The second of a pair of 2001-released discs compacting two full Manfred Mann albums onto a single CD, this covers their sophomore album (The Five Faces Of) from 1965 and fourth (Pretty Flamingo) from 1966, the latter being the last to feature original vocalist Paul Jones and multi-instrumentalist Mike Vickers. Taken as a whole, these 22 tracks exhibit the remarkable breadth of the band as they tackle blues covers ("I Put a Spell on You"), Beatleesque Brit Invasion pop hits ("Pretty Flamingo" and "Sha-La-La"), jazz (a vocal version of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man"), and folk ("John Hardy"), as well as contributing their own derivative yet enthusiastic originals. Certainly the oddities that have previously remained hidden as obscure album tracks like the chilling, bizarre pre-techno Lothar and the Hand People cover of "Machines" and a funky R&B version of "Tennessee Waltz" are well-worth hearing, and the terrific stereo sound remastering brings out nuances that have heretofore been obscured. When was the last time you heard jazzy vibes in a Brit Invasion version of R&B chestnut Ben E. King's "Groovin'"? Check out the remarkable cover of Oscar Brown, Jr.'s "Driva Man" with Mike Vickers' punchy horns and Jones doing his best Howlin' Wolf. Scary, intense, and so far ahead of its time, one can only imagine what the teens who dug the band's comparatively tame singles made of it. While there's some inconsequential filler, even the least substantial songs like "Hubble Bubble (Toil and Trouble)" have a raw, uncompromising approach -- energized by Paul Jones' impassioned vocals -- that was far more rugged than most pop bands of the era. Along with The Manfred Mann Album and My Little Red Book of Winners, these albums make a case for Manfred Mann as one of the most overlooked -- and talented -- bands of their day. Only the cut-rate packaging, shoddy graphics, and lack of extra information (other than a straight reproduction of the original liner notes) keeps this from being a classy reissue.
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AllMusic Review by Hal Horowitz