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Spencer Davis Group - Taking Out Time: Complete Recordings 1967-1969 (2016) review


At Last, The Spencer Davis Group Mk. II Complete 
"Taking Out Time: Complete Recordings 1967-1969 (RPM Records, 2016)

March 1, 1967 the Spencer Davis Group is riding high with "I'm A Man" in the UK Top 10 and "Gimme Some Lovin'" in the US Top 10. The group's outlook was rosy to say the least, having just been named the UK's "Top R & B Group" over The Rolling Stones by New Music Express.
Then March 2, the air was let out of their balloon as it was announced that lead vocalist, organist and lead guitarist Steve Winwood was leaving the band to form Traffic while his brother, bassist Muff Winwood, was leaving to take a position at the band's label, Island Records. Hit records with no band to tour them. It could easily have been the end of the line for The Spencer Davis Group but......
The band's namesake, rhythm guitarist Spencer Davis and drummer Pete York, decided to carry on, and even as Island Records released further singles to cash in on Winwood's presence, the duo searched for replacement musicians and new musical direction. Guitarist Phil Sawyer (Les Fleur de Lys) and keyboard player Eddie Hardin were selected and the SDG Mk. II's premier release was a single featuring "Time Seller" b/w "Don't Want You No More." The a-side was a psychedelic tinged number featuring orchestration and trippy lyrics, in stark contrast to the original lineup's output. The b-side is where the band really shines, with Sawyer's incendiary solo giving the band a much heavier, blues rock sound aided by Hardin's organ. The single reached #30 on the UK charts and limped in at #100 on the US charts, but hopes were high.

The band had contracted to supply the soundtrack for Clive Donner's film "Here We Go Around The Mulberry Bush" before the Winwoods' exit, the result being a mixture of tunes by SDG Mk. I, Traffic and SDG Mk. II. "Taking Out Time" collection contains not only the seven tracks included on the United Artists release, but six alternative versions included as bonus tracks. Sawyer's guitar is the highlight of these recordings, especially on tunes like "Every Little Thing" featuring an understated, melodic solo and "Possession" which features Hardin's organ as well as another tasty solo by Sawyer. This would prove to be the last release with Hardin and Sawyer who were not on board with the group's pop music leanings, complicating the fact that the band were recording an album, "With Their New Face On" which would eventually find release in mid 1968, but not before Sawyer was replaced by Ray Fenwick (The Tee-Set, After Tea) on guitar and vocals, the result being yet another change in the band's sound.

Fenwick's debut was on a single, featuring top flight pop rock number "Mr. Second Class" b/w "Sanity Inspector" both quite worthy efforts. The Eastern influenced "After Tea" which Sawyer brought to the band featured Dave Mason on sitar and Chris Wood on flute, both band mates of Winwood in Traffic. The tune's flipside "Moonshine" gives Hardin a chance to stretch out on organ.

July, 1968 saw SDG Mk. II's album debut, "With Their New Face On" released after a delay of six months. The LP contained overdubs reflecting the change in personnel. The LP contained five single sides among its ten tracks. The album's almost title track "With His New Face On" is a gentle, melodic number highlighted by Hardin's organ. "Alec In Transitland" is a nice bit of piano boogie while "Feel Her Way" is a showcase for Fenwick and his guitar as is "Morning Sun," a nice piece of psychedelia. While standing in stark contrast to the Winwood, Hammond organ led work of SDG Mk. I, "With Their New Face On" stands on its own as a fine album and certainly deserved a better fate than it met in the market place.

At this point Spencer and Ray became, for all intents and purposes, the Spencer Davis Group, recording a German version of "Aquarius" with studio musicians, before ex-Mirage bassist Dee Murray and drummer Dave Hynes joined long enough to record the rocking 45 "Short Change" (with its "Sunshine Of Your Love" riff) b/w the playful "Picture Of Heaven." Exit Hynes, and enter drummer Nigel Olsson (Plastic Penny), who would go on with Murray to form the rhythm section of Elton John's classic band.

This incarnation of the band recorded an album in 1969 which would eventually find US-only release in 1970 under the title "Funky." The album, written almost entirely by Fenwick includes such classics as the hard driving "Letter From Edith" featuring fuzzed out lead guitar and a tasty solo by Fenwick as well as booming bass by Murray. Fenwick's versatility is spotlighted by jazz guitar work on the album's title track ("Firefly" aka "Funky") that would make Wes Montgomery proud. In sharp contrast, Fenwick's guitar on "Misguided" brings visions of Cream to mind with its driving beat. "And The Gods Came Down" opens with restrained organ, bass and drums before the tempo quickens, with Fenwick's guitar leading the way through this seven minute tour de force. The LP closes with the screaming jazz blues instrumental "New Jersey Turnpike" as Fenwick's guitar again takes control. It is hard to believe it took nearly a year for this album to be released and then only in the US. The music industry can surely be fickle. Despite the quality of "Funky" time had taken its toll on the band and they called it a day, thus ending the lifespan of The Spencer Davis Group Mk. II. 

Six outtakes from the "With Their New Face On" sessions close out disc two of this set. The stark "I'm Lost" with its plaintive vocals and gentle feel is a real gem. One can only wonder why hot rockers like "Fools Winner" were abandoned? The backing track stands out on its own with Fenwick's guitar once again on display. "Groove Extra" lives up to its title, another gem left in the vaults at the time. The band had intended to release Jimmy Webb's "The Girls Song" as a single, but somehow it was shelved. A great single it would have been!

Disc three opens with seven alternate takes from the "Here We Go Around The Mulberry Bush" soundtrack, beginning with the hard driving rocker "Feel Your Way" featuring Sawyer's fuzzed out lead guitar and Eddie Hardin's organ. The take of "Morning Sun" that follows features the band at its hard rocking best with Sawyer again at the helm. One can only wonder what the fate of the band hand been if Sawyer had remained among its ranks longer?

Fifteen BBC Radio Session recordings follow, dating from the "With Their New Face On" period. Kicking it off is a killer take on "Don't Want You Know More" featuring more incredible guitar work by Ray Fenwick. Also included are takes of "Mr. Second Class," "Time Seller," "Feel Your Way" and "With His New Face On." The tunes sound as crisp live as do their studio versions. The set closes out with a live take of the bluesy "Dust My Blues" recorded in Wembley in March, 1968.


"Taking Out Time" has 68 tracks with a run time over three and a half hours spread across its three discs. The set includes a 24 page color booklet, with an essay by Andy Nell, incredible sound remastering by Simon Murphy, complete track annotations and lots of gorgeous photos. The Steve Winwood years of The Spencer Davis Group have long been available. At long last The Spencer Davis Group Mk. II recordings get proper reissue thanks to the fine folks at Cherry Red Records, UK and their wonderful RPM Records imprint. This set proves it was worth the wait, but makes one wonder why it took so long? Oh well, All's Well That Ends Well! Just make sure you get your copy before this set goes out of print!!

- Kevin Rathert
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