Various Artists

Bearsville Anthology

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This is one superb collection, and even more so given its daunting task -- an anthology of Bearsville Records, after all, could quickly degenerate into a best-of Todd Rundgren, Utopia, Jesse Winchester, Foghat, Sparks, et al. But this 28-song double-CD avoids that pitfall -- not that several of those artists' best-known songs aren't present -- delving into corners of the company library that are not so well known, but no less worthwhile. We're talking about tracks by the American Dream, Great Speckled Bird, Lazarus, Brian Briggs, Elizabeth Barraclough, and Johnny Average, among others. And all of them are worth hearing, more than once, which makes this set a keeper -- but it also makes one think that perhaps a Bearsville box might be in order; that there might be even greater finds to be made with a real raid on the company's vaults. But what's here will do for starters, covering as it does practically the whole evolution of rock music from odd corners of the counterculture (Christian rock, roots rock before the latter had a name) circa 1969-1970 to power pop in the early '80s (the dB's), with digressions into soul and disco, commercial pop/rock, and soul instrumentals (courtesy of Willie Mitchell). All of it sounds great, and one only wishes that the annotation were as thorough as the production and engineering obviously were -- the bios and history are a bit sketchy, to say the least, especially compared with some of the biographies that have accompanied Castle Records' collections and anthologies. Still, there is great fun in the listening, and as with any truly great recording -- and Bearsville founder Albert Grossman, talent manager, that he was, would have heartily approved of this -- it leaves you wanting more.

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