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The Place and the Time

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Album Review

With the exception of Badfinger, you'd be had pressed to name an important rock band with a significant body of work who has had a longer and more dismal run of bad luck than Moby Grape, and more than four decades after they released their nearly perfect debut album, they're still struggling to get a fair shake. A Byzantine series of legal disputes with their former manager Matthew Katz (who for years claimed ownership of the group's name, their music publishing, and the rights to reissue their recordings) seemingly ended in 2005, a mere 38 years after Moby Grape fired him, but when Sundazed Records released, remastered, and expanded CD versions of the band's five albums for Columbia in the fall of 2007, Katz filed yet another lawsuit in which he claimed ownership of the cover artwork to the albums Moby Grape, Wow, and Grape Jam (which also happen to be the group's most popular efforts), and Sundazed was forced to pull these three discs from stores only a month after they were released. Those three CDs remain in limbo, but a taste of what they had to offer can be found on The Place and the Time, a collection of rare and unreleased Moby Grape material that features nearly all the bonus material from the expanded editions of Moby Grape and Wow, as well as extras from the Sundazed editions of Moby Grape '69 and Truly Fine Citizen, both of which are still available and unaffected by the Katz lawsuit. While an alternate take of "Miller's Blues" that appeared on the Wow reissue is missing, all the other additional material from those four discs can be found here (the three meandering outtakes from the CD of Grape Jam have been left by the wayside, and they're not likely to be missed), and while that means this set is devoid of relative hits such as "Omaha" or "Hey Grandma," these outtakes, demos, live recordings, and stray items cohere into a fine portrait of what made Moby Grape one of the great (if underappreciated) bands of their era. The superbly interwoven guitar work of Peter Lewis, Jerry Miller, and Skip Spence drives the best songs with an infectious energy, Don Stevenson and Bob Mosley were a powerful and versatile rhythm section, and all five members harmonized beautifully, making even the least of the 24 songs a kick to hear. While the demos and alternate takes that appear on this disc aren't exactly definitive, in many respects the stripped-down versions of "Bitter Wind," "The Place and the Time," and "Miller' Blues" serve the songs better than the more gussied-up official versions on Wow, and given that this group was generally at their best in the studio when the production was simple and to the point, these rarities play to Moby Grape's strong points better than many of their "real" recordings. And the live tapes capture Moby Grape in full flight before the dream began to collapse, and offer a tantalizing picture of how powerful they must have been on a good night. If you're among the lucky few who were able to snatch up the full Sundazed Moby Grape CD catalog before the first three albums were taken off the market, The Place and the Time will be redundant, but if you're one of the many fans who didn't, this disc is a worthwhile consolation prize; it's no substitute for the classic debut album, but this music demonstrates why Moby Grape still matters to so many all these years later.

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Formed: September, 1966 in San Francisco, CA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '00s, '10s

One of the best '60s San Francisco bands, Moby Grape were also one of the most versatile. Although they are most often identified with the psychedelic scene, their specialty was combining all sorts of roots music -- folk, blues, country, and classic rock & roll -- with some Summer of Love vibes and multi-layered, triple-guitar arrangements. All of those elements only truly coalesced, however, for their 1967 debut LP. Although subsequent albums had more good moments than many listeners are aware of,...
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