Various Artists

The Woodstock Family

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In the '60s, the ESP label was renowned as one of the most innovative -- and probably the most purely "out-there" -- underground jazz and rock companies in the U.S. Few are aware that in the '90s, the label reactivated its operations, not just by licensing its large back catalog to the German ZYX label, but by beginning to record new albums. Much of the recording was concentrated around the Woodstock, NY area, and this 29-song double CD is drawn from the Woodstock-related ESP releases of the time. Be warned at the outset: if you're looking for some kind of updated parallel to the vintage ESP sound, you won't find it here. Much of it sounds, actually, as if it could have been recorded in 1975, not the early '90s. Laidback, bluesy roots-rock has always been a feature of Woodstock's rock scene, and several of the cuts owe debts to such growlers as Dr. John, Leon Russell, Tom Waits, and of course Bob Dylan; some funk, jazz, and experimental outings are thrown in as a change of pace. Retro music isn't inherently offensive, but it's better experienced in a cafe (and there are many cafes in the Woodstock area) than at home, where it can be dull. Like most local music samplers, this doesn't have much to entice the out-of-towners into making a special effort to dig into it, despite its connection to the legendary ESP label of the now-distant past.