Various Artists

String Alchemy: From Eclectic to Electric

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What do Larry Coryell, Oregon, Sandy Bull, John Fahey, and Mimi & Richard Farina all have in common? Aside from playing stringed instruments and sharing a certain "eclecticism," not an enormous amount. They did all record for Vanguard Records between 1963 and 1996, the time span covered by this anthology, though. So this 68-minute, 18-song compilation -- which also has tracks by the more obscure Peter Walker and John McEuen -- is really an excuse to gather some instrumental odds and ends from the Vanguard catalog together. The premise is slight, and even the title is kind of a faux pas in that just one of the numbers (Coryell's "You Don't Know What Love Is") is completely electric. This doesn't mean, however, that it's not a decent disc for what it is; indeed, as instrumental mood music albums go, it's definitely up there. Devoted fans of the specific artists are better off investing in their proper albums, but for those who just want a taster, there are three Appalachian-flavored instrumentals by the Farinas from their mid-1960s albums; laid-back jazz guitar virtuosity from Coryell; uncategorizable folk-jazz-ethnic exercises by the innovative Bull; just one cut by Fahey, 1968's "Dance of the Inhabitants of the Invisible City of Bladensburg," an unusual one for him in that it has some full electric band instrumentation; and raga-based 1966 drone-folk from Walker's little-known 1966 album Rainy Day Raga. You'll have to really stretch your ears to recognize Walker's version of "Norwegian Wood" as a Beatles cover without looking at the track listing first. There are no previously unreleased items, but Bull's "Non Nobis Domine" and Coryell's "Ann Arbor" make their CD debuts here.

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