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Spencer Davis Group Spencer Davis Group
Album: Taking Out Time: Complete Recordings 1967-1969
Label: RPM
Tracks: 24+22+22

The original incarnation of the Spencer Davis Group (Spencer Davis, Steve Winwood, Muff Winwood and Pete York) had a string of hit singles up to 1966, and just as they were riding on the crest of that success, in spring 1967, Steve and Muff departed the band (Steve to form Traffic and Muff to work behind-the-scenes in the music business). Profile and commercial-success-wise, the group never quite recovered from this blow, although SDG Mk2 was to produce some highly creditable music that’s arguably never really been fully appreciated, ranging from jazzy/R&B-influenced pop to nascent psych, from perfectly competent to genuinely innovatory. New recruit Eddie Hardin’s organ playing was a particularly strong feature of the new lineup, and formed a constant in the group sound over the next couple of years even while the overall musical direction veered increasingly towards pop. Along with Traffic, the group was to participate in the movie Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush, but also during its existence the SDG was to release half a dozen singles and two albums, the second of which (Funky) was only released in the States.

This well-stocked three-disc set is exactly what it claims to be – a complete collection of the group’s post-Winwood recordings. Disc 1 kicks off with Mk2’s undeniably impressive single showcasing the two faces of the band: pop-psych A-side Time Seller with its heaving string section (eerily pre-dating ELO) and super-bluesy Don’t Want You No More (later covered by the Allman Brothers). These are followed by the seven tracks from the movie soundtrack, which albeit not entirely representative were better-than-reasonable examples of summer-of-love zeitgeist. This spirit continued on into a pair of classic singles: the ambitious Mr. Second Class/Sanity Inspector and the wonderfully quirky (and coincidentally somewhat Traffic-like) After Tea, here also included in mono and stereo (outtake) versions. The group’s first LP With Their New Face On finally appeared in 1968, but it turned out a bit of a mopping-up exercise whose ten tracks included all but one of the singles sides (albeit overdubbed, remixed or whatever). The new material, though in the final analysis a slightly patchy collection, boasted among its highlights a fine jazzy workout (Alec In Transitland), the melancholy Morning Sun and a majestic Procol Harum-style title track, whereas the finale Stop Me, I’m Falling was an uneasy concoction of breezy Temperance-Seven vaudeville and prog-pomp with a misguided spoken interlude.

Two album session outtakes, including the stately orchestrated ballad I’m Lost, appear on Disc 2 of this set, along with the 1968 singles including a curious German-language version of Aquarius (recorded with session musicians), the tough Short Change, and the theme for kids’ TV series Magpie (released under the name of The Murgatroyd Band). Most of the remainder of Disc 2 is given over to the group’s second album, Funky, which came on the heels of major lineup change involving the departure of Hardin and York. It’s a surprisingly confident album, with an assured transatlantic feel (it was actually recorded in America), with material ranging from the jangle-pop of Magical Day and the shimmering Raintree River to the boogie-mode Letters From Edith and the soul-cabaret What A Way To Die, the country-waltz I Guess I’m Wasting My Time to the tasty seven-minute instrumental groove Firefly and the brassy, guitar-heavy blues-rock of Misguided, with the magnificent And The Gods Came Down recalling the swirling classical-prog excesses of Vanilla Fudge and Procol Harum. By then, the group had embraced Ray Fenwick, Dee Murray and Dave Hynes, with only Spencer himself left from the original SDG lineup, but Funky is a classy and together set that deserves to be heard, and often.

Disc 3 is a pot-pourri containing a dozen previously-unreleased radio session tracks (featuring some radically different arrangements from the recorded, including a piano-centred Time Seller and a decidedly Who-like Taking Out Time), along with three interview segments, a live cut and six alternate takes from the Mulberry Bush soundtrack sessions. All of which prove most valuable in rounding out the picture of an underrated outfit that seemed destined to forever live in the shadow of Mk.1 (admittedly a hard act to follow) but which possessed more talent within its ranks than many a more feted band. Dubbing the SDG “Second Class” is more than unfair given the wealth of good music on these three discs. And this timely retrospective is blessed with an excellent booklet essay, rare photos and discographical and recording documentation.

David Kidman