On its face, this seven-disc set from Rhino by way of Japan (no U.S. release contemplated) seems like more Rascals than any of us needs. But the producers of this set have gotten so much right, that it bears consideration for any serious fan of the group, despite a prohibitive price (approximately $150) and limited availability. For starters, they've used the mono master of the group's first album, The Young Rascals, which is infinitely superior to the domestic stereo version -- the un-separated sound has a great deal of raw power. Collections, the first stereo-only album by the group, is similarly impressive -- the fresh remastering is close and dense, with a lot of quiet in the important spots. As it was in their overall output, Groovin' marks the high-water mark on this set, and is the most delicate-sounding of their releases. Once Upon a Dream, otherwise known as the psychedelic Rascals album that worked, gets similarly exalted treatment. Freedom Suite, released in early 1969, was the band's attempt to do a topical political album -- it is one of the more vexing parts of the group's output, containing their most successful single ("People Got to Be Free") and their longest tracks ever. It also incorporated more overdubs than their prior work, and a stridency that a lot of longtime fans found wearying. See was a sort of return to the group's roots that revitalized their sound, but it also contained elements of jazz experimentation that anticipated jazz-rock fusion by several years. And that brings us to Search and Nearness, made by a group in the process of disintegration -- strangely enough, the record had a surprising (and effective) soulfulness, and the mastering here gives it about the best hearing that this oft-overlooked record has ever received. The accompanying booklet, half in English and half in Japanese, contains and extended biographical essay on the group, complete with interviews and lyrics, as well as a discography and black-and-white reproductions of album jackets and single sleeves. All in all, the post-Once Upon a Dream material comes off well, particularly See and Search and Nearness. Their presence, the sound quality overall, and the workmanship that went into this set all help make it a pretty good musical investment.
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