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
Mixed Bag (US Import)(38.24)** P 1967
Richie Havens has found a whole new audience for his intense, emotional vocal style thanks to his collaborations with the likes of Groove Armada and subsequent solo live appearances. In the seventies he owed his major popularity to his inclusion in the film of the 1969 Woodstock festival, for which he opened and had to fill for over an hour, eventually improvising what became his own anthem, Freedom. Before that he had been known to the cognoscenti from his influential Greenwich Village jazz-folk-rock interpretations of diverse material, using his unusual self-taught D-chord guitar tunings (not E-chord as is often written), and for his idiosyncratic song compositions. Although not a prolific writer, the original songs which peppered his albums became cult items to be picked up and recorded by other artists.
Somebody at Marmalade Records in the UK must have liked him because Blossom Toes recorded the quirky Just Above My Hobby Horse's Head and Julie Driscoll covered Indian Rope Man. Bob Marley later adapted the same song as African Herbsman. The Jefferson Airplane covered High Flying Bird from this album, although written by Billy Edd Wheeler.
Mixed Bag was his third album but the first for Verve Folkways and serves as a good introduction to his work. It contains the single I Can't Make It Anymore (written by Gordon Lightfoot) and his own Handsome Johnny. He transforms Jesse Fuller's San Francisco Bay Blues by slowing it down and performing it as a jazz rather than blues standard. The lengthy centre-piece Follow has a stately dignity and was later used in the films The War and A Walk On The Moon, and there are also passionate and timeless renditions of Eleanor Rigby and Just Like A Woman performed in his own style
(review filed 17 December 2003, revised 9 August 2004)
The Essential Collection (66.56)** R 1963-1969, P 1997
This budget-priced collection could not quite be called a Greatest Hits collection, or even a Best Of... After all, key hits like We're Through, Look Through Any Window, If I Needed Someone and On A Carousel are missing, and one or two tracks almost classify as Worst Of (Lullaby To Tim, seemingly sung underwater; the would-be Beatlish Time For Love; and Away Away Away, weak Carnaby Street flower-power), but it does give a good representation of what the band were like between 1963, when they signed to Parlophone, through to 1969, having gone through many changes, signing off with their Top Three hit He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother.
The album sets off in chronological order with the band's first five singles and adds as a bonus their version of Poison Ivy. This was recorded at drummer Bobby Elliott's first session with the band on 11 October 1963, which produced the single Stay, but remained unreleased until 1978 when it turned up on an Australian album, and had never been on CD until this release. Although a generous further eleven UK singles are included, after this they are interspersed with a B-side (So Lonely, the flip of Look Through Any Window) and eight album tracks. Oddly enough, although all the A-sides are in stereo (except Stay), the other nine tracks are all in mono.
The album tracks have been thoughtfully chosen, profiling their earliest group compositions (disguised under the pseudonym L. Ransford), including songs covered as singles by other artists (Put Yourself In My Place by Episode Six, and Tell Me To My Face by Keith), and their 1967 attempts at psychedelia on the albums Evolution and Butterfly. Maker is quite striking with its dominant sitar but they were soon back to the pop froth of Jennifer Eccles (who had terrible freckles, according to Scaffold). Tell Me To My Face, led by Graham Nash, isn't a million miles from the Marrakesh Express, the song he took to Crosby and Stills after the Hollies' producer rejected it.
Classic hits like I'm Alive, I Can't Let Go, Bus Stop and Stop! Stop! Stop! make this a good value buy at the right price.
(review filed 11 April 2008)
Greatest Hits And Rare Classics (50.46)** P 1964-1967, P 1998
One of Motown's very greatest singers (although as she was based in Los Angeles and refused to play the record company game, somewhat undervalued), and a classically-trained violinist, Brenda Holloway made some of the most memorable singles on a label famous for its memorable singles.
All of the 9 singles released during her Motown lifetime turn up here (with 6 of their B-sides), including her two best known songs, Every Little Bit Hurts, on which she also plays viola, and You've Made Me So Very Happy, which she co-wrote with her younger singer sister Patrice, along with Berry Gordy and Frank Wilson. Both of these are of course sublime and essential to any Motown collection.
The other 3 tracks are made up from Brenda Holloway's only proper album Every Little Bit Hurts, from 1964 (Tamla Motown UK later put together a compilation called The Artistry Of Brenda Holloway), and include her soulful version of Unchained Melody. Who knows, perhaps it was hearing this that inspired Phil Spector to revive the song the following year?
Although this collections omit some excellent material, it does score over The Very Best Of Brenda Holloway by using stereo mixes for 6 of the tracks, though sadly this does not include Every Little Bit Hurts. Some of the mastering is slightly muddy on other tracks. Hurt A Little Every Day is by far the most disgraceful, sounding as if it was mastered from a well-worn stereo acetate, and without any explanation or disclaimer in the notes.
Some of the tracks were produced in Detroit by Smokey Robinson and include versions of the Miracles' Who's Lovin' You and I've Been Good To You. There was an attempt to mould her as the new Mary Wells so versions of her 1962 B-side Operator and When I'm Gone (which Mary Wells had recorded but which Motown did not release until 1966) were made at this time. She does a great job on them but was unhappy with the direction she was being obliged to take and returned to Los Angeles before the sessions were complete.
The need for a 2CD retrospective using new mixes from best quality stereo masters and including unreleased material was still badly needed at the time of this release, but until such time this needed to be on your Motown shelf. However, the release in 2005 of the Brenda Holloway 2CD Motown Anthology answers much of this deficiency, and gives consumers the choice as to the extent of Brenda Holloway's work they want in their collection, though this remains a useful introduction of one of Motown's finest singers
(review filed 8 August 2004, revised 13 April 2005)
The Motown Anthology (67.03/66.34)*** R 1964-1968, P 2005
Until the release of this Anthology, Brenda Holloway's three years as a recording artist at Motown were best represented by the 50-minute compilation Greatest Hits And Rare Classics, which scarcely did justice to one of their finest singers, especially since it only included three selections that were solely album tracks. The Motown Anthology handsomely addresses this by including her sole album in full, and over its two and a quarter hours gathers together pretty much everything that was released at the time and quite a lot that was not, all laid out in a logical and clear fashion.
Disc One contains stereo mixes of both the complete album Every Little Bit Hurts and the unreleased album Hurtin' And Cryin' that was due for release in 1967 but was canned because a couple of singles, released in advance of the album, failed to chart. Several of its tracks were released on singles, others appeared in November 1968 on a British compilation called The Artistry Of Brenda Holloway (which also included tracks from Every Little Bit Hurts as it had not been given a UK release), but six of the twelve are previously unreleased. It is fabulous to be able to hear some of these wonderful recordings for the first time after all these years. They are timeless and can never sound dated, although they do sound almost other worldly compared to the music being created today. Indeed, one wonders whether the recording industry as it exists now would be able to recreate this kind of music at all. All the more reason to treasure these recovered moments.
Disc One includes six of her nine single A-sides including her debut, the incomparable Every Little Bit Hurts, and her biggest hits, When I'm Gone and You've Made Me So Very Happy, which she co-wrote with her sister Patrice, along with Berry Gordy and Frank Wilson. This later became an even bigger success when covered by Blood, Sweat And Tears. The booklet contains all the available information about recording dates, release dates and record numbers, as well as an insightful essay about her career, written by Paul Nixon.
When the album Every Little Bit Hurts came out in stereo, eighteen months after the mono release, it was apparently in re-channeled stereo, so for some of these titles it may well be their first time release in true stereo. Unfortunately, a couple of the tape masters appear to be in very poor condition. Every Little Bit Hurts is particularly affected, with the vocals wobbling horribly in the right-hand channel, with reverb occasionally veering alarmingly to the left-hand side, to the point where one wishes a mono master had been used instead. Similarly, on Hurtin' And Cryin', Hurt A Little Every Day has distortion that suggests it was mastered from a badly punished flexi-disc. As it used the same backing track as Kim Weston's unreleased version that turned up on her Motown Anthology, it is unfortunate that the two versions couldn't have been paired somehow to recreate a new clean Brenda Holloway master.
Disc Two is entitled The Artistry Of Brenda Holloway: Singles, Rare And Unreleased, a pretty fair description of what's on it, since as well as rounding up the other half-dozen stereo tracks from The Artistry Of Brenda Holloway, all of which had originally been on singles, it has one other B-side and a promo-only propaganda single, backed by the Supremes (in the studio to record their vocals for Going Down For The Third Time), entitled Play It Cool, Stay In School.
The remainder of the second disc consists of a further fifteen titles that were unreleased at the time, only a couple of which have since turned up on CD compilations. From the catchy floor-filling Northern Soul opener Think It Over (Before You Break My Heart) to the live version of Summertime where she accompanies herself on violin, recorded at the 20 Grand in Detroit, a popular spot for Motown artists to try out new songs at record hops, there are some simply stunning recoveries from the vaults to be heard here. Some had been circulating on high-priced low-quality bootlegs for some time, such as Come Into A Palace, a duet between Brenda and Patrice (her younger sister who was to become the voice of Valerie in the cartoon Josie And The Pussycats, and who sadly passed on in 2006). Here it is in a hi-fi stereo mix.
Who Could Ever Doubt My Love came out by the Supremes, He's My Kind Of Fellow by Gladys Knight, and Love Woke Me Up This Morning by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Now we can hear what Brenda Holloway's unique vocals did to the same material and judge for ourselves whether Motown chose the right versions to release. It's often a tough call as the label was overflowing with talent and recording material far faster than it could put it out.
Since the release of this Anthology, further gems by Brenda Holloway have turned up on A Cellarful of Motown!, A Cellarful of Motown! Vol. 2 and A Cellarful Of Motown! Vol. 3, with more undoubtedly to come. In the mean time, be sure not to pass over these. They are already up to forty-four years overdue.
(review filed 15 January 2008)
The "Chirping" Crickets (34.15)**** P 1957-1958, P 2004
This is the only album released by the Crickets in Buddy Holly's lifetime, though a solo album, Buddy Holly, was released in 1958, and a compilation of earlier material recorded by Buddy and the Three Tunes, That'll Be The Day, came out a couple of months later. Though these days the billing Buddy Holly And The Crickets is frequently used and indeed this album was re-released in 1962 with that title, this is historical revision. Buddy had a solo career on Coral whilst also being lead singer in the Crickets on Brunswick (in the UK both were on Coral).
The "Chirping" Crickets is an obvious five-star album. As well as hit singles Oh, Boy!, Maybe Baby, That'll Be The Day (the first single), and their equally memorable B-sides Not Fade Away, Tell Me How and I'm Looking For Someone To Love, there are six other exclusive tracks, all lovingly crafted at Norman Petty's studio in Clovis NM or put down in an Officer's Club at an air force base in Oklahoma City in between dates on their first tour, in order to complete the album on time, with backing vocals added back in Clovis by the Picks.
Buddy Holly's original compositions are augmented by a number of telling covers, and in fact Oh, Boy! was not an original, having previously been recorded by Sonny West. The Crickets' version of Chuck Willis's It's Too Late is surely the definitive version. Two songs were co-written by Roy Orbison, who was yet to find success as a performer, including the beautiful An Empty Cup (A Broken Date). It was to be their only album because Buddy left the group in autumn 1958 and, as we all know, 3rd February 1959 became "the day the music died", but what a classic album it is.
This 2004 edition is clearly the one to go for because apart from the excellent digitally re-mastered sound by Erick Labson, it mops up as bonus tracks the two 1958 Crickets singles, Think It Over/Fool's Paradise and It's So Easy/Lonesome Tears.
(review filed 12 August 2007)
Howlin' Wolf/Moanin' In The Moonlight (65.55)**** P 1951-1961, P 1986
This is the most essential single Howlin' Wolf CD there could possibly be and would make an excellent first purchase for a Howlin' Wolf novice. It comprises The Wolf's first two long-player releases, both what we would now regard as compilations, and was put out by Chess/MCA in 1986.
Moanin' In The Moonlight came out in America in 1959 and was made up of 12 selected A-sides and B-sides from the many 78's he released between 1951 and 1958, all monaural, including such classics as Smokestack Lightnin' and I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline). The LP kicks off with Moanin' At Midnight and How Many More Years, comprising both sides of his first Chess single, recorded in Memphis by Sam Phillips at what would become the Sun studios, long before Howlin' Wolf moved to Chicago. The songs on this LP are among the most elemental, eerie and powerful pieces of music ever committed to tape.
Equally compelling is the second collection, usually known as the Rocking Chair album, released in the US in January 1962, when the genre was presented as the root of "Music Americana". It contained 3 previously unreleased songs recorded between May and December 1961, and 9 that were on 45's released in 1960 and 1961 (though two were recorded in 1957), but all in stereo.
Famous songs include The Red Rooster, Wang Dang Doodle, Back Door Man and the Wolf's famous variation of Spoonful (he would have learned the original, fairly dissimilar Spoonful Blues from Charlie Patton) - though all staple fare for a million blues and rock bands ever since, none could match the intensity and darkness of these originals (although the Rolling Stones' Little Red Rooster came close). Most were written by Willie Dixon, who plays bass throughout, though there are a couple credited to Howlin' Wolf and a cover of St Louis Jimmy Oden's Goin' Down Slow, on which, unusually, the recitation is spoken by Willie Dixon.
The division of stereo and mono recordings is not declared anywhere on the CD and seems somewhat arbitrary, especially since Who's Been Talkin' (stereo), Tell Me (stereo) and Somebody In My Home (mono) were all recorded on 24 June 1957.
A note in the sleeve reads, "In our effort to bring you the originals for the cost of a single CD, we have omitted one selection due to the length of the combined original albums." Given the playing time of 66 minutes this is a very irritating message, but in my quest to discover the identity of the missing selection, after consulting several online discographies as far as I can tell it seems that all tracks are present and correct
(review filed 5 December 2003)
Howling Wolf Sings The Blues (59.44)**** P 1951-1952, P 2004
For most of his career the Howling Wolf's recordings appeared on the Chess label. His first recordings were made by Sam Phillips at the Memphis Recording Service (later to be called Sun Studios), who had not yet started Sun Records but recorded for other labels such as Chess and Modern. These two rival labels were in fierce dispute at the time, with each other and with Sam Phillips, as detailed in the booklet of this CD, and the Wolf was caught up in the crossfire.
By the time Ridin' In The Moonlight/Morning At Midnight had appeared on the Bihari Brothers' RPM subsidiary of Modern in September 1951, Chess had released a rival single featuring Sam Phillips' re-recorded version of the Modern flipside and announced that Leonard Chess had secured Wolf, now hot property, on an exclusive Chess contract.
Two more singles appeared on RPM, both overseen by the Bihari Brothers - Crying At Daybreak (an early version of Smokestack Lightning)/Passing By Blues and My Baby Stole Off/I Want Your Picture - before the dispute was settled in early 1952.
By then, however, the Biharis had stockpiled a lot of recorded material by the Howlin' Wolf and much of this finally saw the light of day in 1962 when the long-player Howling Wolf Sings The Blues was released on the Crown label. This has long been a favourite among Wolf devotees.
These tracks were previously compiled on Ace's Howling Wolf Rides Again CD, but now the original album has been re-created and in excellent remastered sound because fresh masters have been discovered in the archives. The original 10 tracks (including the two instrumentals by Joe Hill Louis which rounded out each side) are supplemented by 10 more including the single sides not included on the Crown album, and in fact comprising his entire Modern/RPM output, much of which was not released until many years later on specialist compilations.
Two earlier takes of Ridin' In The Moonlight recorded by Sam Phillips probably in July 1951 are also included and there is a lengthy and detailed collection of discographical essays by noted expert Dave Sax, though it is sometimes difficult to match up the notes to the tracks on the disc where more than one version has been recorded.
The sound is the best yet and it is available at mid price so there is no excuse for not acquiring one of the most powerful blues albums, with some of the most original playing from the likes of Willie Johnson and Ike Turner, ever made
(review filed 25 November 2004)
The Real Folk Blues/More Real Folk Blues (US Import) (66.43)***R 1953-1965, P 2002
Like the two long-players before it (Moanin' In The Moonlight and Howlin' Wolf - the "rocking chair" album), to which this makes an essential companion, these two albums, released in 1966 and 1967, were collections of material recorded over a period of more than a decade, mostly previously available on singles. The series of Folk Blues albums had been designed by Chess Records to package the blues to a new, younger audience, and were compiled and annotated by Willie Dixon, who produced a number of Howlin' Wolf records as well as playing bass and writing some classic songs.
Both albums present a coherent overview of the Wolf's distinctive viscerality in the company of the most simpatico and skilled players he could have found.
The Real Folk Blues consists of A-sides and B-sides recorded in Chicago from July 1956 onwards, including two recent singles, Killing Floor/Louise and Ooh Baby/Tell Me What I've Done, from 1965; and My Country Sugar Mama, a single released in December 1964. All five of these sides are in full stereo, the rest of the album being mono.
More Real Folk Blues (1967) draws exclusively from an earlier pool of recordings made between September 1953 and January 1956, all mono, and kicks off with three previously unreleased recordings made for Sam Phillips in Memphis. Two tracks from a session with Willie Dixon in March 1954 were also previously unreleased, Neighbours and I'm The Wolf (the latter being a remake of a 1952 RPM single), the rest all having being available on singles. I Love My Baby also dates from the Sam Phillips period, all others having been produced by Leonard and Phil Chess and Willie Dixon. No Place To Go (You Gonna Wreck My Life) was an alternate take found on the B-side of The Natchez Burning in 1959, also found on Moanin' In The Moonlight, and came out in its original form (from the same session) on the flip of Rockin' Daddy in 1954.
There are excellent new liner notes as well as reprints of the original notes by Willie Dixon and Paul Williams from Crawdaddy, and as some of its finest tracks are rarely anthologised, this is highly recommended alongside the Moanin' In The Moonlight/Howlin' Wolf CD.
(review filed 29 December 2005)
Come Back Home (56.29)** P 1951-1952, P 2004
This 2004 collection on Snapper Music's budget priced Complete Blues imprint, initially of 25 major blues names, first appeared under another title on the Charly label and concentrates on material recorded by Sam Phillips at the Memphis Recording Service on Union Avenue in Memphis TN, later to become Sun Studios, but left unreleased in the vaults. Some are alternate takes of songs that were released on RPM or Chess Records, sometimes with different titles, and all have been previously available on retrospective albums released between 1976 and 1990.
There are four pages of notes by Adam Komorowski in a booklet and full recording details (although these are somewhat confusingly presented) on the digipak sleeve.
Any prospective purchaser can be assured that these well-mastered recordings are well up to standard and make a valuable addition to your collection, though serious collectors probably already have everything on here
(review filed 10 June 2004)
The Genuine Article (74.42)*** P 1951-1970, P 1997
The late great Sam Phillips thought that The Howlin' Wolf was the greatest artist he had worked with. As he had also discovered Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis among others this can be considered noteworthy praise. This CD shows why, tracing his music from his first proper single, Moanin' At Midnight (1951) through to the 1970 re-make of The Red Rooster (the original 1961 version is also included). As the Rolling Stones had recorded it as a hit single (renamed Little Red Rooster) and then exposed him to the American TV audience by introducing him on Shindig, it is fitting that Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts are among the all-star band accompanying him, and the track begins with Eric Clapton receiving instruction from the Wolf on how to play it.
Although Howlin' Wolf's main instrument was the harmonica, he had been taught guitar by Charlie Patton in the 1920s, and another highlight of the disc is a rare solo acoustic version of Patton's Ain't Goin' Down That Dirt Road. Spoonful, which Cream famously popularised, is also here, as is Back Door Man, Wang Dang Doodle, Smokestack Lightnin' and Sittin' On The Top Of The World.
Are single-artist compilation always a good idea? They can be a valuable introduction to a first-time buyer by cherry-picking from a number of albums and initially seem terrific value for money, but is it a record company ruse? Each other album you then buy as a result duplicates some of the titles you already have, until ultimately the initial purchase becomes redundant and you have poured more cash into the company coffers than if you had just bought the proper albums in the first place. If the artists' original catalogue isn't widely available then the situation gets worse as you are forced into collecting other compilations, forever increasing the likelihood of duplication as you forget in the shop what tracks you already have in your collection, or are obliged to buy titles you already have in order to acquire the few that you haven't.
This 1997 Chess compilation has 25 tracks of which all were previously readily available, but the good news is that they all benefit from the digital re-mastering afforded here. In fact 13 of these tracks are in stereo mixes, the earliest being from 1957, which makes me wonder why some of the later tracks, such as Killing Floor from 1964, are not. Conversely, Forty Four (from 1954) is in mono, whereas a stereo version of the same take has been released. It is a further general gripe that a disc has to be purchased to ascertain just what is mono or stereo as only too typically both CD case and otherwise excellent liner notes omit this information
(review filed 29 October 2003, revised 11 January 2004)
The Back Door Wolf (39.38)** R 1973, P 1995
Everyone one knows how great Howlin' Wolf had been in the previous two decades, but how did he sound in 1973 on his final album, at the age of 63, in poor health and with less than three years to live? The contents of The Back Door Wolf, recorded on August 14th and 17th 1973, seem ignored on all the compilations by which most of us now know his work.
Actually, he is in great voice and contributes some nifty harmonica work to boot. Regular accompanists SP Leary and the legendary Hubert Sumlin are all over the record, abetted by Willie Harris on rhythm guitar and either James Green or Andrew McMahon on bass. The baroque harpsichord-like sounds of Detroit Junior's electric keyboards on four of the tracks have put off some listeners but didn't trouble me, though on balance I prefer his piano work on the other tracks, particularly on Stop Using Me. An alternative take of St Louis Jimmy's Speak Now Woman is added to the CD on which the harpsichord is replaced by background piano and Hubert Sumlin's guitar lead. The tenor sax player Eddie Shaw wrote five of the tunes but plays only on the instrumental title track, also the single from the album, which has Wolf moaning and howling in the background.
In some ways this is a retrospective album, with Wolf frequently back-referencing his earlier recording in the lyrics and in his harmonica playing, and also quoting lines from early influences such as Charley Patton, though there are also topical songs about the Watergate hearings and about African-American integration. At times the playing can seem slightly subdued and to lack fire, but this minor criticism aside this is a fine body of work.
(review filed 15 October 2005)