Category Archives: compilation

The Kinks • The Kink Kronikles [2LP]

The Kink Kronikles is one of my favorite kompilations of any of those in my kollection. In 1972 THE KINKS had recently moved on from their original US record label, Reprise, to the hopefully greener pastures of RCA Records, so the wise guys in their former A&R department decided to put together a kollect… okay, I’m gonna stop with the “’k’ in place of ‘c’ thing” now… collection of a bunch of great singles and pair them with tracks – primarily B-sides – that they hadn’t yet released on album on this bounteous 2LP set, which has just been re-released for Record Store Day 2020.

One of the smarter things the label ever did was to draft rock critic and Kinks fan John Mendelsohn to not only compile the tracks, but annotate the package. What he put together, selection-wise, is an exemplary survey of what made the band so great. And his liner notes, which take up the entire inside of the gatefold cover, are an illustration of the fine art of putting someone on a pedestal and trying to knock them off of it at the same time. Mendelsohn’s twisted love of The Kinks is no secret (he later even penned a book about them), and neither was his sarcastic yet spot-on writing about rock music. They don’t make ’em like him anymore.

Remaining in Reprise’s catalog for many years, The Kink Kronikles was a valued 2LP set for the group’s hardcore US fans despite it being compiled and released without any input from the band. This, certainly, had been par for the course at Reprise. Just like The Beatles, The Stones and The Who – and pretty much all of the British bands – The Kinks had had their albums sliced ’n’ diced at will by the powers-that-had-been because those bozos presumably thought they knew better what would fly in the good ol’ US of A than their counterparts in the UK. And by that, I mean, you know, “We’ll cut a few songs from this 14-track album, take the tracks from some of the singles – hell! – even include a coupla tracks that were on the last album and bang! We got another way to make money off of these funny sounding English guys who probably won’t be around next year anyway.” The thing is, this compilation had so many sought after songs on it – lots of rare B-sides and songs lopped off their UK LPs – that the album became a pretty good seller, quite likely even cannibalizing sales of RCA’s current releases of new Kinks material (’71’s Muswell Hillbillies and ’72’s Everybody’s in Show-Biz).

I don’t have an original copy of The Kink Kronikles to compare this new Record Store Day version to, but it sounds pretty phenomenal, cats. Besides that, the collection itself is a great mix of familiar and obscure tracks. Sure, you get “Victoria,” “Days,” “Waterloo Sunset,” “Lola” and “Sunny Afternoon,” but you also get once-super-hard to find goodies like “She’s Got Everything,” “Big Black Smoke,” “Mr. Pleasant,” “Berkeley Mews” and the then-unreleased “Did You See His Name?” There are 28 tracks here and they’re all worthwhile. Yes, today in 2020 they’ve pretty much all been added to the appropriate reissues of the band’s original albums, so if you’ve got the multi-CD sets of Village Green Preservation Society, Arthur or whatever, you have a good number of what’s here. But that’s no reason to pass on this limited edition, red vinyl reissue that’ll probably be deleted before you can say “Kinks reunion” for the umpteenth time. – Marsh Gooch

4.5/5 (Sanctuary BMGCAT436DLP, 2020)

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The Soft Boys • I Wanna Destroy You (40th Anniversary Double 45) [2×7″]

Forty years ago hardly anyone knew who THE SOFT BOYS were. These days there are plenty of people, highly schooled on obscure rock bands, who know that the band was a late ’70s British “punk” group fronted by Robyn Hitchcock, who later went on in the ’80s to front a group called The Egyptians and then out on his own to continued relative success as a relatively eccentric singer/ songwriter. I Wanna Destroy You is a 40th Anniversary double 45 package of The Soft Boys’ two 1980 singles, whose A-sides – “I Wanna Destroy You” and “Kingdom of Love” – were two of the best tracks on their Underwater Moonlight album, and whose B-sides weren’t part of that album. Now you can get a real handy 2×7″ set that replicates those two singles as one of this year’s Record Store Day releases.*

“I Wanna Destroy You,” of late, has become a bit of a political song thanks to it being used as a theme for those wanting to sack certain US presidents (including our current leader, He Who Shall Not Be Named, But It Rhymes With DUMP). This hard-rockin’, Byrds-meets-punk tune still thrills me, some 35+ years after I first heard it. B-side “I’m an Old Pervert (Disco)” is a slightly different take or recording of a tune that appeared as just “Old Pervert” on the aforementioned LP. Not a bad song but definitely a flip side. Meanwhile, Near The Soft Boys was a 3-track 7″ EP that contained not only the A-side/LP track “Kingdom of Love,” but a strange little ditty called (natch!) “Strange,” and a real hot cover of a never-officially-released Pink Floyd tune, penned by the strange Syd Barrett, called “Vegetable Man.” What made this cover tune so great were these two factors: 1) Only the most hardcore of Floyd fans knew about it, as it had only been available on pretty bad sounding bootlegs, and 2) The Soft Boys’ version really fleshed out the song with a complete arrangement including harmonies and the lot. When I first got a hold of this single (a battered copy, I might add), I assumed it was a Soft Boys tune, despite the writer credit inside – I was still a novice Pink Floydian at that point. This version is so good, it’s a wonder that Syd’s band never finished it and put it out as a single. Well, I mean, the chances of a song called “Vegetable Man” becoming a hit might have been slim and none, then and now, but you get what I’m saying.

Anyway, this I Wanna Destroy You double-7″ is available at independent record stores this Saturday, 8/29/2020, and after that, wherever you can find a copy in-store or online. Though the five songs are now readily available on CD, this is a nice package that also includes a digital download card in case you wanna add them to your iTunes library – which you will, unless you’re some kinda vegetable man… or woman. – Marsh Gooch

5/5 (YepRoc YEP2693, 2020)

* Record Store Day 2020 has been split into three dates, the first being 8/29/2020 with the next two to follow in September and October, thanks to this year’s coronavirus pandemic.

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Buzzcocks • Sell You Everything 1991-2014 [8CD]

Is 8 CDs too much for a one-artist box set? It depends. 8 CDs of who? How about BUZZCOCKS? If that’s a resounding “Not at all,” then you’re gonna want Sell You Everything 1991-2014, an all encompassing set of (I’m pretty sure) every last minute Manchester’s finest punk band ever recorded up until then. Though this set starts after the legendary group’s heyday, there’s a lot to recommend it.

Sell You Everything’s first disc is called The 1991 Demo Album and is just that: thirteen demos the band recorded prior to their reunion album (and Disc 2 of this set), 1993’s Trade Test Transmissions. These demos sound really rockin’ and it’s surprising that they actually went and re-recorded them. (This disc has also been released as a standalone vinyl album.) Some of the demos were featured on a preceding EP (’91’s Alive Tonight) and the rest turn up on the ’93 album mentioned above. That album is a great one and was a welcome addition to the band’s oeuvre. The next few discs are all of varying quality – and that is, good to great – and include 1996’s All Set, ’99’s Modern, 2003’s eponymous Buzzcocks, and 2006’s Flat-Pack Philosophy. All of the albums themselves feature some beefy, bang-up Buzzcocks material, and all of these discs contain bonus tracks culled from various singles and other sources.

2011’s A Different Compilation, despite the excellent songs themselves, is a mixed bag. Buzzcocks had already released two albums on Cooking Vinyl and someone had the bright idea at this point to have them re-record some of their greatest tunes. Maybe it was a case of the band wanting to have control of their classic material for use in other media (movies, television, etc.), maybe it was, “if this sells we’ll be willing to let them record all new material for the next album,” maybe it was any number of other semi-plausible ideas. Whatever the case, it’s another example of interpretations (basically, cover versions) that are too much like the originals to warrant their existence for all but the band’s biggest fans. I mean, it’s not like you can’t get the original recordings on any number of compilations that are still available if you don’t already have them. Hearing the band thirty-something years later doing “Boredom” or “Why Can’t I Touch It?” for instance, is jarring because though they’re trying to sound like they did back then, their voices just don’t sound like what they once did and so the songs end up sounding like inferior versions of classic tunes. And who wants to listen to that? (For the record, I’ve heard bands like Blondie, Squeeze and Cracker cover their own material and I’ve not been impressed by any of them, either.)

Thankfully, for the band’s final album represented here, 2014’s The Way, Buzzcocks are back to doing new music. It’s another fairly solid album; “Keep on Believing” is a good song with trademark razor sharp guitars, but “People Are Strange Machines” is a bit on the pedantic side. In other words, there’s some good stuff here and some okay stuff, too.

Buzzcocks’ Sell You Everything is a twenty-five year survey that gives you all of the studio material from the second half of their lifetime and it’s eight discs of some damn good punk rock from one of the top British punk bands. Yes, it might be easier to sift through, say, a 3CD compilation of the best of that material, but as usual Cherry Red gives you so much value for the money that you might as well get the complete albums and their singles’ b-sides in one handy box set. After all, one person’s “best of” choices aren’t everybody’s so you may as well decide for yourself what’s great and what’s just good.  — Marsh Gooch

3.5/5 (Cherry Red CRCDBOX93, 2020)

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Phast Phreddie & Thee Precisions • Limbo [2CD]

Every city’s punk scene has bands that made it and are renowned the world over, and every city has local legends who never made it beyond the confines of their own particular scene. Los Angeles, being a big city that spawned many legendary bands (X, Weirdos, The Blasters, et. al.) had its share, and one of them has finally had its day in the reissue ring. PHAST PHREDDIE & THEE PRECISIONS’ entire discography is now available as Limbo, a 2CD set named after one of their records and containing much, much more.

The first disc of this set is made up of Phast Phreddie’s debut, the 1982 live EP West Hollywood Freeze-Out, and their lone album, 1984’s Limbo. These are twenty songs of souped up, angular jump blues/R&B played by some of L.A.’s finest alternative musicians, recorded cheaply and quickly (“live to two-track, no remixes, no overdubs, what you get is what went down”) and with a decidedly punk feel. That’s partly thanks to the velocity of the songs, and partly to the attitude. The Phreddies were actually part of L.A.’s punk scene, so even though they don’t sound “punk” they were part of that world. In fact, read any book on any of the punk bands already named here – and many that aren’t – and Thee Precisions will not only be namechecked but held in high esteem. So, imagine my surprise when I finally heard the band (I was already familiar with their name) and couldn’t decide whether I liked them or not! Maybe it’s one of those cases where, if you were there at the time, you get it, and if you weren’t, you don’t, or maybe it’s just that I can’t get past Phast Phreddie’s singing voice. I’m not sure how to describe it… he sounded like the kind of smart ass who might have instigated more than his share of bar fights, someone who probably lost more of ’em than he won. Regardless, my first spin (through disc one only) left me questioning what all the fuss was/is about. Yes, the band is good. Yes, the band’s saxophonist is Steve Berlin, whom you’d know from both The Blasters and Los Lobos (though his name pops up on a zillion L.A.-based bands’ records). And yes, the guest list is also notable (D.J. Bonebrake, Peter Case, Marty Jourard of The Motels)(and that’s just the guests on Disc One!). But so far something was lacking… and then I put on Disc 2.

It’s got to be Phast Phreddie & Thee Precisions’ live shows that made their reputation, because the live stuff (recorded at different live shows and band rehearsals) is what makes this set worth checking out. The sound quality isn’t all that great (what we would have called “a good audience tape” back in the day) but the performances sure are. I’ll bet if I could find some video of them performing it would all make sense. I really like “Only Lovers Left Alive,” their covers of “Peaches En Regalia” and “Hungry Freaks Daddy” (Zappa/The Mothers) and “Stone Free” (Hendrix), and one called “Empty Feeling.” With another twenty songs on the second disc, it’d be easy to get lost among Phreddie’s snotty-soundin’ vocals and the slightly dissonant saxes – not to mention the killer guitar of Harlan Hollander. But after a few listens to this compilation I can tell that those who praise this group aren’t wrong: these guys had to have put on one helluva show.

With Limbo you get, as the lead singer himself exaggerates in the liner notes, “more Phast Phreddie & Thee Precisions than anyone could ever want.” Phans of the L.A. punk scene ought to pick this up just to understand what all the phuss is about.

3/5 (Manifesto MFO 46701, 2020)

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The Box Tops • The Letter/Neon Rainbow–Cry Like a Baby–Non Stop–Dimensions [2CD]

I approach these “lots of albums on one or two CDs” collections kind of cautiously. After all, if the albums were so damn good, wouldn’t people be willing to pick them up as separate discs? Case in point: THE BOX TOPSThe Letter/Neon Rainbow– Cry Like a Baby–Non Stop–Dimensions. This new 2CD, four album release comprises all of the band’s studio albums in one handy set, and it’s definitely a hit and miss affair.

You may remember a few of The Box Tops’ bigger hits, such as the once ubiquitous ’60s AM radio staples “The Letter” (“Give me a ticket for an aeroplane…”) – a Number One, mind you – and “Cry Like a Baby,” both of which we still hear today in movie soundtracks in order to set the time period or to establish some sort of emotional vibe for people of “a certain age”. The band weren’t a slapped together group or a studio concoction, exactly, but were made up of a Memphis group called The Devilles who added 15 year old local Alex Chilton as lead singer, recorded a cool new song in a local studio, and then went on to fame (but apparently not much fortune) and the pop radio tour circuit. Chilton himself later joined Big Star, another Memphis group that went on to acclaim as a cult power pop band. (See my coverage of them here.) After that, Alex went solo and on to college radio stardom (as in, culter-than-cult status) before the 1990s when Big Star finally had its day. All types of fame are relative, of course, so what you know about any of these groups’ band or solo discographies depends on how you like your pop music. Regardless, Alex Chilton was one of those guys who had fame on about every level a musician can – except maybe without the cold, hard cash that typically comes with it. Anyway, back to The Box Tops…

The four albums that make up this set are of your typical Sixties variety, being made up of a hit single or two and then another ten or so songs good enough to help pad out an LP. A few songs on each of these records stand out a bit more than the rest, but basically, after the hit singles there’s not a lot here to get your everyday music fan excited. Sure, guys like me will be interested in, for instance, other songs that the guy who wrote “The Letter” wrote, or The Box Tops’ version of Vanilla Fudge’s cover of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” (not that different from the Fudge’s), but after that even I have to call “time” on things. Yet, for £9.95 plus shipping, this 2CD is worth the price. IF you really dig Alex Chilton, that is.  — Marsh Gooch

2.5/5 (Beat Goes On BGOCD1400, UK, 2020)

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Various • I.R.S. Greatest Hits Vols. 2 & 3 [2LP]

[This review was originally published 4/14/2010 on my old blog, Skratchdisc]

A few weeks ago I reviewed Urgh! A Music War and noted that my favorite compilation of all time is I.R.S. Greatest Hits Vols. 2 & 3. And so, dear friends, I must at long last give you a short review of said favorite so you can better understand my psychosis.

This 2LP variety pack came out in 1981, the year of my graduation from high school. At that time I still hadn’t discovered “new wave” or “punk” or “post punk” or “whatever handy genre name is making the rounds this week.” Once I started doing radio at my college station, KCMU, I came across our review item. It had a cool cover—all these broken up records—which appealed to my 18 year old sensibility (I only had one then). First song on the album is “Cold Cold Shoes” by The Fleshtones: a nice little organ-driven raver. Next song, “Ain’t That a Shame” by Brian James, whoever he was, and not the one Cheap Trick covered on At Budokan. Another great song, and it turned out this guy had been in The Damned, who open side two with “Wait for the Blackout.” Now here was manna from, ummm, well not heaven I guess, but manna nonetheless. I LOVE THIS SONG. Almost thirty years after I first heard this song, I still think of it as Numero Uno among The Damned’s many fine records. (And you probably know by now that they are my favorite band of all time, above The Beatles, above The Clash, above The Shaggs.) Where most compilation albums would falter, this one stays the course throughout four sides! “Straighten Out” was my first dose of The Stranglers and it had very interesting subject matter. “Urban Kids” by Chelsea—throbbing punk. “Uranium Rock” by The Cramps—nice lo-fi rockabilly, great song, a cover of the old Warren Smith tune. Humans’ “I Live in the City” had a great old saying on it (“If you’re gonna act like that/you better get on the stage”) and was a tough slice of life for a country girl in the city. Now let’s head over to sides three and four…

“Fallout” was the first single by The Police, and at the time, had not been released here in the States. Did you know they were actually PUNK ROCK once? Yup. Tom Robinson’s Sector 27 does “Can’t Keep Away,” Jools Holland (years before his MC stint on the BBC) does an old R&B tune in a rockabilly manner (“Mess Around”), plus The Fall, Oingo Boingo, Buzzcocks, Klark Kent (on leave from The Police) and more*, all submitting great tunes that at that time had only appeared here in the USA as expensive import singles (if that).

I discovered so many future favorite bands on this record! It’s too bad they can’t put this thing out on CD now (it all fits on one), since the rights to these tunes are probably spread out all over the globe and would prove to be a real pain in the John Keister to track down. If you want a good listen at what all those above-named genres were like in the early ’80s before MTV, hunt this down, and kill it. — Marsh Gooch
* Henry Badowski, Alternative TV, Squeeze, Skafish (awesome!), John Cale, Payola$, Patrick D. Martin, Wazmo Nariz, Fashion.
5/5 (IRS Records, 1981; out of print)
(Top image is the later US cover; bottom image is the original US cover.)

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Booker T. & The MG’s • The Complete Stax Singles, Vol. 1 (1962-1967) [CD, 2LP]

It’s pretty hard to beat the grooves that BOOKER T. & THE MG’S laid down back in the ’60s, and proof of that can be found in the grooves that make up The Complete Stax Singles, Vol. 1 (1962- 1967), a new compilation from Real Gone Music. This 29-track funk-a-thon is one hell of an intro to the Memphis group’s sound, muscular R&B instrumentals from a mixed race melting pot of organ/piano, guitar, bass and drums that basically defined the Stax sound.

The 1CD/2LP collection compiles the band’s early period sides for Volt and Stax, the former label morphing into the latter and becoming an indie powerhouse that gave us Otis Redding, Rufus Thomas and many more. Made up of organist Booker T. Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper, bassists Lewie Steinberg and (later) Donald “Duck” Dunn and drummer Al Jackson, Jr., Booker T. and his MG’s concocted a sound that was high on swinging, hard hitting grooves that to this day are the epitome of what makes Memphis music so irresistible. Pretty much anyone who’s ever turned on the radio has heard “Green Onions,” the band’s signature and first single, and all of the following records had the same basic ingredients. Despite their efforts to mix it up a bit by adding additional instruments here and there, the original recipe was so good that no amount of tweaking could alter its appeal. Yet, followup singles “Mo-Onions,” “Jellybread” (see video below) or the fabulous “Boot-Leg” and “Hip Hug-Her” never bettered that first side, charts-wise.

Real Gone Music’s 29-track compilation is 75 minutes long, generous as hell for one CD (or two LPs) and would be a lot to digest if it wasn’t for the fact that Booker T. & The MG’s music is so fun and uplifting that the vibe never really gets old. (It helps that the tunes are rarely more than a couple of minutes long.) I can imagine what it might’ve been like to hear these guys play them live, stretching out on a solo or groove and really getting down with it – I’m sure I would’ve totally dug it. As in “dig it,” you know, that phrase they said back in the Sixties and which some of us younger old farts still say on occasion. Worth the low price, for sure, The Complete Stax Singles, Vol. 1 is all you need to get your own “MG Party” started. — Marsh Gooch

4/5 (Real Gone Music RGM-0889, 2019)

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The Undertones • West Bank Songs 1978-1983: A Best Of [2LP]

America may have closed its borders to people traveling from Ireland, but that won’t keep legends like Derry’s THE UNDERTONES from invading our ears. West Bank Songs 1978-1983: A Best Of is a new compilation of the fab fivesome’s greatest hits, a 2 LP set that you can order up right now and have delivered to your door while that is still a possibility. If you already know about The Undertones then chances are great that you’ve got at least one record by them, and it’s highly likely that you’ve got some sort of best-of that includes much of what’s on this compilation. Still, old fans like me can always make room for a new compilation – perhaps affording a new way to look at their career, and newbies get a chance to discover a great band that still deserves their time on the turntable.

Most of the young punks’ great songs are here, from their debut “Teenage Kicks” – a perennial favorite – to “My Perfect Cousin” and later, more mature fare like “It’s Going to Happen!” and “The Love Parade.” Culled from the band’s first four albums and non-LP singles (effectively their career from ’78 until they disbanded in ’83; they reformed later with a different lead singer), West Bank Songs is chock full of the spirited, humorous yet edgy punk and new wave tunes they’re known for, along with the slightly distorted guitars and singer Feargal Sharkey’s nasal teenage vocals. What’s missing, though, is some of the B-sides that were as important as the A-sides they backed, such as their invigorating cover of the psychedelic nugget, “Let’s Talk About Girls” or their own tune, “Mars Bars.” Not that you can’t find those on other compilations, such as 1983’s All Wrapped Up double LP or Rykodisc’s The Very Best of The Undertones (from 1994), but they are important songs which for some reason were left off this latest compilation. Still, you can’t deny that The Undertones are one of Ireland’s greatest exports, no matter which random selection of their songs you happen upon. West Bank Songs is a 30 song affair, on purple and white vinyl, with fairly interesting (though not that in depth) liner notes and some pretty great photos, and a cover design that’s an homage to The Rolling Stones’ Aftermath album (UK version). It’s totally worth the dosh! — Marsh Gooch

4/5 (BMG/Salvo/Ardeck SALVO426DLP, 2020)

 

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The Damned • Black Is the Night – The Definitive Anthology [4LP, 2CD]

There’s no way in hell anyone would have ever guessed that a scruffy punk rock band called THE DAMNED would one day have their oeuvre compiled countless times by the year 2019, but it’s happened. Black Is the Night – The Definitive Anthology is the latest compilation, and it brims over with 39 songs over 4 LPs or 2 CDs that span from their first single, “New Rose,” released in 1976, to songs from their 2000s studio releases and even a brand new one (the title track)! That the band’s best stuff pre-dates the 21st century barely matters. I say barely… and if you read on you’ll understand why.

If you don’t know much about The Damned, you can see some of my other reviews of Damned-related releases to help fill in the blanks (click here). Let it be understood that I’m a BIG FAN – I tell people that I love ’em even more than The Beatles and that’s 50% true half the time – but I DO have misgivings about some of the material they’ve released in their nearly 45 years of anarchy, chaos and destruction. For instance, back in the ’90s, after numerous personnel shifts ’n’ changes, they released an album called I’m Alright Jack and the Bean Stalk (aka Not of This Earth) and I couldn’t find much of anything to like about it. And their latest album, Evil Spirits (2018), was such a letdown that I chose not to review it here because I didn’t want to “dis” on my favorite band! (“Standing on the Edge of Tomorrow” from that release is included on this new compilation.) Yet. The Damned – Captain Sensible, Dave Vanian and all the others – are a many splendored thing. Whether it’s the early punk of “Neat Neat Neat” or “Love Song,” the punky new wave of “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today” or “Bad Time for Bonzo,” the goth of “Grimly Fiendish” and “Shadow of Love,” or the sheer brilliance of “Stranger on the Town,” “Curtain Call” and “Smash It Up (Parts 1 & 2),” the band is so much more than the sum of their parts or their discography. (Still, I don’t see how they chose “Fun Factory” for inclusion on this compilation but left off “Lovely Money.”)

Black Is the Night gathers most of their greatest moments in a very nice package. The initial copies of the 4LP set are pressed on gold vinyl, housed in a gatefold cover and cloaked in printed inner sleeves. A band family tree created by the late, great Pete Frame is featured on an included insert to help you keep track of just who was in the band at any given time, but it only goes up to 1982 so it’s woefully incomplete. The cover was designed by graphic design guru Phil Smee, the liner notes are kinda snappy (written by Vive Le Rock magazine’s Eugene Butcher), and the credits come up short of crucial information such as who produced the songs or who did the mastering. Considering the colossal difference in their records from 1976 to the most recent title track (available only on this collection), it would be nice to know who to praise or blame for that. It’s generally a pretty good mastering job, though the sound on some cuts is a bit muffled, and there are some jarring segues where one song slams into another (even chopping off the last few seconds of “Alone Again Or” as “Lively Arts” starts!), which leads me to believe that this collection was culled from digital and not analog sources. Of course, you’d expect that since the 39 songs come from various and disparate sources. Still, the songs aren’t in strict chronological order so the difference between, say, “Eloise” and “Plan 9 Channel 7” isn’t as drastic as you’d think it could be. As Dave Vanian says at the end of the liner notes, “The Damned have been on an epic musical adventure. To have spent years and years making the same album was never part of the plan.” That they would make so many great LPs and singles may not have been, either, but they certainly did.  — Marsh Gooch

4/5 (BMG Rights Management* BMGCAT409QLP, 2019)
* Such an un-punk rock name for a record label.

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Hank Williams • The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings [CD, DD]

If you died as long ago as HANK WILLIAMS did – and especially if people still care about the music you made – there’ll likely be a boatload of reissues in your wake. The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings is one such release, it being a repackage/ remastering of something that already came out at least once during the CD era (a two disc release from 1993). These were “live” shows recorded in 1949 for dispersal to various radio stations and sponsored by anybody willing to pony up the dough, arriving on big 16″ transcription discs that the stations would play on the air along with commercials for that sponsor’s products. (It’s a long story, recounted in this package’s booklet, but the only taker for Williams’ show was Hadacol, a patent medicine made with a liberal dose of alcohol that supposedly cured all kinds of ills; see “snake oil.”)

BMG’s new corralling of this material is said to be complete, and by that measurement there are eight fifteen-minute programs consisting of Hank Williams and his Drifting Cowboys running through many of his hits, one of them twice (“Lovesick Blues”), while also running through the show’s opening and closing themes eight different times (“Happy Rovin’ Cowboy” and “Sally Goodin”)! Emcee Grant Turner introduces each show with a peppy little speech, followed by Hank himself sounding humble and contrite as he says hello and launches into the group’s first song (“A Mansion on the Hill,” for instance, “Lost Highway” or “Wedding Bells”), and then into a fiddle instrumental spotlighting Drifting Cowboy Jerry Rivers, then a few more songs and the aforementioned closer. These versions of the songs don’t seem very different from Williams’s late ’40s master studio takes of them, and a number of his bigger songs are here, but pretty much every song on this set was also recorded by the man for MGM Records (his original label). The patter between Hank and Grant is very homey and corny, yet still kind of entertaining seventy years on.

And then there’s Hank’s wife, Audrey Williams. Well, what can you say about Audrey? You could say she was reasonably good lookin’, and you could say – if you know your Hank history – that she was also a right pain in the ass. After listening to the first half of The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings, you’ll also likely say the woman couldn’t have carried a tune if it had a handle on it. Miss Audrey appears on the first four shows (the quad that make up CD1), bringing her wavering, quavering vocals to four songs either with or without Hank. I can say this: at least on the ones she sings with her husband her voice is covered over enough to make it only a minor nuisance. On the others, well, friend, she’s on her own so you’re on yer own.

The good news, folks, is that the sound quality here is superb. Considering the songs on The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings were preserved (if you can call it that) on old transcription discs, the possibility of dicey-sounding audio was great, and so it’s a pleasure to report that the mastering here is excellent, with nary a pop or click in earshot and the entire mono spectrum clear and rich. The pure country music Hank and his Drifting Cowboys made comes through quite nicely, and that’s one of the reasons these recordings still matter after so many years. Thankfully, they sound good enough to listen to more than once – and that ought to add to, if not your health, then at least your happiness.

3/5 (BMG Rights Management 538470942, 2019)

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