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Keep an Eye On the Sky

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Reseña de álbum

As the object of intense devotion for so many fans, it's fitting that Big Star receive a box set designed for the intensely devoted: four discs containing every song the band cut in the '70s, often present in slightly alternate mixes or versions in addition to the originals, a clutch of solo songs from both Chris Bell and Alex Chilton, as well as a handful of pre-Big Star cuts by Icewater and Rock City, all topped off with a live disc culled from a three-set stint at Memphis' Lafayette's Music Room in January of 1973, not long after Bell left the band. Excepting subsequent reunions in the '90s and 2000s, no corner of the band's career remains untouched on Keep an Eye on the Sky and rarities are abundant, with 55 of its 98 tracks previously unreleased. This is a staggering statistic but it's also misleading, for 20 of those cuts are from the live disc and the rest are either alternate mixes, alternate versions, or demos — there are no unheard songs, aside from an excerpt of Rock City's "The Preacher." Of these, only a handful are markedly different either in their lyrics or attack, with all finding the songs and even arrangements essentially intact, even in their demo form. Consequently, Keep an Eye on the Sky contains fewer revelations than it initially appears, which isn't to say it lacks any: the earliest demos for 3rd are by and large lighter in tone than the album (although there's no way "Holocaust" ever could seem cheery), a testament to how much a song can change during the recording process.

In a way, all of Big Star's career is a testament to the recording process. They were a creature of the studio, not stage, having free rein at Ardent Studios, where they stayed up into the next morning tinkering at the same set of songs. This resulted in the crisp, sterling sound of #1 Record and the deliberately looser Radio City, as well as the sliding, sprawling mess of 3rd, but it didn't result in outtakes — it resulted in alternate mixes and instrumental scraps, the stuff that enthralls fetishists, sometimes justifiably so. Those are the listeners who will find Keep an Eye on the Sky most rewarding, but anybody who has loved the band will find something to cherish here, whether it's the crackerjack live show — which provides roaring covers of the Flying Burrito Brothers' "Hot Burrito #2," T. Rex's "Baby Strange," and Todd Rundgren's "Slut" (later revived 20 years later on their reunion concert), as well as a startlingly effective take on "The India Song" — or merely the context of the set, which tells the story of America's greatest cult band this side of the Velvet Underground in a complete and affecting fashion.

Reseñas de clientes

The essential second (or third) Big Star purchase

It’s hard to imagine anyone issuing a Big Star release that’s a more perfect introduction to the band than the two-fer of #1 Record and Radio City. You could include their third album, dig in the archives for alternate versions and live tracks, stretch through their reunion music, add pre- and post-Big Star releases, and solo work for context, and you could write lavish liner notes to explain and contextualize their ill-fated story. But as an introduction, every bit of it would simply distract from the perfection that is that first perfect couplet of albums. If you want to turn someone on to Big Star, the stepping stones are #1 Record and Radio City. But once they’re hooked they’ll want to know more; they’ll want to know everything. Where did the players come from and what did they do before and after Big Star? What else did the band record? What’s Ardent Records and what else was the label doing at the time? How did Memphis influence the band’s sound? Are there alternate versions or unreleased tracks? What were they like as a live unit? And of course: why haven't I heard of this band before? The latter question is less likely to be asked these days, since obsessive fans have dug up many of the other answers, and many well-known bands have cited Big Star as a seminal influence. But until this box set was released, the full picture of Big Star’s career had to be pieced together from a shelf-full of CDs, a pair of books and assorted fan web sites. With this 4-CD set, Rhino has reduced all of the purchases that normally follow the two-fer into a rich and convenient box. This is not a substitute for the original albums, nor does it replace the full-length live albums, lead-ins and follow-ups, or the detailed written histories of the band; but for many, this consolidated view of Big Star will be the perfect follow-up to the initial infatuation. For those who’ve already collected everything that’s been legitimately released, the box still provides something extra in previously unreleased live and studio items from the archives. Some of the alternate material is subtle, but some, like “Country Morn” fronts the well-known backing track of “Sunrise” with entirely different lyrics. The B-side mix of “In the Street” has a noticeably different feel to the album track, and the alternate version of “The Ballad of El Goodo” sports a different lead vocal take. There are early versions of “I Got Kinda Lost,” “There Was a Light” and Loudon Wainwright III’s “Motel Blues” that never made it to final form, and revealing demos for songs that made each of the group’s first three albums. Perhaps the biggest treat of all, however, is the live show featured on disc four. This disc is a distillation of three sets performed by the three-piece (Chris Bell-less) Big Star in Memphis in January 1973. Recorded from microphones set in front of the stage, it’s not the crisp line recording of the band’s previously released shows, but it’s a superb performance whose room sound offers a bit of you-are-there ambiance. It’s a shame the audience mostly ignore the greatness in front of them as they await the headliner, Archie Bell & the Drells. The physical presentation, a folder containing the four discs and a hundred-page book housed in a slipcase, is superb. An introductory note from Ardent Records founder John Fry shows the emotional connection the insiders still carry with them. Robert Gordon’s historical notes are informative, but Bob Mehr’s essay brilliantly captures the slowly-built cult of Big Star, replaying the clandestine mystery and wonderful discovery the band’s fans felt in the years before the Internet and this box set put the story at everyone’s fingertips. The book closes with song notes from Alec Palao that gather the scattered details that could be reassembled from tape box labels and participants memories. The 7.5-inch square book includes superb full-panel pictures, most of which have never been seen by even Big Star’s biggest fans. Could the set include more? Yes. Would that make it better as a box set? Not really. The purpose of these four discs is to tell a story, to provide substance and dimension to a band whose story was revealed ever so slowly over the course of three decades. By intermixing standard and alternate versions of key recordings this set offers new angles on the well-known corpus. By including a full disc of live music the collection fleshes out Big Star from a studio incarnation into a band populated by flesh-and-blood musicians. Start with the band’s first two albums, but once you’ve been bitten, continue here. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Brilliant to have this remastered!

If you have ever been a fan of the power-pop genre, even if in the guise of Brendan Benson, Matthew Sweet or Teenage Fanclub, you must know that none of it would have existed without Big Star. Alex Chilton had already known fame as a Box Top, but this is where he bared his true soul. And Alex is not the only contributor. Chris Bell was another formidable talent, as were Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel. There are so many excellent songs on this box set, and in my opinion these songs remain as relevant as ever, despite being perfect representations of what was possible in the 1970s -- even if you were a small band from Memphis, TN. I happen to own all of these works on CD from the 1990s, but this is so appealing, I may just have to buy it all again. Highly recommended!


Fecha de formación: Memphis, TN, 1971

Género: Rock

Años de actividad: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

The quintessential American power pop band, Big Star remains one of the most mythic and influential cult acts in all of rock & roll. Originally led by the singing and songwriting duo of Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, the Memphis-based group fused the strongest elements of the British Invasion era — the melodic invention of the Beatles, the whiplash guitars of the Who, and the radiant harmonies of the Byrds — into a ramshackle but poignantly beautiful sound which recaptured the spirit...
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