Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review: George Harrison's 'Early Takes Volume 1'


Early Takes Volume 1 is the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s recent documentary George Harrison: Living in the Material World. It sort of serves the same purpose as the Beatles Anthology discs of the late ‘90s, but whereas those collections were sprawling, Early Takes is pretty skimpy. At just ten tracks, it barely clears 30 minutes and offers nothing but a version of “Let It Be Me” and a home demo of Dylan’s “Mama, You’ve Been on My Mind” in terms of unfamiliar songs. Aside from an inessential take of “I’d Have You Anytime” with a rough vocal, the presentations are sufficiently unusual. Half the tracks are demos from the All Things Must Pass sessions. Stripped of Phil Spector’s Wagnerian production, these versions are certainly more intimate, if not as breathtaking as the ones on George’s solo debut. “All Things Must Pass” is the standout among these, recreating The Beatles’ loose run-through from 1969, though lacking Paul’s sublime gospel harmonies.

The real treasures of Early Takes are the less familiar songs that don’t have to vie with the fully realized versions from what may be the best album of the 1970s. “Woman Don’t You Cry for Me” loses the cumbersome white funk of the version from Thirty Three & 1/3 to shine as a joyful John Sebastian-style country blues. “Mama, You’ve Been on My Mind” reclines comfortably in that same rustic hammock. Best of all is that rendition of “Let It Be Me”. Indescribably delicate, gut-wrenchingly raw, it illustrates how George’s music could be so much more genuine than Paul’s and far less self-consciously ravaged than John’s. It is beautiful.

Unfortunately, along with the lack of tracks, there’s a lack of information on what’s here. Is that Ringo and Klaus Voorman accompanying George on those stripped demos of “My Sweet Lord”, “Awaiting on You All”, and “All Things Must Pass”? It sure sounds like them, but we can’t be certain. The dates of these recordings aren’t even provided.

Early Takes is slim overall, though what’s here is generally lovely. It would have been nice if we didn’t have to wait until Volume 2 to hear more of it.

Get George Harrison’s Early Takes Volume 1 on Amazon.com here:
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