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

U-W

Underworld
Second Toughest In The Infants
(73.07)** P 1996
Dubnobasswithmyheadman was a tough act to follow but half-an-hour into Second Toughest In The Infants and still on track two it was clear that Underworld were not lacking in confidence. In fact, the album marked a progression as they explored the outer limits of techno, jungle and dub, and showed both a deftness on dance numbers like Pearl's Girl, and a lightness of touch on others, such as the guitar-led instrumental Blueski. Small surprise it was nominated for a Mercury Music Prize
(review filed 6 January 2004)


The Best Of The Velvelettes
(49.12)* R 1963-1967, P 2001
Although the Velvelettes gave Motown a number of hit singles in the mid-sixties, they had to wait until 1999 before they were awarded the luxury of their own LP, a US compilation fleshed out with some unreleased nuggets from the legendary Motown vaults. This very welcome more recent UK collection improves on that album as its final four additional tracks are previously unreleased.
These include their version of The Boy From Crosstown, which as it was laid down between January and August 1965, pre-dates the Marvelettes' released version recorded May/June 1966 and also produced by Norman Whitfield; and the Mickey Stevenson produced Stop Beating Around The Bush, recorded in 1964. This has long been sought after on acetates and bootlegs and has gone down very well in the Northern clubs, so its legitimate release is alone cause for celebration.
When they signed to Motown in 1963 the Velvelettes featured lead singer Cal Gill, her sister Mildred, Norma and Bertha Barbee and Betty Kelly, though Betty left in 1964 to replace Annette Sterling in Martha and the Vandellas. In 1966 they were upgraded from the subsidiary VIP label to the Soul label. The quartet line-up remained stable until 1967 when two left to marry and were replaced by Sandra Tilley and Annette McMillan, who feature on I'm So Glad It's Twilight Time, one of the tracks that was quite undeservedly left unreleased until 1979. Slightly confusingly, only three girls are shown in the cover picture and are not identified.
Possibly the domination and promotion of the Supremes at the time was at the expense of other Motown acts such as the Velvelettes as listening to and enjoying these 19 songs now it seems surprising that only their handful of hits are at all well known. 
This is an extremely worthwhile and overdue collection, at a very generous price. Disappointingly, all tracks are in mono. Of their major hits included here, to my knowledge Needle In A Haystack and He Was Really Saying Something appear on Big Motown Hits And Hard To Find Classics Vol. 2 in true stereo; likewise Lonely Lonely Girl Am I, These Things Will Keep Me Loving You and A Bird in The Hand are to be found in full stereo on This Is Northern Soul! Vol. 2. I do not understand why Motown or the labels who license their recordings are still so parsimonious with their stereo mixes 30-40 years after the fact, or why they do not clearly state on the sleeve whether tracks are stereo or mono
(review filed 28 September 2004)

Velvelettes
The Motown Anthology
(61.11/66.50)*** R 1963-1967, P 2004
The revitalization of the fabulous Motown back catalogue continues with this extremely promising series of mid-priced 2CDs, The Motown Anthology, already set to feature Brenda Holloway, Chris Clark, Billy Eckstine and others. Like the excellent series 2 Classic Albums 1 CD, the enterprise seems to have been British in origin, and those responsible deserve our grateful thanks for making these treasures available again, or in many cases, astonishingly, for the first time.
Being a Motown girl group in the sixties was tough if you weren't the Supremes, and even then it helped if you were Diana rather than Flo or Mary, but there were a number of them making singles and having hits - Martha and the Vandellas, the Marvelettes and the Velvelettes being the most notable examples. In 1964, the Velvelettes had taken on the Supremes in a local Battle Of The Stars show, and won. The proof of this is on the second disc, where their previously unreleased performance from the second show is included in stereo as a bonus. However, while both Martha and the Vandellas and the Marvelettes also released a number of albums, the Velvelettes output was restricted to just half a dozen singles (on Motown subsidiaries IPG, VIP and Soul). 
This collection shows that this was not because the Velvelettes were kept out of the studios, as it contains 37 different titles recorded between 1963 and 1967, as well as 4 unreleased French language bonus tracks. Two of these songs, covers of Marvelettes and Mary Wells songs, are not otherwise available by the Velvelettes. There is also a second stereo version of These Things Will Keep Me Loving You for comparison, and a 15 second track of Cal wishing us all a Merry Christmas. 
I would challenge new listeners to correctly guess which of the tracks on this 2CD were unreleased at the time, as those that stayed shelved are the equal of all but the very best of those that did come out. 
25 of the first 39 tracks are previously unreleased, either unheard songs or alternative takes or mixes, such as the version of The Boy From Crosstown which is much brighter than the version released in 2001, and has the additional hallmark clattery percussion of the time. 
Other valuable odds and ends have been mopped up from previous compilations such as the fabulous Cellarful Of Motown 2CD and Motown Sings Motown Treasures, the source of Everybody Needs Love, a version that predates the familiar version by Gladys Knight and the Pips. Another undiscovered gem is Since I've Lost You, produced by Norman Whitfield in 1964, predating his version with the Temptations on Puzzle People by five years.
The Velvelettes famously turned down Where Did Our Love Go?, which went on to become a supersonic success for the Supremes, as they felt it didn't suit Cal Gill's voice, so it is particularly fascinating to hear the alternative version of He Was Really Sayin' Something, which uses the same persistent handclaps and ska beat.
The definitive Velvelettes compilation prior to this one was Spectrum's The Best Of, which came out in 2001 in the UK. This collection does not make that one redundant, as nine of its tracks are not replicated here, though they are present in alternative versions, and these include the hit singles He Was Really Sayin' Something, Lonely Lonely Girl Am I and A Bird In The Hand. These surprisingly are not included on the Anthology in their original versions, and it is a shame the compilers could not have found additional room for these in their previously available stereo mixes, and that more of the other tracks could not have been presented in stereo (just 3 on CD1 and 5 on CD2, plus the live tracks). In all other respects this release is a shining white knight, righting longstanding wrongs, and produced with the full cooperation of the Velvelettes
(review filed 10 March 2005)

Junior Walker And The All Stars
Shotgun/Soul Session
(79.06)*** R 1962-1966, P 2003
Together with the twofer Road Runner/Home Cookin' these two CDs collect all the studio material released by Junior Walker and the All-Stars in the sixties, including the three singles they recorded for the Harvey label from 1962, before it was swallowed up by the Motown empire. There was also a live album in 1967 briefly made available on a CD which now fetches over 100 a copy.
Junior Walker had spent many years honing his individual style during the fifties, inspired by players such as Illinois Jacquet and Earl Bostic, playing in bands like the Jumping Jacks, before being discovered by Johnny Bristol and introduced to Harvey Fuqua, the ex-Moonglow singer who was running his own label.
Shotgun was the first Junior Walker and the All Stars album, released to capitalize on the success in 1965 of Shotgun and Do The Boomerang. On the Motown sessions the line-up of Junior Walker (tenor sax, vocals), Willie Woods (guitar, vocal, composer of Hot Cha), Vic Thomas (organ) and James Graves (drums) was augmented by members of the Funk Brothers, notably James Jamerson on bass and additional drums by Benny Benjamin, but the album kicks off with the unadorned instrumental Cleo's Mood. This had originally been a single on Harvey in 1962 (Harvey being named after Harvey Fuqua, who produced the majority of their records throughout the sixties), and was cited by Jerry Garcia as being an inspiration for the Grateful Dead's own jams. Monkey Jump, a 1964 B-side that came out before Shotgun, features George Fowler on organ (he gets a composer credit on the album sleeve reproduction but not on the inner booklet). One of my favourite tracks is Tune Up, another B-side, which opened side two of the record and has some great playing, though the whole album is hot. The disc has been digitally re-mastered and at last a clean version of the track Shotgun replaces the muddy, distorted pressing found on numerous compilations until now. Apart from Tally Ho! the whole album appeared on singles, through to 1967 (five A-sides and six B-sides), and this album probably represents the peak of Junior Walker's commercial success, so this makes an excellent first stop for new converts.
The second album included on the CD is Soul Sessions, originally released in February 1966, though both the singles included on it had been released prior to the Shotgun album. These were Good Rockin', the album's opener, which had been a single on Harvey in 1963, and Satan's Blues, their first single for Motown's Soul subsidiary. This was a sinewy blues rather in the style of the Mar-Keys but for the tenor sax lead, and like Monkey Jump on the flipside was recorded on 23 June 1964, again featuring George Fowler, and released that August, without troubling the charts. 
The album has a different mood to Shotgun as apart from a few vocal interjections it is entirely instrumental. As none of the tracks were familiar to me, unlike the Shotgun album, it took a while longer for it to really stand out and grab me, but I'm pleased to say it has repaid the attention. It is perhaps the band at their purest, though it is not their most essential record. All the tracks are originals apart from the standard Moonlight In Vermont.
I have been unable to find recording dates for many of the tracks on Soul Session, though Everybody Get Together was cut on the same day as Tune Up, on 4 May 1964, while Three Four Three shares a date with Shotgun (15 December 1964). Recordings could have taken place up to January 1966, but as most of the album was produced by Harvey Fuqua it is possible that some of it dates back to their time at the Harvey label in 1962 and 1963.
There are two bonus tracks. One, Willie's Blues, is the instrumental B-side of Twist Lackawanna. Their first single back in January 1962, the A-side reappeared on the album Road Runner. Finally, closing the disc in fine style is Break It Up, an all-stops out shouter from November/December 1964. This could easily have been a single but remained unreleased until a compilation in 1979.
(review filed 18 May 2007)

Junior Walker And The All Stars
Road Runner/Home Cookin'
(71.04)***R 1962-1968, P 2003
Together with the twofer Shotgun/Soul Session this pair of CDs collect all the studio material released by Junior Walker and the All-Stars in the sixties, including both sides of all three singles they recorded for the Harvey label in 1962 and 1963, before it was swallowed up by the Motown empire. There was also the album Live! in 1967. This was briefly made available on a CD which now fetches over 100 a copy.
Junior Walker had spent many years honing his individual style during the fifties, inspired by players such as Illinois Jacquet and Earl Bostic, and playing in bands like the Jumping Jacks before being discovered by Johnny Bristol and introduced to Harvey Fuqua, the ex-Moonglow singer who was running his own label.
Road Runner Junior Walker and the All-Stars' third album, released in August 1966, a while after the single (I'm A) Road Runner had made the US national top twenty. That had been lifted from the album Shotgun, but had a second innings at the start of side one of the new album. Not to be confused with the Bo Diddley song Road Runner, it remains one of Junior Walker's best known and loved tunes, thanks in part to some KFC adverts. 
The album had four other A-sides: How Sweet It Is came out a month or so before the album and showed there was plenty more mileage in the Marvin Gaye number by hitting the US top twenty; Money (That's What I Want), seemingly recorded by all Motown artists, and split into Parts Two and One for the single) came next and Pucker Up Buttercup/Anyway You Wannta' followed in 1967, while Twist Lackawanna had been their first ever single back in 1962. 
Baby You Know You Ain't Right, a thinly-veiled re-write of James Brown's Out Of Sight, had already been out on the back of the re-issue of Cleo's Mood in 1965, and Mutiny eventually surfaced on the B-side of Home Cookin'  over two years later. As well as the Motown covers and the new material on the album, there is a fine sax-led version of Freddy King and Sonny Thompson's composition San-Ho-Zay.
It is clear what was the function of the record. Several of the tracks have party noises and the lyrics and vocal interjections are peppered with the dance crazes of the time. If the music lacked surface sophistication, it certainly made up for it in honkin' sax, atmosphere, energy and feeling, plus it was brilliantly played, with a gospel-like fervour. I would guess it enlivened many a soul party in the sixties.
On the CD booklet liner notes the band is listed for both albums as Junior Walker (vocals, sax), Willie Woods (guitar), Vic Thomas (keyboards) and James Graves (drums), augmented in the studio by Motown's Funk Brothers band, but James Graves had left the band in April 1966 and so for Pucker Up Buttercup and all other tracks recorded after that, Billy "Stix" Nicks, an old friend from Jumping Jacks days, was on drums. On this album these would seem to include How Sweet It Is and Anyway You Wannta'. 
Home Cookin' was launched on New Year's Day 1969, and was largely business as usual. The title track was riding high in the R&B charts, and two other tracks had already featured as singles: Come See About Me, their Supremes revival, with an added chorus (the Andantes?) unusually in evidence in the background; and Hip City (Parts One and Two), here merged into one unbroken long track. However, the final single to be extracted, in April 1969, What Does It Take (To Win Your Love), showed the beginnings of a new more laid back vocal and musical style, complete with a string arrangement and smoochy vocal harmonies. It gave Junior Walker his biggest hit since Shotgun, also making number one on the R&B chart, but was less interesting to me than the other more raucous sounding material on the album. These include the fine instrumental B-sides Sweet Soul and Nothing But Soul (included as a bonus track in a longer mix than the single and in first-time stereo) and the previously unreleased instrumental Whiplash. 
The whole album was recorded between 1966 and 1968, after Bill Nicks had joined, with the exception of a boisterous stomp through Buster Brown's Fannie Mae, held over from sessions for the Shotgun album in March 1965.
This CD is a seventy minute romp through six years of the All Stars' recording life containing a lot of uninhibited, spontaneous and creative playing from some fine soulful musicians who wanted their audience to have a good time, captured from an unrepeatable bubble of time.
(review filed 19 May 2007)

Junior Walker And The All Stars
Groovin' With Junior
(53.33)** P 1962-1967, P 1994
This useful now-deleted German compilation from the Cedar label concentrates on A-sides and B-sides (indeed, both sides of the first 5 singles for Motown's Soul label are included), starting with Shotgun, their biggest hit. It also includes all of the debut album Shotgun, apart from one track (Ain't That The Truth, which can be found on Tamla Motown Connoisseurs). 
The band are augmented by the Funk Brothers, the house band at Motown, and must have made a fantastic party album, making little apparent concession to sophistication or subtlety, though of course there is in reality plenty of both in the playing. 
Most of the tracks are drawn from Shotgun or Road Runner, their third album (nothing from Soul Session, from which no singles were taken, is included). Two of those from Road Runner are album tracks only, though sadly room has not been found for the instrumental 1966 non-album B-side Nothing But Soul.
The most recent track is the sole selection from the album Home Cookin' and is the single Come See About Me, the Supremes song, whilst the oldest, Cleo's Mood, first turned up on a Harvey label single in 1962. The compilers have omitted anything from the 1967 live album. All tracks are stereo. Some are slightly edited from the full-length album versions, though others are a couple of seconds longer than those on the current CD editions, and all are well mastered apart from Shotgun which distorts (as it does on most of the the other records on which I have heard it).
(review filed 18 January 2005, expanded 17 May 2007)

Muddy Waters
The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album
(43.57)** R 1975, P 1995
In marked contrast to the hard, aggressive sound of his work with Johnny Winter the following year, this album shows another, far more relaxed side to Muddy Waters, as he revisits old songs and launches new ones in the laid-back company of his regular sidemen and some celebrity names. Producer and songwriter Henry Glover had gone into partnership with Levon Helm from the Band and converted a barn into a recording studio called Bearsville in Turtle Creek, Woodstock NY, and the Muddy Waters sessions, recorded 6-7 February 1975, were the first fruits.
Although there is a light front-porch touch throughout the album, probably influenced by Levon Helm's subtle drumwork and Garth Hudson's distinctive organ and accordion accompaniment, there is nothing lacklustre about it, with fine contributions thoughout from local resident Paul Butterfield on harmonica and from Waters' regular piano player and vocalist Pinetop Perkins. The album kicks off with Why Are People Like That, written by Bobby Charles, another Woodstock resident. Muddy Waters switches to slide guitar for two of his own new songs, and performs Kansas City in honour of Henry Glover, who produced it for Little Willie Littlefield back in 1952 (as KC Lovin'). Louis Jordan and his Tympani Five are also remembered through versions of Caldonia and Let The Good Times Roll.
The album concludes with a previously unreleased bonus track, Fox Squirrel, a Muddy Waters composition.
(review filed 27 December 2005)

Muddy Waters
Blue Skies - The Best Of Muddy Waters
(63.21)** P 1976-1981, P 2002
Muddy Waters was signed to Johnny Winter's Blue Skies label in 1976. He had been in semi-retirement for a couple of years following a car accident, but had made a striking return in 1975 with The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album, his last album for Chess, produced by Henry Glover, with Levon Helm from the Band. Received wisdom is that at the time of Johnny Winter acquiring Muddy Waters' services he was a spent and forgotten force; however one only has to see his 1976 performance and its reception in The Last Waltz, the filmed concert of the Band's farewell concert featuring stellar guests, at which he famously performed Mannish Boy, to see that this simply was not the case. 
Johnny Winter certainly did no harm to the revitalization of his career and helped to break him to a new, predominantly white rock audience. He produced and arranged Hard Again, the first album under the new contract, and also played some guitar on it, though he retained Bob Margolin from the Woodstock and Last Waltz line-ups, as well as legendary pianist Pinetop Perkins. Muddy turned in ferocious re-workings of familiar material including Mannish Boy and I Want To Be Loved (as covered by the Stones), and provided some tasty slide guitar on I Can't Be Satisfied, the Big Bill Broonzy tune he had first recorded in 1948 and which had also inspired the Rolling Stones' version on their No. 2 album. Though not a replacement for the originals, they stand alongside them in terms of performance quality, and benefit from the advances of recording technology.
Blue Skies features 5 tracks from Hard Again and continues in chronological order with 4 equally incendiary tracks from the 1978 follow-up I'm Ready, well received live versions of Nine Below Zero and Baby Please Don't Go from Muddy "Mississippi" Waters Live in 1979, and the remaining 5 from his final album, King Bee, released 2 years before his death in 1983 at the age of 68. As well as the Slim Harpo title track, it featured Arthur Crudup's Mean Ol' Frisco Blues and a new version of his own Too Young To Know. The selection serves a useful round up of the final five years of his recording career where he was fortunately on first class form throughout.
(review filed 4 August 2005)

Wedding Present
Bizarro
(47.27)** P 1989
Bizarro was the Weddoes' second proper album (after George Best, they had released Tommy, a compilation of singles and session tracks, and the unlikely Ukrainski Vistupi V Johna Peela, containing two John Peel sessions of acoustic Ukrainian folk tunes). It included the single Kennedy (number 2 in the Festive 50 that year, one of five songs from the album to be voted in) and the original version of Brassneck, which was to be remade as a single recorded for them by Steve Albini. Each of Wedding Present's albums has a distinct identity although Bizarro retains the blistering of George Best, and David Gedge's lyrics continued to mine the dark pits of romantic and sexual hell and dark despair. The longest track, Take Me!, ends in an extended instrumental section but there is no soloing, just the intense, repeated accompaniment, expressing all the emotion and pent up frustration in noise to trance-like effect. Glorious
(review filed 1 February 2004)

Wedding Present
Hit Parade 2
(39.43/40.23)*** P 1992
In 1992 Wedding Present earned a place in the Guinness Book Of Records by releasing a single a month for a year, and getting all of them into the Top 30. Each single was limited to 15,000 copies and had a new song on the A-side and a cover on the flip. The first six singles were collected onto an album called Hit Parade 1 released in July 1992, and its sequel, not unreasonably called Hit Parade 2, followed six months later.
This version includes an invaluable bonus CD which was only with the initial copies of the release, and comprised alternative radio performances of all 12 of the A-sides, recorded in session for John Peel and other BBC radio programmes during that year. 
Hit Parades 1 and 2, incidentally, were re-issued in 2CD-form during 2003 (but without the bonus tracks)
(review filed 11 January-4 February 2004)

Mary Wells
Early Classics
(48.47)** R 1961-1964, P 1996
You don't hear so much about Mary Wells these days, but before Diana Ross came along she was pretty much the queen of Motown. The hits dried up when she left the label in 1964 and she died in 1992 at the age of 49. This budget series Early Classics is a winner because with Tamla Motown, the earlier the better. All the hits are here, including My Guy, of course, and You Beat Me To The Punch, even a couple of duets with Marvin Gaye. The single Motown would have released if she hadn't quit the label is included (Whisper You Love Me Boy, later recorded by the Supremes) as are a couple of items that lay in the vaults for decades before having their day. Two personal favourites are missing: When I'm Gone and What's Easy For Two Is So Hard For One, so I hope Spectrum put out Volume 2
(review updated 1 February 2004)

Mary Wells
Looking Back 1961-1964
(55.52/59.05)** R 1960-1964, P 1993
It may be hard to find now but this is still the most comprehensive collection of Mary Wells' work for Motown. Mary Wells had 10 singles out on the label between 1961 and 1964, plus a duet with Marvin Gaye, and all of them are here, plus most of their B-sides. She also put out quite a few studio albums, and these are all represented: Bye Bye Baby, I Don't Want To Take A Chance (1961)(5 tracks), The One Who Really Loves You (1962)(7 tracks), Two Lovers And Other Great Hits (1963)(5 tracks), Together (with Marvin Gaye)(1964)(the 2 tracks released as a single) and Mary Wells Sings My Guy (1964)(4 tracks). There was also a live album, Recorded Live On Stage (1963), from which nothing has been taken, and an unreleased album, Second Time Around (1963). On Looking Back there are ten previously unreleased tracks. As five of these were recorded in 1963, including I Want You 'Round, a duet with Smokey Robinson, perhaps some of these came from that unreleased album.
When she left for Twentieth Century Fox with My Guy still in the charts, there was plenty in the can. This included three planned singles that were pulled: When I'm Gone (given instead to Brenda Holloway), One Block From Heaven, which gets a thumping Spectorised treatment, and Whisper You Love Me Boy, later to be recorded by the Supremes, and which appeared on the My Guy album. Berry Gordy did not issue any "spoiler" singles but he did collect some of the material together for an excellent album in 1966 called Vintage Stock. With the notable exception of I'll Be Available, a fabulous track which really should have been included (and which Brenda Holloway also re-recorded), Vintage Stock is here in its entirety.
All the tracks have been remastered from the original masters in a very clear sound, although every track is in mono. At present, the only original Mary Wells album in print is Together, her duet album with Marvin Gaye. This can be found alongside the Marvin Gaye/Kim Weston album Take Two in UK Motown's excellent 2 Classic Albums 1 CD series. It would be great if other Mary Wells titles turned up in stereo mixes in that series. Until that happens, if the price is right, grab this one while you can.
(review filed 13 January 2006)

Bob Weir
Weir Here: The Best Of Bob Weir
(78.11/77.10)** R 1971-2003, P 2004
This generously apportioned double-CD set features Bob Weir's work both within the Grateful Dead and apart, the first disc comprising studio recordings while the second disc is live. Bob Weir was a founder member of the Dead as a co-lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist, having been in previous incarnations of the band dating back to Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions in early 1964. His earliest solo composition for the Dead is Born Cross-Eyed, though this is not represented on this set. The autobiographical Dead anthem Truckin', however, for which he co-wrote the music, opens the second disc in a rousing 1971 Grateful Dead live version; along with Sugar Magnolia the earliest recordings on the set.
CD1 is a trawl through Bob Weir's side projects: a couple by Kingfish and RatDog, one by Bobby and The Midnites, a few from solo albums and collaborations with Dan Zanes, Rob Wasserman and Neil Young and the like. There is one less than classic track from a Grateful Dead album, Feel Like A Stranger from 1980's Go To Heaven, but the lion's share of the disc comes from the excellent album Ace, which opens CD1. In fact, apart from the first three tracks, all of Ace is included. This is both a good and bad thing as Ace has dated far better than some of the late seventies/eighties recordings, and songs like Cassidy and Looks Like Rain are magnificent. Although conceived as a solo project for some new Bob Weir/John Barlow songs, it is to all intents and purposes a hidden Grateful Dead album as the entire band turned out to play on it. It is a bad thing only in that whereas the other tracks might serve as samplers for the albums from which they come, so much of Ace is represented that few will go on to actually acquire the full thing.
If bought as a substitute for Ace, which awaits re-release, the second disc is ample compensation for those missing tracks. Apart from one rehearsal run-through of Masters Of War played by RatDog, everything is from the vast archive of live Grateful Dead concerts recorded between 1971 and 1990, some of it made available on retrospective live albums released between 1997 and 2003, which only avid collectors will have, but over half an hour of it previously unreleased. All of it has been chosen to effectively illustrate the roles Bob Weir played within the band. The new stuff includes a memorable eleven minute version of Estimated Prophet, a 1989 return to the New Minglewood Blues and a vintage interpretation of Me And Bobby McGee. Probably the greatest live band in the world, a 1989 performance of Man Smart, Woman Smarter sits quite organically beside Jack Straw from 1972.
The strong feeling that arises from playing this representative 2CD set is that the Dead were a collective, and that sometimes the light should be all shining on Bob Weir.
(review filed 9 February 2008)

Tony Joe White
Black And White
(41.48)*** R 1967-1969, P 1996
If you know Steamy Windows by Tina Turner, Rainy Night In Georgia by Brook Benton, Polk Salad Annie by Elvis Presley or Willie And Laura Mae Jones by Dusty Springfield, then you know something about one side of Tony Joe White, the Swamp Fox from Louisiana. He wrote all of those and plenty more besides. Not only an accomplished songwriter, though, Tony Joe White is also recording artist and performer in his own right, singing and playing guitar on his own and other people's records and regularly touring.
Black And White was the album that followed his own 1969 US top ten hit Polk Salad Annie, the song that introduced swamp rock to the nation: funky horns, southern fried wah-wah guitar, alligator soul boogie and a voice as deep as his sideburns. There's a stack of that here, including an extra-fine version of Willie And Laura Mae Jones, as well as the earlier single Soul Francisco and four other original songs. The second side of the album consists of other people's material done the Tony Joe White way: Johnny Taylor's Who's Making Love, Slim Harpo's Scratch My Back, Roger Miller's Little Green Apples (a surprisingly effective and tender version), Glen Campbell's Wichita Lineman and Dusty Springfield's (or Dionne Warwick's) The Look Of Love. 
The album was produced in Nashville by Billy Swan. As a bonus, both sides of his first single, from 1967, produced by Ray Stevens, are included. You can buy a Best Of compilation, but why deny yourself the opportunity to hear an album or two in full, as intended, in the process?
(Review filed 17 August 2006)

Who
My Generation
(47.08/44.28)**** P 1965-1966, P 2002
The Who's 1st LP, originally released in the UK on Brunswick, one of Decca's group of labels, had been unavailable in the UK for decades, due to a legal matter involving the group's defection to their manager's new Reaction label, and the ownership of the album master tapes by their former producer, Shel Talmy. Thirty-five years later, after they had almost ended up auctioned on E-bay, the 3-track masters were re-mixed by Shel Talmy into true stereo for the first time and eventually released in a lavish 2CD set, overflowing with bonus tracks of unreleased out-takes and alternative versions. It seemed too good to be true, when first announced, but it almost isn't. The stereo sound is incredibly vibrant and powerful and the Who crackle with a raw energy and with a righteous commitment from each to outdo all the others, a clash of ambition and ego which provides glorious results.
There were slight variations between the UK track-list and its US release, The Who Sing My Generation, which came out later. I'm A Man was replaced by a newer recording, Circles, from 1966. This had been recorded as their intended fourth single, but had been abandoned when the band left the label (Brunswick cheekily released it later as the B-side to A Legal Matter, which was lifted off the album; they mistitled it Instant Party). Both items are included on Disc One, which also houses both sides of their first single and the UK B-side of their second (Anyway Anyhow Anywhere), which was the Otis Blackwell song Daddy Rolling Stone, covered first by Jimmy Ricks and the Ravens but known to the Who from a Sue label single by the Jamaican former-Top Note and Raven, Derek Martin. All of these are also mixed in stereo.
Disc Two begins with "additional bonus tracks", the first twelve tracks comprising material unreleased at the time, though some have subsequently appeared on 1980s compilations such as Who's Missing. Exceptions to this include the James Brown song Shout And Shimmy which became the UK B-side to My Generation, and Anytime You Want Me (Garnett Mimms and the Enchanters), unreleased in the UK at the time but found on the US B-side of Anyway Anyhow Anywhere. An a cappella version is also included, as is the instrumental version of My Generation.
It was the practice of the time to include well-known songs on albums and the Who's set was full of R&B, soul and Motown covers, many of which were recorded for their debut album, although Shel Talmy says in the notes that he was admirer of Pete Townshend's writing and would have been happy to include only original material. When early acetates of the sessions went out for review, the paucity of new material was commented on by Beat Instrumental reviewer John Emery, and so the release date was put back while some covers were replaced with Townshend songs: La-La-La-Lies, Much Too Much, It's Not True, A Legal Matter (featuring an early Pete Townshend lead vocal) and The Good's Gone.
The replaced tracks included, as well as those mentioned, Leaving Here (a Motown cover, originally by Eddie Holland), Lubie (Come Back Home) (an adaptation of Paul Revere and the Raider's Louie Go Home), Heat Wave and Motoring (both from Martha and the Vandellas), all collected here. Leaving Here exists in a number of different forms: a 1964 demo appeared on the expanded CD version of Odds And Sods, a version from April 1965 appeared on Who's Missing, and it was also recorded for the BBC's Saturday Club programme the following month (available on The BBC Sessions). The version here is an unknown alternative take from the April 1965 session. Heat Wave was re-recorded for the album A Quick One, copying the arrangement used by the Everly Brothers, whereas its clear from this earlier version that its genesis in the Who cannon was the Motown original.
Instant Party Mixture was recorded at the same time as Circles and was to have been its flipside. Circles was later re-recorded for the Ready Steady Who EP but Instant Party Mixture never saw the light of day until this release. Full length versions of two of the album tracks follow. Their version of I Don't Mind is considerably adapted from James Brown's original, whether by design or out of necessity for a 3-piece group and a singer, and benefits from the extra minute or so, while what The Good's Gone owes to its inspiration, The Kink's See My Friends, is made much clearer by the guitar on the extended fade. Incidentally, See My Friends and other Kink titles were produced by Shel Talmy on 14 April 1965 at Pye Studios, while the Who were at IBC Studios cutting Anyway Anyhow Anywhere and several tracks for this album with the same producer. He must have been quite busy.
The band's extraordinary second single, Anyway Anyhow Anywhere, is unfortunately not included, but a rare early version with a slightly different title, which was released by accident on a French EP in 1966, takes its place. Apparently it was impossible to include a stereo mix of the released version as the vocal overdubs had been performed directly onto the final mono mix-down, a common practice at the time in order to minimize tape hiss.
This same practice affects the stereo presentation of a number of the album tracks, which are missing those final touches that were added at the mixing stage. These include vital guitar parts and some back-up vocals on My Generation and A Legal Matter, John Entwistle's french horn playing on Circles and vocal overdubs for La-La-La Lies and Much Too Much. This is partially addressed by the final two tracks on Disc Two, which are "monaural versions with guitar overdubs" (the great original mono versions of A Legal Matter and My Generation), and is made up for by the chance to hear these historic tracks in full stereo for the first time.
All of what is found here is so important and so fantastic to hear after all this time, and in such high quality sound, that one really doesn't want to carp. However, it would surely have been a good idea to have the entire original mono album on the second half of Disc One, with its three bonus tracks added to the second disc, along with the original mono version of Anyway Anyhow Anywhere, a top ten hit in the UK after all, and perhaps the Who's Missing version of Leaving Here. Maybe next time
(review filed 16 March 2005)

Who
A Quick One
(56.39)**** P 1966, P 2003
In 1995, the Who's 1st LP for the Reaction label, A Quick One, from 1966, was remastered, remixed in analogue and re-issued in the UK by Polydor (527 758-2), complete with 10 extra tracks and a colour booklet with extensive notes.
A Quick One, featuring a cover by the very fashionable Pop Art graphic artist Alan Aldridge, showed that the Who had developed a unique sound and style of their own. Gone was the profusion of cover versions as found on My Generation, their first album, with all members of the band contributing to the composer credits. Only one cover, Martha and the Vandellas' Heatwave, in an arrangement from an Everly Brothers album, made the final tracklisting (an earlier version had been dropped from the My Generation album, and in America even this new version was replaced by the hit single Happy Jack).
A Quick One lacked the wild savagery soundwise of the first album, but still had all the elements of it including Keith Moon's powerhouse drumming and chaotic creative energy, as showcased on the well-named instrumental Cobwebs And Strange. The songs were in the main light-hearted and enjoyably immature, John Entwistle's Boris The Spider and Whiskey Man in particular showed a unique humour. Pete Townshend's songwriting talents continued to develop. The album opened with his thunderous Run, Run Run, a song that had earlier been given to The Cat to record on a single produced by Pete Townshend. Along the way came So Sad About Us, later to be covered by the Breeders and the Jam (who also revived the Who's version of Heatwave). The album finale was the ten-minute mini-opera A Quick One (While He's Away), which set in motion a whole new direction for his talents, and led, of course, to Tommy.
The extra tracks began with most of the contemporaneous Ready Steady Who! EP: Batman, Bucket T and Barbara Ann, the three surf music covers from side 1, and Disguises from side 2 (Peculiarly, Circles is not included on this or, it seems, any other Who CD except in an earlier recording). The surfer sides were the influence of Keith Moon, who had played in a surf combo called the Beachcombers in the surfing paradise of Wembley, London.
The B-sides of Happy Jack (I've Been Away), Pictures Of Lily (Doctor, Doctor) and I'm A Boy (In The City) follow, all written or co-written by John Entwistle, and three previously unreleased tracks complete the package. These are an acoustic version of Happy Jack, a great cover of the Everly Brothers' Man With Money and an anarchic version of My Generation which appears to begin in mono and segues gloriously into a stereo feedback-drenched rendition of Land Of Hope And Glory. This was originally intended for the Ready Steady Who! EP, released to tie-in with their appearance on the famous TV show, but was not music from the show itself.
A Quick One was originally released in mono in the UK, and according to the booklet in both mono and stereo versions in the US, although the 1995 re-issue CD appears not to have had access to the stereo masters if such they were (they may just have been electronically re-channeled fake stereo). Run, Run, Run appeared in a stereo version previously available on the vinyl Backtrack 3 compilation sampler, but, apart from Whiskey Man the rest of the original album was monaural, with 5 of the bonus tracks in stereo, including the Batman theme, which may have come from the same Backtrack series.
This release of this stereo edition of the album has nothing on the CD itself to differentiate it from the 1995 edition which appeared alongside it on the record shop shelves and which had a sticker saying it was newly remastered and remixed. The publication date on both sleeve and disc is still given as 1995, and the booklet is an exact reprint of the 1995 edition. There is not even a sticker with additional information on the cover of the case of the British re-issue.
This poor and rather wasteful promotion and lack of demarcation is a shame because when I finally tracked down the correct copy it more than lived up to expectations. The whole of A Quick One is in full stereo. Run, Run, Run is in a new and slightly longer mix, and all the bonus tracks are stereo too, with the sole exception of the acoustic Happy Jack. This gives a bigger, clearer sound allowing many of the production subtleties to be fully appreciated for the first time thanks to the separation, especially for headphone listening, and particularly enhances the vocal harmonies.
The absence of a revised booklet means one unfortunately cannot tell whether these mixes are derived from 1966 stereo masters or were newly created from multi-track tapes for this release.
(review filed 17 December 2003, revised 14 June 2004)

Larry Williams
Bad Boy Of Rock'n'Roll
(53.50)*** P 1957-1958, P 1999
Like many others, I knew the name Larry Williams from scrutinising Beatles album sleeves. John Lennon was a big fan and the group used to feature Dizzy Miss Lizzy at the Star-Club in Germany during 1962. Lennon later recorded Slow Down, Bad Boy and Dizzy Miss Lizzy with the mop tops, on one occasion with Larry Williams in attendance at Abbey Road, and from these versions it was clear that Larry Williams was a "rocker" in the same mould as Little Richard or Lloyd Price. The sleeve notes confirm that there were indeed many parallels, and that Larry Williams also played piano on these sessions (although there is a second pianist, so Williams' role is unclear). Many bands, including the Rolling Stones, used to do She Said "Yeah", which Larry Williams co-wrote (with Sonny Bono, long before Cher was around to say "yeah" to him) and recorded during his spell at Specialty between 1957 and 1958. Lennon later recorded Bony Moronie, providing a valuable source of royalties to Williams in later years.
This rocking 24-track collection on Ace from 1999 gathers all the best material from this period from the original master tapes, including all the singles released over here on the London label, plus some that were issued by Art Rupe after Larry Williams had defected to the Chess label. There are also several first-rate tracks that were unreleased until decades later, some appearing for the first time.
The accompanying booklet is exasperating by hinting at details that are not followed through. Stuart Colman's sleeve notes indicate that he has access to details of the recording sessions but he either does not give the dates or makes allusions such as "the last Friday in the month" or "unleashed...the Wednesday after Valentine's Day"; unhelpful if you don't happen to have a 1957 or 1958 diary on your desktop. Musicians are listed for both the Hollywood and New Orleans sessions but without specifying which are for which. Although the notes continue beyond the period covered on the CD, no mention is made of his death by a gunshot wound to the head, in his Cadillac parked in the garage of his Laurel Canyon home on 2 January 1980 amid allegations of prostitution, racketeering and drug dealing
(review filed 7 November 2003)

Brian Wilson
Pet Projects - The Brian Wilson Productions
(51.56)*** P 1962-1973, P 2003
Brian Wilson produced or co-produced all the Beach Boys albums in all but name up until the Smile debacle and developed over the years into a skilled master producer who could match in his own unique style his contemporary influences and rivals Phil Spector and George Martin. The recording studio became his comfort zone, where he could intuitively use his extremely sensitive musical ear to best advantage, and he found production therapeutic. As well as turning out a couple of albums per year for the Beach Boys he frequently used Gold Star, Western Recorders, Capitol Towers, Columbia and other favourite Los Angeles studios to record other acts and try out songs and ideas. For example, the song Thinkin' 'Bout You Baby, that he produced for Sharon Marie in 1963, four years later later mutated into the Beach Boys hit Darlin'; and The Survivors' instrumental B-side After The Game pre-figured some of the sounds used on Pet Sounds.
Fourteen singles that he produced have been selected for Pet Projects, along with eight of their B-sides and one other stray B-side (Vegetables). Some of these are by Brian's co-songwriting buddy Gary Usher, and the pair sing back-up on some of the others. Several more are by the girl group the Honeys, featuring Marilyn Rovell, who became Brian's wife. The girl group sound gave Brian the opportunity to try out his version of Spector's Wall Of Sound, using many players from the same top session crew that Spector used, though his results could be mixed. He also produced Marilyn and her sister Diane when they became Spring in 1971. Nothing of that enterprise makes it onto Pet Projects but both sides of the single they made as American Spring in 1973 are included.
He also helped out other surf/hot rod acts such as Jan and Dean (although Brian neither surfed or hot-rodded, they were favourite songwriting topics, along with high school and, naturally, girls), helping arrange and produce their number one hit Surf City (unfortunately this and other collaborations such as Drag City are missing from Pet Projects). Dean of Jan and Dean recorded a cover of the Smiley Smile track Vegetables in 1967, with Brian, Marilyn and Diane helping out on vocals, and this came out on the White Whale label credited to Laughing Gravy (the name of Laurel and Hardy's dog in The Chimp). Although this is listed as having been included on the album, the version that actually plays is the 1972 Jan and Dean re-make on United Artists that was on the flipside of Jenny Lee, though it does have Brian Wilson on backing vocals.
Ultimately, and unsurprisingly, Brian Wilson's most accomplished work was with and for the Beach Boys, but these outside interests are a fascinating sideline, fully reflected on this collection despite some curious omissions, and also of historical value since they no doubt helped in developing and enhancing the skills that he employed on masterpieces such as Pet Sounds.
(review filed 12 August 2007)

Wire
Chairs Missing
(52.02)*** P 1978-1979, P 1994
Although Wire wore a punk overcoat, sonically speaking, on their first three albums, there is no doubt that theirs was a creativity that would have surfaced whatever the current vogue, as their relevance today shows. Chairs Missing was their Harvest follow up to the arty 21-track debut, Pink Flag, but boasting a mere 15 tracks, which ranged from just over a minute long, to an epic 5.45 for Mercy. The lyrics, printed prose fashion in the booklet, make an interesting and stimulating read even divorced from the musical settings contained in the grooves. Producer Mike Thorne adds extra coloration and texture with his synths and keyboards and Kate Lukas adds flute to one tune. 
Chairs Missing included the single I Am The Fly, although as it had been released 7 months earlier than the album and had a B-side from Pink Flag, it may be older than the rest of the album. Outdoor Miner was extracted as a single along with its flipside, Practice Makes Perfect, in January 1979. A longer version of Outdoor Miner is included as a bonus track, along with both sides of a non-album single that was released in June 1979. 
The appearance of Chairs Missing on CD in 1990 proved influential on indie and Britpop bands such as Elastica and Blur, and still sounds fresh and vital today
(review filed 11 February 2004)

 

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