THANK YOU FRIENDS: THE ARDENT RECORDS STORY - Various Artists (Big Beat/Shock)
Back in the late 1980s and early '90s, you'd think there would been no such thing as pop music if someone hadn't invented Big Star. Well into the dawn of a new century, their influence is still as strong as ever. You just need to scratch the surface a bit harder to see it shine through.

Ardent was the label that discovered, nurtured and sustained Big Star, its members (most prominently the very wayward Alex Chilton and Chris Bell) and many other notable bands for a relatively short but inspiring time so this double CD package (48 tracks - count 'em!) is both a timely and needed addition to the re-issues pantheon.

As you'll know or learn from the voluminous liner notes, Ardent was something of a misfit label, a beat-obssesed cork bobbing around in a Memphis sea of rhythm and blues. Both a label and a recording studio, its era of prominence spanned the years 1966-77 in three separate locations, one of the geographical moves providing a neat divider for the two discs. House producers Jim Dickinson and Terry Manning were at the coalface (and in Manning's case, as a recording artist as well.) The studio's still a going concern, but this collection is covering what most would hold up as the salad days.

If you have a pop bone in your body, many of the names on this collection will be familiar. Chilton and Bell solo recordings litter Disc One, while a few more plus a dozen Big Star songs - most unreleased or alternate mixes - bulk up Disc Two. (The second disc, by the way, is where things get a little darker. If you know the story around Big Star and the main players, you'll understand why.)

The Big Star cuts are wonderful but don't think they overshadow the rest. The early Ardent releases - lesser lights like The Wallabies, the instrumental Avengers, the Pastoral 1st Century and psych bands the Goatdancers and The Honeyjug - are worth a listen. Noticeably, many of them sound more English than half the bands coming out of the Old Dart at the time and they're all beautifully recorded.

It's that pursuit of recording excellence and (probably unwitting) sense of apartness from much of what else was going down around them at the time that makes most of the bands on these discs stand apart. The liners are voluminous and contain more than you'll ever need to know abotu the label, the studio and the songs.

- The Barman

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