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.
Rating: 8.0/10 Rated as: Archival / Box Set Box Set Status: Must for Fans Released: 1999 Recorded: 1965–1982 Specific Genre: Experimental Rock, Blues Rock Main Genre: Rock Undertones: Experimental, Psychedelic Rock, Field Recordings Label: Revenant
CD 1: Just Got Back from the City (1965–67) 1.1 Obeah Man (1966 Demo) 1.2 Just Got Back from the City (1966 Demo) 1.3 I’m Glad (1966 Demo) 1.4 Triple Combination (1966 Demo) 1.5 Here I Am I Always Am (Early 1966 Demo) 1.6 Here I Am I Always Am (Later 1966 Demo) 1.7 Somebody in My Home (1966 Live) 1.8 Tupelo (1966 Live) 1.9 Evil Is Going On (1966 Live) 1.10 Old Folks Boogie (1967 Live) 1.11 Call on Me (1965 Demo) 1.12 Sure Nuff N Yes I Do (1967 Demo) 1.13 Yellow Brick Road (1967 Demo) 1.14 Plastic Factory (1967 Demo) CD 2: Electricity (1967–68) 2.1 Electricity (1968 Live) 2.2 Sure Nuff N Yes I Do (1968 Live) 2.3 Rollin N Tumblin (1968 Live) 2.4 Electricity (1968 Live9 2.5 Yer Gonna Need Somebody on Yer Bond (1968 Live) 2.6 Kandy Korn (1968 Live) 2.7 Korn Ring Finger (1967 Demo) CD 3: Trout Mask House Sessions (1969) 3.1 (Untitled 1) 3.2 (Untitled 2) 3.3 Hair Pie: Bake 2 3.4 Hair Pie: Bake 2 3.5 (Untitled 5) 3.6 Hobo Chang Ba 3.7 (Untitled 7) 3.8 Hobo Chang Ba (Take 2) 3.9 Dachau Blues 3.10 Old Fart at Play 3.11 (Untitled 11) 3.12 Pachuco Cadaver 3.13 Sugar N Spikes 3.14 (Untitled 14) 3.15 Sweet Sweet Bulbs 3.16 Frownland (Take 1) 3.17 Frownland 3.18 (Untitled 18) 3.19 Ella Guru 3.20 (Untitled 20) 3.21 She’s too Much for My Mirror 3.22 (Untitled 22) 3.23 Steal Softly Through Snow 3.24 (Untitled 24) 3.25 My Human Gets Me Blues 3.26 (Untitled 26) 3.27 When Big Joan Sets Up 3.28 (Untitled 28) 3.29 (Untitled 29) 3.30 China Pig CD 4: Trout Mask House Sessions (Storytime Portion) (1969) 4.1 Blimp Playback 4.2 Herb Alpert 4.3 Septic Tank 4.4 We’ll Overdub It 3 Times Video 4.5 Electricity (Live Cannes 1968) 4.6 Sure Nuff N Yes I Do (Live Cannes 1968) 4.7 She’s Too Much for My Mirror (Amougies, Belgium, 1969) 4.8 My Human Gets Me Blues (Amougies, Belgium, 1969) 4.9 When Big Joan Sets Up (Detroit, MI, 1971) 4.10 Woe Is Uh Me Bop (Detroit, MI, 1971) 4.11 Bellerin Plain (Detroit, MI, 1971) 4.12 Click Clack (Paris 1972) CD 5: Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band Grow Fins (1969–82) 5.1 My Human Gets Me Blues (Live 1969) 5.2 When Big Joan Sets Up (Live 1971) 5.3 Woe Is Uh Me Bop (Live 1971) 5.4 Bellerin Plain (Live 1971) 5.5 Black Snake Moan (Radio Phone-In 1972) 5.6 Grow Fins (Live 1972) 5.7 Black Snake Moan II (Radio 1972) 5.8 Spitball Scalped Uh Baby (Live 1972) 5.9 Harp Boogie I (Radio 1972) 5.10 One Red Rose That I Mean (Live 1972) 5.11 Harp Boogie II (Radio 1972) 5.12 Natches Burning (Radio 1972) 5.13 Harp Boogie III (Radio Phone-In 1972) 5.14 Click Clack (Live 1973) 5.15 Orange Claw Hammer (Radio 1975) 5.16 Odd Jobs (Piano Demo 1975) 5.17 Odd Jobs (Band Demo 1976) 5.18 Vampire Suite (Worktapes/Live 1980) 5.19 Melltron Improv (Live 1978) 5.20 Evening Bell (Piano Worktape 1980) 5.21 Evening Bell (Guitar Worktape 1982) 5.22 Mellotron Improv (Live 1980) 5.23 Flavor Bud Living (Live 1980)
I should dip myself into that Coca-Cola
This box set is subject to the box
set-curse more than any other I’m aware of. There are musical pearls next to
bits recorded from the back of the studio (minutes of mumbling, chair clicking,
airplane noises from outside the window), there’s historically indispensable
stuff next to, well, just stuff. Also, it
manages to seem expansive and inomplete all at the same time: There is so much
previously unreleased material here that it doesn’t really leave you asking for
even more Trout Mask outtakes or even
more radio snippets. But then, this hardly fulfills any criteria of a
‚historically comprehensive‘ box set: It’s just a huge ragbag of anything that
could be interesting to the fanatic followers of Beefheart. These, though, will
be delighted, because in a sense, this doesn’t plays as a box set but, more
fitting, like very precise representation of Beefheart’s career: Full of bursts
of energy and brilliance, full of holes and frustration – but extremely
rewarding for those that listen closely.
This mostly doesn’t make for a
coherent listening experience – but just mostly. The five CDs thankfully all
follow an at least chronological coherence. This redeems some drawbacks in the
sequencing per CD. The true problem is: To issue any of this stuff only makes
sense within a larger context. There is no way they could have split the „good
stuff“ from the scraps, you have to take in the whole sludged affair or just
The first CD is a bunch of early
blues rock numbers that never made it on an album (and some that did). The
sound is similar to Safe as Milk, and
since these are all complete demos or live cuts, you can actually listen
through the whole thing with excitement. It’s a primal, terrific version in
that rousing mid-1960s style between R&B, psychedelia and deep blues. For
Beefheart fans, this first CD is inexpendable. The band is already in full
flight, Beefheart is already all there. The sound quality is mostly murky (but
the swampy approach lets you accept that), and the band’s playing is basic but
they rock hard and fierce. Given that the early cuts are from 1966, this must
have been one of the heavier bands at the time – raw, ramshackle. This CD also
satisfies the box set-buyer in all respects: You get cuts of later album tracks
(„Call on Me“, „Yellow Brick Road“), which are inferior to the later album
tracks, but interesting from an evolutionary perspective. You get awesomely
grooving rhythm/blues/rock numbers that are every bit as good as the ones on Safe as Milk („Here I Am I Always Am“, „Obeah Man“). And
finally, you get Beefheart performing numbers of his idols („Evil is Going On“,
„Tupelo“, „Somebody in My Home“) – all absolutely terrific swamp blues in
imposing John Lee Hooker- and Howlin’ Wolf-manner.
The second CD is in a similar
vein, collecting live records from apparently European tours. Manic versions of
standards like „Rollin’ n’ Tumblin’“ are here, as well as some Mirror Man-era pieces. Hard, driven, uncompromising blues
rock. This is also listenable from beginning to end.
With the third CD, the promised
box-set-problems start. The whole CD comprises evidently the leftovers they
could find in the trashbin of the studio where Trout Mask Replica
was recorded. You start of with fifteen minutes of documentary style noises
which seem to stem from a recording device pickin up sounds while the band
members were still preparing. Okay, you can skip this, so I don’t mind. The
rest is purely instrumental versions of Trout Mask Replica.
These are practice runs of the album tracks, there is no ‚evolutionary‘ aspect
here. I must say that I like to listen to these compositions bare-boned,
without Beefheart’s voice-beef, so to speak. You actually get a very direct approach
to their immediate groove and compositional structure. And for these like me
which are at least as interested in his compositional skills as the vocals,
this remains an interesting listen. So, while this is far too long as a CD (i
mean, this basically is all of Trout Mask Replica without the vocals plus some additional
scraps and tuning-up), I still am happy with this. For some, this probably is
expendable. Why listen to the relatively unedited, non-vocalised version of Trout Mask Replica? Why should I listen to the band tuning
up for minutes? I understand the questions. But hey, at least you get to witness
how the conversation with the kids who just moved here from Reseda ended up on the
album. The most obscure quasi-gem I could find on here is the untitled 29th
track – before the band goes to record „China Pig“, you can hear a jam of the blues
standard „Candy Man“ for about a minute. Why is this interesting? I don’t know.
I just never knew that the Captain had done at least one minute of „Candy Man“
in his life.
Then, CD 4. Just forget the musical aspect: There isn’t any. It’s Beefheart talking, some noises, Beefheart joking about Herb Alpert, and that’s it. 12 minutes of unedited documentary studio babble (incomprehensible for the most part). Don’t get upset though, in the original package, this is actually a VCD. With moving pictures. So, no reason to listen to this on your CD-player. But you do get to see video clips, comprising live versions of songs (2 from Safe as Milk, 3 from Trout Mask Replica, 2 from Lick My Decals Off, Baby and „Click Clack“ from The Spotlight Kid, taken between 1968 and 1973). These are great, the live setting showcasing how musical everybody involved with Beefheart was. You can watch these on Youtube nowadays, of course.
Finally, the 5th CD. This is the
most imbalanced piece of the whole affair, I guess because they just threw
anything on there from his post-Trout Mask Replica period
they couldn’t fit anywhere else (with a time span of 1969–1982). So, in no
particular, haphazard order, you get a lot of live recordings (nothing
exceptional), Beefheart performing short pieces of blues harp and acapella blues
on the radio (terrible quality, but cool stuff), some more live recordings
which border on performance art or futurism „sound machines“ and were not
actually meant for the CD-format, I presume („Spitball Scalped Uh Baby“), and
some weird demos for more complex avant-pieces.
And buried in the middle of this looong CD, you get the most stunning record of the whole box set, which is the Captain performing „Orange Claw Hammer“ with Frank Zappa on acoustic guitar for the radio. Zappa’s simple strumming fleshes out that this song follows the actual structure of a sea shanty (which could only be guessed at with the acapella version on Trout Mask Replica), but that’s good, because now we have both: an avant-garde acapella version of a surrealistic sea shanty and a beautiful acoustic guitar version of that same sea shanty. Then the mixed bag continues, many experimental live recordings, Beefheart messing with a mellotron in Sun Ra-manner – with the result that you realise Sun Ra actually could play the instrument. Some of these are improv-sketches, frustrating Beefheart and audiences alike („Sun Ra!“ someone keeps shouting on „Mellotron Improv (Live 1980)“, causing Beefheart to yell at the crowd, violently batter the keys and ask „Who was that, Liberace?“). Some others, though, are quite interesting. I dig both the versions of „Odd Jobs“, while I admit that this is already hardcore Beefheart-ology. Nothing to convert people. The „Odd Jobs“-piano demo is strangely forlorn and beautiful – you find the most realised and best version of that lost piece on the reconstructed Bat Chain Puller album from 2012. Most of this CD, naturally, comes in just about bearable sound quality.
So. What we have here then is a box
set which contains enough to make it essential for the fan – both from a
historical (CD1 and CD5) and a musical (CD1 and CD5… and partly CD2 and even 3)
perspective. Everyone else should stay well away from this. This is the last
territory of Beefheart-land one should turn his attention to. If you’re the
enthusiastic explorer in the old spirit, you’ll find plenty of adventure and
condiment on this wild, wide, dangerous and tedious jungle continent.