Some reviews just write themselves....
When I ordered the Mono reissue of legendary folk-rock singer Richie Havens' classic 1968 opus, Something Else, I completely forgot that I already owned an arguably "near mint" original pressing. So, it was something of a surprise to put on the two albums side by side and find that the new edition was not only "as good" as the original but far surpasses it!
Why this is the case is a matter of speculation on my part:
I think it is fair to suspect that it is because a confluence of factors back in the '60s, such as the mastering which was probably designed to constrain the dynamics a bit to keep the average listener's record player's needle in the grooves. Also, given that records in 1968 were still effectively designed to be played on bandwidth-limited AM radio (remember, FM radio was pretty much still an underground thing at that point), a fair amount of compression was probably laid over the master recording to make it sound punchy over those airwaves.
So, kudos to Sundazed for recognizing and rectifying this issue. Listening to this version of Richie Havens' Something Else is akin to taking a layer of varnish off a master painter's work. You now hear the album more clearly and fully -- and it is very much exactly the same album -- in all its high fidelity glory, replete with congas, sitars and flutes.
This is in many ways the ultimate '60s hippie album but it is one that remains remarkably fresh sounding, especially in the face of the modern day folk-acoustic music movement of recent vintage.
Now, I have to step back for a moment on how I came to love this album as my favorite Richie Havens record and how I even got into the guy in the first place. I mean, this would be heady stuff for the seven years old I was when this was released. Well first off, my older brother (ten years my senior) liked Richie's music well before the Woodstock thing happened, so we had the early acoustic demos album released on the Douglas Records label -- that is still a fantastic recording, with its bluesy "The Bag I'm In," a standout for me even at that early age. And then Woodstock happened and Richie became something of an overnight international sensation when he was told to keep playing his set because other artists had not yet made it to Yasgur's Farm due to traffic issues. So Richie vamped on an on-the-spot jam he made up around the word "Freedom" and it roused the crowd and became his iconic moment in the Woodstock movie documentary.
And then in the early 70s my other brother brought home The Yes Album and I became an instant fan of that band. So when I discovered their prior album Time and a Word, I was surprised to find them opening the album with a cover version of a song by none other than Richie Havens. When I went looking for Richie's original version of "No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed," I found it on this album, Something Else, and immediately the album became a favorite.
If it was good enough to inspire Jon Anderson and the boys to make such a stunning re-arrangement for their album, then I instinctively knew I needed to listen to this one closely.
And I'm glad I did.
Anyhow this new Sundazed Mono edition is way more full bodied and open sounding than the original pressing that I have. Removing much of that claustrophobic compression reveals a rich sounding recording, with big beautiful acoustic instrument sounds. Richie's acoustic guitar is so clear you can hear his finger nails scraping the strings. There is an open airiness to the overall recording and now it sounds like Richie is more like he is playing for you in the room vs. you listening to a record of him playing in a room. The bass and drum sounds are fuller and richer, punchy, warm and natural sounding.
This could really be a demo worthy disc.
It is also an important album that has relevance in these tragic times of Church burnings and hate crimes in the South, 'He who rides with the Klan is a devil and not a man..." before ending with the plea "Brother, stand with me. Its not too easy to be free."
So, yes, buy this album for its sonics but ultimately you need to really listen to the beautiful timeless music on this remarkable recording which sounds like it could have been made this week and not 45 years ago.
Thank you Sundazed for bringing this one back to life and for making it available to all at a very affordable price point, on sale for less than $10.