Friday, September 28, 2018

Review: The Action's 'Shadows & Reflections: The Complete Recordings 1964-1968'

The Action was one of the best R&B bands the swinging UK produced, and to those who might have thought Townshend’s feedback waves or Steve Marriott’s elfin screaming were too extreme, The Action were probably the best. They were the slick Motown to The Who and Small Faces’ vicious Stax, yet despite having one of the era’s best vocalists in silken throated Reg King, The Action never achieved an iota of the success of their more popular peers in the Mod scene. Why that may have been has been theorized over before, so let’s just focus on the scant but wonderful music The Action produced during their few years, because that music is collected quite completely on Shadows & Reflections: The Complete Recordings 1964-1968. 

This set spreads The Action archive over four discs. They basically only recorded 31 songs properly during their four years, and these tracks are most succinctly collected on Edsel’s Ultimate Action comp, which covers their Mod early years, and Rolled Gold, which collects the more psychedelic demos they cut in 1967. In essence, vintage mono mixes of the Ultimate Action era features on disc one of Shadows & Reflections, stereo mixes appear on disc two, the Rolled Gold era occupies disc three (with several extended versions of tracks making their debut here), and an assortment of oddities (demos, audition recordings, BBC sessions, Ready Steady Go recordings, alternate takes, and alternate mixes created for the Edsel comp) make up disc four (the other discs are also supplemented with BBC sessions, backing tracks, alternate takes, and demos). 

However, we’re not just hearing the same thirty one songs over and over in different configurations, partly because Shadows & Reflections provides a slightly wider focus than the strict Reg King era. There are a few so-so songs from when The Action went by the name The Boys at the very start of their career and some demos recorded in 1968 that are surprisingly strong despite the absence of Reg King. The BBC sessions supply neat performances of soul standards the band never cut in the studio, such as The Miracles’ “Going to a Go Go” (with some nasty guitar work that sounds like steel rending), Kim Weston’s “Take Me In Your Arms”, and The Olympics’ “Mine Exclusively”, and more radically, a late-career interpretation of John Coltrane’s “India”. The sound quality is sometimes dodgy but the historical value is exceptional.

I can’t really comment on the sound of the proper recordings since I only received MP3s for review purposes. However the quality of the informative, 45-page booklet included with Shadows & Reflections and the set’s overall completeness and attention to detail are clear under any circumstances, and The Action are a band well deserving of such belated love.

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