Bluesman Taj Mahal, then fresh from the Boston hootenanny scene, was one of the Sons' two singers; roots-guitar god Ry Cooder, still in his teens at the time, was the band's prodigious lead picker. The Sons deserved better. These twenty-two rousing and mostly unreleased performances from the Columbia vaults show the Rising Sons to be the missing link between Beatlemania and the late-Sixties electric-blues explosion, an exciting, highly commercial proposition that missed stardom by just a hairbreadth. They turn vintage black-cat moans like Sleepy John Estes's "If the River Was Whiskey (Divin' Duck Blues)" and the Reverend Gary Davis's "Candy Man" into ebullient Hollywood party soul, with Cooder's spidery, purist chops betraying the twangy influence of George Harrison, while Taj Mahal spikes the band's Sunset Strip mix with his own Beale Street-style howl. "Statesboro Blues" (heard in two zesty readings) cooks like the Cavern-era Beatles with a hellhound on their trail. The legend is slightly undercut by the modest, even weedy production by Terry Melcher, who never quite reconciled the Sons' mythic stage prowess with the signature jangle of his work with the Byrds and Paul Revere and the Raiders.
When the overtly Dylanesque ambitions (nasal delivery et cetera) of the Sons' other singer, Jesse Lee Kincaid, take over on "Spanish Lace Blues" and "The Girl With Green Eyes," the Sons sound wooden, as if they're just going through the L.A. folk-rock motions. But at their best (which is most of the time), the Rising Sons were precocious blues adventurers who took the music out of the beatnik coffeehouses and into the discotheques, where people could really dance to it. The Sons' version of "Take a Giant Step" is the best example of their derring-do, a lithe roadhouse overhaul of the Monkees song combining Taj Mahal's energetic howl and Cooder's bottleneck maneuvers with bursts of cheesy Sixties fuzz guitar and a weird neo-Byrdsy a cappella vocal break. They definitely don't make 'em like that anymore.
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