Cherry Red’s ongoing series of small clamshell box sets filled with big content make for the perfect stocking stuffer! Here’s a look at three more titles you might have missed…
Climax Blues Band’s The Albums 1973-1976 is the second such box set released this year by Cherry Red’s Esoteric Recordings imprint, following The Albums 1969-1972. This 4-CD set contains the following albums, culminating in the biggest commercial triumph for the band that began its life as The Climax Chicago Blues Band:
- FM Live (1973);
- Sense of Direction (1971);
- Stamp Album (1975); and
- Gold Plated (1976)
Whereas the first box chronicled the British band’s immersion in the blues, with detours to prog, country, jazz, folk, Latin, and ragtime (!), the second found the group on a trajectory to widespread pop fame. Founding members Peter Haycock, Colin Cooper, and Derek Holt were at the nucleus of the group for all four albums (they would remain together in the band until 1983), with another founder, Richard Jones, featured on Stamp Album and Gold Plated, and John Cuffley playing drums on all four. FM Live captured the Haycock/Cooper/Holt/Cuffley quartet at New York’s now-demolished Academy of Music, storming and boogieing through twelve tracks including lengthy jams and covers of blues classics like Willie Dixon’s “Seventh Son” and Jimmy Reed’s “Goin’ to New York.” Richard Gottehrer (“My Boyfriend’s Back,” “Hang On Sloopy”) produced, and Jeffrey Lesser (Barbra Streisand, Rupert Holmes) was the remix engineer for this hard-hitting set.
Gottehrer and Lesser returned later in 1974 for the studio album Sense of Direction, which earned the band a slot in the U.S. top 40 for the first time. It’s been expanded here with the single mix of title track “Sense of Direction” and an alternate version of “Shopping Bag People.” 1975’s Stamp Album fared less well, but the band finally got the pop single they were aiming for on 1976’s Gold Plated. Produced by Mike Vernon (Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall), the lithe, slinky, funk-lite of “Couldn’t Get It Right” shot the band to No. 3 on the U.S. pop chart and No. 10 in the United Kingdom. Today, it’s a staple of “yacht rock” playlists for its smooth sound. The flipside of “Couldn’t Get It Right,” “Fat Mabellene,” has been appended as a bonus track here along with the single edit of “Together and Free,” an extended version of “Chasin’ Change,” and the outtake “Shadow Man.”
Like the previous box set, packaging is simple here. Each album is housed in a mini-LP sleeve with custom label art on each CD. There are no liner notes, but a fold-out poster is included with credits for each album on the back. Ben Wiseman’s remasters (as heard on Esoteric’s 2013 reissues) have been utilized here, though note that additional BBC bonus tracks on those editions have been dropped. Still, this set offers a considerable amount of music at a budget price in a solid package.
Over at Cherry Red’s Grapefruit Recordings imprint, three 3-CD clamshell collections released in 2019 have addressed varying aspects of the British music scene between 1967 and 1973.
Strangers in the Room: A Journey Through the British Folk-Rock Scene 1967-73 lives up to its title with 60 tracks from some of the leading lights of the folk-rock boom including Steeleye Span (“The Blacksmith”), Matthews Southern Comfort (“Woodstock”), The Strawbs (“The Man Who Called Himself Jesus”), Fairport Convention (“Sir Patrick Spens”), Bridget St. John (“There’s a Place I Know”), Pentangle (“The Cuckoo”), Incredible String Band (“Oh Did I Love a Dream”), and Sandy Denny (“Who Knows Where the Time Goes”). A handful of previously unissued tracks round out this crate-digger’s dream, including an alternative mix of Spirogyra’s “Dangerous Dave,” Fresh Maggots’ “What I Am,” Lifeblud’s “Waxing of the Moon,” and Gerry Rafferty’s “Who Cares.” Many of these artists, of course, diversified their sound to keep current in the years to come, but this set presents them at their “purest,” flourishing on the university circuit with a sound that can now be viewed as uniquely British. With young people purchasing records, folk-rock became a viable commodity during this period and so Grapefruit has endeavored to present a number of those popular acts alongside many could-have-beens from labels large and small. Strangers in the Room is a fine and vivid representation of an era and its music which now seems timeless.
Some of the names on Strangers in the Room recur on Grapefruit’s Across the Great Divide: Getting It Together in the Country 1968-74, including Matthews Southern Comfort, Fairport Convention, Bridget St. John, and Unicorn. This 64-song set explore U.K. artists’ fascination with the sounds coming out of the American country as epitomized by The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo and The Band’s Music from Big Pink – the sounds that encompass the genres we today think of as country-rock and Americana. This rootsy, twangy, low-key sound proved adaptable to a number of pop musicians who couldn’t make the transition into pure hard-rock, hence the inclusion here of winning tracks by The Hollies (“Louisiana Man”), The Marmalade (“Cousin Norman”), The Searchers (“And a Button”), The Tremeloes (“Hello Buddy”), and the post-Jeff Lynne iteration of Idle Race (“Dancing Flower”). Rockers like Mott the Hoople, Traffic and The Pretty Things got into the act, too, as well as prog groups like Procol Harum. What’s most impressive about this collection is its diversity, with selections from pub rockers Brinsley Schwarz (“Country Girl”), the ragged rock-and-rollers of Faces (the timeless “Ooh La La”), pop songwriter Tony Hazzard (“Abbot of the Vale”), singer-songwriters (Scotland’s Shelagh McDonald doing “Jesus Is Just Alright” after The Byrds but before The Doobie Brothers), and solo superstars (Rod Stewart’s take on Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s “Country Comfort”). There are strains of folk, pop, psychedelia, and beyond here within the roots framework. It adds up to one of the most compelling volumes in this loose series of releases.
The most focused of these sets is New Moon’s in the Sky: The British Progressive Pop Sounds of 1970. With a whopping 70 tracks on 3 discs, it concentrates on the ambitious, progressive sounds that were still rooted in a certain “pop” accessibility and awareness of the power of the melodic, three-minute song. Again, there’s some overlap here from groups taking swings at various styles in an ever-changing musical landscape (The Hollies, The Tremeloes, The Marmalade, Procol Harum). The “progressive” part of the title is addressed with fascinating cuts from Barclay James Harvest (“Good Love Child”), Hawkwind (“Hurry On Sundown”), while the set also gives a deserved spotlight to pop artists who tasted fame but never catapulted to superstardom like Plastic Penny, Honeybus, The Flying Machine (the “Smile a Little Smile for Me” band, not James Taylor’s early outfit), and Love Sculpture. Cult favorite group The Harmony Grass gets an airing with “I’ve Seen to Dream” and the pre-glam Sweet offers “Mr. McGallagher,” and there are other way-cool curiosities like The Others’ cover of The Critters’ “Mr. Dieingly Sad” and The Futs’ Beatles soundalike “Have You Heard the Word.” The Fabs’ shadow loomed large in 1970, as also evidenced by the covers of “Two of Us” (Penny Arcade) and “Across the Universe” (Jawbone).
All three Grapefruit box sets feature thick, colorful books (of 40 to 52 pages in length) with copious photos and track-by-track liner notes by compilation producer David Wells. Sound is generally excellent on these sets, as well. All three titles make excellent and eminently enjoyable overviews of the periods they cover.
Look for all four Cherry Red releases here at the links below!