Fresh from the Time Coast: The Best of 1968-1977

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Australia's Raven Records continues its journeys through North America's storied rock past with this two-disc compilation by Spirit, the legendary Los Angeles rock band. Spirit is unique in a number of ways, not the least of which was that they were charting hits while simultaneously exploring jazz, blues, folk, and vanguard classical music. The original quintet comprised guitarist Randy California, vocalist Jay Ferguson, keyboardist John Locke, bassist Mark Andes, and an older, accomplished, iconoclastic drummer, Ed Cassidy (California's stepfather), who had worked with Thelonious Monk and Cannonball Adderley, to name just two; he was also a founding member of the Rising Sons with Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal.

The reason this set is the one to have is that it contains virtually every single cut by the group in its original incarnation for the labels Ode, Epic, and later, Mercury. It is virtually the only cross-licensed collection out there. It begins at the beginning with "Fresh Garbage" and "Mechanical World," which were staples of free-form FM radio in the late '60s, and continues through to the more rockist and mainstream "I Got a Line on You" and "Dark Eyed Woman," which scored in the early '70s. But there are also the strangely beautiful -- not too mention sophisticated -- pop songs such as "Nature's Way," "Morning Will Come," "Mr. Skin," and "Animal Zoo," from the band's biggest album, The 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus.

Disc one is packed with virtually every necessary cut by the band. Disc two moves a bit further afield with the single "1984," which appeared on Ode in 1969, and "Darkness," from 1972's Feedback album on Epic. It closes out those years with a pair of tracks from Kapt. Kopter & The (Fabulous) Twirly Birds in 1973 -- by which time Ferguson had gone his own way as a solo artist. Tracks five through 21 are from the various Mercury albums with a later incarnation of the band (Spirit continued until California's death by drowning in the early '90s), including numerous selections from the criminally underrated Spirit of '76 double-LP that included the band's cover of Billy Roberts' "Hey Joe," and originals such as "Lady of the Lakes" and "Feeling in Time."There are three tracks from 1975's Son of Spirit album, which was essentially a California solo effort, and finally a one each from 1976's Farther Along and 1977's Future Games: A Magical-Kahauna Dream. While the Mercury period is rightfully considered to be less exploratory than the early material, it still contains many qualities that lie outside the norm for virtually everything else that was happening in the early through mid-'70s -- not the least of which were the strange compositions of California and Cassidy, and the former's unique guitar style that imprinted itself upon every Spirit tune from inception to nadir. Add to the music wonderfully warm and rich remastered sound, and Ian McFarlane Melbourne's authoritative liner essay, and this volume becomes the only Spirit compilation worth owning.

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