"The Early Years"

Seventy Seven Minutes In Prog Rock Heaven

Not another mk1 compilation... Well, no it's not, for starters it's the first UK mk1 compilation, and listening to it I've got to say not before time. The EMI box set had the unforeseen effect of boosting Deep Purple's prog rock credentials, this CD puts the first line-up right up there in the top rank of progressive 60s bands. As well as being a huge eye opener for anyone new to the band's 1968-1969 output, it also manages to be an essential purchase for the Purple fan who has everything by including six tracks mixed from the surviving multi-track masters, and a previously unreleased monitor mix.

There are five tracks from the band's debut album 'Shades Of Deep Purple'. EMI's 2000 'Shades..' reissue was remastered from the quarter inch album master, which added a dimension from the previous thin sounding vinyl dub. The new remixes make as big a difference again. 'And The Address' is one to get a full remix, gaining a warm, full sound to match the beauty of the actual track. It has never sounded so good, a heavenly marriage of Jimi Hendrix and The Shadows, all embraced by a wonderful sweeping organ sound. The organ is the main difference, now pushed up in the mix at the expense of the tinny cowbell. The track has never really received the praise deserved, though it lived on into mk2's set by providing the atmospheric opening and crunching opening chords of 'Speed King'. It certainly makes a great start to this album.

'Hush' follows, as it does on 'Shades..', but here in an early monitor mix form. I'm no audiophile, and must admit that I can't hear much difference between this and the regular album version. It does lose the opening sound-effect, and is a bit rawer than the finished article, with Blackmore's guitar interjections having more of a buzz-saw quality about them. It's a classic of course, and though the production is still rather subdued it has the effect of magnifying the fantastic closing blast of Hammond, surely one of the very best organ breaks in rock history.

Next up, 'Mandrake Root' from the 'Shades..' remaster, the riff inspired by Hendrix's 'Foxy Lady', and the mesmerising instrumental section by The Nice's 'America'. It's one of the platforms that launched helped launch mk2's world conquest, indeed by 1970 they were pushing the track to over 30 minutes of inspired freeform rock / jazz improvisation at its best.

'Prelude: Happiness / I'm So Glad' is another 'Shades..' track given a complete remix. It loses the opening sound effects, which adds strength to the crashing opening. The remix enhances everything about it really, the whole piece (or pieces) make for a fabulous listening experience. Jon Lord leads the band as they rip through a selection of classical themes, then it's Rod Evans' turn to take centre stage. His vocals are now much stronger and clearer. The backing vocals are also pushed further up in the mix, adding to the strength of the performance. The guitar solo is still a bit thin and strangulated, but it maybe that was what he was after!

'Hey Joe' rounds off the 'Shades..' selection, and is one of the most interesting remixes. It gains around twenty seconds in length. Back in 1968 some of the introductory theme was sheared off, now, finally, it's restored. That said, the missing section doesn't say anything that isn't on the shortened version. As for the sonic differences, the track gains a lot in clarity. Mr. Evans once again is the main recipient, though Blackmore's gorgeous backing is now crystal clear. One of the more ordinary tracks on the album elevated.

Most fans who buy this release will be most eager to hear 'Kentucky Woman', which is nothing less than a completely different take to the released version. The guitar solo doesn't reach the heights of the untouchable original, but comes close. The track has a different, almost live feel, with Jon Lord the star. He takes a fantastic extended organ solo, which expands the track by almost two minutes. A real winner.

The remasterd 'Book Of Taliesyn' CD versions of 'Listen Learn Read On', 'Shield', 'Wring That Neck' (the BBC session bonus track) and 'Anthem' combine next to provide more than twenty minutes of peerlessly fabulous music. (These tracks were not remixed as their multi-track masters could not be found). Art Rock, Progressive Rock, Psych Rock... they are all of those and more. Using his faithful Gibson 335 Blackmore finds a beautiful warmth to his guitar tone, and a willingness to play his solos on the edge of known music scales. A great listening experience. It's also worth noting the drag factor that the two least successful tracks on the album (both missing from here) had on the original product. Without them the second album would be a classic of its kind.

On to the third album, my least favourite of the trilogy. For once I've always seen the old 'directionless' jibe as having some meaning with this one. When they do rock, the plodding bass and vocals sometimes hold them back, while the tracks pushing for something new often just sound messy. Once again, however, when I hear 'Bird Has Flown', 'Blind', 'Why Didn't Rosemary' and 'Lalena' sequenced after the astonishingly good Taliesyn tracks, two of them with fresh remixes, they all add to Deep Purple's incredible legacy. 'Bird Has Flown' is from the remastered 'Deep Purple' CD, thankfully the beautifully expanded album version rather than the truncated b-side. I'd have loved the instrumental backing track version to have made the selection (it's mentioned in our Early Years studio report), but it was deemed too sparse to make the final cut. 'Why Didn't Rosemary' is also from the remastered CD, and despite sounding like the song has left its handbrake on, the guitar solo is one of Blackmore's best ever. Awe inspiring. 'Blind' is a stunning new remix; gaining a short comment from Evans at the beginning, and an almost alarming new clarity which increases the sudden attack of Blackmore's ultra-aggressive guitar solo. Finally we have a stunning unreleased instrumental take of 'Lalena'. The track always lost the album points in my view, mostly because of the cloying nature of Rod's vocal. However, shorn of that we hear a superb musical performance; gentle, intricate and compelling. A wonderful way to round off a wonderful selection of music.

'The Early Years' can be pre-ordered from dpas online, with everyone who does so being put forward for a prize draw, with the winners receiving a super-rare EMI acetate of the album. The CD is released on March 1st.

review: David Browne

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