Artist: Title (label, release date) 1-5 stars
Peter, Paul, & Mary: The Very Best of Peter, Paul & Mary (Warner Brothers/Rhino, August 23, 2005) *****
Chicago: At Carnegie Hall, Vol. 1-4 (Rhino, August 23, 2005) ****
Bill Haley & His Comets: For Dancers Only (Rev-Ola, August 23, 2005) ****
Edison Electric Band: Bless You, Dr Woodward (Water, August 23, 2005) ****
Peter, Paul, & Mary: The Very Best of Peter, Paul & Mary
It’s about time somebody thought to issue a definitive compilation on Peter, Paul, and Mary. After all, 44 years have passed since the trio formed in Greenwich Village, and through all that time, the 1970 disc Ten Years Together was the only really solid overview. However, at 13 songs, that collection barely scratched the surface; with The Very Best of Peter, Paul & Mary Rhino serves up 25 songs, most from their 60’s peak, plus a couple of solo hits and other odds and ends from the 70’s and 80’s. Peter, Paul, and Mary were folkies in the original beatnik 50’s sense of the word, and from 1962-1965 they were America’s biggest selling pop act, putting five albums in the top-10. They’re best remembered for alerting the world at large to Bob Dylan via their covers of “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”, Gordon Lightfoot, via “For Loving Me”, and John Denver, via “Leaving On A Jet Plane”, none of whom were well known before PPM’s covers hit the charts. They never adapted to the rock era; the closest they came to “rock” was “I Dig Rock ‘n’ Roll Music”, a Mamas And Papas-esque putdown of rock that seemed to be almost fearful at the time. By 1970 their day had seemingly passed, and they released a trio of solo albums before retiring. They reunited in 1978, and have remained together since, performing countless shows for PBS, and releasing occasional albums. Rhino’s package does them justice by including all of their familiar hits, plus less heard gems like Paul Stookey’s “The Wedding Song”, and PPM’s 80’s stab at political relevance “El Salvador”.
Chicago: At Carnegie Hall, Vol. 1-4
Chicago was at their most ambitious by 1971 when this album, also known as Chicago IV, was released. Their previous three albums, each a double-LP, had all made the top-5; they had charted eight singles in the previous three years, and were given a prestigious (and successful) 5-day stand at Carnegie Hall. Chicago IV was a souvenir of those shows, and a pricey one; when it was initially released, it was a quadruple album, the first in rock history. This drew a lot of ire from the critics at the time; four albums is a lot to sit through, and the lengthened versions of their songs weren’t always improvements. The biggest rap against Chicago was that they were far more “jazzy” than “jazz”, and a lot more rock than either. While they do get semi-improvasatory here, at times it falls into indulgent rock showoff-isms. However, their diehard fans have always pointed to this album as one of their favorites; looser and more adventurous than their studio albums, it represented musicianship that could only be hinted at in the studio. Where you stand on the issue depends on how much you liked those first three albums; a newcomer to Chicago might want to investigate those first before diving in here. The Chicago diehards will be in heaven with this reissue, however. The recordings, which always suffered from poor acoustics, have been remastered, giving the horns in particular a meatier sound. The original album has been fit onto three discs and a bonus disc of additional material from the shows is added. A 36-page book is included with liner notes, a comprehensive concert listing, poster reproductions, and more. In short, if you always liked this album, here’s the Holy Grail. If you always thought the original was way too much music for one package, this is going to boggle your mind. The hit was a long, drum-solo heavy version of the Spencer Davis Band’s “I’m A Man”.
Bill Haley & His Comets: For Dancers Only
There’s no shortage of Bill Haley compilations, but this Rev-Ola one is perhaps the best ever, not skimping on song selection, and covering his peak years with enough depth to satisfy fans as well as necomers. Haley is usually remembered for “Rock Around The Clock”, his 1955 hit that predated Elvis Presley’s emergence in the popular arena, but his career actually dates back to the 1951 release of “Rocket 88” (included here), which may well be the first rock ‘n’ roll song ever (in this version or Jackie Brenston’s original). It’s hard to argue that “Shake Rattle and Roll”, from 1953, isn’t rock ‘n’ roll, with its dance beat, hollering vocals, and jangly guitar. Strangely however, Haley has never gotten a whole lot of recognition for his achievements, and after his 1981 death, his profile has faded even more. For Dancers Only is a small-label attempt to right this wrong, with 25 well-chosen cuts, each one an argument for restoring Haley to the rock ‘n’ roll pantheon, where he belongs. The title is well chosen, too; in those days, rock ‘n’ roll was “dance” music.
Edison Electric Band: Bless You, Dr Woodward
From the obscurity chest: Bless You, Dr Woodward, the lone album from Edison Electric Band, a white soul band from Philadelphia led by T.J. Tindall. Their career never got past a withering review from Rolling Stone that was largely unfair; the band was tight, jazzy-bluesy with some real urban grit, and fairly soulful in an Electric Flag sort of way. Overshadowed by the great black Philly soul bands that were just getting off the ground, and out of step with the rock currents, the band broke up after this release, but most of the members landed work as sessionmen. At its best it hits funky grooves that border on improvisation, capturing that musical cusp at the turn of the decade that saw funk rhythms tighten. At its worst, it’s not bad. Never before on CD, it comes with extended liner notes. Jazz producer Joel Dorn is listed as co-producer. Originally released on Cotillion, it is reissued by Water records.
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