Live at the Argonaut was recorded in 1975, at the height of Tom Newman's flirtation with at least the cultish end of the British rock mainstream -- an album for Virgin had spawned the near hit "Sad Sing," while his work with Mike Oldfield had brought him as close to household namedom as any "mere engineer" could hope to travel. Live at the Argonaut was originally scheduled as the follow-up to Newman's Fine Old Tom debut, and it is not a live album -- that was just Newman's idea of a joke. It was, however, recorded with as lively a band as you could hope, with Jade Warrior's Jon Field and Virgin labelmate Fred Frith joining the multi-instrumentalist Newman to conspire toward the manic eclecticism that elevates almost every song to new heights. Breathlessly, then, listeners thrill to an Everlys-flavored version of the folk song "Roving Gambler" that blueprints everything Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds would wreak a decade later; cower from a folk-rocking "Easy" that somehow grafts Black Sabbath onto Steeleye Span; and positively marvel at a startlingly near a cappella take on the Beatles' "Paperback Writer." So there's nothing here as deliberately maddening as "Sad Sing," but there is an early, haunting taste of one part of the Faerie Symphony that would emerge as Newman's next LP, and a peculiar piece of acoustic doggerel titled "A.E.I.O.U." All of which adds up to one of the most enjoyable albums in its maker's entire canon. It's just a shame that listeners had to wait so long (27 years) to hear it.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Thompson