Kevin Bryan record reviews

Strap in as Bryan takes you on his latest magical music mystery tour of record releases.

R.E.M. “Green” (Rhino Records)- Re-issue specialists Rhino Records have opted to mark the 25th anniversary of the release of R.E.M.’s Warner Bros. debut offering “Green” with the release of a compelling 2 record set featuring the re-mastered original album alongside a rousing concert recording culled from the penultimate date on the band’s 1989 world tour. The set list of their energised show in Greensboro, North Carolina sprinkled much loved old favourites such as “The One I Love” and “ Finest Work Song” amongst a batch of newly minted gems led by “Stand,” “Pop Song 89” and “Orange Crush” which captured this unique band at their most enigmatic and eclectic.

The Stranglers, “The Old Testament” (EMI Records) - This expanded version of The Stranglers’ anthology brings together the first six albums that Guildford’s finest musical exports recorded for United Artists ,along with a generous assortment of singles, B-sides and rarities. The group may have risen to prominence during the punk era but Dave Greenfield’s inventive keyboard work and Jean-Jacques Burnel’s melodic bass always set them apart from many of their less gifted contemporaries, and this definitive 5 CD set provides the ideal introduction to their forceful and uncompromising sound.

Hugh Laurie,”Didn’t It Rain” (Warner Bros.)- The amiable thespian continues his mildly self-indulgent exploration of American blues with “Didn’t It Rain,” a mellow and warm-hearted collection which finds him stepping out of the spotlight on several tracks as the vocal duties are delegated to Guatemalan singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno and soul singer Jean McClain. The legendary Taj Mahal also makes an impressive guest appearance on Little Brother Montgomery’s “Vicksburg Blues,” and Laurie’s well drilled backing band are in particularly fine fettle on an extended version of W.C.Handy’s “St. Louis Blues.”

Clifford T Ward,”The Best Is Yet To Come-The Collection” (Cherry Red / Press Play PRESS 8 CD)- This highly listenable new anthology serves up a representative selection of the gentle and elegaic balladry which helped to elevate Ward to pop stardom for a brief period during the early seventies. Cliff’s reluctance to tour or appear in public to promote his work effectively shattered any dreams that he may have harboured of achieving lasting commercial success, but the former school teacher bequeathed a fine body of work to posterity nonetheless, and his unique songwriting style is captured at its most appealing here on tracks such as “Jigsaw Girl,” “Coathanger” and his 1973 hit, “Gaye.”

Various Artists, “After Sun” (Fantastic Voyage FVTD 165)- An absorbing 3 CD set from Fantastic Voyage,exploring the work of the roster of seminal blues,rockabilly and r&b artists who cut their teeth as aspiring young musicians at Sam Phillips’ legendary Sun Studios during the mid fifties. Rather unusually Dave Penny’s anthology concentrates on the music that these uninhibited performers made after they had left the fold and moved on to pastures new, with compelling offerings from the likes of B.B.King, Howlin’ Wolf and Elvis Presley rubbing shoulders with some splendid obscurities culled from the archives of a string of long forgotten American record labels.