Alan Merrill

Numbers: the Collections, Vol. 2

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Continuing the trawl through the personal archive that commenced with last year's The Face of 69, Alan Merrill reaches the '70s and a 20-track collection that mixes vintage and new material into a never-less-than exhilarating whole. Opening with a look back at his early-'70s Far Eastern fame, via English and Japanese language versions of "Automatic Pilot" and "Sands of Glam" (neo-glam stompers that could have changed the world, if the world had been listening to Japanese radio), the album travels on through the four songs that history insists were the best of Arrows; and then moves into the mass of sessions he cut later in the decade with the likes of Bill Wyman, Mick Taylor, Dallas Taylor, Steve Holley, and Steve Gould.

Not every song is a Merrill original: Arrows‘ two hits, "Touch Too Much" and "My Last Night with You," famously, looked beyond the band's own talents to give kudos to producer Mickie Most's own stable of writers. But "I Love Rock'n'Roll" is here in all its self-penned glory, while a pair of Bill Wyman co-writes, "At the Candy Shop" and "Baby Doll," have a soft funk sheen that would not have been out of place on a fictional follow-up to Wyman‘s own Monkey Grip.

Harder rocking waters flow later in the decade, as Merrill looks back on his days with Runner, but the jewel here for fans and listeners alike might well be "The Sound of Jets," a reflective acoustic number written after Merrill's girlfriend Mackenzie Phillips left him in London in 1976, to return to her Hollywood acting career.

As usual with Merrill's archive projects, the sleeve notes and annotation are enough to catch your attention, but nowhere near sufficient to place the songs in any kind of historical framework; with just a few exceptions, we have no clue whether the recordings are '70s originals or modern revisions. Of course, such details are probably of interest to just a handful of rock & roll scholars. But with Merrill so firmly established among the glam era's most accomplished writers (and players, his guitar work throughout is exemplary), his work also cries out for context. Perhaps he should start thinking about a box set?

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