These archival releases – two of the best single-disc retrospectives issued this year so far – honor records I’ve known and loved since their original release. One is an overdue, expanded return to print; the other is an entirely new view of what might have been, via what got left behind. Both are recommended without reservation.
Terry Reid, The Other Side of the River (Light in the Attic/Future Days Recordings)
In the mid- and late Sixties, Terry Reid was British rock’s Great White Vocal Wonder, a precociously soulful teenager with ragged-fire pitch and sustain who was repeatedly ready for stardom – opening U.S. tours for Cream and the Rolling Stones in 1968 and ’69 respectively – but ultimately had to settle for cult-ish legend. Reid was not yet 19 when he made an especially fateful choice: turning down an offer in 1968 from former Yardbirds guitarist Jimmy Page to sing in his new band, Led Zeppelin. Because he was already booked for those Cream dates. Reid generously suggested that Page look into a young unknown named Robert Plant. A year later, Reid passed on an invitation to join Deep Purple, citing contractual obligations; that job that went to Ian Gillan.
By 1971, Reid was free of those ties and beginning what would be two years’ work in London and Miami with Yes engineer Eddie Offord. The result, 1973’s River, released with great promotional fanfare by Atlantic, was a quietly gripping surprise: a mix of funky R&B and progressive-folk reflections across samba-inflected rhythms, a long, matured distance from Reid’s earlier, frantic power-blues records. The backing band was spare but stellar, including drummer Alan White (on his way to Yes), percussionist Willie Bobo and guitarist David Lindley, once of the American band Kaleidoscope, then beginning his long association with Jackson Browne. River was masterful seduction, especially over the meditative haze of Side Two. But it did not sell. Reid kept recording fitfully – 1976’s Seeds of Memory was produced by an old friend, Graham Nash – and he still performs today. But Reid never came this close to breakthrough again.
River‘s expensive, exploratory gestation was not reflected on the 1973 LP; it had only seven songs, totaling 36 minutes. The Other Side of the River nearly triples the story with an hour of alternate takes – a live-in-the-studio pass at “River” is even slower grace – and abandoned songs that, in some cases, are as good as those that made the grade. “Listen With Eyes” would have been a sublime addition to the dream state on Side Two. “Let’s Go Down” is a robust blues-rock opener that sounds like it was recorded for the first Black Crowes album, two decades ahead of schedule. That band’s founding singer, Chris Robinson, has always had a lot more Reid than Rod Stewart rattling around in his throat.
The Other Side of the River is not a replacement for its parent. The original is still the best album Reid has ever made. But this is how he got there. It is a trip worth taking with him.
Clear Light, Clear Light (Big Beat/Ace)
The Doors had just released their debut album, to no immediate acclaim, in January 1967 when their label, Elektra, signed another Los Angeles band, the Brain Train, with a mounting local buzz and a unique strength in the engine room: two drummers. It was, ironically, the beginning of the end. The group, soon renamed Clear Light, became an obsession for the Doors’ producer, Paul Rothchild; he became the new group’s producer and its fiercely controlling manager as well, to the point of bringing in a new singer for Clear Light’s Elektra debut and alienating pretty much everyone else. By September 1968, what was left of Clear Light went dark; a second LP was never finished.
But Clear Light, issued in October 1967, is an Elektra golden-era classic. It was nearly a hit, too. The band’s thoroughly gothic extension of folk singer Tom Paxton’s jaunty take on government surveillance, “Mr. Blue,” went into high rotation on free-form-FM radio, driven by the parallel, rolling doom of drummers Michael Ney and Dallas Taylor (also of Crosby, Stills & Nash). Clear Light also excelled at tighter dramas like “Black Roses” and “With All in Mind,” combining the demented-circus flair of L.A. psychedelia with the dirty-blues force of garage rock. This reissue of Clear Light is an expanded celebration with the single the band recorded as the Brain Train – the tracks that landed them the Elektra deal – and strong outtakes including the bracing fuzz-and-reverb B side “She’s Ready to Be Free,” featured in the 1967 film The President’s Analyst (an absurdist romp starring James Coburn as an acid-fried White House shrink that is worth seeing – and not just for Clear Light’s cameo performance).
Rothchild all but admitted on the back cover of Clear Light that he never truly captured what I imagine was the massive, live force of those two drummers: “To fully appreciate the spectacular sound of double drumming on Clear Light, play this record at high volume.” Turning it up helps a lot. You also hear everything else that made Clear Light special – for too short a time.