REVIEW: Phil Ochs “The Best of the Rest – Rare & Unreleased” Has the Ability to Make a Point

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Phil Ochs – The Best of the Rest – Rare & Unreleased 

Unlike Bob Dylan who stepped away from more political songs, the late Phil Ochs was driven to make a statement. This was a sore spot between Ochs & Dylan. While I didn’t always agree with Ochs, he was a formidable performer (The War Is Over – 1967) is still excellent. I admired his sand; determination & he wasn’t a lunatic.

He indeed had uneven releases & missteps – (dressed up like Elvis in a gold lame suit on his 1970 Greatest Hits LP & The Gunfight at Carnegie Hall) maybe they misunderstood Phil. Since he preferred messages to mere entertainment.

Produced by Michael Ochs, the 20-cut acoustic collection Phil Ochs – The Best of the Rest – Rare & Unreleased – Liberation Hall – released May 22) fans of the talented, troubled troubadour will enjoy the well-recorded rare tunes & unreleased demo recordings from a by-gone era when protest songs were filled with messages & not venom.

Ochs had a thin voice but that was his charm. He sings well on the aged topical & satirical tracks. He was more than just a protest singer. He was a workhorse. Ochs had the ability to make a point without shoving his liberalism into anyone’s face. You could listen without grimacing. He wanted people to understand. “Day of Decision,” is strong with no dire “Eve of Destruction” edge. But record companies were in business to turn a buck.

He was bold & wrote many of his songs straight from newspaper headlines. Listeners hear a sampling of the skeletal tunes prior to final studio takes. If Phil were here now, he’d certainly have no lack of inspiration. He didn’t dilute or embellish the message, he took the incendiary, the rhetoric, & vinegar out.

He wasn’t always accurate, but he was well-intentioned. The previously unreleased “Sailors & Soldiers,” is muddy but powerful. It’s partially inspired by the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial in NYC. He doesn’t ridicule military boys he sympathizes. It was covered by The Long Ryders’ Sid Griffin (with Billy Bragg) on 1997’s “Little Victories.”

“Take It Out of My Youth,” is good, clever & previously unreleased. The finger-picking guitar of “Colored Town,” is exceptional though lyrically isn’t politically correct today & some of Phil’s lyrics haven’t dated well. “Love Me I’m a Liberal” isn’t bad, some will cringe but if nothing else, Phil was honest. Today’s mindset is just…different.

While the insert mentions today’s state of the presidency it ignores the alternative. Which is no viable solution. I don’t think Phil Ochs would take that bait. He wasn’t radical & I can assume that — since he was never vindictive in his songs. When Phil sang, it was about peace, the war, unrest in the cities, migrants, but today we have terrorism of many stripes & riots in cities. Something written decades ago doesn’t always translate.

What is evident: Phil never came across as someone who hated America. I didn’t agree with every Phil Ochs’ song but I can honestly say I miss him. He was that kind of artist.

The CD is over an hour & available at Amazon. http://web.cecs.pdx.edu/~trent/ochs/ 

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