HAWKWIND – Dust Of Time: An Anthology

Over the years, the market has been flooded with Hawkwind compilations, reissues and retrospectives. From the comprehensive and brilliant (‘This Is Your Captain’, a huge set pulling together the United Artists albums), to the interesting (box sets of Flicknife and Emergency Broadcast era albums aimed more at the completist), to the perfunctory (various cheap “best of” type sets, thrown together by budget labels with no thought), it seems as if no stone has been left unturned in terms of anthologies celebrating the legendary space lords.

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HOWARD JONES – At The BBC

Beginning with their massive box set celebrating ‘Human’s Lib’ issued in November 2019, Cherry Red Records have really gone the extra mile with their Howard Jones reissues. Each release has been afforded a wealth of extras, including bonus DVDs featuring archive live footage and TV appearances where available, and the addition of demos and alternate takes accompanying the main albums has been a fan’s dream. It was especially pleasing to see some love for Howard’s 1992 release ‘In The Running’, an album which saw him transition from 80s synth pop hero to a slicker, older singer-songwriter. Although overlooked by many at the time, it now stands proudly as one of the most enduring albums in the artist’s catalogue.

Complimenting the vastly expanded studio albums, this five disc box set of live materials allows for a different kind of exploration of HoJo’s past, but in hearing performances recorded between 1983-87 it really brings home the fact that he was, arguably, the greatest synth pop performer of the era.

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CORROSION OF CONFORMITY – Sleeping Martyr: 2000-2005

During the first half of their career, Corrosion of Conformity went through a lot of changes to find their sound. Their early thrash metal releases create a confident noise, but didn’t always utilise the best of COC’s combined talents. 1991’s ‘Blind’ blended thrash with a more melodic stoner feel and brought them to a wider audience due to some great reviews, but was still a hit and miss slab of metal. It wasn’t until the release of 1994’s ‘Deliverance’ that the band unleashed something genuinely classic. Part of the greatness came from a shift into even more melodic territory – the COC sound was now dominated by huge stoner vibes and a very retro groove – but just as important was guitarist Pepper Keenan’s decision to take on the lead vocalist’s role. The fourth person to step behind the COC mic, Keenan’s melodic drawl was perfect for the new sound and on tracks like ‘Clean My Wounds’, when dropping Thin Lizzy-esque riffs into a very desert rock scenario, they finally sounded natural in a way they never had before. The follow up album, 1996’s ‘Wiseblood’, gained even more commercial attention due to an appearance of James Hetfield, but 2000’s ‘America’s Volume Dealer’ absolutely knocked that out of the park performance-wise, even if sales were not quite as impressive. With the new millennium, COC finally gave into their natural instincts and became one of the greatest stoner metal bands on the face of the planet.

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VARIOUS ARTISTS – Once Upon A Time In The Midlands: The Bostin’ Sounds Of Brumrock 1966-1974

When thinking of the rock sounds to emerge from Birmingham and surrounding areas, it’s all too easy to think of Slade and their chart topping stompers, of Roy Wood and his flamboyant take on glam rock, and of heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. All of those bands really helped to put the Midlands on the map – that could never be disputed – but Brum and its surrounding neighbourhoods offered British music so much more throughout the sixties and seventies. ‘Once Upon A Time In The Midlands’ brings together various heroes, forgotten gems, period rarities, and even the occasional hit in a brilliantly compiled 3CD package that’ll educate as much as entertain.

Although the three discs aren’t in a strict chronological order, this collection has a definite flow, moving through psych and beat groups, into a world of seventies rock and finally ending up with the glam-ish sounds of Blackfoot Sue and an early tune from Judas Priest. As always with these sets, though, ‘Bostin’ Sounds’ works best when approached as a curate’s egg, with the listener dropping in at random on a couple of old favourites and discovering something old – yet new – along the way.

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AFFINITY – Affinity

Back in those pre-internet years, it was often difficult to hear really rare albums. There were a whole world of psych, jazz rock and proto-hard rock LPs that were regularly mentioned in Record Collector magazine that seemed shrouded in mystery. Often issued on the Philips, Deram, Major Minor and Vertigo labels, discs by Head Machine, Elias Hulk, The Open Mind and Second Hand – all now available on CD – were almost the vinyl collector’s equivalent of the Holy Grail.

Another such disc, the one and only album by Affinity, was another highly praised gem from the dawn of the 70s that, at one time, seemed destined to languish in the hazy, distant past. In the mid 90s, a decent vinyl pressing could fetch £40-£50; hardly an impulse purchase, should you stumble across one. A CD repressing from Repertoire Records in 1993 finally meant the album became accessible to an audience who missed the band during their brief lifetime, but a lack of UK release meant this disc was almost as elusive. It wasn’t until 2002 that the Affinity LP was given a long overdue CD release on home turf, but that eagerly awaited edition on Angel Air Records was sourced from under par materials.

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