FRED NEIL The Many Sides Of Fred Neil (EMI Music Special Markets)
Fred Neil is a singer and songwriter who sprang out of the early-60s Greenwich Village folk scene, having cut his teeth writing songs for other artists, most notably Roy Orbison. Championed by the likes of John Sebastian and David Crosby, both of whom contribute sleevenotes to this double CD compilation, he released five albums for Elektra and Capitol between 1965 and 1971, the first one in collaboration with Vince Martin, before retiring to his home state of Florida. Barring the odd benefit gig, nothing has been heard from him since.
Why should any of this matter? Mainly because of the small matter of his songs. Fred Neil wrote "The Dolphins" (covered by Tim Buckley and The The), "The Other Side Of This Life" (interpreted by Eric Burdon, Jefferson Airplane, The Lovin' Spoonful and Peter, Paul And Mary) and "Everybody's Talkin'" (Nilsson, The Beautiful South, take your pick, really). Which rather suggests that we might be in the presence of long-neglected genius, doesn't it?
"The Many Sides Of Fred Neil" collates, in their entirety, the three albums Neil recorded for Capitol, the studio sets "Fred Neil" (1967) and "Sessions" (1968) and the live/studio grab-bag "Other Side Of This Life" (released 1971). There's also a significant smattering of unreleased and rare material tagged on at the end: if this package doesn't provide you with a thorough overview of Neil's sound, probably nothing will.
So what is his sound? I would place him midway between the mildly pretentious folkadelia of Tim Buckley circa "Goodbye And Hello" and the gruff stoicism practised by David Ackles. He's written a handful of great songs ("The Dolphins" and "Everybody's Talkin'" spring immediately to mind, of course) but the recorded evidence suggests that he's not his songwriter's best friend as a performer, better versions of these classics being authored by other people. Much of this compilation slumps unceremoniously between the rock and folk stools, a problem exacerbated by the loose, live-in-the-studio approach to recording employed, which reaches its indulgent worse during the eight minutes of "Cynicrustpetefredjohn Raga" and much of the "Sessions" album. Believe it or not, Neil is a man who can make both Buckleys look like ruthlessly efficient editors!
Ultimately the music of Fred Neil strikes me as an interesting curio that history has provided adequate judgement on. The problem with this compilation is that there are either too many (the sheer volume of material presented here) or too few (the loose, unstructured similarity of most of it) sides to Fred Neil, and you'd probably be better served with just the eponymous album (which, usefully, contains both "The Dolphins" and "Everybody's Talkin'"). But as this appears to be the only Neil package widely available at the moment, you may not have the option.