George Harrison, ‘Early Takes: Volume 1′ – Album Review
More than ten years after his death, George Harrison has a “new” record on the racks, ‘Early Takes: Volume 1,’ which gathers together demos from some of the artist’s most beloved albums. It’s a sweet if slight gathering of material that reflects the beauty of Harrison’s music in its stripped-down versions of classic tracks.
An alternate title for ‘Early Takes’ might be ‘All Things Must Pass…Naked,’ since six of the collection’s ten tracks are demos and early takes of material from that seminal solo Beatle album. Also included are versions of songs from Harrison’s 1973 release ‘Living in the Material World’ and the 1976 outing ‘Thirty Three & 1/3,’ as well as covers of Bob Dylan and Everly Brothers tracks.
Much like the Beatles’ own ‘Let It Be,’ the original tracks on ‘All Things Must Pass’ are inundated with heavy production from Phil Spector. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s certainly a nice alternative to have these more intimate versions of the songs.
And “intimate” is exactly the right word. On some tracks, it’s just Harrison and an acoustic guitar, with occasional embellishment from a harmony vocal or electric guitar. A few of these, such as the version of ‘Run of the Mill’ included, sound like very early demos recorded with Sir George Martin in the control room just as the Beatles were disintegrating in the late sixties. (The CD’s liner notes are painfully thin on exact information about when and where these takes were recorded.) The unobtrusive production from Martin’s son Giles underscores clarity and keeps these loose yet beautiful performances at the fore.
It’s hard to talk about ‘Early Takes’ without bemoaning the lack of material on it — by vinyl standards, a 10-track, 35-minute record is perfectly acceptable. As a modern CD and digital release, it feels more like an excerpt as the final track comes to a close. That’s a complaint, and maybe it’s not justified; the music is certainly brilliant enough to justify a $9.99 digital price tag. Ultimately, it may just be that the material included on ‘Early Takes’ offers such a compelling glimpse into Harrison’s art that it leaves the listener hungry for more. In that sense, there may not be enough tracks in existence to truly satisfy the need.