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There But for Fortune

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Album Review

It's often difficult to create a compilation album that does a musician justice when they recorded for more than one label, and this is certainly the case with Phil Ochs. Ochs' first three albums for Elektra were the work of a gifted but earnest topical songwriter armed with an acoustic guitar, while the five albums that followed for A&M found Ochs exploring both personal as well as political issues, and broadening his musical approach. Unfortunately, outside of the three-disc box set Farewells & Fantasies and the out of print double-LP collection Chords of Fame, none of the many Ochs compilations that have emerged have featured material from both periods of his recording career, and There but for Fortune devotes itself strictly to Ochs' Elektra recordings, with a special emphasis on his best known political songs. Given its boundaries, There but for Fortune is a fine collection that cherry-picks much of the best material from this catalog, with a special emphasis on the excellent Phil Ochs in Concert — all but one of its 11 songs appear on this disc, though sadly most of his witty between-song banter has been left on the cutting-room floor. If you're looking for a definitive Ochs anthology, you're going to have to shell out the big bucks for Farewells & Fantasies, but There but for Fortune does a fine job of skimming the highlights of Ochs' early political material, and demonstrates why he was considered second only to Bob Dylan as the leading protest balladeer of the day.


Born: 19 December 1940 in El Paso, TX

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '60s, '70s

Phil Ochs is a figure both glorious and tragic who haunts the history of the 1960s folk revival and its aftermath. A topical singer and songwriter in the manner of Lee Hays, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie from the previous generation, he was forever in the shadow of Bob Dylan in terms of the recognition for his music; but unlike Dylan -- who, in retrospect, seemed to approach his work with overpowering facility and talent, but only occasional moments of definable dedication to the causes seemingly...
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