Mike Bloomfield, I'm Cutting Out (Sundazed). In late 1964 and early 1965, around or just prior to the time he joined the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Mike Bloomfield cut some unreleased solo sides for Columbia. Mostly produced by John Hammond, these featured backing by an electric band that included Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica. Five of those songs came out on the 1994 Bloomfield CD compilation Don't Say That I Ain't Your Man. This LP has all five of those tracks, plus five additional ones that didn't make it onto the 1994 CD. For that reason alone, this is essential for Bloomfield fans, even if you already have that previous disc. At this point Bloomfield was rawer and less imaginative than the guitarist he would develop into with Butterfield and as a Bob Dylan accompanist, and he was never much of a singer. Nonetheless, there's a good brash early blues-rock energy to these sides, which mix straightforward covers of Chicago blues giants like Little Walter and Muddy Waters with a few Bloomfield originals. The good news is that the previously unissued cuts (including alternate versions of "I Got My Mojo Working" and "I Feel So Good") are not disreputable leftovers, but up to the same level of the ones that showed up on Don't Say That I Ain't Your Man. Certainly one of the new finds, "I'm Cutting Out," is the best of the three Bloomfield originals on the collection, as a nice bouncy no-nonsense blues with a superb stinging guitar solo and a raunchier vocal than was Bloomfield's wont. The alternate version of "I Got My Mojo Working" is less frenetic than the one on Don't Say That I Ain't Your Man, and for that reason a bit better. Liner notes with an appreciation by Al Kooper and a 1966 Bloomfield interview add to the desirability of this vinyl-only release.

Brave Belt, Brave Belt I/Brave Belt II (Bullseye). Both of Brave Belt's albums are combined onto one double-CD on this reissue, with the addition of a couple of bonus tracks. This was an odd transitional period for group leader Randy Bachman, as neither of the albums were that similar to either Guess Who or Bachman-Turner Overdrive, but certainly (at least in hindsight) served to bridge the two acts. Brave Belt's debut, which comprises disc one, was country-folk-rock that strayed into the realm of Bachman's old chum Neil Young, whether penned by Bachman or Chad Allan, though Bachman's songwriting retained some of the hard rock-pop flavor of Guess Who. There are lingering traces of wistful country-rock on Brave Belt II, especially on the two songs that Chad Allan co-wrote and played on before he left the band. But for the most part it finds the band drifting toward a much harder- rocking sound, particularly as most of the cuts feature Fred Turner's John Fogerty-with-a-squall vocals. Both of the bonus tracks are found on the second disc, and date from around early 1972. One is a cover of "Shakin' All Over," which of course Allan and Randy Bachman had made into a hit in the mid-1960s with the Guess Who. The other, "Hands and Faces," co-written by Allan and recorded prior to his exit from Brave Belt, reflects the quieter mellow rock sound of their first album. The reissue is embellished by thorough notes from John Einarson, co-author of Randy Bachman's autobiography.

Mike D'Abo, The Mike d'Abo Collection Vol. 1: Handbags & Gladrags (RPM). Subtitled "album singles rarities 1964-1970," this is a good 22-track collection of solo material from the singer most known for his late-1960s stint in Manfred Mann, filled out by some singles he did in the mid-1960s with A Band of Angels prior to joining Manfred Mann. Actually the six A Band of Angels tracks, taken from their four 1964-66 singles, are among the most interesting songs, including a ferocious R&B-pop-rock number, "Me," that mixes the Pretty Things, Small Faces, and Merseybeat. The other A Band of Angels items are less distinguished, but include some fair Mersey-styled cuts, as well as the enjoyably melodramatic pop of "Too Late My Love." Half of the CD is comprised of his 1970 solo LP d'Abo, a fair cross between blue-eyed soul and laidback early 1970s singer-songwriting, with a lot of Randy Newman and Ray Charles influences peeking through, along with occasional resemblance to Paul McCartney. That material is more competent than memorable, although it does include d'Abo's own version of his "Handbags and Gladrags," more famous as sung by Rod Stewart. The disc is filled out with the 1969 Immediate single "See the Little People," the 1970 Bell single ""Miss Me in the Morning"/'Cinderella Arabella," and the previously unreleased 1970 track "Because You Are." None of those are too great either, the singles sounding much like (unsurprisingly) late-1960s Manfred Mann, "Because You Are" rather like, again, Randy Newman.

Richard & Mimi Fariña, The Complete Vanguard Recordings (Vanguard). This is a straightforward three-CD set of the Fariñas' Vanguard recordings, each disc containing one of their three albums: Celebrations for a Grey Day, Reflections in a Crystal Wind, and the posthumous outtakes collection Memories. For Richard & Mimi Fariña fans that already have all of those albums, the chief interest lies in the seven previously unreleased bonus tracks that have been added to the Memories disc, all of them taken from their appearance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Those songs, in which the duo played in an acoustic setup with some help from onstage guests (including Bruce Langhorne and Fritz Richmond), are enjoyable but not essential, particularly as the sound quality isn't that great. The new additions, however, make live versions of some their best songs available, among them The Bold Marauder" (the best of the live cuts), "Sell-Out Agitation Waltz," "Pack Up Your Sorrows" (with Peter Yarrow), and "Celebration for a Grey Day"; Jean Ritchie accompanies them on "Shady Grove" (which is sometimes nearly drowned out by airplane swoops). Overall this is seminal, underrated mid-1960s folk-rock, quite consistent in quality for the most part. It's not an over-investment for the cost-conscious, as if you like any one of their albums, you'll probably like all of them. Note, however, that it's not quite the complete Vanguard recordings, since it doesn't have the unreleased version of "Tuileries" that appeared on the compilation Pack Up Your Sorrows: Best of the Vanguard Years. It's also a bit disappointing that no further studio outtakes were found, such as the demos referred to in David Hajdu's book Positively 4th Street.

The Flowerpot Men, A Walk in the Sky (RPM). Entirely recorded between 1967 and 1969, this anthology's a little curious in that it's neither a best-of, nor an absolutely comprehensive roundup of everything the Flowerpot Men did. Compiled by John Carter (who wrote and produced their material, often in conjunction with Ken Lewis), it highlights the trippiest, most psychedelic facets of their repertoire. The big hit "Let's Go to San Francisco" is here -- in fact, parts one and two are both here, in mono and stereo versions -- though some songs that appeared on their singles are missing. Three tracks are presented in alternate versions, while the eleven-minute "E=MC2/Musha Hada" was previously unreleased. Getting past all that, you'll find this to be surprisingly credible pop-psychedelia, though "Let's Go to San Francisco" has given them the tag of a one-shot novelty band. "Mythological Sunday" has commendably dreamy production, with that uniquely British synthesis of mellotron, quasi-classical piano, hazy harmonies, and exotic production trickery that doesn't quite overwhelm the song. "Blow Away" is one of the most dead-on emulations of the Byrds you're going to come across, down to the McGuinn-esque vocals and twelve-string guitar ring. "Say Goodbye to Yesterday" is acceptable late-1960s Beatles-like studio pop, and "Walk in the Sky" is kind of like the Four Seasons or the Tokens on acid. This is too sweet and frothy to qualify as major work, but it's got enough of that British fairy dust to make it worthwhile for psychedelic fans. It certainly demonstrates there was more to this band (largely a studio creation) than novelty, despite the inclusion of "Let's Go Back to San Francisco Parts 1 & 2," a somewhat contrived follow-up to their big hit. An enhanced CD bonus track has a TV clip of the Flowerpot Men lip-syncing to "Let's Go to San Francisco" in 1967.

Ellie Greenwich, Brill Building Sounds: Be My Baby: Recordings 1958-1985 (Brill Tone). Like the other compilations of rarities in Brill Tone's series (for Carole King, Barry Mann, and Jeff Barry), this is probably unauthorized, of considerable value to serious fans, and infuriatingly inconsistent in both content and presentation. The 56-track, two-CD set includes almost anything you're likely to find that was recorded by Greenwich as a solo artist, although it omits most of her Raindrops recordings (which have been reissued separately, and legitimately). The relatively simple question "what's on here" cannot be answered simply. There are all her rare Red Bird solo singles and outtakes; weird, insubstantial solo singles she recorded in the late 1950s and early 1960s, sometimes under different names like Ellie Gee & the Jets, Ellie Gaye, and Kellie Douglas; everything from her 1968 United Artists LP and her 1973 Verve LP, as well as both sides of a 1969 non-LP single; and about 20 previously unreleased songs. It's "about" 20 because, although the cover says there are 21 unissued tracks, only 19 are marked as such in the liner notes. Disappointingly, these unreleased items don't include, say, her own 1960s versions of "Be My Baby" or "Da Doo Ron Ron," but are actually usually by composers other than herself and partner Jeff Barry, on which she was probably just serving as a demo singer. On top of this, just to fill out disc one, they throw in a bad unreleased Carole King acetate ("Don't Count Your Chickens") and a pretty cool Barry Mann 1965 demo of "We Gotta Get Out of This Place." Of the unreleased material, it's usually, unfortunately, weak-to-average unmemorable period early-to-mid-1960s Brill Building pop, though "Disillusioned" almost makes it as a good song, and "House of Gold" was later done well by Dee Dee Warwick. There are a couple real good obscurities here -- her dramatic 1965 single "You Don't Know," which should have been a hit, and her lovely poignant 1965 track "Can't Hide the Hurtin'" (which, say the liner notes, was previously erroneously credited to the Raindrops). But both of those have been reissued, above-board, on other CD compilations. Disc two is almost totally devoted to the 1968 and 1973 albums, which have some good moments but are overall disappointing, and too heavy on remakes and covers. Besides, both of them have been reissued, with non-LP cuts, on Raven's Ellie Greenwich compilation. A couple of 1985 tracks from Elektra's Leader of the Pack album are okay but inessential. After all this, by the way, a rarity (1962's "Big Honky Baby") that was ascribed to Greenwich on Ellie Greenwich is not included on this set.

The Guess Who, This Time Long Ago (Ranbach Music). In the CD era, the catalog of the pre-Wheatfield Soul Guess Who has been very hard to come by. Together with Sundazed's Shakin' All Over! (which focuses on their hardest-rocking mid-1960s cuts), this two-CD Canadian collection of rare and unreleased 1967-68 recordings fills in the gap well. A few of these songs did appear on non-LP Canadian and/or UK singles, like the devastating garage punkers "It's My Pride" and "If You Don't Want Me" (which are also on the Sundazed comp); the sappy 1967 ballad "His Girl," heard here in two versions, which was actually a minor British hit; "Flying on the Ground Is Wrong," one of the first (if not the first) cover of a Neil Young song; and unbelievably awful versions of Steve Lawrence's "Pretty Blue Eyes," recorded by the band in an attempt to get their label to release them from their contract. ("Croyez-Moi," an awkward French version of their 1966 single "Believe Me," appears for the first time here.) Most of this set, however, is devoted to unreleased material, recorded in 1967 and 1968, in the studios for CBC TV shows. Some of those performances are marginalia, like the almost note-faithful cover versions of "Light My Fire," "White Room," and "Love Is All Around," and the psychedelic instrumental "Sitar Saga." Much of disc two, however, is devoted to late-'60s originals that find the band starting to arrive at their own hard-pop-rock identity, including early versions of four songs apiece from {^Wheatfield Soul} and Canned Wheat. The standouts are early versions of "These Eyes" and the Doors-ish psychedelic suite "Friends of Mine," which includes contributions from members of the Winnipeg Symphony and some free jazz sax near the end. A CBC version of the single "When Friends Fall Out" (later to appear on American Woman,  which alternates between grinding riffs in the verse and contemplative balladry on the bridge, saw Burton Cummings start to fully form his tense belting vocal style. There's a sense of a band fishing for a style throughout much of this anthology, not always successfully, but it documents an important transitional phase in the group's evolution.

The Johnstons, Give a Damn/Bitter Green (Castle). This combines the two more pop-oriented of the Johnstons' late-1960s albums, Give a Damn and Bitter Green, onto one CD. Note, though, that it does omit a couple of Bitter Green's most trad-minded cuts ("The Kilfenora Jig" and "Reels: The Fair-Haired Boy/Kiss the Maid Behind the Barrel/The Dawn") and adds their cover of Ralph McTell's "The Streets of London" (from a 1970 single). Although the Johnstons are most known for their recordings of traditional folk material, {^Give a Damn} saw them going into a folk-rock-pop direction with fair artistic success. Fans of Fairport Convention's early work could do much worse than to check this (and the Johnstons' 1969 album Bitter Green) out, though it's not as good as Fairport Convention, and more tilted toward folk-pop than Fairport were. Nevertheless, there are solid treatments of largely then-contemporary folk-rock material by writers like Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and Dave Cousins (of the Strawbs). Though the arrangements use only mild rock instrumentation (and a good amount of mild pop orchestration), they work well with the group's gentle, pleasing harmonies. In addition to interpreting songs by the well-known folk-rock composers mentioned above, they also take on a couple of Jacques Brel numbers, Ewan MacColl's "Sweet Thames Flow Softly," and works by lesser-known authors that have a melodic late-1960s folk-pop bent. On Bitter Green the group seemed to be attempting to balance traditional tunes with covers of songs by Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, and Leonard Cohen. The contemporary material, it must be said, outshines the traditional efforts, particularly their superb interpretation of Cohen's "The Story of Isaac," which is an overlooked highlight of late-1960s British Isles folk-rock in general. Even on some of the trad folk pieces, though, they add some rock-influenced flexibility to the arrangements, putting some sitar and percussion on Ewan MacColl's "Jesus Was a Carpenter." The reading of Joni Mitchell's "Marcie" is another highlight, tastefully embellished by subtle horns and flutes.

Josie & the Pussycats, Stop, Look and Listen: The Capitol Recordings (Rhino Handmade). Josie & the Pussycats' rare recordings have been esteemed as some of the best music of the bubblegum genre by aficionados. That might sound to many like damnation with faint praise. Even those that have no love for bubblegum, though, would have to admit that their records were better than they had any right to be, and were respectably fetching and accomplished soul-tinged pop in their own right. This compilation has everything known to exist by the band. There's everything from their sole and rare 1970 LP; twelve cuts from non-LP singles (some of them only available on cereal boxes, and three of them different versions of songs that also appeared on the album); and six, yes six, previously unreleased tracks (three of those alternate mixes). "Stop, Look and Listen" still rates as one of the best early Jackson 5 imitations ever, and "You've Come a Long Way Baby" isn't far behind in that regard. Those are the best songs, but other than a few covers of contemporary pop hits, the rest is also surprisingly enjoyable, good-natured period 1970 pop, often given a sheen of soul by Patrice Holloway's vocals. It's not major rock music by any means, but it has its merits, and some of the poppier numbers, like "I Wanna Make You Happy" and "The Time to Love" have a breezy mellifluous quality that's nearly sublime. The reissue's enhanced by lengthy and thoughtful liner notes, including detailed recollections by producer-songwriter Danny Janssen and songwriter/vocal arranger Sue Sheridan.

Malo, Celebracion (Rhino Handmade). While one has to wonder whether the demand for Malo product is wide enough to merit a four-CD box set, rather than individual reissues of some or all of their albums, Celebracion certainly does a great job of presenting the band's legacy in toto. Each of their four 1972-1974 Warner Brothers albums is included in gatefold sleeves, with a twenty-page booklet that goes over the band's history with some depth, bolstered by interview quotes from several band members. Two to five bonus tracks are added to each disc/album, though unfortunately these are just shorter single edits of album tracks. There's one previously unreleased cut, "Pana," but that's just an unreleased single edit of the same track of that name that appears on their debut album. Although the albums are erratic, and slightly but steadily decline in quality after the debut Malo, they amply illustrate the band's importance as one of the most exciting outfits to fuse rock with Latin and jazz. Certainly there are similarities with Santana, as might be expected from a band featuring Carlos Santana's brother in guitar. But Malo were more Latin-oriented, and sometimes expert at constructing multi-part extended tracks with blistering interplay between hard rock guitar, Latin percussion, and jazz brass. In addition, they could sometimes summon heartfelt sentimental soul ballads, the hit "Suavecito" being the famous one, though each album has one or two songs (albeit less impressive ones) in the same vein. They couldn't avoid a certain formulaic quality after a while, and the group drifted toward less satisfying pop inclinations as time went on and personnel changed, but at its best, this set contains some of the finest Latino rock ever laid down.

Billy Preston, Billys Bag: His Most Hammond Groovin 'Soul Movin' Sides 1963-1966 (RPM). It's too bad the otherwise thorough liner notes don't admit to exactly what releases these thirteen tracks first appeared upon, or give any songwriting credits. The title is accurate as far as it goes, though, in that these are early Preston sides from the mid-1960s featuring his organ. All of them are instrumental, so they're not too much in line with the vocal soul material he did after reaching fame as a solo artist. If you're looking for instrumental organ '60s soul with dashes of rock, jazz, and gospel, Preston was one of the best at his game, concocting joyful swirls and unpredictable trills that do much to make the basic R&B material swing. What keeps this from being in the same league as, say, Booker T. & the MG's is the pedestrian nature of that material, which usually sticks to standard R&B progressions, and doesn't do much to redefine the familiar cover tunes, like "Slippin' & Slidin'" and "Shotgun." At its very best, as on "Soul Derby," "The Octopus," and "Let Me Know," he transcends the unmemorable songs by virtue of sheer passionate virtuosity, taking the organ into some pretty adventurous territory with his dense textures and rapid-fire bursts without abandoning a compelling dance groove.

Lou Reed, American Poet (Pilot). Finally, this is an official release of the December 26, 1972 performance of Reed on a New York radio show, which had been floating around on numerous bootlegs for many years. The sound is at least as good as it's been on any of those bootlegs. As for the music, it's inarguably among the finest of Reed's solo work, released or unreleased. The set's split evenly between Velvet Underground classics and highlights from Reed's early solo albums, with backing by the Tots, the group of unknown musicians who played with him in concert during the period. The fidelity is very good, Reed's singing is great, and the band plays in a raw and urgent  manner that Lou should have employed on his solo albums, but didn't. The Velvet Underground songs are well done and considerably different from the originals, and the versions of solo classics like "Vicious," "Walk on the Wild Side," "I'm So Free," "Berlin," and "Satellite of Love" slay the studio takes to shreds. If you're looking for one interesting bonus that doesn't seem to have made it onto many of the prior bootleg releases of this material, there's a brief interview with Reed in which the naive-sounding DJ asks Lou where Doug Yul is. "Dead, I hope," Reed deadpans, to sincere gasps of shock from the audience. For those who take their Reed seriously, that one moment might actually make this CD worthy of purchase even if you already have the music on bootleg. This is essential for Reed fanatics, though it's unfortunate that the liner notes are poorly written and poorly proofread, with no details about the show itself, instead offering a general history of his activities in the early 1970s.

The Strawbs, Strawberry Music Sampler No. 1 (Witchwood). In 1969, the Strawbs assembled a privately pressed sampler of unreleased material to circulate among publishers to solicit possible cover versions. Actually some of the songs would appear, in the exact same or different versions, on subsequent Strawbs releases. However, some of the tracks were never issued, and as only 99 copies were pressed (with only two known to survive), it probably qualifies as the ultimate 1960s British folk-rock rarity. This 2001 CD reissue makes it easily available for the first time. While it isn't as good as either the Strawbs' first official album or their album of late-1960s sessions with Sandy Denny as lead singer, for anyone who liked those records a lot, this is a recommended purchase. Among the seventeen songs are different versions of songs that have appeared on the Sandy & the Strawbs, Preserves Uncanned, Dragonfly, and Grave New World albums, as well as one tune, the lush pop-folk ballad "Whichever Way the Wind Blows," that was never released anywhere else. As it turns out half a dozen of these do appear in exactly the same version on the Sandy & the Strawbs releases, but what the heck, that still leaves almost a dozen cuts that are otherwise unavailable. Although the differences between those and the other takes in circulation are sometimes slight, there are some notable and sometimes intriguing differences, as in the ambient pub voices and piano of "How Everyone But Sam Was a Hypocrite?"; the strings on the Cousins-sung versions of "And You Need Me" and "Stay Awhile"; the jaunty orchestral arrangement of "Sweetling"; and a downright strange instrumental waltz rendition of "And You Need Me" that segues into "Josephine." It's unfortunate there are virtually liner notes detailing the origin of these tracks (for that you'll have to dig out the May 1994 issue of Record Collector), but on the whole it's good late-1960s British pop-folk-rock.

Thor's Hammer, From Keflavik, With Love (Big Beat). Twenty of Thor's Hammer's 1965-67 recordings are on this compilation, which emphasizes their mid-1960s English-sung sessions in London. The other half is filled out by Icelandic songs and their 1967 Columbia single, as well as an outtake from the Columbia sessions, "By the Sea." Thor's Hammer were undoubtedly the best-known 1960s Icelandic band, which is not too useful a guide for curious consumers, as they're likely the only Icelandic '60s band whose product has been reissued for the international market. All joking aside, this would be respectable British Invasion-styled rock no matter where it came from, though it's not great. Certainly the best cuts are the toughest ones from their 1966 London session, where Petur Ostlund pounded the drums with a Who-like fury, and the group wrote engaging tough mod rockers with "I Don't Care," "My Life," "Better Days," and "The Big Beat Country Dance." If You Knew," which is like the hardest Merseybeat or early Hollies, is another highlight. The lighter Merseybeat-ish items are less impressive, but still reasonably fetching (though they totally lose the beat during the instrumental break of the ballad "Love Enough"). The Icelandic-sung cuts are of a lower order, because of both their more perfunctory production and more generic songwriting. The Columbia cuts are an odd, not wholly successful attempt to Americanize their sound, especially with the peppy horns. Three songs from a 1967 LP find them going into a more reflective British pop style, with the addition of an English session man on organ. Extremely lengthy and informed notes by Alec Palao provide a history of this hitherto mysterious (to non-Icelandic residents) band.

Zakary Thaks, Form the Habit (Sundazed/BeatRocket). Both sides of all six of Zakary Thaks' singles are on this last-word compilation, along with three instrumental versions of tracks from the 45s. All of this material has been reissued before on Eva's J-Beck Story 2, with the exception of instrumental versions of "Face to Face" and "Green Crystal Ties." Still, this marks the first time everything's been available in this fidelity in the U.S., bolstered by the inclusion of a lengthy interview with lead singer Chris Gerniottis in the liner notes. It takes its place as one of the very best single-artist 1960s garage reissues, the songwriting and musicianship at a far higher level than most '60s garage bands could boast, with just as much insouciant youthful energy. From the punk of "Bad Girl" and the mind-blowing fuzz guitar of "Face to Face" to the Beatlesque pop of "Please," the folk-rock-pop of "Mirror of Yesterday," and the San Francisco-like psychedelia of their final releases (at times even sounding like early Moby Grape), it's all good-to-great stuff. Note, however, that different mixes are used than were heard on some of the original singles, which is particularly noticeable on "Mirror of Yesterday" (where the high mariachi horn parts in the break have been erased) and "Please" (which adds some poppy backup vocals to the bridge).

Various Artists, Assault the Vaults: Rare Australian Cover Versions of the Brothers Gibb (Spin). It's not well known that the Bee Gees wrote many songs between 1963 and 1967 that were covered by Australian artists, but never recorded by the group. Most of those were solo Barry Gibb compositions, but there were a few songs that Maurice Gibb co-wrote with Spin Records chief Nat Kipner as well. Thirty-one of these rare efforts that the Gibbs gifted to others are assembled on this Australian compilation. All are original versions, and none were recorded by the Bee Gees themselves (indeed many were never covered again). That makes this quite a catch for devoted Bee Gees collectors, especially considering that the Bee Gees themselves played support roles on some of these sessions. On its own terms, though, the music's rather hit-and-miss. On the Bee Gees' own Australia-era recordings, they were stylistic gadflies, able emulators of contemporary trends without fully establishing their own identity. That formative confusion is reflected in many of this disc's songs, which run the gamut from bad country-pop and teen idol rock to excellent early Beatles imitations. In the latter category, Bryan Davies's "I Don't Like to Be Alone" will certainly please anyone who likes the sound of early-1964 British Invasion rock, with Trevor Gordon's "And I'll Be Happy" sounding much like a Billy J. Kramer outtake. Gordon's "Little Miss Rhythm & Blues" is another highlight, and is about as rowdy as Barry Gibb ever got in his writing. The numerous girl-sung tunes on this anthology tend not to nearly measure up to those standouts, though Sandy Summers doesn't sound bad in a (very) sub-Lulu fashion, and April Byron's "A Long Time Ago" is a decent dramatic ballad. The three collaborations between all three Gibb brothers -- Ronnie Burns's "All the Kings Horses" and Jon Blanchfield's "Town of Tuxley Toymaker Part 1" and "Upstairs Downstairs" -- find them getting far closer to the tuneful, slightly fanciful and neurotic variation of the Beatles' pop side that they finally perfected after moving to England in 1967.

Various Artists, Flips and Rarities. Certainly this is an unauthorized CD compilation of rare 1960s tracks that Phil Spector had something to do with, as either producer, songwriter, or even artist. There's no label (though there is a catalog number), but it certainly does exist, and was as of 2001 available for sale at specialized record stores with extremely deep stock. Just because Spector was involved in a record didn't necessarily mean it was good, and the merits of this 30-song anthology are extremely erratic, though there are some undoubted high points. Most of these are run-of-the-mill early-1960s tracks that weren't hits for a reason: the songs were trivial and not that hot. And most of them don't have an identifiably Spectoresque sound, in part because on several of them he was only involved as a songwriter, in part because some of them predate his true Wall of Sound techniques. Some of these cuts are good, or at least okay, like Gene Pitney's "Dream for Sale" (which actually isn't too rare), Bonnie & the Treasures' "Home of the Brave," April Stevens's breathy "Why Can't a Boy and Girl Just Stay in Love" (which Spector co-wrote with Nino Tempo), Johnny Nash's "World of Tears," and Veronica's "Why Don't They Let Us Fall in Love" (which is actually Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes). Sonny Charles & the Checkmates's "Black Pearl" is very good, and was a pretty big hit in 1969, but why it's included here isn't too clear, as it's been officially released as part of Spector's Back to Mono box. There are also items that fall into the novelty realm, like the guitar instrumental "Bumbershoot" that Phil Spector cut under the alias Phil Harvey, and the ridiculous Crystals B-side "The Screw (Let's Dance)," a throwaway track interrupted by poker-faced admonitions to "do the screw" (spoken by Spector's lawyer). Overall this is interesting to acquire for dedicated Spector enthusiasts, but the utter lack of liner notes (though at least there are songwriting credits) is a major strike against its value. There are no clues as to why some tracks, like Santo & Johnny's "Spanish Harlem," are considered to have any Spector associations whatsoever. The sound quality is pretty good, but the tracks have almost certainly (sometimes quite audibly so) been taken from vinyl records rather than master tapes.

Various Artists, Our Turn to Cry (Kent). Like its companion volume Sanctified Soul, this scours the Atlantic vaults for obscure soul ballads of the 1960s and early 1970s. Although this is no way should be construed as a sampler of the best Atlantic had to offer in that category, for those who have digested all the famous classic soul by Atlantic stars and are ready for more, this is highly recommended. No big stars are found on this 26-track anthology, with the exception of the Isley Brothers, whose exquisite 1964 heartbreaker "The Last Girl" is hardly something (unfortunately) that you're likely to hear on oldies stations. A few other singers here had mid-level success and fairly strong cult status, such as Baby Washington (who does "Breakfast in Bed," more famous as rendered by Dusty Springfield), Dee Dee Warwick, Dee Dee Sharp, Doris Troy, Bettye Swann, Mighty Sam, Johnny Adams, Lou Johnson, Benny Latimore, and Alvin Robinson. You don't see many of the other names anywhere unless you own singles price guides, but there are some real goodies. It's a long list. The Soul Brothers Six's "What Can You Do When You Ain't Got Nobody?" is churchy, pleading soul at its best. Bobby Marchan sounds a heck of a lot like a woman on "What Can I Do (Part 1)" (and he is a he, not a she). Mike Williams's "Lonely Soldier" is a moving, if subtle, commentary on the anguish of serving in Vietnam. Benny Latimore's "I'm Just an Ordinary Man," from 1969, is far more satisfying than his more well-known subsequent output. Alvin Robinson does a good approximation of Ray Charles on "Let Me Down Easy. "Dee Dee Sharp breaks out of her novelty dance mold with the Dan Penn-Spooner Oldham song "Help Me Find My Groove." Bobby Harris does a cool tribute to the late Sam Cooke with "We Can't Believe You're Gone." Billy Mashburn does a perhaps inadvertently humorously overdone tribute to doo wop on "Don't It Sound Good (Part 1)." N.A. Allen does an obscure, soulful Goffin-King composition, "No Easy Way Down." Some of the early-'70s cuts are slicker and less interesting than those of the prior decade, but overall this sits very high on the ladder of obscure soul collections.

Various Artists, Yet Mo' Mod Jazz (Kent). Like its companion volumes in the Ace catalog (Mod Jazz and Mo' Mod Jazz), Yet Mo' Mod Jazz is a delightful anthology of hip but danceable jazz from the 1950s and 1960s, with a great deal of soul music often entering the equation. This 26-track CD may be more limited than the other Ace sets in its scope of source material, drawing exclusively from the Atlantic vaults between 1957 and 1969, but it's no less eclectic in its musical variety. There are fairly little-heard cuts by Ray Charles ("Get on the Right Track Baby," covered by Georgie Fame in the 1960s), King Curtis, Mose Allison, Esther Phillips, and LaVern Baker alongside quite cool excursions into pop-funk-soul-jazz by Les McCann, Eddie Harris, Johnny Griffin, Hubert Laws, Herbie Mann, Charles Lloyd, and the Modern Jazz Quartet. It's also flexible enough to insert some mighty enjoyable cuts by artists that purists would snub as not jazzy or soulful enough to keep this company. Up that alley there's Mel Torme, whose "Right Now" was the B-side of his famous "Comin' Home Baby"; Mark In Trio's pre-Santana Latin-funk on "Tres Lobos"; the all-out honkin' sax R&B of Tommy Ridgley's "Jam Up Twist"; and Byron Lee & the Ska Kings, who do ska-jazz fusion with "Watermelon Man Ska." Of course Les McCann & Eddie Harris's "Compared to What" is a famous recording that's not been hard to get on other CDs, though its appearance here does not make it any less enjoyable. This is one of those rare anthologies, in any genre, where the quality is consistently high enough to make it difficult to single out favorites, and is also one of the jazz anthologies most likely to be enjoyed by rock and soul fans who don't consider jazz a main interest.



The Blossom Toes, Black Light Vision [Pontiac, bootleg]. It may be that this obscure bootleg --not the only Blossom Toes bootleg, believe it or not! -- will appeal only to those already familiar with the band, since the sound quality isn't great, and since a good deal of the songs are available on better-fidelity studio versions. If you are a fan of Blossom Toes' two fine late-1960s psychedelic albums, though, this is quite interesting, and the sound quality is not poor enough to discourage rewarding listening. Nine of the thirteen tracks are taken from 1968-69 BBC broadcasts, and feature good versions, sometimes substantially different, of four songs from their second LP. There's also a BBC take of "Love Is," a cut from their debut album, with a radically different and perhaps superior arrangement featuring beautiful flute, vibes, and mellotron work, as well as a notably slower tempo and more somber interpretation. Of the other BBC cuts, "New Day" didn't show up until the odd post-Blossom Toes project B.B. Blunder in 1970; the poppy "Collects Little Girls" and the pastoral "Ever Since a Memory" did not show up on any official Blossom Toes releases; and "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" was, in its official guise, just a non-LP track. The official single version of the rare "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" is here too, as well as their two other non-LP songs, "Postcard" and "Everybody's Leaving Me Now." These are good to have (and "Everybody's Leaving Me Now" is an outstanding pop-psych number), but it should be noted that they've obviously been dubbed from discs with a good amount of surface noise, and that "Postcard" and "Everybody's Leaving Me Now" at least did show up in much better fidelity on the official double-LP compilation Collection . There's also the long "Captain Trips Jam," recorded live in Sweden in 1967, though that was issued on a bootleg of their Swedish concert material from the era back in the 1980s.

Buffalo Springfield, Box Set (Rhino). The plainly-named Box Set -- that's the actual title -- contains four CDs by a band that made only three albums in their brief lifetime. It goes without saying that this has a lot of great music, and is an essential purchase for fans of this phenomenal 1960s folk-rock-psychedelic band, containing no less than 36 previously unreleased demos, outtakes, and previously unissued mixes. It's the unreleased stuff that holds the most interest, especially since even on their outtakes, the Buffalo Springfield were often superb. Songs like "Neighbor Don't You Worry," "Down Down Down" (which contains seeds of both "Broken Arrow" and the Neil Young solo standout "Country Girl"), "We'll See," and "My Kind of Love" are actually up to the standard of many of the songs that made it onto the official albums. Although acoustic demos of various Young, Stills, and Furay songs are not as strong, they are always at the least pleasant, and often show intriguing unsuspected sentimental pop and folk leanings. Alternate versions of great songs, such as "Hung Upside Down" and a piano-only "Four Days Gone," are substantially different from the fully arranged familiar versions, yet worthwhile performances in their own right. At the same time, this box -- which, other than the last disc, sequences the material in the chronological order it was recorded -- is not all it could have been. First of all, for some reason, this does <I>not</I> have everything the band ever released. Not only are a few songs from {^Last Time Around missing (including one of Richie Furay's best moments, "In the Hour of Not Quite Rain"), but the nine-minute version of "Bluebird" (available on the two-LP Buffalo Springfield compilation) and the Neil Young-sung take of "Down to the Wire" (which came out on his Decade collection) are also absent. First-rate songs from {^Last Time Around, including "On the Way Home," "Pretty Girl Why," and "Four Days Gone," are represented by different demos and remixes, though it would have been easily possible to include the official final versions too. Worst of all, disc four is comprised solely of all the material from the group's brilliant first two albums -- which would not be cause for criticism, except that identical versions of every one of them (except for "Mr. Soul" and "Baby Don't Scold Me") also appear at some point in the course of the preceding three discs. This bizarre repetition is doubly galling both because that space could have been used for remaining {^Last Time Around absentees, and because other quality unreleased material, both studio and live, is known to exist, and is far more hungrily desired by fans eager to purchase a box set in the first place. Fortunately you can still (almost) complete the Springfield discography by buying Last Time Around itself. The sound is very good, and on the rarities, notably superior to bootlegs (such as the famous Stampede on which some of the songs have previously surfaced. The 82-page booklet, primarily comprised of vintage clippings, is nice too, even if specific details and anecdotes about the unreleased songs in particular would have been good. As good as it is, though, this could have been one of the greatest rock box sets of all time, if only a saner approach to presenting the band's complete official albums, and more rarities, in one place had been employed.

The David, Another Day, Another  Lifetime (Jamie). Not to overdo The Left Banke comparison, but any fan of that group will enjoy this a lot as well, as it has a similar fusion of pure pop hooks, imaginative baroque orchestration, and fragile romantic songwriting. The David have more of a rock drive, however, are more apt to employ period psychedelic flourishes (such as the wobbling distorted guitar riffs on "Mirrors of Wood"), and take on more whimsical, less personal lyrical concerns. The beautiful, suite-like title cut, the organ-powered "Sweet December," and "Now to You" are highlights. The 2001 CD reissue on Jamie adds a couple of previously unreleased songs, one just an instrumental backing track for a cover of the Yardbirds' "Mr. You're a Better Man Than I," the other a characteristic original ("I Don't Care") that sounds like only the backing vocals have been included. It also has liner notes that do a good deal to fill in the background of this obscure group.

Fairfield Parlour, The Fairfield Parlour Years (Pilot). Confusingly, this double-CD of Fairfield Parlour material is billed to Kaleidoscope on the cover. However, it does contain tracks that the musicians recorded in the early 1970s, after they had changed their name from Kaleidoscope to Fairfield Parlour. The first disc contains the album White Faced Lady, which they recorded in the early 1970s, but which remained unreleased until the 1970s. Intended as a double-LP concept album, it's an ambitious work -- is there a rock concept album that is not ambitious? -- based around a story of the rise to, and fall from, film stardom of a troubled actress. The thread of a story is stronger than it is for many such works, and the inclusion of the story, in standard narrative form, in the enclosed booklet helps. However, as music it's just average early-1970s British rock with folk, psychedelic, and progressive influences, and not even as good as earlier Kaleidoscope/Fairfield Parlour records. There is far less emphasis on harmonies than on other Kaleidoscope/Fairfield Parlour efforts, and that, combined with relatively unmemorable songs, makes it hard to maintain interest over the course of its considerable length. Disc two contains their 1970 From Home to Home album, which had more polish and sophistication in the production than records the musicians had issued under the name Kaleidoscope, and a slightly heavier rock sound. But the focus is still gentle, story-like songs with debts to both late-1960s Pink Floyd and late-1960s Beatles, though the songs are not nearly as memorable as the work by those bands, and there is not nearly as much balance between chipper and somber material as the Beatles and Pink Floyd mustered. (Fairfield Parlour are heavily tilted toward the cheery tunes.) Tasteful early synthesizer is heard from time to time, and the debts to 1969 Beatles are heard in the Lesley amplification effects, though there are acoustic folk-psych passages with flute too. Nine bonus songs have been added to the From Home to Home disc of this package, including non-LP tracks; the single they did under the name I Luv Wight; the previously unreleased movie theme "Eyewitness"; and a far more recent re-recording of one song fromFrom Home to Home, "Aries." These are pretty fair additions, though the re-recording of "Aries" has such predictably bad modern synthesizer and booming drums that it's a cliched illustration of how to ruin an old song with new technology. The most intense discographical research fails to reveal the source for another of the bonus cuts, "Baby, Stay for Tonight." You'll need to do that discographical research, too, because although the booklet gives a basic Kaleidoscope/Fairfield Parlour story, it reveals no specific details about the origins of the bonus tracks.

Giles, Giles & Fripp, Metaphormosis (Tenth Planet). It's credited to the trio of Giles, Giles & Fripp, who did one obscure  album in 1968, and two of whom (Robert Fripp and Michael Giles) were in the first lineup of King Crimson. But this LP of previously unreleased 1967-68 recordings is really more the link between that threesome and King Crimson than it is a "lost" album by GG&F. That's especially true since Ian McDonald, a charter member of King Crimson who did not appear on the sole Giles, Giles & Fripp album, is on nine of this album's thirteen songs. More crucially, this is far closer in sound to early King Crimson than the official GG&F album is. And most importantly, this collection is actually better -- considerably better -- than the official Giles, Giles & Fripp album. The sound quality is very good, particularly for 1967-68 home recordings, and indeed almost as good as the studio standard of the era. Although four of these are alternate versions of songs the trio recorded for Decca, by and large the material and arrangements are far less twee than the Decca stuff. Though it's not nearly as heavy and grandiose as the first King Crimson album, it's an absorbing mix of folk, jazz, psychedelic rock, and off-kilter melodic, lyrical, vocal harmony, and rhythmic ideas, retaining a sense of humor that King Crimson would rarely flash. On standout cuts like "Make It Today," there's an infectious jazzy melodicism and swing (indeed some parts of the tune are not dissimilar from Jethro Tull's "Living in the Past"). Judy Dyble, the singer that Sandy Denny had just replaced in Fairport Convention, adds some folky gentle character by singing on a couple of cuts. Many of these songs would not be revisited by the musicians, making this archival batch all the more valuable, though "I Talk to the Wind" was redone for the first King Crimson album. This is a very cool collection, though it's a limited edition LP of just 1000 copies. Considering the quality of the music and the importance of the musicians' subsequent careers, it does deserve eventual wider distribution.

The Guess Who, Shakin' All Over! (Sundazed). Aside from their hit mid-1960s cover of "Shakin' All Over," most of the Guess Who's pre-late-'60s output remains largely unknown in the United States. This fine 24-song compilation, featuring mostly material cut in 1965 and 1966 (although there are a couple of pre-1965 songs and one from 1967), soundly demonstrates that they were one of the best bands in Canada years before they had huge international smashes. They were derivative at this stage, drawing heavily from various British Invasion influences. But at the same time they were very accomplished and forceful, particularly on the cuts featuring Burton Cummings, who's only on some of the material as he didn't join until around the end of 1965. The mostly original songs are pretty strong, even as some of their inspirations are easy to detect: Johnny Kidd, Ricky Nelson ("I'd Rather Be Alone"), Paul Revere ("Believe Me"), the Animals ("Clock on the Wall," "Seven Long Years"), the Searchers ("Baby's Birthday"), Merseybeat ("Stop Teasing Me," "I Should Have Realized"), and the Shadows (the instrumental "Made in England," the earliest cut, must be the most accurate Shadows imitation ever). All are fun, but there are some standouts that are more original, like the killer bass riff-driven garage-punker "It's My Pride" (included on the Nuggets 2 box), and Burton Cummings's "If You Don't Want Me," which drips with more menacing lust than Mark Lindsay at his most ferocious. A special curiosity is "Flying on the Ground Is Wrong," perhaps the first ever cover of a Neil Young composition to be released (in early 1967), and given a much more pop-oriented reading than the Buffalo Springfield original. A couple of the songs are previously unreleased, though it's curious that "His Girl," which actually made the British charts in 1967, is not included.

Ian & Sylvia, The Complete Vanguard Studio Recordings (Vanguard).It's good to have this four-CD box set of everything Ian & Sylvia did in the studio for Vanguard, as their valuable contributions to folk and folk-rock are (several decades later, anyway) underrated. There are a few things that one wish could have which been added to the package to make it more definitive, though. The set includes all of their first six albums, their 1968 album Nashville (which followed a short sojourn with MGM), and three additional rarities. So far so good. But the absence of the two albums they did for MGM does make this less than a complete overview of their 1960s work, particularly as their seventh album, Lovin' Sound, actually preceded Nashville , yet is absent. No details are given as to the three additional songs not on the original Vanguard albums, of which "Keep on the Sunny Side" and an alternate take of "Rocks and Gravel" previously appeared on the Best of the Vanguard Years CD. The one previously unissued track, "Je T'aime Marielle," sounds (like the other two non-LP cuts) like an outtake from their early years. The Live at Newport compilation of 1960s appearance at the Newport Folk Festival would have been nice to include, though of course that's not studio, and all of these missing '60s albums would have pushed the set to a five- or six-CD length that might have made it economically unfeasible to release. Of course what's here is important, beautifully sung, and often creatively executed traditional and contemporary folk music (sometimes edging into rock on the later sides), and the large booklet with a long essay by Colin Escott adds to its value.

Al Jones, Alun Ashworth-Jones (Mooncrest). This is a mightily expanded reissue of the 1969 album Alun Ashworth-Jones, containing everything from that rare LP, in addition to two 1969 songs that showed up on the 49 Greek Street compilation; nine live solo acoustic tracks from '69 that were planned as part of a second LP that was not released at the time; and five studio solo acoustic tracks from 1971, again planned for a second LP, again shelved until the release of this CD. The chief attraction of the disc is the Alun Ashworth-JonesLP itself, which is beguiling, melodic mild period British folk-rock. While it doesn't stick in the memory as much as what Donovan, Roy Harper, Al Stewart, John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, or Nick Drake recorded during the same era, it's a fair bet that fans of those acts will enjoy it. It has a similar mix of minstrelsy folk, a hint of blues, and imaginatively varied, understated backing from violin, flute, and some rock instruments. He rarely rocks out, but when he does, on the cut "Sarah in the Isle of Wight," the result is probably the most memorable song. The bonus tracks (and there are no less than sixteen of them) don't measure up to the Alun Ashworth Jones material. The two 49 Street Greek cuts are pedestrian bluesy rock; the 1971 acoustic numbers are reasonable, but would have benefited considerably from the sort of embellishments given to the 1969 LP; and the 1969 live recordings are largely dedicated to acoustic rock'n'roll oldies covers that might have been fun on a club night, but are neither too original nor too well-executed. Still, you might as well have everything on one package, and at a running time of 74 minutes, it's certainly good value.

Lonnie Mack, From Nashville to Memphis (Ace). As the third and final volume of the trilogy of Ace compilations covering Mack's 1960s Fraternity recordings, this at a glance looks like a mop-up of the bottom of the can. If that's so, though, it's quite an enjoyable mop-up, albeit with an erratic streak in both the quality and form of the material. About half of this is previously unreleased, including some alternate takes of officially released sides. Some of the 1963-67 singles are really fine, like the instrumental "Nashville," which has mean blues-rock licks on par with anything Mack's done -- meaning that they're on par with anyone's blues-rock licks. Otherwise there are some honky-tonk twist instrumentals; some quite fine blue-eyed soul vocals with horns, like "She Don't Come Here Anymore" and "Crying Over You"; and a genuine hit (low-charting, admittedly, at #78), "Honky Tonk '65." It gets wackier: a rather cool instrumental adaptation of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," mixing lounge horns with biting guitar riffs; a mix of surf reverb and soundtrack theme on "When I'm Alone"; and straight country music on "Are You Guilty?" There are also rare singles by Beau Dollar & the Coins, Denny "Dumpy" Rice, the Charmaines, and Max Falcon on which Mack played, as well as a mono version of his big hit, "Memphis." Some of this CD is so-so, but the high points ensure that it won't disappoint Mack lovers.

Pink Floyd, A Journey Through Time & Space [bootleg]. This mysterious double-CD bootleg bears no label name or year of release, although it's very handsomely designed and packaged. A double-CD bootleg is of interest almost exclusively to feverish fans, almost by definition, but those interested in early Pink Floyd will be pleased by the availability of this material. Disc one, titled "Outer Zabriskie," contains a whopping 77 minutes of outtakes from their work on the Zabriskie Point soundtrack, all in excellent, official release-standard fidelity. While these sessions from late 1969 were of rather peripheral importance to the group's career, it is still nicely ambient stuff, varying from jazz tinkles and space instrumentals to blues and fairly normal hard rock, with some real surprises along the way. "The Violent Sequence," a solo piano piece, is basically an early working version of the tune that was developed into the Dark Side of the Moon standard "Us and Them." One of the versions of "Fingals Cave," apparently intended as the background music to a sex scene, contains some riotously blue simulated-sex spoken vocals, presumably by the band; at one point someone dryly notes, tongue full in cheek, "fucking long three minutes, and I do mean fucking!" The "fast version" of "Crumbling Land" is the closest the Floyd came to sounding like the Grateful Dead. The second disc, titled "Spontaneous Underground," is a spottier collection of odds and ends from 1966-74, but does have some notable finds. Foremost is a jittery, almost punky 15-minute studio version of "Interstellar Overdrive" from October 1966, used for the soundtrack of the obscure art film San Francisco. The rest is largely live material of such erratic fidelity that it's not too notable, although the 1970 "Theme from 'More'" is an excellent performance, sabotaged by poor sound. The program concludes with an alternate studio version of Dark Side of the Moon 's "Brain Damage," done for a 1974 BBC documentary on the NASA space program. The 20-page booklet is packed with liner notes and photos, though only a few pages of the text, unfortunately, specifically discuss music on the disc.

The Yardbirds, Ultimate! (Rhino). It had to happen sometime, and after about thirty years of piecemeal Yardbirds compilations, here it is: a lengthy best-of anthology that manages to cross-license material from the Clapton, Beck, and Page eras. The result is a two-CD, 52-song anthology that includes all of their big hits, most of their outstanding albums tracks and non-hit singles, and a few rarities. If you're looking for one Yardbirds compilation, either as a starter or a summary, this is it. Previous anthologies almost always had to be divided in early 1966 after the "Shapes of Things" single for licensing reasons, but finally you can hear early blues-derived Clapton sides, 1965 initial British Invasion hit singles, "Shapes of Things," "Over Under Sideways Down," "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago," and the (comparatively slight) highlights of the 1967-68 Jimmy Page lineup all in one place. As quite minor quibbles, one could argue that some of the album tracks that were passed over -- like "Respectable," "Ever Since the World Began," and "Glimpses" -- would have been better choices than some of the cuts that did make it. A few relatively obscure items are included -- the late 1963 recording "Boom Boom"/"Honey in Your Hips," the 1965 B-side "Steeled Blues," the 1966 B-side "Psycho Daises," the Blow-Up soundtrack item "Stroll On," the weird Italian pop single "Questa Volta"/"Pafff...Bum," and particularly the three pop-folky 1966 songs from Keith Relf solo singles. Some of those lesser rarities are at cross-purposes with the overall tone of a set largely selected on the basis of quality, rather than collectability. Still, with fine liner notes and packaging, overall it gives the music of one of the greatest rock bands the respectful, high-class presentation it deserves.

Various Artists, The Best of Strike Records (RPM). The Strike label, and its Go subsidiary, were one of the few pure indie rock and pop labels operating in England in the mid-1960s, issuing about three dozen singles in 1966 and 1967. Putting out a real grab bag of British Invasion groups, girl-group singers, soul vocalists, and even some folk-rock, psychedelia, and instrumental pop, the label only got one British hit, Neil Christian's "That's Nice" (included here). This CD contains a couple dozen of their more noteworthy tracks, among them a couple of previously unissued items, and some cuts that actually appeared on other labels, but were done by the label's production company, Millwick Productions. While the anthology doesn't project a consistent style, it's more musically satisfying than the usual retrospective of a label chiefly noted for its obscurity. "I'll Give You Love," by Millwick A&R producer Miki Dallon, is gloriously tough R&B-flavored British Invasion stomp in the mold of the Sorrows (who covered several Dallon songs, though not this one). There's also the original version of the Dallon-penned Sorrows hit "Take a Heart," by Boys Blue; a pretty good, uncharacteristic Zombies-folk-rock blend on the rare debut single by Roy Harper (from March 1966), the most noted artist on the set; respectable American girl groupish pop from Jacki Bond; soul singer J.J. Jackson's "Come See Me," the same song that was done on a Pretty Things single around the same time; the Deputies' "Given Half a Chance," which sounds much like the Dave Clark Five; and straight '60s soul by Carl Douglas, the same guy who did "Kung Fu Fighting" in the '70s. This anthology is decisively superior to the usual such roundup of British Invasion non-hits, and worth digging into, though some of the tracks are only average.

Various Artists, Dream Babes Vol. 2: Reflections (RPM). British girl singers did not comprise the healthiest sub-genre of 1960s rock. And since this 22-track compilation of female-sung British pop-rock from 1962-71 does not include any big names except for Cilla Black (represented by her 1968 B-side "Work Is a Four Letter Word") and Helen Shapiro (with her self-penned 1964 B-side "He Knows How to Love Me"), you might not ready yourself for a stunning experience. It isn't brilliant, but actually it's a pretty fair and fun collection of obscurities. Some other names might be faintly remembered (in the UK, not the US), such as Samantha Jones and Elkie Brooks, but for the most part these are no-names, working in a vein combining British Invasion sounds with American girl-group/soul-influenced production. Some of the more memorable outings include Jones' wispy "Somebody Else's Baby," Guillivers People's solid adaptation of Jackie DeShannon's "Splendour in the Grass," Linda Laine & the Sinners' wistful and folky "Don't Do It Baby," and Carol Elvin's "Don't Leave Me," which sounds instantly suitable for a British mid-1960s film soundtrack. As a change of pace there's also the folk-pop of the Levee Breakers' 1965 single "Babe I'm Leaving You," featuring the voice of Beverley, who would become a noted part of the 1970s folk-rock scene as part of a duo with her husband John Martyn.

Various Artists, The History of U.K. Underground Folk-Rock 1968-1978 Vol. 1(Kissing Spell). You can think of this as sort of an equivalent to specialty series like Nuggets, Rubble, and Pebbles that unearthed very obscure 1960s rock, the difference being that this focuses on British folk-rock of the late 1960s and 1970s. Although artists like Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, the Incredible String Band, and Pentangle are fairly popular and well known, there have been very few discs dedicated to excavation of other bands working along the same lines that never got anywhere, commercially that is. This CD is compiled from rare albums, along with presenting previously unavailable songs by the Trees, Tir Na Nog, Mellow Candle, and Harison. Now, when the Trees and Mellow Candle are by far the most recognizable names on the track listing, you know this is digging deep. Note, however, that unlike many anthologies of obscure genre music -- for whatever genre -- the quality on this and volume two of this series is pretty high, and virtually guaranteed to appeal to fans of classic British folk-rock in the Fairport/Steeleye/Incredibles mold. Whether high female vocals in the Sandy Denny/Jacqui McShee style or fairly exotic acoustic-based folk-psych is your bag, there's a lot of it here. While there may not be anything as outstanding as the best of the well-known bands, it's a fine soundtrack for imagining yourself hiking through the British greenlands, with the style's characteristic emphasis on minor-based, folky melodies. Some of the stuff will appeal to psychedelic fans of any kind, too, like Parameter's "Emmeline," with its Ray Davies-like vocal, wiggly guitar, and general aura of disembodied cloudiness.

Various Artists, The History of U.K. Underground Folk-Rock 1968-1978 Vol. 2(Kissing Spell). Like volume one of this enigmatically packaged and lightly distributed series, this is quality obscure British folk-rock from the late 1960s and 1970s. And we are talking obscure here, when the best-known artist on a CD is Mellow Candle, who are not exactly tip-of-the-tongue names even to most committed British folk-rock fans. For anyone enamored of the sounds of Sandy Denny, the Incredible String Band, and the like, there are plenty of like-minded moments to please the ear here. It's true that nothing on the disc projects as strong an identity as Denny or the Incredibles. But there are enchanting high female vocals, pastoral hippieish lyrics, and deft blends of haunting melodic British Isles folk with psychedelic-tinged arrangements featuring acoustic guitars and flutes. That might sound like a lot of features to jam into one song, but sometimes that's accomplished, as on Stone Angel's "The Bells of Dunwich." Parameter's "Sun Gone" and "Virgin Childe" certainly achieve a low-key Incredible String Band vibe; Blue Epitaph's "Fief" has the rollicking acoustic guitars so typical of the genre at its best; Mark Newman's "Mustapha" has the folk-blues-world music fusion aura of UK guitarists like Davy Graham; Mourning Phase's "Ring Out the Bells" has the male-female harmonic blends that fans of this stuff love. With 66 minutes of music and consistent quality, it's very good value, not just one for insane collectors. Incidentally, despite the 1968-78 chronological range given in the title, one cut, No. 9 Bread Street's "Girl for All Seasons," is dated as a 1967 recording in the track listings.

Various Artists, Joe Meek's Groups: Crawdaddy Simone (RPM). Producer Joe Meek is primarily identified with the pre-Beatles era of British rock. However, he did make records until just before his death in early 1967, and he did make some recordings that were in the British Invasion-generated "beat group" style. This 20-track anthology of such material is not definitive, as it doesn't include some bands in the genre that he worked with, like the Riot Squad, David John & the Mood, and the Buzz. However, it's a decent sampling of Meek's efforts with mid-1960s rock bands, varying from wimpy Merseybeat to ferocious mod/R&B. The unquestionable highlights of the discs are the eight tracks (all eight tracks known to exist, actually) by the Syndicats, famous as one of the pre-Yes bands of Steve Howe. Those cuts are good R&B/rock, sometimes very good (like their cover of Howlin' Wolf's "Howlin' for My Baby"). Their most famous cut, "Crawdaddy Simone," is truly unsurpassed in its degree of wild British R&B mayhem, and is, ironically, the one Syndicats song on which Howe does not play. Elsewhere on the CD, the Puppets play reasonably fetching Merseybeat on "Everybody's Talking," and average R&B-rock on their three other cuts. Tony Dangerfield & the Thrills do a weird collision of '50s rock and freakbeat on "She's Too Way Out," and a pop ballad, "I've Seen Such Things," that was largely written by Paul Jones and Tom McGuinness of Manfred Mann. The Blue Rondos offer nicely chunky pop-R&B with Meek's trademark ghostly organ and oddly treated percussion. Bobby Rio & the Revelles do average pop songs that, again, sound better than such material should due to Meek's facility for producing unique blends of stinging guitar, thudding percussion, and disembodied-sounding vocals.

Various Artists, Living in the Streets 2 (BGP). According to the back cover, this compilation is designed as "another dip into the melting pot of early 70s black music -- a time where Latin, jazz, soul and funk mixed together and would eventually beget disco." It's a fair description of the contents, which are a real quilt of obscure soul-funk from the late 1960s to the late 1970s, concentrating most heavily on the earlier years of that span. A quick scan of the track list reveals just two names that might be known to even the reasonably knowledgeable R&B enthusiast, and those two artists, Joe Houston and Preston Epps, are far more identified with 1950s sounds than these much later (and surprisingly worthwhile) efforts. Anyway, it's an impressive compilation, not just for the high quality and wide diversity of the music, but also because this genre of music has been far less subject to obscurity anthologies than styles like 1960s Northern soul or 1950s rockabilly have. Katie Love's "Don't  Let It Go To Your Head" is an uncanny Jackson 5 imitation; Brenda George's "I Can't Stand It" also has Jackson 5 influence, but more of an earthy soul feel; Joe Houston's "Kicking Back" has cool "Shaft"-style guitars and snake-charming sax; Byrdie Green's "Return of the Prodigal Son" is ear-catching sullen soul, with compelling blues-soul riffs; Spanky Wilson's "Kissing My Love" puts good female vocals on top of percolating organ soul-jazz; and Preston Epps' previously unreleased "Africa" is invigorating Afro-percussive soul. Not every track is up to the level of these highlights, but they usually offer worthy combinations of straight soul with jazz, African music, and hard rock guitar (though not often all at once).

Various Artists, Nuggets II (Rhino). The Nuggets box set is rightly hailed as the greatest document of American 1960s garage rock. Its follow-up, in a laudably adventurous decision by the Rhino label, does not merely mine more of the same (and there is a lot more American 1960s garage rock), but presents four CDs, and a whopping 109 songs, of mostly obscure and raw 1960s rock from outside the United States. For the most part, that means British bands (hence the subtitle "original artyfacts from the British Empire and beyond"), but it also throws in groups from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Holland, Ireland, Japan, Brazil, Germany, Sweden, Uruguay, and a few other countries, even Iceland. Zealous collectors have long known that the explosion in frenetic group sounds kicked off by the British Invasion was a global phenomenon, and this is a worthy, though not perfect, introduction to that world. Included are great groups that had little or no success in the States (the Creation, the Move, Tomorrow, the Small Faces, the Pretty Things, the Action, the Easybeats, the Sorrows); bands harboring future superstars (Van Morrison in Them, Ronnie Wood in the Birds, David Bowie in David Jones & the Lower Third, Graham Gouldman in the Mockingbirds); big 1970s bands that relatively few realize had raunchy roots in the mid-1960s (the Guess Who, the Golden Earrings); and a host of wild inventive one-shots from bands that never got anywhere (Wimple Winch, the Mascots, the Craig, the Syndicates, the Elois, the Misunderstood, Dantalion's Chariot). Just a couple of songs, the Easybeats' "Friday on My Mind" and Status Quo's "Pictures of Matchstick Men," are likely to be familiar to most American listeners, though some had considerable success in their own countries. If there are minor quibbles to be made, the song selection isn't always as great as it could be, if you're familiar with the massive netherworld of potential material. It's also true that this isn't quite as brilliant and consistent as the American garage bands immortalized on the first Nuggets box, though it actually is more diverse, encompassing more mod pop, psychedelia, and raw R&B.

Various Artists, Truck Driver's Boogie: Big Rig Hits Vol. 1, 1939-1969 (Audium). Produced in conjunction with the Country Music Hall of Fame, this is probably the best compilation of country songs about trucks, truckers and trucking, a mini-genre onto itself. It's not a mere novelty: big names like Johnny Horton, Jim & Jesse, and Jimmy Martin are here, and the chronological and stylistic range is wide, from country-blues laments of the early 1940s to the near-rockabilly of Horton's "I'm Coming Home" and the more standard Nashvillized pop-country of the 1960s. It could be that just one song, Dave Dudley's 1963 hit and perennial trucker's anthem "Six Days on the Road," will be instantly familiar to many listeners. A number of the twenty tracks never appeared on CD before this release, including some real goodies, like Doye O'Dell's creepy "Diesel Smoke (Dangerous Curves)," with its bleating horns and nerve-tingling fiddles and steel guitar; the Milo Twins' "Truck Driver's Boogie," a late-1940s release very much like the Delmore Brothers' boogie recordings; and Kay Adams' spunky "Little Pink Mack," the one song here by a woman and a rare tale of truck driving from a feminine perspective. The lengthy liner notes trace both the history of country truck driving songs and specific details about the material on the CD, capping a release that treats the style as worthy of historical enshrinement, but is quite fun too.

Various Artists, Washington Square Memoirs: The Great Urban Folk Boom 1950-1970 (Rhino). This impressive three-CD, 72-song set is the best compilation of music from the folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s. It concentrates most heavily on the movement's apogee in the first half of the 1960s, but also touches upon its roots in mid-twentieth century performers like Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, the Weavers, Big Bill Broonzy, and Josh White. Although its evolution into folk-rock is documented lightly, the box encompasses that as well, with cuts by the likes of Judy Collins, Tim Buckley, Tom Rush, Fred Neil, Eric Andersen, Tim Hardin, and Richard & Mimi Fariña. In between are the giants of the early-'60s folk boom, such as Joan Baez, Peter, Paul & Mary, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Odetta, and Ian & Sylvia. And, unlike many a folk compilation, this is open-minded enough to include material by some of the more commercially-oriented folk acts that helped popularize the style on a mass level, like the Kingston Trio, the Rooftop Singers (with their #1 single "Walk Right In"), the Limeliters, the Chad Mitchell Trio, and Randy Sparks. Indeed, virtually every major North American performer of the style is represented, even the hard-to-license Bob Dylan (though Joni Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkel, and James Taylor are not included due to licensing restrictions). Although the cuts by major figures are well selected, there are also numerous offerings by minor but notable contributors to the form, like the Journeymen (with future Mamas and the Papas leader John Phillips), Carolyn Hester, David Blue, and the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. Some of the rare or little-remembered cuts are highlights of the collection, like Sam Hinton's witty 1950 single "Old Man Atom (Talking Atomic Blues)"; Jean Ritchie's 1954 recording of "Nottamun Town"; Peggy Seeger's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" (later a huge hit for Roberta Flack); Barry & Barry's "Another Man" (one of the Barrys being a pre-rock Barry McGuire); Judy Henske's seminal "High Flying Bird"; Judy Roderick's little-known 1964 electric folk-rock-blues treatment of "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"; Jesse Colin Young's pre-Youngbloods solo work "Four in the Morning"; Bonnie Dobson's original version of the folk and folk-rock standard "Morning Dew"; and even a young John Denver's 1966 cover of Pete Seeger's "Bells of Rhymney." The package is enhanced by lengthy liner notes, including extensive comments by Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman.



Arthur Alexander, The Monument Years (Ace, UK). Between his most famous recordings in the first half of the 1960s, and his early-1970s album for Warner Brothers, Alexander kept sporadically active as a recording artist, putting out half a dozen singles on the Monument and Sound Stage 7 labels. None of these were hits, and as the original 45s are so hard to find, it remained a mysterious missing link in his career to most listeners. This CD rectifies that problem by collecting all of those singles, and adding sixteen previously unreleased tracks that he cut in the last half of the 1960s and the early 1970s. It's quite a useful service for fans, but it can't be denied that these performances aren't the high points of the fine soul singer-songwriter's career. The mix of soul, pop, and country forces at work in these sides is similar to those heard on Alexander's earlier efforts. However, the material, whether penned by Alexander or others, just isn't that outstanding, and sometimes sound like lesser reworkings of ideas and riffs he'd plied more effectively in prior days. When Alexander covers a well-known song like "Spanish Harlem" or "Cry Like a Baby," he adds little to it; when he tries to be uncharacteristically funny and risqué on "I Want to Marry You," it's embarrassing. On the later stuff, the pop influences become more prominent, usually to the disadvantage of the music. His distinctive brand of somber soul, with his reserved and sad, vulnerable vocals, does shine through to a large degree, and those that have enjoyed his other releases will find much to appreciate. But it should not be regarded as a first or second choice for the Alexander neophyte.

The Blue Things, The Blue Things (Rewind). This self-titled CD reissue is basically a reissue of their only album (from 1966), which has been known both as Listen and See and The Blue Things, bolstered by the significant addition of all six songs from their three non-LP 1966-67 RCA singles. All of this material, except the final 1967 single (recorded after the departure of Val Stecklein), has been reissued in some form on other releases. This edition, however, has a big advantage over other reissues in that it was remastered from the RCA tapes, also adding extensive, excellent historical liner notes. As for the 1966 album that forms the backbone of this disc, it's still one of the finest overlooked folk-rock records of the 1960s, combining some of the best elements of the Byrds and Beau Brummels in its mid-tempo electric-acoustic arrangements. The 1966 psychedelic single tracks "Orange Rooftop of Your Mind," "One Hour Cleaners," and "You Can Live in Our Tree" are also fine cuts that show the band progressing at a furious rate, with psychologically complex lyrics and unusual fuzz and violin-ish distorted guitar textures. The final single ("Somebody Help Me"/"Yes, My Friend"), though, was a pretty lame offering considering the quality of the band's prior RCA efforts.

Jerry Butler, The Sweetest Soul (RPM, UK). This is a very good British anthology covering Butler's Vee-Jay era, the 26 tracks including all of his major solo hits with the label in the first half of the 1960s: "He Will Break Your Heart, " "Moon River," "Find Another Girl," "I'm a Telling You," "Make It Easy on Yourself," and "Need to Belong." There's also the bonus of his big 1958 hit with the Impressions, "For Your Precious Love," although his huge 1964 duet smash with Betty Everett, "Let It Be Me," is absent. It's not just a recycling of the material found on the most comprehensive US retrospective of Butler's Vee-Jay period, The Iceman; almost half of these songs are not found on the American counterpart. That's an important distinction, since some of the cuts only on The Sweetest Soul are notable, such as the fine 1964 ballad "Giving Up on Love," and a few songs that Curtis Mayfield wrote or co-wrote. Unfortunately the original release dates are not given for all of the songs in the track listings and liner notes, and some of the non-hit tracks are much less memorable than Butler's best efforts for Vee-Jay. But only these small reservations apply to this quality early soul disc.

Jimmy Cliff, The Messenger (Metro, UK). The otherwise helpful liner notes sorta dance around the issue of exactly when these tracks were released, but basically what you need to know is that this 16-song anthology is drawn from his recordings at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s. This was the period that saw him emerge as an international hitmaker with "Wonderful World, Beautiful People" and "Vietnam," the first two songs on the disc. At this point Cliff was laying down a sort of reggae-soul-pop crossover mix, and while this work has been underestimated by critics, it was quite important in exposing reggae to a lot of non-Jamaicans. More importantly, it's good music, not diminished at all by the clean production values and pop elements that helped put it over to a wide audience. "You Can Get It If You Really Want" and "Many Rivers to Cross" are the best-known of the other songs here, but it's a consistently pleasant collection. Mostly comprised of Cliff compositions, some clever and socially conscious lyrics are integrated into the smooth production and cheerful arrangements.

Chris Farlowe & the Thunderbirds, Dig the Buzz (RPM, UK). Dating from 1962-65, these 18 tracks comprise virtually everything Farlowe recorded before joining Immediate Records and attaining his greatest British commercial success. That includes not just several Columbia singles, but also some obscure items that only showed up on LPs and EPs, as well as the 1964 single that he and the Thunderbirds did under the name of the Beazers, and the pseudonymous 1965 single he did as Little Joe Cook. Farlowe was a fair, but not great, British soul singer, and these sides owe somewhat more to earlier R&B/soul styles than the stuff he cut for Immediate did. On the Beazers single he gets into a ska-meets-soul bag, and those cuts are actually among the highlights of the disc. Where this anthology falls short, though, is in the slight and heavily derivative nature of the material, only a little of which was original. There's nothing to match the pop hooks of the Jagger/Richards covers he did for Immediate, and tunes like "Push Push," with its combination of lifted riffs from both "Twist and Shout" and "Do You Love Me," are just too imitative to command respect. It's not bad mid-1960s British R&B with a heavy soul flair, mind you, but it's not too noteworthy either. Oddly, the B-side of his first single, "Why Did You Break My Heart?," is absent, although all of his other pre-Immediate tracks seem present and accounted for.

J.K. & Co., Suddenly One Summer (Sundazed/BeatRocket). This sounds like the solo album that George Harrison might have made before he left the Beatles, as several songs have that solemn, spiritual, forlorn quality Harrison perfected on cuts like "Long, Long, Long." With its languid guitars, organ, and somber mood, "Nobody" is so reminiscent of All Things Must Pass tracks like "Let It Roll" that one is surprised to find that this album was done well before the release of All Things Must Pass in the early '70s. Although the lyrics are blatantly hippieish, the music itself sets a dignified, almost stately mood with its intimacy and tasteful restraint. "Fly" and "Nobody" are genuine lost treasures of low-key late-1960s late psychedelia, and alone make the album worth investigating. But it's inspired and pleasurable the whole way through, down to the super-brief links and intros dotted throughout the record.

Love, The Last Wall of the Castle [bootleg] (Deep Six). At a glance, this looks tantalizing: outtakes and alternate takes, mostly in official-release quality, from 1966-68 with the Bryan MacLean lineup, which as all true Love fans know was the only golden era for the band. It's not without its historical value for fanatical devotees of the group, but anyone else should exercise caution. For as it turns out, most of these are backing tracks sans vocals, or alternate mixes, or alternate takes that break down. Even those kinds of things can be fascinating given enough variation, but these are the sort of alternates that you'd really have to do A-B comparisons with the official versions if you wanted to detect specific differences. And even then, you might not detect any. And even if you did, is that the most fun way to listen to music? For what it's worth, most of these instrumental backing tracks are from the first Love album. There's also a demo of "Signed D.C." (minus the harmonica on the familiar official version); no less than seven different takes of the instrumental backing to "Seven and Seven Is"; some alternate mixes and outtakes from Forever Changes, all of the outtakes also appearing on the official Rhino/Elektra Forever Changes expanded edition CD; and a couple of songs from a 1966 TV appearance, which sounds cool except these were lip-synced, so it's just the official tracks in much poorer fidelity. Of the alternate mixes, (slightly) notable are "A House Is Not a Motel," which has a longer guitar solo at the end, and "The Red Telephone," on which the spoken banter near the end is much more upfront. It's rather slim payoff for a 28-track bootleg that'll probably cost you nearly a dollar a song, and the presence of so many multiple/vocal-less takes makes listening for sheer enjoyment difficult, even considering it's from Love's prime era.

Miriam Makeba, Mama Africa: The Very Best of Miriam Makeba (Manteca, UK). Although this compilation is very good, the documentation is vague -- only a few dates are given for the 25 tracks, let alone original label info. What's for sure is that everything is from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. On many of the earlier cuts in the sequence, you can tell that the recordings almost certainly date from the 1950s and/or early 1960s. As Makeba is not the sole singer on some of these, they presumably are drawn from her recordings as a member of groups, possibly all of them being from her stint in the Manhattan Brothers. (Really, it's true: more exact liner notes do help reviewers more effectively inform their readers!) Regardless, these earlier tracks are a nice blend of South African folk music with American jazz, pop, and even doo wop-influenced songwriting, arrangements, and harmonies. Makeba sounds at her best, though, on cuts that emphasize the indigenous South African elements, like "Umquokozo" and "Pata Pata"; the propulsive "Kilimanjaro" is the best thing on the disc, really giving her a chance to hang loose and uninhibited. A few of the final songs on the CD, presumably dating from the 1970s, are not as exciting due to the slicker, more funkified production, though Makeba still sings well on those.

The Missing Links, Driving You Insane (Half a Cow, Australia). In addition to assembling all two dozen cuts known to exist by both the first and second lineup of the Missing Links, this exemplary reissue adds three songs by the Showmen (whose rhythm section joined the second lineup) and a live 1966 TV version of "Diddy Wah Diddy" by Running Jumping Standing Still (founded by a couple of ex-Missing Links). It's quite a package, consisting in the main of everything from their sole LP The Missing Links; the non-LP B-side "Somethin' Else"; all four songs from their 1966 EP The Links Unchained; "We 2 Should Live"/"Untrue," the only single (and only official release) of the first Missing Links lineup; and five tracks recorded by the first lineup that were unreleased at the time. Not everything here is boss, but the best of it establishes the Missing Links as the best Australian '60s garage/punk band, and one of the better ones from anywhere on the globe. Note that although, confusingly, not one of the Missing Links in the first lineup was in the second one that recorded, the recordings by the first lineup are engagingly raw R&B/British Invasion pop-style numbers, even if they lack the manic frenzy and feedback experimentation of the second lineup's best moments, such as "Speak No Evil," "Don't Give Me No Friction," and "You're Drivin' Me Insane." Another significant plus is the detailed 40-page booklet, which gives as comprehensive a lowdown on this mysterious cult band as is likely to ever appear.

Augustus Pablo, Dub, Reggae & Roots from the Melodica King(Ocho, UK). This is, for the most part, a fine 21-song compilation of material from the 1970s by the melodica master. The phrase "for the most part" applies because, although there are decent-sized liner notes and an attractive gatefold CD package, there are no specific dates and original release information anywhere. Yes, it's a tired reviewers' cliche to point out such omissions, and it's true that pinning down detailed reggae discographies can be as laborious as clearing the Amazon with a machete. But giving a chronology, even a general one, is important, you know, especially to consumers that haven't been collecting reggae for twenty years and may honestly have no idea when this stuff came out and how to place it in the context of Pablo's career. That important niggling detail aside, this is some of the finest instrumental reggae ever made, also including a few vocal productions to feature Pablo's work (by Jacob Miller, Bongo Pat, Norris Reid, and Tetrack). Few instrumentalists of any kind were as haunting as Pablo was, and no other reggae musician as skilled at utilizing minor keys. And for a reggae instrumental compilation, it's commendably diverse, Pablo lifting melodies from "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Ain't No Sunshine" when it suits him, the relentlessly imaginative dubwise production dropping in heavy bass, bell tinkles, bubbling under organ, ghostly echo, wicked funk lines, the works. It's ideal music for sweltering summer nights.

The Siegel-Schwall Band, The Complete Vanguard Recordings & More! (Vanguard). Is a three-CD set of the Siegel-Schwall Band -- including all four of their Vanguard albums (spanning 1966-70) in their entirety, along with six previously unissued cuts -- too much to take at once? In a word, yes. If you're a blues-rock history nut, though -- and there must be some such listeners out there -- it is a handy collection that gathers every last shred of recorded evidence of their early years. In the Chicago-style 1960s White blues sweepstakes, the group lagged way behind the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, an unavoidable reference point due to the similarity of approach and repertoire. Nor were they as good as Charlie Musselwhite or John Hammond, in part because of their vocal limitations, and also in part because of lesser levels of virtuosity and imagination. They could, however, sometimes summon respectable raffish energy, particularly on the faster or more Bo Diddleyesque tunes, though the slow ones were usually pretty mundane. The highlights of this set are the moments when they do manage to break toward some more original territory, whether it's in the occasional use of mandolin, or the tentative psychedelic-pop of the atypical "Song," from {^Siegel-Schwall 70}. If you've heard the albums already, you'll be most interested in the half-dozen previously unreleased tracks, none of which are too great or different from most of their early work. These include two 1965 demos (one of them a cover of Howlin' Wolf's "Howlin' for My Darlin'"); two outtakes from their first Vanguard recording session in 1966; and two 1970 demos, the highlight of that pair being "Easy Rider," which has good slide work. The 12-page booklet, which contains some quotes from the band, is a plus; the absence of songwriter credits is a minus.

Joe Simon, Monument of Soul (RPM, UK). Monument of Soul is a comprehensive collection of Simon's 1966-72 releases on the Sound Stage 7 label, including nearly everything that he put out on singles through the company during that period. Among them are all of his R&B and pop chart hits on Sound Stage 7, which in Simon's case were quite numerous -- sixteen in all, even if just a couple of them ("The Chokin' Kind" and "You Keep Me Hanging On") got into the Top Forty. Simon's Sound Stage 7 period is under-represented by the singer's best career retrospective, Rhino's Music in My Bones: The Best of Joe Simon, so this is a welcome in-depth view of the earlier era. And, for listeners who prefer his Nashville soul stint to his slicker Philly soul and disco productions of the '70s, this will probably be the Simon CD they'll want most. Simon was not quite on the Hall of Fame level of soul singers, but he was the next level down, and he pretty consistently delivered the goods, even on B-sides, of which there are quite a few on this disc. He was better on the countrified ballads than he was on the midtempo chuggers, both because these suited his style better, and because such material stood in bolder relief when juxtaposed with much late-1960s soul. "I Worry About You" and "San Francisco Is a Lonely Town" are two of the overlooked slow-burners on this anthology, though some relatively unknown uptempo belters are worthy of attention too, like "Travellin' Man."

P.F. Sloan, Child of Our Times: The Trousdale Demo Sessions 1965-1967 (Varese Sarabande). P.F. Sloan was jaw-droppingly prolific in the years 1965 to 1967, not only writing, producing, and playing on numerous fine hit and non-hit pop and folk-rock records by other artists, but making two good solo albums. It didn't stop there: he also recorded quite a few unreleased demos, twenty of which make their first appearance on this compilation. Most of these were recorded and released by someone or other, and in one case ("Miss Charlotte") redone by Sloan himself later in the 1960s. No one sings Sloan like Sloan, though, and it's quite a treat to hear him as the performer on these largely outstanding, rousingly melodic pop-rockers. Some are well known ("You Baby" and "Can I Get to Know You Better" were hits for the Turtles, "Another Day, Another Heartache" did okay for the Fifth Dimension, and of course "Secret Agent Man" was big for Johnny Rivers), and others not so well known, but in the same class ("Child of Our Times," the Beatlesque "You're a Lonely Girl," "I've Got No More to Say"). Although these were demos, the production is sometimes as state-of-the-art as anything in L.A. in the mid-1960s, and the fidelity, performance, and arrangements are up to release quality on almost everything. The only reason this rates just a little below his first two solo albums is that it's lighter on the personal folk-rock and social consciousness statements ("Child of Our Times" being an exception); much of this is like a link between L.A. folk-rock and L.A. sunshine pop. It's very good, though, and enthusiastically recommended to anyone who enjoys the albums that Sloan did release in the mid-1960s.

The Spiders, Let's Go Spiders! (Big Beat, UK). The Spiders recorded from the mid-'60s through around 1970 in a variety of styles. However, this 28-song compilation is exclusively comprised of the 1966-68 British Invasion-garage-psych material with the strongest appeal to international collectors. Looked at in the cold objective light of day, it couldn't be rated among the best such stuff to pour forth from non-English-speaking lands, although it's certainly brimming with frenzied energy. Their weaknesses were common to many such bands, whatever their native language. Their original material was frequently derivative, and lacked the melodic invention and instrumental skill of their inspirations; many of these are feverish but basic R&B-pop hybrids. Getting past all that -- few people are checking this out expecting something on the order of the Yardbirds or even the Chocolate Watch Band, after all -- it's brash, if oft-rudimentary, beat music with some unusual twists, particularly in the ants-in-the-pants raunchy vocals, sung in both Japanese and English. "Kuroyuri No Uta" is a clever psych-pop number that appropriates a vocal hook from the Association's "Cherish"; "Lucky Rain" is a good illustration of their occasional facility with brooding, minor-keyed tunes; "Summer Girl" illustrates their occasional bent toward Beach Boy-influenced California pop; and "Kaze Ga Naiteriru" and "Ano Niji Wo Tsukamo" summon some genuinely weird moods with their mix of growly spy guitar and cinematic orchestration.

Twice As Much, Own Up (Get Back, Italy). Twice As Much's debut album was an odd exercise in twee pop-baroque production, very typical of producer Andrew Oldham's ornate, sometimes over-the-top grandiosity. The LP was evenly divided between group originals and covers of hits by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Small Faces. There was also the Spector-Goffin-King composition "Is This What I Get for Loving You Baby?" and "I Have a Love," both of which, coincidentally or not, were done in the mid-1960s by another one-time Oldham client, Marianne Faithfull. The originals, interestingly, were better, though hardly great.  David Skinner and Andrew Rose were pleasant, though unexceptional, harmony singers, and played out their introverted, somewhat sad pop-rock ballads against orchestral production with heavy debts to the mid-1960s Beach Boys and California sunshine pop. "Life Is But Nothing" would be covered to good effect by Del Shannon on another Oldham production, and "Why Can't They All Go and Leave Me Alone?," in which the introversion slides into solipsism, is a notable obscure exercise in crashing, epic symphonic pop-rock. The covers do the originals no favors, emasculating classics like "Help" and "Sha La La La La Lee" into fey pop ballads suitable for upper-class parlors. Incidentally, there's a true all-star supporting cast on this record. The session musicians include guitarists Jimmy Page, John McLaughlin, Joe Moretti, and Big Jim Sullivan; drummer Andy White; keyboardists Nicky Hopkins and Art Greenslade (the latter of whom did the arrangements); and engineer Glyn Johns. This is so dissimilar to the music Page, McLaughlin, Hopkins, and Johns made later, though, that you wouldn't suspect their presence if not for the credits. The album was reissued, on 180 gram vinyl in a gatefold sleeve, by Get Back in 2001.

The Untamed, Gimme Gimme: Singles and Unreleased Rarities 1965-1966 (RPM, UK). Both sides of all four of the singles the Untamed recorded for producer Shel Talmy, as well as no less than a dozen unreleased singles and some 1966 jingles they did for  Radio London, comprise this exemplary overview of this minor but talented mod band's work. Indeed, the only flaw is the absence of their 1964 Decca debut single, "So Long"/"Just Wait" (available on the obscure various-artists anthology Untamed and Innocent). The Untamed occupied an unusual niche in the mid-1960s British mod rock scene: jazzy, but not quite as jazzy as Georgie Fame, but certainly not as much straightahead rock as the Who or the Small Faces. They executed this unusual balancing act well on most of their singles, and the unreleased material is of a surprisingly high standard, whether originals in the same mold as the singles ("I'm Miserable") or covers of more explicitly jazz and pop tunes ("Evening," "Young Girl of Sixteen"). A real find is the sullen "Kids Take Over," written by Pete Townshend, according to the track listings, though the Who never released a version of it; oddly, the detailed liner notes make no mention of how the Untamed came to record it. Collectors note: the version of their 1966 single "Daddy Longlegs" here is the one with brass; the one without brass that also came out on a 1966 single is on RPM's Best of Planet Records various-artists anthology.

Neil Young, Trail of the Buffalo (bootleg) (Deep Six). Why is this bootleg of 1967-1974 live material credited to Neil Young when in fact (according to the track listings) eleven of the seventeen songs were recorded at Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young shows, and five of them at Buffalo Springfield gigs? There's a good reason, actually. Most of the CSNY cuts are in fact Young solo, presumably in the interludes when individual members got to do unplugged unaccompanied spots, and the CSNY material with a full band presents Young compositions featuring him as lead singer. This is an interesting set of odds and ends, but anyone who isn't a major Young-head should be warned that the fidelity is very up-and-down, and only occasionally even approaches official-release standard. If you can bear with that, there are some very cool items here: solo acoustic versions of "Mr. Soul," "Broken Arrow," and "Country Girl," for instance, all from 1969, as well as early solo tunes like "Birds" and "I've Loved Her So Long," and a full CSNY performance of the obscure "Sea of Madness." The version of "Country Girl" sounds virtually good enough to include on an official release, yet at the bottom of the well, the Crazy Horse-backed 1970 "Oh Lonesome Me" boasts joylessly murky sound, and the rest of the tracks hit almost all the posts between those extremes in fidelity (though the performances are good). The Buffalo Springfield cuts, all from 1967, are of considerable historical interest since so little live material of the band exists (even on bootleg), and the five songs here aren't easily found elsewhere. Nonetheless, the mix is poor and the vocals often faint on their otherwise cool passes through "Go and Say Goodbye," "Mr. Soul," and "Bluebird," and the two January 1967 tracks (including the tedious guitar jam "Raga III") take a further dive in clarity.

Various Artists, Funksoul Brothers (Metro, UK). As whistle-stop tours of funk go, this is pretty interesting, the sixteen cuts mostly drawn from early 1970s records, though a few rather ill-fitting efforts from the early 1980s slip in. Only one of these songs, Curtis Mayfield's "Freddie's Dead," is famous, though other respected gents dot the set, some known more for straightahead soul or soul-jazz than for funk: Aaron Neville, Lee Dorsey, Roy Ayers, Jimmy McGriff, the Meters, and Bobby Womack. Filling out the program are names that at this point are mostly known to aficionados, like Ripple, O'Donel Levy, S.O.U.L, and Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul. The lack of big stars or a solid thematic center might put some off, but for funk fans seeking some good off-the-beaten-track sides, this is recommended, both for its quality and eclecticism. It covers credible James Brown knockoffs, like Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul's "(I Got) So Much Trouble in My Mind)," Moody Scott's "I Don't Dig No Phony Part 2," and Eddie Bo's "If It's Good to You (It's Good for You); Maceo & All the King's Men's "Got to Get Cha" comes by its James Brown influence honestly, as these fellows (led by saxophonist Maceo Parker) were in Brown's band in the late 1960s. Lee Dorsey's "Yes We Can," from 1971, predates the more famous Pointer Sisters hit cover of the tune. Ripple show a strong Sly Stone influence on "I Don't Know What It Is But It Sure Is Funky," and Aaron Neville, known more for New Orleans soul, seems to be trying to emulate Superfly-era Curtis Mayfield (and quite admirably) on "Hercules." And S.O.U.L.'s "Soul Part 1 & 2" is a real overlooked gem, with its jazz-influenced groove and rockin' lead flute.

Various Artists, SuperFunk2. (BGP, UK). BGP scoured far and deep for the twenty funk rarities (three previously unissued), spanning the mid-1960s to the late 1970s, that comprise this CD. None of these artists made a notable splash as funk or soul artists, although a few -- Pee Wee Crayton, Preston Epps, Johnny Otis, and Joe Houston -- had early R&B/blues/rock hits in the 1950s, and are represented by obscure and highly atypical ventures into funk. Given how many rarity comps in all genres aren't as musically exciting as they are rare, it's a nice surprise to find much excellence on this anthology, which can be heartily dug by most rock listeners, not just funk devotees. If nothing else, it's a testament to just how wide and serious James Brown's influence was during this period. Billy Garner's "Brand New Girl," Granby Street Development's "Jelly Roll" (with the incredibly lewd female spoken interjection "that cat looks so good to me, he can have his jelly roll free!"), and Jackie Harris' "Do It, Do It" all kick up a funk fuss much like what Brown & the JBs did during their prime, and Freddy Wilson's "Promised Land" is one of the most accurate vocal imitations of Brown you'll find. Still, the grooves are so intense and compelling that you don't really mind that these tracks are quite derivative of the soul/funk godfather. Although many of the cuts are instrumental, also on hand are some fair female vocal numbers by the likes of Brenda George, Thelma Jones, and Irene Reid, though it's the wordless numbers that generate the most heat. For some variation, there are some wah-wah, fuzz, and phasing effects in Sidney Pinchback's "Soul Strokes" that show the influence of psychedelia, while Willard Burton's "Warm the Pot ('Til It's Good and Hot)" has the sort of more jagged rhythms and warped textures that came into vogue with Stevie Wonder and Rufus. Joe Houston, known for his blues/R&B playing, blows as athletically as anyone in the JBs' horn section on "Mr. Big H," which bears a 1977 date but sounds much more like a 1969-70 recording. It's a very cool collection that should be at the top of the list for those who've exhausted the major funk icons and are looking for undiscovered nuggets.

Various Artists, Where the Girls Are Vol. 4 (Ace, UK). This series of girl-group rarities and oddities turns its focus to the Atlantic vaults for its fourth volume. Actually some of these might tread closer to soul, pop-rock sung by female solo vocalists, or even doo wop than the standard girl-group sound. But that shouldn't bother people looking for some reasonably interesting woman-sung rock of the early and mid-1960s, which is here in quantity on this uneven but generally worthwhile anthology. None of these were big hits, and in fact only a few of the performers (Doris Troy, Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles, April Stevens) will ring bells for most non-specialist listeners. There are some quite good tracks here, though: the original version of "A Groovy Kind of Love" by Patti LaBelle; Shirley Matthews's "Big Town Boy" (a fine Phil Spector soundalike and a big hit in her native Canada); Troy's customarily excellent soul-pop-rock on her two tracks; more son-of-wall-of-sound on the Goodnight Kisses' "If He Kissed Me"; Shirelles-style stuff by Carol Shaw (later of Goldie & the Gingerbreads) on "Jimmy Boy"; and a rare 1956 doo-wop-pop outing by the Cookies (the only track here not from 1960-67). Sometimes the cuts are obviously imitative, like the Dorelles' "Heat Wave" knockoff "The Beating of My Heart," or the Meantimes' "Friday Kind of Monday" (produced and written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich), an answer record to the Mamas and the Papas' "Monday, Monday." Atlantic's high standard of production and arrangements makes this sound better and more accomplished than many such odds-and-ends compilations, and there are some big names among the producers of these tracks, like Barry-Greenwich, Bob Crewe, Nino Tempo, and Bert Berns.



The Artwoods, Art Gallery (Repertoire, Germany). The Artwoods' only album was an enjoyable mixture of club-oriented soul, R&B, and jazz with a strong organ spice, although it found them falling seriously behind their contemporaries in the British R&B scene in a crucial respect. Not one of the dozen tracks was a group original, and their vocal and interpretive ability was not so strong as to make that shortfall an irrelevance. Still, it did give them a chance to stretch into some jazzy workouts and raveups that probably couldn't have been contained on 45s, particularly the swinging cover of  "Walk on the Wild Side" (with excellent jazz organ by Jon Lord ); Allen Toussaint 's "Can You Hear Me," with an arrangement reminiscent of the Spencer Davis Group ; and Bobby Bland 's "Don't Cry No More," one of their best R&B covers. Once a plum British Invasion rarity, the LP has been reissued on CD by Repertoire and doubled in length with the addition of 14 bonus tracks, including most of their non-LP singles and all four songs from their rare 1966 EP Jazz in Jeans. That EP and their two post- Decca 1967 singles (also present on the disc) haven't been reissued elsewhere, and while this material isn't up to their best recorded output and is occasionally lame, there are some good moments among those rarities, such as the 1967 single "What Shall I Do" and the moody jazz/blues organ instrumental "Our Man Flint" (from Jazz in Jeans). It doesn't quite stand as the complete work of this minor British R&B/rock band, as it's missing four songs that only appeared on singles, including their very best track, 1965's "Oh My Love." For that reason the Edsel  best-of LP 100 Oxford Street still remains the best introduction to the band. And if you already have that LP and this CD, you don't quite have every last thing the Artwoods  recorded, as the 1966 B-side "Molly Anderson's Cookery Book"  doesn't appear on either of those releases.

Asha Bhosle, The Best of Asha Bhosle: The Golden Voice of Hollywood (Manteca, UK). Bhosle is estimated to have recorded anywhere between five thousand and twenty thousand songs in her career as one of India's leading soundtrack singers. So it's hard to judge whether a disc containing a mere fourteen of those is either representative of her work, or a sampling of her very best tracks. Assuming that it does come anywhere near those goals, it's a good introduction to, or survey of, the output of the woman who is probably India's most popular "playback" singer. There's little documentation as to the precise years most of the cuts were done, other than that they are mainly from the 1960s and 1970s. The material is so diverse -- which, incidentally, is wholly consistent with the all-over-the-map blend of styles you'll hear in Indian soundtracks -- that the main attraction is not so much Bhosle's voice as the actual songs and arrangements. Bhosle's high vocals are flexible and versatile, certainly, but for Western ears, what really stand out are the invigorating oddball song structures, full of right turns and interjections of all sorts of instruments, sailing through all manner of Indian and western popular music styles. Surf and spy movie guitars give way to grand screeching violins; stiff harem beats are decorated by tablas and piercing organ; psychedelic funk wah-wahs give some of the passages real guts. The older and scratchier cuts come off better than the slicker and, one would guess, more modern ones. Never is it more compelling than on  "Lekar Ham Diwana Dil," a duet with male singer Kishore Kumar. That song's a wild ride through six minutes of thriller chase motifs, spidery reverbed guitar, urgent vocal tradeoffs between the singers, and twists and turns of melody and rhythm that would have been hell to read off charts.

Joe Brown, The Joe Brown Story (Sequel). The Joe Brown Story  is the definitive Brown collection, with two CDs and 50 songs spanning 1959-67, including all ten of the British chart hits he rung up during that period. Brown definitely holds a spot as one of the most important pre-Beatles  British rock performers, but that's a pretty relative distinction. This compilation makes for a very erratic listening experience, veering from unbearably hokey music hall-style novelties and ethnic-flavored instrumentals to average country-flavored pop tunes and some -- not an immense amount -- of flat-out rock and roll. Brown was a good guitarist, but his vocals often leaned toward the self-consciously humorous (and not all that funny) side, and his material was not terribly strong. You could have sliced this in half without losing much, making sure to retain the highlights. Those would include his most famous hit,  "A Picture of You," which the Beatles covered (with George Harrison on lead vocals) in 1962 on one of their first BBC performances;  "Your Tender Look,"  translated and covered with greater effect in France by Francoise Hardy ; "Sally Ann" and "Everybody Calls Me Joe,"  which have more swagger than most of his singles; and, if only for its historical interest, his rocked-up "I'm Henrery [sic] the Eighth I Am," which predated Herman's Hermits' hit rock rendition of that tune by four years. The comprehensive liner notes will be of particular value to American listeners, few of whom are likely to be familiar with his career.

Tim Buckley, Morning Glory: The Tim Buckley Anthology (Elektra/Rhino). Buckley whizzed through a bunch of different styles in his approximately decade-long career, and was always an album-oriented artist. That makes the assembly of a best-of collection a difficult task to fulfill without omitting much of the context of what made the singer special. Still, Morning Glory does a pretty good job of touching upon highlights of his work, aided by the generous running time, with two CDs and 33 songs that add up to about two-and-a-half hours of music. It does concentrate on his most accessible tunes, drawing most heavily from his earliest albums and shorter songs, pitching in four tracks from late-1960s live recordings that were not released until long after his death. There is nothing at all, in fact, from his least commercial effort, 1970's Lorca (although "I Had a Talk with My Woman" is identified as coming from Lorca in the track list, it in fact is taken from Live at the Troubadour 1969). As is proper, his final albums, in which both his material and voice were in decline, are lightly represented. There's just one previously unreleased track, though it's a goodie: the legendary solo version of "Song to the Siren" that Buckley  performed on an episode of The Monkees , with a much sparer arrangement than was used when it was included on 1970's Starsailor, as well as a different lyric.

Sandy Denny, Borrowed Thyme (bootleg ). Denny did not record all that much during her career. She is not exactly a catalog megaseller, despite her fervid cult status. And there was already much notable unreleased Denny material bootlegged on the well-packaged Dark the Night CD and various other Fairport Convention, Fotheringay, and solo Denny bootlegs before the 2001 appearance of this disc, which despite the lack of a label name is very professional-looking. All this taken into consideration, it's astounding that these 24 tracks -- none of which appear on  Dark the Night  -- are a substantial and worthy addition to the collection of the serious Denny fan. All of the material dates from her early career in 1966-68, the first 17 of the 24 songs culled from 1966-68 solo demos, in which she's accompanied only by guitar. Many of these songs (including half a dozen which bear the writing credit "unknown") never appeared on any of her official recordings, and there are early versions of some of her standout original compositions ( "Fotheringay," "Who Knows Where the Time Goes"); traditional folk tunes like "She Moves Through the Fair" and "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme"; and a cover of Fred Neil's great "Little Bit of Rain." The singing is always good and sometimes magnificent, even if the execution is sometimes more tentative than what would have been allowed on a final studio master. The final seven songs, taken from 1967-68 BBC sessions (four of them as a singer with the Johnny Silvo Four, the rest solo), suffer from notably substandard fidelity, but nonetheless are good performances, including covers of tunes by songwriters like Tom Paxton and Jackson Frank, as well as traditional folk numbers. If the sound quality of the demos were better, this album would rate higher; some of those demos boast virtually perfect fidelity, others are tainted by a bit of varispeed wobble or slight distortion. Still, for the most part it's wonderfully haunting, sad British folk, filling out our picture of the early work of one of the greatest British folk and folk-rock singers.

The Electric Prunes, Lost Dreams (Birdman). Aside from the British anthology Long Day's Flight, this is (as of its 2001 release) the only legit Electric Prunes best-of ever issued. For the most part it succeeds in encapsulating the band's finest moments, adding a few rarities that will make it a desirable acquisition for completists. Their best singles are here, including the hits "I Had Too Much Too Dream (Last Night)" and "Get Me to the World on Time" of course, as well as  "Dr. Do-Good," "Long Day's Flight ('til Tomorrow)," and their non-LP debut "Ain't It Hard"/"Little Olive."  Outstanding album tracks like "I Happen to Love You," "Sold to the Highest Bidder," and "Train to Tomorrow" are on board as well. The truly awful cuts from their first LP are omitted, although the exclusion of decent items from  Underground, particularly "Antique Doll" and "Children of Rain," could be questioned. As for the rarities, there's  "Shadows," a creepy item from an excruciatingly rare non-LP 1968 promo single; an inconsequential cover of the Hollies' '"I've Got a Way of My Own"; the previously unreleased "World of Darkness," an amiably bouncy but inessential number; and their infamous 1967 commercial for Vox wah-wah pedals (unlisted on the sleeve). For those who care about such things, "Dr. Do-Good" and "Long Day's Flight ('Til Tomorrow)" have elongated fadeouts not present on the more commonly circulated one. The slightly shorter Edsel compilation Long Day's Flight  is probably a better listen overall (and does< include "Children of Rain" and "Antique Doll"), but either one makes for a satisfactory overview. Like  Long Day's Flight , however, this has nothing from their Mass in F Minor album, which might be viewed as either a loss or a gain by Electric Prunes fans according to their tastes. As a minor drawback, Lost Dreams does not document the original release dates of any of the tracks.

Butch Engle & the Styx, The Best of Butch Engle & the Styx (BeatRocket). This has a pretty funny title, considering that the group only put out three singles (one of them under a different name) and never had anything close to a hit. A better title might have been "The Entirety of Butch Engle & the Styx," since it's difficult to imagine that any more material could have been retrieved than appears on this CD. In addition to both sides of the three singles (the first done in 1964 when they were still called the Showmen), this also includes eleven previously unreleased tracks, including some alternatives and multiples. The unwary might initially dismiss this as a subpar, more garagey Beau Brummels, a comparison which becomes yet more valid upon discovery that Beau Brummels songwriter Ron Elliott wrote or co-wrote everything except the Showmen single. Elliott, to be brutal, was wise to cast off most of these instead of recording them with the Beau Brummels. The songs just aren't nearly on the level of his usual excellent efforts for his own band, although they have some similar trademarks, particularly the minor-based melodies and moodiness. Butch Engle & the Styx were lesser musicians and singers than the Beau Brummels, too, although they were okay, adding some cheesy garage organ that you'd never find on Beau Brummels  sessions. "Hey, I'm Lost," which was one of the singles (and appears along with two alternate versions of the same tune, was about their best moment: a charging, slightly ominous and doubtful number with good vocal harmonies. This is certainly worth getting if you're a major Beau Brummels fan, as none of these songs were actually recorded by the Beau Brummels. As a 1960s garage record, though, it's average, even unremarkable.

Les Baroques, Such a Cad: The Complete Story of Les Baroques (Patio Music, Holland). This two-CD set, which is all but impossible to find outside of Holland, includes every track Les Baroques ever released, with the exception of their final B-side, 1968's "Pardon Me, I Think I'm Falling in Love." It should stand as the definitive record of one of Holland's best 1960s bands, but is marred by some imperfections. First, there's no getting around the fact that the material comprising disc two -- all recorded after the departure of original lead singer Gary O'Shannon -- is far inferior to the first half of the set. Second, there are no liner notes whatsoever (in Dutch or English), although at least there's a discography and a listing of the personnel in the three lineups the band went through between 1965 and 1968. In addition, some of the mixes are different from those heard on vinyl releases, and not necessarily better; the Them-like "She's Mine," their finest song, is missing the horns for some reason, for instance. Nonetheless, disc one, covering the era in which O'Shannon was lead singer and principal songwriter, is a standout in the annals of Continental 1960s rock, with its twisted, somber variations of the organ-R&B-pop sound of Them and the Animals. Other than the singles  "Working on a Tsing-Tsang" and  "Bottle Party," disc two could be the work of a different band, as they plod through mediocre blue-eyed soul, pleasantly unmemorable wee flower-power tunes, and sub-British pop-rock variations.

Love, Forever Changes [2001 expanded edition] (Rhino/Elektra). It wasn't a hit, but  Forever Changes  continues to regularly appear on critics' lists of the top ten rock albums of all time, and it had an enormously far-reaching and durable influence that went way beyond chart listings. The best fusion of folk-rock and psychedelia, it features Arthur Lee's trembling vocals, beautiful melodies, haunting orchestral arrangements, and inscrutable but poetic lyrics, all of which sound nearly as fresh and intriguing upon repeated plays. One of rock's most organic, flowing masterpieces, every song has a lingering, shimmering beauty, including the two penned by the band's other talented songwriter-guitarist-singer, Bryan MacLean. The 2001 expanded reissue on  Rhino adds seven bonus tracks: the 1968 single "Your Mind and We Belong Together"/ "Laughing Stock,"  the genuine Forever Changes outtake "Wonder People (I Do Wonder)," the demo  "Hummingbirds" (essentially an instrumental version of "The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This"), and alternate mixes of  "Alone Again Or" and "You Set the Scene." These really aren't too essential, the best of the lot being  "Wonder People (I Do Wonder)," a lighthearted number that's somewhat similar to "Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale" (which did end up on Forever Changes). The alternate mix of "You Set the Scene" has a few interesting additional vocal interjections at the end, but the different mix of "Alone Again Or" is diminished by awkward edits of the instrumental passages. The 24-page booklet of historical liner notes is a good addition, though.

Barry Mann, Inside the Brill Building: Complete Recordings 1959-1964 (Brill Tone, Germany).There are no less than 80 songs on this three-CD box set, 58 of them unreleased, spanning 1959-1964. As Mann was one of the greatest Brill Building songwriters (usually in collaboration with Cynthia Weil), your appetite might be sparked for a lost treasure chest. But it's best to approach this package with caution even if you're a Brill Building enthusiast, and certainly not expect anything on the order of "On Broadway," "We've Gotta Got Outta of  This Place," or "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'." Like  Brill Tone's retrospective of fellow Brill Building giant Carole King ( Brill Building Legends: Complete Recordings 1958-1966), more than half of this consists of demos of a quality far below the composer's famous classics. It's also important to note that only four of the 58 previously unissued tracks were Mann -Weil compositions; that some of them were not even written or co-written by Mann, although he's on vocals; and that Mann does not sing on half a dozen of the selections, the vocals getting turned over to either unidentified female singers, Cynthia Weil (for "The Home of the Boy I Love"), or Neil Sedaka (for "My Ex-Best Friend"). The unreleased songs, regardless of whatever their connection to Mann is, are usually mawkish and formulaic late-1950s/early-1960s pop. Some of these were eventually recorded by artists like Sedaka, Frankie Avalon, or Bobby Vee (or total no-names like Lori Martin and Noeleen Batley). At times it's obvious that Mann was probably trying to tailor a tune to a specific artist; one of the best, "The Smile That Breaks My Heart,"  was obviously designed for the Everly Brothers, right down to the Chet Atkins-like guitar that opens the demo. At other times, particularly the novelty-oriented tunes, it's difficult to believe anyone could have taken their prospects seriously; "A Teenager in Heaven" is an absolutely ridiculous recounting of a dream in which God's judgement is pronounced upon a soul, "Teenage Has-Been" is a tongue-in-cheek teen idol satire, and "Charlie Chan, Can You Get Me a Man?" is self-evidently ludicrous. On "Too Far Out" Mann seems to be moving into somewhat bolder and more adult lingo and subject matter, but for the most part it's hard to envision most of these making it past the first listen in the demo go-round. Disc three is by far the most listenable of the trio, as it's comprised primarily of material Mann actually released, including his entire 1961 LP Who Put the Bomp (In the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp) (paced by the hit title track) and rare non-LP singles he did for ABC, Colpix, JDS, and Red Bird between 1959-64. The 1961 album is okay but unmemorable Brill Building pop, aside from "Who Put the Bomp (In the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp" itself. The singles, though quite rare and thus appealing to serious collectors, are similarly lightweight, although the 1964 45 "Talk to Me Baby" is fair white soul-pop that's similar to the Reflections'  "(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet,"  and his 1959 JDS 45 is a pretty spot-on early Paul Anka soundalike. Overall this set certainly has value to dedicated Brill Building historians, but to appreciate the true legacy of Mann, you have to hear the best covers of the Mann-Weil songs by other artists.

Scott McKenzie, Stained Glass Reflections 1960-1970 (Raven, Australia). If you already have Scott McKenzie's 1967 album The Voice of Scott McKenzie , that's likely everything you'll need by this pleasant but bland folk-pop-rock crossover singer. If not, though, this compilation rates as the best overview of his work, if only by virtue of its length. It contains most of the songs from The Voice of Scott McKenzie, the entirety of his 1970 album Stained Glass Morning, his little-heard 1965 Capitol pop single "Look in Your Eyes," plus three tunes from his early-'60s folkie days (one from the Smoothies, the other two from the Journeymen). While the one-hit wonder tag belies the length of his career, it's undeniably true that "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" (which is here of course) is by far his most memorable achievement. He wrote little of the material on the LP The Voice of Scott McKenzie, which surrounded a few John Phillips tunes with covers of songs by Tim Hardin, Donovan, and Zal Yanovsky and John Sebastian of the Lovin' Spoonful. These had acceptably clean period pop-folk-rock arrangements, unsurprisingly in the Mamas and the Papas  mold,  but exuded little individuality or vision. Stained Glass Morning, in contrast, consisted entirely of McKenzie  originals, but its country-rock was laidback to the point of torpor. The presence of Ry Cooder, Rusty Young, Bunk Gardner, and Barry McGuire in the supporting cast might lead you to expect something more interesting than what actually resulted in that 1970 LP, which has an exhausted, almost funereal air at times.

The Nightcrawlers, The Little Black Egg (Big Beat, UK). At a glance it might be assumed that this is the definitive Nightcrawlers retrospective; after all, it has 24 tracks, by a band that only did a few singles and an album. It does contain everything from their sole LP (also called The Little Black Egg, from 1967) and a few non-LP singles and unreleased cuts. However, there are curious imperfections that prevent this from being a definitive retrospective. The B-side of their first 45, "Marie," isn't here, and more problematically, their 1967 single "My Butterfly" / "Today I'm Happy" is not included either. Nor does it include the two singles by spinoff band Conlon & the Crawlers. Yes, the back sleeve does note that this has "all the recordings by the original band," which presumably means there was a deliberate decision to exclude all material that did not feature that lineup. The problem is, "My Butterfly" -- an incredibly accurate early Who imitation complete with high harmonies, ringing guitar, and airplane take-off instrumental breaks -- is their best song other than  "The Little Black Egg."  Both sides of the  "My Butterfly" single, and both sides of both Conlon & the Crawlers singles, were included on the Eva LP compilation. The Little Black Egg, which had much poorer sound and barely any liner notes (the Big Beat comp, on the other hand, has a copious group history). The optimum approach would have been to add the 1967 Kapp single and the Conlon & the Crawlers singles in place of the handful of previously unreleased British Invasion/R&B covers that conclude the Big Beat CD. As it is, neither the Eva  nor the Big Beat anthologies represent the group's output to collectors' utmost satisfaction, although comments in the liner notes to the Big Beat  comp propose that the missing material is not worthy of comparison to what's heard on this disc. As far what is here, it's mostly pretty thin and forgettable, though periodically engaging, moody garage-folk-rock.

The Larry Page Orchestra, Kinky Music (RPM). It's hard to imagine Kinks fans being at all interested in this album of orchestral MOR covers of Kinks tunes when it was issued in 1965. Such instrumental treatments of the catalog of leading British rock bands, however, were somewhat in vogue in the 1960s, with the Rolling Stones' manager lending his name to an album by the Andrew Loog Orchestra spotlighting Rolling Stones covers, and Beatles producer George Martin overseeing some similar recordings of the Lennon-McCartney catalog. Kinky Music -- which has no instrumental or vocal contributions by any of the Kinks or Larry Page, incidentally -- is a frivolous curiosity at its best, sometimes making over the Kinks' early material into unrecognizably bland easy listening arrangements. There's a certain Swinging London background music verve to some of the stuff, though, aided by contributions from some of the day's leading session musicians, including guitarists Jimmy Page and Big Jim Sullivan, and bassist John Paul Jones. There are some pretty swinging go-go organ and horns on tunes like "Come On Now" and "Got My Feet on the Ground," for instance, while "Ev'rybody's Gonna Be Happy" has a brief, cooking guitar solo that most likely is the work of young Mr. Jimmy Page. This is really a novelty, though, of interest mostly to anal Kinks collectors and not even particularly good by the standards of '60s background go-go music. It does include one song, the Dave Davies composition "One Fine Day,"  that the Kinks never released, but if you want to hear that you should try and find the much superior rock version done in the mid-1960s by Shel Naylor. The 2000 CD reissue on RPM makes this rarity much easier to locate, and adds thorough historical liner notes.

The Larry Page Orchestra, Lounge with Larry (RPM). The Larry Page Orchestra's output, like much 1960s and early 1970s instrumental easy listening music, gained some hip cachet decades later. Still, this 21-song anthology, collected from five albums done by the LPO from 1967-70, consists largely of trivial versions of rock and pop hits and standards, including chart-toppers like "Light My Fire,"  "Venus," and "House of the Rising Sun." The arrangements of these aren't imaginative or even high-temperature, and the few songs written by arrangers (and sometimes co-written by Larry Page  himself) are among the more interesting, if only because it's not overly familiar material done much better by others. Give them points, though, for covering the obscure Paul McCartney composition "Love in the Open Air," heard in McCartney's soundtrack to the film The Family Way. "Theme for a Dream," written by the Boudleaux -Bryant  songwriting team responsible for many Everly Brothers hits, is actually rather fetching and sultry, with ghostly wordless female vocal interjections; "Wake Me When the Sun Shines," one of Page's co-writes, is a pleasant bossa nova jazzer with more scatting female vocals; and "The Lonely One" might have made a nice moody theme for a Swinging London film. Those are the highlights of a disc that suffers from too many drawn-out lounge saxophone solos. If you get bored, you can always look at the pictures on the sleeve of the foxy topless woman posing with saxophone and violin.

The Poets, Scotland's No. 1 Group (Dynovox). For most purposes, this is a fine and definitive overview of the output by the band that was indeed Scotland's number one group in the 1960s, in quality if not commercial success. Both sides of all six of their 1964-67 singles are here, as well as no less than eleven demos that were not released at the time. One flaw worth noting is that the singles are not mastered from the best possible tapes, but really the difference in fidelity between this and a compilation from more, shall we say, above-the-board sources is so minimal as to be almost meaningless. Fans of the Poets (and they are more numerous than you might suppose) might well already have another, quite similar compilation, In Your Tower, which includes much but not all of the contents from Scotland's No. 1 Group. So, how do you choose? Well, that's a tough one. Each disc has the essential core of their discography: both sides of those half-dozen singles. Each also has the quite good, if a little scratchy and muffled, 1965 demos "I'll Keep My Pride" and "It's So Different Now."  In Your Tower, however, does have some items not on Scotland's No. 1 Group, and although some of those are pretty dispensable, two are noteworthy: the hypnotic George Gallacher post-Poets track  "Dawn," and the mysterious unreleased late-1960s song "Never Thought She Would." Scotland's No. 1 Group, however, has no less than nine 1963-64 demos not on the other compilation, and although their fidelity veers from substandard to downright treacherous, these include some very good originals: the folk-rockish "Love Is Fading Away,"  the doomy pseudo-Merseybeat of "This Woman Mine," and the chipper "With You By Me" (the last two of these songs are each presented in two different versions). If you're interested enough in the Poets in the first place to want a compilation, you should throw in the towel and get both. It's still frustrating that the optimum Poets anthology -- which would include all the singles from the master tapes, everything from these two discs, and other unreleased tracks rumored to exist in the vaults -- has yet to be assembled.

The Rattles, Smash...! Boom...! Bang...! Beat in Germany: The 60s Anthology (Bear Family, Germany). Comprising both sides of a dozen 1965-69 singles, plus four previously unreleased alternates and outtakes, this is about as close to a best-of as exists on this German band. It's not perfect, of course. There's nothing from numerous 1963-65 singles that precede the time covered by this disc, and there were plenty of LP tracks that aren't sampled. It still does a reasonable job of scanning their progress from a heavily British R&B/beat-influenced band to a soul-rock one with some mild psychedelic/progressive aspects. Always singing in English on the tunes contained in this anthology, the Rattles  were considerably above the average by the standards of German '60s rock bands, yet unremarkable when compared to the global competition. They played with a taut raucousness, yet their original material was only competent, and the tracks on which they opted for gravel-soul lead vocals can be unpleasant. They were at their best when they played in a sub-Mersey/British R&B style, as on "(Stopping in) Las Vegas," the exuberant 1965 single that's the best selection here. Particularly around 1967, however, they had an overwrought soul-rock bent, obviously influenced by (but much inferior to) the Righteous Brothers and the Walker Brothers. Ultimately it's a curiosity, their sound and vision leaning toward a moody tension that's not too well articulated or moving, and pretty derivative of British and American rock trends. It's accompanied by a big booklet of liner notes (entirely in German) and pictures.

The Soft Machine, Man in a Deaf Corner: Anthology 1963-1970 (Mooncrest, UK). The subtitle of this double-CD compilation might lead you to believe that this is a retrospective or best-of covering the band's finest era. That is not the case; in fact it's a ragtag quilt of live performances, including nothing from any of the studio recordings that the musicians made during this period. Disc one will be of most interest to hardcore Soft Machine collectors as it contains the rarest material. It kicks off with six tracks of free-jazz doodling that almost certainly predates the Soft Machine's official formation by a few years (only one cut, the live 1963 performance  "Dear Olde Benny Green Is A-turning In His Grave,"  is given a date). Yet that same material is also by far the musically weakest on the set, presenting rather lo-fi, cacophonous, unstructured, vocal-less,  somewhat amateurish outings by various combinations of players  that passed through early Soft Machine lineups. Those players include Robert Wyatt (the only one to appear on all six songs), Mike Ratledge, Hugh Hopper, Brian Hopper, and Daevid Allen (who's only on "Dear Olde Benny Green Is A-turning In His Grave"); original Soft Machine member Kevin Ayers is not present on any of these six tracks. Disc one finishes with three 1967 tracks for which no dates or sources are given (these have also shown up on the Middle Earthbootleg); there are good performances on "We Know What You Mean" and  "I Should've Known,"  sonic torture on the 13-minute "Hope for Happiness," and substandard fidelity to varying degrees on all three tunes. Disc two, with a few exceptions, boasts better sound quality, and features live performances from 1969-70, as well as an undated recording of "As Long As He Lies Perfectly Still" that is probably from the 1990s or early 2000s, and only has one noted Soft Machine member aboard ({Hugh Hopper ). The second CD is a decent representation of their live sound as they were moving into full-bore jazz fusion; with the plethora of live Soft Machine from this era that's already been issued, it's not all that easy to tell what might have been issued elsewhere without access to a ridiculously complete Soft Machine library.

Dusty Springfield, Love Songs (Rhino). Rhino 's Love Songs series usually features unimaginative anthologies of romantic-minded tunes from a star's catalog. Whether through an act of sneaky subversion or not, Dusty Springfield's entry in the series is quite the worthwhile exception. It focuses almost wholly on rarities that will be an appreciated supplement to the library of even the dedicated Springfield collector. All of the tracks date from 1967-71, and only two of them -- the hits  "Son-of-a Preacher Man" and  "The Look of Love" -- could be considered familiar and easily obtainable. The rest are an assortment of songs that were not released in the US at that time, whether they appeared only on UK albums or singles, or on the now hard-to-find The Legend of Dusty Springfield box set. Over half of the sixteen tracks were previously unissued in the US, and three songs from her early 1970 sessions with Gamble-Huff appear here for the first time anywhere. Most important of all, the music is worthwhile, and pretty much up to the standard of her better material from the late 1960s and early 1970s, widely available or otherwise. It's pretty diverse as well, taking in quality soul covers ({Barbara Acklin's "Am I the Same Girl"), Gamble-Huff originals (from the discarded 1970 sessions), lush orchestrated pop ("The Colour of Your Eyes"), cool jazz (David Frishberg's "Sweet Lover No More"), pop ("Spooky"), and even bossa nova (Antonio Carlos Jobim's  "Meditation") and pop-folk ("Morning Please Don't Come," a 1970 single with her brother Tom Springfield).

Meic Stevens, Ghost Town (Tenth Planet, UK). Other than a note that all of these tracks were written and recorded in 1968 and 1969 by Steven , no concrete details as to what purpose this material was recorded for are included in the otherwise detailed liners to this limited-edition LP. As only Stevens and a guitar (sometimes an electric one) are heard on these tracks, as an educated guess these might have been demos to be considered for fuller studio treatment. It thus might not be the fairest context in which to judge the Welsh singer-songwriter, particularly for those hearing him for the first time (which in the case of the audience for this reissue, might include quite a few '60s psych/folk collectors who aren't from Wales). As for what's here, though, it's a pleasant, sometimes edgy and brooding, mix of fey late-1960s British folk with some hippie psychedelic overtones. A less foreboding Roy Harper might be a useful benchmark, though Stevens doesn't sound a great deal like Harper. He too, however, has adventurous and somewhat rambling melodies, with a somber undercurrent of muted anguish that isn't always that clearly articulated. At its best, as on the title track and  "Sing a Song of Sadness," it's nicely atmospheric, but these songs aren't as remarkable or haunting as those of the best British performers in this style. Two of the songs are in Welsh, the remainder in English.

Various Artists, The Best of Planet Records (RPM, UK). In 1965 and 1966, producer Shel Talmy -- famous for his work with the early Who, Kinks, and other British groups -- ran his own label, Planet Records. It folded about a year after it started, but during that time it released twenty-two singles and two albums by a wide variety of artists, none of them well known, unless you want to include the Creation. Twenty-two songs from the Planet catalog are featured on this compilation, none of them British hits save the Creation's "Making Time" and "Painter Man" (and even those charted low). Planet made some interesting records, but in truth -- whether Talmy was the producer (as he was for much of these) or not -- they're not in the same league as his most famous work, and not wholly devoted to the raw mod rock for which he was renowned. As for what might be thought of as characteristic Talmy sounds, there's the power pop-with-guitar distortion of the Creation, one of the most esteemed cult groups of the '60s (represented by both sides of their first two singles); the Untamed's more soul-oriented mod music; and the Thoughts' "All Night Stand," a cover of a quality Ray Davies composition not released by the Kinks in the '60s. Otherwise it's quite a mixed lot: blue-eyed soul from John Lee's Groundhogs (later to evolve into the blues-rock Groundhogs featuring Tony McPhee); folk-influenced pop by Dave Helling and Tony Lord; a cover of Brian Wilson's obscure song "Guess I'm Dumb" by Dani Sheridan; generic mod rock from A Wild Uncertainty; sub-Kinks  social comment from National Pinion Pole; and a host of undistinguished soul tunes. It's lacking in the strong material of Talmy's most famous proteges, and the most important tracks (the four by the Creation) have long been available on Creation anthologies.

Various Artists, ...King Funk (Ace, UK). These 24 cuts were released on the King label, or King subsidiaries, between 1967 and 1973 (with the exception of the previously unreleased "Don't Get Funky," by Gloria Walker). During the early stretch of that period, James Brown was carrying the whole King enterprise on his back. It comes as no surprise, then, that an anthology of non-Brown  funk on the label during this period is heavily James Brown -influenced. You hear it upfront in the first two tracks, Bill Doggett's  "Honky Tonk Popcorn" and Hank Ballard's "Butter Your Popcorn," attempts by two fading R&B stars to ride James Brown's "Popcorn" hits. Overall, this is adequate, but not noteworthy, period funk, none of the performers recognizable to anyone but collectors, except for the Coasters (who do an ill-advised 1972 remake of  "Love Potion No. 9") and the aforementioned Ballard and Doggett. As is so often the situation on second-tier soul anthologies, the derivative nature of much of the material is real in-your-face: Roosevelt Matthews's cover of Archie Bell's "Tighten Up" could not hope to make anyone forget the original, the Presidents do the James Brown circa late 1960s routine on "Gold Walk" (as does Little Royal on "Soul Train"), the Sons of Funk do their best to emulate the J.B.s'  smoldering funk on the two-part  "From the Back Side." This CD is not a bad secondary acquisition for the funk fanatic, mind you, just nothing to jump up and down about. The set is at least made more listenable by some variety between instrumentals, and between male and female vocalists.



Badfinger: Head First (Snapper Music). In December 1974, Badfinger recorded, under less than optimal circumstances, the ten previously unreleased tracks heard (in rough mix form) on this 2000 release. According to Badfinger biographer Dan Matovina's liner notes, the band were rushed into the studio with only a few weeks to record and rehearse material; some members suspected that this was because their business manager wanted to collect a quick advance. If that's the case, the rush shows in this erratic set, which other than a couple of nice Pete Ham compositions are average mainstream mid-1970s rock, and below-average by Badfinger's standards. These were also the band's first recordings with keyboardist Bob Jackson, who had just replaced Joey Molland, and his writing style (he has three full or partial songwriting credits) really didn't jibe with the band's knack for well-crafted, guitar-oriented pop-rock. There are inappropriately slick synth washes on some of the cuts too, but actually Jackson isn't the key reason this album is so-so at best. The chief culprit is the unremarkable songwriting, save Ham's "Lay Me Down," a typically (for Badfinger Paul McCartney-like number which might just have been a hit had enough people heard it, and his gentler "Keep Believing." Tom Evans weighs in with a couple of complaints about the music business that, while ham-fisted, do reflect the tense state of mind of the band at the time. It's for Badfinger fans only, then, but its worth is considerably inflated by the addition of a bonus CD of previously unavailable acoustic demos from the same era, only one of which ("Lay Me Down") was also recorded for the Head First sessions. These cuts are very nice, if tentative, tunes in the mold of acoustic-slanted White Album tracks, even if the songwriting of course is not as outstanding as Lennon-McCartney's. Six of the eleven songs on the bonus disc were penned by Ham; Evans, Jackson, and more surprisingly drummer Mike Gibbins (who wrote three of them) all offered some nice stuff too.

Dion: King of the New York Streets (The Right Stuff). At the time of this box set's release in 2000, Dion had been recording for almost 45 years, and gone through not just several different musical styles, but several different musical lives. There was the doo wop he did with the Belmonts when he started; the macho yet vulnerable pop-rock he did during his most commercially successful phase in the early 1960s; the folk-rock and blues-rock he ventured into during the mid-1960s; the soft folk-rock he made during his comeback during the late 1960s and early 1970s; and wanderings among roots rock, gospel, and adult contemporary singer-songwriting over the next few decades. Although his career wasn't over when this appeared, this three-CD package is likely to be the most thorough overview of his output to be heard in one place. "Most thorough" is not synonymous with "best music of his career," however, and while this box contains much of major significance, it really does slide downhill after the early 1970s. That point is reached around the middle of the second disc, so that leaves about half of this material as average, or duller than average, stuff. In its favor, it has all the familiar hits from the salad days, from the Belmonts' "I Wonder Why" through "Abraham, Martin & John," as well as a number of fine cuts that are largely only known to collectors. Those include his hard-rocking 1965 cover of the obscure Bob Dylan song "Baby, I'm in the Mood for You"; the folk-rock version of Tom Paxton's "I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound" from the same era; the little-heard 1966 ABC single "My Girl the Month of May" (with the Belmonts); the bluesy B-side "Daddy Rollin'"; and the anti-drug "Your Own Backyard." The post-early-1970s tracks do have their high points, like "(I Used to Be a) Brooklyn Dodger," and Dion sings well on most of these, but they're just not remotely on the same level of what precedes them. A half-dozen of these tracks are previously unreleased, yet it's impossible to tell which of these are otherwise unissued from the liner notes, and the track listings offer surprisingly incomplete original release/recording dates for the material as a whole. If you want to focus on Dion's best music, you can get more of it, in more concentrated doses and for about the same amount of money, by buying several other less extensive compilations that target a specific period of his work.

John Fahey: Vol. 4: The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party (Takoma). This hodgepodge of tracks from 1962-66 was among the last of Fahey's early Takoma albums to make it onto CD (which it did in 2000). Perhaps that's because Fahey himself has a low estimation of the record. Nevertheless it stands as his most, well, far-out work, and one of his most innovative. Edited together from several pieces, the 19-minute "The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party" anticipated elements of psychedelia with its nervy improvisations and odd guitar tunings. The six briefer pieces that comprised the rest of the record also broke ground with their unsettling moods and dissonances, "Knott's Berry Farm Molly" suddenly moving from a characteristically placid instrumental to backwards tapes that Fahey assembled on a tape recorder, and the lo-fi "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" putting some aggressive picking against a mysterious church organ played by Flea. The beautiful "900 Miles" also had unexpected instrumental accompaniment, by Nancy McLean on flute, while future Canned Heat member Al Wilson played "veena" (sitar) on "Sail Away Ladies." Despite Fahey's curmudgeonly dismissal of the record several decades later, it's an important, if uneven, effort that ultimately endures as one of the highlights of his discography.

The Fantastic Baggys: Anywhere the Girls Are! The Best of...the Fantastic Baggys (Sundazed). Along with the entire Tell 'Em I'm Surfin'] LP, this CD adds a heap o' extras: the 1964 non-LP single "Debbie Be True"/"Anywhere the Girls Are," a couple of songs which showed up on a 1966 South African LP, the 1965 non-LP single "It Was I," and nine alternate/instrumental/vocal overdub/variations/versions, most of them previously unreleased. "Debbie Be True," complete with "Don't Worry Baby"-type guitar chording, would have been pretty fair Beach Boys album filler; "It Was I" is a not-bad update of the old Skip and Flip hit rockaballad; and "(Goes to Show) Just How Wrong You Can Be," which would be re-recorded by Sloan in the mid-1960s as a solo artist, shows Sloan-Barri's growth into more serious directions. To be honest, though, most of those extras are nothing more than very modest variations from the official tracks. But what the heck, if you're bothering to hunt down a Fantastic Baggys compilation in the first place, you might as well have everything you can, right? In addition there are lengthy liner notes, even including first-hand quotes from P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri. It remains about the best Jan & Dean album you could track down that is not in fact Jan & Dean.

The Hullaballoos: England's Newest Singing Sensations/On Hullabaloo (Collectables). This CD combines both of the Hullaballoos' albums onto one CD, handily summarizing this British Invasion footnote in one place (and just 51 minutes, although it contains 24 songs). The group play like a cross between the Searchers and Gerry & the Pacemakers on amphetamines on most of their self-titled album, which includes both "I'm Gonna Love You Too" and "Did You Ever." Enjoyable despite itself, and "I'll Show You How to Love" is actually a pretty and tuneful beat ballad worthy of a more skilled group. Their second LP stuck to much the same format as their first. A few Buddy Holly covers  were stuck amidst new songs, supplied to the band, that aimed to combine Buddy Holly with the Merseybeat sound, in a simple and exploitative way. Like the debut, it's not bad in spite of all that, though the material is a little weaker this time around. "I Won't Turn Away Now" is about the best of the batch, with something of a melodramatic New York pop influence in the songwriting; it wouldn't be too hard to imagine the Shangri-Las doing it with a totally different arrangement, for instance.

Junior's Eyes: Battersea Power Station (Castle). Mick Wayne undoubtedly tried hard to be significant and progressive with his songs on Junior's Eyes' sole album. There were meter changes, skilled psychedelic hard rock guitar riffs, and moods both whimsical and cynical throughout. Although the predominant vibe was bluesy psych-prog, there were also quieter, more acoustic interludes. It doesn't add up to much without memorable hooks or vision, though, and the record fails to stick as a noteworthy effort, even by the standards of obscure late-1960s British psychedelia. If you disagree with that assessment, or in any case are still curious enough to track down this collectable release, the 2000 CD reissue on Castle couldn't possibly be a more thoughtful package. In addition to the songs from the original LP, it contains both sides of their three non-LP 1968-69 singles; four demos of songs from Battersea Power Station; and both sides of the 1967 psych-pop single by the Tickle, Mick Wayne's previous band, along with very extensive historical liner notes. Other than that Tickle single, the extra material doesn't contain anything too interesting, though a few of the 45 tracks are rather poppier in approach than most of the album. Unintentionally, no doubt, the Tickle gem "Subway (Smokey Pokey World)" blows everything else on the disc to smoke.

The Larks: The Best of the Larks (Jamie). These eighteen tracks, encompassing 1961-70 singles and a couple of unreleased cuts, are like a snapshot of Philadelphia soul during the time: almost pure doo wop at its conception, sweet and orchestrated at the decade's conclusion. Like many such releases, it's testimony to the depth of the Philadelphia soul scene, which harbored numerous groups like the Larks that made some local noise, recorded often, explored several different stylistic paths and devised a good chunk of original material, and never became nationally known. And, like many such releases, although the songs are fairly good, they're not so excellent, and the group does not exert such a strong, consistent, and innovative personality, as to qualify them as a major act. Indeed, as six lead singers are featured over the course of the disc, the tracks often sound like the work of different groups. It varies from the Flamingos-like doo wop (complete with dreamy organ) of some early cuts and the dead-ringer-for-Motown-circa-1962 sound of "For the Love of Money" to the competent sub-mid-sixties-female group production of "From the Bottom of My Heart (I Still Love You)" and the orchestrated pure circa-1970 Philly soul of "I Need Somebody to Love You." The mid-1960s Motown sound, truth be told, gets mined quite a bit (and pretty competently) on the songs featuring female vocals, including "Groovin' at the Go Go," "Without You Baby," and "Rain," the last of which leans more toward the more mature late-1960s Motown sound of Gladys Knight or the Temptations. Barbara Mason takes the lead on just one song here, the 1964 single "Dedicated to You," one of the Larks' last doo wop throwbacks. A nice fill-in-the-gaps compilation of a mid-level but worthy Philadelphia group, although the absence of any dates, songwriting credits, or original labels in the credits is lame.

Magnum: Fully Loaded (Jamie). The songwriting and innovation barometer may not be as high on this LP as it is on early 1970s discs by Sly & the Family Stone, Parliament-Funkadelic, Miles Davis, and Santana -- all of whom Magnum bear slight to strong resemblance to, at one point or another. Yet it's a pretty solid effort, and a reminder of a brief time when Black music effectively synthesized R&B with numerous progressive trends while remaining both optimistic and street-smart. The collision of influences makes itself known right from the opening "Evolution," with its celebratory/revolutionary lyrics, solid funk groove, James Brown-like horns, bongos, distorted hard rock guitar riffs, and intricate sailing background harmonies. The dragging beats and druggy ambience of "Your Mind" should recall Sly Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On period to many listeners. The wacky hallucinogenic sex sentiments of "Natural Juices" wouldn't sound too out of place in George Clinton's world, with its spaced-out narration "some people get off on a needle...then there is a thumb and blanket. But the ultimate pacifier is a warm, wet nipple." "Witch Doctor's Brew" and the more impressive, ten-minute "Composition Seven," by contrast, make much use of Miles Davis-ish jazz-rock fusion keyboards in their groove-oriented, jammy passages, the latter tune boosted by an irresistible Latin beat. The album was entirely overlooked in comparison to the more famous artists mining the same grooves, both when it was made and when such sounds have come back into fashion. And it absolutely demands a hearing by anyone who digs these sorts of combinations, even if the group were not as original as the giants of the genre.

Rick Nelson: Legacy (Capitol). As a four-CD set with 100 tracks spanning Nelson's entire career, this will likely stand as the most thorough overview of the singer's music ever issued. This doesn't mean, though, that it's the best anthology of his work, unless you subscribe to the viewpoint that his post-mid-1960s records were about as good as his pre-mid-1960s ones, since a full two discs (or half) of this package is devoted to that post-mid-1960s output. Basically, it illustrates his trajectory in phases: disc one, as a good-to-great pop-rockabilly singer; disc two, as a still-good but not quite as vital teen idol in the late 1950s and early 1960s; disc three, as a fair but not great country-rocker; and disc four, as a has-been playing out the string with uninspired, low-energy adult contemporary, country, and rockabilly revival tracks during his final years. It's an impressive feat of cross-licensing, though, starting with three songs from his first singles (for Verve, and never easy to find on reissues), drawing a lot from his creative peak at Imperial, and then from his spottier efforts for Decca and other labels. All of his Top Forty hits are here, along with a good helping of obscure early rockabilly cuts and late-1960s-early-1970s country-rock tunes. There are about a dozen previously unreleased tracks, none too remarkable, as well as an alternate take of "Just a Little Too Much" and the 45 single versions of a few early hits (which have sometimes been represented by different takes on albums and reissues). The song selection is very good, but not infallible: the absence of the moody "Mean Old World," which was about the best thing he did in the mid-1960s, is inexplicable. If you are a big fan and do like Nelson's country-rock phase, this is a reasonable investment, but if you don't, you should stick to those collections that focus on his 1957-65 recordings.

Gram Parsons: Another Side of This Life: The Lost Recordings of Gram Parsons 1965-1966 (Sundazed). The eighteen previously unreleased, solo acoustic performances on this collection were recorded between March 1965 and December 1966. These show Parsons not as a country singer, rock singer, or even folk-rock singer, but very much as a mid-1960s folkie, in the mold of so many artists to be heard in the Greenwich Village scene. There's no straight country music in his repertoire, comprised largely of covers of songs by then-contemporary writers such as Buffy Sainte-Marie ("Codine"), Tim Hardin, Tom Paxton, and Fred Neil, along with high-caliber compositions that would be popularized by rock groups (Billy Wheeler's "High Flyin' Bird" and Hamilton Camp's "Pride of Man"). There are also five Parsons originals, a few not available elsewhere, and others recorded at other points either by himself ("Brass Buttons" and "Zah's Blues") or different performers ("November Nights," placed on an obscure single by Peter Fonda). A bit of R&B pokes out in his covers of "Searchin'" and "Candy Man." This disc is definitely of historical interest, if only to demonstrate that Parsons' roots were certainly not country-soaked, but largely indebted to '60s folk as well. As music, it's very average (though certainly not bad) mid-1960s folk, of the kind you might hear by numerous coffeehouse support acts. He sings best on the jazzy "Zah's Blues," where he seems to reach further into himself than he does on most of the other material here.

The People's Choice: I Likes to Do It (Jamie). Collecting both sides of all four of their 1971-72 Phil-LA of Soul singles, and adding seven previously unreleased songs from the same era, this is notably rawer than their more famous material for TSOP later in the decade. Indeed, it's rawer than almost any soul-funk from the period that had a commercial impact, as three of these cuts did: "I Likes to Do It" made #9 R&B (and the pop Top Forty) in 1971, and "The Wootie-T-Woo" and "Let Me Do My Thing" were low-charting R&B singles. The People's Choice's stock-in-trade at this stage was loose, almost-improvised sounding funky workouts with basic but catchy riffing, semi-scatted vocals, and cool electric keyboard vamping, often devised by connecting a guitar wah-wah pedal to an organ. The what-ya-play-is-what-ya-hear production is a refreshing contrast to the slicker sounds that were so much more prevalent in early-'70s Philly soul. And that's the way it should have been: when they tried to play conventional vocal sweet soul with strings on "Magic," they sounded far more ordinary. The seven previously unissued tracks (including a much different version of "Magic") are nearly on par with the singles, though perhaps these lean toward more basic riffs and words (this is in a group that favored minimal song construction to begin with). Simplicity can be a virtue, though, and this is damned infectious stuff, really. It's quite a find for early funk fans, to whom this compilation is highly recommended.

Los Shakers: Por Favor (Big Beat). No doubt this will stand as the most definitive single-disc compilation of Uruguay's Shakers (referred to as "the Shakers" on some releases and "Los Shakers" on others, including this one). There are 32 tracks, and 79 minutes, taken from all three of the LPs they issued in South America between 1965-68, along with three cuts from 1966 singles, almost everything sung in English. It cements, as if any further proof were necessary, their well-deserved reputation as the top Beatlesque '60s band from South America, and indeed one of the most uncannily Beatlesque bands from anywhere, at any time. Does that mean that this is as good as, or nearly as good as, the Beatles themselves? No, but it's good fun all the same, even if much of the disc sounds like inverted, or at times barely altered, ideas from Beatles riffs and arrangements. They were at their best, perhaps, when mimicking the A Hard Day's Night-era fab four, as they did on their 1965 debut LP Los Shakers, most of which is here. They did, however, evolve to some degree artistically, albeit rather in tandem with how the Beatles' own records changed in 1965-67, adding some (but not much) native rhythmic styles and riffs here and there; putting Revolver-type vocals and meters into cuts like "Picking Up Troubles" and "Got Any Money?"; putting some downbeat jazzy riffs into the fine "Too Late"; using freaky backwards guitar and drones in "I Hope You'll Like It," their most advanced cut; and adopting the march-beat midtempo and sunny harmonies of many 1967 Beatles tunes on numbers like "On a Tuesday I Watch Channel 36." This anthology is not, incidentally, the last word on the Shakers' output: there are no tracks from their US-only 1966 LP Break It All (which featured re-recordings of their early South American sides), and a handful of other numbers show up on the Brazilian EMI CD All the Best.

Norma Tanega: Walkin' My Cat Named Dog (Collectables). Tanega's rare debut album, reissued in 1998 on CD, isn't bad, though it's not a major effort, and seems like it could have benefited from more polish in the vocal department especially. "Walkin' My Cat Named Dog" is here, of course, and the only track virtually any listener would know. Many of the cuts have a peculiar, if only in retrospect, blend of folky guitar and harmonica with full New York pop-rock-soul arrangements. Tanega's talents are moderate but appealing: decent melodies, even-tempered and slightly quirky folk-rock lyrics, and a low vocal range that's a bit out of the ordinary. Her vocals are erratic enough, however, to wonder if the album was recorded hastily, or at least if she had some serious trouble staying on pitch, particularly on the high notes. Some of the cuts are on or above the level of "Walkin' My Cat Named Dog" musically, if lacking the attention-getting lyrical hook of that song's title. "You're Dead," for instance, is fairly gutsy moody folk-pop, while "A Street That Rhymes at 6 AM" is probably the cut that would have been most likely to follow up "Walkin' My Cat Named Dog," with its rather AM-savvy tune. (In fact, it was the follow-up, but was not a hit.) At its worst, especially "What Are We Craving?" with its Napoleon XIV-like percussion, it can be grating, and somehow Tanega and Norma Kutzer end up with the songwriting credit for "Hey Girl," the song that was popularized by Leadbelly as "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" The liner notes mention a non-LP single Tanega did for New Voice, "Bread," and it's too bad that and any other non-LP New Voice cuts were not added to the CD edition.

Johnnie Taylor: Lifetime (Stax). Taylor gets honored with a three-CD, 65-song box set for this career retrospective. And it truly is a career retrospective: although it's on the label for which he had the most hits, Stax, it spans 1956-1999, including a good deal of material that he did for other labels before and after his Stax stint. It's true that you have to be a pretty deep Taylor fan, and a pretty deep soul fan in general, to commit to nearly four hours of his music. It's also true that even if you are big Taylor fan, you're likely to need some patience to last through some of the average cuts, or his stylistic transition from gospel to soul to disco and retro-soul. Overall, however, it's a fine commemoration of an important if not quite great soul star. The most valuable components of the set are found on disc one, which kick off with a half-dozen gospel tunes from his stints with the Highway Q.C.'s and the Soul Stirrers in the late 1950s, moving into some of his little-known sub-Sam Cooke soul sides for Cooke's SAR label in the early 1960s. For the remainder of disc one and some of disc two, there are plenty of fine soul-blues cuts from his early days at Stax in the mid-to-late 1960s that will be familiar to relatively few listeners, along with his chart singles, including of course "Who's Making Love." These aren't just box-fillers; they represent some of his finest work, both for his fine soul-blues-gospel vocal blend and relatively unknown songs by the Isaac Hayes-David Porter songwriting team, as well as some on which Stax stalwarts Steve Cropper and Booker T. Jones played major compositional roles. As time wore on -- even starting in the early 1970s -- Taylor's material got duller and more homogenized, though there were always some highlights to perk up your ears. Unsurprisingly, then, like most box sets, this gets less interesting the closer it draws to the finish line, although wisely his late-1970s Columbia era (yes, "Disco Lady" is here) and post-1970s Malaco output is represented by a mere four cuts each. One could make some minor quibbles about the track selection: although the inclusion of five previously unreleased alternate takes (and three songs previously unissued in any form) from his early Stax days will satisfy collectors, those of us who don't have comprehensive Taylor libraries will be left wondering whether those alternates are better than the official ones, or just placed on disc one to whet completist appetites. Ultimately, though, it's a well-done summation of Taylor's legacy, with an accompanying 50-page booklet including essay, discography, and photos.

Traffic: Paper Rain (Colosseum, bootleg). This very enjoyable bootleg is largely comprised of 1967-68 live performances by the band, including seven songs from a gig in Stockholm in September 1967; a couple from Fillmore West in San Francisco in March 1968; and three from Copenhagen in May 1968. Rounding out the disc are both sides of the rare and good (though not brilliant) Dave Mason solo single "Just For You"/"Little Woman," issued on Island in 1968, as well as a 1967 studio version of "Hope I Never Find Me There" (here retitled "Hope They Never Find Me Here"). Mason appears on all the cuts except the two March 1968 ones from San Francisco. The sound is very good for live recordings of the period, and the band play very well and spiritedly, even on the songs requiring duplication of relatively exotic effects. Even if the fidelity might be somewhat below the standards of official releases, it's not at all hard to dig, though it is odd to hear a male voice doing the spoken interlude in "Hole in My Shoe" rather than a childish female one. The songs encompass many of the best early numbers by the band: "Hole in My Shoe," "Feelin' Alright," "Paper Sun," "Smiling Phases," "You Can All Join In," "Coloured Rain." This is not just something for insane collectors; anyone who's a serious fan of the band, which you presumably are if you're even considering buying a Traffic bootleg, will find it a highly pleasurable listen.

Various Artists: Follow the Music (FirstMedia). While this compilation CD is commercially sold, take note: it is only available as a bound-in disc in the paperback edition of the book Follow the Music, the autobiography of Elektra Records founder and president Jac Holzman (written with Gavan Daws). The disc contains 26 songs from the 1950s and 1960s, and with just a couple of exceptions, none of them post-date the mid-1960s. This means that Elektra's ventures into folk-rock, psychedelia, and singer-songwriters  -- their most enduring contributions to popular music -- are heavily underrepresented. There's nothing by the Doors, for instance, or the electric-period Judy Collins, or Love, or the MC5, or the Stooges. On the other hand, just about every artist here was an important exponent of Elektra's acoustic folk and blues catalog. Included are cuts by Jean Ritchie, Josh White, Theodore Bikel, Cynthia Gooding, the Limeliters, Jean Redpath, the Dillards, Judy Henske, Mark Spoelstra, Korner, Ray & Glover, Tom Rush, Fred Neil, the Incredible String Band, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, and Judy Collins; the early Elektra electric rock period is represented, just barely, by Tim Buckley and the Butterfield Blues Band. There's another major reason that this CD is valuable, which is that most of the early Elektra LP catalog, lamentably, has not made it onto compact disc, which means that you'll have a hard time finding much of this material unless you're willing to shell out for scratchy out-of-print LPs. Actually, this isn't the ideal antidote, since many of these songs sound as if they were mastered from vinyl (surface noise intact) and not the master tapes. But that's not the point: this is a good, though not ideally packaged, CD surveying the growth of an important label, through its twee early White folk to important singer-songwriters of the 1960s and early blues-rock and psychedelia. Some of the cuts are downright excellent (Neil's "Blues on the Ceiling," Ochs' "I Ain't Marching Anymore," Henske's "Wade in the Water"), and most are at the least good. And there are some unexpected detours and collector's items: the early-music duo Kathy & Carol, the Ensemble of the Bulgarian Republic, and a cut by the Even Dozen Jug Band, whose ranks included a pre-Lovin' Spoonful John Sebastian. It's unfortunate that there are no liner notes whatsoever, but then again many details are supplied by the book that it comes with, which is an excellent oral history of Elektra and its artists. If you didn't get the hardback edition (published in 1998), here's your reward for waiting; if you've already forked out for the hardback edition, well, the $18.95 cover price isn't that much more than you'd pay for a CD anyway.

Various Artists: Great R&B Duets (Ace). The R&B duets that this 25-track anthology emphasizes are those from the early days of rock'n'roll, spanning 1954-1960. The song selection is a bit quirky and uneven, but generally it's a pretty good sampling of some hits and choice obscurities from the era, emphasizing male-female duets most often, but also including male duos and a solitary female duo (the Teen Queens, with their doo wop hit "Eddie My Love"). A number of these tunes are familiar hit classics: Mickey & Sylvia's "Love Is Strange," Brook Benton & Dinah Washington's "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)" and "A Rockin' Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall in Love)," Ike & Tina Turner's "It's Gonna Work Out Fine," Shirley & Lee's "Let the Good Times Roll," Johnny & Joe's "Over the Mountain, Across the Sea." More intriguing for those in search of something they might have seldom or never heard are cuts like Tarheel Slim & Little Ann's splendid "It's Too Late," a minor-key haunter with scarifying blues/gospel overtones. Also on hand are a number of original versions of songs that became more famous via subsequent White cover versions: Gene & Eunice's "Ko Ko Mo (I Love You So)," Marvin & Johnny's "Cherry Pie" (later a hit for Skip & Flip), Don & Dewey's "I'm Leaving It (All) Up to You" (later a huge hit for Dale & Grace), and most enticingly of all, Willy & Ruth's original 1954 version of Leiber-Stoller's "Love Me" (covered in 1956 by Elvis Presley). Some of the other relatively unknown selections are on the forgettable side, but overall this is a good alternation of familiar and unfamiliar performances in this early rock'n'roll sub-genre.

Various Artists: The Stax Story (Stax). The legendary Memphis soul label Stax's legacy is well represented by this four-CD, 98-song box set, which manages to do what many similar box retrospectives don't. That is to provide a well-balanced overview of a genre of music that mixes the essential hits with many noteworthy lesser-known singles and rarities, coming about as close as possible to pleasing both the collector and the less intense soul fan. It's much more manageable (and affordable) than that trio of mammoth nine- or ten-CD boxes in theThe Complete Stax-Volt Singles series, and gives greater weight than those boxes could to the first and more vital half of Stax's chronology. The first alone, subtitled "The Hits," takes care of most of the consensus classics most listeners would demand from such a box, by Carla Thomas, Otis Redding, the Staple Singers, Sam & Dave, Booker T. & the MGs, Rufus Thomas, Albert King, Johnnie Taylor, and lower-profile acts like the Dramatics, Eddie Floyd, and Jean Knight. Disc two and disc three chronologically survey lower-profile chart hits and flops, taking in additional material by all of the stars, as well as great songs that have escaped the net of oldies radio (William Bell's "You Don't Miss Your Water," Albert King's "Crosscut Saw," Mable John's "Your Good Thing (Is About to End)," and a few interesting cuts that really aren't too well known by anyone, like the T.S.U. Toronados' sexy 1970 near-instrumental funk workout "Play the Music Toronados." Disc four is entirely devoted to live recordings, most by the company's biggest acts, that sometimes give a rawer sense of the performers' charisma than was evident on their studio efforts. Some pretty minor reservations might keep this box from getting awarded the highest possible score: some of the non-hit cuts aren't that exciting (particularly from the label's later years), the track annotation doesn't make it clear whether some of the live cuts were previously unreleased in any form, Booker T. & the MGs' "Hang 'Em High" is represented by a live 1993 reunion recording rather than the original hit single one, and some good mid-level hits by the biggest Stax acts aren't here. Still, it's a very worthy summation of the label's highlights, augmented by detailed liner notes.



contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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