The late Nikki Sudden's Playing with Fire was originally part of a package that included his autobiography, The Last Bandit: A Rock 'n Roll Life. It was assembled by John C. Barry -- his bass player -- at the request of Sudden's estate. Most of what's here comes from either unmixed or final rejections from the sessions that produced his last two studio albums, Treasure Island and The Truth Doesn't Matter, and essentially completes them as the bookend of a trilogy. And no, the finished material that was rejected or remained unmixed isn't substandard in any way. An example is the scorching opener "Pretty Little Pretty," which was left off Treasure Island simply because it already had another 12-bar blues-rock tune on it in the form of "Looking for a Friend." Also left off Treasure Island is "Hanoi Jane," a wild and wooly tribute to T.Rex in the guise of a song about Jane Fonda, that should have been included on Treasure Island. It is one of the true highlights here, with its maxed-out guitars, glammed-up backing chorus vocals, and a hot drum track. "Pirate Girls," from the Truth sessions, is one of those signature Sudden rock & roll weepers, with a slow, repetitive two-chord vamp, pedal steel, and heartbreaking lyrics. Though it was never released, Sudden apparently believed that "I Know You," with its slash-and-burn three-chord structure and Farfisa organ would have made a great single; his instinct was probably right on. "Visions of Sin" is another barn burner with lyrics worthy of Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited or Blonde on Blonde albums. The bottom line is that there are few questionable choices on this 15-song, 51-minute set: the only one is the inclusion of a cover of "Kill City," which Sudden doesn't even appear on (it features Captain Sensible on vocals). Otherwise, this is a killer collection of material, recorded with some of his longtime mates (Dave Kusworth is here) as well as his touring band, and is simply a must-have for any fan. Playing with Fire underscores the fact that Sudden was a rock & roll believer to the very end, as well as a truly brilliant songwriter and performer.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek