Undoubtedly the Hustlers were a talented quartet, and occasionally on this eponymous retrospective from Gear Fab that skill comes through reasonably clearly. Unfortunately, the fidelity of the first two-thirds of the recordings on the CD is so poor that the patience of even the most hardy '60s garage aficionados is likely to be tested. The problem materialized with the source tapes rather than with the consistently excellent specialty reissue label's attempts at mastering them for public consumption (though Gear Fab is guilty of trying to stretch the available material too thinly). In a sense, it is a case of art imitating life -- an irrevocably marred legacy for a band whose recording efforts were consistently hindered by management in its day. Of the early rough cuts, passing marks go only to pre-band "Bossa Nova Outer Space," a sort of sub-Joe Meek slice of extraterrestrial instrumental rock, on which the muddy sound actually suits the song's otherworldly aim. The rest -- gutsy garage approximations of beat music and the Byrds (including an interesting acoustic take on "Eight Miles High") with hints of emergent psychedelia -- certainly shows ample promise, but it feels as if you're forced to listen to the music as it bleeds through the walls of a neighboring room. Luckily, things pick up considerably with the loping fuzz-punker "If You Try" (there are two earlier alternate versions presented as well), a sizable regional hit, and "My Mind's Made Up," the latter strong enough to find its way onto the second Florida volume of Gear Fab's Psychedelic Crown Jewels compilation series. They comprised both sides of the combo's sole 1966 single. These songs show the Hustlers to have been a tough, outstanding folk-rock outfit, wearing its Fifth Dimension-era Byrds influences on its sleeve, but -- as the stunning, raga-esque "Destination Nowhere," a lost classic, proves -- wearing it exceptionally well. If you're willing to wade through the hiss, terribly uneven levels, and ham-fisted edits of the early demos, those three songs alone should be worth the cost of the CD for most garage heads.
The Hustlers Review
by Stanton Swihart