Led by Zoot Money, a soulful singer and gifted Hammond organist, and bolstered by a raunchy, gutbucket sax horn section (not to mention the guitar skills of a young Andy Summers -- in those pre-Police days he was still spelling his name as Somers), the Big Roll Band was an explosive club attraction in Britain during the 1960s, blasting powerful versions of American soul and R&B sides from the bandstand in an extroverted whirl of energy. Not surprisingly, that raw kinetic force proved difficult to capture in the recording studio, and aside from 1966's "Big Time Operator," the band never really dented the pop charts. That doesn't mean the various singles, EPs, and albums the group released in its prime don't deliver, though, as this best-of collection drawn from the Decca and U.K. Columbia (no relation to the U.S. label of the same name) imprints makes explosively clear. The sequence kicks off with 1964's "The Uncle Willie," and it's like a stick of dynamite going off as Zoot and the band tear through songs like Jimmy Reed's "Bright Lights Big City," Marvin Gaye's "Stubborn Kind of Fellow," and Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Rock and Roller" with all the subtlety of a horn-driven jet careening off the runway into the stratosphere. Wisely, Zoot and the band did several albums live, and a handful of those live tracks are included here, most notably the set-stopping "James Brown Medley," which welds "I'll Go Crazy," "Poppa's Got a Brand New Bag," "Out of Sight," and "I Feel Good" into a fiery bundle of pure joyful propulsion. Zoot also shows his considerable skill at the Hammond with an impressive soul-jazz instrumental run-through of Jimmy Smith's "The Cat." That the Big Roll Band never really broke big is a shame, and as the 1960s rolled on toward its incense-soaked conclusion, the group seemed dated and out of step in the eyes of the trend-following public. That is perhaps the biggest musical tragedy of all, since Zoot Money's Big Roll Band in live performance could blow any of Britain's psychedelic darlings clear off the stage. This compilation is a perfect introduction to this impressive, powerful, and criminally unsung band.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett