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Thank You Friends – The Ardent Records Story

March 14, 2012

First published July 2008

Compilation of the year already, no question. Lovingly compiled and lavishly documented by the killer team of Alec Palao and Kent Alexander this is a labour of love which delivers great music throughout its 48 tracks recorded from 1960 – 1977.

Now that most records appear to be recorded on mobile phones or games consoles it is wildly unfashionable to consider that the physical surroundings of a recording studio can influence the music made therein. However some studios (and the people who work in them) have the ability to confer a distinctive feel to the records that result. Examples here include Olympic (classic Britrock), Pathway (the early Stiffs), Rockfield (lovingly recreated retro) and even Basing Street (the Island records pink label extended family). And so it is with Ardent. Many of the best records released by Ardent have  combined a rhythm section grounded in Memphis r & b  with an Anglophile  pop sensibility that informs melodies and harmonies.  The best-known exponent of this approach is Big Star, who contribute some stunning outtakes and demos to this set, often preceded by studio chat and introductions edited from the more familiar versions released on the three Big Star studio LPs.

Pre-Big Star recordings from Alex Chilton and Chris Bell offer fascinating insights into how the first Big Star record could emerge so confident and fully formed. Particularly welcome are a batch of demos referred to as ‘the tightest, hottest music we’d ever done” by bass player Andy Hummell in Rob Janovic’s Big Star book. Certainly this version of ‘I Got Kinda Lost’ eclipses the solo version subsequently released by Chris Bell.

But there’s so much more here than Big Star. The Goatdancers feedback-drenched ‘Patches of Dust’ is very ‘Happenings…’ era Yardbirds whilst Icewater combine Badfinger with the Kinks to produce a heavy pop classic that no-one ever heard in ‘Think It’s Time To Say Goodbye’. Cargoe had a terrible name but a hook-saturated single in ‘Feel Alright’ which would have fitted right in with the Raspberies and Todd Rundgren had anyone heard it on release in 1972. The Scruffs pull a similar trick with their ‘My Mind’ from 1977, all stacked harmonies and massed accoustics.

Fittingly the final track on CD2 is Alex Chilton performing a solo version of ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ that is executed with typical offhand brilliance. So let us praise Ardent Records founders John Fry and John King and all who sail(ed) in her.

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