Is a three-CD set of the Siegel-Schwall Band
-- including all four of their Vanguard albums (spanning 1966-1970) in their entirety, along with six previously unissued cuts -- too much to take at once? In a word, yes. If you're a blues-rock history nut, though -- and there must be some such listeners out there -- it is a handy collection that gathers every last shred of recorded evidence of their early years. In the Chicago-style 1960s white blues sweepstakes, the group lagged way behind the Paul Butterfield Blues Band
, an unavoidable reference point due to the similarity of approach and repertoire. Nor were they as good as Charlie Musselwhite
or John Hammond
, in part because of their vocal limitations, and also in part because of their lesser levels of virtuosity and imagination. They could, however, sometimes summon respectable raffish energy, particularly on the faster or more Bo Diddley
-esque tunes, though the slow ones were usually pretty mundane. The highlights of this set are the moments when they do manage to break toward some more original territory, whether it's in the occasional use of mandolin, or the tentative psychedelic pop of the atypical "Song," from Siegel-Schwall 70
. If you've heard the albums already, you'll be most interested in the half-dozen previously unreleased tracks, none of which are too great or different from most of their early work. These include two 1965 demos (one of them a cover of Howlin' Wolf
's "Howlin' for My Darlin'"); two outtakes from their first Vanguard recording session in 1966; and two 1970 demos, the highlight of that pair being "Easy Rider," which has good slide work. The 12-page booklet, which contains some quotes from the band, is a plus; the absence of songwriter credits is a minus.