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Re-issues Reviews

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GEOFF DOWNES
& The New Dance Orchestra -
Vox Humana
Alex 1992
Re-issue Store For Music 2007

The synth maestro shows his vulnerable underbelly: what a fabulous sight!

It's always been hard to make out the enigma that is Geoff Downes: there's always been someone else chanelling the keyboard master thoughts which run beyond the ivory tinkling. So on his second album Downes set to prove he can be all over a song. And that's exactly what he does on the perennial "Video Killed The Radio Star", the pure, delicate piano and Glenn Hughes warm vocals turning the BUGGLES' dance ditty into a lush soulful ballad. As for Geoff contributions to the bands he's been in, Max Bacon-sung opener, "Tears", sounds like an ASIA out-take, while "White Car" emerges as a pale cover of the YES' composition. Elsewhere, "All Of The Time" comes off as a little delight in its own right, and in "Moon Under The Water" Steve Overland powerfully pulls the heart-strings. Alongside these, electronic buzzers such as "Plastic Age" feel primitive and dated, even the updates of Bach's "Ave Maria" and Albinoni's "Adagio" not saving matters much. The classicism is covered here with "Concerto", whose acoustic guitar leads the way here remaining a secret, while "England" is a wonderful take on a folk theme, showing Downes as an all-round musician. He can use a vocoder, yet his is an undoubtedly human voice.

***1/2
Eric CLAPTON -
Complete Clapton
Polydor 2007

The best Slowhand's collection in sight - but complete it ain't.

What does "complete" mean with regards to Eric Clapton if it's not a box set but a double CD? More so, there's not a single track from his stints with THE YARDBIRDS and THE BLUESBREAKERS where the guitarist made his name, even though the bands are mentioned in the concise liner notes. So this God-like figure emerges here in 1966 when CREAM debuted and bid farewell with his latest tracks. Yet it's the best of Eric, so a liitle lie can be forgiven.

Still, it was with CREAM that Clapton found his real grandeur: without his processed guitar Jack Bruce's "White Room" and "Sunshine Of Your Love" would be as pale as Eric-sung George Harrison co-wrote "Badge". Anyway, the trio really came alive on-stage, a proof being "Crossroads". Affinity to Robert Johnson continues to this day, but today there's an elegance in Clapton's take on "If I Had Posession Over The Judgement Day". This delicasy, which started in the BLIND FAITH days, with the gospel-based "Presence Of The Lord", took the focus from Eric the bluesman that he - and BB King for that matter - reminded the audience of in the boogie of "Riding With The King". The "Unplugged" modesty doesn't suit the veteran too well, and here's two readings of "Layla", soft acoustic and blistering electric, meet for the first time, showing that Slowhand has always been true to himself.

Clapton was being himself when he played JJ Cale's "After Midnight" back in 1970, on his first solo album, when he covered JJ's "Cocaine" and did "Ride The River" with Cale last year. Yet his recent output doesn't come as powerful as such classics as "Bell Bottom Blues". Eric's a wonderful interpreter of the others' material, the first to bring to the mass attention Bob Dylan's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" and Bob Marley's "I Shot The Sheriff" which could have passed unnoticed. In the same way, the guitarist's own best ballad, "Let It Grow", is overshadowed by no more lyrical "Wonderful Tonight". In the same way, his '80s recordings - not bad and sometimes great, like storming "Bad Love" or "I Can't Stand It" - got in the shade of the '90s hits, particularly "Tears In Heaven". And if "My Father's Eyes" borders with banality, these days the veteran is even more exquisite; young God couldn't come up with anything close to the tiredly gentle fusion that is "Change The World". But the great artist can be tired and gentle for he did change this world for the better..

****4/5
DFA - Kaleidoscope
Moonjune 2007

Too many broken pieces make a great puzzle but the big picture comes out too patchy.

Italian progressive rock have always stood, proudly beatific, behind English icebreakers and the Kraut boffins, yet it stlll has a steady following. Verona's DFA are faithful followers of the IL BALLETTO DI BRONZO ilk and they've playing for 15 years now, and this double CD gets back to where it all began by combining the band's first two albums, 1997's "Lavori In Corso" and 1999's "Duty Free Area". True to their acronym name, the group sound very off-duty: contrary to what the liner notes maintain, sophistication gets in the way of tunefulness, and early piece "Collage" is just that - a mosaic which feels alright but is hard to not lose the musos' plot. Things get groovier with "Pantera", and stll there's a sensation that the composition was tailored for the stage and not sharpened enough to be cooked in a studio - still, live, as a bonus "Work Machine" from 2003 shows, the ensemble don't go wild either. "Trip On Metro" and the next album's epic "Escher", that's where the guys really hit their stride with just the right melange of guitar and synth work. But again, cinematic "Ragno" ambles for the sake of playing only. What about the progress, then, since then? Looking back is good, yet it's quite a time to hear from the band again.

**1/3
SAILOR -
Treasure Trove -
Anthology 1975-2005
Angel Air 2007

All hands on deck! The mouldy chest is opening. The shiny diamonds are revealed.

Shiver your timbers, rattle and roll, that's what this English band have been doing for more than three decades, and now's quite the time to scrab the shells off their bell-bottoms. But the "Anthology" title is misleading: it's indeed the collection of SAILOR's well-known tracks yet in not so well-known versions, augmented with oddities, rarities and curios such as "Changes" that Georg Kajanus and Phil Pickett recorded before embarking on their sea adventure - and who'd have predicted this FLEETWOOD MAC-ian seriousness would soon convert into the playfulness of "Mack The Knife"?

Two versions of "Girls, Girls, Girls" and "A Glass Of Champagne" show the songs' vaudevillian brilliance from different angles, and "different" could be the word to describe the group's output if they didn't tie the SAILOR's unique sound to the mast in such unlike tracks as acoustic slow-mo of Pickett-co-penned "Karma Chameleon", sun-licked "La Cumbia", one of several Latin groovers, Fab-like "Office Hours" destined for "Pop Idol" fame, or late '50s-styled 90's beat of "The Secretary". These are all just various sides of the fantastic whole like it is with "Farewell To Berlin" where sultry rock steady is married to the Weimar-esque heartfelt recklessness which oozes also from gentle "Nickelodeon Nights" that links today with the ensemble's debut. The latterday's SAILOR tend to be melancholic yet the old salty joke is never far away. You can all join in.

*****
DICKEN -
From Mr Big
To Broken Home
And Back,
1977-2007
Angel Air 2007

The one that got away from fame with a talent intact catches up with the times.

This compilation must be approached with a good pinch of caution as there's a genius at work - of almost Dickensian proportions. It's just that Dicken, or Jeff Pain, isn't that famous, but this is one of the world's greatest injustices. Yet maybe it's because he had no chance to succumb to the excesses which go with success that the singing guitarist, assisted at different times by Mutt Lange and Ian Hunter, has retained the amazing way with the tune, as both songwriter and performer, that's on display here. It's emphasized by the flow of music spread across two discs, titled "Rock" and "Songs", in no particular order - neither chronological nor thematic.

They're just the author's faves, and one can share his sentiment towards such soul-tickling smashes as reggae of "Hold Me Baby" and airy, transparent "Romeo", the only hit of MR BIG, the veteran's '70s band, "Stop Looking At Me" which bears a spark, not gloom, of the '80s sound Dicken explored with BROKEN HOME, or glitzy "Down To The Hollywood" from MR BIG UK, Dicken's current endeavor, called so to not be confused with the Americans who stole the name. There's always pop sensibilities proudly worn on the sleeve pulled over sharp riffs with a silver pipes sometimes not unlike those of Steve Marriott's, like in gently dramatic "Mona Lisa" from 1979 or menacing "Look Out For The Death Boy" released later under the artist's own name. It might be thanks to his clever editing applied recently to most of the tracks here that they all sound as if composed and recorded today. And who else, but Dicken, could combine punky chant "I wanna get high" with pure rhythm-and-blues harmonica back in 1977 with "Behind Enemy Lines" to aspire much higher almost 30 years on with the celestial buzz that is "Heaven Is For You"? That's what is Dickensian epic in small portions.

*****+
ANDROMEDA -
Beginnings 1967-68
Angel Air 2007

The doomed trio with no Perseus in sight to save the blooming beauty of heavy psychedelia.

In hindsight, it's easy to say the band John Du Cann fronted between THE ATTACK and ATOMIC ROOSTER had to have an "A" in the beginning, if ANDROMEDA weren't rather different from the two. Closer to another trio, CREAM, some would say but then again, they were quite unlike, with Du Cann proficient both as a guitarist and a singer, yet "Andromeda", his favorite record and the only one the ensemble put out, is as about songwriting as it is about blistering delivery. Still, it's surprising how fully-formed the songs, including the prog epic "Return To Sanity", were before taken to the real studio, once John left THE ATTACK, rather than two-track facility the threesome cut these demos on - even those that didn't make it onto the LP.

It's all down to Du Cann's ability to work on the two melodic levels, that's why the vocal line and guitar part of "Let's All Watch The Sky Fall Down" come so skilfully interwoven, and two raw versions of the piece on this CD are superb slices of sharp psych rock with deadpan singing, picking in the style that Robert Fripp would adopt later on, and wild soloing unleashed from the perfect voice-and-fretboard unison. Sometimes, the sound's sparser - "A Means To An End" sees John alone, gently emoting with a six-string axe in his hands - but it only puts the tune in focus and brings it out of the period which most of the tracks firmly belong to: "Garden Of Happiness" could only emerge in the time when the magic folksy idealism of "You" started to be questioned. And if "Too Old" and "Sleep" bear an obvious Bruce-Clapton imprint on them - hardly a sin for the impressible young musos - the second version of "Turns To Dust" takes the formula further, to the great future that, sadly, wasn't to be. The more poignant, then, rings the acoustic lace in "When To Stop"...

****
JUDAS PRIEST -
Live In Concert
25th June 1980
The Store For Music 2007

Razor sharp with a jagged-ragged edge, the Brummie heavyweights rip up the Denver crowd.

What with the ongoing debate as to what extent PRIEST's first concert album, "Unleashed In The East", was polished in the studio, the rough quality of this recording, done one year later, leaves no doubt in its live nature. Originally a heavy progressive band, by 1980 the Birmingham heroes streamlined their sound to emerge at the cutting edge of NWOBHM with "British Steal" they toured that summer. It wasn't a classic still, so the quintet burst in with firm favorites "Hell Bent For Leather" and "The Ripper" and keep the audience in iron glove until the very end, their menacing cover of "The Green Manalishi". Rob Halford might be not in his best voice, but with the twin-guitar attack of Glen Tipton and K.K. Downing, the group comes off as a top-notch rock 'n' roll ensemble on the new tracks such as "Steeler" or "Living After Midnight". And there's still vestiges of their cosmic past in the "Beyond The Realms Of Death" drama and jazziness of "Sinner". One hell of a package, then, with sheer audacity winning over the raw sound. The band might get bigger later on, yet they have never been as great since.

Ah yes, the twin-guitar attack: if the "Billboard" scribe who wrote in the liner notes that PRIEST were at it first, seems to have no idea who WISHBONE ASH or FLEETWOOD MAC were, the original bearers of the two-pronged crown...

***
NOBODY'S BUSINESS -
Nobody's Business
Angel Air 2007

Some mighty riffs and good-time rock from the ones who took the notion of jumping into rocky ocean and hit the dead reefs.

Forming a supergroup might be an idea dead on its feet, as the clashing egos produce more ado than adorable music. But this band went for music, their name meaning the artists not giving a damn for what the others would say. And what could the public say to the British ensemble comprised of singer Bobby Harrison, freshly of SNAFU, bassist Tony Stevens and guitarist Joe Jammer from THE OLYMPIC RUNNERS, and drummer Jerry Frank - all blues rock veterans - in the beginning of 1977 when all the filth was coming from punk, not blues? With only a Japanese release for their sole album and the death of their manager, yes, no future. Yet this album stood the test of time, and now sounds as fresh as when it was laid down.

All because it's just a top-notch heavy rock 'n' roll that pumps up the blood pressure with the opening slide guitar licks and catchy boogie of "Bleed Me Dry" and remains loose up to the reckless closer which is "Nobody's Business". There's so much gusto in the "Looks Like I'm In Love" simple romp, and such a desperado spirits keeps aloft even the heart-rending ballad "Losing You", with funky undercurrent on songs like "Living Up To Love" bringing the easygoing grit that can come so pleasureably only from the seasoned players. The staying power of "Doing The Best I Can" rings too true to not nod to it. A mighty band, ultimately packaged with a smattering of bonus tracks recorded in America in a hope to break there, not break up, and a bonus DVD with mimed performances - among them a track which has no CD counterpart. Any chance for a brief comeback, lads?

*****
DR. HOOK
and THE MEDICINE SHOW -
Live In America
The Store For Music 2007

If you call EAGLES a country-rock band, you've never heard this ensemble who preferred "Acapulco Goldie" to "Tequila Sunrise".

In 1976, the idiosyncratic bareback riders led by guitar-slinging comic pirate Ray Sawyer and singer Dennis Locorriere were riding high but stayed downhome, and this recording is a fine showcase of the band's approach. It's a Wild West vaudeville with jazzy solos, swaying bass and weird drums patterns. There's even an envy cowboy's lament, "Everybody's Makin' It But Me": "Elvis is a hero, he's a superstar, and I heard that Paul McCartney drives a Rolls Royce car..." The Magnificent Seven engage the audience in the frivolous conversations and seduce the punters with the Playboy cartoonist Shel Silverstein's songs such as "Cover Of The Rolling Stone" which gave the group not only that coveted front page but also a BBC ban. Advertising, y'know, as the band could be deadly serious and here, having giggled their way through "The Yodel Song" and turned Woody Guthrie's "I Ain't Got No Home" into Diddley-esque extravaganza, they jerk a tear with Sam Cooke's "Only Sixteen". It's hard not to share a joke with DR. HOOK and not get hooked on the "Carry Me, Carrie" and "Queen Of The Silver Dollar" infectious choruses. Still, there's a cure in THE MEDICINE SHOW, as only a handful of rock combos have ever had such a sound sound to raise such a broad smile.

****
MAMMOTH -
Leftovers, Relics & Rarities
Angel Air 2007

The heavy hitters' big misses: the showcase of the fossils dug up for examining.

They were huge, this British band led by bassist John McCoy, most famous for his stint with GILLAN, and singer Nicky Moore, huge as performers and songwriters - and in physical terms, too. And that was a huge problem, as the group fell victim to their image, as this antithesis to the late '80s poodle metal simply overshadowed MAMMOTH's music. But there was more to them than sole album, out in 1989, and the aural paraphernalia gathered here presents an interesting insight in the stompers' modus operandi.

Here, in previously unreleased mix, "Let Me Out!" is a bulging rebel yell which holds a lot of air between the riffs and a lot of irony in the vocals and swings towards a sort of a show tune. Sometimes, there's too much echo applied that exacts sharpness from such biting tracks as the still-sans-sax "Political Animal", yet the period production values don't distract an ear from the hooks that are aplenty. Still, it's something for the already hooked to savor, as taking it all in one sitting might be boring if not for breezy ballad "Dark Storm" which yet had to turn into "Dark Star", the groove pop of "Always And Forever", and the streamline rock 'n' rolling of "Hot Wires" that never got to the lyrics stage. With most of the numbers accomplished in demo versions - "Tonight" is a good example - the live performance of the hit single "Fatman" suggests their way to the stage must have been short. Unfortunately, equally short was the ensemble's way on Earth, and soon MAMMOTH became extinct. Now, though, these bones are precious.

***
JACK BRUCE -
Live In America
The Store For Music 2007

The creme de la CREAM engaging the responsive rock elite in a supergroup that never were.

It's just a shame Jack Bruce has been overlooked, if revered, as a solo artist after leaving the trio he became a star with. The band Bruce had wrapped himself in in the early '80s, stripped of egos in favor of music, exceeded CREAM. This group, captured here live in November, 1980, were four giants: Jack's jazz leanings solidified with none other than Billy Cobham on drums, David Sancious, former Springsteen associate, on keyboards and guitar, and guitarist Clem Clempson, eager to jump back to fusion vibe after his stint with HUMBLE PIE. And the vibe's on from the off when, before gliding on the slide guitar into "White Room", the leader of the pack soars up a cappella for some lines of "Tightrope". The only drawback is rough mix, making Jack's powerful operatic voice and bass overshadow his colleagues, even when it comes for Sancious' solo in "Born Under A Bad Sign" which morphs into a cosmic jam.

Bruce, for his part, feels just glad to let his friends shine in the funk of bouncing "Hit And Run", the "Post War" cranky reggae, in CREAM's classics "Traintime", "Politician" and "Sunshine Of Your Love" - all sublime! More so, the players are changing roles: while Jack takes the piano stool, David submits blistering solo to "Theme For An Imaginary Western" that Clem used to do in COLOSSEUM. Still, it's not a hits package, with well-known material neatly sitting alongside fresh songs from the current "I've Always Wanted To Do This" album. The "Living Without Ja" groovy rock, psycho nostalgia of "Facelift 318" and "Dancing On Air" smooth drama all hang on four fantastic strings. Sadly, this music was too clever for its time, and the Fantastic Four have never produced a solid album in the studio, so this recording remains a testament of the unfulfilled potential.

*****
ALCATRAZZ -
The Best Of
The Store For Music 2007

The prisoner of his own making making good music for all the wrong reasons and losing his escape plot.

That was a trap from the off for Graham Bonnet: given the boot by Ritchie Blackmore and having parted with Michael Schenker, the singer decided to continue beating down the hard rock path rather than revert to the bluesy pop track he had been on before. Bonnet roped in young Blackmore clone from Sweden, Yngwie Malmsteen, and ALCATRAZZ were born. The strong band unfortunately served the leader's desire to keep up with his past - there are live versions of Graham's solo smash, "Night Games" and two RAINBOW hits, "Since You've Been Gone" and "All Night Long" - rather than explore new vistas. Still, his pop sensibilities balanced the guitarist's knack for overplaying, and songs from the group's debut album such as "Hiroshima Mon Amour" show Malmsteen was the best axeman the quintet had ever had.

Strangely, the true showcase of their magic, "Jet To Jet", isn't included on this collection, but it's obvious that the choice of Steve Vai for the second LP, half of which is here, wasn't the wisest of decisions - the American maestro simply can't get down to the catchy, classical-augmented riffage even in rock 'n' roll of streamline "Stripper" (the arguable weakness he later exposed in WHITESNAKE) to nicely trim the vocal melody - and what immediacy had been there was lost. The leader's silver pipes fail to engage with the metal foil for quite primitive tunes like "God Bless Video" which could dent into the charts if wrapped in synth cloth.

New guitarist, Danny Johnson, brought in some grit into THE ANIMALS' "It's My Life" that has its share of light keyboards' infusion, but the idea wasn't pushed forward, and the third, and last, long-player's title track, "Dangerous Games", as great as it is, just didn't fit in the mid-'80s dry climate all the songs' memorable choruses notwithstanding. The closing "No Imaginatiom" sums up ALCATRAZZ's main problem. As a result, the short-haired singer let his ensemble fizzle out rather than creating an alternative for the upcoming poodle metal. A pity. Piitifully, Graham Bonnet has stayed in his heavy grrove to this day.

***1/2
MANFRED MANN's EARTH BAND -
Live In America
The Store For Music 2007

Glorified magnified: the classic line-up on the top of their game - the only live document of the era.

1977 saw Manfred Mann's ensemble at their peak. Veering away from high-octane jazzy forays into solid, though with a quirk, rock grounds on "Nightingales And Bombers" and "The Roaring Silence", the band struck a chord with both intellectual audience and the ones liking to let their hair down - just like way back in the '60s. What remained from decade ago was a soulness that's on display on this, the sole concert recording from the Chris Thompson-fronted group. But while the closing "The Mighty Quinn" links the old to the new, and "Davy's On The Road Again" and funky "Captain Bobby Stout" are fine examples of the fun these serious musos could have when they wanted to, it's multi-dimensional readings of "The Road To Babylon" and "Father Of Day, Father Of Night", which still is a part of the band's stage set, that fathom the MMEB's real depth. As raw but delicious feel the recent hits, Springsteen's "Blinded By The Light" and "Spirits In The Night", and in "Time Is Right" Dave Flett's guitar and Chris Slade's drums explore the limits of the group's dynamic with Mann taking it into space and Thompson's cracked voice keeping it all down-to-earth. Techically flawed yet emotionally magnificent show.

*****
ASIA -
Live In Nottingham
The Store For Music 2007

Soul survived, the first '80s supergroup close another chapter before the Noughties strike.

The creme de la creme of progressive rock veterans going pop didn't seem a viable concept, but this British quartet pulled it off with an enviable grandeur - and diminishing returns. Having folded in 1985, five years later John Wetton, Carl Palmer and Geoffrey Downes were back for a short but successful while, with a new guitarist Pat Thrall as an invigorating factor to give both old and new fare another lease of life. And there's a lot of life in there, from the juicy bass and note-perfect drums' interplay of the cutting opener "Wildest Dreams" to the moving finale of "Open Your Eyes". Sadly the trademark vocal harmonies are barely heard on this uneven TV recording of the otherwise top-notch concert, even in the expanse of "Voice Of America", but the dancefloor filling "The Heat Goes On" with its amazing organ solo and "Don't Cry" sound tasty in any environment. The fresh "Prayin' 4 A Miracle" works real magic alongside seasoned hits, and "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes" receives a fresh, acoustic treatment here - to be played this way ever after. For some reasons, though, the band's return was short-lived, and ASIA seemed to have become history with Downes and Wetton, as bonus tracks suggest, not able to live up to the legend. Yet 2006 saw the legend revived - the heat goes on, indeed.

***1/2
CARMEN - The Gypsies
Mercury 1976
Angel Air 2007

The last rattle of the British castanets, the echo ringing down the years.

They were doomed, this band, but CARMEN lost direction not only because of the mismanagement and commercial failure but also because flamenco rock pioneers couldn't align themselves with anyone on the scene at the time. More so, they hardly aligned themselves with themselves, as the group's second album, ""Dancing On A Cold Wind" saw David Allen and compadres changing their Andalusian grandeur for gitano ways. Still, there was consistency, and CARMEN's next - and last - record is an ode to Tziganes, yet the logical progression doesn't inform music too much.

There's no better example of such approach than the first cut, "Daybreak", where a majestic acoustic lace gets cruelly ripped once vocals come in with a completely different melody and faceless electric backing, and pop stomp of "Come Back" betraying the group's Californian roots. The eclecticism that worked well for JETHRO TULL for whom CARMEN opened and to whom fled their bassist, John Glascock, doesn't lent itself to this band's style. The straighter strains, like the mellifluous gloss of "Shady Lady" and "Siren Of The Sea", could have led these nomads into the late '70s, yet catchy tunes aren't elaborated to their full potential, so "Joy" goes out into the prog field without wrapping around the ears, and the title track sidesteps exotic for the rocking obvious - which brings a great guitar delight nevertheless. But the single "Flamenco Fever", a combination of all the band's inclinations and a bonus here, tops it all.

Ending the sad story is the second bonus track, "Only Talking To Myself", a recently recorded tribute to Glascock by Allen's new band, WIDESCREEN, featuring Angela Allen, the original CARMEN singer, against an ambient backdrop embroidened with her brother's fantastic six strings. And there's another CD in the package showing where the road has taken the master.

***4/5
MORTY & THE RACING CARS -
Love Blind
Bellaphon 1981
Angel Air 2007

A bonus disc to the RACING CARS' 2006's live album, the band's leader's solo debut makes a valuable addition to the ensemble's classic discography.

"Love Blind", credited to Morty & THE RACING CARS, was laid down after the band stopped their race and is the leader's solo album rather than collective effort - with a collective comprising such top players as Zoot Money and Clem Clempson. "Do you feel you can make it alone?" Gareth Mortimer asks in the opening allure of "Are You Big Enough?", and for the time being he seemed to be shooting right in the bull's eye with these potent pop songs with a hard edge. But while infectious dance groove that "Take It To The Heart" spins on and a couple of lush ballads had all the rights to chart, Morty failed to succeed on his own.

Still, this collection proves that the singer could have set 10CC in heavy competition, the "Honeymoon In Babylon" cod-reggae bringing no less fun than "Dreadlock Holiday", and funky jive of "Hot Day In June" letting the artist go all jazzy and making forgivable the queasy rhyming of "moon" and "June". What lacks banality is a heartfelt cover of Holland-Dozier-Holland classic "Put Yourself In My Place" where Morty sounds uncannily like Frankie Miller - yet on "Troubled Soul", a bonus cut in 2007, Morty's his own man. This record hasn't dated a bit over the quarter of the century and comes as pleasurable as it gets.

****1/2
McCOY -
Unreal: The Anthology
Angel Air 2007

Read the interview

A double disc footnote in the heavy man's musical biography. There could be more but then that would be as massive as John himself is.

It's a paradox of sorts, to see a man of such grandiose stature as a one-dimensional figure, but that's how it goes for McCoy. What is Big Bad Bald Bearded Bass Basher if not an image for a person to hide behind? There's much more to him than just stint with GILLAN which the veteran's most famous for, and this compilation is only a feeble outline of one fantastic journey which took in many bands with just one constant, John's meaty 'n' melodic playing, as fierce now as many years ago. Quite a rollercoaster ride it is, from 1969's sax-licked rhythm-and-blues of WELCOME's "Walking Strong" to the hurricane-like "Cannonball" recorded with GMT in 2006. Yet these cuts aren't as far from each other as the 37 years in between may suggest, it's a matter of the bottom-line speed, which is not to say "Unreal" has no surprises - those are aplenty here.

The 30 compositions that the anthology's comprised of can be enjoyed at their face value, and that would be rather eclectic mix of styles, but adjust the low frequences of your player for the puzzle fragments to fall in their places. Still, even in the entire mosaic the gems like ZZEBRA's "Karrola", a high-octane fusion which could give McLaughlin a run for his money in 1973, will shine hanging on McCoy's bass runs. Obviously, John knows all the ways to go wild, yet he can be relaxed as well, and QUADRANT's "1953 Austin Somerset" is a panoramic slice of free jazz. It's these excercises that caught the ear of former DEEP PURPLE singer who asked McCoy to join IAN GILLAN BAND. The jazzy enterprise soon mutated in a hard rocking behemoth, GILLAN, represented here by four tracks, including concert take on quirky epic "M.A.D.", embellished with bass solo, all co-written with John and coming from the alternative mixes' collections the bassist released through Angel Air, the label he helped establish.

Through all these formations, McCoy remained a thing-in-itself having a band of his own, McCOY, before and after work with Gillan, its first incarnation from 1977 short-lived but documented in live version of Jimmy Reed' "Big Boss Man", while the second, from the '80s, with WELCOME's Tony Rees on vocals, comes much heavier on songs such as tremulous "Because You Lied" aimed at Gillan. Both line-ups feature Paul Samson on guitar, whose group, SAMSON, John produced and played with - sample his skills on catchy ballad "Tomorrow Or Yesterday" - and whose latter-day singer, Nicky Moore, he formed MAMMOTH with. Glossy yet spiky "Fatman" shows their mistake: to let image overshadow the music - yet again, that's how it goes for John McCoy. He'll hardly be remembered as the only bassist ATOMIC ROOSTER had ever had, 1980's "Play It Again" the testament to this, or the songwriter who composed "I Know A Place" for SUN RED SUN, the last ever smash Ray Gillen delivered before his untimely death - but John's not living in the past, even though he undoubtedly enjoyed unearthing some of the rarities gathered here. With an old sidekick Bernie Torme who he shared several bands with, GILLAN among them, McCoy's the same old sensual punk who can appear in a venue near you. But by then, having listened to "Unreal" and read John's own extensive liner notes, you'll have already seen him in full 3D.

****1/2
DARYL STUERMER -
Rewired -
The Electric Collection
Unicorn 2006

Out of the mammoth shadow, the six-string maestro casts a glance over his shoulder.

It's rather unfair that Daryl Stuermer's mostly known for his stints with GENESIS and Phil Collins as the guitarist is a top-notch musician in his own right, which is the point of this compilation culled from the albums released previously on his Urban Island label. Newly edited and remastered, the ten cuts here are Stuermer's personal favorites now ready to go down to a listener's heart and mind. Daryl can be frivolous, like in opening "Yin Yang Boogie", or brooding like in "Wherever You Are", but the master's invariably intellectual and economical in his relentless soloing - a sure vestige of schooling in Jean-Luc Ponty's band back in the '70s.

That's your Yin and Yang: these tracks may come from different records yet together, they create a whole new one bubbling with joy. More so, there's a commercial quality to the music, with "Determined" worthy of gracing every FM station in the world and be used as a main theme for some popular programme, while "American Fields" veers away from progressive country to the traditional English folk picking. But it's not the technique that's the gist of it all, it's the player's generous soul which pours his emotions for all to share - feelings so bare in "The Least You Can Do". The least you can do would be to experience Daryl Stuermer more.

****1/2
JAMES WARREN -
Burning Questions
Sonet 1985
Angel Air 2006

Making it all simple, the STACKRIDGE and KORGIS column stands out solo.

It was 1985 when THE KORGIS ceased to exist but the friendship forged while in STACKRIDGE didn't let James Warren go out on his own without a help from Andy Davis. Hence this, Warren's first album under his name, sees the singing guitarist - now guitarist, with bass parts rendered by Nick Magnus' keyboards - treading the pop route further on.

Very much a document of its era, the record hasn't aged that well - even with some guitars and percussion overdubbed especially for this re-issue - yet the charm is still here. The captive electric melody of the title song could have worked as fine acoustically as it does in the thick synth cloth, while Mexican-flavored "True Life Confessions" rings exuberantly drawing a listener in, and "I Want To Remember" is all hazy-eyed reverie. Even though the compositions outstay their welcome outside the dance floor sometimes, "Posessed" calls for some shoe-shuffle, and heartfelt guitar-oiled ballad "They Don't Believe In Magic" weaves a strong spell through all these years. Exquisite bonus tracks, one featuring Eddie Reader on the chorus, make the album shine bright - that's the light of the burning questions.

**1/3
STACKRIDGE -
Purple Spaceships Over Yatton - Best Of
Angel Air 2006

Instead of meeting on the ledge, they were heading to the edge. On the verge of the re-issue programme, Angel Air comes up with the first-ever STACKRIDGE comp.

Taking the world in love's embrace is an impossible task, but that was what this English band tried to do. They weren't born to be wild, and had the ensemble stuck to just one of the musical strains they pursued, STACKRIDGE would be all over the place, yet they appeared to be too eclectic to everyone's taste and just went scattered. Therefore, any collection of the group's songs would be a mixed bag, but guitarist Andy Davis and bassist James Warren, who formed much more successful THE KORGIS after their first outfit had folded, rose to the challenge and compiled this 15-track disc.

Deeply rooted in English eccentricity, as the instrumental "Lummy Days" suggests, STACKRIDGE were closer to THE MOVE in their approach, not to INCREDIBLE STRING BAND they're often compared to. Equally close enough to traditional music and rock 'n' roll - just listen to "The Last Plimsoll" - the band were brave enough to go out on a sophisticated pop limb, but likable psychodelia of the lushly-arranged songs such as "Syracuse The Elephant", that takes in classical, raga and folk, emerged too late, when the Summer of Love breezy flippancy had become a sweet memory. Now, even further down the road, "The Galloping Gaucho" takes a listener on a rollercoaster mind-ride to the flying circus where even a grown-up will crack up with a childish smile. Invariably lyrical, sometimes, like in "The Road To Venezuela", STACKRIDGE stopped short of falling from the right side of the cheesy, but when in the right mood, as another instrumental piece, "Coniston Water" shows, they could hit the right nerve for a tear to flow. As for a reason for a laugh, these are aplenty here, and if a new version of the title track sounds too poignant, there's a pity for the ones who might be giants but...

****1/3
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