Mott the Hoople

Walkin' with a Mountain: The Best of Island Years, 1969-1972

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The successor to the earlier Rock & Roll Queen examination of Mott the Hoople's pre-fame days, this collection was compiled by drummer Dale Griffin and had the advantage of having a fifth album to draw from -- the much loved and sorely missed 1980 outtakes collection Two Miles From Heaven. Four songs from that set were included, among them the Dylan-ish "Road to Birmingham" (which had previously appeared only by error on early pressings of the group's very first album), "Growing Man Blues," "Black Hills," and "Black Scorpio" (a working version of "Momma's Little Jewel" from Mott's David Bowie-produced All the Young Dudes album). The remainder of the set concentrates on the four original albums cut for Island (U.K.)/Atlantic (U.S.), devouring at the same time all but one track ("The Wheel of the Quivering Meat Conception") from Rock & Roll Queen. The emphasis, then, is on Mott as a pounding rock band -- only Ian Hunter's tender "Waterlow" truly hints at Mott's tender side, which does leave the collection feeling a little lopsided. However, such inequality is more than compensated for by a genuinely broadminded look at the group's hard rock edge -- the covers "At the Crossroads," "Darkness Darkness," and, unforgettably, their live take on "Keep a Knocking" paint the group as a genuine take-no-prisoners concern, while "Thunderbuck Ram" and the title track, often cited to the point of cliché though they are, are relentless to the point of no return. Four cuts from the epochal Brain Capers album, meanwhile, demonstrate that the group's appetite for destruction was not confined to hard riffs alone. Famously, producer Guy Stevens encouraged the group to trash the studio during the recording of the album. The cloying claustrophobia of "The Moon Upstairs," "Death May Be Your Santa Claus," "Your Own Backyard," and the aforementioned "Darkness Darkness" might not capture that particular moment. But they do capture the mood and, if that was Griffin's intention as he pieced this album together, he succeeded wildly -- from start to finish, this is primal Mott at their most warts'n'all naked. Fans can argue forever, after all, if Walkin' With a Mountain truly deserves its subtitle of "the best of." Few collections, however, have ever approached their subjects with such honesty.

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