by Nick DeRiso
More musical journey than greatest hits, per se, “Let It Roll” is a primer on George Harrison for those who never got past his time with Beatles — and yet a still-intriguing way to reexperience some of his best solo cuts for those who followed along after the Fabs went pphhft.
It didn’t have to meet that standard. After all, “Let It Roll” includes a 28-page booklet featuring previously unseen and rare photos, and newly written liner notes by Warren Zanes. The compilation’s 19 tracks feature a remarkable new sheen after digitally remastering by Giles Martin at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios, where George and the Beatles did their most important early work.
And, of course, “Let It Roll,” in stores today, is the first collection to span Harrison’s entire solo recording career — from start (the initial No. 1 Billboard pop single from 1970, “My Sweet Lord”) to middle (his last charttopper, 1987′s “Got My Mind Set On You”) to the end (recordings with ELO’s Jeff Lynne eventually released after George’s death).
There had been a 1976 Capitol/Apple hits package, half of which jarringly included tunes recorded with his old band, and then a hastily crafted 1989 set of later songs put together in the wake of Harrison’s triumphal return to pop prominence as a solo artist and with the Traveling Wilburys.
Which meant you had to buy both to get 1973′s “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” as well as Harrison’s John Lennon tribute “All Those Years Ago” from 1981′s “Somewhere In England.” One featured “When We Was Fab,” a jolly send up of his former band’s psychedelic period, while only the original best-of boasted the rumbling joys of “What Is Life.”
This new compilation connects all of those dots. Just as importantly, and what a fizzy surprise, is that it manages to do that without using any straight lines. There’s something in the way that “Let It Roll,” compiled with a loving and almost magical rhythm by Harrison’s family, moves through his catalog.
Rather than yielding to familiar chronology, “Let It Roll” mixes and matches from across Harrison’s history. All of a sudden, essential complexities can be explored again, old scores can be settled, the familiar is seen differently.
“Let It Roll” goes from “All Things Must Pass,” which works nearly 40 years later as a delicately spiritual memorial to the fallen Harrison, directly into the jaunty put-down song “Any Road” from his posthumous 2002 release “Brainwashed” — only to reverse course back to the Utopian “This Is Love” from that ’87 comeback album “Cloud Nine.”
We begin to hear all of this with new ears.
Over one soaring three-song sweep, for instance, the disc definitively stakes a claim to Harrison’s often-forgotten part in the Beatles legacy.
“Fab” is followed by a 1971 live rendition of “Something,” George’s most complete 1960s composition, and then by “Blow Away” — a silly little love song (originally found on Harrison’s 1979 self-titled release) that out-McCartneys Paul McCartney.
Also intriguing are additional tracks like “Cheer Down” and the little-known Bob Dylan composition “I Don’t Want To Do It” (initially included, respectively, on soundtracks for sequels to “Lethal Weapon” and, no kidding, to “Porky’s”) as well as the instrumental “Marwa Blues” from Harrison’s final release (which earned him a posthumous Grammy for best pop instrumental performance in 2004).
One could argue for other tunes, and I started to. There was “Beware of Darkness,” a soaring call for hope from Harrison’s solo debut; the muscular 1970s hit “You”; the lovely “Your Love is Forever”; a whimsical favorite like “Crackerbox Palace,” “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” or “This Song”; “Handle with Care,” by the Wilburys; and “Stuck Inside a Cloud,” the devastatingly honest portrayal of his final struggle with cancer. (See our previous entry:.)
In the end, though, this compilation has its own internal logic — and seems to find that rarest of balances: It’s as much about memory as about chart position, about story telling more than anthology.
“Let It Roll” is revealed as a brilliantly satisfying collection that, through its nervy presentation, completely transforms familiar source material.
Also: iTunes is exclusively offering a previously unreleased bonus track, “Isn’t It A Pity” (Earliest Demo Version), with a digital album purchase of “Let It Roll.”