The Best of the Groundhogs

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If you're in a band, you can either go with the flow the music takes or plant your feet and refuse to be moved. The Groundhogs, under the leadership of Tony McPhee, one of England's best guitarists, did the former. McPhee was a bluesman through and through, and the Groundhogs started life as a blues trio, but fairly quickly the music took a rock turn and suddenly the Groundhogs had a sizable following. After the cranked-out heavy blues-rock of Blues Obituary, they found their voice and came to notice with the very political Thank Christ for the Bomb, represented here by three tracks ("Strange Town," "Rich Man, Poor Man," "Eccentric Man") which show that while McPhee's writing might have been blues-based, he'd moved well beyond the three-chord, 12-bar format into something that used the band well, leaving room for his guitar solos but offering real substance in the ambitious songs. So it was a surprise when he pulled back from that for the riff-o-rama of Split, although it became their most successful album by far with its tale of schizophrenia. Certainly it's conspicuous here, with five tracks, including "Cherry Red," an inspiration to a generation of nascent electric guitarists. However, they definitely lost the plot with Who Will Save the World?, which took them too far from their base and into the more cerebral world of prog rock; listen to "Earth Is Not Room Enough" to get an idea of what was going on there. It simply doesn't work for them, and they'd head back to blues -- where they were decidedly more comfortable -- in the future; in fact, the version of "Amazing Grace" seems to indicate they knew they'd gone too far from home. If you want to understand the minor phenomenon that was the Groundhogs in the U.K. at the start of the '70s but don't want to splash out for Thank Christ or Split, this is the place to start.

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