Ten Years After

Think About the Times: The Chrysalis Years 1969-1972

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Americans might not understand the title of this Ten Years After collection covering the titular years. That's because the band was not signed to Chrysalis in the States. It was in the U.K. though, and the label was fortunate to be associated with the Alvin Lee-fronted act for its most popular and arguably finest work (Ssssh, 1969; Cricklewood Green, 1970; Watt, also 1970; A Space in Time, 1971, and Rock & Roll Music to the World, 1972). The original four-piece would only release one more studio LP and one double-live package (both for Columbia) before calling it quits in 1974 after the tepid response to Positive Vibrations. This three-disc set presents the albums in order and adds a few negligible B-sides and single edits. The sound is excellent throughout because the compilers predominantly used the 2004 remasters, an enormous improvement over the previous editions. The difference is immediately noticeable on the bass and keyboard parts that were formerly often lost in the mix. The music jumps out of the speakers belying the late-'60s/early-'70s recording technology. So what's not to like? First, this was a perfect opportunity to unearth and add unreleased material, such as the two songs that were tacked onto the reissue of Cricklewood Green, but they're M.I.A. here. Also, there are no new liner notes, no fresh pictures (nearly all the graphics are taken from the existing album artwork), and the somewhat shoddy layout of the skimpy eight-page book looks like it was thrown together in a few hours. Considering how terrific this music now sounds, this was a missed opportunity to issue a classy package that even fans who own the discs would want to include in their collection. Musically, a closer listen to Ten Years After reveals that there was more to the group than just the sped-up, psychedelic boogie blues and Lee's patented, fast-fingered riffing that they typically get pigeonholed for. Although Lee's lyrics weren't particularly memorable, the band matured during these years, resulting in a more folk-oriented slant for their biggest seller, A Space in Time, and Chick Churchill's restrained yet effective use of synthesizers without dragging the proceedings into prog on Rock & Roll Music to the World. Another listen to the oft-derided Watt shows that, although it doesn't approach the heights of its Cricklewood Green predecessor, there is a certain charm in its lackadaisical, murky style. Rock & Roll Music is another unsung gem of sorts, a return to Ten Years After's boogie beginnings with contemporary -- at least for its time -- trappings that's worth reappraisal, especially with the remixed audio revealing subtleties in the recording. Leo Lyons' bass work is impressively present and shows him to be an imaginative and talented musician. There should have been more care applied to the graphics and presentation of this package but newcomers to the band can start here and pick up the remaining entries in Ten Years After's catalog afterwards.

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