Various Artists

Follow the Music [Book + CD]

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While this compilation CD is commercially sold, take note: It is only available as a bound-in disc in the paperback edition of the book Follow the Music, the autobiography of Elektra Records founder and president Jac Holzman (written with Gavan Daws). The disc contains 26 songs from the 1950s and 1960s, and with just a couple of exceptions, none of them post-date the mid-1960s. This means that Elektra's ventures into folk-rock, psychedelia, and singer/songwriters -- their most enduring contributions to popular music -- are heavily underrepresented. There's nothing by the Doors, for instance, or the electric-period Judy Collins, or Love, or the MC5, or the Stooges. On the other hand, just about every artist here was an important exponent of Elektra's acoustic folk and blues catalog. Included are cuts by Jean Ritchie, Josh White, Theodore Bikel, Cynthia Gooding, the Limeliters, Jean Redpath, the Dillards, Judy Henske, Mark Spoelstra, Korner, Ray & Glover, Tom Rush, Fred Neil, the Incredible String Band, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, and Judy Collins; the early Elektra electric rock period is also represented, just barely, by Tim Buckley and the Butterfield Blues Band. There's another major reason that this CD is valuable, which is that most of the early Elektra LP catalog, lamentably, has not made it onto compact disc, which means that you'll have a hard time finding much of this material unless you're willing to shell out for scratchy out of print LPs. Actually, this isn't the ideal antidote, since many of these songs sound as if they were mastered from vinyl (surface noise intact) and not the master tapes. But that's not the point: This is a good, though not ideally packaged, CD surveying the growth of an important label, through its twee early white folk to important singer/songwriters of the 1960s and early blues-rock and psychedelia. Some of the cuts are downright excellent (Neil's "Blues on the Ceiling," Ochs' "I Ain't Marching Anymore," Henske's "Wade in the Water"), and most are at the least good. And there are some unexpected detours and collector's items: the early-music duo Kathy & Carol, the Ensemble of the Bulgarian Republic, and a cut by the Even Dozen Jug Band, whose ranks included a pre-Lovin' Spoonful John Sebastian. It's unfortunate that there are no liner notes whatsoever, but then again many details are supplied by the book that it comes with, which is an excellent oral history of Elektra and its artists. If you didn't get the hardback edition (published in 1998), here's your reward for waiting; if you've already forked out for the hardback edition, well, the $18.95 cover price isn't that much more than you'd pay for a CD anyway.