Rare Earth

Rare Earth In Concert (Motown ’71) Rating: A-

Rare Earth were indeed a rare band. For one thing, they were the only successful white group at Motown, and the type of music they played was far from your typical Motown fare. Basically, Rare Earth was a funky “jam band” and a live band first and foremost, so they had more in common with the likes of Phish, moe., and Widespread Panic than most Motown groups. Of course, the group they’re most associated with is The Temptations due to their popular extended cover versions of “Get Ready” and “(I Know) I’m Losing You,” the edited single releases of which were top 10 U.S. hits. Their other top 10 U.S. hit was “I Just Want To Celebrate,” a joyously energetic and upbeat party tune which kicks off this stellar live album, which was recorded in 1971 when the band was firing on all cylinders. Each band member gets to shine during many solo sections, with the core rock instruments of drums, bass, and guitar on primary display along with keyboards, saxophones, and woodwinds. And though maybe things could be tightened up here and there (for example, I wish I could fast forward the spoken intro to “Hey, Big Brother” and head right to the hot playing), Rare Earth was comprlsed of excellent musicians who complemented each other extremely well. This even-longer 23-minute version of “Get Ready” starts slow and moody, with organ and sax at the forefront, before it ups the tempo for the song’s more familiar groove at around the 3-minute mark; and let me tell you, this song just GROOVES like nobody’s business here, and the 14-minute version (as opposed to the original 10) of “(I Know) I’m Losing You” is similarly outstanding, with some fantastic soloing and more than adequate vocals (let’s face it if you’re going to cover The Temptations you better be able to sing!). I could talk about other songs, like the mellower “Born To Wander,” the very different from the Ray Charles original “What’d I Say,” the nearly 11-minute “Thoughts” (probably the album’s weakest link but not without its moments as well), and the shockingly short (2:15) finale “Nice To Be With You” (a standard pop song with more strong, soulful vocals), but to me the heart of the album is on the extended Temptations tracks. This album is perfect for an outdoor summer party, and it’s a shame that In Concert isn’t easier to obtain (a reissue is definitely in order) and that such an accomplished band of musicians are so rarely remembered these days. P.S. Given that this album is hard to hard to obtain without paying a hefty price, an excellent alternative is The Millennium Collection: The Best Of Rare Earth. Generally I’m not a big fan of the skimpy Millennium Collection series of compilation albums, but this one gets everything just about right by including the extended studio versions of most of the same songs as In Concert while adding the 17-minute Norman Whitfield produced “Ma” (recorded in 1973 after the release of In Concert) instead of “Thoughts” and “Nice To Be With You.”

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