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

G

 

Marvin Gaye
Early Classics
(47.55)** P 1961-1967, P 1996
With the Motown catalogue in disarray for many years, it was only through budget compilations such as the Early Classics series that many underrated gems were in catalogue. The purpose of the series was to present B-sides and early album tracks in the context of the more familiar singles. With most of Marvin Gaye's early albums back in catalogue, this now serves as a useful low-priced sampler, with five single A-sides (including Can I Get A Witness? from 1963, which wasn't on an album, with the Supremes clearly audible in the background);  8 album tracks from That Stubborn Kinda' Fella, How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You and Moods Of Marvin Gaye; 1 oddity and 4 B-sides.
The oddity is the fabulous Lucky Lucky Me, recorded in January 1965 but unreleased in his lifetime. Instead, a fine instrumental version using the same backing track was released featuring Earl Van Dyke on Hammond organ, with the new title All For You. Marvin's original version was first released in 1994, along with new remixes and an alternative version recorded in 1966. It has since appeared on other CD collections, notably Lost And Found - Love Starved Heart. Lost And Found is recommended as it consists entirely of good quality material, only released posthumously and not duplicated on his re-issued albums.
As for the four B-sides, one (You've Been A Long Time Coming) can be easily found on Moods Of Marvin Gaye, but the other three are not so readily available. I'll Take Care Of You is the B-side of Your Unchanging Love and She's Got To Be Real is on the other side of Ain't That Peculiar. Neither are to be found on the albums that those A-sides come from, or as bonus tracks on the recent re-issues. Never Let You Go (Sha-Lu-Bop), with its rock and rolling piano and doo wop harmonies, was the B-side of 1961's Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide, also found on the currently unavailable album The Soulful Moods Of Marvin Gaye. These three tracks are therefore now the most valuable items on the CD, until a collection comes out that mops up the stray A-sides and B-sides left out of the re-issue packages.
Ten of the tracks are stereo, the exceptions being all the tracks from That Stubborn Kinda' Fella and earlier, and the B-sides I'll Take Care Of You and She's Got To Be Real.
(review filed 28 March 2006)

Marvin Gaye
That Stubborn Kinda' Fellow/How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You
(59.11)** P 1962-1965, P 2001
Although Marvin Gaye rebelled against the production line sound of Tamla and ultimately broke the mould with his self-produced What's Going On, one could never detect any antipathy from the consummate performances he gave on everything he recorded from the moment he signed to the label in 1961, seeing himself as the new Black Sinatra, and much as I admire his later work, for me it is the recordings he made in the sixties that include some of the best records that Motown would put out.
This CD comprises two of the finest of his early albums, That Stubborn Kinda' Fellow, his second album, from 1963, and How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You, from 1965, his fifth solo album. Both are beautifully mastered from the original tapes and come in an attractive package containing all the important rudimentary information, if occasionally incorrect through omission or misprint. The first caveat to note is that although the cardboard sleeve that contains the package has the legend <<<STEREO>>> printed large on the front cover, this is only true of the second album. That Stubborn Kinda' Fellow is presented entirely in mono, as was the original album, although all but a couple of the tracks subsequently appeared in stereo on Marvin Gaye's Greatest Hits (1964).
That Stubborn Kinda' Fellow is Tamla at its earthiest, most thrilling and exuberant, and benefits from the newly signed Martha and the Vandellas providing soaring backing vocals on six of the ten tracks (two of these from when they were still a quartet known as the Del-Phis). Some of the recordings date from 1961 and 1962 (before the Vandellas were on the label), and on these former singles and B-sides (Soldier's Plea, Taking My Time, I'm Yours You're Mine and Hello There Angel) the Love-Tones or the Andantes provide vocal backup. 
Stubborn Kind Of Fellow and Hitch Hike had both been hit singles and led to the album being commissioned; and  Pride And Joy (with a new vocal) was to be Marvin's greatest hit to date a couple of months later. Although considered as a single, the ska rhythm of Wherever I Lay My Hat was not found on a 45 until it became a B-side in 1969. The album was not released in the UK though some of the singles from it came out on the Oriole label, without denting the charts.
Whilst the anorak within me wants to see Marvin Gaye's entire Tamla catalogue released two at a time in this series, my bargain-hunter side concedes that this pairing represents the cream of his output in the first half of the sixties, especially since they share company with aspirational non-pop albums such as Hello Broadway This Is Marvin and A Tribute To The Great Nat King Cole.
How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You is a smoother, more seductive album and is in many ways more consistent than That Stubborn Kinda' Fellow. It kicks off with four sublime A-sides, You're A Wonderful One, How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), Try It Baby (on which David Ruffin guests) and the much covered Baby Don't You Do It. All of these were big US hits, though fared less well in the UK, where three of them were released on the Stateside label. All but four of the rest of the album tracks were released as B-sides at the time, though both Now That You've Won Me and Forever (the Marvelettes song) were in different versions to these. 
The album was recorded between February 1963 and August 1964 with a variety of producers and songwriters and came out in the UK on the newly launched Tamla Motown label in a slightly re-sequenced version, apparently having 14 tracks, though I haven't been able to confirm this by finding a track-list.
There are no bonus tracks, which could have included the related B-sides If My Heart Could Sing, When I'm Alone I Cry (both from the album When I'm Alone I Cry) and Walk On The Wild Side (from Hello Broadway), but perhaps there are plans for these albums to appear in the series.
Between them these two albums have more fabulous Motown moments that one should possibly expect on one CD, featuring one of its finest male vocalists.
(review filed 8 January 2008)

Marvin Gaye
Moods Of Marvin Gaye/In The Groove
(69.08)*** P 1965-1968, P 2001
Judging from the three-figure sums being asked for this CD, it must have gone out of print. This is a shame, as these two consecutive albums from 1966 and 1968 catch him in the midst of his sixties hit-making period, and during Motown's heyday. To say he was Motown's top male vocalist at the time is high praise indeed considering the competition from Smokey, Levi, David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, but he quite possibly was, and these are superb, confident, exquisitely light performances, with dexterous treatments from the Funk Brothers.
Moods Of Marvin Gaye contains versions of past singles I'll Be Doggone/You've Been A Long Time Coming (1965), Ain't That Peculiar (1965), One More Heartache (1966) and Take This Heart Of Mine (1966). It later produced Little Darling (I Need You)/Hey Diddle Diddle (1966) and Your Unchanging Love (1967). The remaining four tracks were taken from a scrapped album of mainly standards, to be called Vulnerable, and are in a quite different style, Nat King Cole-influenced with lush big band backing. They range from Willie Nelson's Night Life, Billie Holiday's I Wonder 'Bout You and Frank Sinatra's One For My Baby to a new Stevie Wonder song called You're The One For Me.
In The Groove was at one time re-titled I Heard It Through The Grapevine to capitalise on the phenomenal success of the single that was released from it, a number one in the US and the UK. It also included the singles You/Change What You Can, Chained/At Last and the US B-side of Grapevine, You're What's Happening In The World Today (all from 1968). Like Moods, it wasn't envisioned as an album, the remaining tracks being two Drifters covers left in the can following a New York session in 1966 and recordings with different producers in 1967 and 1968, including an early version of Tear It On Down, later to be recorded by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and a smooth cover of the Four Tops' Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever.
Should a revised edition be in the pipeline, it could perhaps include as bonus tracks from the same timeline the non-album single Pretty Little Baby (1965) and the rarely collected B-sides When I Had Your Love (1966), She's Got To Be Real (1965) and I'll Take Care Of You (1967).
(review filed 23 October 2008)

Marvin Gaye
MPG/That's The Way Love Is
(70.13)** P 1969-1970, P 2001
By the end of the sixties Motown's sound had softened considerably. The gritty grooves that had previously held sway had largely been sweetened to a more AOR radio friendly mix, with larger orchestral flourishes and extra instrumentation. The artist was generally at the mercy of the producers as to how their record would sound. Marvin Gaye was no exception and was becoming increasingly unhappy with being at the hard end of the production line. 
It is noticeable on M.P.G., released in April 1969, how on some tracks the drums have been mixed down and his vocal placed forwards in the mix. The recordings, produced by Norman Whitfield, Mickey Stevenson and Ivy Jo Hunter, George Gordy, Smokey Robinson, Henry Cosby, Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier, unsurprisingly lack coherence, with, for example, the girl chorus in the left speaker on one song and in the right on the next. He is forced by the arrangements into a Levi Stubbs-like style on one song while he is made an uneasy balladeer on others. Actually, a number of the songs do sound better suited to the Four Tops. The album was made between March 1967 and March 1969, apart from this This Magic Moment which came from the same July 1966 session that provided two other Drifters covers on his previous album, perhaps from an abandoned project of Drifters covers?
M.P.G. (Marvin Pentz Gay) kicked off with his recent hit single and also included the follow-up hit That's The Way Love Is and the minor hit The End of Our Road, released the following year. As Too Busy Thinking About My Baby was recycled on the other album included on this pairing, it is omitted from the M.P.G. selection. Some of the songs seem formulaic, even clumsy by Marvin Gaye standards. Got To Get To California seems prescient as Marvin Gaye soon moved to Los Angeles and  recorded his landmark album there in 1971.
That's The Way Love Is, released January 1970, is actually by far the better album, and the sound occasionally prefigures that of What's Going On. Marvin Gaye manages to find new territory even in an over-recorded standard like Yesterday, though coasts through a chestnut like Groovin'. Norman Whitfield was at the helm for the entire album, all recorded in 1969 apart from the previously-released title track and possibly the album closer So Long (which was recorded in August 1966 according to the estimable Don't Forget The Motor City website, but sounds more recent), and it shows in consistency. Marvin Gaye sounds far more confident throughout than on M.P.G. and is more stretched vocally, and his sincerity on a song such as Abraham, Martin And John is manifest. Listening to the song That's The Way Love Is I realized where Tricky had found the keyboard sample on Overcome.
There are no bonus tracks but there is a playing time of over 70 minutes, and the non-album B-sides of the time had been pulled from earlier albums, recorded in 1962 and 1963 (despite there being several gems in the vaults, as we know since they were later released on albums such as Lost And Found - Love Starved Heart).
(review filed 27 October 2008)

Marvin Gaye
Together/It Takes Two
(62.49)**  R 1963-1966, P 2001
Marvin Gaye enjoyed his parallel career as a duettist with Motown's favoured ladies, and enjoyed commercial success with each, but was always ultimately unlucky with his vocal partners. First, Mary Wells left the label for Twentieth Century Fox, then Kim Weston left with husband-producer Mickey Stevenson to sign to MGM, and Tammi Terrell left this world altogether, having tragically collapsed in his arms onstage with a fatal brain tumour.
Both Together, the album he made with Mary Wells, and Take Two, made with Kim Weston, were re-mastered entirely in stereo and released on this single CD in 2001, in the 2 Classic Albums 1 CD series. Together was recorded between February and October 1963 and released in April 1964, at the same time as the Top Twenty single Once Upon A Time/What's The Matter With You Baby, and was sufficiently successful for a follow up to have been planned, though it is an unremarkable, if by no means bad album, the pair seldom reaching the heights that either had achieved individually. Apart from the two songs on the single, all the material was standard material, re-interpretations of songs well known at the time by Connie Francis, Ella Fitzgerald, the Dominoes, Sarah Vaughan and so on. Needless to say, the singing is smooth and faultless and the Funk Brothers never less than excellent, but perhaps all missing that certain spark to lift the enterprise.
Mary Wells' sudden departure caused seismic waves at Motown, but after it had caught its breath, the choice of Kim as Marvin's new singing partner must have been quite swift as the B-side of their first joint single, What Good Am I Without You/I Want You 'Round, was cut less than two months later. It must have been a natural choice as Kim had been a supporting artist on the Marvin Gaye Revue concerts that year.
I Want You 'Round was a Smokey Robinson song that Smokey had tried out with Mary Wells the year before but not released. Another early try-out was James Brown's I Love You, Yes I Do which Kim Weston had recorded alone in April 1964 and to which Marvin Gaye added his new vocals that September.  Although a few tracks were recorded during 1965, and a one-sided acetate of Baby Say Yes was circulating towards the end of the year, after the failure of What Good Am I Without You in the charts no follow-up single appeared until December 1966, when It Takes Two became a huge smash. It remains the song for which Kim Weston is best known, and was the only single to be taken from the album Take Two after its release in August 1966. It looks as if the sessions of March 1966, during which It Takes Two was completed, marked the last time Kim Weston recorded for the label. 
The album veered slightly awkwardly between the trademark hot Motown groove of the in-house compositions, many co-written by Mickey Stevenson, and the standards thought by Berry Gordy to appeal to the more "adult" buyers - songs like 'Til There Was You and Secret Love, blessed though they were by some modern arrangements and brilliant playing from the Funk Brothers. Kim's vocals were strong though, and were the foil that coaxed some competitively inspired performances from Marvin. The piecemeal recording process, however, stretched over more than two years, gave a lack of cohesion to the album.
Take Two is alternatively available on Take Two Plus, with seven bonus tracks, in a re-sequenced version.
(review filed 1 June 2009)

Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston
Take Two Plus
(53.12)***  R 1964-1966, P 2007
Marvin Gaye enjoyed his parallel career as a duettist with Motown's favoured ladies, and enjoyed commercial success with each, but was always ultimately unlucky with his vocal partners. First, Mary Wells left the label for Twentieth Century Fox, then Kim Weston left with husband-producer Mickey Stevenson to sign to MGM, and finally Tammi Terrell collapsed in his arms onstage with a fatal brain tumour, at which point he pledged never to pair up again.
Mary Wells' sudden departure caused seismic waves at Motown. It is well known that some new songs she had recorded were reassigned to other singers, notably a reluctant Brenda Holloway, but it now appears that in May 1964 work had also begun on another record with Marvin Gaye. The evidence is the song You've Got To Be For Real which was assigned to Marvin and Mary, and is released here for the first time, with Mary's vocal having been replaced in September 1964 by that of Kim Weston. 
After Motown had caught its breath, the choice of Kim as Marvin's new singing partner must have been quite swift as the B-side of their first joint single, What Good Am I Without You/I Want You 'Round, was cut in July 1964. It must have been a natural choice as Kim had been a supporting artist on the Marvin Gaye Revue concerts that year.
I Want You 'Round was a Smokey Robinson song that Smokey had tried out with Mary Wells the year before but not released. Another early try-out was James Brown's I Love You, Yes I Do which Kim Weston had recorded alone in April 1964 and to which Marvin Gaye added his new vocals that September.  Although a few tracks were recorded during 1965, and a one-sided acetate of Baby Say Yes was circulating towards the end of the year, after the failure of What Good Am I Without You in the charts no follow-up single appeared until December 1966, when It Takes Two became a huge smash. It remains the song for which Kim Weston is best known, and was the only single to be taken from the album Take Two, released a couple of months earlier. It looks from this as if the sessions of March 1966, during which It Takes Two was completed, marked the last time Kim Weston recorded for the label. 
The album veered slightly awkwardly between the trademark hot Motown groove of the in-house compositions, many co-written by Mickey Stevenson, and the standards thought by Berry Gordy to appeal to the more "adult" buyers - songs like 'Til There Was You and Secret Love, blessed though they were by some modern arrangements and brilliant playing from the Funk Brothers. Kim's vocals were strong though, and were the foil that coaxed some competitively inspired performances from Marvin. The piecemeal recording process, however, stretched over more than two years, gave a lack of cohesion to the album.
In 1998 the album was released on CD in the Motown Master Series, in an expanded and re-mastered form, under the title Take Two Plus. It sold out quickly, was not re-pressed and has apparently been in strong subsequent demand. Mixed among the twelve re-sequenced tracks (eleven in stereo, I Love You Yes I Do in mono) were a further six mono contemporary duets that had been debuted on various posthumous compilations. The liner notes suggests that these had been intended for a further album tentatively titled Side By Side, though as all six tracks were recorded between 1964 and 1965 apart from I Couldn't Help Falling You (from the March 1966 sessions) it looks as if such an album would have been largely leftovers. They include three further standards - Exactly Like You and Let's Do It (both borrowing from Nina Simone's versions) and Dinah Washington's Teach Me Tonight, which further weigh down the album.  Furthermore, the out-take Teach Me Tonight is another old Mary Wells backing track to which Marvin and Kim had recorded new vocals either in 1965 or, more probably, 1964. One wonders why the bonus tracks were not placed at the end of the disc to retain the integrity of the original album.
The compilers of this 2007 reissue, which differs from the 1998 release only by virtue of one further previously unreleased mono track from 1964 (the excellent Ivy Jo Hunter song You've Got To Be For Real), seem unaware that Take Two was re-mastered entirely in stereo and in the correct running order, and re-released in 2001 in the affordable 2 Classic Albums 1 CD series as Together/Take Two, coupled with the 1963 album Marvin Gaye made with Mary Wells. Buyers of Take Two therefore now have the bonus choices of either seven tracks with Kim Weston or a ten-track album with Mary Wells. Don't ask me to decide, though; I bought both.
(review filed 9 April 2007)

Lisa Germano
Happiness (US Import)
(49.33)** P 1993
You have to warm to someone who sings about herself as an "inconsiderate bitch", calls her song publishing company Emotional Wench, and writes a song about her Bad Attitude. Known as a fiddle-player from her years on the road with John Mellencamp, it is her smokey voice and languid way with a song that first capture attention on this major-label debut solo album (she had an album on her own Major Bill label in 1991). There is a dark humour permeating the slightly sinister atmosphere of many of these songs, which makes for a most engaging wallow. 
Apart from her own acerbically witty songs, on this original release of the album there is a suitably ironic re-working of These Boots Were Made For Walking, complete with the sounds of pots and pans being thrown in a fun temper tantrum, which demonstrates the spirit in which to appreciate these songs. This was dropped from the re-jigged version of the album which came out on Four AD in 1994, with a couple of the songs remixed by Ivo and John Fryer. If you have this original version of the album but want to hear remixes of the songs, you can find five of them on the recommended 26-minute EP Inconsiderate Bitch
(review filed 9 June 2005)

Lisa Germano
Geek The Girl
(43.38)*** P 1994
Seven years touring with John Mellencamp, playing second fiddle, left Lisa Germano with a lot to write about and a disaffection for the mainstream. Two solo albums down the line she joined forces with Ivo Watts-Russell at 4AD, who remixed tracks from her Happiness album for the EP Inconsiderate Bitch, and provided the platform for her next album in 1994, Geek The Girl, a skilful and uncompromising semi-autobiographical exploration of sexual conflict and abuse. ... A Psychopath was inspired by her personal experiences with a stalker, and samples a 911 call made while confronting an intruder.
"this is the story of geek the girl," she writes, "a girl who is confused about how to be sexual and cool in the world but finds out she isn't cool and gets constantly taken advantage of sexually, gets kind of sick and enjoys giving up but at the end still tries to believe in something beautiful and dreams of still loving a man in hopes that he can save her from her shit life........ha ha ha what a geek!"
(review filed 9 September 2003, expanded 4 March 2005)

Lisa Germano
Lullaby For Liquid Pig
(36.34)*** P 2002
Lisa Germano went under the radar after the relative commercial failure of her 1998 album Slide. Her deal with 4AD ended and she was minded to never make another record, instead working as a clerk at Book Soup in Hollywood, writing songs in her spare time. Although she occasionally worked in a supporting role on projects with the likes of David Bowie and Neil Finn it was four years before she went into the studios to work on a new album of her own. Lullaby For Liquid Pig was the result, with her skewed humour, inimitable unique style and voice like a welcoming warm bath happily intact, and up there with the best of her work. Although her subject matter can be stark, the listening experience is far from depressing, just as listening to the blues can be uplifting, thanks to a high watermark of quality control
(review filed 4 March 2005)

Gladiators
Dreadlocks The Time Is Now
(62.37)** P 1976-1979, P 2004
This 19-tracker is compiled from the period 1976-1979, when the Gladiators were recording at Joe Gibbs, Harry J and Channel One in Jamaica for the UK label Front Line. It includes singles such as Chatty Chatty Mouth, Dreadlocks The Time Is Now, Pocket Money and Stick A Bush. All the tracks were produced by Prince Tony Robinson or the Gladiators themselves using the best session musicians (Sly Dunbar, Ansell Collins, Earl "Wire" Lindo, Leroy "Horsemouth" Wallace etc. etc.) of the day.
All of their classic Front Line album debut Trenchtown Mix Up, apart from the tracks Know Yourself Mankind and Thief In The Night, is included, along with key tracks from Proverbial Reggae, Naturality and Sweet So Till.
The only disappointment is the single Pocket Money, as it is not the lengthy 12" mix featuring U-Roy but a short single edit that was on the UK B-side of Dreadlocks The Time Is Now, and also is the only mono mix on the album.
(review filed 23 August 2008)

Lesley Gore
The Golden Hits Of Lesley Gore
(43.04)* P 1963-1966, P 1987
Whilst a comprehensive box set exists for Lesley Gore completists, this will probably suffice for the more casual listener if the price is right. Kicking off with the iconic anthem of teen girl angst, It's My Party (And I'll Cry If I Want To), which sounds petulant until you realise it is the end of the world because Johnny has left the party with Judy; and its triumphal and equally unsophisticated sequel, the glorious Judy's Turn To Cry, it contains all of Lesley Gore's 12 Mercury label Top 100 hits from 1963 and 1966 together with three flip sides, two album tracks and one flop. It includes the powerful feminist statement You Don't Own Me, rather ahead of its time in 1963, although she took a backwards step the following year with the resignedly accepting sentiments of That's The Way Boys Are.
Lesley Gore benefited greatly from the production skills of Quincy Jones and Claus Ogerman's arrangements, though a standout track, which wasn't a single, What Am I Gonna Do With You, has a typically brilliant Jack Nitzsche arrangement.
As this album first came out on CD in 1987 (expanded from its vinyl original) it suffers slightly from mastering which foreshortens songs by a second or two to mask analogue hiss, although all are taken from original 2,3 and 4 track stereo master tapes (some of which differ slightly from the mono equivalents used on the actual singles), and has an ungenerous by today's standards 43 minutes playing time
(review filed 17 September 2005)

Grateful Dead
Birth Of The Dead
(54.37/72.09)** R 1965-1967, P 2003
When Rhino released the box-set The Golden Road in 2001, not only did they present each of the Grateful Dead's 10 original Warners albums with masses of additional previously unreleased material, they also included a new 2CD compilation of recordings that preceded their debut album. A couple of years later each expanded, re-mastered album was released in its own right, including the new compilation.
Birth Of The Dead comprises previously hard to find tracks recorded in 1965-66 for the Autumn and Scorpio labels, including their early singles, plus, on the second disc, 14 previously unreleased live recordings from the Bay-Area, made by Bear.
Although the band always had a love of American roots music, there is not much evidence on the early sides, which are mostly conventional folk-rock and blues with an eye on the main chance. The 1965 Autumn sessions, made when they were known as the Emergency Crew, were not released at the time but included Gordon Lightfoot's Early Morning Rain, the traditional I Know You Rider, which the Byrds and doubtless other West Coast bands were also performing, and most interestingly the original Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks), a supercharged blues jam which was to turn up on Anthem Of The Sun. 
By the following summer, when they returned to the studio in a session for the Scorpio label, the band had begun to experiment and evolve, and the material, such as the traditional Cold Rain and Snow, Don't Ease Me In and Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers' Stealin' (their first single), was more indicative of where their hearts lay. A single for Verve on which they backed Jon Hendricks in 1967 is also included.
The live tracks, from various San Francisco gigs in July 1966, have been sequenced to resemble a typical concert of the period, beginning with Viola Lee Blues, another Cannon's Jug Stompers original (written by the harmonica player Noah Lewis), but transformed by the Dead over nine and a half minutes to mark the start of the extraordinary journey which they and their audience were to share over the next many years. Their original Standing On The Corner keeps company with covers of songs by Henry Thomas, Otis Redding, the Mississippi Sheiks, Bob Dylan, Slim Harpo, Jimmy Reed, Bill Monroe, Blind Willie Johnson, Little Junior Parker, Lightnin' Hopkins and Blind Arvella Grey - all songs they were never to record. The set closer, Keep Rolling By, is listed as a traditional song but is more probably one of their own, and has the late Pigpen trading vocals with Jerry Garcia.
This is a fascinating document for anyone with more than a passing interest in one of the most inventive and creative musical forces of our times
(review filed 6 June 2005)

Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead
(79.18)*** R 1967, P 1967-2003
Thanks to Rhino's excellent Birth Of The Dead 2CD this is no longer the earliest studio evidence of the Grateful Dead's work, but it is still their eponymous debut album, recorded (apart from one track) over four days in January 1967 in Hollywood at RCA's studios. Jerry Garcia had worked there the previous year, helping out on Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow album, with engineer Dave Hassinger, of Rolling Stones fame, who was now producing The Grateful Dead.
Having first joined the Dead's golden road of musical experience around 1969 and not hearing their first album, I had been expecting it to have relatively unformed ideas and only the beginnings of their distinctive character. The first listen was enough to prove me quite wrong, with their ten minute tour de force of Viola Lee Blues in particular instantly dazzling, and each subsequent play has only re-enforced the confidence and subtlety of the playing and the depth to their original pieces. Band compositions mingle with blues, jug band standards and Bonnie Dobson's apocalyptic Morning Dew, all performed much as they would have sounded live in the San Francisco dance halls or at the Golden Gate Park Human Be-In they had played the week before recording the album. 
The album produced one single, The Golden Road/Cream Puff War. Early fades necessitated by length restrictions on vinyl album sides have been replaced with the original full-length masters, though most of these also fade, with Schoolgirl gaining almost a minute.
To the original album has been added over 40 minutes of bonus material. Four of these tracks were recorded at RCA as try-outs after the album had been completed, and the final two tracks are versions of Viola Lee Blues. One is a three-minute edit, suggesting it may have been considered as a follow-up single at one time, and the other is an (incomplete) 23 minute live version from Rio Nido Dance Hall in September 1967, quite different to the studio performance but just as magnificent.
(review filed 21 January 2006)

Grateful Dead
Anthem Of The Sun
(39.04)**** R 1968-1969, P 1971
Anthem Of The Sun is still probably the best album to buy first by the Grateful Dead, as it holds the key to so many aspects of this most rich and diverse of groups. Grateful Dead records fall most basically into two camps: those recorded in the studio and those recorded on stage in front of an audience.
It is on their live performances that their reputation rests, and more albums of live recordings by the Dead have been released than probably by any other band in history. The first of these, Live/Dead, from 1970, remains a high watermark in the history of live albums and for those wishing particularly to explore that side of the band is still the best point of entry.
Anthem Of The Sun was the second album by the Grateful Dead, and was as innovative and ambitious as their excellent debut album, The Grateful Dead, had been conventional. Although essentially an 8-track studio album, the endlessly creative Dead were trying to find a way to translate their live sound onto record, and to this end were multi-tracking onto tape all the live concerts the band were playing during the six month period they were recording and mixing the album.
For the studio engineers tasked with pushing the envelope it was an exasperating process and having begun in Los Angeles CA, three dissatisfied studios and four months later they finished up on the East Coast, at a fourth studio, Olmstead Sound in New York NY, with their own live soundman, Dan Healy. Having laid down the basic skeleton of drum tracks (using both Bill Kreutzmann and new recruit Mickey Hart) for the album's five tracks, the band then overlaid a complex collage of fragments derived from live concerts and any amount of studio performances and overdubs, additionally utilising the electronics and John Cage-style prepared piano of Tom Constanten, who was yet to join the band, and the experiments of the Grateful Dead themselves.
When they had finished in the studio in December 1967, a further period of some months of live mixing followed, drawing from 16 recorded concerts, some as recent as 31 March 1968. It is believed that a significant proportion of the live segments on the completed master is from the Carousel Ballroom (soon to become Fillmore West), San Francisco CA on 14 February 1968. Some live recordings from the Kings Beach Bowl, Lake Tahoe CA gigs between 22-24 February 1968, including those used on Live/Dead, can be found on Dick's Picks Vol. 22.
The result of this marathon enterprise was a magnificent psychedelic tour de force of sonic majesty, which was matched by its jubilance, celebration and passion, and synthesizing the studio Dead and the live Dead into an organic whole. No album had ever been prepared in this way before, and in hindsight the technique can be seen as a kind of prototype "plunderphonics", paving the way many years later for remix pioneers like John Oswald, who was subsequently to brilliantly tackle the Dead's masterpiece Dark Star on Grayfolded.
The original vinyl album suffered from rather murky mastering which buried some of the most brilliant aural effects, and a remixed version overseen by Jerry Garcia in 1971 superceded it. It is this second version that was used for this CD transfer.
(review filed 24 July 2007)

Grateful Dead
Anthem Of The Sun
(79.40)**** R 1968-1969, P 1968-2003
Anthem Of The Sun, in its original vinyl form, was the first Dead album I acquired, a little after it first appeared in UK shops, in 1969, and I still believe it is probably the best album to buy first by the band, as it holds the key to so many aspects of this most rich and diverse of groups. Grateful Dead records fall most basically into two camps: those recorded in the studio and those recorded on stage in front of an audience. It is on their live performances that their reputation rests, and more albums of live recordings by the Dead have been released than probably by any other band in history. The first of these, Live/Dead, from 1970, remains a high watermark in the history of live albums and is still the best point of entry for those wishing particularly to explore that side of the band.
Anthem Of The Sun was the second album by the Grateful Dead, and was as innovative and ambitious as their excellent debut album, The Grateful Dead, had been conventional. Although essentially an 8-track studio album, the endlessly creative Dead were trying to find a way to translate their live sound onto record, and to this end were multi-tracking onto tape all the live concerts the band were playing during the six month period they were recording and mixing the album. For the studio engineers it was an exasperating process and having begun in Los Angeles CA, three dissatisfied studios and four months later they finished up on the East Coast, at a fourth studio, Olmstead Sound in New York NY, with their own live soundman, Dan Healy. Having laid down the basic skeleton of drum tracks (using both Bill Kreutzmann and new recruit Mickey Hart) for the album's five tracks, the band then overlaid a complex collage of fragments derived from live concerts and any amount of studio performances and overdubs, additionally utilising the electronics and John Cage-style prepared piano of Tom Constanten, who was yet to join the band, and the experimenting members of the Grateful Dead. 
When they had finished in the studio in December 1967, a further period of some months of live mixing followed, drawing from 16 recorded concerts, some as recent as 31 March 1968. It is believed that a significant proportion of the live segments on the completed master is from the Carousel Ballroom (soon to become Fillmore West), San Francisco CA on 14 February 1968. Some of the other live recordings from the Kings Beach Bowl, Lake Tahoe CA between 22-24 February 1968 can be found on Dick's Picks 22.
The result of this marathon enterprise was a magnificent psychedelic tour de force of sonic majesty, which was matched by its jubilance, celebration and passion, and synthesizing the studio Dead and the live Dead into an organic whole. No album had ever been prepared in this way before, and in hindsight the technique can be seen as a kind of prototype "plunderphonics", paving the way many years later for remix pioneers like John Oswald, who was subsequently to brilliantly tackle the Dead's masterpiece Dark Star.
The original vinyl album suffered from rather murky mastering which buried some of the most brilliant aural effects, and a remixed version overseen by Jerry Garcia in 1971 superceded it. It was this second version that was used for earlier CD transfers. For this edition, the original tape sources have been used to create with crystalline clarity what must be the definitive stereo version, in HDCD "Rhinophonic Authentic Sound". The vividness of the sound picture immediately strips away the decades that have passed since their creation, presenting an awesome soundscape of myriad tumbling galaxies and dying stars.
For those who already own Anthem Of The Sun on CD, it is still worth considering this edition because, apart from the superior mixing and mastering, there is some 35 minutes of fabulous bonus live material, recorded at the Shrine Exposition Center in Los Angeles CA in August 1968, shortly after the album was released. The lengthy Alligator (the first product of their partnership with lyricist Robert Hunter, and centrepiece of the album) and Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks), which together made up the second vinyl side, explode here into a final four minutes of inspired Feedback.
Finally, there is the hidden track at the end - the mono single mix of Born Cross-Eyed (flip of the original studio Dark Star, and the A-side of the same release in the UK), which has an extra section of multi-layered feedback at its close. Dark Star, recorded at the Anthem sessions but never intended for the album (rather as Strawberry Fields Forever was not on Sergeant Pepper), can be found appended to the re-mastered Live/Dead.
(review filed 6 March 2006)

Grateful Dead
Aoxomoxoa
(79.26)*** R 1968-1969, P 1969-2001
Aoxomoxoa was the band's third album, the eagerly awaited follow-up to Anthem Of The Sun, originally released in June 1969, but remixed and re-released in July 1971, and it is this remix that has been used for subsequent CD re-issues.
Whereas Anthem synthesized the bands live and studio halves into a glorious whole, Aoxomoxoa is a purely studio affair, more song based, and although some lengthier pieces were considered and rehearsed in the studio for the album, they were not used as they were considered more suitable for a live setting. The Eleven, for example, was instead recorded live for their fourth album, the legendary Live Dead, which was being recorded at live concerts during the same period. To quote Jerry Garcia from a Deadheads' newsletter, "If you take Live Dead and Aoxomoxoa together, you have a picture of what we were doing then. We were playing Live Dead and we were recording Aoxomoxoa." The studio and live sides of the band had been awarded their own platforms.
Earlier recordings for the album were also junked when the studio acquired an early 16-track Ampex. This was instantly taken up by the band with enthusiasm and is responsible for the album's remarkable clarity, though one of the reason for Jerry Garcia's 1971 remix was that he found the original results muddy and cluttered. He also removed some multi-tracks, harmonies, phase-shifting and stereo effects, which means that whatever our personal preferences we are listening to this album though Garcia's 1971 revisionist ears, not to the band's original 1969 statement. Whilst I wouldn't deny anyone the right to hear the remix, I would also like to hear the record as it sounded in 1969, and since this has been newly remastered in HDCD it seems a missed opportunity not to have gone back to the original mix, as was the case with Anthem Of The Sun, and brought it up to quality, whilst still retaining the stereo panning and other effects from 1969. 
The songwriting axes had also changed since the previous album, to which all band members had contributed. The band had met up with writer and lyricist Robert Hunter, and having already collaborated with Garcia on Dark Star, and with Phil Lesh and Pigpen on Anthem Of The Sun's Alligator, had since become the band's lyricist in residence, mostly working with Jerry Garcia. The pair of them composed the entire album (with some musical contribution from Phil Lesh). 
The songs have proved themselves of enduring quality, with favourites such as St Stephen (which also appears on Live Dead), China Cat Sunflower and occasionally Cosmic Charlie featuring in the band's live repertoire. Others were precluded from live performance due to the adventurous instrumentation and structure of the studio creations. The lyrics and arrangements are of a maturity that shows that there was far more to the band than mere acid-prankstering and partying, and the band had cohered musically as a unit, with the line-up as before but with Tom Constanten now recruited fully into the band. Only the "difficult" eight-minute chant What's Become Of The Baby breaks up the flow of the record as Americana sing-a-longs like Doin' That Rag complement blues tunes like Dupree's Diamond Blues, the single from the album (Cosmic Charlie being the B-side).
The playing time of this remastered edition has been more than doubled with the addition of four bonus tracks. These consist of three superb extended studio jams from August 1968, including The Eleven Jam, showing some of the original intentions of the album before a complementary live album was envisioned, and a live version of Cosmic Charlie from the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco for the Live Dead tapes on 25 January 1969 (incidentally the same day that the Beatles recorded Let It Be at Apple Studios).
This was to be the band's last overtly psychedelic studio album, since the band went through the most organically brilliant reinvention of musical history with 1970's Workingman's Dead.
(review filed 15 August 2007)

Grateful Dead
Workingman's Dead
(79.51)**** R 1969-1970, P 1970-2003
Any ill-informed Dead Head who bought this upon its release in June 1970, expecting more of the acid-drenched blues and psychedelia of such recent predecessors as Anthem Of The Sun and Aoxomoxoa, must have had a considerable shock when they dropped the needle into the groove, and track one, Uncle John's Band, began to play.
The hallmark guitar was augmented by mellifluous pedal steel and banjo, and in the place of all the weirdness and experimentation came beautifully-recorded, clean sounding, almost traditional, timeless songs, song after song with three-part harmonies and tunes you almost felt you knew already. The Dead had gone back to their roots, the music they grew up with, and their lyricist, Robert Hunter, had risen to the challenge with songs about miners and engineers that belonged within a rich musical tradition, largely forgotten, that was being re-invented by artists like the Band and Ry Cooder. 
When they entered the studios behind the Fillmore for two weeks in February 1970 they had been coached in harmony by Crosby, Stills and Nash, knew all the songs they were to record and even the order they were to appear on the album, and were completely focused on their mission. This, and its equally inspired sequel American Beauty, expel the myth that the Grateful Dead were a live band whose studio work was of secondary importance, and can stand up proudly against any other record.
This edition, re-mastered in HDCD, doubles the length of the original album with live material and one alternative take. The live recordings,  mostly from 1970, are all songs from the album plus one song that had been intended to close side two but was eventually not used, and show how the Dead were both able to integrate the new material into their set and to play it so convincingly well. The earliest recording here is Dire Wolf, from Santa Rosa CA in June 1969, showing they were previewing their new direction alongside their existing set a full eight months before they entered the studios
(review filed 26 March 2004)

Grateful Dead
American Beauty
(79.56)**** R 1970, P 1971-2003
Three months after Workingman's Dead reached the shops, the Dead were in the studios for the second time that year, at Wally Heider's in San Francisco, to record its sequel, American Beauty, making 1970 probably the high water mark as far as their studio work is concerned. It was a time when a number of American-based musicians such as Dylan and the Band, the Byrds, the Flying Burritos, Ry Cooder, Van Morrison and others had been rediscovering their country's musical roots, unplugging their guitars and adding fiddles and button accordions to forge a new Americana. It was natural that the Dead should be associated with this movement since they had been long term students of folk, blues, jug band and bluegrass music even before they had begun their psychedelic explorations in the mid-sixties.
In Workingman's Dead they had shown themselves to be highly adept at mastering the demands of these structured and mostly acoustic musical forms with a collection of brilliant new songs, and the self-produced American Beauty, which came out in November 1970, proved that this was no fluke. If anything, the songs on American Beauty are even stronger and equally timeless.
Furthermore, the music is beautifully recorded by engineer Steve Barncard, with deep clarity and resonance, in a way that would expose any flaws or weaknesses in the singing and playing, should there have been any. The performances were live in the studio, with restrained overdubs added to the basic tracks by Jerry Garcia and guest musicians, and is a testament to their proficiency. The songs, with Robert Hunter's exquisite lyrics, are allowed to speak for themselves, with very little soloing, and Jerry Garcia mostly using his pedal steel guitar in place of his normal electric 6-string.
Songs such as Friend Of The Devil and Bob Weir's Sugar Magnolia became staples of the band's live repertoire, while Truckin' and the very beautiful Ripple were released on a single in January 1971 to become their biggest selling single to date. This is one of the most essential of all Grateful Dead albums.
This edition was re-mastered for the box set The Golden Road and became available separately in 2003. It benefits considerably from the improved mastering (especially if your CD or universal player supports HDCD). The album is also available elsewhere on DVD-Audio with a 5.1 surround mix prepared by Mickey Hart.
Additionally, this CD has been filled to the brim with 37 minutes worth of bonus tracks. In between the mono shortened single edits of Truckin' and Ripple (the latter a "hidden" track) are live versions of five of the songs from the album, three recorded in the summer of 1970, before the album's recording, and two shortly after in October and December. These are Till The Morning Comes and a rough and ready Truckin' (unfortunately from an original tape which is missing the opening chorus but which has some lovely guitar halfway through).  Although there are live versions from the period of all these songs on other Grateful Dead records, none of these tracks has been previously released. They demonstrate how these songs change in a live setting and add a valuable coda to this most studio of albums. 
(review filed 12 January 2008)

Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack
(78.11/72.05/79.52/78.14/79.51)**** R 1974, P 2005
In October 1974, the Grateful Dead played for five nights at the Winterland in San Francisco by way of a temporary farewell, filming the shows for a film that they hoped would serve as a substitute until they resumed touring, but which didn't appear until 1977, by which time they were back on the road. 
Meanwhile, selections from the concerts had appeared on the double-album set Steal Your Face. Generally regarded as the Dead's poorest live album, both in the song selection and the sound mix by Bear and Phil Lesh, it came to be known as Steal Your Money. It's not an album I have heard, but I do know that none of its detractors level the same criticisms at this magnificent 5CD set, culled from the same shows. It is the CD equivalent of the film but with much added, even more than the extended 300-minute DVD set that came out in 2004. There is little overlap with Steal Your Face: four songs appear on both (Ship Of Fools, Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo, US Blues, Stella Blues) but only Ship Of Fools comes from the same night. As the sound has been radically upgraded by Jeffrey Norman for this set, it would be interesting to compare with the earlier master.
At the time of these gigs Mickey was on a gap year (but guests on the final night) and Keith and Donna were fully paid-up members alongside Jerry, Phil, Bob and Bill. The recording dates are given and show that each disc favours one night in date order, but can contain performances drawn from any night between 16th-20th. For example CD1 contains tracks from every night except 20th but features a full half-hour segment of Playing In The Band from the opening night, whereas CD5 is entirely drawn from the final night. All the performances are complete (unlike the film) and when the songs run into one another (as they do for all but two tracks on CD2) they always come from the same performance. 
Some songs are kept short, others are fully stretched, and each disc contains doses of spacey jams or drum extravaganzas. A few songs reappear on different nights (Playing In The Band, The Other One, Not Fade Away), always with good reason, and CD3 features the relatively new Weather Report Suite almost side by side with the ever evolving Dark Star (a blissful 24 minute version).
The Grateful Dead are unique among the rock fraternity and this generously priced, lovingly assembled artifact helps explain why and is bound to win them many new fans drawn from different generations. The package is rounded off with a colour booklet of photos and artwork. There are no notes but full credits are listed at the back. A tour de force.
(review filed 17 June 2008)

Grateful Dead/John Oswald
Grayfolded
(60.00/46.49)**** P 1995
It could be argued that the first ever plunderphonics record was the Grateful Dead's Anthem Of The Sun from 1969. In this they overlaid studio techniques involving overdubs, phasing, echo, backward tapes, pitch and speed shifting onto a complex collage of live concert performances that centered on That's It For The Other One, which was itself superimposed over a skeletal studio rhythm track. Therefore it is especially fitting that the acknowledged master of the medium, John Oswald, should devote this two-disc set to a single piece by the Grateful Dead, Dark Star. 
Dark Star is best known in its elongated form on the album Live/Dead, the only Grateful Dead record owned by John Oswald at the start of this project (an extract of the Live/Dead version also appeared in the film Zabriskie Point). The song began life as a sub-three minute single recorded during the sessions for Anthem Of The Sun, but its suitability as a jumping-off point for extended instrumental experimentation led to it becoming an on and off stage favourite for over twenty-five years; and since the Dead (and kerzillion bootleggers) made audio documents of all their concerts, a vast archive of over 100 performances was available as source material for John Oswald's 1995 piece, Grayfolded. Forty hours' worth of these were digitally transferred to use on the project. 
Using samples as short as one quarter of a second and rarely longer than 15 seconds, the resulting Grayfolded is an extraordinary technical and sonically hallucinatory time-warped achievement, reconstructed from performances of Dark Star dating between January 1968 and September 1993. Each disc comprises one complete assembled and perfectly lysergic performance that never was, the first disc being Transitive Axis and the second entitled Mirror Ashes, each with their own subtle conceptual distinctions.
Since the early seventies, in his plunderphonic pieces, John Oswald has tried to amplify the qualities that were most striking to him in the work of the artists he was plundering. In the case of the Dead, this was their extended live playing style. Consequently, by exaggerating the length of the piece Dark Star while attempting furthermore to translate the complete feel of the Grateful Dead live experience into an ambient dance outer-space type of record, he has created a virtual super-real definition of what Dark Star is.
The piece was commissioned by the Grateful Dead and when Phil Lesh commented that he would like to hear more of Oswald's landmark "folding" effects, he added to Mirror Ashes for his benefit a two second clip whereby the whole hour of Transitive Axis was heard, having been folded 16,384 times. This is just one example of the obsessively complex nature of the construction of this sublime work.
Essential to any Deadhead collection, this is a record that can both be listened to intently, enveloped by headphones, as I would ideally recommend, or ignominiously made to function ambiently, Eno-style, as background music to aid household or office chores, or in the car. It also has wonderfully expansive liner notes by Rob Bowman, and comprehensive time-maps, showing from where each sample was taken.
(review filed 12 January 2007)

 

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Last updated June 01, 2009 17:32

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