Tom Northcott

Sunny Goodge Street

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Tom Northcott cuts an ideal cult figure. Northcott wound up on Warner in 1968, right after the label's legendary producer/A&R man Lenny Waronker took a shine to the singer/songwriter's Canadian singles. In Waronker's hands, with some considerable assistance from co-arranger/producer Leon Russell, Northcott sounded like a credible cross between Bob Dylan, Donovan, Harry Nilsson, and Randy Newman, a folkie given a sunshine pop makeover. A handful of singles derived from these sessions made some small ripples -- a version of Nilsson's "1941" reached 88 on Billboard but in Canada it went to 68, a cover of Dylan's "Girl from the North Country" did a little better, and Donovan's "Sunny Goodge Street" went all the way to 20 in 1968 -- and these, along with various other songs from the sessions, were rounded up on the 1970 Canadian release The Best of Tom Northcott, which bore an oddly incongruous title but did collect most of his Warner recordings. That LP, along with the unreleased songs and alternate mixes, are all collected on Rhino Handmade's Sunny Goodge Street: The Warner Brothers Recordings, a lovingly packaged retrospective of his two years with the label. Northcott had the heart of a folkie but Waronker gave him clothes spangled with paisleys, so he fit the fashion of the time. At times, the fit isn't quite so flattering -- his keening vocals strain the seams -- but often this is a fetching piece of period pop, soft psychedelia bedecked in harpsichords, chiming acoustic guitars, swirling strings, and hazy harmonies. Retrospectively, it's rather astounding that so much money and effort went into such detailed productions only to not have them widely released, but that is what makes these Warner sides by Northcott ideal for an archival release like Sunny Goodge Street: it's unearthed treasure. Minor caveat: as gorgeous as the slightly oversized folio package is, it's also maddening, as it's difficult to open without a slight tear, and the liner notes printed on newsprint are fated to be damaged or yellowed.

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