Heavily steeped in the American Folk, Blues & Roots movements of the early to mid Sixties, Tom Rush was already a 27-year old 5-album veteran by the time he released "The Circle Game" in April 1968. The CD version of this lovely, but long-forgotten gem of an album has been available for almost 20 years with a slip of paper as an insert and useless hissy sound. Thankfully Rhino's May 2008 reissue finally addresses that travesty by giving this album the sonic upgrade its long deserved - a remastered 40th Anniversary Edition - complete with an upgraded booklet and 3 rare bonus tracks.
Here's the layout (52:12 minutes):
Tracks 1-11 make up the album "The Circle Game" issued on Elektra EKL 4018 (Mono)/EKS 74018 (Stereo) in April 1968 in both the USA and UK
Track 12 is the "UK Single Mix" to "Something In The Way She Moves" issued on Elektra EKSN 45032 which is different to the album version
Track 13 is the "US Single Mix" of "Urge For Going" issued on Elektra EKS-45607 again different to the album version
Track 14 is a previously unreleased version of "The Circle Game" (it's Take 1)
The 8-page booklet has an new essay and interview with Rush by the respected reviewer PETER DOGGETT and is filled out with session details, trade paper reviews and pictures of US and UK singles. The album artwork is beneath the see-through tray and the CD itself reflects the colour of the original US vinyl album label - all nice touches - and typical of Rhino's attention to detail.
Some might moan that the album's original MONO mix should have been included as well as the STEREO version - I'd take that as a valid point - but two of the bonus tracks are a real find and collectors I'm sure would prefer them.
In an odd sort of way, "The Circle Game" isn't remembered so much for Rush himself, but for the astonishing singer-songwriters he introduced to the world via the record - JONI MITCHELL, JACKSON BROWNE and JAMES TAYLOR - all three unsigned at the time. With these enormous talents providing the bulk of the songs and two cracking originals of his own, this unassuming little folk album practically kick-started the entire Californian singer-songwriter movement. The album's title is one of Joni's best compositions "The Circle Game" which she eventually put out on her 3rd album "Ladies Of The Canyon" in 1970. The other two covers are "Tin Angel" which turned up on her 2nd LP "Clouds" in 1969 and "Urge For Going", as beautiful a song as she has ever written and for me one of the real beauties on this record. Her own version didn't find its way onto vinyl until 1972, when it turned up as a B-side of "You Turn Me On, I'm A Radio". Its CD debut is on the wonderful "Hits" set from 1996 - a HDCD remaster in truly beautiful sound quality. When you hear just how touching her original is, it's easy to see why Rush nabbed the song as fast as he could!
James Taylor's two tracks fare less well. First up is "Something In The Way She Moves" which Rush unwisely speeds it up with funky brass fills ruining the beauty of the song - it's dated and awful. A few months later, Taylor left for London, signed to The Beatles Apple label and released his debut LP "James Taylor" in 1968 with his softer version of the song on it. It was such a lovely tune, several artists covered it almost immediately - best of which is MATTHEWS SOUTHERN COMFORT's version on the "Second Spring" album from 1970. However, Taylor aced all of them - including his own original - by re-recording the song for his first hits set in 1976 - the white covered "Greatest Hits" - it's the definitive version of a beautiful song. The 2nd Taylor track is "Sunshine Sunshine" - a far better jaunty love song complete with strings and 60's upbeat message.
Jackson Browne's voice and sound is immediately evident in the chorus of "Shadow Dream Song" - a good song - and a pointer to what was to come years later in 1974's sublime "Late For The Sky".
The other two covers are "The Glory Of Love" made famous by Benny Goodman in 1936 with The Five Keys doing a number 1 doo-wop version of it in 1951 - Rush's version is more uptempo and only ok in my books, while "So Long" is an old Charlie Rich song from his days at Sun Records. But then - for me - comes the lethal double whammy of his own two compositions - the gorgeous instrumental "Rockport Sunday" and the classic and magical "No Regrets" (made a huge hit by The Walker Brothers in 1975). To hear them both in this improved sound quality is a genuine blast. The 6-second string curio that is "(Coda)" is just that - a curio tagged onto the end of the record. Two of the bonus tracks, "Urge For Going" and "The Circle Game", are sparse bare acoustic versions and beautiful for it - a real treat for fans.
Soundwise the improvement is enormous - it's still a little hissy on a lot of the tracks, but the clarity of the instruments and the depth of his huge voice are so much more to the fore now - a muscular and fabulous remaster by Rhino's tape-masters BILL INGLOT and DAN HERSCH.
To sum up - flawed in places for sure, but the good stuff is breathtaking - and this remastered reissue finally brings that out. A job well done and an album you need to investigate