Big Star 

Keep an Eye on the Sky

It seems odd that a band that barely released three albums would be the beneficiary of a four-CD box set. But then again, this is Big Star we're talking about, an act not unlike New York City brethren the Velvet Underground, who have also been the subject of intense devotion from rock critics and fans. Where the Velvets were adept at trafficking in nihilism and the seedy underside of urban living, Big Star embraced the British Invasion innocence while putting it through a sieve of Southern pop and soul. With the entirety of the classic debut #1 Record, follow-up Radio City and brilliantly disjointed third project 3rd/Sister Lovers included here, the richness of this material induces plenty of head-shaking over the group's commercial misfortunes. One listen to the glammy swagger of "Feel," the heart-on-sleeve vulnerability of "My Life Is Light," or the twangy Eastern vibe of "The India Song" makes you wonder if tone-deaf numbers-crunchers were in charge of getting the word out.

While Alex Chilton and Chris Bell provided a certain Lennon/McCartney balance during the group's early going, Big Star's sound got harder following Bell's departure. It's evidenced not only by the Byrdsian jangle of "Back of a Car" and funky shuffle "O My Soul," but 3rd/Sister Lovers obscurities like the Neil Young-ish Christmas song "Jesus Christ" and the slightly atonal ambiance of "Kanga Roo." And while alternate versions of songs as well as cuts by pre-Big Star projects Icewater, Rock City, and a solo Bell are welcome inclusions, it's the fourth disc — a live 1973 performance recorded at Lafayette's Music Room in Memphis — that puts this set through the roof. Despite performing before an indifferent crowd, the three-piece pounds out a ramshackle yet heartfelt set that includes originals and covers of the Kinks, T. Rex, Todd Rundgren, and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Keep an Eye on the Sky serves both the Big Star fanatic and pop music day tripper while ably showing why seemingly every person who bought their music went out and started a band. (Ardent/Rhino)

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