THE YARDBIRDS Five Live Yardbirds (Get Back)
More good work from the good folks behind Get Back, this reissue documents the Yardbirds live experience at The Marquee circa 1964, with as few additives, flavouring and preservatives as is technically possible. (In fact the modern listener might wish for a few of the above to smooth over the abrupt fade-ins and lurching edits). As Giorgio Gomelsky's sleevenotes note, "Something of the excitement and freshness of the Yardbird sound had been captured on tape", and "Five Live Yardbirds" can turn your lounge into a pretty fair approximation of a sweaty mid-60s London R&B club, with all the beer-swilling crudity and distortion that implies. (All this from a band that pose on the cover in matching suits and ties!)
The music here is almost too well known to discuss, but basically it consists of Chuck Berry, Isley Brothers, John Lee Hooker standards, among others, given a kicking as only British blues boom bands knew how. If you don't crave for more than one album of the stuff, "Five Live Yardbirds" is probably the one to get.
YARDBIRDS Roger The Engineer (Music On Vinyl)
Like much of the Yardbirds’ long-playing catalogue, mystery and confusion surrounds this 1966 album, which appears to be their debut studio LP proper. It’s been released in a bewildering variety of configurations, sporting different titles (being also known as “Yardbirds” and “Over Under Sideways Down” is some territories), mixes, cover art and tracklistings. In what arguably stakes as good a claim as any as to being the canonical version for future generations, Music On Vinyl present it in the mono style as recently repopularised by The Beatles and Bob Dylan, with the UK cover art and both sides of the “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” single bookending its original twelve tracks.
Having cleared that up, the music itself is also beyond easy summary. It finds the band see-sawing between (and arguably inventing) a psychedelic pop future (think early singles by The Move, The Pink Floyd and Traffic) and their R&B rave up past. The discord between new opening track “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” and original one “Lost Woman” emphasises the dichotomy, with the former spiked with disembodied vox pop dialogue of the kind later scattered across “The Dark Side Of The Moon” and the latter having both boots planted firmly in their blues boom roots. Jeff Beck sings on “The Nazz Are Blue”, an instrumental version of which I’ve owned for decades under the title “Jeff’s Blues”, which is followed by the cheery anti-establishment pop of “I Can’t Make Your Way”. “Hot House Of Omagararshid” is a faux-tribal drumming and wobble-board extravaganza, “Turn Into Earth” returns to the Gregorian chants plundered on “Still I’m Sad” and “Psycho Daisies” pastiches Chuck Berry two years before The Beatles had the same idea with “Back In The U.S.S.R.”
“Roger The Engineer” doesn’t strike me as a major league album – there’s no Beatles or Stones (or even Kinks or Byrds) level brilliance here – but it’s an interesting and entertaining curio from this perpetual revolving door of a band. Music On Vinyl have done a pretty good job in reacquainting it with the black stuff, although this is an album that’s unlikely to score demo disc status no matter what’s done to it.