REVIEWS: ANDY GILL ON ALBUMS

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BABY BIRD

Dying Happy

Baby Bird CD5

Dying Happy is not the follow-up to last year's Ugly Beautiful album, which was the first release by Baby Bird the band, but the fifth and final instalment of Steven Jones' bedroom compilations (recorded before "You're Gorgeous"), each being one of what Jones considers the five ages of man.

This is the most mature and the most likeable of his albums, with Jones' adoption of a blissfully weary falsetto lending a coherence of mood lacking in previous releases. This feature is particularly effective on the opening track "Losing My Hair", where its blithe frailty evokes a moving sense of equanimity about the effect of age on love, Jones-as-old-man expressing a desire to kiss his lover "before my lips become too weak".

The music, too, has been imbued with a peculiar sense of suspension. The layers of gentle keyboard tones and spavined drum-machine sounds may be doddering along at their own reflective pace, though still able to develop a lovely melancholic air of faded European grandeur on such tracks as the instrumental "Grandma Begs to be 18 Again".

PW LONG'S REELFOOT

We Didn't See You On Sunday

Touch & Go TG178CD

The former vocalist with Detroit cult band Mule, Preston W. Long sings modern American blues in a grizzled voice with pleasing Captain Beefheart inflections. Unfortunately, the Beefheartian inflections are most pronounced on the electric tracks, which are musically much stodgier than the acoustic numbers, where Long strums and stomps with commendable fervour and authority.

There is an ragged folk-blues flavour to tracks such as "My Name", "Jelly" and the wracked lamentation "Tomorrow" which derives more from emotion than technique, and there is a real country stench to "Bound to Ride", a raucous hoe-down with cow dung on its boots and whiskey on its breath. But behind the tough exterior, there is a sensitive, if bruised, heart at work; it's unlikely that you'll ever encounter a more deeply felt tribute to a dead dog than the genuinely moving "Aw Bruiser". Move over, Old Shep - there's a new mutt in heaven.

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Midsummer Night Dreams

Debutante 553 599-2

San Franciscan Daze

Debutante 553 672-2

These two compilations attempt to capture the authentic essence of transatlantic hippiedom in 18 tracks apiece, and they inadvertently illustrate the degree to which success in the music world is largely dependent on the territorial strength of a label's back catalogue - in this case, it's Phonogram.

Being European-based, Polydor/Phonogram had undeniably the poorest coverage of any major record conglomerate when it came to the US hippie upsurge, which is why San Franciscan Daze is littered with the likes of Lee Michaels, We Five and Linn County - Vauxhall Conference players in a Premiership era.

Phonogram's subsequent acquisition of A&M has enabled the compilers to include an early Beefheart cut, a version of "Diddy Wah Diddy" which shames its surroundings, but otherwise the bulk of these tracks are drawn from the pitiful MGM/Verve catalogue. This includes, ironically, "White Light/ White Heat" by The Velvet Underground, the surly antithesis of all things hippy. Naturally, it's the best thing here.

Midsummer Night Dreams is far superior in its corresponding account of British hippiedom, tightly focusing on the moment that pop turned hippy - "Paper Sun", "I Can See For Miles", "I Can Hear The Grass Grow", etc - and crucially managing to avoid the sad slide into prog-rock pomposity which eventually tarnished the shine so evident here.

The catalogue restrictions are less crippling than on San Franciscan Daze, but still glaring in a couple of cases: the lack of anything by The Incredible String Band means that the strong folkie strain in British hippy is under-represented. Apart from this, the full artistic extent of the era is understated by the absence of either of Fleetwood Mac's crowning glories - "Oh Well" and "Green Manalishi".

However, by contriving to open with Cream's "I Feel Free" and close with Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home", the album offers a neatly microcosmic Clapton cameo - the first flush of freedom curdling into lack of direction - which illuminates the wider tropes of the time.

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