RetroActive Records

October, 2000 
CD Reviews



Birds Of Fire
(Columbia / Legacy)

Recorded during the Summer of ‘72, Birds Of Fire was the follow-up album to the 1971 Mahavishnu Orchestra debut, The Inner Mounting Flame. Considered a milestone for the flourishing ‘70s instrumental jazz-rock fusion movement, Birds Of Fire offered further evidence of just how great a band guitarist John McLaughlin had assembled. For his Mahavishnu bandmates McLaughlin employed the finest musicians of the era including Billy Cobham (drums), Jerry Goodman (violin), Rick Laird (bass) and Jan Hammer (keyboards). Produced by the group and engineered by studio wiz Ken Scott (who back then had just worked with George Harrison on All Things Must Pass), Birds Of Fire was a quantum lead beyond what anyone had done, including McLaughlin, within the realm of instrumental jazz-rock music. The successor to The Inner Mounting Flame and McLaughlin’s great ‘69 solo album, Devotion, Birds Of Fire was released in January, ‘73 and swiftly landed in Billboard’s top 10 going gold. The group never survived long enough to see the release of their third studio album, although Legacy did issue that unreleased gem in late ‘99 under the name The Lost Trident Sessions. Perhaps the legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra keyboardist Jan Hammer sums it up best when he says, “It is my hope that hearing this music will make some young people appreciate the idea of somebody who is truly capable of playing an instrument. Because that used to mean something. I would hate to think that sort of thing has been forgotten forever.” An album filled with meticulous musicianship, thundering arrangements and musical ideas that were considered by many to be way ahead of it’s time, Legacy’s new Birds Of Fire is now complete with 20-bit remastering, restored cover art, vintage photos and revealing liner notes.  / 


Up, Up And Away
The Magic Garden

Their catalog features excellent reissues from artists such the late, great Rory Gallagher and jazz-guitar legend Chet Atkins to name just a few. NYC-based Buddha Records has developed a stellar reputation since they first started a couple years back. A boon for collectors of ‘60s and ‘70s pop and rock, Buddha recently reactivated five never before reissued ‘60s albums from soul-pop phenomenon The 5th Dimension. With a truly unique and well-timed sounding pop sound, The 5th Dimension hit the charts at the height of the late ‘60s psychedelic pop craze. Conceived of by pop singer-songwriter Johnny Rivers (“Secret Agent Man”), and signed to his Soul City Records as the black version of The Mama’s & The Papa’s, most of the 5D’s early albums were produced by Bones Howe. To top it all off the group’s music was composed for them by the songwriting genius of, the incredibly hot Jimmy Webb. During the Summer of ‘67, with Webb at the songwriting helm, The 5th Dimension gained major success with their now-classic “Up, Up And Away”, which went on to become the title track of their album debut. More experimental and not as successful as Up, Up And Away was the group’s 1968 follow-up, The Magic Garden, Webb’s 12 track song cycle filled with breezy L.A. pop and tinged with a dose of psychedelic soul. Back in the ‘60s anything was possible in the pop world and Webb’s imaginative songwriting was at it’s most magical on both Up, Up And Away and The Magic Garden. Both albums employed some of L.A.’s finest ‘60s session players including drum legend Hal Blaine and guitarists Johnny Rivers, Tommy Tedesco and Al Casey and many others. While Webb’s “Up, Up And Away” was their ticket to fame, the first album also featured some strong songwriting contributions from P.F. Sloane, John Phillips and Johnny Rivers himself. On later albums the group would offer up unique vocal-based arrangements of music from composers such as Laura Nyro, Barry Mann and even Cream (!) to name just a few. Buddha has also reissued three other 5th Dimension albums including Stoned Soul Picnic, The Age Of Aquarius and Portrait. On all five CDs, Buddha goes the distance featuring neat repackaging, original artwork and informative liner notes.


American Woman
Live At The Paramount


Also on tap from the reissue experts at Buddha Records are two recent reissues from Canadian rockers The Guess Who. Just released on Buddha is the band’s most popular effort, 1970’s American Woman. Released way back when on RCA Records, the album was noted for the spine-tingling lead-off title track and the band’s big hit “No Time”. Most importantly, American Woman finally established The Guess Who with the American FM rock radio audience. Unfortunately the album was also the last Guess Who set to feature the fabulous songwriting team of singer Burton Cummings and guitar great Randy Bachman, the latter departing to form B.T.O. just as “American Woman” hit number one back in May 1970. The new Buddha reissue of American Woman is truly the definitive reissue of the album complete with in-depth liner notes, track-by-track recollections by Burton Cummings and a fabulous bonus track from the album sessions entitled “Got To Find Another Way”. Also just out on Buddha is The Guess Who - Live At The Paramount, an album that was first released on RCA back in August of 1972. For it’s new reissue, Live At The Paramount has been completely remixed and now features new liner notes and six bonus tracks. Recorded live in Seattle on May 22, 1972, Live At The Paramount is a veritable live best-of from The Guess Who spotlighting favorites like “American Woman”, “These Eyes”, “Share The Land” and “Rain Dance”.  


Creedence Clearwater Revival

Following their mid ‘90s appearance as gold disc reissues on DCC Records, the entire back catalog of albums by rock greats Creedence Clearwater Revival have been revived once again by the group’s original label Fantasy Records. Newly remastered with the 20-Bit K2 Super Coding System, these incredible album classics have never sounded better than they do now. Just out on Fantasy are the group’s self-titled album debut Creedence Clearwater Revival (from July ‘68), their all-time classic Bayou Country (w/ “Proud Mary” January ‘69), Green River (August ‘69), Willie & The Poor Boys (November ‘69), The Concert (recorded live in Oakland January 31, 1970), Cosmo’s Factory (July 1970), Pendulum (December 1970) and the group’s swan song, Mardi Gras (1972). In addition to the new high-tech remastering, each CD now includes fresh repackaging including photos and recent liner notes by a variety of distinguished rock critics including Ben Fong-Torres, Robert Christgau and Joel Selvin. Taken album by album, the liner notes retrace the rapid ascent of the band and their master songwriter John Fogerty, who was still serving in the California National Guard when the first big CCR hit, “Suzie Q” went Top 10 way back during that fateful Summer of ‘68. Rising up from a wide spectrum of Fogerty’s early influences including, but not limited to Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, Elvis and Booker T. & the MG’s, Creedence Clearwater Revival quickly soared to the top of the charts with pop hit after pop hit up until their last big hit, “Sweet Hitch-hiker” from 1972’s Mardi Gras. Way back in 1969 Fogerty suggested, “Our music has a specific aim: to make you want to jump up and dance. Later on, we may want people to reflect on our words; we may want to play with more feedback and electronic effects. But right now, we just want our music to make people feel.” He couldn’t have predicted the band’s future better. All the hits are right here on these eight great sounding, restored rock masterpieces, newly remastered and still ripe for rediscovery by long time fans and newcomers alike.  


Brian Wilson

One of the most significant reissues of the new millennium is the new Rhino Records version of the first Brian Wilson solo album. Originally released by Sire Records back in ‘88, the album was a towering musical achievement by Wilson whose creative spark was, at that time, sadly all but ignored by his band The Beach Boys. Another sad fact surrounding the album is that Brian Wilson, the album, soon after it’s release, was cut out by Sire (it could be found in one prominent downtown NYC store for $1.99!) following a fall-out between Wilson, his then therapist and musical cohort Gene Landy and Sire mogul Seymour Stein. Regardless of Landy’s creative controls over Brian, Stein’s failure to capitalize on Wilson’s dramatic return to form, on what was to be his second album, was one of the true tragedies of the post-Beatles pop world. It would take 10 long years until Wilson would reappear with his next (official) solo album, 1998’s majestic Imagination. As the saying goes, it’s all waters beneath the bridge now although music fans were clearly the losers during the long lull between Brian’s hard to negotiate record deals. On the sunny side, Rhino should be applauded for finally doing the right thing with Wilson’s self-titled solo debut masterwork. Featuring some of the finest vocals and brightest tunes Brian has ever recorded, Rhino’s expanded and upgraded Brian Wilson CD features revamped sound quality (in stupendous “Rhino-phonic” sound), no less then 11 bonus tracks, audio interviews with Brian from the late ‘80s and hard-to-top liner notes by David Leaf. Much has been written about Brian during his dramatic return to the pop spotlight in the late ‘80s. Some of it relevant, some of it mere speculation. In their usual fashion, Rhino has done a superb job. Brian Wilson is a great album to have back again.  / 


Carl & The Passions / Holland
The Beach Boys In Concert
15 Big Ones / The Beach Boys Love You
M.I.U. Album / L.A. (Light Album)
Keepin’ The Summer Alive / The Beach Boys

(Capitol / Brother)

Following their critically acclaimed reissue of Surf’s Up / Sunflower, Capitol Records follows suit with the remaining two-fer CD reissues from California surf-rock greats The Beach Boys. Just out on Capitol are The Beach Boys In Concert (a ‘73 release, originally a double album, now on one CD), Carl & The Passions (1972) / Holland (1973 - a double CD set), 15 Big Ones (1976) / The Beach Boys Love You (1977), M.I.U. Album (1978) / L.A. (Light Album) (1979) and finally Keepin’ The Summer Alive (1980) / The Beach Boys (the band’s 1985 comeback album and the last one with group leader Brian Wilson). Capitol has done a great job remastering and repackaging these timeless pop classics, adding in lyric sheets where possible and new liner notes from a number of notable pop superstars. For instance, the liner notes for Carl & The Passions features anecdotes by Elton John, Holland tacks on notes by Tom Petty, Keepin’ The Summer Alive offers notes by Randy Bachman, while Love You adds in notes by R.E.M.’s Peter Buck. Writings by other established journalists are also spotlighted throughout the CDs. 20-30 years after their release, these albums sound as good, if not better then they did when they came out. These latest two-fer CDs (along with the double disc of Carl & The Passions / Holland) rounds out the latest The Beach Boys reissues on Capitol, although fans should keep a lookout for the next round of planned remasters of newly upgraded (and long out of print) two-fer CDs of the group’s ‘60s catalog  - 


Greatest Hits

In the midst of reissuing the entire back catalog from The Band, Capitol Records recently released the group’s first four albums as well as the newly expanded The Band - Greatest Hits. Reissued are the group’s now fabled self-titled landmark debut CD, Music From Big Pink (1968 + nine bonus tracks), their self-titled second, The Band (1969 + seven tracks), Stage Fright (1970 + 5) and Cahoots (1971 + 5). You can tell that care was taken to make sure the original mix reels and multi-track tapes were used during the remastering. Another impressive fact is that each album features numerous bonus tracks and outtakes from each session. The Band’s surviving members, songwriter-guitarist Jaime Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson were also directly involved in the series and are featured throughout the liner notes which feature extensive liner notes and recent group interviews. Appropriately, the titles are dedicated to the memories of late, great Band members Rick Danko and Richard Manuel. Capitol’s new compilation of The Band - Greatest Hits compiles hit singles and album tracks from the group’s seven albums. The Band’s remaining four albums, including the double live Rock Of Ages, will be reissued by Capitol early next year.  


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