RELEASE
2005
LABEL
Circle
GENRES
Pop/Rock, Psychedelic, Mod, British Invasion, British Psychedelia, Freakbeat
Although this is a two-CD collector-oriented set, the disc that will attract by far the most attention of the pair is the first, which compiles BBC and TV performances by the Action in 1966 and 1967. There's a bit of initial disappointment at the brevity of the disc, whose 12 tracks (one of which is a brief interview with lead singer Reg King) last only 31 minutes. Still, as the liner notes painstakingly explain, it's quite a miracle that even this much material was found. (There are, frustratingly, a few other sessions from the period, including performances of some tracks never released by the band on record, that have not been found on tape, and likely never will.) What was rescued for inclusion here is of highly uneven sound quality, and is sometimes quite rough (particularly on the first two tracks, taken from a TV broadcast of unknown origin), but also sometimes pretty decent, and never frightfully hard to bear. A few of the songs the Action cut on their mid-'60s Parlophone singles are here in live versions, but the greatest pleasure is offered by a number of songs that didn't make it on to disc at the time, including the Motown covers "Going to a Go Go" and "Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)," as well as a version of the obscure Olympics song "Mine Exclusively." Most interesting of all are four tracks from a July 1967 session that documents their switch from blue-eyed soul to psychedelia, including a number of songs they never got to release at the time, although studio versions of some of them have shown up on archival releases. Among these cuts are the breezy, jazzy utopian ode "Love Is All," probably their finest original song from their psychedelic phase; a respectable cover of the Byrds' "I See You", and, most surprisingly, a version of John Coltrane's instrumental "India," the composition that partially inspired the Byrds' own "Eight Miles High." Also from this session is a version of the relatively conventional "Shadows and Reflections," their final Parlophone single. While the "bonus" second CD in this package lasts for a little more than an hour, it will be of less interest to fans, as it's taken from a 1998 live reunion at the Boston Arms in London. Yet as reunion gigs go, it's way above the average: the sound is good, the performances spirited, and the original quintet intact (with the rather unnecessary addition of a sax player). On this live set, the psychedelic period of the Action is ignored in favor of their mod R&B, the songs including versions of a number of their mid-'60s recordings, but also quite a few soul covers that aren't represented on any releases of '60s Action material. The first disc remains the most valuable portion of this release, of course. It provides a worthwhile supplement to their body of studio recordings, and also a small window into their swift if little-noted transformation from a good mod-soul outfit into an interesting if little-recorded psychedelic one.
Richie Unterberger, Rovi