Tommy Bolin

The Ultimate: Redux

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This three-disc collection, Ultimate: Redux, of rare, demo, and live material is actually the compilation of compilations. Two earlier volumes that contain a lot of the same material appeared on Rhino in 1996 as two separate volumes titled From the Archives, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, and more of this stuff appeared on the various issues of Live at Ebbetts Field. Hardcore fans already know that the sound on much of this is dodgy at best, bootleg quality (and we're talking old-school bootleg) in some cases. Some of the rest consists of working demos and even cassette demos. Friday Records notes this on the back sleeve so there are no surprises. All of the disclaimers aside, it's great to have so much of this stuff collected in a single place. Disc one kicks off with the acoustic demo of "Teaser," which sounds cleaned up a bit to be honest. There are a pair of live cuts from Zephyr in 1973, one of which is OK, the other, "Hard Chargin' Woman," which is just downright rotten in sound quality. The demo for "Sister Andrea," clocking in at over 13 minutes, is similarly bad. With "Red Skies," done with Energy, the sound quality picks up considerably for the next handful of cuts before finishing up with a pair of demos from 1973, the acoustic "Alexis," and a full-on band read of "Journey." This gives the prospective buyer an idea of what to expect. The highlights are absolutely the Ebbetts Field tracks, including Billy Cobham's "Stratus," featuring Jan Hammer, Narada Michael Walden, Jeremy Steig, and others. The Ebbetts Field gig is just fiery and it would be nice to have this incendiary date in its entirety, but it's available elsewhere. Many of the early L.A. demos are here, some of them acoustic, some full band versions over the next two discs. Another treat is that Steve Vai wrote the liners. For a guy who released two albums under his own name, played with the James Gang, and did a ton of jazz and rock session work, it would seem that somebody might be able to get it together to just put it all together in a limited-edition box set somewhere. All the official stuff in one place; the trouble is, all the cross-licensing fees would make it terribly expensive. The faithful, and those who came to Bolin's work long after his death only to be really inspired by it, have to make do with the crumbs, and basically, that's what these things are. But Bolin was a major talent, one who already was in the stratosphere when he died. He may not be as celebrated as Hendrix, but he was truly an innovator. The music found on these three discs underscores that tenfold because he could do it all: write, arrange, play like a demon, sing, and perform like a madman. The new kids on the block would be best advised to locate his solo records, his session dates with Cobham (Spectrum is a great place to start), or the James Gang material to find their way in, and then come to this.

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