By Jo-Ann Greene
We open with an album that will thrill so many reggae fans that it’s almost unbelievable that it’s finally here. Rolling Steady, the legendary lost Skatalites album, has finally hit the shelves, a mere 25 years after it was recorded, and, presumably, shelved forever.
It was recorded on the eve of the band’s headline-hogging appearance at the 1983 Reggae Sunsplash, with producer Tony Owen, but when the band broke up soon after, the tapes were simply left to rot. By the time Motion records got ahold of them, it was unclear whether the tapes could even be restored, let alone released.
Thankfully, they could be, and the result has to be some of the greatest recordings that the Skatalites ever laid down, from the opening “Big Trombone” (a tribute to the late Don Drummond), through a sparkling recut of keyboardist Jackie Mittoo’s “Death in the Arena,” and onto the super-moody title track, this is the Skatalites you’ve always dreamed of hearing. The greatest thing, however, is the fact that it’s an even better album than you hoped it could be.
We bumped into the Glaxo Babies a few months ago, and a jolly good time we had, as well. Now they’re back, with another retrospective, this time crossing through the last five years of the band’s delightful reign.
The Porlock Factor — Psych Dreams and Other Schemes 1985-1990 (Cherry Red — www.cherryred.co.uk) collects 16 songs recorded following the band’s 1985 reunion, drawing on demos and (occasionally) rehearsal tapes for inspiration. In fairness, it lacks the crackle and bop of their earlier material. Still, it’s a fascinating postscript to an always remarkable career, the follow-up album that never quite got made.
Anagram’s continued excavation of the psychobilly crypt turns up trumps once again with a reissue for the Coffin Nails’ Live And Rockin’ masterpiece, one of the most ferocious concert recordings that the genre ever spawned, and a reminder of just how persistent psychobilly fans could be.
The album was recorded in 1989 (for release the following year), but the energy levels are straight out of psychobilly’s early ‘80s heyday, and the band is positively ravenous. (www.cherryred.co.uk)
For rockabilly fans of more classic vintage, Bear Family (www.bear-family.de) serve up Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight, a various artists compilation that rips, roars and rock ’n’ rolls through no less than 30 sides of blistered frenzy, and every one a slice of legend.
A host of priceless RCA and X label sides tumble from the speakers, from Charline Arthur, a country singer who could boogie-woogie with the best of them, through Hawkshaw Hawkins, Lawton Williams, Terry Fell, Melvin Endsley, Johnny Wills... what do you mean, you haven’t heard of half of them? This is our musical heritage we’re talking about, and it’s your solemn duty to get down to the shack. And shake it.
Similar moods and mayhem ricochet through the same label’s Ernest Tubb compilation, Thirty Days, an excellent remastering of the best of the then-aging Texan’s Decca catalog.
No less than 30 tracks trace Tubb from 1941 (“I Ain’t Goin’ Honky Tonkin’ Anymore”) to 1961 (“Tennessee Saturday Night”), and if the stylistic lurches do occasionally shock, still Tubb himself was consistent enough to keep the quality control peaking high.
Regular readers will recall the sterling reissue work performed by the Eclectic label. Celebrating its recent incorporation into the Cherry Red empire, the label is now known by the equally appropriate name of Esoteric, but it’s business as usual in the trenches, as they unveil a reissue of the second album by Rare Bird, the band that gave the Charisma label its first ever hit, “Sympathy.”
As Your Mind Flies is best remembered for the side long “Flight,” a four-part, 20-minute offering that demonstrated just how powerful the band was in full flight. But the whole album is a joy, while three bonus tracks — a pair of mono mixes, and the haunting and previously unreleased "Red Man” — add to the fun.
Finally, here’s news of a reissue that answers the prayers of more collectors than you could shake a Christmas stocking at. In 1972, the organizers of the Glastonbury Fayre released an amazingly lavish, triple album set to raise funds for the previous year’s money-losing festival. Only 5,000 copies were pressed up, and, although bootlegged versions have appeared over the years, the rare originals trade for increasingly sizeable sums.
Akarma (www.cometrecords.com) has now lovingly remastered the albums for CD release, reproducing both the original artwork and the sumptuous 32-page booklet, all boxed up in a 10-inch square and accompanied by a DVD of “Glastonbury Fayre — The Movie,” Peter Neal’s 87-minute, rarely shown, documentary of the 1971 festival.
Absent are the poster, cut-out pyramid and geodesic dome that came with the original vinyl, but still you get six sides worth of sometimes stupendous rarities, including cuts by Mighty Baby, the Pink Fairies, the Edgar Broughton Band and Gong, all of which were recorded at the 1971 festival itself.
The Grateful Dead turn in a side-long “Dark Star;” Hawkwind offers up the original, unmixed version of its “Silver Machine” hit; Marc Bolan and Pete Townshend offer up rare solo demos; and David Bowie, Brinsley Schwarz and Skin Alley turn in unreleased studio outtakes. The movie includes lots of gratuitous mud bathing, a soul-ripping number from Family, a riveting one from Quintessence, and a storming performance from Traffic, all of which is a fitting tribute to an event that might be an institution today, but which was once one of the loudest calls to arms that the counter-culture ever made.