Byrds: The Complete Columbia Albums Collection

Rating: 10/10
Rated as
: Box Set
Album Status
: Definite, Complete Recordings
Released: 2011
Recorded: 1965–1972
Specific Genre: Folk Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Roots Rock, Country Rock
Main Genre: Rock, Psychedelia
Label: Columbia/Legacy

Flow, River, Flow

Oh dear, it’s that rare beast: a practically perfect box set! How about that. This handily sized box collects the remastered bonus track–reissues of all Byrds albums put out by Columbia/Legacy. These reissues usually featured more than half a dozen bonus tracks each. The box thus contains, quoting AMG’s John Bush, „over 90-percent of their career, basically everything they released, all 12 albums (aside from their 1973 reunion album recorded for Asylum)“.

This isn’t entirely accurate, as it’s only 11 albums – but 13 CDs. Bonus-CD 7 is comprised of early Gram Parsons‘ International Submarine Band tracks and alternate tracks from Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Add another bonus CD called Unissued (CD 11) which collects excellent bonus material from their original (Untitled) album. This includes unreleased studio tracks that didn’t make the album, the studio version of the album’s live „Lover of the Bayou“, an additional interesting Little Feat cover marking the band’s way into the swampy and southern areas of roots rock. Notably, Little Feat’s debut album wasn’t even published yet when the Byrds covered them on their album. This is really all you might want from a box set like this, the missing reunion album notwithstanding.

With boxes, I personally prefer if the original albums are left alone on a CD and the bonus material comes on separate CDs. But since this collects remastered reissues that already had bonus tracks on them, that wasn’t an option. Well, so be it. I especially enjoy that the liner notes are not just dedicated to the nostalgia of some prominent fan or an attempt at further mythologizing: Every track is listed with essential information, recording date, previous releases, writing credits, et cetera. While each of the album tracks get a short informative paragraph providing context, the information is a bit scarce concerning the alternate takes of the bonus CDs. A little more historiography would have been nice there: I mean, why are there alternate Sweetheart of the Rodeo-takes with Gram Parsons on lead vocals that had been overdubbed with vocals by Roger McGuinn for the published album? Why is there zero context provided about the previously unissed studio and live takes on bonus CD 11 (titled Unissued)? I know you can read all about these things elsewhere, but these boxes are the decentralized mini-archives to collect such lore.

The box comes in a minimalistic and nice (very affordable) package, sports vinyl replicas and fits in your shelf next to other CDs. Even if you’re not an absolute fan, this is the box to get – they are an extremely important band going through several interesting phases which make for a nice journey here: from sand-bleached, mellow pop folksters to psychedelic Westcoast rokoko to Creedence Clearwater Revival-inspired roots & desert rockers. All phases have stellar highlights. So: here it is, the quintessential psych-folk-roots-rock band represented in a near perfect setting, at least for box set standards.

Sha: Monbijou

Rating: 8.6/10
Rated as
: Album / Live
Album Status
: Genre Recommendation
Released: 2021
Recorded: 2020
Specific Genre: ECM Style Jazz, Minimal Jazz
Main Genre: Jazz
Undertones
: Avant-Garde Jazz, Post-Minimalism, Modern Classical
Label: Ronin Rhythm Records

1 Intro 2 Mon Bijou 3 MM

Echolocation for emotion

Did you ever hear someone enjoy the space around them? You can now. Recorded in the vast hollow interior of the box girder bridge Monbijou in Berne (CH), Sha’s solo debut – just him on bass clarinet, some sax work – lures you into a literal acoustic and social off-space.

The interior of a box girder has no uses. It has no function other than to create an exterior, supporting the structure of the bridge, carrying its traffic. The dimly, if at all lit 300-plus meter corridor of the Monbijou bridge is not a space open to the public, it isn’t even a room by the social meaning of that word. It is cold, it is dark and about the only noise in there is the faint booming of the motorized traffic washing over it. Sha’s decision to record there, gives away some clues what this kind of solo performance has to deliver in even a more familiar setting.

There are no co-musicians to react to here, there is no audience to the proceedings: Who lives under a bridge? In a way, the cavern echoes and the sound of the motor vehicles replace a band and audience on this record, or at least that musical sense of community achieved through exploring solitude. The structure of the piece, with long stretches of improvisation, gives Sha the option to incorporate the outer-world noises into the composition – that is, to use the bridge and its space as a partner for interplay. This becomes acutely evident almost seven minutes into the centre piece, where Sha floats on an ebbing drone, momentarily lost in an eastern-influenced melody – and a rumbling thunder (by a truck or some deep-sea leviathan) crashes loudly into a pause, perfectly timed, causing Sha to spiral into the first of two frantic parts, built around the beat of tone-hole slaps. This coincidence and its sound couldn’t be replicated in any planned way, and the effect is stunning.

Monbijou consists of several distinct vignettes, composed throughout the years and woven into a 30-minute suite. They are part of the same drift. Their coherence is partly due to the monumental setting, of course, but stems mostly from the spacious but clearly articulated sound Sha developed for the performance in the bridge.

This sound keeps the technical gadgetry to a minimum. Sha does use loops, but they mostly consist of a slight drone that only seems to emphasize the faint wave-crashing of the traffic above. A similar effect of tidal movement – ever moving, never changing – is created through the alternation of long, diligently structured phases of circular breathing with pensive, melodic parts, stretching out into the cavities of the bass clarinet and the surrounding tunnel.

While the former compositional elements can become almost hectic and flickering with their hypnotic arpeggios, sharp clicks and percussive slap tongue technique (especially spectacular in the third act of the ‘suite’), the latter create the emotional foundation of the album: whenever the soothing, meditative drone ebbs away, the invisible world above the bridge responds from a distance. While the very idea of a solo performance might evoke images of an internal monologue, Monbijou reaches outwards and is essentially a work about the hidden space around us, as defined by the sounds we make. Echolocation for emotion, if you will, beaming through a 300-meter instrument and its inhabitant.

PS. This text is basically the online „liner notes“ Sha uses on bandcamp etc. I conceived that text as a review from the beginning, even though it has a sort of PR-function, I guess. It’s just a really excellent live album, check it out.

See https://roninrhythmrecords.bandcamp.com/album/monbijou

Jimi Hendrix: Live Isle of Wight ’70

Rating: 5.9/10
Rated as
: Archival / Live Album
Album Status
: Obsolete
Released: 1991
Recorded: 1970
Specific Genre: Psychedelic Rock
Main Genre: Rock
Undertones
: Blues Rock, Hard Rock
Label: Polydor

1 Intro / God Save the Queen 2 Message to Love 3 Voodoo Child (Slight Return) 4 Lover Man 5 Machine Gun 6 Dolly Dagger 7 Red House 8 In From the Storm 9 New Rising Sun

… and the man with the guitar!

Note: this review and rating refers exclusively to the extended yet incomplete Live Isle of Wight ’70 1991 re-issue.

This is not a bad or boring entry in the never-ending stream of live-Hendrix releases. It’s just that there are so many live releases, and so many issues, re-issues and re-re-issues of so many concerts that there are bound to be better performances captured elsewhere, statistically speaking. As some of Hendrix’ live works are pretty frustrating though, this specific version of the Isle of Wight concert still holds up as one of the comparably decent live albums. There are numerous versions of this with wildly differing content, so watch out for the specific tracklist of prospective acquisitions. This CD is a heavily edited and shortened version, obviously going for the approach to deliver the less erratic versions of the set, and even go as far as to edit „Machine Gun“ from 22 down to 12 minutes. This is neither the original six-track LP version Isle of Wight released in 1971, nor the complete concert Blue Wild Angel, released 2002/2004: It falls in between the two, as it is longer and more satisfyingly representative than the short 1971-version, but it’s not the whole ordeal, skipping historically (if not musically) interesting bits like the „Sgt. Pepper“-opening.

This is a typical release of the CD-era: doubling the run-time of the Vinyl-release, aiming for an actual “concert” experience, while containing the unfocused concert with Hendrix disgruntled by technical problems and unwilling to play his „old numbers“. Hendrix often complained about similar things on stage, sometimes more, sometimes less jokingly. Here, you can really tell that the stoned rock festival environment held him back from delivering the kind of music he was interested in, and he hates it. Weirdly, this might be my favourite constellation of his co-musicians – in theory: Billy Cox on bass is simply groovier than the (otherwise excellent) Noël Redding, and while Buddy Miles contributes to my favourite Hendrix-live album, the Band of Gypsys (1970), as much as Cox and Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell’s nervous hyper-jazz-hard-rock percussion will always be the perfect counterpart to Hendrix’ more experimental musings. But the two don’t mix and no one here lives up to their potential.

Anyhow, this particular issue is strictly not a recommended buy anymore. If you’re not enough of a Hendrix-fan to want the complete Blue Wild Angel, this edited version won’t add anything to your experience.

Captain Beefheart: Magnetic Hands. Live in the UK 72–80

Rating: 6.7/10
Rated as
: Collection / Live
Compilation Status
: Must for Fans
Released: 2002
Recorded: 1972–1980
Specific Genre: Experimental Rock, Blues Rock
Main Genre: Rock
Undertones
: Blues, Psychedelic Rock, Avant-Prog
Label: Viper

1 Click Clack 2 Old Black Snake 3 Grow Fins 4 Peon 5 Golden Birdies 6 Electricity 7 Sugar Mama 8 Orange Claw Hammer 9 Gimme Dat Harp Boy 10 Dalis Car 11 Beatle Bones ’n‘ Smokin‘ Stones 12 Flavor Bud Living 13 Nowadays a Womans Gotta Hit a Man 14 Abba Zaba 15 Hothead 16 Safe as Milk 17 Drop Out Boogie 18 Kandy Korn

You know I’m gonna do exactly what I want

These are previously unavailable live cuts of Beefheart gone wild from seven shows between 1972 and 1980. While these are all tinny and unequalised bootleg recordings, through all the hissing and static, there’s enough left to let you hear these must have been truly magnetising performances.

There is no track here where the terrible sound quality truly ruins the aura for me – even the jurassic cackling of “Sugar Mama”, stomping along at eight minutes, is a bit like finding a dinosaur fossil: not the real living thing, but how cool is that skull? Besides the tracks that are relatively tolerable to the ear and well-performed (a fierce „Grow Fins“, „Nowadays a Woman’s Gotta Hit a Man“ and a deadpan „Drop Out Boogie“), there’s a mind-blowing definite instrumental (!) version of „Electricity“ – six ferocious minutes of pure blues-goes-prog fury delving into a riff section that wasn’t on the album cut and worth every cent of this whole CD. A huge bass, barb-wire guitar riffs and wild harp jamming.

While these are different incarnations of the Magic Band, you couldn’t really tell from their sound and repertoire: Abstract instrumentals, croaky interludes of blues shouting, hard hitting psych-rockers. There’s some entertaining stage banter, but mainly this is interesting because of its raw and unpolished quality. The lengthy primitive blues stomp of „Sugar Mama“ is interesting in this aspect as Beefheart wouldn’t do this particular thing on record after 1972 (or more precisely, after the Mirror Man sessions) anymore. Not that it is a great blues or any such thing, it’s just intriguing to hear how he gets the audience to clap along to the rhythm as all the instruments stop and he dives into a witch doctor blues persona, working his own voice like a synthesizer, squeeling, murmuring and chanting to an audibly mesmerized audience.

One note about the repertoire: The compilation shows us a programme of early 1970s material, with actually just one track dating from later than his 1972-albums (it’s „Hothead“), even though more than half of the tracks date from perfomances later than 1975. Now, given the fact that he took a forced break from releasing between 1974 to 1978, this isn’t really surprising. Still: Seven songs from a show late in 1980, meaning this is the Ice Cream For Crow band, and, except for „Hothead“, they basically play Safe As Milk . And: It’s all great! Even the sound quality for the 1980-show is quite decent. Anyhow, it is absolutely worth seeking out for fans, to get a picture of live-Beefheart during his lost mid-1970s period, to get some unholy blues shants, and to be blown awa by that “Electricity”-take.

Trivia: I don’t know if the two things are related, but the amazing (and definite) other live album available titled I’m Gonna Do What I Wanna Do might have taken its title from an incident here: After „Flavor Bud Living“, a guy from the audience calls out for „Glider“ (just pause a minute and imagine being at a Beefheart-concert. Is that what you’d request? No offense though, „Glider“ is great), to which the Captain replies: „You know I’m gonna do exactly what I want!“

Recording dates: Tracks 1-5 (1972); tracks 6-7 (1973); tracks 8-11 (1975); tracks 12-18 (1980).

Lead Belly: How many versions of „Easy Rider“ (See See Rider, C.C. Rider) did Lead Belly record?

Answer: Probably about five.

But aha! This is another update to my Complete Discography of Lead Belly recordings. This time, a contradiction was spotted by Bernard Sigaud.

My list used to have a take of „Easy Rider (See See Rider“ for the session of May 1944 (appearing on DOCD-5310 and SFW40045) and another take, „Easy Rider“, for June 1946 (appearing on DOCD-5311 and SFW40201). Bernard noticed that these two takes seem to be the exact same take.

And he’s right!

When I went throught the available documentation, there seems to be an uncertainty or a mistake for the May 1944-session (and its following documentation) that goes something like this:

The take certainly stems from some mid-1940s session Lead Belly made for Moses Asch – this much was always known, but the details of those sessions seemed to be unclear for a long time. The title „Easy Rider (See See Rider)-1“ does show up in the discography by Wolfe/Lornell (1992) for the session in May 1944, but this session does have the Wolfe/Lornell disclaimer „[It is uncertain if these selections were recorded at the same session]“. Wolfe/Lornell give the 1950-Folkways LP 4 (or 2034 or FP34) as the first appearance of this track. They note the title „Easy Rider-2“ for June 1946, with an non-label „Disc 5501“ as first source.

These two takes mentioned separately by Wolfe/Lornell are the same take in question.

The liner notes of the first big CD-reissue of Folkways FP34, which is SFW40045, follow Wolfe/Lornell and also note the „Easy Rider“ take as from May 1944.

Liner notes Bourgeois Blues – Lead Belly Legacy Vol. 2, Smithsonian Folkways 40045

The Document Records CD DOCD-5310 also reproduces this and puts the take at May 1944. Now, as Wolfe/Lornell noted, there was always doubt about the tracks of this May 1944-session: „[It is uncertain if these selections were recorded at the same session]“. As it turns out, the discography by Fancourt/McGrath (2006) does list a number of songs from FP34, but „Easy Rider“ is not to be found there. But the title „Easy rider (See see rider)-1“ does show up for June 1946, with „Disc 5501?, Fw FP 34“ as source. The later Folkways Collection SFW40201 notes „Easy Rider“ as from June 1946 with Folkways 2034 (FP34) as the first appearance.

Liner notes Lead Belly – The Smithsonian Folkways Collection, Smithsonian Folkways 40201

So in both instances, this would be the take that Wolfe/Lornell had placed for May 1944. The Document Records DOCD-5311 simply works with this information and uses the take as from June 1946.
The mistake seems to be simple: Folkways mistakenly placed the take in 1944 for its first issue in 1950 and there was contradictory information in Wolfe/Lornell with an „Easy Rider“-take for May 1944 and for June 1946. As this turned out to be the same take, it was obviously concluded at some point (I don’t know anything about the specifics) that there was no „Easy Rider“-take for May 1944 after all.
The placement of the take on DOCD-5310 is therefore misplaced and outdated – at least that’s what the documents say now. It would be interesting to have a look at the documentation to find out when the knowledge arose that this mid-1940s Asch-recording of „Easy Rider“ wasn’t from 1944 but from 1946. But I have no idea.

Short take away:

  1. There is (as of now) no „Easy Rider“-take from May 1944.
  2. DOCD-5310 and SFW40045 mistakenly list an „Easy Rider“ -take from May 1944.
  3. DOCD-5311 contains the same take, listed for June 1946.
  4. SFW40201 contains the same take, listed for June 1946.

I deleted the „Easy Rider“-entry in my list for May 1944 and put a note for the version of June 1946.

Thanks, Bernard!