Early Takes Volume 1
[Rating: 4 stars]
“Everyone has choice/When to and not to raise their voices.” So sings George Harrison on “Run Of The Mill,” one of the ten outtakes and demos collected on Early Takes, Volume 1, a companion piece to the DVD/Blu-Ray release of Martin Scorsese’s documentary about George’s life, Living In The Material World.
It’s a telling line, because Harrison’s voice, not his slide guitar or sitar or ukulele, is what’s most prominent on these tracks, most of which date to the period around the release of All Things Must Pass. That voice had been muffled somewhat by the songwriting genius of his fellow Beatles, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, relegating the so-called Quiet Beatle to one or two tracks per Fab 4 album. Once he got the chance to go solo, it all came gushing forth, and the result was arguably the best Beatle solo album.
What makes this release more worthwhile than your average collection of odds and sods is the fact that it puts the spotlight on Harrison’s own songwriting acumen. While you can’t argue with the results producer Phil Spector got on All Things Must Pass, it’s nice to hear album tracks like “Run Of The Mill,” “I’d Have You Anytime,” and “Awaiting On You All” free of all the echo and drone. The melodies, spiced up by George’s affinity for offbeat chord changes, really pop, and you can hear the wry humor and disarming tenderness in the lyrics much clearer as well.
In addition, “Woman Don’t You Cry For Me” and “The Light That Lighted The Whole World” are unearthed from later, less successful Harrison albums, and they shine every bit as brightly In their spare form as well-known classics like “My Sweet Lord” and “All Things Must Pass.” Throw in gentle covers of Dylan’s “Mama You’ve Been On My Mind” and The Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me” and you’ve got a pretty unassailable collection of songs.
On “Let It Be Me,” an overdubbed Harrison plays both Phil and Don, harmonizing with himself, and his vocals, oft-maligned in his solo years, are achingly lovely. Early Takes Volume 1 might just be the ultimate George Harrison compilation because it pays such respect to that voice in terms of how it sounded and what it had to say, reminding us just how much we miss hearing it today.