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Any attempt to fully represent The Coctails' music in one compilation is destined to fail. Because the band was so all over the place, it makes me wonder whether they ever really had a signature sound.

Whilst this collection does include tracks from The Coctails' regular albums, it tends to focus more on the band's early years and their more obscure material, perhaps trying - in vain, but commendably - to provide a full picture of the band.

The only big flaw with this boxset is - in its attempt to play up the band's loungey demeanor - it focuses a bit too heavily on their kitschy jazz side. Not that that's their bad side - they didn't really have one - it's just that it was only one aspect of many. What's been chosen to represent that side of the band is fantastic though ... indeed, their cover of Sun Ra's "Light of a Satellite" isn't just convincing, it's absolutely mesmerizing.

Disc two goes furthest in demonstrating the band's kitschy image was genuine. They play loungey 50's and 60's-obsessed mostly instrumental jams, that would sound right at home on some bachelor pad stereo.

Disc three is perhaps the most interesting, because it does a convincing job of representing the band as a serious and competent jazz combo, which indeed they were. Whilst it's the most demanding of the three CDs, it's also the most engaging and rewarding.

True, not all of the music here stands up to repeat listens, but it provides enough rarities and highlights to be a very interesting and - more often than not - fun listen. Brilliantly packaged and annotated, it's hard for me to say this is all The Coctails anyone would need, but I could see how someone could make a fine argument for that.

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by Reviewer: Austin

Posted: Friday 25th May 2018 10:43 AM
Recent album review
Grass and Wild Strawberries is something of a post-psychedelia hangover, where all the genre's dreams and aspirations take form, but don't take flight. It's a big change for the band, with less floating gunk topped with Vickers’ vocals, and more melody.

The closest comparable album sonically is probably the eponymously-titled Sea Train - both albums tried to incorporate unusual influences into rock, and had more poetic lyrics. In Sea Train’s case, they had a resident poet, while Grass and Wild Strawberries is actually 'sections' from a play of the same name by George Ryga.

Hassinger produced again, and still favored vocals, with some psychedelic touches periodically. But where Sea Train was successful because it could draw on the soloing talents of its members, The Collectors lack such strengths.

Perhaps because of its origins as part of Ryga’s stage play, only “Early Morning” features a prominent lead instrument (guitar, eminently suitable for the song’s AM blues/pop, along with lyrics about 'give me back my right to freedom'). Otherwise, the album relies heavily on Lawrence to fill out the sound, resulting in some similarity to Sea Train or The Moody Blues (still).

At times though, strange musical concepts are all the band has to draw on - there's Gregorian chant on “Things I Remember”, and First Nation-styled traditional chanting, tracks imbued with the era's usual blues and folk sounds. The First Nations influence also works on “Seventeenth Summer”, by using a drone, and piling up the vocal harmonies. And sometimes it works - the title track sounds like Zager & Evans hijacking Sea Train, with a bit of jazzy saxophone accompanying the strumming acoustic guitars.

The two best tracks outside the title track are the most recognizable ... “My Love Delights Me” sounds like a barn dance with deft guitar work, and the most use of hey nonny in a chorus outside the Elizabethan era (it was also the predecessor of Chilliwack's sound). And “Rainbow of Fire” is a blues, but has an odd chord pattern and alternates keys, and it succeeds, even though Hassinger recorded the band like lightweights, and his production is rather vanilla.

Ryga’s lyrics are predominantly clunky (fortunately they are not expository, so the listener remains ignorant of the play’s plot), as he uses some obvious imagery along with overwrought lyrics like Holy Child they did say of him, where will you be when the long rain starts to fall from “The Long Rain”, or wrestling the eagle of self-crucifixion on “Don’t Turn Away From Me”.

As a result of their combined pretensions though, the Ryga/Collectors songs are largely a set of odd experiments like “Teletype Click”, which attempts to merge a First Nations drone with a blues (at least I think that’s what the intent was). Similarly, the album has a lot of songs with peculiar vibes and lyrics, such as “Dreams of Desolation” and “The Long Rain”.

So whilst Grass and Wild Strawberries doesn't sound like anything else, and a few songs are actually quite good, the album's more a curiosity, that’s for sure.

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by Reviewer: Obscurity

Posted: Friday 25th May 2018 11:15 AM
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