Music Week's round-up of the latest album reissues and catalogue releases, including Trojan, English folk rock and the songs of Leonard Cohen...
VARIOUS: Spirit Of ’69: Trojan Albums Collection (Trojan/BMG TJ5CD576)
Including faithful reproduction sleeves of classic Trojan LPs from 1969 – the year when, by common consent, reggae and skinhead fashion went mainstream – this chunky little clamshell-clad CD box set contains Reggae Is Tight, the excellent debut album of Lloyd Charmers, whose rather explicit Birth Control from the same era was adapted by The Specials for their chart-topping single Too Much Too Young; Reggae With Soul, a bit of a hit and miss affair from Owen Gray, in which the best track is his interpretation of Bob Andy’s Too Experienced, while his spin on Burt Bacharach’s poignant Any Day Now is best ignored; Reggae With The Hippy Boys, in which the eponymous, member-fluid instrumental combo, who also worked as The Upsetters and The Bunny Lee All Stars and other nomme de disque, perform a tight, irresistible set, from which Reggae Pressure aka Spicy sizzles most enjoyably; Fire Corner by producer Clancy Eccles’ charges The Dynamites, whose uncompromising instrumental style also worked as a perfect canvas for the toasting of King Stitt, as best illustrated here by the title track; and Jackpot Of Hits, a fabulous rocksteady collection produced by Joe Gibbs, and featuring the likes of The Pioneers, Ansel Collins and Hugh Malcolm. Although not the most obvious albums in the Trojan catalogue to be made available again as they enter their second half century, they are generally enjoyable, collectable and accompanied by a 16 page booklet.
VARIOUS: Hallelujah: The Songs Of Leonard Cohen (Ace CDTOP 1544)
An overdue addition to Ace’s highly-regarded Songwriters series of albums, Hallelujah collects together 24 eclectic interpretations of songs by late Canadian legend Leonard Cohen. The title track has, of course, emerged in recent years as the most-recorded and celebrated song in Cohen’s canon, with a huge range of interpretations available, though the one preferred here is the one that Jeff Buckley chose to record for his only studio album, Grace, and that reached No.2 on the UK singles chart in 2007. Other highlights include Judy Collins, pure, almost hymnal performance of Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye; DiOn’s string-drenched and elegant waltz-time version of Sisters Of Mercy; Joe Cocker’s impassioned version of First We Take Manhattan, which is almost as good as the one by Jennifer Warnes (not included here); and Nick Cave’s suitably desperate take on quintessential Cohen self-loathing song Avalanche. Some artists hate covers of their songs but Cohen welcomed them, feeling they ‘develop a patina through interpretation’, and would likely have enjoyed this bewitching 18 song selection.
VARIOUS: Strangers In The Room: A Journey Through The English Folk Rock Scene 1967-1973 (Grapefruit CRSEGBOX 054)
A laudable and thorough compilation packed with recordings from early practitioners of, and prime movers in, the British folk rock movement which was to go mainstream in due course, Strangers In The Room contains 60 songs and very nearly four hours of music recorded between 1967 and 1973. Divided into three thematic sub-collections – Raise Your Voice And Sweetly Sing, Back To The Garden and Down Into The Moonlight World – it demonstrates the sheer range and quantity of acts who were enriching the nascent scene, and includes many tracks that have never previously been issued on CD, four of which were previously completely unreleased, among them cult favourites Fresh Maggots’ What I Am and Who Cares, a pleasant early Gerry Rafferty track that he later re-recorded in a substantially different version with Stealers Wheel. Rafferty is just one of the future stars to feature here, alongside Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention, The Strawbs, Ralph McTell, Pentangle and Joan Armatrading. As is often the case however, the real joy is in discovering lesser known gems which here include University student (and future member of Trees) Jeremy Harmer’s haunting People Smile With Ghosts In The Land Of Make Believe, which was privately-released in a pressing of just 99 copies. Every shade of folk rock is represented, and there is a welter of background information and pictures included in a lavish 40 page booklet. Although its title suggests it explores only the English tradition, the album includes acts from all corners of The British Isles, including the pleasing harmonies of Irish familial group The Johnstons, and fellow Celts Horslips’ excellent Furniture, a sweet, slightly progressive and highly lyrical cut from their 1972 debut album. Overall, it’s another superb addition to the Grapefruit label’s genre-specific anthologies.