Moby Grape

Crosstalk: The Best of Moby Grape

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Precisely what the legal status of Moby Grape's original Columbia Records recordings is, at this writing (in late 2004), is anyone's guess -- the label's own legal department used to change its outlook like a weather vane, one season saying they were free-and-clear, and other months claiming they were the subject of litigation, much as the group's name remains a bone of contention between the surviving members and their original manager. What is certain is that Sony Music's domestic double-CD compilation of the band's work, Vintage: The Very Best of Moby Grape, appears and disappears from record store bins like the proverbial White Whale, here one day and gone the next, but officially out-of-print. And that set had its problems, offering too much, and especially too many seemingly overlapping tracks for the casual listener who just wanted to find out something about Moby Grape. This single hour-long CD from Sony Music in England is definitely in print as of 2004, and it has some considerable virtues -- the 60 minutes of music here include a couple of tracks that aren't on the double set (as well as leaving out quite a few, including "Mr. Blues," "Naked, If I Want To," "Someday," "Ain't No Use in It," and "Just Like Gene Autry: A Foxtrot"), but generally gives a lean, direct cross-section of the band's best work from 1966 through 1968. There's no discography information, and Dave DiMartino's essay is too personal and stylized, and only a shadow of what David Fricke wrote for Vintage, but the music is so cool -- this is some of the most inventive and effortlessly executed psychedelia ever recorded, and listening to this collection, one will come away more astonished than ever that the band never found success. The sound is excellent, seemingly from the same masters as Vintage, though it's just possible that the volume has been tweaked slightly upward, and that's not a bad alteration -- this band played well, but they were meant to be heard loud, something that Columbia's original engineers and the group's producer never quite understood or were unable to realize properly. Here you get the electric playing up close and personal, but also the action on the strings is audible, so you never lose track of the three guitars at work throughout (sometimes playing in completely different styles, but all interlocked), or the group voices.

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