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The Best of Big Star might be the ideal introduction to the greatest 'never was but shoulda been' band of all time. Not nearly so extensive or lavishly packaged as Keep An Eye on the Sky (Rhino, 2009) or Third Complete (Omnivore, 2016), the quick succession of sixteen tracks, a half-dozen of which are rare single edits of album tracks, presents Big Star not only as a great band of players, but ingenious songwriters and recording artists willing to experiment with their material in the studio.
In all the rhapsodizing about Big Startempered in both Robert Gordon's essay here as well as lone surviving member Jody Stephens' notes-there's not enough emphasis given to their unity as a band. But there's an earthy, soulful quality to the musicianship that authenticates the emotions at work in the material. In addition, there's also a vulnerability in the singing on tunes such as "I'm In Love with A Girl" that's no small part of its charm. Such openness of emotion appears in "Jesus Christ" as well, but the intricate arrangement there suggests the complexity below the surface of the sentiment. Similarly, horns bring punchy r&b authenticity to "Feel."
There are even more lavish arrangements. On "Take Care," for instance, acoustic guitars interweave with strings in waltz time, while 'wooden' instruments are also the very foundation of "Watch The Sunrise," where multi-layered vocal harmonies billow in much the same way orchestration echoes back and forth around sparse electric guitars during the mood piece titled "Nightime." Audio remastering insures all this detail comes through from the original recordings done at Ardent Studios in Memphis, but the impact of the sound is never more resonant than during primers on power pop such as the infectious "When My Baby's Beside Me" or the original version of "Out in the Street" (used as the theme-song for the television series "That 70's Show" as recorded by Cheap Trick).
Ostensibly released as part of an on going recognition of Stax Records' 60th anniversary, The Best of Big Star also continues this year's celebration of the group's work. The title of this collection's closer, the ebullient and bittersweet "Thank You Friends," is also the name of a contemporaneous live tribute to Big Star released earlier in 2017,while the issue of this single CD coincides with the release of anthologies devoted to recordings of both Chris Bell and Alex Chilton (he of Boxtops fame via "The Letter"). It's all fully warranted homage to one of the finest rock and roll bands American's ever produced.
Track Listing: In the Street (single mix); Don’t Lie to Me (single version); September Gurls (single version)' Thirteen; Jesus Christ (single edit)' I’m in Love With a Girl; O My Soul (single edit); Feel; When My Baby’s Beside Me; Take Care; Life Is White; Watch the Sunrise (single version) ; The Ballad of El Goodo; Nightime; Back of a Car; Thank You Friend.
Personnel: Chris Bell: guitar, vocals; Alex Chilton: vocals; Andy Hummel: bass guitar, piano, vocals; Jody Stephens: drums.
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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