Subtitled "An Island Records Folk-Rock Anthology", this UK-released May 2009 mini box set offers 44 tracks across 3 CDs and compliments its Reggae equivalent "War Ina Babylon" (see separate review). Both have been released to celebrate 50 years of Chris Blackwell's Island Records label (1959-2009) and having lived with "Ledge" a few days now, it's both brilliant and infuriating in equal measure (with the good far outweighing the bad it should be said).
First up is the complaint that there's too many familiar tracks and therefore doesn't warrant buying - you'd be wrong. The 2009 remastering by DENIS BLACKMAN on the tracks you already own is truly fantastic - I felt every track sounded like an upgrade - and the obscure tunes you don't own are well chosen and worth your attention - many seeing CD light of day for the first time.
The sound quality needs some explaining. Take track 2 on Disc 2, "On The Road To Find Out" by Cat Stevens - it's a superlative lesser heard gem tucked away on Side 2 of his "Tea For The Tillerman" LP from 1970. Most fans will probably have the 2000 remaster of the album, but this version is almost certainly off the Deluxe Version from 2008 because the sound quality is STUNNING - absolutely gorgeous. The instruments just leap out of the speakers with wonderful clarity. The same applies to "Living In The Past" by Jethro Tull on Disc 1 - I adore this tune and have various remasters of it - but this is without doubt the best-sounding version I've ever heard.
There's also clever track choices - a badly needed new remaster of the live version of Richard Thompson's slow bluesy "Calvary Cross" from the 1976 double "Guitar, Vocal" rather than it's 1974 studio original, the stripped down BBC Sessions version of John Martyn's beautiful "May You Never" with just him and his guitar from 1977 [lyrics above] and the truly affecting 1987 "Real Time" version of "Meet On The Ledge" by Fairport Convention (again instead of the 1968 7" original) which finishes the box off and brings the musical journey full circle. Cool stuff.
On the rock side too, there's the inclusion of Bryn Haworth's lovely "Darlin' Corey" from his 1975 album "Sunny Side Of The Street" (he was the guitarist in the 60's psych act Fleurs-De-Lys") and even better is Bronco's "Time Slips Away" from their 1971 album "Ace Of Sunlight" - a fantastic choice - Jess Roden's soulful vocals backed up by Robbie Blunt's tremendous guitar work [he later played for Robert Plant's band].
The annotation is good too - the 32-page booklet featuring a biog on each artist (photos too) with the whole set has been curated and researched by DAVID SUFF with skill.
If I was to point out a real downside it would be the omissions - with playing times of 67:56, 72:06 and 65:32 - it's hugely disappointing that more tracks weren't used - how about "Say No More" by Smith Perkins Smith (1972), "Whims And Ways" by Bryn Haworth (1974) and "The Sea” by Fotheringay (1970) to name but a few. And as rocking as Richard Thompson is, do I really need the full 11 minutes of "A Sailor's Life" - no. And the liner notes mention “The Chieftains 5” album on Island from 1975, but then don't include them - on a Folk box?
Still, these are niggles - what is on here is stupendously good - and sounding absolutely spiffing.
I've enjoyed hearing this box so much - and I suspect it will send many folk and rock music fans scurrying back into second-hand record shops trying to hunt down original palm-tree label LPs – those things we adored so much - all those years ago.
Despite some reservations - this is a top job done - and recommended big time - especially given the upgraded sound...