The star rating system takes into account that these are "Acquisitions Of The Year". Therefore * represents 50-60%, ** is 60-70%, *** is 70-80%, **** is 80-90% and ***** is 90-99.9% (we're talking Pet Sounds or Forever Changes here). The retail price, actual price paid, packaging etc. are not relevant to the rating
Mr Eliminator (36.58)** P 1963-1964, P 2006
Dick Dale's rawest, wildest sides were those he cut for Del-Tone between 1959 and 1963, though he can still cut up a storm. Between 1963 and 1964 he made five albums for Capitol, and it is from these that this budget CD has been compiled. With the help of Hollywood's best session musicians it can't have taken too long to knock out these tracks, but if the results can be a bit formulaic they are nonetheless rousing and stormy. There are tracks from Surfer's Choice, King Of The Surf Guitar, Checkered Flag, Mr Eliminator and Summer Surf, but none of those chosen were also on singles apart from the title track. All are in stereo.
Monkey No. 09/Monkey Child (33.31/42.24)** P 2003
The Davey Brothers are loud. Sometimes, when I throw open my study windows, I fancy I can hear them, borne on the wind from their practice studio, seven miles away in Devizes. This record sounds loud, too. You can tell that they clearly had all the monitor amps turned up to eleven when they cut these tracks from the effect the volume has had on the sound, a phenomenon extensively explored in the sixties by the Jefferson Airplane. The result is a record that has the power of a live performance, capturing the kind of intensity to be found on Raw Power, Move It On Over, Down By The Jetty or Jimi Hendrix Experience.
The Davey Brothers are Robin and Jesse, who play a kind of quirky, acid-drenched blues, and the comparison with Jimi Hendrix is apt as the first disc includes a nifty surf-guitar version of Third Stone From The Sun. On the second, they further pay their blues dues with a nod to Jimmy Reed on Baby What You Want Me To Do, the rest of the material being their own compositions.
It was an ambitious idea to debut with a self-produced double album which they also, mixed, mastered and edited themselves, but on top of that there is a third disc which is an hour-long DVD of music videos, live performances, creative larking about in the woods and hidden features which I have yet to discover, as the duo are also film-makers and producers. What, no time to be astronauts as well? Slackers.
A fine record.
(review filed 2 July 2006)
Hate (47.36)**** P 2002
The music and lyrics of the Delgados have got more deliciously intricate and complex with each CD, and on this, their fourth, they perform, with passion and finesse, a series of songs borne from some soundtrack pieces they composed for an exhibition of work by the artist Joe Coleman in 2001. The sound is dense, dark and demanding, and awash with orchestration. The scope of the resulting sound edifice is reminiscent of Spiritualized's Let It All Come Down, though the effect is quite different and given more of a matt wash. A remarkable and individual record.
(indexed 19 February 2003)
Singles And Sessions 1979-1981 (45.26)*** R 1979-1980, P 2005
The Delta Five's short lifespan has meant that they are less well remembered than Leeds compatriots Gang Of Four and the Mekons. The entire recorded output of the standard line-up of Bethan, Kelv, Ros, Julz and Alan for Rough Trade comprised just three seven-inch singles released in 1979 and 1980 (an album and single for Charisma's Pre subsidiary appeared in 1981, and a final single with a changed line-up in 1982). However, these historically important six recordings (two with the Bad Manners horns) can finally be appreciated in the digital age in all their edgy, angular glory thanks to this collection from Kill Rock Stars.
The album is fleshed out with BBC session tracks and concludes with three previously unreleased committed live recordings from their US tour, captured at Berkeley Square, Berkeley CA on 27 September 1980.
The band recorded two sessions for John Peel in 1980 and one on 16 July 1981 for Radio One's Evening Session, hosted by Richard Skinner. Their excellent 1981 session, including two songs from their album See The Whirl in improved, less-produced versions, is included in full, but sadly of the 9 songs recorded for the Peel Show only three make it here, despite a modest CD playing time of 45 minutes.
(review filed 3 November 2006)
Seven Easy Pieces (18.52)*** P 2003
The Detroit Cobras obviously love their record collection which must be very large and full of delightful obscurities from many decades. All their records are freshly recreated cover versions and here they tackle (in order) Melvin Smith (a local singer), the Olympics, Gloria Jones, the Kingston Trio, the 5 Royales, Dorothy Love Coates' version of Ninety-Nine And A Half Won't Do (not the Wilson Pickett song, as so many critics seemed to think) and Koko Taylor, all played with passion and verve. To make it harder to fathom their origins, they change or miss-spell some of the song titles or composer credits or omit them completely so some detective work went into finding the above list of names, but this is part of their charm. Great stuff
(indexed 9 May 2003)
Life, Love And Leaving (29.46)*** P 2001, P 2004
The Detroit Cobras have a healthy disregard for musical fashion and play almost exclusively brilliant, scorching covers of favourites from their vinyl collections from the fifties onwards, paying welcome particular attention to artists with a Detroit connection. There have been a number of line-up changes over the years but always with Rachel Nagy's vocals backed up with Maribel Restrepo on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, and on this record with Dante Aliano (guitar), Eddie Hawrsh (that's how it is spelled on the sleeve)(bass and keyboards) and Damian Lang (drums). Although fourteen songs are thoroughly dealt with, the whole album is over in half an hour because when a song is done, it's done, and sometimes this only takes a minute and a half. If only more bands would adopt this policy!
Hey Sailor is actually Mickey Lee Lane's Hey Sah-Lo-Ney, which he cut for Swan back in 1965. The Ronettes are an obvious source of inspiration and for He Did It the Cobras reach back to their pre-Spector days at Colpix, and a song co-written by Jackie DeShannon (now a Cobras' fan after hearing their versions of He Did It and Breakaway). Find Me A Home is more properly known as Home In Your Heart when first recorded by Solomon Burke, who also had the original of the much-covered Stupidity. Oh My Lover may be known to you if you ever turned over your copy of the Chiffons' He's So Fine and played the other side. Cry On is a cover of an early Irma Thomas hit written by Allen Toussaint (contrary to some professional critics it has nothing to do with Ronnie Mack). Mary Wells wrote Bye Bye Baby for Jackie Wilson but when Berry Gordy heard it, he had Mary Wells record it herself at United Sound in Detroit for his new Motown label, her first single in 1960, and made her sing it in a hoarse voiced style, which makes it a natural for Rachel's naturally throaty vocals.
Boss Lady is the band's re-interpration of local band's Davis Jones and the Fenders' Boss With The Hot Sauce. Laughing At You takes us back to the Gardenias (not the Guardinias as printed in the booklet), who wrote and recorded it for Detroit's Fortune label in 1957 as I'm Laughing At You. Bob Dylan played it on his Theme Time Radio Hour special on laughter. Ike and Tina Turner had a regional R&B hit with You Can't Miss Nothing That You Never Had (disguised here as Can't Miss Nothing) in 1963. That leaves Right Around The Corner originally by the Five Royales in 1956, written by Charlie Singleton and Rose Marie McCoy; Won't You Dance With Me was by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels when they were still known as Billy Lee and the Rivieras; Let's Forget About The Past was on the flipside of Clyde McPhatter's huge 1962 single Lover, Please; and finally Shout Bama Lama, possibly the definitive version of this song, was by Johnny Jenkins' Pinetoppers in 1961, featuring a novice singer called Otis Redding.
This is a great album, over too soon, but short enough to play all over again straight away, even louder, which I recommend you do.
(review filed 27 June 2007)
Baby (31.38)*** P 2004
Singer-songwriters have a lot to answer for, as ever since their advent there has been such an emphasis on original material that the occasional cover version only creeps into many repertoires as a kind of novelty. Criminally, many talented and creative musicians have wasted their talents on the mediocre songs that their keyboard player and his flatmate's brother brought to the group practices in the name of art. It wasn't always so. The first albums by the Beatles and the Stones consisted largely of covers and Elvis Presley barely wrote a song in his life. In the blues and soul booms of the sixties, bands were judged by how well they could play well known standards of each genre.
Thankfully, some bands eschew the profitability of songwriting royalties for the integrity of keeping alive the music they love through their own reinterpretations, and one of the very best of these are the Detroit Cobras. They are not entirely slavish in their adherence to this policy however, and on this album there is one rocking, dirty track called Hot Dog that founder members Rachel and Mary wrote with longtime friend of the band Greg Cartwright, former guitarist in the Oblivians, who helped produce and guests on the record, and who later joined the band. Otherwise, it's business as usual with a collection of the weird and wonderful from all corners of their record libraries, with a number of title changes and wrongly credited authorships just to throw researchers of the scent.
Clarence Carter's Slipping Around kicks off the album, and then comes Gary US Bond's I Wanta Holler (But The Town's Too Small). This has become one of his most popular works, though it wasn't granted a release in 1962 and had to wait for a CD collection before it saw the light of day, making it a perfect choice for the Cobras to champion. Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand is a standard that was probably first recorded in an earlier variant by Blind Boy Fuller. The Animals recorded another variant, as did Bob Dylan, but the source of this version is an Atlantic single by Hoagy Lands, where it was credited to producer Bert Berns and Wes Farrell, the team who wrote Hang On Sloopy. Stax Records in Memphis provided Weak Spot, as recorded by Ruby Johnson. More obscure is the Northern Soul number Everybody's Going Wild, originally by the International Kansas City Playboys featuring Lee Curtis. They released it twice under different names in 1967, having recorded it for Jack Taylor's New York label Rojac, but it is thought that they went to Detroit to make it.
Betty Harris's Mean Man and Irma Thomas's It's Raining were both written by Allen Toussaint, a Detroit Cobras favourite. Bobbie Smith and the Dreamgirls were signed to Ira Mack and Tom King's Big Top label, and released Now You're Gone on the flipside of Don't Break My Heart in 1962, without changing the world significantly.
A false trail is laid for Just Can't Please You, which they credit to Billie Jean Horton, a fascinating lady who outlived two famous husbands, Hank Williams and Johnny Horton, and who did write a song called I Just Can't Please You, but the song the Cobras have covered here was by Jimmy Robins, who released it on Impression and then on Jerhart in 1966.
The Five Royales are another big Detroit Cobras' favourite band, and their original version of The Real Thing was written by trailblazing guitarist Lowman Pauling in 1959. Baby Help Me is a Bobby Womack song recorded by Percy Sledge. Finally, Cha Cha Twist is a return to a song they first covered on their 1998 album Mink Rat Or Rabbit. Adapted from Hank Ballard's The Twist, it was first recorded by Brice Coefield and the Untouchables, and was re-recorded for a Coca-Cola Diet Coke advert (who one might have thought would have preferred The Real Thing).
The line up for this record is Rachel Nagy (impossibly cool vocals), Mary Restrepo (rhythm guitar, backing vocals, attitude) and on this record Steve Nawara (subversive guitar), propelled by the rhythm powerhouse that is Joe Mazzola (bass) and Kenny Tudrick (drums). Should there not be room for a live band in your lounge, this is the next best thing.
(review filed 9 July 2007)
Ptooff!/Disposable (78.09)** P 1967-1968, P 2006
Although Mick Farren had quite a high profile in the sixties, his involvement in counter-culture activities, especially his work for the International Times and other alternative presses, overshadowed his role as lead singer for the Deviants (originally the Social Deviants). Independent labels were very much a rarity in the UK in the sixties, not really surfacing until the advent of punk a decade later, although fitting very much with the ethos of the times. One of the reasons why Ptooff! is one of the great lost albums of 1967 is because it was only available on mail order from the underground Underground Impresarios, and never achieved the level of sales necessary to trigger the establishment publicity machine, although an edition of it did reappear on Decca two years later.
Similarly, Disposable appeared the following year on Simon Staple's miniscule Stable label with similar results. The band did have quite a following thanks to their live gigging, and if memory serves, were frequent visitors to Birmingham's Mothers, Mick Farren calling out "We don't care about rules and regulations!" as management turned off the mains power after an over-extended set.
Those that did get Ptooff! through the post found that it came housed in a three-foot wide pop-art poster with PTOOFF! in huge cartoon letters across it, de rigueur home decoration for the anti-establishment hippy. Those that consider 1967 to be the Summer of Love will be surprised at the sneering cynicism throughout the record, especially on tracks like Iím Coming Home, Garbage and the nine-minute tour de force Deviation Street.
While we were listening to the Dead and the Airplane, Mick Farren clearly had the Fugs, the Mothers of Invention, Spirit and the Motor City Five (as they were still called) on his turntable, and came up with a sound that at times pre-figures the Stooges (Iggy Pop and Mick Farren shared a love of Bo Diddley and that shuffling Mona-beat undercurrent is also present on a couple of Ptooff!'s tracks, just as it was on early Stooges records). Iím Coming Home is a fair reflection of the Deviants live, with the line-up of Mick Farren leather-posture vocals, Sid Bishop's psyche-power guitar, Cord Rees anchoring it all on bass, with Russell Hunter's garage drums, but there is a range of styles on the record, none more innovative than on the proto-electronic piece The Nothing Man, realized in collaboration with Jack Henry Moore, who had studied with John Cage. Loops of radio excerpts are collaged with cut-ups, reference tones and percussion as the multiple deficiencies of the said character are snarlingly intoned.
Helping out on the album at Sound Techniques in Autumn 1967 were Jenny Ashworth, Stephen Sparks and Duncan Sanderson, who was to replace Cord Rees in the band for the next album. Ptooff! is unique, a flower with a barb-wire stem, and the message is, "No, let's not go to San Francisco". It could have been heavily influential in 1967 and 1968, if only it had been more widely heard.
In 1968, the year of the Hornsey art school sit-ins, the Paris student revolution and the Beatles' Revolution, the times were chiming more in accord with the Deviants, not that it made much difference to sales of the second album, Disposable (like Garbage, referring to the wastefulness of mass culture and produce), recorded this time in north London's lovely Willesden, in September 1968. From it came a wonderful double-sided single; You've Got To Hold On, a rush of motorcity neurone energy with screaming psychedelic guitar, and the Fugs-inspired Let's Loot The Supermarket, a rail against corporate Tesco-world in a giggling naughty stoned school-kid stylee, but which also, thanks in part to MJ McDonnell's harmonica, seems to parody Bob Dylan's basement tapes. The comic, the cosmic and the theatre of the absurd always bubbled below the surface on Ptooff! but is more apparent on Disposable, with Stephen Sparks' narrated Sparrows And Wires, Blind Joe McTurk's Last Session and the heightened dumbness of Pappa-Oo-Mao-Mao, their homage to the early sixties surf doo-wop of the Rivingtons and the Trashmen. This time the guest list expanded to include the brass section of Dick Heckstall-Smith and Pete Brown, and the keyboards of Dennis Hughes and Tony Ferguson. Critics seem to consider it as a poor second to Ptooff! but with additional key tracks like Somewhere To Go, Slum Lord and Last Man I see it as a worthy companion.
This CD edition contains both albums in full. The 36" x 24" poster is obviously not included and the front covers of both albums are reduced to 2" thumbnails, but the liner notes by Miles and John Peel are included, along with quotations from, among others, Bob Dylan, Che Guevara, William Burroughs, Buckminster Fuller, Captain Beefheart, Tolstoy, Thoreau, Goethe and god of hell fire Arthur Brown - all the great minds. Unfortunately, track details and composer credits have been left off and album credits for the two albums reversed. That seems appropriate, somehow.
"If you can't trip on garbage, then you can't trip on nothing!!"
(review filed 20 March 2008)
Hey! Bo Diddley/Bo Diddley (62.31)*** P 1955-1969, P 1995
There are any number of excellent Bo Diddley compilations that cherry pick the man's work and if you merely are after a concise overview, several do the job perfectly, especially if you don't mind hearing A-sides, album tracks and B-sides from different periods all side by side, often with insufficient information to unravel what comes from where and when. Problems will ensue if you then start looking for complementary discs to supplement your collection, however, as many of the same titles will crop up over and over again, and you may soon start to think you would have been better of buying original albums to avoid duplications, if only you could find them in catalogue.
This 24 track release from 1995 would seem to be an excellent starting point as it comprises complete reissues of two albums from 1962 and 1963 and furthermore has a strong sprinkling of those very titles that reappear on so many collections. The first 12 tracks comprise the album Hey! Bo Diddley, released in the UK on Pye International in April 1963, and the second 12 made up the album Bo Diddley which followed 5 months later.
There are a couple of caveats, however. Note that Hey! Bo Diddley was actually a British compilation, put together at Pye to introduce Bo Diddley to a British audience who were beginning to seek out authentic black American rhythm and blues music. It featured recordings spanning the period from his first Checker single in 1955, Bo Diddley/I'm A Man, up to a recent import album from 1962, Bo Diddley Is A Twister, which provided 5 tracks, including two of his classic guitar instrumentals, Detour and Shank, featuring Peggy Jones. In between were singles like Hey! Bo Diddley, Hush Your Mouth and Road Runner, and the album closed with the 1956 B-side I'm Looking For A Woman, which featured Robert Parker on guitar. On this re-issue the track Bo Diddley has been mistakenly replaced by the remake Bo Diddley '69, a single Checker had out in 1969 (and actually rather rarer than the much anthologized original - but obviously not as good).
The second album, Bo Diddley, is a straightforward UK issue of the best-selling album released by Checker in 1962 (a 1957 album was similarly eponymous), and includes the monumental You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover (written by Willie Dixon) and its much covered original B-side I Can Tell, as well as a sprinkling of Bo's always popular dual-guitar instrumentals, probably with Peggy Jones (Diddling, Give Me A Break, Bo's Bounce, Sad Sack, Bo's Twist), his comment on the Cold War (Mr Kruschev), the Howlin' Wolf-like Who May Your Lover Be, the doo-wop stylings of Babes In The Wood and a twist update on the traditional Mama Don't Allow.
Although predominantly monaural, Mr Kruschev, Give Me A Break (Man), Mama Don't Allow No Twistin' and You All Green (all from the second album) are in stereo mixes
(review filed 27 June 2005)
Bo Diddley Is A Lover...Plus (49.18)*** P 1961-1969, P 1994
Recorded in February 1961 in mono at Bo Diddley's basement studio in Washington DC, Bo Diddley Is A Lover was the last album to feature the dual guitar of Peggy Jones, along with the ever-present Jerome Green on maracas. The classic line-up was completed by Jesse James Johnson (bass), Billy Downing or Edell Robertson on drums and a girl chorus on several of the varied tracks, who are not credited in the liner notes but who add some classy doo-wop to Love Is A Secret, for example. Not Guilty opens the album with the classic Bo Diddley rhythm, which also features on the title track and on Back Home. Bo's Vacation is a call-and-response number along the lines of Say, Man, and Congo is a thinly-disguised instrumental re-tread of Road Runner. Two singles from the album were Bo's Blues (under the title Call Me) and Not Guilty, backed by the instrumental Aztec, written and led by Peggy Jones, and on which Bo does not appear to be playing, although he claims the composer's credits.
This release has been fleshed out by six bonus tracks. Although welcome, they have no particular relevance to the album, having been recorded between 1963 and 1967. More obvious choices might have included Pills (the B-side of Call Me) or Doin' The Jaguar (the British B-side of Bo Diddley Is A Lover). My Babe is not the contemporary version with Peggy Jones, as wrongly stated in the notes, but the rather fabulous 1967 Super Blues version featuring Muddy Waters and Little Walter. Help Out, Diana and Mama Mia come from the 1963 album Bo Diddley And Company, while Two Flies and What Do You Know About Love? are to be found on The Originator (1966). All the bonus tracks are stereo mixes, apart from Two Flies and Diana
(review filed 30 June 2005)
Lovers Who Wander/So Why Didn't You Do That The First Time (77.36)** R 1957-63, P 1991
Ace have done quite a lot to revamp their catalogue of Dion repertoire, but this CD compiled in 1991 is still in great need of overhaul. It consists of re-issues of two vinyl albums put out by Ace, one a 1985 compilation of rare and previously unreleased tracks, some from his time with the Belmonts, and the other a Dion solo album originally from 1962. The sound is pretty good throughout, mostly having been mastered from the original two-track tape masters, with all but 10 of the tracks in true stereo (the rest mono, nothing duophonic thank goodness), resulting in a clean, fairly hiss-free result that lacks the reverb that was added to some of the mono mixes at the time.
Product descriptions of the Lovers Who Wander half of the album describe the track-listing as having been "re-sequenced". The vinyl album had added three bonus tracks taken from a subsequent album, Dion Sings Love Comes To Me, but time constraints on the CD meant that two tracks had to be dropped. They are Love Comes To Me (one of the bonus tracks) and Little Diane, a key track on Lovers Who Wander since it was a Top Ten US single at the time the album came out. There must be a rationale behind presenting the album incompletely whilst including two tracks (Little Girl, Candy Man) that belong somewhere else, but it doesn't make sense to me, especially as Little Diane happens to be a favourite of mine.
So Why Didn't You Do That The First Time is presented in full, though, and must have been a revelation when it came out. Alongside bouncing early stereo takes of singles (The Wanderer, Lovers Who Wander, A Teenager In Love, Every Little Thing I Do) there is an alternative take of My Private Joy and some fabulous unheard outtakes (Moon River, Crying, Baby What You Want Me To Do, In A Room, Ain't That Better Baby). Also previously unreleased is a version of It Was Never Meant To Be from before the Belmonts overdubbed their doo-wop harmonies. The rest were originally released in 1963 on By Special Request: Dion &The Belmonts Together On Record. They were presumably recorded between 1958 and 1960 and left in the can, apart from two rare tracks (We Went Away/Tag Along) that originally appeared on the Mohawk label in 1957 and comprised the first single by Dion and the Belmonts together.
Neither Dion Sings Love Comes To Me or By Special Request: Dion &The Belmonts Together On Record are in catalogue at the time of writing so perhaps Ace should consider re-issuing Lovers Who Wander in full, paired with Dion Sings Love Comes To Me; and adding the rest of By Special Request to a new edition of So Why Didn't You Do That The First Time, along with any other appropriate material that turns up.
(review filed 4 July 2008)
The Road I'm On - A Retrospective (48.05/53.44)*** R 1962-1996, P 1997
Most of Dion's recorded output is available on CD, including a lot of material not released at the time, but a lot of it is in the form of compilations and it is impossible to collect without ending up with a lot of duplications. The Road I'm On is an overview of Dion's time with the Columbia label, between 1962 and 1966, during which time he producing two albums and a dozen singles. Both albums were named after huge hit singles, Ruby Baby and Donna The Prima Donna. A third album of outtakes, Wonder Where I'm Bound, was released in 1968, long after Dion had left the label.
Of the 35 tracks on this 2CD, a dozen are previously unreleased and a few more are first-time stereo re-issues. Seven tracks are duplicated from an earlier compilation, Bronx Blues, which had twelve tracks not included here, though some are merely alternate versions or mixes.
Dion was in the process of breaking away from his doo-wop roots during this period, and exploring the burgeoning folk-rock scene as well as discovering a deep love for the blues, long before the British invasion of the blues and beat groups that introduced the form to the US mainstream. A few of these came out on singles, such as Hoochie Coochie Man (the only mono mix on this 2CD) and Spoonful, but mostly they stayed in the vaults. His folk-rock leanings were sometimes quite derivative of Bob Dylan. As well as covering It's All Over Now Baby Blue some of his own songs were blatant pastiches of Dylan songs, as Dion struggled for direction. The unreleased My Love, for example, owes a lot to Love Minus Zero Equals No Limit. On top of this, during 1965 Dion was working with Dylan's producer Tom Wilson, and they put together a session band called the Wanderers that featured Al Kooper, who famously played on Like A Rolling Stone, and Carlo Mastrangelo from the Belmonts. One unfortunate reason for the lack of appearance of many of these sides is Dion's descent into heroin addiction, which began in 1964, but from which thankfully he later recovered.
Each disc ends with a couple of special tracks. Disc One has an early version of Ruby Baby, flourishing a fabulous sax solo, and an Italian language version of Donna The Prima Donna. Disc Two has two tracks newly recorded at the time the album was being compiled, in 1996, with his new band the Little Kings: a version of Born To Cry, and a song written by the band's guitarist Scott Kempner, You Move Me. Oddly, this isn't mentioned in the sleeve notes, which are rather reticent about what was and wasn't released or when tracks were cut (in fact nothing else here was recorded more recently than February 1966).
(review filed 25 July 2008)
Summer Day Reflection Songs (42.32/54.02)*** R 1965, P 2005
Dovetailing quite neatly with the Pye/Epic material recently repackaged by EMI, this double-CD collects everything released by Donovan prior to Sunshine Superman. In the UK these were on Pye and in America on Hickory.
The first CD contains Donovan's first LP, What's Bin Hid And What's Been Did (tracks 3-14), comprising six of his own songs and five covers. Although compared by the press at the time to Bob Dylan, it is clear that the comparison is no more valid than for dozens of other folkies of the time, and that lyrically Donovan had a far more romantic, sensuous and less political outlook, though both share common roots, such as Woody Guthrie (Car Car), Blind Willie Johnson (You're Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond) and Mississippi John Hurt (Candy Man).
Donna Donna had been recorded by Joan Baez but is a Yiddish song originally called Dana Dana Dana (written by Aaron Zeitlin for a play called Esterke). Remember The Alamo dates back to Tex Ritter in 1955, but was probably learned from a later version, and Goldwatch Blues was written by a contemporary on the circuit, Mick Softley. Donovan's own songs include Catch The Wind, a perfect song, and To Sing For You, which he famously sang for Bob Dylan in the film Don't Look Back. The bonus tracks on CD1 are the single versions of Catch The Wind and Colours; the B-side of Catch The Wind; and a rare track that originally surfaced only on a French EP.
The second disc features the album Fairy Tale (tracks 5-16), released only five months after the first, and shows the speed with which musicians could develop in the mid-sixties. Donovan's eight originals include the magnificent Sunny Goodge Street and other great songs such as To Try For The Sun and the Ballad Of Geraldine (sung in the first person). Shawn Phillips, who was to add sitar and collaborate on many of Donovan's later recordings, plays guitar on some of the tracks, and contributes his song The Little Tin Soldier. Donovan pays homage to fellow Glaswegian Bert Jansch with Oh Deed I Do, the other cover being Paul Bernath's distinctive Circus Of Sour. The disc opens with Donovan's anti-war EP The Universal Soldier. The Buffy Sainte-Marie title track was a top twenty hit in its own right in the UK and the EP included a shorter version of The Ballad Of A Crystal Man as well as more Bert Jansch and Mick Softley songs. Disc 2 is rounded off with a single recorded after the album, Turquoise, with its strangely titled flip Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness). This seems to be an update of Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe's Can I Do It For You?, given a bit of an acoustic Bo Diddley beat, and it closes the disc in fine style.
Although some of Fairy Tale has appeared in true stereo on previous compilations, both discs are presented in mono
(review filed 2 November 2005)
Sunshine Superman (67.05)*** R 1965-1966, P 2005
Sunshine Superman was Donovan's best selling album in the sixties, not least because it included the single Sunshine Superman (For John And Paul), a huge hit both in America and the UK. It marked an important turning point in Donovan's career as he had changed managers, producers and record labels, and developed his sound with the addition of a band of musicians. He also had a brilliant new arranger in the person of John Cameron, whose work on Sunshine Superman was such an integral part of the record.
As the booklet essay describes, these changes turned out to come at a cost due to complications at the British side of the business end, as the new arrangement had been negotiated in America and had contractual complications in the UK which led to huge delays in records coming out, if at all. This seemed especially perplexing in Britain as whereas in America there was a clear change of label from Hickory to Epic, in the UK he remained on Pye.
Sunshine Superman (For John And Paul) had been recorded in December 1965, when it was ahead of its time, but things were moving so fast that by the time it was released the following summer it already sounded as if Donovan was trying to catch up with the times, especially since during the delay Pye had been damagingly releasing older unrepresentative material on singles, such as Josie and Remember The Alamo, and when the album was released that September it was in America only. Sunshine Superman was never released in the UK in its original form, and not at all until June 1967, months after Donovan's follow-up album had been released in America.
If Donovan had been considered to be no more than a folk singer, this album burst out of the folk confines to dumbfound those preconceptions. The songs were based on Donovan's personal experiences and observations, and included Legend Of A Girl Child Linda, about Linda Lawrence; Bert's Blues, concerning a love triangle involving Donovan, the singer Beverley and Bert Jansch; The Trip, about a jazz and folk-rock club in Hollywood where Donovan had been playing; Fat Angel, allegedly inspired by Cass Elliott of the Mamas and the Papas, and soon taken up in live performance by the Jefferson Airplane, who are name-checked in the lyric; and the brilliant Season Of The Witch, best known in the UK in its version by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity. Most of these were recorded in Hollywood in Spring 1966 with a set of hip L.A. musicians including Shawn Phillips on sitar and Cyrus Faryar from the Modern Folk Quartet. They used an array of instruments including harpsichords, celestes and all manner of percussion, creating a palette far removed from the days of pure acoustic guitar and harmonica, and showcasing Donovan's development as a maturing songwriter, adapting and embracing change and experimentation.
The British version of Sunshine Superman dropped three of the songs (Ferris Wheel, The Trip, Fat Angel) and substituted five from Mellow Yellow (The Observation, Writer In The Sun, Hampstead Incident, Sand And Foam, Young Girl Blues), which was also permanently absent from the UK release schedules, and so this CD probably marks the first time the original album has been for sale in the UK.
Mono masters have been used throughout for the album, though among the bonus tracks is a longer stereo mix of Sunshine Superman (For John And Paul) that was prepared for the album Donovan's Greatest Hits in 1978. There are six other bonus tracks including a couple of out-takes, early versions of Superlungs My Supergirl and Museum (a song he gave to the aforementioned Beverley) and finally two October 1966 demos for songs on Mellow Yellow.
(review filed 27 April 2009)
Mellow Yellow (65.13)** R 1965-1966, P 2005
Just as Sunshine Superman was named after Donovan's big hit single, so Mellow Yellow took its name from the follow-up single recorded in August 1966, and which similarly was a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic, tuning in and turning on to the flowery drug-hazed zeitgeist of 1966 and 1967. Released in America a mere five months after the album Sunshine Superman, Mellow Yellow is of quite remarkably consistently high quality, with some beautifully realized songs and arrangements. I have always felt that the endlessly comparing of Donovan and Bob Dylan were far wide of the mark, and the jazz influences throughout most of Mellow Yellow surely give the lie to any such comparison, though I suppose a Venn diagram would intersect at Mellow Yellow and Rainy Day Women # 12 and 35.
Unlike Sunshine Superman, which was partly recorded in Los Angeles and featured sitars and other exotic instruments, the Mellow Yellow sessions were exclusively cast in London and were all arranged by John Cameron (apart from John Paul Jones for the single Mellow Yellow). They have a distinctly British feel to them, and are none the worse for that. Two of the tracks are purely unaccompanied Donovan on vocal and guitar, Young Girl Blues and Sand And Foam, and both are exquisite songs. Young Girl Blues dates from January 1966 and is of low-fi quality, though its atmospheric performance compensates for its technical shortcomings. It was probably originally a demo as the song was also recorded about that time by both Marianne Faithfull and Julie Felix. Sand And Foam was inspired by a holiday in Mexico around May-June 1966 and is wonderfully evocative.
The rest of the album was recorded in November 1966, with the John Cameron Quartet and other jazz musicians, apart from Sunny South Kensington. This had been recorded on the same day as Sunshine Superman, on 19 December 1965, and had been intended to be its B-side. For some reason it ended up instead as the B-side in the US to Mellow Yellow, and closed the Mellow Yellow album.
This album was not released in the UK. Six of the tracks turned up on the delayed British version of Sunshine Superman (The Observation, Writer In The Sun, Hampstead Incident, Sand And Foam, Young Girl Blues). Sand And Foam later doubled as the B-side to There Is A Mountain, the rest appear to have remained unheard by his native audience until a 1993 CD release.
This expanded re-issue presents the original Mellow Yellow album in mono, and a further 10 bonus tracks. These feature the US-only single, Epistle To Dippy (plus an alternative version); its B-side Preachin' Love (also the UK B-side of Mellow Yellow); the hit single There Is A Mountain; and two outtakes, Good Time and a second unreleased attempt at Superlungs. These are all stereo apart from Preachin' Love. The album closes with the original unaccompanied mono demos for four of the songs on the album. These show that the jazz inflections on some of the songs were there from the outset.
(review filed 13 May 2009)
The Hurdy Gurdy Man (57.50)** R 1968, P 2005
Donovan was nothing if not productive in the sixties. Between his first single, Catch The Wind in 1965, and Hurdy Gurdy Man, his biggest 1968 hit, Donovan had released eight albums, containing around eighty different songs across a variety of styles, from simple acoustic folk songs to sophisticated jazz stylings; always pioneering, always shrewdly of the moment.
The previous year Donovan had released a lavishly boxed double album with one disc containing songs for young adults, and the other songs ostensibly for children, though they contained some of his most charming work, suitable for all ages, and in 1968 he had already released a live album, presenting his music in a range of settings to showcase his versatility. The album The Hurdy Gurdy Man is similarly wide-ranging, reprising the styles of his recent work but also showing new influences: some more rock-oriented material, notably Hurdy Gurdy Man, and several calypso-style numbers, some more successful than others, and including another hit single, Jennifer Juniper. In just one or two of the songs there is a sense that overbearing tweeness will suffocate the enterprise, but on most, such as the charming Teas, he lands solidly on the right side of such excesses and exudes quality and confidence. Whilst of their time, they are not dated; it's just that no-one is working in the area that he was so successfully exploring at the time.
This edition contains seven bonus tracks: three B-sides, including Poor Cow from the soundtrack of the film; the non-album single Lalena; the re-recordings of Catch The Wind and Colours that first appeared on Donovan's Greatest Hits; and one outtake that has a guest appearance from Lulu (Donovan and Lulu shared a producer in Mickie Most). Apart from the three B-sides that are mono, the entire CD is in stereo.
The Hurdy Gurdy Man is one of the albums that Pye did not release in the UK. It finally made an appearance on CD in 1990. It is regrettable that the material on this album remained largely unheard in his home territory for 32 years and missed its intended audience, but perhaps this release will reach a fraction of them as well as some younger admirers of music from the sixties such as this.
(review filed 31 May 2009)
Barabajagal (76.55)** R 1968-1969, P 2005
Barabajagal was Donovan's sixth studio album of original material in three years, and unfortunately it shows. In circumstances reminiscent of the Sunshine Superman album, much of it was in the can for well over a year before being released in America, and Pye in the UK chose not to release it at all.
It features the hit single Goo Goo Barajagal (Love Is Hot)/Trudi (Bed With Me), both of which feature the Jeff Beck Group, and are about as sexualized and as heavy as Donovan ever gets. Trudi was actually a reworked and partially reworded version of The Lay Of The Last Tinker from The Little Ones album. Atlantis, a previous single, which was coupled in America with the disarmingly childlike, if less successful anti-Viet Nam War song To Susan In The West Coast Waiting, is also a highly striking and atmospheric piece of work. What was used to fill up the rest of the album was distinctly below par, however, with the worst examples actually predisposing one by context against the rest.
Superlungs My Supergirl, a song he had attempted and discarded twice in 1966, is somewhat Jeff Beck-lite and is perfectly fine, with some nice guitar work from Big Jim Sullivan, though Donovan's boast at the age of 22 that the girl he loves is "only fourteen but she knows how to draw" might raise more eyebrows now than then. This, Happiness Runs and the lovely Where Is She, featuring Harold McNair's delicate flute work, were recorded during the sessions for the Hurdy Gurdy Man album in May 1968, but following a falling out with producer Mickie Most the remaining tracks, along with To Susan... were recorded later in the year in Los Angeles with Gabriel Mekler producing and Richie Podolor at the desk, and sadly miss his production skills and John Cameron's skilled arrangements, and make the album a somewhat mixed rag-bag.
There was a hippie tendency at the time for musical teenage couples to regress occasionally into faux-childhood (step forward Principal Edward's Magic Theatre and the Incredible String Band, to cite but two), and the charmless I Love My Shirt (which had already been inexplicably favoured with release as a B-side in the UK) and embarrassingly forced sing-along Pamela Jo illustrate why this trend, of which Donovan could be particularly prone, should be stamped out.
For me, Happiness Runs (aka The Pebble And The Man) falls into the same category, though as the song was taken up over the years by Mary Hopkin, Bridget St John and the estimable Kate Bush, though with rather more success, perhaps I'll let it pass.
Listening to the bonus tracks one finds an attempt at a single that was rightly rejected, despite quite a decent B-side featuring acoustic guitar picking, but also an indisputable Donovan classic in The Swan (Lord Of The Reedy River). How this could have passed up in favour of fare such as The Love Song is inexplicable to me. Perhaps it was being held over as the song turned up in the film If It's Tuesday This Must Be Belgium in 1969, and was re-recorded for the 1971 album HMS Donovan.
This expanded issue ends on a more optimistic note with seven more successful (apart from the dreadful cod-reggae Palais Girl) raw demos recorded in February 1969 of songs that were mostly to turn up on future Donovan albums.
(review filed 22 June 2009)
Going Back Home - Live At The Kursaal Flyer 1975 (73.35)*** R 1975, P 2004
Dr Feelgood, especially in their original incarnation of Lee Brilleaux, Wilko Johnson, John B Sparks and The Big Figure, were a thunderously good live band. Their third album was one of the great live albums of the seventies and was by far their best selling album, reaching number one in the UK charts.
It was called Stupidity, named after the Solomon Burke song featured on side one of the record, which was recorded at Sheffield City Hall on 23 May 1975, while the second side was from the Kursaal Flyer in Southend on 8 November 1975, which was also filmed.
A film of some of the gig has appeared for the first time this year on DVD and comes with this bonus CD, which features the entire concert. My copy is a promo which did not come with the DVD, so I am reviewing the bonus CD only. It is the first time the whole concert has been released (although besides the album side, a few other tracks from the concert have turned up on singles) and captures the band at the peak of their powers.
As well as songs from the first two essential albums, Down By The Jetty and Malpractice, there are a number of live favourites such as I Can Tell and I'm A Man (both Bo Diddley covers), Sonny Boy Williamson's Checkin' On My Baby, the Coasters' I'm A Hog For You and another Leiber/Stoller song, Riot In Cell Block Number Nine, a signature selection for the band.
Three bonus tracks come from the Sheffield concert a few months earlier: Talkin' 'Bout You (the Chuck Berry rather than Ray Charles song), Stupidity and Walking The Dog. The final track, Johnny B Goode, was on a single that came with early copies of the Stupidity album, and was recorded at the Friar's Club in Aylesbury on 17 May 1975.
Only three Sheffield tracks from the Stupidity album are not on this CD (Twenty Yards Behind, All Through The City, She Does It Right) and there are performances from the Southend concert of all of these, so this is a more than adequate substitute for that album. And you get a DVD, too!
(review filed 26 March 2005)
Remedies (40.42)* P 1970, P 1991
Dr John's third album retained some of the voodoo hippy gumbo of Gris-Gris and Babylon, particularly on the rather messily overlong Angola Anthem, but added some deep soul and New Orleans rhythm and blues to the pot, to create an infectious gris-gris funk to numbers like Wash, Mama, Wash (the single from the album), Loop Garoo (its B-side) and Chippy, Chippy, with a great (uncredited) horn section
(review filed 12 November 2004)
The Very Best Of Dr John (69.57)** P 1968-1992, P 1995
Cut down from Rhino's 2CD anthology Mos' Scosious from the previous year, this 18-track non-chronological collection manages to weave its way through the various styles of Dr John's albums in such a way that they seem to fit together despite their disparate nature, from the mystic voodoo of the Gris Gris album and the New Orleans roots of his piano playing to the lushness of the two tracks from In A Sentimental Mood. Most of the most popular singles are included (missing are Wang Dang Doodle, Let The Good Times Roll, (Everybody Wanna Get Rich) Rite Away, Let's Make A Better World and others) as well as some illuminating album tracks made for Atco (to 1974), the Baltimore-based Clean Cuts (a solo piano tour-de-force on Joe Liggins' Honey Dripper)(1981) and Warner (1989-1992) including the Grammy-winning duet with Rickie Lee Jones, Makin' Whoopee
(review filed 12 November 2004)
Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger And The Trinity (51.51)** P 1967-1969
Although I had been aware of Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger from Steampacket days, and even had a couple of Julie Driscoll's early singles, it was when they were signed to the Marmalade label that for me they seemed to really come into their own, first with soul and R&B, as with Tramp and Why (Am I Treated So Bad), and then with more progressive material. I was sold when I saw "Joolz" perform her amazing vocals to Donovan's Season Of The Witch live on BBC2's live Open House arts programme. I had seen Brian Auger and the Trinity live but had to wait until This Wheel's On Fire (their incendiary reworking of a Bob Dylan publisher's demo, featuring the newly-launched mellotron) was storming up the charts in 1968 before I had an opportunity to see her as well. She looked like the coolest swinging fashion model and sounded fantastic. Combined they were an almighty force.
All the above are on this 13-track collection of releases from 1967 to 1969, revamped from a similar 11-track vinyl "Best Of", but for my money, the most magnificent track of all is the follow-up single to the hit, David Ackles' The Road To Cairo (or as in his own version, oddly, La Route A Chicago), with its psychedelic spiraling Hammond organ passages and building, soaring vocals. By 1969 she seemed to have fallen under the spell of Nina Simone; at least 4 of these tracks, most on the album Streetnoise originally, had been covered recently by her using similar arrangements, including Aretha Franklin's Save Me and Let The Sunshine In (from the musical Hair), though there are also versions of Light My Fire, Save The Country (Laura Nyro) and Indian Rope Man, the Richie Havens song which inspired Bob Marley's African Herbsman, suggesting that the band chose their material wisely from the best available contemporary sources
(review filed 10 November 2003)
Cuts Across The Land (45.33/36.39)*** R 2004-2005, P 2005
There has been a deplorable fashion in recent years in the British mainstream, and doubtless elsewhere, for insincere sounding plodding mid-tempo songs by groups of faux-sensitive men. At times there has been more heart-wrenching sensitivity on Top Of The Pops than in reality there is in the whole wide world. It is not what I am looking for in music, and it seems to be in girl-led acts like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Elastica and PJ Harvey that I find the dispassionate, unsentimental, occasionally sneering and oftwhile malevolent attitude that I like.
Duke Spirit are a shining example of an original girl-led band who are railing against the prevailing tide and providing a no-nonsense alternative. Liela Moss's vocals exude effortless cool and when any emotion fights its way past the punkish guitars and spirited tambourines, it sounds appropriate and sincere, plus she also blows a mean and well-placed harmonica. The band seem to have been influenced by all the right people from the sixties to the present, and have not been sidetracked by musical cul-de-sacs such as Britpop, and at 45 minutes the album is in no danger of outstaying its welcome.
Four of the band's A-sides are included on the album and the British edition adds as a bonus track their superb 2004 single Dark Is Light Enough.
The bonus disc Souvenirs offers 5 high quality eight-track demos of songs not included on the album, plus radio session tracks of five that are, including two acoustic performances for Virgin Radio's Razorcuts, and is well worth having.
(review filed 21 December 2005)
Blonde On Blonde (73.03)***** P 1966, P 2004
Everyone of a certain age remembers the double album with its gatefold sleeve of a slightly blurred Dylan in double-buttoned winter coat and scarf, and side 4 exclusively devoted to the marvelously melancholic Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands, perfect on repeat-play for hung-over Sunday mornings, unhurried and timeless, ending with a harmonica solo that slowly and statuesquely faded away.
The first CD version was disappointingly butchered with many of the running times noticeably truncated to fit onto a single disc. Just Like A Woman unbelievably faded out instead of ending, and Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands sacrilegiously lost a vital 30 seconds at its conclusion.
When the Bob Dylan Reissue Series reached Blonde On Blonde these anomalies were thankfully minimized, and the total playing time was upped to 73.03 (compared to 71.31 on the earlier edition), and the overall sound significantly upgraded, making this finally worthy of replacing the rather worn vinyl copy in your collection.
This album, recorded between January and March 1966 in Nashville, is after all one of Bob Dylan's most vital, the one about which he said, "The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind was on individual bands in the Blonde On Blonde album. It's that thin, that wild mercury sound. It's metallic and bright gold, with whatever that conjures up. That's my particular sound."
(review filed 8 December 2004)
No Direction Home (72.11/72.20)*** R 1959-1966, P 2005
Surely Bob Dylan is a master of space and time, existing simultaneously on several chronological planes. There is his innovative Theme Time Radio show, his art exhibitions and autobiography, new albums, experimental films exploring themes of space and time, his never-ending tour of live performances, his advertising appearances and a steady stream of previously unreleased material from different stages of his career. Perhaps there really are seven Bob Dylans, as implied by Todd Haynes in his recent film discourse on Dylan through space and time, I'm Not There.
Martin Scorsese's film 2005 No Direction Home takes a more documentary approach to the same themes, exploring the scintillating period between 1959 and 1966, and using a wealth of little seen and heard material as illustration. To complement the film, this 2CD set of nuggets from the vaults, No Direction Home: The Soundtrack, doubles as Volume 7 in the esteemed Bootleg Series.
Martin Scorsese appears to have been given unprecedented access to the Dylan archives and along with a variety of demos and live recordings has chosen a number of choice outtakes from Freewheelin', Another Side Of, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde. These include an early version of Mr Tambourine Man with Ramblin' Jack Elliott, a drumless version of She Belongs To Me, a different arrangement of It Takes A Lot To Laugh when it was still known as The Phantom Engineer and take one of Desolation Row with just Al Kooper on guitar and Harvey Brooks on bass guitar. Many of these tracks were known about by Dylan collectors, circulated on tapes and bootlegs, but usually in poor quality copies, rather than the official, excellent first generation stereo masters used here.
For me, the sessions for Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde are the most fascinating of all Dylan's work in the sixties and finally being able to hear these outtakes properly added a magnificent new perspective to that classic period; and fresh performances of the familiar earlier songs, such as Blowin' In The Wind and A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, demonstrate his artistic development and maturity in those mercurial years. The CD begins with a home tape recording fragment made in Hibbing when Dylan was just eighteen, and concludes with the legendary "Royal Albert Hall" performance of Like A Rolling Stone. This and Song To Woody (from the album Bob Dylan) are the only two tracks to have been previously released.
That these 40-50 year old recordings still speak to current generations with the level of popularity that they do is yet further evidence of Dylan's time out of mind mastery.
(review filed 24 January 2009)