In 1974, former United States Attorney General Ramsey Clark, the Texas-born son of a Supreme Court justice and the one prominent member of Lyndon Johnson's administration to oppose the Vietnam War, won the Democratic nomination to run for the senate seat from New York held by Jacob Javits, a liberal Republican -- it was a race that divided the left in New York, and Phil Ochs cast his lot with Clark, a genuine idealist, playing this benefit concert at Vassar College in October, just three weeks before the election (which Javits won). This bootleg recording of the show (which also uses the title Phil Ochs Sings for Ramsey Clark 1974 and Phil Ochs for Ramsey Clark) starts out a little shaky in the sound department but straightens up and flies right in just a minute or so, and captures one of what had to be Ochs' better late-era concerts. The sound is sort of medium-fi, compressed by today's standards but with nothing but Ochs' voice and guitar -- no audience noise except between the numbers, no shouting, no extraneous sounds. The concert also augments the existing body of authorized Ochs concert releases and, with a little professional cleanup, could probably join the Vancouver show and other documents without any apologies. The key is the repertory Ochs chose, which ranged across his middle and later period, from "Santo Domingo" and "Changes" up through "Pretty Smart on My Part." With all due respect to the producers of Pleasures of the Harbor, "Cross My Heart" is a much better song when it is done on just an acoustic guitar as Ochs presents it here. By the same token, he does embellish his guitar playing a bit on "Pleasures of the Harbor," to suggest the Lincoln Mayorga piano embellishments from the recording. And "Flower Lady" is also much better as a simple guitar number. "There But for Fortune" becomes a jumping-off point for a short Merle Haggard medley. And among the surprises is the presence of "The Party," stripped down from its studio version but still effective, and the applause that "Pretty Smart on My Part" receives. The national sales figures on Rehearsals for Retirement may not have been great, but it seems that someone at Vassar sure got the songs around and heard. "Crucifixion" and "Small Circle of Friends" are also present, and the disc even includes a phone conversation between Ochs and the candidate that doesn't break up the proceedings at all. This show took place less than two years before Ochs' suicide, during a period in which he'd virtually ceased recording and was on a long, downward spiral, but at this show he seems to have it all together, working for a cause he believed in. It's a restorative to those fans who think of his life in the '70s as nothing but an abbreviated horror, and a substantial musical document of how he did some of these songs on-stage, and essential listening for any real fan of the man or his music.
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