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October's New CD releases

Simon Evans reviews the latest music releases

whos_next_life_house_cd_coverThe Who - Who’s Next/Lifehouse Super Deluxe Edition


It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time, in the late Sixties and early Seventies, when it was thought that music really could change the world. No one bought into this more vigorously than The Who’s creative lynchpin Pete Townshend, who, following the success of the band’s rock opera Tommy, set about developing another project that, he hoped, could harness music’s pure transformative power.

He started composing a series of songs, collectively known as Lifehouse, that, when performed live, were designed to send an audience into a state of spiritual ecstasy, brought on by the power of the vibrations generated by the music. Which makes you immediately wonder, of course, what mind-altering substances Townshend was ingesting at the time. But the Who’s main man was in deadly earnest, and the songs that emerged from this period would prove to be some of the most enduring of the band’s career.

For all his belief in the spiritual power of music, however, Townshend had become deeply disillusioned by the counter-culture and its degeneration from a potential source of personal liberation to just another fashion statement. This was a process memorably described by George Melly, in his book of the same name, as ‘revolt into style’ and memorably evoked in Lifehouse’s key song, Won’t Get Fooled Again.

Lifehouse, however, proved to be too ambitious, even for the early Seventies, and was scaled down into the band’s greatest album Who’s Next, released in 1971, featuring such outstanding tracks as Baba O’Riley, Behind Blue Eyes and Won’t Get Fooled Again. Other Lifehouse tracks would appear on solo and group albums over the next few years.

This multi-disc deluxe edition features all the Lifehouse songs gathered together in one place for the first time, including rare sessions, demos, and singles. There are also complete live recordings from two key 1971 concerts, featuring Lifehouse material as well as oldies and excerpts from Tommy. There’s also a two-disc set featuring a remastered version of the original Who’s Next album and a disc of highlights from the box set.


Al Stewart - Songs On The Radio – The Complete US Singles 1974-81

(Real Gone Al_Stewart_songs_on_the_radio_cd_coverMusic)

The transformation of Al Stewart from earnest folkie into multi-million selling pop star was something few saw coming, least of all Al. It came about thanks, in no small part, to Alan Parsons, who had engineered Pink Floyd’s mega-selling Dark Side of the Moon and produced Al’s three life-changing Seventies albums, Modern Times, Year of the Cat and Time Passages.

Parsons took Al’s endearingly literary, but rather niche, songs about historical events and figures and winsome hippie girls and sprinkled them with studio fairy dust, turning them into monster sellers, in the United States at least (Britain proved rather more resistant).

Part of that process was releasing singles to radio stations, often in edited form, in the hope of generating interest in the parent album, and this fascinating collection features Al’s singles from the period of his mainstream success, many of them in versions that will be unfamiliar to those who own the album versions.

Nostradamus, for one, benefits from its edited version, dispensing with the rather meandering instrumental section, and the US single versions of Year of the Cat and Time Passages also are improved by being streamlined, trimming the lengthy introductions into something more punchy and concise. Song On The Radio, a track expressly written to be a single (much to Al’s embarrassment) also makes more sense reduced to three minutes, having originally clocked in at over six on the Time Passages album.

Most bizarre of all is the UK mix of Year of the Cat, previously unavailable on CD (as indeed are many of the single edits featured here), which hacked back all but two of the verses, leaving instead all the instrumental breaks that were, to be honest, a key factor in the song’s success. It still didn’t make the Top 30 over here, which is why this mix has always been so sought after. I’ve certainly treasured my copy and it’s great, at last, to hear it without all the attendant scratches.


Baby_James_Harvest_CD_cover.Barclay James Harvest - Baby James Harvest: Expanded Edition


Of the four albums that Barclay James Harvest released on EMI’s Harvest label album between 1970 and 1972 Baby James Harvest is probably the least regarded. When it was released, in September 1972, the band was on the verge of splitting with the label, dismayed that their popularity on the college circuit had not translated into sales. EMI were also losing faith in the band and the original idea, that the album would be a double, comprising two sides of studio songs and two sides of live recordings, was swiftly abandoned.

Fifty years on and this five disc set (four CDs and one Blu-ray) resurrects that original idea with two discs devoted to remastered versions of the original album, sundry singles and BBC sessions and two given over to mono and stereo versions of a concert recorded for the BBC with a live orchestra. The live recordings are notable because it was the last time the band would use an orchestra, preferring to rely instead on their trusty mellotron, a keyboard instrument employed by many groups at the time, including the Moody Blues and King Crimson, which would produce an eerie sounding approximation of strings and flutes.

The original studio album benefits hugely from the remastering and is certainly worthy of reinvestigation, featuring as it does John Lees’ typically biting Summer Soldier, one of his greatest songs, and the beautiful, pastoral Moonwater. Of the extra tracks When The City Sleeps and Breathless are or special interest, recorded as they were under the name Bombadil in an attempt to crack the singles market. It didn’t work, but, bizarrely When The City Sleeps turned up years later in the TV series Life On Mars.

The in-concert recordings feature excellent versions of such old favourites as Galadriel, Mocking Bird and Medicine Man and are a fascinating snapshot of a band in transition, from pastoral prog to sophisticated pop, and chart success in continental Europe. Somewhere along the way, however, the Barclays lost their soul, and this collection is a reminder of the band at their best.


Songbird_carla_fuchs_cd_coverCarla Fuchs - Songbird

(Talking Elephant)

The story behind this fascinating album begins in 2010 when, during the creation of a Sandy Denny box set, a stash of previously undiscovered lyrics by the great singer-songwriter came to light. A couple of them were set to music by Thea Gilmore for her 2011 album Don’t Stop Singing, but it was not until 2020 that a particular sequence of events led to the rest of them finally seeing the light of day.

The German singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Carla Fuchs had already started including Sandy Denny’s songs in her live shows, inspired by listening to the 1972 album Sandy on a long car journey, and some of these were posted to YouTube, along with a new song, Songbird, which focussed on the relationship between Sandy and her daughter, Georgia.

Coincidentally, Georgia had already been looking for ways to pay tribute to her mother during the long lonely months of lockdown and when she saw Carla’s videos made contact and suggested the unused lyrics could form the basis of an album, which became Songbird.

It is not a Sandy tribute album, and Carla does not even sound much like her, but she is a wonderfully expressive singer and gives the songs sparse but effective settings, with minimal instrumental ornamentation that always sounds just right. And yes, the melodies often sound as though they could have been written by Sandy, so completely has Carla inhabited the lyrics which are, typically, intensely personal to the point of been self-laceratingly confessional. It is a perfect celebration of this great singer-songwriter’s enduring legacy.

 All the featured albums are available on CD and through major streaming services 

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