After the rather dull Works, Vol. 1, the highly underrated Works, Vol. 2 is a godsend. Works, Vol. 1 took their pompous, bombastic, keyboard-driven prog rock epics to the limit; had it been stripped of its excesses and coupled with the strongest cuts from Works, Vol. 2, the band may have had an enormous success with critics and fans alike. Volume 2's brief, eclectic compositions cover an array of musical styles, combining stimulating originals and handsomely orchestrated renditions of "Maple Leaf Rag," "Honky Tonk Train Blues," and "Show Me the Way to Go Home." Lake peppers the tunes with guitar and bass flourishes, resulting in some of his most challenging instrumental work, and both he and Palmer deliver incredibly strong performances. Meanwhile,Peter Sinfield contributes some of his most mature and accomplished lyrics. Emerson's work is solid and creative, but sounds a bit dated, which is part of why the band couldn't endure. Unlike some ELP albums, Volume 2's brief pieces sustain interest; there really isn't a weak tune in the set. The five instrumentals are highlighted by two short prog rock tunes, including the jazzy "Bullfrog," which features Lake's brief jazz bass solo and Palmer's fluid, versatile drumming. "Barrelhouse Shake-down" and "Maple Leaf Rag" showcase Emerson's superb ragtime and barrelhouse piano playing, and Palmer's jazz fusion/marching band piece, "Close But Not Touching," features horns and Lake's psychedelic electric guitar lines. The vocal pieces are equally interesting. "Brain Salad Surgery" is progressive jazz-rock that bears some resemblance to King Crimson's "Cat Food," unsurprising since each features Lake singing Sinfield's lyrics. And, of course, there is the hit "I Believe in Father Christmas," a beautiful Lake/Sinfield composition that highlights Lake's strong voice and vibrant acoustic guitar.
AllMusic Review by David Ross Smith