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Forever Changing: the Golden Age of Elektra Records 1963-1973, WICHITA
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The Independent Culture

It's rare for one of the music industry's backroom movers and shakers to be honoured with a box-set compilation, mainly because only a handful merit such acclaim. John Hammond Sr, Clive Davis, Tom Wilson, Chris Blackwell and Geoff Travis are the few that spring most readily to mind - and most of them would readily acknowledge the influence of Jac Holzman, whose role as the founder and guiding light of Elektra Records is celebrated in this sumptuous five-CD anthology of the label's golden decade.

It's probably the most lavish box set ever to be assembled, with its 117 tracks accompanied by photographs, postcards, badges, album-sleeve prints, a CD-ROM containing Holzman's autobiography and an illustrated label discography, and the most beautifully designed and exhaustively researched hardback book containing track annotations and biographies of even the most obscure of the label's artists. Which is very obscure, in some cases. Everybody knows of The Doors, Love and Tim Buckley - but what of Courtland Pickett, Alasdair Clayre and Aztec Two-Step? And especially Dick Rosmini, an acoustic guitarist of dazzling virtuosity, who was highly influential on Jimmy Page and others but who has faded completely from view since his 1964 album for Elektra.

Holzman started Elektra on a shoestring budget in 1950, releasing folk and blues records by the likes of Josh White and Theodore Bikel before diversifying into jazz and then a series of sound-effects records that proved surprisingly successful, enabling him to expand the company into one of the leading outlets for the 1960s folk-music boom.

Elektra became the quintessential boutique label, renowned for its quality and attention to detail, and for the distinctive visual presence created by the designs of the art director William S Harvey.

Holzman was first and foremost a fan, who lovingly shepherded the careers of Tim Buckley, Tom Rush, The Butterfield Blues Band, Phil Ochs and Fred Neil until they broke through, broke up or broke down, and who kept faith with an artist as critically feted but essentially unsaleable as David Ackles simply because he believed it was his duty to facilitate art of such quality.

This was not good business practice, perhaps, but Holzman hit the motherlode often enough to underwrite the noble failures: most notably with The Doors, but also with hits by, among others, Carly Simon, Harry Chapin and Bread; while his British arm, helmed by Joe Boyd, conjured up a Top 5 album for The Incredible String Band.

Ironically, it was through acquiring another British act, Queen, that Holzman was able to secure the label's future before retiring and handing the reins over to David Geffen. Sadly, this also signalled the beginning of the end of Elektra's distinctive label profile, as the company diversified further through the ensuing decades. But Forever Changing is a fitting monument to Jac Holzman's vision and taste - qualities since reflected in the approach of labels as disparate as Rough Trade, Fat Possum, Factory and Domino.

DOWNLOAD THIS: 'Alone Again Or', 'Down River', 'Five to One', 'Once I Was', 'Frozen Warnings', 'Born in Chicago', 'Shady Grove', 'Linin' Track', 'Birdses'