Thursday, 21 January 2016

"The Amazing Charlatans" by THE CHARLATANS (1996 Ace/Big Beat CD - Duncan Cowell Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...See The Undertaker Man..." 

Forever missing the proverbial timing boat and not managing an album until it was too late and most of the music buying public simply didn’t care – THE CHARLATANS nonetheless hold a special place in the hearts of 60ts lovers – an LSD-popping rag-tag bunch of musically brilliant San Francisco dandies who deserved superstardom but have posthumously had to settle for cult status. They were reputedly first with the 'San Francisco Sound'...

Their lone self-titled American album "The Charlatans" issued by Philips in 1969 is not covered by this release - but what "The Amazing Charlatans" does offer is the first legal and decent reissue of 'all' the years that led up to that ignominious one-LP exit. Here are the acidic details for 1965 to 1968...

UK released September 1996 – "The Amazing Charlatans" by THE CHARLATANS on Ace/Big Beat CDWIKD 138 (Barcode 029667413824) is a 23-track CD-only compilation and plays out as follows (67:27 minutes):

1. Codine Blues
2. Alabama Bound [1967 Demo Version, Extended]
3. I Always Wanted A Girl Like You
4. I Saw Her
5. How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away
6. 32-20
7. We're Not On The Same Trip
8. Wallkin'
9. Sweet Sue, Just You
10. East Virginia
11. The Shadow Knows
12. I Got Mine
13. Sleepin' In Society
14. Devil Got My Man
15. By Hook Or By Crook
16. 'Long Come A Viper
17. Sidetrack
18. Alabama Bound (1966 Version)
19. Number One
20. Baby Won't You Tell Me
21. Jack Of Diamonds
22. The Blues Ain't Nothin'
23. Groom 'N' Clean Advert

All tracks Remastered from Original Analogue Tapes except Tracks 14 to 18 and 22 - which have been dubbed from acetate
All tracks are STEREO except tracks 1, 6, 11 and 14 to 18 – which are MONO
Tracks 1, 4, 6, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 are from the Kama Sutra Sessions, Recorded Early 1966 in San Francisco
Tracks 2, 3, 5, 7, 8 and 9 are from the Golden State Recorders Sessions, Demos recorded July 1967 in San Francisco
Tracks 10, 12 and 13 are from the Pacific High Recorders Sessions, Early 1968 Demos recorded in Sausalito
Tracks 19 to 22 are from the Coast Recorders Sessions, August 1965 Demos recorded in San Francisco

MIKE "Slim Pickens" WILHELM – Guitars and Vocals
PAT FERGUSON – Keyboards
DARRELL De VORE – Keyboards, Bass, Vocals & Percussion
BYRON "Mike" FERGUSON – Keyboards
RICHARD "Baby Face" OLSEN – Bass, Woodwind & Vocals
DAN HICKS – Drums and Vocals

The chunky 28-page booklet is a veritable feast for fans – featuring compiler ALEC PALAO stunningly indepth analysis of what happened and to whom. Its peppered with very cool photos from the band’s archives – the aborted first 45 single "Codine" that even got to advert stage in 1966 before Kama Sutra worked out its naughty subject matter – there's stunning colour photos of the boys in their dandy outfits and boater hats looking like a cross between the Eagles playing outlaws and the Byrds wearing rim-hats and round specs. The Remasters are from NICK ROBBINS transferred at London’s Sound Mastering from original tapes. Given their demo and practice nature – the audio is fab – even the Mono cuts sound punchy – especially goodies like the rare B-side "32-20"...

This CD represents the first legitimate reissue of this material and as you can imagine being demos and sessions – it veers from genius - their B-side cover of Robert Johnson's "32-20" (the flip to "The Shadow Knows" which features stunning slide from Wilhelm sounding not unlike Beefheart's Band on a roll) and Dan Hicks jaunty "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away") to vaudeville crap like "Sweet Sue" and the rather brutal embarrassment of their one released 7" single "The Shadow Knows" with its cod vocals (an admitted embarrassment to the band). Their cowboy-hatted, barroom brawl, dandy inclinations come screaming through on the jiggy "I Got Mine" and "Steppin' In Society".

But better for me is the Byrds-edge to their cover of Skip James classic "Devil Got My Man" and "Sidetrack" both of which feature part-time band-member Lynne Hughes on Lead Vocals. Sounding not unlike Britain’s Jo Ann Kelly in her vocal range - I can't help feel that her great Bluesy feel was what the band really needed? Who knows – perhaps a folksier version of Jefferson Airplane might have emerged? The 1966 version of the Traditional "Alabama Bound" features Dan Hicks on Lead Vocals – who would of course form The Hot Licks Band in the Seventies and go on to considerable success (Wilhelm went on to be with Loose Gravel and The Flamin' Groovies for many years). It ends on a 42-second advert that uses their music for a 'grooming product' – a comb...

It’s not all genius - as some would have you believe – but with that killer look they had (a gang rides into town and takes over) – a couple of better tunes to side the goodies they already had and some half-decent management – San Francisco's THE CHARLATANS might have been so much more that a curious footnote in musical history. Still – there’s this wicked CD to savour...and I find myself playing their melodious jangle more often these days and wondering...

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