looking to deepen their Morricone collections, despite its wavering and uncertain focus.

Roy Orbison, In Dreams [DVD] (Legacy). Weaving together performance footage (spanning the early 1960s to the late 1980s) and interviews, this is a very good documentary of Roy Orbison, though not quite a definitive one. Clips of most of Orbison's most famous songs are here, including "Only the Lonely," "Running Scared," "Crying," "Dream Baby," "Oh, Pretty Woman," and "It's Over." Note that some of these clips are from the 1980s, not the time at which these songs were originally hits, though that time-lapse isn't as big an issue with Orbison as it would be with many artists, since he retained the quality and power of his voice even into his fifties. In the non-musical segments, Orbison is well represented by interviews from late in his life (with audio-only snippets occasionally overlaid over non-interview footage), coming across -- as you'd expect -- as a soft-spoken, humble man. Also interviewed are quite a wide assortment of associates (Fred Foster, who produced Orbison's greatest hits in the first half of the 1960s, being the most important) and fellow stars testifying to Orbison's influence, including Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, the Bee Gees, Bill Wyman, Bono, and even film director David Lynch (whose use of "In Dreams" in Blue Velvet helped reignite interest in Orbison in the 1980s). It's not quite a thorough history of Roy's career; his wilderness years, from approximately the mid-1960s (when he left Monument Records, where he had his big hit run with Foster) to 1980, are barely examined. Too, his series of small-to-big comeback successes in the '80s (including his "That Lovin' You Feelin'" again duet with Emmylou Harris, the U2-penned "She's a Mystery to Me," and the Traveling Wilburys) are perhaps given more weight than they deserve. It's still a well-done overview, however, that gives a good account of both the man and his music.

The Paris Sisters, The Complete Phil Spector Sessions (Varese Sarabande). The Paris Sisters' career extended from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s, but they remain principally remembered for their brief association with Phil Spector, particularly the 1961 Top Five hit "I Love How You Love Me." Rather surprisingly, this compilation marks the first time all of their Spector-produced recordings have been gathered onto one CD. Granted, it's a slim body of work, comprising the A- and B-sides of five singles on the Gregmark label, including "I Love How You Love Me" and the Gerry Goffin-Carole King-penned Top Forty follow-up "He Knows I Love Him Too Much." (The eleventh and final track is merely a stereo version of "I Love How You Love Me.") Yet it's a significant one, not only in terms of Spector's career, but also on its own musical merits. The Paris Sisters might have been on the very most pop-oriented end of the early-'60s girl group sound, but they had a very appealing vocal style, particularly in the feathery, almost whispered enunciation of lead singer Priscilla Paris. Spector backed the trio with luscious, pillowy orchestration, and while the ballad-dominated material was rather reminiscent of the song with which Spector had scored his first hit (the Teddy Bears' "To Know Him Is to Love Him"), here he had the chance to embroider such tunes with far fuller arrangements. It's true the songs tended so far toward the sentimental that they often tread on the syrupy. But the production gave them a haunting, almost spooky air that definitely anticipated much of the flavor of the more strikingly innovative hits Spector produced slightly later for the Crystals, Ronettes, and Righteous Brothers. There's just one uptempo number (the B-side  "All Through the Night") on this historically important collection; otherwise it's behind-closed-doors music with a touch of the otherworldly.

Duffy Power, Vampers and Champers (RPM). This two-CD anthology falls somewhere between an expanded edition of Duffy Power's most notable album, Innovations, and a sort of best-of compilation of his most notable post-1964 material. The very Power fans most likely to buy this are likely to have much of it already, and for that reason, might be mildly disappointed. If you don't happen to have much or any Power yet, however, it's a largely excellent collection. Disc one features everything from Innovations, which though released in the early '70s contains 1965-67 recordings exclusively. These are among the finest obscure British blues-rock of the '60s, shaded with folk, soul, and jazz, the diverse tracks featuring support from a pre-fame John McLaughlin (who co-wrote some of the songs with Power), a pre-Cream Jack Bruce, and pre-Pentangle members Danny Thompson and Terry Cox. As a nice bonus, this disc adds two bonus tracks from the same era, the Power original "Little Girl" and a cover of Muddy Waters' "I Want You to Love Me" that (like one of Innovations' tracks, Waters' "Louisiana Blues") has some positively skin-crawling acoustic slide guitar.

Disc two leads off with seven acoustic tracks recorded in 1969 for the Duffy Power LP. While all of that material from that record is worth hearing (and was issued on CD on the 1992 release titled Blues Power, these are also quite good, subtly ingratiating folk-blues-rock, if not quite as exciting as the Innovations material. Also on hand are three slightly slicker, but still satisfying, early-'70s tracks with full arrangements, produced by ex-Zombies Rod Argent and Chris White (and previously available on the CD compilation Just Say Blue). There are also three previously unreleased tracks, all Power originals, from 1970 recordings on which he was backed by Keith Tippett's group -- of those, "Dr. Love" has a slight funk feel, while the more impressive "Holiday" and "Love Song" blend pleasing jazz, blues, and folk accents with Power's effectively gentle vocals and tender compositions. Finally, the CD concludes with four previously unreleased tracks from 1991-2002 -- again, all Power originals -- that, refreshingly, find him sticking to the understated arrangements and genre-blending rootsy compositions that suit his style best. Colin Harper's extensive liner notes supply extensive background information on the recordings, the booklet also including rare photos from throughout Power's career.

Simon & Garfunkel, Fantastic Early Years 1966-1970 [DVD bootleg] (Footstomp). Much of the footage on this 45-minute disc of vintage Simon & Garfunkel television clips isn't in the greatest shape, at least in the form in which it's been preserved and transferred onto this bootleg DVD. But there's some good stuff here, particularly the opening segment of six songs from a 1966 Canadian TV show, done wholly live with a suit-and-tied, seated Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel harmonizing closely on a single mike. This is as early and collegiate a view of the pair (performing before a very polite, well-dressed seated audience) as you'll get, and though the image is a little wavy, the sound is pretty good for an unauthorized disc featuring mid-'60s footage. The songs in that portion, too, are well-chosen, featuring both early hits ("The Sound of Silence," "Homeward Bound," "I Am a Rock") and some less traveled early LP cuts ("Richard Cory," "He Was My Brother," and "A Most Peculiar Man"). The other clips are less exciting), but still have their entertainment value, including a couple '66 songs mimed on Hollywood A Go Go; a live versions of "The Sound of Silence" from a source identified only as "Mid '60s TV Show"; a few late-'60s appearances on The Smothers Brothers; and a promo clip for "Mrs. Robinson" showing the pair playing baseball in an empty stadium. More interesting is a fine live clip of them doing "Mrs. Robinson" with band backup in the late 1960s, taken (though it doesn't say so on the sleeve) from their 1969 television special Songs of America. There's much additional interesting old Simon & Garfunkel footage that could have been placed on here (like that Songs of America special), especially considering the short running time, but what's here is worthwhile.

Simon & Garfunkel, See for Miles: 1966-2004 [DVD bootleg] (Bad Wizard). While this unauthorized two-hour DVD by no means contains all the footage of Simon & Garfunkel that's not available on commercial releases, it does have some pretty interesting stuff, though the imperfect shape of the sources/transfer to disc will limit its appeal to serious fans. The first ten songs were all performed live, in front of a sedate studio audience, in Amsterdam in 1966. It's not quite as good as a six-song Canadian 1966 live set that's emerged on another bootleg DVD, but it's good enough, including their biggest early hits ("Homeward Bound," "I Am a Rock," "The Sound of Silence") and a bunch of relatively obscure early album tracks ("Richard Cory," "Leaves That Are Green," "A Most Peculiar Man," "A Poem on the Underground Wall," "He Was My Brother," and two versions of "Anji"). This segment's followed by their hour-long November 1969 network television special Songs of America, which mixed concert and studio footage of the pair with interviews of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel and scenes late '60s American political/cultural conflict. You'd have to think the film exists somewhere in better shape than this somewhat grainy, washed-out print, and one wishes there was more Paul and Art and less non-Simon & Garfunkel scenes. Still, those Simon & Garfunkel sequences do provide some interesting watching and listening, particularly a kinetic live concert version of "Mrs. Robinson." Rounding out the disc are appearances the duo made on Late Show with Letterman and Good Morning America in the early 2000s in association with their comeback tour, and while these aren't as exciting as the '60s clips, they do show the two to still be in fine voice (and reasonably fine humor). The clip listed as being a version of "Scarborough Fair" from The Andy Williams Show, by the way, is not the complete original late-'60s performance, but a scene of Simon & Garfunkel being shown part of the clip as part of one of their Good Morning America segments.

Stuart Sutcliffe, Stuart Sutcliffe: The Lost Beatle [DVD] (Digital Classics). Produced for the BBC, this is a well-done hour-long documentary on the life of Stuart Sutcliffe, most known as the Beatles' bass player in the early 1960s, though he left to concentrate on art before his death in early 1962. Several important close associates of Sutcliffe and the early Beatles are interviewed, including his fiancee (and noted early Beatles photographer) Astrid Kirchherr, Klaus Voormann, Stuart's sister Pauline Sutcliffe, Rod Murray (an art school chum who shared a flat in Liverpool with Sutcliffe and John Lennon), Tony Sheridan, and early Beatles manager Allan Williams. The film is handicapped, however, by the lack of any archive footage of Sutcliffe (or the Beatles from the time Sutcliffe was alive, for that matter), and also by the absence of genuine Beatles recordings on the soundtrack, with weak anonymous ersatz Beatles music serving as a poor substitute. More important, at least for the serious Beatles fanatics who comprise a significant portion of the viewers most likely to be interested in this DVD, is that the story's been told so many times in other formats that there's little that hasn't been said (in so many words) by the narrative or the people interviewed elsewhere. It's interesting to hear Voormann (himself a respected bass player) claim that Sutcliffe, contrary to most reports, was actually playing bass fairly well in his time with the Beatles in Hamburg, and also to hear Sheridan somewhat abashedly recall that Paul McCartney was fighting "like a chick" in an oft-remembered onstage rumble with Sutcliffe. Yet there's a feeling that Sutcliffe's significance, both to the Beatles and as a visual artist, is being magnified a bit more than it deserves, though not extravagantly so. In addition, the theories (largely advanced by Pauline Sutcliffe) that Lennon and Sutcliffe had some homosexual interaction with each other, and that Lennon administered a beating that might have led to Sutcliffe's death of a cerebral hemorrhage, are discussed here despite the lack of solid evidence, though they're only touched upon (and dismissed by Kirchherr as "silly" and "rubbish"). The film does use some little-seen still photographs of Sutcliffe and the early Beatles, and includes a bonus gallery of Sutcliffe's largely abstract (and, to this day, not often circulated) artwork, though it doesn't seem to justify the claims of American art historian Donald Kuspit in the main feature that Sutcliffe was a major talent.

The Velvet Underground, At the Factory: Warhol Tapes (bootleg) (Nothing Songs Limited). On January 3, 1966, the Velvet Underground -- very shortly after coming to Andy Warhol's attention -- had rehearsals taped by Warhol in the Factory. Much (though not all) of that tape is included on this bootleg, with the addition of three songs from a live performance on February 6, 1966, and two more songs rehearsed in the Factory on March 7, 1966. Be straight about this -- it's for serious fans only, since the recording quality's not that good (particularly in the vocal department), and since, in common with many rehearsals, the tracks are often sketches, riffs, and fooling around, not complete songs. If you are a serious fan, however, it's a fascinating document of the band in its early, formative stages -- the earliest such document, in fact, other than the low-key July 1965 demo tape of Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, and John Cale that came out as disc one of the Peel Slowly and See box set. The strikingly idiosyncratic, assaultive brittle droning sound of the band is already in place in the January rehearsal, but there are relatively few snatches of familiar original songs, other than "Heroin" and "There She Goes Again" (which here already approach forms similar to their studio arrangements).

What's most remarkable is that you can hear, in the formless jamming, more specific links to the band's rock'n'roll roots that would be buried in their standard repertoire, with licks from Bo Diddley's "Crackin' Up" and (more surprisingly) the Beatles' "Day Tripper" cropping up, as well as more generic blues noodling. Too, parts of the track awkwardly titled "Run Run Run intro to Miss Joanie Lee," as well as some passages elsewhere on the disc, bear distinct resemblance to some of the knotty, chaotic improvisation heard in the band's studio version of "European Son." Most intriguingly, there are partial run-throughs, in different keys, of "There She Goes Again" with Nico, not Lou Reed, on vocals, though this idea to put her in the frontwoman position for this tune was apparently abandoned. The five songs from February and March performances include complete versions of "Heroin" and "I'll Be Your Mirror." Bigger surprises are a cover of Bob Dylan's "I'll Keep It With Mine," a song that Nico would do on her debut album, and here given an "I'm Waiting for the Man"-style rhythm; a "European Son" that slides into lines from the old Dale Hawkins rockabilly classic "Suzie Q"; and an original song with fairly indistinct vocals, "Get It on Time," that never appeared on the Velvet Underground studio releases, and has an atypical country-folk-rock feel.

Various Artists, The Best of Hootenanny [DVD] (Shout Factory). It's hard to believe that folk music was so popular in the early 1960s that it commanded its own network television show. But it was indeed, with Hootenanny running for 18 months between April 1963 and September 1964. This three-DVD set contains no less than four-and-a-half hours of material from the series, with 91 separate live performances (most of them musical, although a few routines from comedians are included as well) before collegiate audiences.  Hootenanny did tend toward the more commercial side of the folk boom, and it's true that a good deal of the stuff on this set is of the dated, innocuous, even corny singalong variety. Yet there's also some fairly earthy offerings with integrity, and as a whole it's a wide-ranging sampling of the music being categorized as "folk" during the peak of the folk revival, with some notable omissions.

To start with some of the less whitebread stuff, highlights include Ian & Sylvia, near the outset of their recording career; Miriam Makeba, just around the time she was becoming an international star, singing in both her native tongue and English; Johnny Cash, performing "Busted" and "Five Feet High and Rising"; and Judy Collins, in the prime of her pure folk period, both doing "Anathea" solo and dueting with Theodore Bikel on "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine." Future folk-rockers of note crop up here and there in their purely folk incarnations, including not just Collins and Ian & Sylvia, but also John Phillips (as part of the Journeymen); Scott McKenzie (also as part of the Journeymen); Barry McGuire (as part of the New Christy Minstrels, singing their hit "Green, Green"); Hoyt Axton; the Dillards, when they were strictly a bluegrass band; and, most surprisingly, Carly Simon, as half of the Simon Sisters (whose two songs include a cover of Pete Seeger's "Turn, Turn, Turn"). And while there's a good deal of commercial Kingston Trio-style folk from the likes of the Limeliters, Chad Mitchell Trio, the Rooftop Singers, and the Brothers Four, it'll surprise many viewers to see how many different styles were represented. There's gospel (Marion Williams, the Clara Ward Gospel Singers); country (not just Cash, but also Eddy Arnold, trying to get it on the folk boom with "Poor Howard" and "Song of the Cuckoo"); Irish folk (the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem); old-time country (the Carter Family); and even a bit of jazz (Herbie Mann, whose two clips are among the better ones). It's also interesting to see Trini Lopez delivering "If I Had a Hammer" on electric guitar with a group including Mickey Jones (later to drum on Bob Dylan's 1966 world tour), well in advance of the popularization of folk-rock. There are also comedy bits from a young Woody Allen, a young Bill Cosby, and John F. Kennedy impersonator Vaughn Meader, though these (like many of the music clips) are on the mild and dated side.

As interesting as this footage is, it could have been a lot more so, through no fault of Shout Factory or the set's compilers. As is well known (and as this set's liner notes acknowledge), some noted performers boycotted Hootenanny because of the show's unwillingness to have Pete Seeger appear unless he signed a loyalty oath. Seeger didn't, and the performers who refused to appear on the show as a result included many of the very best and most popular folk acts of the time, among them Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Joan Baez, the Kingston Trio, Tom Paxton, and  Ramblin' Jack Elliott. And while the set does include clips by some very obscure artists like Beverly White, Richard & Jim, and the Coventry Singers, it doesn't have some very interesting ones who appeared on the program, like the Big Three (with a young Cass Elliot), Bonnie Dobson, and Judy Henske (who, frustratingly, is seen as one of the singers in a group singalong finale of "He's Got the World in His Hands," but not in a clip of her own). What's here is certainly abundant, well preserved, and for the most part quite enjoyable, raising hopes that a further volume might be produced of the footage that didn't make the cut for this release.

Various Artists, Joe Meek Freakbeat: You're Holding Me Down (Castle). Joe Meek is most famous for the records he made in the early-to-mid-1960s, even the best of which usually matched futuristic one-of-a-kind production with quaint, silly (if sometimes quite catchy) tunes. This has led many critics to charge, with some justification, that trends were passing him by as British Invasion groups with grittier, more creative material overran the globe. It's sometimes overlooked, however, that he made quite a few records with the new generation of self-contained, tougher mod/R&B-oriented British bands in the final two years or so of his life, even if these experienced little commercial success. A whopping 30 such sides from 1964-66 are assembled on this quite interesting and occasionally thrilling (if uneven) compilation. Generally, Meek was more restrained in leaving his heavy sonic thumbprint on these records than he was with most of his acts, perhaps because the groups were more apt to have their own songs and want to arrange things their own way. You can still hear a lot of Meek in the super-compressed sound, thick-as-a-brick percussive slap, and occasional astral organ, but the tracks aren't as chock-a-block with effects and strangeness as most of the cuts he did with more malleable acts.

Fortunately, Meek didn't seem inclined to tame the rough edges off such groups, and quite a lot of uninhibited (if rather uncommercial) R&B/pop raving  comes through on these obscure releases, most of which were flops (and some of which weren't even issued at the time). A few of the tracks, in fact, are among the greatest examples of unhinged "freakbeat," bridging British Invasion mod/R&B/pop and psychedelia on vicious, nearly off-the-rails recordings like the Buzz's "You're Holding Me Down," the Syndicats' "Crawdaddy Simone," and Jason Eddie & the Centremen's insanely trilling "Singing the Blues." There are some more standard, but also satisfying, tough R&B-grounded performances too, like David John & the Mood's "I Love to See You Strut" and "Bring It to Jerome," and Heinz & the Wild Boys' "Big Fat Spider" and "I'm Not a Bad Guy," both of which feature some of the most exciting unknown over-the-top guitar solos in all of mid-'60s British rock. While most of the other cuts are less notable, most of them likewise have something to recommend in the way of both eerie production values and tough, crunchy tunes -- and sometimes, a lot to recommend in those categories, as listens to Paul & Ritchie & the Cryin' Shames' "Come on Back," Jason Eddie & the Centremen's "Come on Baby," and the Riot Squad's "I Take It That We're Through" will confirm.

Certainly it doesn't have all of the notable work that Meek did in this style. There's nothing by Screaming Lord Sutch, for example, and there are additional sides by Heinz and the Syndicats in this vein well worth hearing. Too, while the Puppets' "Shake with Me" is quite acceptable, it pales next to the killer version cut by Meek with the Outlaws (with Ritchie Blackmore delivering one of the most incredible little-heard guitar solos of the mid-'60s). What's here, though, is a mighty fun listen, and will appeal in almost equal measures to both Meek and British Invasion fanatics. Many of these tracks, incidentally, have previously shown up on other collector-oriented anthologies, going all the way back to the special British edition of the Pebbles series, Pebbles Vol. 6. But they're presented here with better sound quality, and certainly better liner notes, than those compilations often featured.


Archived Reviews

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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