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Al Kooper 

Rare + Well Done: The Greatest and Rarest of Al Kooper (Columbia/Legacy)

These two discs provide an overview of the career of Al Kooper, one of the great rock journeymen. Kooper, a spirited multi-instrumentalist and talented vocalist, is perhaps better known for his sideman and production work than for his own efforts. With 18 of 33 tracks previously unreleased, these discs set Kooper in perspective. They chronicle his work with the Blues Project, Blood Sweat & Tears (their debut, Child Is Father to the Man, the only album with Kooper, is their only really good one), Shuggie Otis, and Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills (on the classic 1968 album Super Session). The missing link between Barry Manilow and Randy Newman, Kooper can be bombastic and sentimental (see "They Just Don't Make 'Em Like That Anymore" and "New York's My Home"). He can be arch, too: His goofy cover of XTC's "Making Plans for Nigel" is a gas. Soulful? Forget it. Not only does his demo for BS&Ts "Somethin' Goin' On" prove his emotionality, his "Living in My Own Religion" speaks to his roots with fervor and without condescension.

How tough Kooper can be, live, comes clear on "Baby Please Don't Go"; how weird he can be is apparent on an instrumental transmogrification of the Beatles' "Hey Jude" and a slow, oddly gentrified "I Got a Woman." Kooper has played with everybody from the Royal Teens to Gene Pitney, Bob Dylan (his organ on "Like a Rolling Stone" is almost as striking as the lyrics), the Rolling Stones, Green on Red, and Lattimore. He's been sampled by the Pharcyde and the Beastie Boys, and has produced Lynyrd Skynyrd, Thelonious Monster, and the Tubes. He's written an autobiography and taught at the Berklee College of Music. Kooper's been there, done that, and then some. Al's Big Deal, a disc Legacy issued in 1989, hinted at his breadth and includes seven songs not available here, but Rare + Well Done is the reference record.

More by Carlo Wolff

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