Posts Tagged ‘Legacy’

The Kinks: The Essential Kinks

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Kinks_Essential30 years of pivotal music on two fully-packed CDs

The Kinks touched so many musical bases that two full CDs (79 minutes each!) can still only outline their story. They blazed the British Invasion’s trail with “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night,” and supplied a steady stream of ever-more finely-written hits into the early ’70s. In parallel with their singles success, the band’s vocalist and primary songwriter, Ray Davies, wrote compelling B-sides and sketched out thematic collections that turned into a string of inventive concept albums. Davies ruminated on British culture, society, working class life and schooling, show business and the record industry in ever-more ambitious and increasingly theatrical productions that couched his lyrical alienation in satire, nostalgia and music hall tradition.

Banned from performing in the U.S. from 1965 until 1969, the band’s success on the American charts quickly faded. But elsewhere, particularly in their native Britain, they continued to land hit singles (including “Dead End Street,” “Waterloo Sunset,” “Death of a Clown” and “Autumn Almanac”), and their albums continued to attract critical praise. Although the band returned to the U.S. in 1969 to promote Arthur, “Autumn Almanac” signaled the start of a fallow commercial period, with a brief respite from 1968’s “Days.” At the same time, Davies was crafting what was to be among the Kinks’ most revered albums, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society.

Though not a commercial success at the time of its release, Village Green has grown to be the group’s best selling album, and the album track “Picture Book” gained belated exposure in a 2004 HP commercial. By 1969 the group reestablished themselves commercially with the singles “Victoria,” “Lola” and “Apeman,” and the well-regarded albums Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround Part One and Muswell Hillbillies. The latter represented their shift from Pye/Reprise to RCA, and unfortunately for the latter’s immediate commercial returns, Davies’ preoccupation with theatrical concept albums led to a string of early ’70s releases that failed to garner any singles action. On the other hand, the albums slowly rebuilt the group’s album sales in the U.S., and led to renewed chart action later in the decade.

Davies finally moved on from writing rock operas (and the Kinks from RCA to Arista) with 1977’s Sleepwalker, and the group returned to the American charts with the album’s title track. Their next few albums found an audience with U.S. record buyers, and the band became a regular concert draw. The latter success was memorialized on 1980’s Top 20 One for the Road, and represented here by live versions of “Lola” and “Where Have All the Good Times Gone.” Two years later the group had their last major commercial success with State of Confusion and the single “Come Dancing.” The latter even broke through to MTV with a heavily spun video. The group’s remaining albums, through 1993’s Phobia, garnered less and less commercial attention, as did their singles, though they did continue to find a home on rock radio into the early ’90s.

Legacy’s 2-CD, 48-track, 2-hour and 39-minute collection does an admirable job of surveying the group’s lengthy catalog, covering early mono productions (disc one, tracks 1-13), UK and US hits, deeply-loved album tracks, concert favorites and live performances (including a terrific 1972 rendition of “Till the End of the Day” drawn from the CD reissue of Everybody’s in Show-Biz). The timeline spans releases from Pye/Reprise, RCA, Arista and Columbia, and stretches from the band’s primal first hit, 1964’s “You Really Got Me,” to their final release for Columbia, 1993’s “Scattered.” Absent are stellar early B-sides like “I Gotta Move” and “Come On Now,” tracks from Schoolboys in DisgracePercy and the band’s two 1980’s album for MCA, but what’s here paints a compelling overview of a band whose three decades of music outstripped even the sizeable recognition it’s received over the past fifty years. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

The Kinks’ Home Page

Ronnie Milsap: Summer Number Seventeen

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

RonnieMilsap_SummerNumberSeventeenA sweet, nostalgic trip to the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than two decades since Ronnie Milsap’s twenty year run of chart-topping success (including 35 #1s) finally faded. He’s continued to record albums and release occasional singles, branching out from mainstream country into standards, gospel, and with his latest release, oldies. Milsap visited his pop music roots before with 1985’s Lost in the Fifties Tonight, and that album’s #1 title song (which played off the Five Satins’ 1956 doo-wop hit “In the Still of the Night”) is reprised here as the album closer. The opening title tune provides another slice of nostalgia with its memories of teenage years, lush harmony vocals and a honking sax solo.

The track list is mostly given to covers of 1950s and 1960s chestnuts, transforming pop ballads, R&B, doo-wop, Motown, Philly soul and country into adult-contemporary productions filled with easy tempos, strings and cooing backing vocals. Lloyd Price’s “Personality” and Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife” each get a kick from horn charts, and a funky arrangement of “Mustang Sally” energizes Milsap’s performance. Mandy Barnett shows surprising talent for singing ’70s soul on a duet of “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” and Hank Williams’ “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You)” is stretched into a compelling croon. Milsap doesn’t really challenge the material, but his thoughtful readings connect deeply with songs he obviously loves. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Ronnie Milsap’s Home Page

Liverpool Five: The Best Of

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

LiverpoolFive_BestOfMid-60s Northwest R’n’R’n’B from ex-pat British Invasion band

The most honest part of this group’s name is “Five,” as they were indeed a quintet. The “Liverpool” part, however, seems to have been stuck on them by a manager in an effort to ride the Beatles’ coattails. All five members were from England, but apparently none from Liverpool, and their greatest success came after relocating to Spokane, Washington. The band toured the country as an opening act for U.S. hit makers and visiting British musical royalty, appeared on teen television shows, and recorded a pair of albums for RCA. There are remnants of the British Invasion to be heard in their RCA sides, but more on the London R&B side than Liverpool Merseybeat. More deeply the band was informed by the hearty sounds of Northwest rock and touched by the buzz of the American garage. Sundazed’s 18-track collection (originally issued on CD in 2008 and reissued for digital download by RCA/Legacy) cherry-picks from the group’s RCA recordings, sprinkling a couple of band originals among a wealth of well-selected, interestingly arranged and often wonderfully rare covers. Oddly, the group’s one brush with the charts, a cover of Chip Taylor’s “Any Way That You Want Me,” is omitted. Still, Sundazed’s done a wonderful job of resurrecting the core catalog of this undeservedly obscure transatlantic British Invasion transplant. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Paul Simon: Over the Bridge of Time

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

PaulSimon_OverTheBridgeOfTimeA too-small helping of singer-songwriter brilliance

Given the wealth of Paul Simon’s catalog, both in concert with Art Garfunkel and solo, and given the many reconfigurations and reiterations of this material issued on vinyl, 8-track, cassette, CD and digital download, it’s difficult to place the specific utility of this new 20-track collection. Six essential tracks from Simon & Garfunkel and fourteen stretching across Simon’s solo catalog provide an enjoyable sprint through forty-five years of Simon’s masterful songwriting, singing and guitar playing. But there are so many highlights and pivotal moments missing that the end result is the Cliff’s Notes of a multivolume career. Nearly every track leaves you longing to hear its album-mates, which may just be the point: this is audio catnip for luring an unsuspecting listener into Simon’s musical lair where they can mainline The Columbia Studio Recordings 1964-1970 and The Complete Album Collection. Buy this for someone who would appreciate Simon’s craft, but for some reason (youth, most likely), hasn’t yet acquainted themselves with his work. They’ll enjoy full-panel photos, song lyrics and Jesse Kornbluth’s career overview in a twenty-eight page booklet, and with any luck, ask for more. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Paul Simon’s Home Page

Sly & The Family Stone: Higher!

Saturday, September 7th, 2013

SlyAndTheFamilyStone_HigherCareer-spanning box with mono singles, rarities and unreleased tracks

Sly and the Family Stone’s catalog has never been difficult to find. In addition to dozens of compilations (one of which, 1970’s Greatest Hits, was their first album to top the charts), the band’s original albums have been remastered and reissued with expanded track listings. The remastered albums have themselves also been anthologized as The Collection. But there’s more to Sylvester Stewart than the Family Stone and there’s more to the Family Stone’s catalog than the albums. Pulling together pre-Family obscurities, hit singles (many in their punchy mono single mixes), album cuts, live performances and previously unissued material creates an arc of musical discovery that paints a wholly (or holy) different picture than hearing the material in separate installments.

This box set opens with five sides Stewart (not yet Stone) recorded for San Francisco’s Autumn label in 1964 and 1965. Stewart served as a staff producer for Autumn, helming sessions for the Beau Brummels, Mojo Men, Great Society and others (see Precious Stone, Listen to the Voices, The Autumn Records Story and Dance With Me for more of his production work), and his first sides riff on the hit single, “C’mon and Swim,” he’d written and produced for Bobby Freeman. The B-side, “Scat Swim,” cut a deeper groove than the plug side, and his next single, “Buttermilk (Part 1),” was a catchy blue-soul instrumental, with Stewart playing all the instruments, including organ and harmonica leads. The unreleased “Dance All Night” and his last single for Autumn, “Temptation Walk,” show how early (and easily) Stewart began mixing pop, soul, blues, R&B and jazz into his original stew.

After leaving Autumn, Stewart quickly assembled what was to become Sly and the Family Stone, and waxed the 1967 demos that would land them a contract with Epic. In the wake of the group’s later success, two of the tracks, the original “I Ain’t Got Nobody (For Real)” and a cover of Otis Redding’s “I Can’t Turn You Lose,” were released on the Loadstone label. The former is powered by Larry Graham’s insistent bass line and topped by the Family Stone’s trademark trumpet-sax combination of Cynthia Robinson and Jerry Martini. The group began recording for Epic (at the same Golden State Recorders at which Stewart had produced for Autumn Records) in mid-1967, and the fruits of these initial sessions fill out disc one, starting with their first A-side, “Underdog,” and its two B-sides, “Higher” (from early promo singles) and “Bad Risk.”

Despite a fresh sound that crackled with the energy of its multiple roots, neither the single nor the album A Whole New Thing made a commercial impression at the time; it wasn’t until “Dance to the Music” was recorded in September that the Family Stone had their first hit in the can. Launched in January 1968, “Dance to the Music” quickly established the group’s revolutionary combination of pop, rock, soul, funk and gospel, and shifted the course of pop music. Other acts quickly latched onto elements of the sound, but none could match Stewart’s output as a songwriter or the band’s approach as a unit. The group was sufficiently prolific as to leave fully-finished masters in the vault, including the four that end disc one. Here you’ll find the band trying out previously unheard original songs, experimental vocal arrangements, and repurposed lyrics and melodies.

The July-August 1967 session tracks continue on disc two, showing the wealth of great material produced before the band finally hit with “Dance to the Music.” Two of session tracks (“What Would I Do” and “Only One Way Out of This Mess”) were previously issued on the expanded edition of A Whole New Thing, but three more are included here for the first time: an inventive cover of the pop-folk song “What’s it Got to Do With Me,” an early take on the autobiographical “Future and Fame” and the Freddie Stone-sung deep soul ballad “I Know What You Came to Say.” All five session tracks are as good as the material that made the original album, but the lack of early commercial success doomed this extra material to a long stay in the vault.

The band’s commercial breakthrough is finally heard six tracks into disc two, with the ecstatic three-minute mono single mix of “Dance to the Music.” The song is, quite literally, a brilliantly catchy tutorial on the sound being created before the listener’s very ears. As memorable as are the mono singles, stereo album sides like “Ride the Rhythm” more expansively show off the band’s inventive arrangements and tight musicianship as they explode across the soundstage. Disc two finishes out with album tracks from Dance to the Music, the previously unreleased “We Love All,” the obscure mostly-instrumental French-language single “Danse a la Musique” (and it’s even stranger Chipmunk-voiced B-side, “Small Fries”), the unreleased B-side “Chicken,” and exuberant sides from Life, including mono single masters for “Life” (with a different lead vocal track than the album cut) and “M’Lady.”

Disc three opens with the band’s second smash single, the #1 “Everyday People” and its charting flipside, “Sing a Simple Song.” These tracks, along with “Stand!” (offered here in a live recording) and “I Want to Take You Higher,” powered the commercial success of the band’s third album. As with their debut, the band recorded a lot more material during the album sessions than they could issue, and disc three includes another helping of previously unreleased bonuses, including unused instrumental backings. The group became a hot live act, essayed here with performances from the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, and scored in 1969 as singles artists with “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” “Everybody is a Star” and “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” all heard here as mono singles.

The final disc open with the band’s next album, There’s a Riot Goin’ On, including album tracks and all three of its singles. Ironically, though the album yielded the hit “Family Affair,” it was recorded in large part by Stone alone, with overdubs by Family members and other hired-hands (including keyboard player Billy Preston). The album hasn’t the organic sound or joyous mood of the band’s earlier material, and the sonics of 1971 overdubbing and the use of a drum machine on several tracks subdues the group’s underlying funk. By 1973 the group’s membership was beginning to change, including new drummers, a replacement for the departed Larry Graham, and the addition of a third horn player. The group’s singles (including “If You Want Me to Stay” and “Time for Livin'”) continued to chart in the Top 40, as did their final two albums Fresh and Small Talk.

By 1975 Sly had disbanded the Family Stone and begun to record as a solo artist backed by hired musicians. His album High on You, expands beyond the musical boundaries of the Family Stone, adding steel guitar and other touches that hadn’t been heard on the band’s releases. Disc four closes out with selections from Stone’s solo work, from the then-newly formulated Family Stone’s Heard Ya Missed Me, Well I’m Back, and a pair of previously unreleased tracks, “Hoboken” and “High.” The box set lingers a bit more over the first-half of the group’s career, rushing through the latter half in a single disc, but that’s in balance with the band’s rise to fame, the peaking of their invention, and the view most listeners will have of their career.

This is a well thought out anthology, touching on Stewart’s pre-Family solo work, the Family’s rise to fame, their chart domination and fire as a live act, their eventual end and Sly Stone’s return to solo work. Along the way there are iconic hit singles, B-sides and album tracks, seventeen previously unreleased tracks and a large helping of original mono single mixes. The only real omission from this set are the studio versions of “Stand” and “I Want to Take You Higher!,” each of which are included among the live tracks. The mono mixes will be greatly appreciated by fans who have already completed their collection of the expanded stereo album reissues. For those without any of the group’s catalog on-hand, your surround sound-trained ears may find the stereo hits more immediately satisfying; check out the album reissues, or the anthologies Greatest Hits or Essential.

In addition to the mono mixes and unreleased tracks, the set’s 104-page book is its own star. The book includes finely written liner notes, an informative timeline, rare photographs, reproductions of labels, sleeves and posters, and revelatory track-by-track comments from the Greg Errico, Larry Graham,  Jerry Martini, Cynthia Robinson, Sly Stone and many others. In addition to the standard 4-CD set, there are several variations: an Amazon exclusive that adds a fifth disc (and parallel MP3 downloads), a vinyl LP edition (with its own Amazon exclusive variation) and a single disc highlights. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Sly Stone’s Home Page

Paul Allen and the Underthinkers: Everywhere at Once

Friday, August 16th, 2013

PaulAllen_EverywhereAtOnceThe musical soul of Microsoft’s co-founder

Paul Allen is (and will forever be) known as the co-founder of Microsoft and a generous philanthropist. But it’s a fair bet that if he could trade in that notoriety (though perhaps not the riches) for fame as a guitarist, he’d have to think it over. Allen’s been an ardent music fan and regular player since he was a teenager, and his philanthropy has included several music-related projects, including Seattle’s EMP Museum. So though he’s never made a career in music, his connections are deeper and more long-standing than that of a dilettante. Allen’s connections have provided opportunities to play with many of his heroes and develop the relationships upon which this album of blues-, country-, soul- and funk-flavored rock was built. In addition to Allen’s own guitar, he’s joined by Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo and Derek Trucks, and fronted by Ann Wilson, Ivan Neville, Chrissie Hynde, Joe Walsh and others. The songs are originals, written by Allen with a variety of partners, and though not blazing any new trails, they provide enough meat for his assembled friends to create something tuneful and heartfelt. This album is the product of a true music nerd – one who’s listened intently, played on the sidelines for decades, and given the chance to lead the band, shows real talent for making music. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Elvis Presley: At Stax

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

ElvisPresley_ElvisAtStaxElvis at Stax in 1973 – masters and outtakes

Starting with his ’68 Comeback Special, a reawakened Elvis conjured a remarkable late-career hot-streak that included 1969’s From Elvis in Memphis, the revitalized Vegas stage shows documented on That’s the Way It Is and On Stage, and a return to his country, blues, gospel and rockabilly roots on 1971’s Elvis Country. In January of 1973, Elvis stormed the airwaves with Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite, and soon after signed a new seven-year contract with RCA. In July and December of that year he booked himself into the legendary Stax studio on McLemore Avenue, adding to a string of Memphis studios that had been good luck charms: Elvis had launched his career at Sun, and revived his sense of self at Chip Moman’s American Sound in 1969.

The July sessions produced ten masters, eight of which were released on 1973’s Raised on Rock, and two held back for 1974’s Good Times. Four were also issued as singles, with “Raised on Rock” climbing to #41 on the Hot 100, Tony Joe White’s “I’ve Got a Thing About You Baby” peaking at #4 country, and “Take Good Care of Her” making the Top 40 AC. All ten of the masters were solid, though by no means extraordinary. Elvis was in good voice, but neither the material nor the band assembled from road regulars and Memphis guests sparked anything really deep. Elvis connected well with bluesier material like “Just a Little Bit” and Leiber & Stoller’s “If You Don’t Come Back,” and gospel-tinged backing vocals add weight to a few ballads, but the sessions never lift off in the way of his earlier work at American Sound. Two tracks – “Girl of Mine” and “Sweet Angeline” – swapped in players from the Stax house band, including the MG’s rhythm section of Donald “Duck” Dunn and Al Jackson, but you’d barely know it from the final outcome.

The December sessions were a great deal more productive, both in final output – 18 finished masters – and in musical vitality. The results were split across 1974’s Good Times and 1975’s Promised Land, further dissipating the sessions’ unity and squandering the marketing value of “Elvis at Stax.” But even with the inept marketing, the sessions turned out three Top 20 hits on each of the pop and country charts, and a country chart topping album in Promised Land. Elvis sounds much more deeply engaged than he had in July, and the material and arrangements are a great deal stronger. Highlights include a fiery take on Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” the strings, horns and deep bass of “If You Talk in Your Sleep,” the gospel-funk “I Got a Feelin’ in My Body,” Jerry Reed’s revival-charged “Talk About the Good Times,” and feeling covers of “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues” and “You Asked Me To.” Two ballads, “It’s Midnight” and “Loving Arms,” feature deeply touching, standout vocal performances.

Beyond the twenty eight masters, this 3-CD set includes a generous helping of alternate takes and one unfinished track. All of this material has been released before, but scattered across a number of posthumous collections and expanded reissues. Augmented with bits of studio chatter, the outtakes give a more organic view of Elvis’ presence at Stax than did the dispersed master takes. What you’ll hear is an artist who’s really committed to most of the material, and though the master takes were chosen for their commercial viability, the alternates are filled with vitality. Unlike the many soundtrack sessions through which Elvis often sleepwalked, and despite the Stax sessions being the product of a contractual obligation, Elvis was ready to make great music of his own volition. Freed from the confines of Hill & Range’s catalog, Elvis drew from both longtime suppliers and contemporary songwriters, recording songs with which he felt a personal resonance.

That personal resonance also applied to the assembled players, who were drawn from Elvis’ road band and key Memphis and Muscle Shoals players such as guitarist Reggie Young and bassist Norman Putnam. But the results weren’t as deeply impacted by Southern soul as were the earlier sessions at American Sound; Stax, it turned out, was more of a conveniently located venue than a sound with which Elvis wanted to engage. The label’s legendary musicians were barely involved in the July sessions, and not at all in December. By the time the later dates came around, even the Stax recording equipment had been swapped out in favor of RCA’s mobile unit, leaving the converted movie theater studio as Stax’s only real participation. Still, Elvis was home in Memphis, riding the crest of a remarkable career resurgence, and mostly (modulo the Colonel’s lingering machinations) in control.

The 3-CD set is delivered in an 8×8 box that includes a deluxe 42-page booklet stuffed with photos, ephemera and notes by Roger Semon and Robert Gordon. The discs are screened with images of tape reels, and slid into the pockets of a tri-fold cardboard insert, from which fans will likely want to relocate them to jewel cases or other appropriate storage. Collectors who already own Rhythm and Country and the FTD reissue of Raised on Rock, Good Times and Promised Land will have most of the tracks in this set, though having them all together in one (affordable!) place produces a uniquely coherent view of the sessions. One thing that becomes clear is that Elvis had a great album in him, but a contract that demanded two albums and multiple singles per year dug deeper than the sessions could support. What’s great here is really great, and what’s good is still passable. Though he’d record more in 1975-76, these Stax sessions are the last major sessions in his remarkable comeback. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Various Artists: Woody Guthrie at 100! Live at the Kennedy Center

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013

Various_WoodyAt100LiveAll-star 2012 tribute concert on CD and DVD

This celebration of Woody Guthrie’s one hundredth birthday is more like a family gathering than an all-star tribute. That’s because every one of these performers is an artistic descendent of Gurthrie’s music. It’s impossible to overstate Woody Guthrie’s impact on popular music, as his themes, songs, style and attitudes have transcended several generations of performers and fans; Guthrie remains a North Star by which folk-derived music is navigated. The song list includes many of Guthrie’s best-known and best-loved songs, along with archival lyrics posthumously set to music by Joel Rafael, Lucinda Williams, Jackson Browne and Tom Morello.

Staging this homage as a concert, rather than a collection of studio recordings pulled together over weeks and months, honors one of the basic tenets of Guthrie’s work: music as a shared, visceral experience. Guthrie’s songs were written for live performance, and every one of the night’s performers was fueled by both the material, the stages they’ve traversed throughout their careers, and each other. The breadth of Guthrie’s mastery is evident in material that ranges from endearing children’s songs to strident social commentary and searching introspection. The universality of his work is equally evident in the range of musical styles in which his songs are comfortably expressed, and the continuing currency of his topics.

The CD artfully edits the performances into a briskly-paced 77-minute program shorn of between-song banter; the DVD augments the program with a reading from Jeff Daniels and a short speech from Guthrie’s daughter, Nora. Both of the spoken pieces, and six of the musical selections are additions to the one-hour PBS broadcast cut. The DVD also adds several extras, including an audio track of Woody Guthrie discussing his early recordings and rare clips of him performing. This tribute concert capped a year-long celebration of Guthrie’s centennial that was filled with books, box sets and symposia, and provides a renewed opportunity to remember his empathetic genius. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

The Box Tops: Playlist – The Very Best Of

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

BoxTops_PlaylistTheVeryBestOfStirring set of Memphis pop-soul singles in glorious mono

Fans of the Box Tops’ Memphis-tinged radio pop, whether period AM listeners or working their way backwards from Big Star or Alex Chilton’s solo work, will find something interesting here. The band’s ten charting singles (from 1967’s chart-topping debut, “The Letter,” through the non-LP “Turn on a Dream” and “You Keep Tightening Up on Me”) are supplemented by four B-sides, all in their original gut-punching mono. The B’s include the first Alex Chilton track released on a single, “I See Only Sunshine,” as well as “Together,” his B-side to “Turn on a Dream.” Though the group’s original albums provide a deeper experience, stringing together the hit singles and a few B-sides closely replicates how the band was heard by record buyers at the time. It’s a compelling introduction to Alex Chilton’s soul-soaked vocals and the terrific production of Dan Penn, Chips Moman and Tommy Cogbill. It’d be great if someone released a complete singles collection, adding the missing B-sides and the group’s later sides for Bell, Hi and Stax, but at fourteen tracks the set provides some lesser-heard B-sides without losing the focus on the group’s hits. Best of all, the mono mixes deliver an original sound that really distinguish this set from the longer Best of the Box Tops. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

The Box Tops’ Home Page

Jefferson Airplane / Jefferson Starship / Starship: The Essential

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

JeffersonAirplaneStarship_EssentialReissued two-disc anthology of San Francisco legends

Legacy’s two-disc Essential collection is actually a re-branded reissue of the 1998 Hits release, reiterating the same 35-track lineup and including Ben Fong-Torres original liner notes. If you pop these discs in your computer’s CD drive, you’re even likely to have the cover image of Hits pulled up by your media player. The set remains a good overview of “the band that transformed with the times,” from Jefferson Airplane’s scene-leading San Francisco Sound recordings of the mid-to-late ‘60s, through Jefferson Starship’s inheritance and evolution, and the Kantner-less Starship’s full-face turn to radio-friendly pop. The musical, social and commercial distance traveled from the Airplane’s earthy psychedelic jams to the Starship’s synth-laden ballads is itself a monument to adaptability.

The seventeen Airplane selections cover all seven of the band’s first run albums (nothing from their 1989 self-titled reunion is included), along with the single-only “Have You Seen the Saucers.” A few of their lower charting singles are absent, but other than “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit,” the Airplane was never a Top 40 success, and so the additional album tracks are more telling. Missing are tracks with early Airplane vocalist Signe Anderson singing lead, and even more noticeable is the lack of live material. Performance was an essential element of the San Francisco scene, and no telling of the Airplane’s story is truly complete without the stage interplay of vocalists and instrumentalists. Follow-on purchases of 30 Seconds Over Winterland, Bless Its Pointed Little Head or the more recent 6-CD anthology of vintage tapes can fill that gap.

Though the Jefferson Starship name was employed for Kantner’s 1970 sci-fi concept album, Blows Against the Empire, a steady band wasn’t formed until four years later for 1974’s Dragon Fly. This set skips the former album and picks up with two songs (“Caroline” and “Ride the Tiger”) from the latter. Though Dragon Fly went gold (and hit #11 on the album chart), it was the group’s next release, Red Octopus, that marked their real commercial breakthrough. Topping the album chart, the album spun off the Top 5 single “Miracles” and introduced a band who would have a ten year run in the Top 40. Most of Jefferson Starship’s biggest hits are included here, missing only their Top 20 “Winds of Change.” All eight of the group’s first run studio albums are sampled here; their two reunion releases (1998’s Windows of Heaven and 2008’s Jefferson’s Tree of Liberty) are skipped.

The group transformed yet again in 1984, into Starship, and found even greater success on the singles chart with three #1s: “We Built This City,” “Sara” and the Albert Hammond & Diane Warren-penned theme to the film Mannequin, “Nothing’s Going to Stop Us Now.” Starship landed two more in the Top 10, the latter of which, 1989’s “It’s Not Enough,” closes this set. Two more minor chart entries and a greatest hits album were released before the band morphed into a touring unit for vocalist Mickey Thomas. The six Starship tracks here cover all three of the band’s original albums, but omit a handful of lesser charting singles. This thirty-three track anthology provides a compelling picture of a San Francisco underground legend’s metamorphosis into a 1980s commercial juggernaut. [©2013 Hyperbolium]