Various Artists

The Vanguard Folk Rock Album

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This CD is filled with unexpected joys and delights, even for those familiar with most of the artists involved -- Vanguard Records never had a top act of the caliber of the Byrds or the Beau Brummels, and Country Joe & the Fish, their one big San Francisco act, were too political and too inventive ever to fit into one genre (much less one as commercial as "folk-rock"), but as this CD reveals, the label could rightfully claim a piece of the folk-rock sound, and without a Joan Baez track in sight. Patrick Sky's "Reason to Believe" starts the collection off coming out of the folk side of the equation well enough, but it's the second cut here, the Vagrants' 1966 frustrated youth anthem "Young Blues," that will get most rock listeners' ears to prick up in recognition. Forget folk-rock; one wonders how this track missed turning up on Nuggets. A killer outtake of Mimi Fariña's "Morgan the Pirate," arranged by Peter Schickele and extended and savage in its references to Bob Dylan as a sellout, lights up this set like a match on tinder, and the Hi Fives' "You'll Never Know What's in My Heart" brings listeners back to the commercial side of folk-rock, with its pleasant harmonies in a midtempo setting. But it's Buffy Sainte-Marie's bluesy "Codine" that is closer to what constituted folk-rock at Vanguard. The expected Ian & Sylvia tracks are here, along with stuff by Eric Andersen, Jonathan & Leigh, and Richard & Mimi Fariña, and the pair of Circus Maximus tracks will likely gain them some valuable new exposure among those too young to have known of them at the time. The surprises are the improbably named Serpent Power, a distant offshoot of the Thirteenth Floor (the Bay Area group that tried to make it as the Grass Roots but rebelled against the control of their producers) with a surprisingly lyrical and accessible sound, and Project X, an abortive attempt to turn the latter-day incarnation of the Rooftop Singers into something more relevant to 1965. But the treasure here is Jackie Washington's vicious Dylan parody/attack, "Long Black Cadillac" -- though an attack on Dylan's tendency to co-opt sounds without credit, it's close enough to Dylan's actual sound (courtesy of the Youngbloods' contribution as backing band) that it's as though, in another context, one found a Rutles track that attacked the Beatles (and come to think of it, "Cheese and Onions" does, sort of). The sound is excellent, the programming is generous and wide-ranging with lots of surprises, and the annotation by Alec Paleo is worth half the cost of the disc.

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