Archived Reviews

Syd Barrett, The Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett Story [DVD] (Zeit Media). In a couple important respects, Syd Barrett is a difficult documentary subject, as there isn't much film of him either performing or being interviewed. The 50-minute film (originally broadcast on the BBC) that's the main feature of this DVD, however, does an excellent job of summarizing the key aspects of his life and music. Its most important strength is its interviews with his close associates, scoring the hard-to-believe coup of first-hand talks with all four of Barrett's Pink Floyd bandmates (Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Rick Wright, and David Gilmour). Making briefer but meaningful contributions are such interesting figures as Bob Klose, Pink Floyd's original guitarist; early Barrett girlfriend Libby Chisman; early Pink Floyd co-manager Peter Jenner; and Mike Leonard, who worked on the group's early lighting effects. Mixed with those interviews are small but significant snippets of '60s footage showing Syd in performance with Pink Floyd, live and in the studio, as well as excerpts from home movies and the "Arnold Layne" promotional video; there's even a bit of the legendary unreleased Floyd/Barrett song "Vegetable Man" on the soundtrack. The brilliance of Barrett's music and the tragedy of his sudden and rapid mental demise is examined with intelligent and sympathetic detail, also encompassing his influence on the music that Pink Floyd went on to make without him.

The two-DVD edition released in 2007 by Zeit Media is the one for serious Barrett/Pink Floyd fans to get, as it includes quite a bit of bonus material. Disc one has additional interview segments, a basic Barrett bio, and a memorabilia section that, unlike many such things on DVDs, is not an afterthought, but offers dozens of quite rare and interesting vintage posters, ads, record sleeves, and photos. The second disc offers complete unedited interview footage done for the project with Waters, Gilmour, Wright, and Mason, as well as solo performances of Barrett songs by Graham Coxon of Blur and Robyn Hitchcock. The Waters-Gilmour-Wright-Mason interviews on disc two add up to 90 minutes in all, including almost an hour with Waters alone. While they might be more than general fans want to see and hear, for aficionados they're fascinating, affording the chance to hear the members' memories -- not only of Barrett, but of Floyd's early days in general -- at considerably greater length than the principal documentary feature allows. Those segments don't merely repeat obvious stuff that's been gone over many times elsewhere, digressing into such interesting tangents as Waters' recollections of Bob Klose's role in the early Pink Floyd, and Mason's accounts of the Barrett-Floyd outtakes "Scream Thy Last Scream" and "Vegetable Man."

Jeff Beck Group, Jeff Beck Group Supporting Pink Floyd: Messin' with the Blues (bootleg) (Empress Valley Supreme). A three-CD bootleg of the Jeff Beck Group at the Shrine Exposition Hall in Los Angeles on July 26 and 27 of 1968 isn't too much at once -- if it's recorded well. This material, including tracks from four separate sets, isn't, though it has some value for very serious Beck fans. It sounds like an audience tape, and by those standards, Beck's guitar work comes through very well indeed. But while you'd probably pick the guitar if you had to settle for just one element of the Jeff Beck Group to come through on an unreleased tape, his guitar wasn't the only thing that made the band worth listening to. There were also Rod Stewart's vocals, for one thing, which are pretty faint on these recordings. Beck's guitar is impressive, especially on his showcase "Jeff's Boogie," a holdover from his Yardbirds days, but here extended so that he throws in riffs from "Over, Under, Sideways, Down" and the theme to The Beverly Hillbillies. There are also a few songs that didn't make it onto the Jeff Beck Group's early LPs, including B.B. King's "Sweet Little Angel," Beck's British hit single "Hi Ho Silver Lining," and Elmore James' "The Sun Is Shining," as well as impressive workouts on the likes of "Shapes of Things" and "Beck's Bolero." If only this were recorded well, the performances are of a high enough level that it would be a significant piece of music. But you could say that about almost an infinite amount of bootlegs, and something like this really has to be captured in good fidelity to make it both important and enjoyable. Also on the set are a couple of instrumentals ("Interstellar Overdrive" and "A Saucerful of Secrets") by the act the Jeff Beck Group were playing with on these shows, Pink Floyd; in part because they don't have vocals, they're pretty good recordings/performances by 1968 live bootleg standards.

Big Maybelle, I've Got a Feelin': OKeh and Savoy Recordings 1952-1956 (Rev-Ola). This CD is just what its subtitle says it is, gathering 27 tracks Big Maybelle released on the OKeh and Savoy labels between 1952 and 1956, as well as a live version of "Ring Dang Dilly/Candy" (though it's not specified whether that's previously unreleased). Big Maybelle recorded for other companies before and after 1952-56, but this period was her artistic and commercial prime, including the R&B hits "Gabbin' Blues," "Way Back Home," "My Country Man," and "Candy." All of those cuts are included on this well-annotated anthology, along with a non-charting 45 that nonetheless remains her most famous recording, the original version of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" (later covered for a monster smash by Jerry Lee Lewis). Not every song on this disc is as good as the aforementioned titles, but Big Maybelle's raunchy, powerfully throaty vocals are consistently impressive on material that runs from jump blues shouters and earthy ballads to near-rock'n'roll. While "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" is an inevitable standout considering it's by far the most famous tune, it's quite different from Jerry Lee Lewis' rockabilly treatment; it's a much more measured midtempo R&B/blues hybrid in this incarnation, and it really took Lewis to kick it into much higher gear. Far less celebrated, yet far more impressive, is "I've Got a Feelin'," a great devious minor-key number that's the set's unheralded highlight, though the playful "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show" is almost as good.  Much like her version of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," Big Maybelle's somewhat forgotten today, but on the basis of these sides, she certainly deserves more recognition. For she's as good as quite a few other similar figures from the dawn of rock'n'roll who have, whether because they had a few more hits or for other reasons, attained higher profiles as innovators among rock and R&B historians. While much of this material also appeared on the 1994 compilation The Complete OKeh Sessions 1952-55, this CD might get the slight nod as the preferable choice, as the seven Savoy tracks include a hit ("Candy") postdating the OKeh era.

Canterbury Glass, Sacred Scenes and Characters (Ork). In 1968, Canterbury Glass recorded six tracks in London for an album that went unreleased at the time, the group disbanding after interest from a couple record labels fell through. Nearly 40 years later, many of the tapes were rediscovered and issued on this CD. This isn't quite the original album; two of the six tracks couldn't be found, and the "bonus" cut, a demo of one of the two missing songs, apparently bears no resemblance to the version recorded for the album. Still, since all four of the tracks retrieved from the original album sessions last around ten minutes, the CD does offer what would have been a healthy-sized LP by 1968 standards. Unlike many such relics to see the light of day in the CD age, it's not a run-of-the-mill psychedelic outing in terms of either style or quality. With the religious tones of both the music and lyrics (some of which are sung in Latin), it's a little like hearing the Electric Prunes' late-'60s pseudo-religious concept LPs, but as done by a British band who were playing it straight, rather than because some producers and arrangers foisted a gimmick upon them. There's a consciously cathedral-music-goes-rock flavor to the proceedings, the standard psychedelic guitar rock being augmented by churchy organ, harpsichord, flute, and male-female choral harmonies. In some respects, the blend resembles psychedelic-early progressive rock crossover bands like Procol Harum and Caravan, the difference being that while those groups used classical-religious influences as a prominent shading, Canterbury Glass employ them as driving forces. While there's an earnest naivete to the proceedings that might either charm or turn off listeners depending on their tastes, it's also haunting and unusual, and not nearly as explicitly derivative as many such unsigned bands of the era. It's a worthwhile curiosity for those who want to hear what was briefly called "God rock" done with accomplished integrity, though the bluesy demo of "We're Going to Beat It (Battle Hymn)" isn't nearly up to the standards of the rest of the material.

Caravan, The Show of Our Lives: Live at the BBC 1968-1975 (Deram). While this two-CD, nearly two-and-a-half-hour collection doesn't include all of Caravan's BBC recordings, it's indisputably the finest collection of the band's radio performances yet assembled. It doesn't quite include all of the BBC tracks that have appeared on previous releases; a couple songs from their first 1968 session are missing, as are most of the cuts from the Ether Way: BBC Sessions 1975-77 compilation. This is more than compensated for, however, by the inclusion of a half-hour August 2, 1973 session that appears for the first time anywhere on this anthology, as well as the much-improved fidelity on some material first issued as part of the Green Bottles for Marjorie: The Lost BBC Sessions set. Too, the absence of some mid-to-late-'70s material isn't a big blow, as it was during the period covered by this collection that Caravan were truly at their peak.

As for the music itself, while these tracks aren't radically different from the more familiar studio versions, they're fine testimony to the band's ability to deliver complex progressive rock with deft spontaneity in a live setting. The first disc is far more impressive than the second, the band sounding like a cousin to early Soft Machine (with whom, of course, they shared deep roots) in their ability to make the transition from psychedelia to progressive rock sound playful, humane, and for the most part based in strong songs and vocals. The most pleasing treasure is their fine nine-minute stretched-out cover of the early Soft Machine B-side "Feelin', Reelin', Squealin,'" which Caravan never recorded on their studio releases. The second disc, alas, finds the group becoming steadily less interesting with the onset of several personnel changes, documenting the band's (and indeed the entire serious British progressive rock genre's) growing inclination toward slicker virtuosity and less acute, distinguished songwriting. Nonetheless, the better portions are delightful and Mark Powell's annotation (which almost amounts to a band history in itself) excellent, and the compilation as a whole belongs in every serious Caravan fan's collection.

Susan Christie, Paint a Lady (Finders Keepers). The material on this album, heard by few until it was issued on CD in the early twenty-first century, might have been built up as a little weirder than it is by some of the collectors who've raved about it. While it's not the most uplifting stuff in the world, much of it is haunting but not all that out-there pop-folk. Susan Christie's fairly strong, strident vocals and moody melodies, occasionally embellished by strings, aren't the most uncommercial mixture that could have been concocted, though apparently they were too uncommercial to find release when they were originally recorded. What is unusual -- and what sets it most apart from some singers she might bear the vaguest of resemblance to at times, like Melanie, Tim Buckley, Sandy Denny, and Bobbie Gentry -- are the unexpectedly forceful distorted guitars, near-hard-rock organ, and angular rhythms and mild dissonance used in some of the arrangements. In addition, for an eight-song, half-hour album, it's certainly unpredictable in the wide territory it covers -- "No One Can Hear You Cry," unlike anything else on the record, is close to sounding like a fine lost Dionne Warwick outtake, though even that gets set aside from the usual Bacharach-David production by the insertion of off-the-wall exotic tinkles of descending instrumental glissandos. If that's not odd enough in this company, there's also a cut, "When Love Comes," that's not too far off early Marianne Faithfull at her best. In contrast, "Yesterday, Where Is My Mind?" is freaky at the outset, with its pummeling tumbling drum breaks, creepy organ, and trippy ominous whisper-to-a-scream recitation, but even that track settles back into a relatively conventional song after three minutes. "For the Love of a Soldier" is another standout, managing to mix affecting antiwar folk-rock with a funky hard rock chorus quite effectively. Though Christie's not quite a major talent based on these relics, this is nicely dreamy and varied folk-rock for the most part that shows a lot of sadly unfulfilled potential, and if it's more downbeat than the norm for the genre, it's hardly gloomy.

Edda Dell'Orso, Voice (Bella Casa). Edda Dell'Orso is best known as the haunting, oft-high-pitched voice heard on numerous Ennio Morricone soundtracks. Indeed, more than half of the 21 tracks on this anthology are taken from Morricone-scored films. But it's more of a Dell'Orso compilation than a Morricone one, as it also includes selections written by four other composers for Italian films, the material encompassing the years 1967-1982 (though just three of the cuts postdate 1972). In a world where too many reissues are hyped as thrillingly unclassifiable, this Dell'Orso collection is the real deal. There are elements of horror movie soundtracks, European easy listening late-'60s/early-'70s lounge music, operatic classical music, exotica, and almost pornographically explicit sexual innuendo, several of these genres sometimes (though by no means always) bumping heads within the same song. The constant is Dell'Orso's uniquely eerie voice, distinguished not only by its otherworldly range (especially at the high end), but also by her almost exclusive use of wordless phrasing. That helps get around any language barrier inherent in listening to Italian music, of course. But more importantly, it conveys a wide palette of emotions, from the funereally grim and space-age modernism to the out-and-out kinky. There are, as a matter of curiosity, three songs here with actual lyrics, but those relatively conventional outings are far outshone by the mystery of her lyric-free musings. It should be noted that this, like the 2005 CD compilation Dream Within a Dream...the Incredible Voice of Edda Dell'orso, does not feature any of her contributions to Morricone's famous Spaghetti western soundtracks A Fistful of Dollars, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and Once Upon a Time in the West. But like that 2005 compilation, it's a highly recommended sampling of her other work, both for its idiosyncratic vocal majesty and the equally idiosyncratic mix of pop and experimental qualities in the material.

Aretha Franklin, Live in Stockholm 1968 [DVD bootleg] (Mirage Entertainment). That this isn't an authorized DVD is made immediately clear by the presence of a time code throughout this concert, as well as the slightly grainy image quality, which is okay but certainly not from a first-generation source. Still, it's an opportunity for serious Aretha Franklin fans to see her live in concert at her peak, singing well and literally sweating with effort for much of the 49-minute black-and-white show. You could be forgiven for wondering if you have the right disc when Franklin opens the show with "There's No Show Business Like Show Business," which is certainly not the kind of material that was drawing fans to her concerts anywhere around the globe in 1968. She gets down to real business soon enough, however, and concentrates on real soul tunes throughout most of the performance. Oddly, it takes her a while to get to the big hits she'd chalked up by the time of this program, but that does give you a chance to hear some relatively little-traveled songs like "Don't Let Me Lose This Dream" and a cover of the Rascals' "Groovin.'" Though she's performing with nothing but a vocal mike for much of the time (with assistance from three female backup singers), she does go to the piano to play and sing one of the highlights of the set, "Dr. Feelgood." And toward the end, she finally does get to the hits the audience must have been anticipating most highly, including "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)," "Respect," and "Chain of Fools." The DVD's bumped up to an hour-long length with the addition of a couple lip-synced clips from a 1967 TV show hosted by New York DJ Murray the K, along with a couple pre-superstardom 1965 clips from the Shivaree program.

The Grass Roots, California Folk Rock Zeitgeist: Live at Fillmore San Francisco 1967 (Vintage Masters, bootleg).This bootleg is actually identical to the one issued on Hyacinth in 2002 under the title Live at the Fillmore '67; bootlegs of two different 1967 Grass Roots Fillmore gigs might be stretching the bounds of credibility. What is astounding, if only mildly, is that the set -- in good if not perfect sound -- shows the band to be a fairly credible live act. It's also considerably rawer than their famous studio hit recordings of the period would lead one to expect, almost verging on garage rock at times. Some well-done renditions of their folk-rock-pop numbers are on hand with "Let's Live for Today," "Look Out Girl," "Things I Should Have Said," and "Where Were You When I Needed You," though the version of "This Precious Time" is not only incomplete, but also sounds as if it's taken from an official live LP. More surprising are blues-rock numbers like "Got My Mojo Working," "Night Time Is the Right Time," and "Have Love Will Travel," as well as a garage-psychedelic "Jam," all of which give the impression the group welcome the chance to be less slick and more earthy in a live setting. Best of all is "Feelings," here done in a far rawer arrangement than the studio version, with thundering bass and a much more explicit similarity to the riffs in the Rolling Stones' "2120 South Michigan Avenue." Overall it's much more interesting and powerful than the average '60s rock fan would expect of a live Grassroots bootleg, if not wholly representative of what said average fan would expect given their poppier studio releases.

Otis Redding, Dreams to Remember: The Legacy of Otis Redding [DVD] (Reelin' in the Years Productions). There isn't as much Otis Redding footage as there should be (and, of course, there wasn't as much Redding as there should be period, owing to his 1967 death in a plane crash). There's more footage than many people realize, however, and more than a dozen surviving clips form the backbone of this fine DVD. Though the Reelin' in the Years company has made some DVDs consisting of performance clips almost exclusively, this isn't one of those. It's more a Redding documentary that includes plenty of clips, as the vintage Otis performances are broken up by numerous interviews (with guitarist Steve Cropper, trumpeter Wayne Jackson, Stax records executive Jim Stewart, and wife Zelma Redding) filmed specifically for this project shortly before the disc's DVD release. Though that approach can sometimes be problematic, in this case it works well. The interviews are genuinely interesting, informative, and entertaining without resorting to hyberbole or undue sentimentality. The clips themselves are more mixed in quality, both in terms of the surviving audio/image standard and performances. But Redding's onstage dynamism almost always comes through well, even though a bunch of these are lip-synced television shows (even his wife admits that Otis wasn't a good mimer). They include a version apiece of most of his most well-known hits, though it's on the genuinely live songs that Redding truly shines. The highlights of those include "Satisfaction," from a 1967 Stax/Volt revue show in London; "My Girl," from an Oslo date on the same tour (four additional songs from that filming are available on a separate Reelin' in the Years DVD,  Stax/Volt Revue Live in Norway 1967); "Shake" at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival (though, again, about fifteen additional minutes are available from that same performance on the DVD The Complete Monterey Pop Festival); and a couple songs filmed for Upbeat on December 9, 1967, just the day before he and several members of his backup band died. Worthwhile extras include bonus interviews with Cropper and Jackson, and an image gallery soundtracked by a rare radio interview.

Dusty Springfield, Live at the BBC [DVD] (Universal). In 1966 and 1967, Dusty Springfield did two separate six-episode black-and-white television series, simply titled Dusty, for the BBC. Although there was one featured guest per show, otherwise the focus was all on Dusty, who sang a half-dozen or so songs on each program. Unfortunately a few of the episodes have been erased or lost, but material from nine of the twelve -- three of the ones broadcast in 1966, and all of the ones aired in 1967 -- is featured on this remarkable DVD, which is a real treasure trove of footage largely unknown even to many Springfield fans, especially in the US, where this series wasn't shown. It would be enough in itself simply to see so much footage of Springfield in her absolute prime, the episodes edited so that only her solo songs and performances are featured. What makes it downright amazing, however, is that many of the 46 songs -- only a very few of them multiple versions, and one of them (one of the two renditions of Jacques Brel's "If You Go Away") not even transmitted at the time -- are numbers she never put on her studio releases. Among them are a wealth of American soul covers, including good-to-dynamic versions of Martha & the Vandellas' "Heat Wave" and "Nowhere to Run," Aretha Franklin's "Soulville," the Temptations' "Get Ready," the Drifters' "I Don't Want to Go on Without You," Mary Wells' "You Lost the Sweetest Boy," and Sam Cooke's "Good Times."

Springfield was always an eclectic chooser of material, however, and perhaps more so than ever here given that she was performing on a nationally televised variety show. That can be a mixed blessing -- there are too many middle-of-the-road pop standards, including a vaudevillian number so cutesy ("If My Friends Could See Me Now") that even hardcore Springfield fans might feel like shielding their eyes from the screen. Yet the non-rock items also include some quite moving and intriguing performances that bring sides of Springfield to light that aren't too prominent in her 1960s records, including a beautiful rendition of the Irish traditional folk song "My Lagan Love"; the folk standard "Poor Wayfaring Stranger," which Springfield states she actually learned from Jo Stafford's version; the Spanish song "Anna," on which Dusty plays guitar; and "Two Brothers," a tune she originally recorded way back in her Springfields days. General fans who might feel disoriented by the inclusion of so much (and such a wide assortment of) obscure material can be reassured that she does in fact do a few hits too, including "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," "All I See Is You," "Losing You," and "Some of Your Lovin'." It's great, though, to have the opportunity to hear (and see) her doing so many otherwise unavailable songs, and though the camerawork and sets are basic, her vocals are uniformly strong and her stage presence always elegant and ingratiating.

Also on the DVD are a few interesting extras, those being a version of the Rascals' "How Can I Be Sure" from a 1970 BBC program; covers of "Since I Fell for You" and (less pleasingly) "I Am Woman" from a 1972 episode of The Tom Jones Show; and a 1979 BBC performance of her lukewarm single "I'm Coming Home Again," preceded by almost 15 minutes of talk show chat in which she discusses her long stay abroad in Los Angeles. The photo gallery (some stills from the Dusty series accompanied by the studio version of "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" on the soundtrack) and "jukebox," mixing audio-only versions of a few of her '60s hits with audio-only tracks taken from the Dusty performances, are inessential bonuses, especially as it makes much more sense to just watch the footage of the Dusty songs instead of merely listening to them. As good as this DVD is, it could have been even better had not three of the episodes from the 1966 Dusty series been tragically lost. What's here, however, is voluminous -- adding up to more than two-and-a-half hours -- and, more importantly, is not only fine historical footage, but also adds significantly to Springfield's body of 1960s work considering the unavailability of many of the songs on audio-only releases.

Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Untouchable! The Classic 1959-1966 Recordings (Ace). Like many a journeyman bluesman, Johnny "Guitar" Watson led something of an itinerant recording life during much of his career, wandering from label to label in the 1950s and 1960s with just a little chart success. Untouchable! does a great service to collectors by assembling 27 tracks from 1959-1966, many of which, surprisingly, had not only never previously come out on CD, but had never been reissued in any form. While in general these are blues/R&B crossover sides, there's more variety than one might think, and though the hopping between styles makes it a little uneven, it makes for a better listen in one gulp than you might expect. There's some relatively straight blues, particularly in the earlier sides; there are rather more blends of blues/R&B with pop than many blues fans might realize exist, sometimes on covers of pop standards, and sometimes employing strings; and there are cuts, particularly in the mid-'60s selections, that verge on out-and-out soul. It's true that the three songs most likely to be familiar to general blues and rock fans are among the very best material here, those being "Looking Back," which was covered by John Mayall's Bluesbreakers (with Peter Green on guitar); "Cuttin' In," a 1962 Top Ten R&B hit, and one of Watson's most effective fusions of blues (with biting guitar) and orchestration; and "Gangster of Love," one of Watson's signature tunes (though this 1963 King single, fine as it is, is not his original version). But everything here is at least okay, and much of it's above-average-to-excellent, even on some tracks where the influences of others like Clarence "Frogman" Henry, the Olympics, the Temptations, and Ray Charles are obvious. There might be a little less guitar pyrotechnics than some straightahead blues fans would like, and it's unfortunate that a few interesting cuts referred to in the liner notes from this period were not available for licensing. But overall it's a solid overview of a time when Watson was among the more interesting (and certainly overlooked) artists building bridges between the blues, R&B, and soul.

Los Zafiros, Los Zafiros: Music from the Edge of Time [DVD] (Shout Factory). Though very popular in their native Cuba and Miami, Los Zafiros' very existence remains unknown to almost everyone outside of that region. The 80-minute documentary Los Zafiros: Music from the Edge of Time does much to illuminate their intriguing story, combining outlines of the group's history with scenes of the surviving group members revisiting friends and relatives about forty years after the peak of their stardom. Dominating the film are the memories of the two surviving Los Zafiros, Manuel Galban (better known as part of the Buena Vista Social Club) and co-founder Miguel Cancio, who by the time of this documentary had moved from Cuba to Florida, though he visited to Cuba to shoot many of the scenes in this documentary. It could actually be said that there's too much emphasis on the emotional reunions and nostalgic storytelling, and not quite enough on Los Zafiros' actual music and career, though fortunately the inclusion of fuzzy black-and-white vintage '60s clips of the group does much to vividly illustrate their charm and appeal.

At times it seems the film is more about the sentimental nostalgia and heartbreak of close friends separated by time, death, and relocation than it is about a '60s musical group, with plenty of teary and merry scenes of informal musicmaking and conversation about the good old days. Too, there are some interesting tangents to the Los Zafiros that aren't explored beyond the surface or at all, like their popularity among the expatriate Cuban community in Florida; the novelty of being able to perform in Europe and Moscow, at a time when traffic to and from Cuba was very limited; and any unusual challenges or difficulties that might have been encountered in professionally performing and recording music so heavily derivative of American doo wop at a time when relations between Cuba and the US were very tense. Several rough comparisons of Los Zafiros' significance in Cuba to that of the Beatles seem stretched, given that the two groups shared few stylistic similarities. If you're willing to indulge the performers and filmmakers obvious forgiving sentimentality for the era and what the group represented, however, it's a window into a music, time, and place of which many outside of Cuba remain unaware.

The DVD also contains a whopping hour and 25 minutes of extras, most of those being deleted scenes and interviews not used for the principal documentary. Although a few of these are interesting (particularly a segment with an original member who left before their rise to fame), frankly these portions are going to be too much to wade through for most viewers, with plenty of informal jams and conversations that don't add any more to the story than similar scenes from the main feature do. There are too many general reiterations of what a great group Los Zafiros were without much specific interesting elaboration, and one interview with a fellow Cuban singer seems to use a brief positive comment about the group as an excuse to feature her own performance and a cappella vocals for several minutes. On the other hand, footage of several archival Los Zafiros performances from the '60s is quite valuable and entertaining, as are some excerpts from other not-strictly-related '60s Cuban television programs, featuring both other musical performers and some Cuban TV commercials from the era.

Various Artists, Banged Up: American Jailhouse Songs 1920s-1950s (Viper). It's a lot more fun to listen to songs about jail than it is to be in jail. And if you do enjoy tasting the jail experience through the vicarious medium of early-to-mid-twentieth century popular song, Banged Up: American Jailhouse Songs 1920s-1950s is a very fine compilation of prison tunes from various strains of American music. There are just a few classics here that might be reasonably familiar to the learned listener with eclectic tastes, those being Johnny Cash's original single recording of "Folsom Prison Blues," Jimmie Rogers' "In the Jailhouse Now," Bukka White's "Parchman Farm Blues," and the Robins' great mid-'50s R&B-rock stormer "Riot in Cell Block Number Nine." Many of the performers here, however, are actually pretty well known within their genres, including country blues (Leroy Carr), classic vocal jazz (Bessie Smith), early Chicago blues (Big Maceo Merriweather), hillbilly (the Delmore Brothers, Jimmie Davis, the Blue Sky Boys), early New Orleans jazz (Henry "Red" Allen"), cowboy music (Gene Autry), and even swing jazz (Bunny Berigan's "Prisoner's Song") and R&B (Richard Berry, represented by  "The Big Break," his follow-up to "Riot in Cell Block Number Nine"). Considering how miserable and abusive prison life often is in reality, the songs usually have a fairly jaunty, if oft-melancholy and wistful, take on jail time, one recording (Carr's "Christmas in Jail, Ain't That a Shame") even combining the jailbird and holiday genres. The grimmer aspects of incarceration, however, get their due in Smith's "Send Me to the 'Lectric Chair" and the late-1940s track credited simply to "Alex," the harmonica-and-voice "Prison Blues," which is a field recording of an actual inmate of Parchman Farm. Steve Hardstaff's annotation gives useful histories of both the performers and songs, and the officially 20-track disc ends with an unlisted bonus track that sounds like a 1920s/1930s-era gospel field recording.

Various Artists, Fairytales Can Come True: UK Popsike from the Late 60's (Psychic Circle). The idea of this compilation is to present obscure British recordings from the late 1960s that had definite psychedelic feel, but also had a lot of harmony pop influence at work as well. Often this led to a particularly precious branch of psychedelia dubbed (long after the fact) by some collectors as "toytown" music, in part because of a preoccupation with British character sketches, childhood nostalgia, and fantasy that was largely absent from American psychedelic rock. There's some of that here, but fortunately this largely steers clear of excessively precious and twee material, though some of it does have the good-time bounce that leaked down to so many bands from the circa-1967 Beatles and Kinks. None of these were hits or anything close to it, of course, but some general '60s collectors might actually recognize some of the musicians, particularly the Searchers (represented by a fairly respectable, and seldom anthologized, late-'60s 45, "Umbrella Man"); Jackie Lomax, as leader of the Lomax Alliance; Los Bravos, of "Black Is Black" fame (here heard covering the Easybeats song "Bring a Little Lovin'"); Ian Matthews, heard on the Pyramid's breezy "Summer of Last Year," recorded shortly before he joined Fairport Convention; and Hedegehoppers Anonymous and the Roulettes, both of whom had a little UK success on record in the '60s. What's most impressive about this compilation, however, is that there's a fair amount of variety in the selections, encompassing an obscure Troggs cover (Barry Benson's "Cousin Jane"), almost raw folk-rock (Hedgehoppers Anonymous' "Daytime"), sub-Walker Brothers balladeering (the Virgil Brothers' "Look Away"), and nearly baroque moodiness with influence from both classical music and Beach Boys harmonies (Fred Lloyd's "You Kissed Him," Dreams' "A Boy Needs a Girl," and Dave Christie's "Penelope Breedlove"). If you want more sing-songy sugary stuff, that's here too, but not so much so that listening to the CD gets to be an overly sickly sweet experience. It's definitely an anthology for deep UK psych specialists, but one of the better ones in this subgenre likely to ever be compiled.

Various Artists, Goffin & King: A Gerry Goffin & Carole King Song Collection 1961-1967 (Ace). Like songwriter team-oriented compilations that Ace has produced for Doc Pomus-Mort Shuman and Jerry Leiber-Mike Stoller, this anthology of 26 tracks penned by Gerry Goffin and Carole King mixes a few famous hits with a bunch of items that are much more off the beaten path. It's a mixed, if overall worthwhile, blessing. For it's not the place to start if you want the best and most famous work in the Goffin-King catalog, missing the biggest covers of their compositions by the Shirelles, Little Eva, Bobby Vee, Herman's Hermits, Manfred Mann, the Chiffons, the Everly Brothers, and others. On the other hand, for those who already have those hits several times over in their collections, it's a good place to pick up 1960s recordings of many of their lesser-known songs, with a few smashes (particularly Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural  Woman" and the Animals' "Don't Bring Me Down") sprinkled in. The downside is that most of the songs, with some exceptions like the aforementioned pair, simply aren't as good or memorable as Goffin-King's most famous classics. But there are some very good tunes here, including a few that were small hits, like Tony Orlando's "Halfway to Paradise," Betty Everett's rousing soul-popper "I Can't Hear You,"  and the Tokens' "He's in Town" (which the Rockin' Berries made a much bigger hit in Britain). Also of note are oddities like the Crickets' "Don't Ever Change," a hit only in the UK (where the Beatles covered it in 1963 on the BBC), Bobby Vee's rare "The Idol" (a theme song for a 1962 TV documentary), and Dusty Springfield's version of "Wasn't Born to Follow" (a song much more renowned as done by the Byrds). Skeeter Davis' wonderful "Let Me Get Close to You" sounds like it should have been a big hit, but to be honest, most of the relatively unfamiliar tracks here simply aren't in the same league, though many have excellent period '60s pop-rock production. That's even the case when stars like the Drifters, Chiffons, Lenny Welch, Bobby Rydell, the Righteous Brothers, and the Everly Brothers take a crack at something, though Jackie DeShannon's girl group-flavored "Heaven Is Being with You" and P.J. Proby's Righteous Brothers-like "I Can't Make It Alone" are well worth hearing. Still, the CD's a smartly chosen sampling of material for those who want to hear more Goffin-King compositions than what's most commonly available, with excellent liner notes covering both the composers' early careers and these specific recordings.

Various Artists, Phil's Spectre III: A Third Wall of Soundalikes (Ace). Such is the wealth of Phil Spector soundalike productions from the 1960s, and such is Ace Records' industriousness in licensing a wide variety of them for the Phil's Spectre series, that there's no decline in either the quality or range of material selected for this third volume. The 26 tracks include actual hit singles (Lesley Gore's "Look of Love," Martha & the Vandellas' "In My Lonely Room") and a whole bunch of flops in the girl group, pop-soul, and pseudo-Righteous Brothers styles (as well as including an actual Righteous Brothers cut in "My Tears Will Go Away"). There's even a bit of folk-rock (the Ashes' "Is There Anything I Can Do," which sounds like a Spectorian cross between the Mamas & the Papas and the Byrds) and bubblegum (the 1950 Fruitgum Company's "When We Get Married"). One point the compilation does drive home is not just how extensive Spector's influence was throughout the industry, but also how much a good song, as well as a grand production, was necessary to make a Phil Spector production (or imitation thereof) good. Some of these tracks have some of the master's tricks down pat, but are simply missing a memorable tune to go along with it. Still, there are some very good cuts here, starting with the aforementioned Gore and Martha & the Vandellas hits. Also of note, though, is the pummeling Crystals-like, David Gates-produced-and-penned mid-charting single "My One and Only, Jimmy Boy" by the Girlfriends, one of the very best Phil Spector imitations (and very best girl group singles) of all. Other highlights are the Kit Kats' "That's the Way," which grafts Spectorian production onto a bit of Four Seasons-like vocals; Alder Ray's "'Cause I Love Him," which is not just a Phil Spector soundalike, but also a Darlene Love soundalike; and Bonnie's expansive "Close Your Eyes." Mick Patrick's liner notes provide an abundance of detail and vintage illustrations for those mostly rare and unknown releases.

Various Artists, Rock & Roll Years Vol. 6 [DVD bootleg] (Pinup). An unauthorized DVD compilation this may be, but it's still a pretty good way to view a 90-minute series of rare rock'n'roll television and film clips from the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s. An eclectic variety of stars and obscure performers are represented, many of the clips are live (though a good share are mimed), and the image and sound quality are pretty good, though a little below what you might expect of an official product. Some highlights include one-shot rockabilly group the Sparkletones doing electrifyingly kinetic live versions of "Rocket" and their hit "Black Slacks"; the Johnny Otis Show doing their hit "Willie & the Hand Jive," with backup vocals by the huge woman trio the 3 Tons of Joy; live performances of "Blue Jean Bop" and "Sexy Ways" by a leather-clad Gene Vincent; live Ed Sullivan Show appearances by Buddy Knox and Jimmy Bowen, who sing their rockabilly-pop hits "Party Doll" and "I'm Stickin' with You" respectively; Judy Tyler's energetic "Roving Gal," interesting if only for the sheer novelty of seeing an energetic unknown '50s white woman rock'n'roll singer; and Ritchie Valens' mime of "Ooh My Head" from the movie Go, Johnny, Go! A few of these performers, like Johnny Horton, Tennessee Ernie Ford (doing an elongated "Sixteen Tons" with audience participation), and Ferlin Husky, were country-pop singers rather than rockers, but they still fit in okay considering how popular they were at times with the rock audience during the era. It's true this does contain its share of comparatively dull mimed clips, but at least it affords you a chance to see artists like Jan & Dean, Brenda Lee, Eddie Cochran, Wilbert Harrison, and Billy Ward who don't pop up on archival television programs or film documentaries very often. Ending the disc is an exciting seven-song UK TV segment from January 8, 1964 featuring Little Richard live (with backup by British band Sounds Incorporated). It starts out a little more subdued than you might expect or hope, but soon gets rowdy enough as he rips his way through some of his big hits ("Rip It Up," "Lucille," "Long Tall Sally," "Good Golly Miss Molly," "Send Me Some Lovin'") and covers of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and "Hound Dog."

Various Artists, Stax/Volt Revue Live in Norway 1967 [DVD] (Reelin' in the Years Productions). Many soul fans are well aware of the lore behind the Stax/Volt Revue's early 1967 tour of Europe, especially as it generated several live albums. It wasn't widely known until the release of this DVD forty years later, however, that more than an hour of one concert was filmed for Norwegian television. Though this 75-minute DVD isn't perfect either musically or technically, it's plenty good, especially musically. Thus it has to get a five-star rating considering both the dynamism of the performances and the immense historical significance it carries as the only available lengthy document of the Stax sound as it hit its 1967 peak. Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd, Arthur Conley (not a Stax artist but along for the tour), the Mar-Keys, and Booker T. & the MG's all play 100% live on this black-and-white program, with the MG's and Mar-Keys also serving as the backup musicians for all the singers. Redding and Sam & Dave, as you'd expect, have the longest and best segments, both of them literally sweating buckets as they fire up a staid Norwegian crowd (who'd likely never seen anything like this before) with some of their most popular mid-'60s tunes. Nothing on the revue's a waste, however, as Conley has enough time to rip through his smash "Sweet Soul Music"; the Mar-Keys step snazzily through three instrumentals, including their big hit "Last Night"; Eddie Floyd does well enough in his only song, "Raise Your Hand"; and Booker T. & the MG's open things up with their instrumentals "Red Beans and Rice" and a smoldering, elongated "Green Onions." Though the footage is a bit grainy, the cinematography's fine if a little basic. And it's definitely better than the 55-minute version (duplicating the original broadcast) that's made the round on bootleg: not only is the quality considerably better, but the filmmakers also found twenty additional minutes of footage that didn't make the original program, including a second, different version of "Green Onions." Significant extras include interviews with Steve Cropper (of Booker T. & the MG's), Wayne Jackson (of the Mar-Keys), Jim Stewart (executive at Stax Records), and Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave) conducted specifically for this project. What's more, there's a full-length commentary track from Cropper, Jackson, and Stax authority Rob Bowman, who also wrote the comprehensive liner notes, sealing a great package that's essential for soul fans.

Various Artists, A Trunk Full of 60's Pop Exotica: Swinging London: The Accidental Genius of Saga Records 1968-1970 (RPM). In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the British budget label Saga recorded numerous albums designed to cash in on UK pop-rock-psychedelic trends. The LPs were quickie exploitation jobs, but as is often the case with such productions, some reasonably genuine stuff couldn't help sneaking through and finding status among serious '60s collectors decades later. This quite unusual compilation gathers 25 tracks that were scattered across numerous Saga releases, the common denominator being that all of them were plugged into British mod rock and psychedelia to some degree. It almost goes without saying that none of these songs were hits, and that very few of them are known even to veteran British '60s collectors, though some might be familiar with the Five Day Week Straw People, the Magic Mixture, and the Blackbirds (the last actually a German group whose material Saga managed to issue for the UK market). A few recognizable musicians do pop up here and there, even if the culprits most likely wouldn't mind having these relics buried deep within their resumes, including Mungo Jerry's Ray Dorset (here part of Good Earth), future Fairport Convention bassist Dave Pegg (as part of the Dave Peace Quartet), and original Fleetwood Mac bassist Bob Brunning (as part of Five's Company). As you also might expect, the actual music's not nearly as interesting as it is rare, since much of it's either heavily derivative and/or obviously trying to latch on to fashionable Swinging London-type grooves and the lighter side of psychedelia. Approached with the right level of expectations, however, that doesn't mean there aren't some fun or at least amusing moments along the way, if you're a fan of those genres and have at least a little irreverent humor about the styles' excesses and naivete. With one exception, you wouldn't say that anything here is a lost gem, but a good number of the tracks are fairly groovy in different and sometimes off-the-wall ways. Those cuts would include the Blackbirds' downright creepy "She," with its horror movie organ and Dracula-like vocals; the Dave Moses Group's cool Latin-tinged organ-based go-go lounge instrumental, "Quite Fast"; Linda & Noel's quite accomplished slice of toytown psych-pop, "Mr. Bantam's Fair"; New World's strange heavy psych adaptation of "Scheherazade"; Shake 26's hard-charging instrumental "Underground Set," which bisects mod rock and heavy psychedelia; Five Day Week Straw People's ridiculously echo-smothered "Sunday Morning" (not the Velvet Underground song!); and Magical Mixture's dreamy "Moon Beams," perhaps the one cut on the CD that can hold its own as a legitimate first-rate piece of UK psychedelic buried treasure. Others are just okay, or generic or even subpar, though sometimes in a manner that lovers of kitsch might appreciate. Stefan Granados' lengthy liner notes dig up more information about these obscure budget releases than anyone would have thought possible.


Archived Reviews

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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