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Given the late Fred Neil’s near mythic reputation as a songwriter, singer, environmentalist, and recluse, the reissue of his 1965 album Bleecker & MacDougal is of historic importance. But rather than being an artifact of the man who wrote “Everybody’s Talkin’,” “Other Side to This Life” (which appears here), and “Dolphins,” this album is made of the material that gave Neil his enigmatic presence. This is a highly evocative and emotionally charged set of material, nearly all of which Neil composed. The lineup on the album was similar to his previous outing with Vince Martin, and featured John Sebastian on harmonica, Felix Pappalardi on bass, and guitarist Pete Childs (who also played dobro and electric on the date — the latter was heresy for a folk record), with Neil playing 12-string. The pace of the set is devastating, from the greasy blues of the title track to the strolling darkness of “Blues on the Ceiling,” the jug band stomp of “Sweet Mama,” and the balladic heraldry of “Little Bit of Rain,” a dynamic Tim Buckley would bring his own magic to as he emulated it a few years later. In addition, there’s the tough Chicago blues meets California swagger of “Country Boy,” which Mike Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield would perfect two scant years later. “Other Side to This Life” is its own elegiac painting in sound, with glistening dirge-like textures caressed by Neil’s baritone. The tough, battered “Travelin’ Shoes” is an early example of folk-rock with a big accent on the word “rock.” Yet, on the album’s lone cover, a gorgeously wrought and multi-textured rendition of “The Water Is Wide,” Neil added spare, haunting jazz overtones to the arrangements, transcending the folk coffeehouse prison the song had been encased in for a decade. In fact, if one listens to Bryter Layter by Nick Drake, it would be easy to hear the connection. The album closes with the winding dobro that sparks “Gone Again,” underlining the album’s feeling of rambling transience and willful acceptance of both the graces and hardships life offers. In 13 songs, Neil transformed the folk genre into something wholly other yet not unfamiliar to itself, and helped pave the way for an entire generation of singer/songwriters who cared as much for the blues as they did for folk revival traditions. This is — more so than his fine compilation The Many Sides of Fred Neil (also on Collector’s Choice) or his debut Capitol album, Tear Down the Walls — the Fred Neil record to have.

For many, the name Fred Neil will be familiar only as that belonging to the songwriter of the modern classic “Everybody’s Talkin’,” or perhaps “Candyman,” “The Dolphins,” or “Other Side of This Life,” songs that Roy Orbison, Tim Buckley, and the Jefferson Airplane, respectively, recorded. However, Neil’s influence extends much farther. John Sebastian, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Bob Dylan all claimed him as an influence, since he blended traditional and contemporary folk, blues, rock, gospel, Indian, and pop influences into a distinctive, idiosyncratic style. His music was not only influential, it was quite rich on its own terms and some of the best music of its era. Unfortunately, since Neil chose a life of seclusion in 1971, disappearing from both recording and performing, his work was neglected. Remedying the situation, The Many Sides bypasses his Elektra material, instead offering a complete summary of his Capitol recordings, including his three albums for the label (Fred Neil, Sessions, Other Side of This Life), both sides of a non-LP single with the Nashville Street Singers, and six unreleased cuts. It’s a long overdue compilation and one that certainly stands as a definitive portrait of an influential and criminally underappreciated folk-rock figure. After listening to The Many Sides of Fred Neil, it makes sense that Neil turned into a recluse — this is moody, haunting music, unlike much of the work of his contemporaries. In particular, his eponymous album boasts challenging, innovative arrangments that remain fresh and startling to this day. The rest of his work may be a little uneven in comparison, but it’s frequently compelling and often matches its heights. Most importantly, The Many Sides of Fred Neil grants Neil his proper place in folk-rock history, confirming his unique vision and talent.

-Thom Jurek, Stephen Thomas Erlewine, allmusic.com

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Fred Neil-BLEECKER & MACDOUGAL (1965)
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Fred Neil-THE MANY SIDES OF FRED NEIL (1998 compilation)
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The CD reissue of Alice Coltrane’s landmark Journey to Satchidananda reveals just how far the pianist and widow of John Coltrane had come in the three years after his death. The compositions here are wildly open and droning figures built on whole tones and minor modes. And while it’s true that one can definitely hear her late husband’s influence on this music, she wouldn’t have had it any other way. Pharoah Sanders’ playing on the title cut, “Shiva-Loka,” and “Isis and Osiris” (which also features the Vishnu Wood on oud and Charlie Haden on bass) is gloriously restrained and melodic. Coltrane’s harp playing, too, is an element of tonal expansion as much as it is a modal and melodic device. With a tamboura player, Cecil McBee on bass, Rashied Ali on drums, and Majid Shabazz on bells and tambourine, tracks such as “Stopover Bombay” and the D minor modally drenched “Something About John Coltrane” become exercised in truly Eastern blues improvisation. Sanders plays soprano exclusively, and the interplay between it and Coltrane’s piano and harp is mesmerizing. With the drone factor supplied either by the tamboura or the oud, the elongation of line and extended duration of intervallic exploration is wondrous. The depths to which these blues are played reveal their roots in African antiquity more fully than any jazz or blues music on record, a tenet that exists today over 30 years after the fact. One last note, the “Isis and Osiris” track, which was recorded live at the Village Gate, features some of the most intense bass and drum interplay — as it exists between Haden and Ali — in the history of vanguard jazz. Truly, this is a remarkable album, and necessary for anyone interested in the development of modal and experimental jazz. It’s also remarkably accessible.

-Thom Jurek, allmusic.com

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Alice Coltrane-JOURNEY IN SATCHIDANANDA (1971)
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Yes, I’m giving mediafire a shot again. Let’s see! -Ian!

Link Wray was one of rock & roll’s first bone fide guitar heroes, and his speaker-shredding buzzy chords were as distinctive a sound as anyone conjured up in rock’s early years. So Link’s old fans were thrown for a loop when, in 1971, the man made a comeback after several years along the margins with a self-titled album that set aside his big slabs of fretboard fuzz in favor of a loosely tight fusion of country, blues, and roughshod folk-rock. Recorded in a homemade three-track studio fashioned in an abandoned chicken coop on Wray’s Maryland farm, Link Wray lacks the muscle of the man’s legendary instrumental sides, with acoustic guitar, piano, and mandolin anchoring these sides as often as Link’s electric, and there’s a down-home mood here that lacks the switchblade intensity of Wray’s most famous music. But the rough passion of “Rumble” and “Rawhide” certainly carries through here, albeit in a different form; the plaintive howl of Wray’s vocals isn’t always pretty, but it certainly communicates (Wray lost a lung to TB in 1953), the best songs speak eloquently of the hard facts of Wray’s early life as a poor Shawnee child in the Deep South, and there’s a humble back-porch stomp in this music that’s heartfelt and immediate. (And Wray does serve up some primal hoodoo guitar on the closing cut, “Tail Dragger.”) Link Wray didn’t go over big with the man’s old fans and failed to win him many new ones, but it’s an honest and passionate piece of music that’s a fascinating detour from the music that has largely defined his career, and has aged better than the vast majority of the country-rock product of the early ’70s.

Largely recorded the same time as Link Wray’s self-titled 1971 comeback album, Beans and Fatback was more playful and harder-rocking set than the country- and blues-flavored album that announced Wray’s return to active duty. The loopy title cut started the album on a jew’s-harp-infused jug band note, and “I’m So Glad, I’m So Proud” was exactly the sort of showcase for Wray’s trademark rumbling guitar that the previous album lacked. Elsewhere, songs such as “Hobo Man” and “Georgia Pines” (the latter a rewrite of Leadbelly’s In the Pines”) followed the roots-oriented pattern of Link Wray, but with a stronger backbone and a lot more wallop; if both albums sound like they came from a studio housed in a chicken shack on a rundown Maryland farm, Beans and Fatback seems to have been born during a Saturday night rave-up, and goes a lot father toward fusing the rowdy howl of Wray’s early instrumental hits with the back-to-the-land flavor of his more personal 1971 set. If Beans and Fatback suffers in comparison to Link Wray, it’s in the lack of the deeper and more emotionally resonant undercurrents that carried the 1971 album; as good as these songs are, they don’t have the same impact as, say, “Fire and Brimstone” or “Take Me Home Jesus.” But as a pure listening experience, Beans and Fatback is plenty satisfying, and offers more rock & roll bang for the buck than Wray’s other work from this period. Virgin’s original LP release of Beans and Fatback also included a free piece of dried fatback as a “bonus” — yummy!

-Mark Deming, allmusic.com

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LINK WRAY (1971)
BEANS AND FATBACK (1973)
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