The Columbia Years –The Definitive Anthology
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
The ex-Traffic, long-time solo musician’s seven-album Columbia stint was already compiled on 2010’s generous 19 track single disc Long Lost Friend:The Best of Dave Mason. But this one doubles the platters and at 30 cuts, nearly the tunes too, providing a more complete picture of the UK singer/songwriter/guitarist’s talents during the 1973-’80 time frame. Although it has been available digitally, it’s now here in physical form with full credits, 11 pages of notes, and Mason’s intermittently illuminating quotes (on at least two occasions he claims he can’t remember anything) on the music.
Twice as long doesn’t mean twice as enjoyable though and while this includes nearly everything on the 2010 collection (it subs out a live “All Along the Watchtower”— Mason played on the Hendrix version — for a studio one), there is a fair amount of lesser fluff that could have been left off. Conversely, at less than two hours playing time, there is also about 30 minutes remaining for rare or previously unreleased tracks, all MIA.
Those who followed Mason since his hippie/psychedelic ‘60s Traffic days were likely disappointed as he pushed into decidedly commercial, “adult pop” waters during these years. That was highlighted by 1977’s Let it Flow which included the #12 charting ballad “We Just Disagree,” a song Mason didn’t compose. But that was the culmination of three previous studio sets which grew increasingly more slick and polished with Split Coconut tapping into a faux-tropical Jimmy Buffet groove, especially on an ill-advised reggae-fied version of Buddy Holly’s “Crying, Waiting, Hoping,” complete with steel drums.
Mason’s 1976 live double album was a clear response to Peter Frampton’s similarly successful career move, only without the vibrant vibe that made Frampton Comes Alive so memorable. The second part of this compilation opens with five selections and 20 minutes from that which allows Mason to revisit two Traffic nuggets, one of which (“Pearly Queen”) he didn’t pen. Typical of these chronological overviews, the quality drifts toward the end, and the final four songs that represent his last two albums for the label find Mason sounding stiff, tired, and overproduced.
Mason has been on somewhat of a revival lately, touring behind his classic hits, which likely accounts for this compilation. And while there are enough quality tunes to justify a career overview of his most profitable and musically accessible period, the overall dated production along with sub-par material like a wince-inducing cover of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and an unnecessary live remake of the Eagles’ “Take It To The Limit” make it questionable as to who really needs this.