Written by 11:36 pm Audiophile Music, Audiophile, Audiophile News, Compact Disc, Digital, Streaming, Vinyl

Listening Report: Out Of Earl’s Closet, Exploring A Music Industry Legend’s Personal Archive

Mark Smotroff digs into unreleased gems from an icon’s archive…

There is every reason for an album like Earl’s Closet: The Lost Archive Of Earl Mcgrath to fail and yet it is a wonder when a collection like this — featuring disparate tracks from different artists made under wildly divergent recording conditions — somehow holds together as if it were meant to be. Such as the case this new release from the good folks at Light In The Attic Records celebrating the life of a music industry insider named Earl McGrath.

McGrath was something of an impresario, an iconic character-about-town and socialite who made things happen in the music biz of the 1960s and early 70s, eventually becoming a producer and industry executive of note. So respected was McGrath that he was eventually chosen by the Rolling Stones to helm their label!

Mr. McGrath passed away in 2016.  In the interim years assessing his estate, a literal pandora’s box of previously unreleased recordings was opened — an actual closet, really — and thus this collection was ultimately assembled by Joe Hagan and produced for release with the help of Pat Thomas. 

I’m not going to recap Earl’s entire story here as I don’t want to spoil your enjoyment of the 20-page album-sized booklet included in the vinyl edition of Earl’s Closet: The Lost Archive Of Earl Mcgrath.  Its chockfull of fascinating stories of success, near hits and out-and-out misses. You’ll want to read it if only to learn about the connection between Michael McCarty (who offers the song “Christopher”) and B-grade sci-fi/horror movie icon Ed Wood as well as The Palace Guard (a band that was an early home to a young pre-Merry-Go-Round Emitt Rhodes). 

I must admit that when I first listened to this collection it didn’t connect with me.  But like many a great album, I soon realized it was “a grower” (as they say). Upon my second and third listens both via digital versions on Qobuz as well as on vinyl, I’ve grown to appreciate this album’s charms.

Earl’s Closet: The Lost Archive Of Earl Mcgrath opens up with a fine track by no less than Delbert McClinton singing a wonderful ode to the lonely life on the road and the joys of being in the moment with a bottle of wine (or two) called “Two More Bottles Of Wine.”

And then it jumps to a song by pre-fame Daryl Hall and John Oates, a quasi-acoustic demo of a neat tune which displays their knack for a catchy hook, “Baby Come Closer.” It is one of those songs which depending on how it was produced could have gone many different directions. But, in this under produced state the tune just works as “a song” if that makes some sense — which is ultimately what you want a good demo to do: display the essence of your songwriting capabilities while leaving room for the listener (ie. your potential producer or funder) to offer some input.  Oh, by the way, Earl apparently hooked up Hall & Oats with Atlantic Records leading to their breakthrough album Abandoned Luncheonette in 1973.  

As with the best of compilation albums I’ve listened to over the years – and I am a fan of the form mind you, with literally hundreds of different collections in my collection  – one of the best parts about Earl’s Closet: The Lost Archive Of Earl Mcgrath are the tunes by artists we’ve never really heard of before, at least not in any sort of the main stream sense.

I really liked Terry Allen’s tracks (“Gonna California,” “Cocaine Cowboy”) and The Kazoo Singers’ (you can’t make up a name like that, folks) “Only Yourself To Lose.”

The vinyl pressing on my copy of Earl’s Closet: The Lost Archive Of Earl Mcgrath plays well despite an ultimately minor but noticeable warp. Most importantly the album was well centered and the vinyl was quiet so that kept me happy.

The sound quality on Earl’s Closet: The Lost Archive Of Earl Mcgrath is variable and I mean that in the best possible way.  Go into this listening experience knowing that most of the recordings here were given to Mr. McGrath as a temptation for potential record deals and such, so I suspect that most of these recordings were never meant for commercial release. That said, many of the tracks actually sound very good but a handful of them definitely fall into the realm of amateur recordings.  

The early rehearsal-sounding recording by post-New York Dolls, pre-solo-career David Johansen sounds like a single microphone cassette recording, yet it is an early version of his soon to be seminal solo album track, “Funky But Chic” (and thus an essential listen if you are a fan — which I am!). Nonetheless, even the rough tracks have many riches to offer so one has to learn to listen for the performances and not get hung up on typical audiophile issues of fidelity and such.

You can listen to Earl’s Closet: The Lost Archive Of Earl Mcgrath in CD quality via streaming services such as Qobuz (click here), Tidal (click here) and Apple Music (click here). As to whether you need this two LP set on vinyl will be a personal decision. I will leave you with some food for thought which might help you decide: when I first listened to Earl’s Closet: The Lost Archive Of Earl Mcgrath via a stream, the music didn’t do much to impact me (I was listening to it in the car while driving around the San Francisco Bay Area). But later, when I went back to listen to the LP in my office/studio in a more focused manner, the album came alive for me, working well as a four-sided thoughtfully curated vinyl collection as opposed to a rambling playlist. 

Just sayin’… 

You can find Earl’s Closet: The Lost Archive Of Earl Mcgrath on Amazon easily by clicking on its title anywhere in this review. Alternately, if you want the special edition on red vinyl and possibly a T-shirt celebrating Earl’s early label Clean Records (which Atlantic Records backed!) click here to go to Light In The Attic’s site where you can find many variants to choose from. 

If you like this era of music and want to explore Earl McGrath’s universe, there are some fascinating early recordings here by artists you may know and love such as The Jim Carroll Band’s “Tension” —  Earl had discovered Carroll, managed him and produced his first two albums!

Earl’s Closet: The Lost Archive Of Earl Mcgrath may well be just the musical elixir you need for this moment in time.  

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