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Various Artists 

Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts From the British Empire and Beyond 1964 -1969 (Rhino)

Rhino, a label that caters to collectors no matter how obsessive, has outdone itself with this sequel to Nuggets, the four-CD anthology of American garage rock it released three years ago. The latest installment in what Rhino executives suggest is an ongoing franchise stresses British rock, but also includes flower-powered, fuzz-toned proto-punk (and much else) from South and Central America, the former Soviet bloc, and even Japan. The tracks span the growling, over-the-top blues of the Syndicats' "Crawdaddy Simone" (produced by legendary studio anarchist Joe Meek), the startlingly psychedelic, even radical "Get Down From the Tree" by Czechoslovakia's Matadors, and the twee, linguistically challenging "Imposters of Life's Magazine" by the Idle Race, a 1967 track featuring a very young Jeff Lynne. Even the Guess Who sounds good here -- "It's My Pride" is urgent and driven and personal, rather than sentimental and anthemic.

As usual, it's not only the music but the packaging that distinguishes this compilation. The 109 tracks come in a glossy, laminated box, and the booklet, written by noted record collector Greg Shaw and producers Gary Stewart and Alec Palao, is packed with arcana befitting a collection featuring early David Bowie, Yes guitarist-to-be Steve Howe (in Tomorrow), and T. Rex's Marc Bolan (in John's Children). There are some tunes that made the charts back when the charts weren't so sliced and diced -- the Easybeats' inspired "Friday on My Mind" and the Status Quo's deliciously snarling "Pictures of Matchstick Men." But the underground far outweighs the commercial in this exuberantly packaged, well-annotated collection. It reminds us that the middle and late '60s were days of experimentation, when pop culture went global. Heavily influenced by the Beatles and the Stones (who, respectively, echo clearly in Sweden's Tages and Britain's Pretty Things), Nuggets II speaks of an era when anything went in music, as long as it had melody, harmony, and a rock and roll beat.

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