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Big Star, James Taylor, Boz Scaggs reviewed

November 21, 2013
By MARK J. MILLER - Weekender co-editor , The Herald-Star

This week I review three new compilations featuring three performers who made their names in the 1970s.

- Big Star, "The very Best of Big Star"

Never was a band more inaptly named then Big Star.

The band was never a hit with the public, only released a handful of albums and quickly disappeared in the mid-1970s. While the public wasn't listening to Big Star's eclectic mix of catchy power pop, the band would become, oddly enough, legendary, primarily amongst those bands emerging from the underground rock scene in the late 1980s and early '90s.

Like the Velvet Underground before them, Big Star's first album - the audaciously named "#1 Record" - only a handful of the record-buying public listened, but it seems everyone who listened formed a band.

Big Star was led by Alex Chilton, former songsmith and members of the '60s pop band the Box Tops, who had a hit with Chilton-penned "The Letter." Big Star had high expectations, but burned out long before they could earn a name for themselves.

Twenty years later, indie bands began to cite the band as a major influence, including R.E.M., the Pixies and mostly the Replacements, who even named a song after Chilton, called, appropriately, "Alex Chilton."

The band was scheduled for a reunion in 2010, but Chilton died of a heart attack before that could happen.

The single disc is expected to be released next Tuesday. For fans of early '70s rock with excellent songwriting, this is as good as it got.

- James Taylor, "The Essential James Taylor"

I never much cared for James Taylor until I witnessed him and his fabulous band in concert about 14 years ago. He'd always been a little too laid back, a little too "perfect" for my punk-influenced tastes. There's no doubt he was a talented guy - his first record was released on the Beatles' Apple label after the Fab Four thought him a worthy find - but his middle of the road approach just wasn't my style after listening to guys like Lou Reed and Bob Dylan.

Seeing him in concert, I suddenly understood the greatness that was Taylor and his wonderfully written and compelling material. Then I began to listen carefully and discovered what a great artist he was and had been all along. Glad I discovered that before I died!

This two-disc, essentials release is exactly what you would expect it to be. There are the '70s hits - "Fire and Rain," "You've Got a Friend" and "Handy Man" - along with stuff that's lesser known by the public but just as good, like the profound "Water is Wide" and "Hard Times Come Again No More," with cellist Yoyo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Mark O'Conner. Fabulous.

One could do worse than listen to an excellent songwriter weave his craft, and "The Essential James Taylor" is just that.

- Boz Scaggs - "The Essential Boz Scaggs"

Boz Scaggs is another child of the '70s, having had huge hits with the blue-eyed, R&B soul of "Lowdown" and "Lido Shuffle."

Scaggs began his singing career with the Steve Miller Blues Band - yes, that Steve Miller - at the end of the 1960s psychedelic years, before stepping out on his own. Scaggs' solo career really didn't go very far until he released "Silk Degrees," which made him, at the least, a temporary star. Scaggs continued to have sporadic hits and release albums here and there, then disappeared again.

I always loved the song "Lido Shuffle" with its impeccable arrangement and Scaggs super-soulful voice. But there's a lot of other great stuff I discovered here as well. I would have to say Scaggs is at heart a blues guy who ventures into white soul when the spirit moves him. Not a bad combination at all.

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