Encouraged by the success of some archival live releases via his official website, Marc Almond came up with a wonderful treasure for his hardcore fan base with Little Rough Rhinestones Volume 1, first in a planned series of archival trawls through his past solo efforts. The focus of this collection is specifically his work with Neal X, the ex-Sigue Sigue Sputnik guitarist who proved to be Almond's best solo collaborator -- he might not quite rival Dave Ball, but he's a good songwriter and great foil for Almond's passionate deliveries. A few songs on the first disc are demos of familiar tracks such as "The Idol," "Child Star" and "Almost Diamonds" (though the latter is in a radically different, uptempo arrangement) but the real winners are otherwise unheard or barely escaped the studio. The best include "The Beautiful Light of Madness," a full-on epic only played in this particular form once live, and two cuts done for a film soundtrack, "Erotic Shopping" and "My Porno Star," both of which, as might be guessed, are agreeably sleazed-out. A few songs were understandably left in the vault all these years, being little more than energetic sketches or tentative run-throughs of ideas better developed elsewhere, but it still adds up to a fine portrait of a partnership in creative health. The second disc, in line with the earlier website-only efforts, is a full live concert by the two from early 2000, with Neal X on guitar or keyboards. It's hands-down one of Almond's best shows, calling to mind an equivalent to his piano/vocal only efforts from the early nineties, with many rare songs and otherwise unknown efforts, like the smokily sensuous "The Flame," nestling among fine takes on "Champagne," "Something's Got a Hold of My Heart" and "Tragedy." His admission early on that he's nervous is certainly audible at points elsewhere, but the magic is still present.
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