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

I

Ikettes
Fine, Fine, Fine
(62.01)*** R 1963-1965, P 1992
The Ikettes really should stand beside such as the Supremes, the Ronettes, the Shirelles and the Shangri-Las as one of the greatest of girl groups in the sixties, in turn the greatest of decades for girl groups. That they have been largely overlooked, despite such hits as Fine Fine Fine, Peaches 'n' Cream, I'm Blue (The Gong Gong Song) and Camel Walk, could be due to a number of factors. Because they are best known as the glamorous backing singers and dancers for Ike and Tina Turner, their role as artists in their own right probably had less impact, and they had far fewer singles and albums under their own name than, say, the Supremes. Also, they lacked the focus of an identifiable lead singer, as their line-ups were in a state of constant flux as Ike Turner hired and fired them, or they chose to leave because of low wages or other reasons, and indeed it is hard to know who sang what on which record. Lead singers over the years included Robbie Montgomery, Jessie Smith, Venetta Fields, Dee Dee Johnson (aka Flora Williams), PP Arnold and Joshie Armstead.
As well as the singles, the Ikettes had one album to their name, The Ikettes Soul The Hits, which included a number of popular hits of the day as well as their own hits and some original material mostly written by Ike Turner.
The venerable Ace label did its bit to correct their obscurity by collecting a number of their best Modern label recordings (I'm Blue had been on Atco) on a compilation called Fine Fine Fine. This appeared in 1986 and included almost everything from the Soul The Hits album as well as several singles, and hearing them all one after the other should convince any listener just what an awesome unit they were, with some belting vocals, abetted by Ike Turner's tight band and production (plus a couple produced by Stan Venet), and his own not inconsiderable skills as guitarist and pianist.
When the album made it to CD in 1992, Ace took the opportunity to expand it with extra tracks, some previously unreleased, including several featuring Venetta Fields. Two of these (I'm Leaving You/You're Still My Baby) seem to have been a single on Sony (no relation) in 1963, unless they are different recordings. The missing title from Soul The Hits, Blue On Blue, is included (in stereo) and again appears to be identical to the single Blue With A Broken Heart by Flora Williams (it came out on the Sonja label in 1964). The album concludes with two stereo live cuts from the album The Ike And Tina Turner Revue!!!, featuring Venetta Fields and Robbie Montgomery. It is easy from the atmosphere of the record to conjure up the dazzling stage act they must have had.
This CD has since been superceded by another Ace compilation, Can't Sit Down...'Cos It Feels So Good - The Complete Modern Recordings, which duplicates much of the material here, and adds a number of additional tracks including some outtakes from Soul The Hits. However, phonogram purists may care to know that stereo mixes predominate on the new collection, whereas only four of this CD are not in mono, and that only this CD contains the album (not the single) version of Camel Walk.
(review filed 6 March 2009)

Ikettes
(74.34)*** R 1963-1965, P 2008
The Ikettes really should stand beside such as the Supremes, the Ronettes, the Shirelles and the Shangri-Las as one of the greatest of girl groups in the sixties, in turn the greatest of decades for girl groups. That they have been largely overlooked, despite such hits as I'm So Thankful, Peaches 'n' Cream, I'm Blue (The Gong Gong Song) and Camel Walk, could be due to a number of factors. Because they are best known as the glamorous backing singers and dancers for Ike and Tina Turner, their role as artists in their own right probably had less impact, and they had far fewer singles and albums under their own name than, say, the Supremes. Also, they lacked the focus of an identifiable lead singer, as their line-ups were in a state of constant flux as Ike Turner hired and fired them, or they chose to leave because of low wages or other reasons, and indeed it is hard to know who sang what on which record. Lead singers over the years included Robbie Montgomery, Jessie Smith, Venetta Fields, Dee Dee Johnson (aka Flora Williams), PP Arnold and Joshie Armstead.
Although the hits had a pop sensibility, they had a blacker, grittier R&B sound than many of the other girl groups, more in the vein of Fontella Bass, Etta James or (obviously) Tina Turner, and the lyrics of their original material kept it real in a way that you wouldn't get from the more romantic Chiffons or the Cookies.
As well as the singles, the Ikettes had one album to their name, The Ikettes Soul The Hits, which included a number of popular hits of the day as well as their own hits and some original material mostly written by Ike Turner.
The venerable Ace label did its bit to correct their obscurity by collecting a number of their best Modern label recordings (I'm Blue had been on Atco) on a 1986 compilation called Fine Fine Fine. This appeared in an expanded edition on CD in 1992.  Can't Sit Down...'Cos It Feels So Good is the new Ace compilation that supercedes it, and contains over ten minutes of extra tracks. 
It includes everything from the Soul The Hits album as well as several singles, and hearing them all one after the other should convince any listener just what an awesome unit they were, with some belting vocals, abetted by Ike Turner's tight band and production (plus a couple produced by Stan Venet), and his own not inconsiderable skills as guitarist and pianist. From the bits of between-takes chat included we can tell from Ike's name check that the incomparable Earl Palmer is the drummer on at least some of the tracks.
The extra tracks, some previously unreleased, including several featuring Venetta Fields. Two of these (I'm Leaving You/You're Still My Baby) seem to have been a single on Sony (no relation) in 1963, unless they are different recordings. Blue On Blue also appears likely to be identical to the single Blue With A Broken Heart by Flora Williams (it came out on the Sonja label in 1964).  Also included are some outtakes from Soul The Hits: The Loco-motion, Sha La La and Da Doo Ron Ron, all covers that had been big hits for Little Eva, the Shirelles and the Crystals in the preceding couple of years, and You Can't Have Your Cake And Eat It Too, a great track. Much of the album is in true stereo mixes, most making their CD debut, with only six of the tracks in mono. The single version of Camel Walk has been chosen in preference to the album take found on Fine Fine Fine, and there is also an early alternative take of it included.
Unreservedly recommended for fans of girl groups and good R&B.
(review filed 6 March 2009)

Incredible String Band
"U"
(52.03/55.50)** P 1970, P 2002
The Incredible String Band were rather left behind in the rediscovery of the sixties by subsequent generations until just a few years ago, when forgotten corners of their back catalogue finally got a CD showing. It began to look as if they would be remembered only for the handful of songs that others had recorded (Judy Collins, the Delgados).
The band were nothing if not hard working and prolific, and this double album was their third release in under a year. The material on "U" is all entirely new, with the exception of Robin Williamson's Invocation, which had debuted at the previous year's Woodstock Music and Arts Fair. It is untypical in that it represents "a surreal parable in song and dance concept by Incredible String Band and Stone Monkey", neither entirely musical performance, dance or theatre, and clearly missing two of its dimensions in audio format. Stone Monkey were a kind of Indian street theatre fused with far eastern mask puppetry, according to Robin Williamson's liner notes. 
It would not, therefore, be the ideal first purchase for someone wishing to discover the band (Wee Tam or The 5,000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion might be more suitable). Some of it is clearly dispensable, but an anthology of their work would be woefully inadequate if it did not include a few songs from this set. In particular, Queen Of Love, with a beautiful arrangement by the Grateful Dead's Tom Constanten, is one of their finest recordings.
More Robin Williamson's project than Mike Heron's, both nevertheless contribute some quality stand-alone songs, with partners Janet Shankman and Licorice McKenna also providing a couple of lighter numbers. Joe Boyd's production and John Wood's engineering skills belie the fact that it was recorded over 48 hours straight in San Francisco ("straight" may not be entirely the most appropriate word), whilst drummer Dave Mattacks is on hand to inject some needed structural discipline to proceedings. Recommended for those who know what to expect, perhaps with a skip button at the ready.
(review filed 27 August 2009)

Isley Brothers
This Old Heart Of Mine
(51.49)** P 1966-1968, P 1994
The Isley Brothers' tenure at Tamla only lasted a couple of years and was something of a lost opportunity. Berry Gordy ran a production line operation which was too busy capitalising on the success of the Supremes and the Four Tops to invest properly in the myriad of other talent on the books, such as the Isleys, which is why they quit and re-activated their own highly successful T-Neck label.
Their first single for Tamla was This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You). It was also their most successful single for the label during their time there. An album of the same name was rushed out a few months later relying heavily on their versions of hits by the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, the Four Tops and others. Their second album, Soul On The Rocks, recorded in 1967 and released the following year, had more original material and included classic singles such as Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While), Behind A Painted Smile and Got To Have You Back, although none of these did more than dent the US Top 100, and the group spent most of their time touring and doing promotional work in the UK where they were more popular, and had anyway left the label before it had been long in the shops.
Ironically, three of the Isleys' Motown recordings had their biggest success in the UK when they were re-promoted as singles after they had left and founded their new label. I Guess I'll Always Love You, Behind A Painted Smile and their version of the Elgins' Put Yourself In My Place (extracted from their first album) all made the UK Top Twenty in 1969, while their biggest ever US hit, It's Your Thing, flopped completely.
A third album, Tamla Motown Presents The Isley Brothers, was put together by Motown using back catalogue and "leftovers". Three of these appear on this German compilation for the Cedar label, on CD for the first time, and are anything but sub-standard. Ain't That Real Satisfaction and Born To Love You have been on many Northern Soul collectors "most wanted" lists for many years, while the legendary single that wasn't, My Love Is Your Love (Forever), finally turned up on Tamla Motown Connoisseurs and was also included on St Etienne's mix CD The Trip. The rest of this collection features 8 tracks each from their two Tamla albums, including half-a-dozen A-sides, in stereo mixes apart from I Guess I'll Always Love You
(review filed 30 November 2004)

Elmore James
Blues After Hours
(50.29)*** R 1953-1956, P 2005
Although there is nothing previously unreleased on this album, the sound quality is astoundingly improved having been mastered from newly-discovered session master tapes. Elmore James was at his peak at this time and the visceral power of his singing and playing is all the more remarkable for his off-stage shyness and fragility. His band, the Broom Dusters, and the Maxwell Davis Orchestra, provide magnificent support.
Blues After Hours, with its distinctively sexy album cover, came out on Modern's mid-price Crown label in 1960 and comprised a carefully programmed 10-track selection of singles, including 4 B-sides, that had come out in 1954 and 1955 on the Flair subsidiary, all taken from two sessions (in Modern's own studio in Culver City, Los Angeles CA, in August-September 1954; and in J&M Studios, New Orleans LA in August 1955), except for Dark And Dreary, which came from an August 1953 session at Universal Studios, Chicago IL.
The CD is fleshed out with eight bonus tracks including the other singles from the same sessions and a further five recordings from various Chicago sessions of the period that were unreleased at the time, all in super re-vamped sound
(review filed 2 September 2005)

Etta James
The Very Best Of Etta James
(52.52/53.47/55.13)** R 1960-1975, P 2005
Etta James was with Chess for over fifteen years (appearing initially on their subsidiary labels Argo and Cadet) between 1960 and 1976, adapting and rolling with the times, trying out new ideas, never selling out, and making a heap of great blues and soul records. If squeezing fifteen years of material onto just three discs seems a tall order, imagine the absurdity of trying to compile The Best Of Etta James, which is a single CD of her Chess years. This box set represents far better value and is fully recommended, with just a couple of small caveats.
Firstly, there are too many mono mixes, even from the nineteen-seventies when stereo versions were prepared as a matter of course and are available elsewhere, and secondly, there is too little detailed documentation. 
Finally, whilst I have no quarrel at all with the title, The Very Best Of Etta James, the subtitle The Chess Singles is just misleading. Some A-sides are absent, seven B-sides are included (just as well, as these include All I Could Do Was Cry, I Just Want To Make Love To You and I'd Rather Go Blind) and contrarily there are several album tracks and even a couple of outtakes that weren't released at the time at all. These include her brilliant version of Do Right Woman, Do Right Man recorded at Muscle Shoals and inexplicably left in the can until 1993.
This collection would be well complemented by Miss Etta James - The Complete Kent And Modern Recordings, the period before she signed to Chess. It's worth remembering that when these days artists are expected to be at their peak after one single, singers like Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone and Etta James had been learning their craft for several years before becoming established, and Etta James' first single appeared in 1955.
(review filed 11 May 2008)

Jefferson Airplane
Surrealistic Pillow
(58.38)*** R 1966-1967, P 2003
This album really marked the start of the Jefferson Airplane, when they found their voice. True, they had already released Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, with such treasures as It's No Secret, Come Up The Years and Don't Slip Away, featuring the powerful folk rock vocals of Signe Tole Anderson and Marty Balin, but that had been recorded back in late 1965 and the band were to find the métier as spokespersons for the psychedelic generation, not as electrified tambourine-bashing folkies, however good, and had been changing direction throughout the tumultuous social upheavals of 1966. 
Signe Tole Anderson left the band to have a baby, performing her last gig with the band on 15 October 1966 at the Fillmore in San Francisco CA. The following night at the same venue new member Grace Slick stepped into her shoes, and on 31 October 1966, less than three weeks later, she went into the RCA Studios in Hollywood with the band to begin work on the album that became Surrealistic Pillow. When the sessions were completed on 22 November, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off was only just appearing in the shops but was already obsolete.
Grace Slick had been singer with the Great Society and came with two songs she used to perform with them, Someone To Love (written by her brother-in-law Darby Slick). This was rearranged and reworked as Somebody To Love to become the first single taken from the album after its release, and a million-selling US Top Five hit. The other was its follow up, her own Carrollian ode, White Rabbit, another million seller. 
If Jefferson Airplane had never released anything but White Rabbit, their place in the hall of fame would be beyond doubt. Both signified the direction their music was to take. However, Surrealistic Pillow is probably the most rounded of all the Airplane albums in terms of group members' contributions as it also features songs by Marty Balin, Paul Kantner, Jorma Kaukonen and ex-drummer Skip Spence. These included the surreal She Has Funny Cars, beautiful ballads like Today and Comin' Back To Me, the Donovan-esque protest song Plastic Fantastic Lover and the more psychedelically experimental DCBA-25 and 3/5ths Of A Mile In 10 Seconds. It also featured the magnificent virtuoso guitar instrumental Embryonic Journey, written by Jorma Kaukonen in 1962.
This re-issue edition has been produced and mastered by Bob Irwin, who remastered the Byrds albums so successfully, although there has been some doubt as to whether he had access to the original multi-tracks. The sound is certainly superior to the 1987 German pressing I was familiar with, though the timings are consistently shorter by a couple of seconds than on that edition, suggesting some speed correction may have been made?
The bonus tracks are mostly outtakes from the album sessions and are all excellent. Additionally, there is a stray Lightnin' Hopkins cover arranged by Jorma Kaukonen, recorded in March 1967, the month after Surrealistic Pillow was first released; and the reverb-free mono single mixes of Somebody To Love and White Rabbit which some prefer.
British purchasers wishing to replace ancient vinyl records should note that their original album, released 7 months after the US version, dropped a couple of tracks in favour of older recordings from the first album, which RCA had never bothered to release
(review filed 10 July 2004)

Jefferson Airplane
Bless Its Pointed Little Head
(65.31)** R 1968, P 2004
The favourite album of each member of the Airplane, Bless Its Pointed Little Head captures the band at the height of their powers in their most natural setting, live in front of an audience at familiar halls. This album was recorded at Bill Graham's two venues; mostly at Fillmore West in their native San Francisco in October 1968, a month after their legendary performance at London's Roundhouse, which I was lucky enough to attend, but a couple of tracks from New York's Fillmore East the following month, though the recordings have been mixed together to represent an abbreviated concert, and presented as was, without any post-gig sweetening or overdubs, and including the daringly improvised combined pieces Turn Out The Lights/Bear Melt from New York.
Although their album Crown Of Creation had just reached the shops, nothing from that album is included, perhaps because those new songs had yet to find their evolved forms in live performance. The live versions of former singles It's No Secret, Somebody To Love and Plastic Fantastic Lover (the B-side of White Rabbit) show that these had been utterly transformed on stage. They are therefore not merely live souvenirs of well-known material, but reinventions, valuable documentations of what the Airplane were all about as a live band. Apart from a startlingly fresh and extendedly transcendental performance of former album track 3/5's Of A Mile In 10 Seconds, the rest of the album features material not available in studio form.
Fat Angel, written by Donovan, was an obvious choice for the band to cover as it includes the line, "Fly Jefferson Airplane, gets you there on time", interpreted at a metaphysical level and accompanied by some fittingly spacey musical exploration. Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady were the Airplane's blues aficionados and led the band through an extended extemporization of Rock Me Blues, probably learned from BB King but a traditional blues developed through earlier recordings by Arthur Crudup, Lil' Son Jackson, Muddy Waters, Big Bill Broonzy and others. The band's folksier origins are represented by Paul Kantner taking the lead on Fred Neil's Other Side Of This Life, an established stage favourite otherwise unrecorded by the band.
Therefore, there was little to deter owners of the Airplane's four albums released to date from acquiring this, their first and best live album, and on release in January 1969 it reached number 17 in the US album charts in a 20-week chart run, remaining a consistent favourite with buyers ever since, having been re-issued on CD several times.
This edition from 2004 has been remastered from the original tapes by Bob Irwin and also includes three previously unreleased live bonus tracks: Today (originally from Surrealistic Pillow), Watch Her Ride and Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon (all from After Bathing At Baxter's). The notes indicate that these were intended for the album but left off due to time constraints. It's noticeable, though, that all three come from a slightly later night at the Fillmore West, namely November 5th, and have a markedly different live sound balance to those on the album, though they are fine versions. This is presumably due to the band's live psychedelic sound man Owsley Stanley III, who also worked with the Grateful Dead, rather than the album's balance engineer Richie Schmitt.
In the CD and DVD-Audio era it would be good to have some of these memorable concerts made available in full, as the Grateful Dead have done with their Dick's Picks and other series. In the meantime, this edition is clearly the one to choose in preference to earlier editions, to enjoy a prime West Coast band at their peak.
(review filed 14 January 2008)

Jefferson Airplane
The Essential Jefferson Airplane
(49.36/76.43)** P 1966-1972, P 2005
This may be the most inexpensive way to acquire their non-album single Have You Seen The Saucers?/Mexico, released during a transitional period between Volunteers and Bark. The mono single mixes of Martha and Share A Little Joke are also included, though these are also to be found as bonus tracks on their parent albums, After Bathing At Baxter's and Crown Of Creation. Unfortunately for collectors the opportunity to include the mono single version of The Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil has again been passed over.
The rest of the two discs is taken up with a fairly sensibly chosen selection from their albums Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, Surrealistic Pillow, After Bathing At Baxter's, Crown Of Creation, Bless It's Pointed Little Head, Volunteers, Bark, Long John Silver, and finally two live tracks from 1972 that appeared on 30 Seconds Over Winterland, including the eleven minute Jorma Kaukonen epic Feel So Good. Tracks that were also A-sides or B-sides have been favoured and We Can Be Together, from Volunteers, is the edited B-side version.
(review filed 23 November 2005)

Mable John
My Name Is Mable
(50.38)** R 1960-1966, P 2004
Mable John's recording career began at Motown. But although she was there for six years, when she moved to Stax in 1966, the label with which she is most associated, she had released only four singles on Tamla. Three of these were released before 1962 and the most recent in 1963, itself a remake of her first single, Who Wouldn't Love A Man Like That. When she left she had been silent to the record-buying public for three years, while cash registers were ringing with the record sales of Mary Wells and the Miracles, Marvin and Martha.
Behind the scenes, though, from the start, she had been busily recording with her mentor Berry Gordy, Andre Williams, Mickey Stevenson, Holland and Dozier, Clarence Paul and even a teenage Stevie Wonder, and as well as Berry Gordy's piano playing augmenting the Funk Brothers, she had the Supremes or the Temptations helping out on backing vocals for some tracks. 
This album is subtitled 'The Complete Collection' and rounds up all released and unreleased completed masters to so far show up in the vaults (with Motown you never know what may be uncovered), 19 tracks in all including both variants of the single No Love. 
Of the unreleased tracks only a couple are dated, and these are from late 1962. However in the booklet notes, Mable John says, "Most of the material was recorded at United Sound. When we moved to the now-famous house at 2648 West Grand Boulevard, a few songs were cut there." As we can deduce that five of the tracks must have been made at the Hitsville Studios, in the basement at 2648, it seems likely that many of the others date from 1960-1961, rather than the dry period of no releases after 1963, and represent another casualty of Motown's embarrassment of riches.
Of most interest of these are an upbeat duet with Singin' Sammy Ward; the first version of Able Mable, an autobiographical song written by Mable and her mother Lillie, which was later to be a single on Stax; her version of You Never Miss A Good Thing, a Smokey/Berry song that Eugene Remus had out in 1960 and that became a Miracles B-side in 1962; and an unreleased early Dozier-Holland song, Meet Me Half Way, which had also been recorded in 1962 by Kim Weston. This closes the album and an important chapter in her career, now finally available for our evaluation.
(review filed 2 July 2007)

Mable John
Stay Out Of The Kitchen
(67.08)** R 1966-1968, P 1995
In the sixties, Mable John's recorded output was restricted to just a handful of singles on Tamla and Stax. Thanks to the CD format there are now two full length albums of her sixties work on sale, each additionally containing a number of recordings never released at the time. Her Tamla years are documented by My Name Is Mable - The Complete Collection, which collected the four singles she made for the label, A-sides, B-sides and variants, and rescued a number of previously unknown gems from the vaults.
Stay Out Of The Kitchen continues the story from when she joined the legendary Stax roster of artists in 1966, swapping the Detroit sound of the Funk Brothers for the grittier Southern soul grooves of Booker T and the MGs. Her two years at the label probably represent the time for which she is best known, because after 1968 she joined the ranks of Ray Charles's Raelettes and ceased to be a solo performer for a long time. The difference in styles between Tamla and Stax is best demonstrated by the song Able Mable, as it appears on both discs in quite different arrangements. On the Tamla collection, My Name Is Mable, the unreleased early version under its original title gives the album its name.
Unlike the Tamla collection, however, this CD does not represent everything that Mable John recorded for the label. A generous eighteen of the tracks are previously unreleased and some at least must have been intended for an LP that never materialised. The trademark sounds of the MGs are augmented by Isaac Hayes on piano, backing vocals from staff writer Deanie Parker, members of Jeanne and the Darlings (who get name checked in a couple of the songs) and brother Raymond John, and the crisp tones of the Memphis Horns. 
Isaac Hayes also produced and co-wrote several of the songs alongside David Porter, Mable John has several of her own songs and other notable writers include Steve Cropper, who produced several of the tracks (and of course contributes some very tasteful guitar figures throughout), Eddie Floyd and Homer Banks. The final song on the disc is her moving tribute to her brother Little Willie John who had just died, his signature song Need Your Love So Bad, written by another brother, Mertis John. The playing is at times bluesy, at times funky, generally favouring piano to organ, and is always solid and quite uniformly excellent. We had to wait nearly thirty years to get a chance to hear them, but their power is undimmed by time.
When it comes to the singles that Stax put out between 1966 and 1968, the collection takes a perverse turn. If there is one song for which Mable John will be remembered it is the stunning Your Good Thing (Is About To End), her Memphis debut. This is described in the notes as "a monster R&B record that peaked at #6", but it is not included on the disc. In fact, of the seven singles she released only three feature here: I'm A Big Girl Now, Able Mable and Running Out. Two of these, I'm A Big Girl Now and Able Mable, are both presented in alternative takes (Able Mable gaining an extra verse), leaving Running Out as the only original single in the 25-track collection. Her other singles (Your Good Thing, You're Taking Up Another Man's Place, Same Time Same Place, Don't Hit Me No More) are all represented only by their B-sides (the superb It's Catching, If You Give Up What You Got, Bigger And Better, Left Over Love, Don't Get Caught, Shouldn't I Love Him). I love the B-sides but would have welcomed the opportunity to hear the A-sides I'm not familiar with.
The notes point out that all the A-sides are available on the nine-CD box The Complete Stax/Volt Singles: 1959-1968. It seems a little unfair to expect purchasers to shell out around $90 (£80) to hear half-a-dozen tracks they might reasonably have assumed they had just bought. However, the sixty-seven minutes of music that is on offer can only be warmly welcomed.
(review filed 9 September 2007)

Wilko Johnson's Solid Senders
Solid Senders
(62.41)*** P 1978
The combination of Wilko Johnson and Lee Brilleaux proved just too explosive for one band to contain and in 1977 Wilko set out to form his own band. He and keyboardist John Potter, the former fifth member of Dr Feelgood, recruited the new rhythm section of Steve Lewins and Alan Platt to form Wilko Johnson's Solid Senders. Line-up details on the vinyl album sleeve have been omitted from the CD re-issue.
With Wilko's proven record as guitarist, singer and songwriter of note, one might have imagined that the band would be his vehicle, but in fact the album is surprisingly democratic, with three of the songs written and sung by John Potter. The late Alan Platt's song First Thing In The Morning, featuring Alan's lead vocal, was recorded at the Manor by the Solid Senders at three in the morning with Wilko's tasteful guitar part added to the track later. All three collaborated with Wilko on some songs and other writers were brought in, too: Hugo Williams on two of Wilko's, and Mike Maynard with John Potter on Keep Both Eyes On The Road. There is also a revival of the Miracles' classic Shop Around, quite a brave choice for that punk-saturated year, and one that lends itself to Wilko's distinctive guitar style. It is the Wilko songs that really stand out, though, especially single-that-wasn't Everybody's Carrying A Gun and Blazing Fountains. The personnel is augmented on the record by Dave Brooks (sax on First Thing In The Morning) and future member John Denton on piano.
Limited copies of the original album release contained a bonus 12" 6-track EP recorded live during 1977 at an unspecified venue and these are included on this CD re-issue. The band thrived in a live situation and the audience thrilled to new versions of two Dr Feelgood originals written by Wilko, Walking On The Edge and the brilliant Paradise, plus some favoured oldies: Chuck Berry's All Aboard (sung by John Potter), Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited treated with gay abandon, Jimmy Hughes' Neighbour Neighbour and finally a rousing and lewd nod to BB on Rock Me Baby.
Oddly no single was taken from the album. Instead a studio version of Walking On The Edge (not included here) was released. Dr Dupree, from the album, was on the B-side.
If you like albums like Sneakin' Suspicion and Down By The Jetty, you'll be bound to also like this.
(review filed 4 September 2006)

Jolly Brothers
Lee Perry Presents The Jolly Brothers
(43.29)*** P 1978
Listening to reggae I sometimes get so consumed by the rhythm and the sound and the atmosphere that I wonder why I ever bother to listen to anything else. Of all the great Jamaican producers, Lee Perry is without doubt the greatest. He is the Phil Spector of reggae. This CD re-issue of the original 1978 album begins with a wonderful seven-minute version of Conscious Man which is alone worth the price of admission, and is the stand out track. Some of the songs here are not as instantly magical as on, say, the Congos' Heart Of The Congos masterpiece, but then, what are?
(indexed 21 August 2003)

Rickie Lee Jones
The Evening Of My Best Day
(55.18)** P 2003
Six years after Ghostyhead, her last album of original material, Rickie Lee Jones was motivated to return by the need to comment on the political situation in America from her viewpoint as an outsider from within Washington DC. Whilst some of the songs are lyrically explicit and therefore tied to the time in which they appeared, thankfully they are musically strong enough to outlast such limitations. Her debut album, Rickie Lee Jones, did not have especially fashionable new sounds on it, but equally has not dated, and fits as easily into today's listening experiences as this one does and will continue to do. 
As always the best musicians around have been employed to create a blend of jazz, blues, soul and folk that adds up to a homogenous and idiosyncratic whole. The album sees her re-united in the Village studio in West Los Angeles with producer David Kalish, a close friend who had worked with her on Pirates in 1981, and he brought in Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) to co-produce. It features contributions from master-guitarist Bill Frisell, whose trio appear on two tracks, and Pete Thomas (drummer with Elvis Costello) among a stellar cast.
"I think I'm a great writer,"  Rickie Lee Jones has said, "and an important character in American art", and I would not argue. In Martin Scorsese's documentary No Direction Home there is a shot of Dylan standing beside a wall-poster proclaiming "Protest against the rising tide of conformity", which caused me to wonder who could stand beside such a poster today. Question answered.
(review filed 5 October 2005)

Joy Division
Unknown Pleasures
(39.26)*** P 1979
This remarkable debut on Factory has simply grown in stature in the years since its release. At odds with the general Madchester scene, and indeed with everything else around at the time, it was impossible to tell who the members of this band had been listening to. Though our listening perceptions are inevitably coloured by the tragic future of Ian Curtis, there is an undeniably awesome stature in these impeccably produced sides
(review filed 13 June 2005)

Joy Division
Closer
(44.28)*** P 1980
This and the first album, Unknown Pleasures, are the only complete original albums released by the band, as singer Ian Curtis had committed suicide two months before its release.  Closer, Joy Division's greatest achievement, was produced again with sonic purity by Martin Hannett together with the band. The recordings, made over an intensive 13-day period in March 1980 at the Pink Floyd's Britannia Studios in Islington, showed the band at a creative and artistic peak, creating an atmosphere of gothic gloom and decayed, dark romanticism. 
Ian Curtis's claustrophobic and introspective lyrics were profoundly influenced by his readings of JG Ballard, Joseph Conrad and accounts of the shudderingly terrible histories of the Third Reich; and there is no denying that with Decades, The Eternal, Isolation and, of course, Twenty-Four Hours (all of which featured in the John Peel Festive Fifty of listeners' votes in the early eighties) they had created true works of art that influenced the music of generations to come
(review filed 15 June 2005)

Joy Division
Substance
(63.07)** R 1977-1980, P 1988
Perfectly complementing their two essential studio albums, Unknown Pleasures and Closer, this expanded compilation re-issue rounds up their legendary singles, including Transmission/Novelty, Love Will Tear Us Apart/These Days and Atmosphere/She's Lost Control, none of which appeared on the albums and are rightly regarded as among their greatest works.
Substance also contains their first release in full, the EP An Ideal For Living (recorded in December 1977 at the point when they changed their name from Warsaw, but only released privately by the band in a limited edition the following summer), two tracks they recorded for the EP A Factory Sample (their first work with producer Martin Hannett), both sides of a freebie flexi-disc single (Komakino/Incubation), a French B-side (Dead Souls) and two outtakes from the Unknown Pleasures sessions.
This is not a complete round-up but in its more complete CD edition will probably satisfy most of the less obsessive Joy Division punters.
(review filed 16 June 2005)

 


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