Caroline Records [Release date 31.05.19]
Formed in Georgia, USA, 1970, the Atlanta Rhythm Section (at least initially) a southern rock band, albeit with a touch more MOR and blue-eyed soul. The original line-up was Rodney Justo (vocals), Barry Bailey (guitar), Paul Goddard (bass), Dean Daughtry (keyboards), Robert Nix (drums) and J.R. Cobb (guitar). They never found the success of contemporaries The Allman Brothers Band or Lynyrd Skynyrd but did tour the world and had a hit or two. And in later years with more line-ups than Scotland Yard. Several members have also passed, including most recently Cobb a couple of weeks ago at the time of writing. He was 75.
The band signed to Decca in 1972 and recorded two albums, before the signed to Polydor. And that’s where this box comes in. And it does exactly what it says on the tin.
Opening with their 3rd album, 1974’s Third Annual Pipe Dream , and alongside guitarists Bailey and Cobb, pianist Daughtry, bassist Goddard, and drummer Nix are vocalists Hugh Jarrett, Mylon LeFevre and Ronnie Hammond, and conductor Michael Huey. The more country tracks definitely nod to the ABB, and the soul oriented tracks add to the easy feel. The guitars work really well, and the piano and bass stand out in a honky tonk and funky kind of way. A very enjoyable if easy listen.
1975’s Dog Days opens with a guitar riff that grabs you by the throat, something sadly lacking in too much of the band’s material. A well received if mainstream and commercial album, there’s some great tunes here. The eight minute Boogie Smoogie a rare foray into blues and welcome it is too, this album is a 5 star set on this track alone.
While Dog Days mixed hard rockers with ballads, Red Tape, 1976, was a more uptempo bar room boogie album. A touch of Little Feat.
Released the same year, A Rock And Roll Alternative saw continued success (at least in the US, and it featured their biggest hit So Into You (which also made the Easy Listening Chart). Opener Sky High is a solid rocker, a decent guitar solo. A feel you get across the album. The track slows nicely but the guitar remains excellent.
1978’s Champagne Jam continued in similar vein, another top 10 single. Rocking.
The following year’s Underdog, the first to feature drummer Roy Yeager, was a top 30 gold certified album with 2 top 20 singles, the feel is gentler. Some solid guitar moments and orchestration to boot, but with the rock there are more easy listening undertones than previously.
Released later in 1979 is Are You Ready, a live compilation of tracks recorded onstage and also live in the studio recordings. And what a cracking album it is. Evidence of just what a fantastic, powerful and wonderful live band the band were. Any nod to MOR within the rock’n’roll is turned up to 11. Another Man’s Woman runs to just shy of 15 minutes – it’s what live shows were made for. Now this album is essential listening.
1980’s The Boys From Doraville was their last for Polydor and thus closes this set. From the outset there is a clearer production, and some up-front rocking guitar. That said, it is a whole lot less Southern. A solid commercial rock to enter the new decade, with a very obvious country undertone. A direction undertaken by many Southern artists, including Skynyrd and offshoots.
This is a wonderful and long overdue set. The packaging up to the usual Caroline high standards; 8 albums in individual card sleeves; the odd bonus track on each (single only tracks / edits), a booklet, in a lovely 5” box. Now this is how reissues should be done as it completes an era, essential when the catalogue has been so sparse / hit’n’miss in availability. No faffing about – there’s a huge chunk here in one go. *****
Review Joe Geesin
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 20 September 2020.
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