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The Artwoods - Steady Gettin’ It: The Complete Recordings 1964-67 review

The Artwoods “Steady Gettin’ It:  The Complete Recordings 1964-67”
                  RPM Records, UK RPM BX 524 (28 July 2014)

Known alternately as the namesakes of Ron Wood’s eldest brother, vocalist Art Wood, or the band which produced future Deep Purple keyboard player Jon Lord, The Artwoods, in reality, recorded and released several singles, a four song EP and an LP during their tenure.  Largely overlooked in their day, the band’s recordings stand up well against those of The Pretty Things, The Action and The Yardbirds, among others, who, like The Artwoods, began life performing and recording smoking R and B tunes (covers only in this case) before evolving toward much heavier, more progressive and psychedelic (sometimes original) compositions.  Unfortunately, The Artwoods never had a hit, and were hampered by a lack of original material.  Thus, the incredible guitar work of one Derek Griffiths went almost entirely unnoticed, at least in the United States.  Listening to this set you can hear the band, early on, being driven by a combination of Lord’s keyboards and Griffiths’ guitar.  The closer The Artwoods moved toward progressive, psychedelic rock, the more Griffiths’ guitar work was featured.  Their relationship would be paralleled by Lord and Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple. Prior to this release, short of seeking out original (and expensive)  vinyl releases, the best fans of The Artwoods could do was pick up copies of the “Singles A’s & B’s” and their sole long player “Art Gallery” both on a German reissue label.   Thankfully, as of 28 July 2014, that is not the case.

Now, thanks to John Reed, who conceived and compiled this three CD collection for Cherry Red Records’ RPM imprint, not only are all the singles, the “Jazz In Jeans” EP and “Art Gallery” LP collected here, but they are supplemented by nineteen BBC session tracks and a live show from Funny Park, Denmark, 1967.  With sixty-five tracks, about half previously unreleased, and a two hundred and twenty-one minute run time, this is by far the most complete collection of The Artwoods ever available.  All of the recordings have been remastered in mono by Simon Murphy.  Without question, the previously released studio works of The Artwoods never sounded so good and the BBC sessions are equally impressive.  As for the live disc, it historically documents the band at the top of their game, having moved from R and B to more progressive and psychedelic material, although the source material is not audiophile quality and does not claim to be.    

Disc one opens with acetates of the blues standards recorded as The Art Wood Combo in 1964, before makeing its way through the band’s six singles and the four song EP released after becoming The Artwoods.  The A-sides are all cover versions of blues and R and B songs, highlighted by their take on Naomi Neville’s “I Feel Good.”  Sadly, none of the singles took off.  Much more interesting are the band original B-sides such as “In The Deep End” and “I’m Looking For A Saxophonist Doubling French Horn Wearing Size 37 Boots” both released in 1966 and showing the shift to a much heavier, exploratory sound.  Over time the band moved increasingly toward guitar driven rock and roll, with Griffiths taking the lead, full of fuzz and snaking lead guitar lines.  His guitar on the “Jazz In Jeans” EP smokes on instrumental covers like “Our Man Flint” and “A Taste Of Honey.”  How did Griffiths not go on to bigger and better things like Lord?  Drummer Keef Hartley faired much better.  Teamed with bassist Malcolm Pool, he was half of The Artwoods’ incredibly tight rhythm section, and upon leaving the band Hartley formed his own Keef Hartley Band, which recorded several albums and appeared at Woodstock.  The disc is filled out, to 79 minutes, by the inclusion of both sides of the post-Artwoods one-off single, teaming an stunning, inspired, revved up, raved out, recreation of the classic “Brother Can You Spare A Dime” filled with Griffiths’ stinging fuzz guitar and Lord’s Hammond, with its flip side, the fuzz filled, rocking band original “Al’s Party,” released under the moniker St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1967, and BBC sessions from 1965 and 1966.

Disc two opens with the newly remastered version of the band’s sole long player, “Art Gallery.”  Twelve covers of Atlantic/Stax band favorites comprise the album.  Among them are inspired covers of Booker T. & The MGs “Things Get Better” and “Be My Lady.”  The playing is consistent and rocks throughout, especially Griffiths’ snarling, fuzz filled guitar and Lord’s swirling Hammond.  Unfortunately, like The Action and even The Yardbirds, the lack of original material hurt the band’s record sales.  The disc is fleshed out, to 68 minutes, by the remaining BBC sessions from 1966 and 1967 and include two recordings of “In The Deep End,” the eventual B-side which help document the band’s move in a heavier, more explorative direction. 

Disc three is the seventy-four minute Funny Park gig from 1967 which, honestly, sounds like a bootleg from back in the day, and indeed has been bootlegged over the years.  I, for one, am grateful this disc is included as it documents the band at its apex, doing what it did best, playing live, despite the fact that Colin Martin had replaced Hartley behind the drum kit only two weeks earlier.  Highlights include a ten minute take on a band original never recorded in the studio, “Song Of The Journeyman,” a seven and a half minute cover of The Stones’ “Satisfaction.”   By 1967, Griffiths and Lord were the featured performers, with increasingly long songs now encouraging extended solos, especially by Griffiths on guitar but with Lord’s keyboards always within ears shot, shades of Deep Purple, which would follow quickly enough, for Lord at least, just one year later in 1968.    The gig certainly indicates the direction the band was headed in had it not broken up.

To round out the package, there is a thirty-six page color booklet, with full track listings and song annotations, an informative essay, and lots of wonderful photos and assorted memorabilia.  The three discs come in mini-LP cardboard sleeves and fit snugly with the booklet in a clam shell box.  The Artwoods’ recorded legacy is ideal for the box set treatment, with virtually equal parts of studio, BBC and live recordings.  Thanks to John Reed and the folks at RPM Records for recognizing this and bringing the project to fruition.  This makes for truly one stop shopping regarding The Artwoods.  Two thumbs up and highly recommended for fans of Deep Purple, The Action, The Yardbirds, and The Pretty Things, and related acts.

Review made by Kevin Rathert/2014
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great review of a great release. Agree with all comments. Sound is excellent overall, except for the 3rd cd which is the best from source tapes.