- Number of Discs: 2
- Released: January 27, 2009
- Label: Hux Records
The Wire - pp.54-55
"[T]here are genuine delights -- a fine version of 'The Iron Stone,' Heron's rare and splendid 'Lover Man,' Williamson's singing 'Secret Temple'."
Record Collector (magazine) - p.96
"4 stars out of 5
-- "[F]irsts, outtakes and radio session versions make the first disc a slab of ISB dynamite as beautiful, beguiling and ultimately unfathomable as anything they released at the time."
Tracks on Disc 1:
- 1.Relax Your Mind - (take Rehearsal Tape)
- 2.Lover Man
- 3.All Too Much for Me / Take Your Burden to the Lord / Let It Shine on Me
- 4.Iron Stone, The - (alternate take)
- 5.The Head
- 6.Douglas Traherne Harding
- 7.See All the People
Tracks on Disc 2:
- 2.Ratto, El
- 3.Long Long Road
- 4.All Writ Down
- 5.Queen Juanita
- 6.Poetry Play, Pt. 1: Flute Tune / The Archers / Man Swimming / Faery Tune / Look
- 7.Secret Temple
A product of remarkable archaeological-strength sleuthing, this double CD has 16 rare and unreleased Incredible String Band recordings from 1966 to 1972. The 95 minutes of material draw primarily from studio outtakes, but also include a May 1968 radio show in New York, a couple live performances from April 1970, and even a home recording from October 1966. Yes, this is primarily for the major ISB fan; some of these are alternate takes/versions, and none of the songs would have been hailed as major highlights of the albums on which they might have been included. Yet at the same time, none of them would have stuck out as especially ill-fitting or weak sore thumbs had they made the cut, making it a pretty enjoyable listen if you like the group, though the numerous eras and lineups represented also ensure that it's not the most consistent listen. Aside from the lo-fi October 1966 rehearsal tape of the band (then just the duo of Robin Williamson and Mike Heron) doing Leadbelly's "Relax Your Mind," the fidelity throughout is quite good, and the territory covered -- as should be no surprise for those even casually familiar with the Incredible String Band -- very eclectic.
On disc one alone, there's the ISB's own version of "Lover Man," a song covered on Al Stewart's first album; an alternate take of one of their better-known late-'60s tunes "The Iron Stone"; a Williamson poem "The Head," previously only known via the inclusion of its lyrics on an LP insert; and an impressive live 13-minute radio version of "Maya," sitar and all. On disc two, there's "Queen Juanita," a 16-minute suite cut for (but not used on) I Looked Up; "Secret Temple," a fetching, wistful 1972 outtake with the mysterious Licorice McKechnie on lead vocals, previously available only as a BBC recording; "Poetry Play Number One," a mere six-minute multi-part epic of sorts in a 1971 piece to accompany a mime play; pleasantly meditative Williamson-penned folky instrumentals; and relatively straightforward, stirring folk-rock in the alternate version (with an additional verse) of "All Writ Down." There are even a couple songs (represented by live recordings) from their somewhat notoriously extravagant on-stage epic U that didn't make the corresponding double LP. Characteristically for almost any album billed to the Incredible String Band, there are liberal traces of world music, Indian music, American old-timey sounds, psychedelia, and other unpredictable influences embellishing the haunting British folk at the core of their sound.
The liner notes are extremely thorough in documenting the origins of the material, down to the extent of sidebars containing meticulous explanations as to how the recordings were discovered and restored. It's true that neither this nor another Hux double-CD ISB release, Across the Airwaves (of BBC recordings), could be considered among the group's most essential recordings. Yet each are way above average as archival projects dedicated to the margins of a significant act's work, and the label deserves high commendation for assembling and packaging them with extreme loving care that is vital to filling out dedicated fans' appreciation of the ISB's large body of material. ~ Richie Unterberger