Sunday, May 1, 2016

Dave Mason: “The Columbia Years: The Definitive Anthology” (2016) CD Review

Dave Mason has kind of a wild career. He was a founding member of Traffic, recorded with people like Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison, and has put out several solo albums, with hits like “Only You Know And I Know” and “We Just Disagree.” He has recorded on several labels over the years, and between 1973 and 1980, he released seven albums for Columbia. The new two-disc compilation, The Columbia Years: The Definitive Anthology, features tracks from each of those seven releases. Most of the songs on this disc were written by Dave Mason, but there are a few covers as well. This disc includes liner notes by Bill Kopp.

The first disc begins with six songs from Dave Mason’s 1973 release It’s Like You Never Left, all of which were written by Dave Mason. The compilation starts with “Misty Morning Stranger,” which reminds me a bit of Steve Miller during the verses. This song boasts some good lyrics, like these lines: “The guilt that you feel will not heal you” and “Don’t ever doubt what your heart says/When everything round you says no.” “Baby… Please” likewise has some good lines, like “I’m a slave to the way that you move me” and “Well, I’m pacing the floor like a tiger.” And then “The Lonely One” features Stevie Wonder on harmonica. This is one of my favorite tracks, with its beautiful, sort of relaxed country rock vibe. “Through the truth and through the lies/There is really no disguise/To hide the lonely ones/You can find them on a card/Being matched with other hearts/The really lonely ones.”

Five songs are included from his 1974 record, Dave Mason, an album that reached #25 on the Billboard chart. Two of them are covers, “All Along The Watchtower” and “Bring It On Home To Me.” Dave Mason had earlier played on Jimi Hendrix’s recording of “All Along The Watchtower,” and his own version has some similarities to the Hendrix version, but definitely stands on its own. And Dave Mason’s rendition of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me” is one of my favorite tracks on this disc. It’s a wonderful rendition which begins a cappella, then builds, and features some wonderful work on both keys and guitar. The vocals are tinged with a gospel feel, and are beautiful. This has always been one of my favorite songs, and this version is one of the best I’ve heard (even if, like many versions, it leaves out the last verse). “If you ever change your mind/About leaving, leaving me behind/Oh, oh, bring it to me/Bring your sweet loving/Bring it on home to me.”

The first disc contains four songs from Split Coconut, a 1975 release that has something of an island influence, heard on particular tracks. David Crosby and Graham Nash contribute some vocals to this record. “You Can Lose It” is a really good song written by Dave Mason and Jim Krueger. “She tells you she loves you, and calls you her man/But you’re only just a small part of her plan.” “Split Coconut,” the album’s title track, is a whole lot of fun, with a groove to get you dancing. But the most surprising selection from this record is Dave Mason’s cover of Buddy Holly’s “Crying, Waiting, Hoping.” This is the one that really gets the island treatment, an interesting approach to this early rock and roll number. The Manhattan Transfer provide backing vocals on this track.

The second disc begins with five tracks from Certified Live, a double live album from 1976. The first track is a very cool, funky version of what is probably Dave Mason’s most famous composition, “Feelin’ Alright,” which was originally recorded by Traffic. The song has been covered by many artists over the years, and Joe Cocker had a hit with it. This live version by Dave Mason is excellent, with a lot of energy and a great groove. He follows that with “Pearly Queen,” another song from the same Traffic record that included “Feelin’ Alright.” This live version doesn’t have that mellow intro, but basically gets right into it. “Pearly Queen” was written by Steve Winwood and James Capaldi. Mason then does an Eagles cover, “Take It To The Limit.” I am not an Eagles fan, but this isn’t a bad song, and Dave Mason does a good job with it. Also from Certified Live is a good version of “Only You Know And I Know,” a song that Dave Mason included on his 1970s release Alone Together, and which was subsequently a hit for Delaney And Bonnie. Interestingly, Bonnie Bramlett played on Alone Together, and Dave Mason played on D&B Together (the album which includes their version of “Only You Know And I Know”).

This compilation includes six tracks from Let It Flow, Dave Mason’s 1977 release, including “We Just Disagree,” one of Dave Mason’s biggest hits, which was written by Jim Krueger. “I’m going back to a place that’s far away/How about you, have you got a place to stay/Why should I care when I’m just trying to get along/We were friends, but now it’s the end of our love song.” “So High (Rock Me Baby And Roll Me Away)” was also released as a single, but didn’t chart nearly as high as did “We Just Disagree.” “Let It Go, Let It Flow” is the most fun track included from this album. This one was written by Dave Mason.

Only two songs are included from the 1978 release, Mariposa De Oro, an album that I really like (I still have it on vinyl). The first is the album’s lead-off track, “Don’t It Make You Wonder,” an excellent song written by Dave Mason and Kathy Nicholas. The other track is a cover of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and originally recorded by The Shirelles. It’s not a bad cover, but there are other tracks from this record that I would have chosen instead. And two tracks are included from the 1980 release, Old Crest On A New Wave (a title that reminds me of Leonard Cohen’s 1974 record, New Skin For The Old Ceremony). Neither song was written by Dave Mason, and neither is all that great. The first, “Save Me,” features Michael Jackson on backing vocals.

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Misty Morning Stranger
  2. Baby… Please
  3. The Lonely One
  4. Head Keeper
  5. It’s Like You Never Left
  6. Every Woman
  7. All Along The Watchtower
  8. You Can’t Take It When You Go
  9. Show Me Some Affection
  10. Bring It On Home To Me
  11. Relation Ships
  12. You Can Lose It
  13. Split Coconut
  14. Crying, Waiting, Hoping
  15. Long Lost Friend
Disc Two
  1. Feelin’ Alright
  2. Pearly Queen
  3. Take It To The Limit
  4. Sad And Deep As You
  5. Only You Know And I Know
  6. We Just Disagree
  7. So High (Rock Me Baby and Roll Me Away)
  8. Then It’s Alright
  9. Seasons
  10. Let It Go, Let It Flow
  11. Mystic Traveler
  12. Don’t It Make You Wonder
  13. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow
  14. Save Me 
  15. Paralyzed
The Columbia Years: The Definitive Anthology was released on March 11, 2016 through Real Gone Music.

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