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Big Star / Rock City | The Big Star Story / s/t (Ryko / Lucky Seven)
And so the repackaging continues. For a band with just a trio of albums to their name, Big Star have had to be alloted more than their fair share of record shop space to accommodate a disproportionate number of releases.
Perhaps not quite as pointless as the 'Best Of' from a couple of years back (after all the first two albums sit quite nicely on a single disc), Ryko's 'Story' cobbles together tracks from the three studio albums ('#1 Record', 'Radio City', 'Sister Lovers'), three live records (the surprisingly good reunion show, 'Columbia', Ryko's own 'Live', and the horrible 'Nobody Can Dance') and Chris Bell's solo album. Logic would dictate that at least one representative from Alex Chilton's solo career should surface here but perhaps a little taste came into play (after all, if Chilton's written one worthy song post 'Sister Lovers' I've yet to hear it).
A real shame that the liner notes couldn't see fit to list just which albums each track is lifted from, but then why anyone would pick the 'Live' rendition of Thirteen over its impeccable studio counterpart is beyond me... so perhaps that was the point. The last track on the album was presumably intended as the set's trump card, a 'new' song from Chilton and drummer Jody Stephens (co-credited to both second generation Big Star members Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, who've never put their names to a worse song, and tellingly to 'A. Love' and 'W. Jackson'), the very resistible Hot Thing.
Of more interest historically is the Rock City set. A classic example of a 'lost' album, the album was recorded in 1969-70 by a quartet made up of Bell, Stephens, keyboard player Terry Manning and principal songwriter, vocalist and bassist Thomas Dean Eubanks. Unheard until now, the production and arrangements are superb, typical of the Ardent Studios from which they sprung (Bell and Manning worked there, hence no need for a label or budget) and, whilst it is Bell's trio of contributions (including early versions of My Life Is Right and the Chilton co-write Try Again) that will attract the attention, Eubanks' style shifting tunes deserve to be heard. From the opening Think It's Time to Say Goodbye (that somehow manages to evoke both Steppenwolf and Sloan) to the Zombies-like baroque flavours of The Wind Will Cry For Me and The Answer (which takes a Zeppelin turn midway), these are engagingly dated mini-masterpieces. Filling out the disc are the two sides of a Eubanks 7"; Oh Babe (a perfect apeing of the Bolan/Bowie/Reed glam template) and the lyrically weak but spunky Try A Little Harder, plus an early version of Feel credited to Icewater, a sans-Chilton Big Star. It's essentially the same song as the Big Star remake, with an alternate lead vocal and bass part, making it a bonafide collector's item. A shame the sleeve screams 'bootleg' (it's not).
Now if we could mix the tasteful Ryko artwork with the historical appeal of Rock City we might be onto something.

Matt Dornan
CWAS #13 - Autumn 2003