Album + Compilation
Green, a man with a marvellously heartfelt voice as well as guitar, was born to sing the blues. Growing up a jew in post-war London's East End certainly taught him all about disenfranchisement and prejudice. This box set represents every aspect of the guitarist's rise and fall (and rise again). From his earliest days as guitarist with Peter B's Looner's (led by organist Pete Bardens) through his spell as Eric Clapton's replacement in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, honing his signature smooth Les Paul sound, and then joining forces with fellow bandmates, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood to form Fleetwood Mac.
Between 1968 and 1970 Green and the Mac outsold the Beatles. From the basic Chicago blues of the first eponymous album Green's writing talents made sure that the band quickly developed into something far more than a twelve bar outfit, adding two more guitarists (Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan) which allowed him to come up with a singing dual lead sound gave the world the gently throbbing number one hit, Albatross. Other hits like the latino-flavoured rock of Black Magic Woman influencing other guitarists as significant as Carlos Santana.
All the while, at the heart of Green's work was an indefinable sadness. This is why maybe his rejection of fame (he wanted to give away all his money at one point) was inevitable with or without LSD's debilitating effects. Just listen to how he sings laments such as Little Willie John's Need Your Love So Bad, or the weary Show-Biz Blues from Then Play On, the last album he recorded with the band. By this time nearly all his material was drenched with cynicism (Oh Well) or loneliness (Man Of The World; possibly the most despairing top ten hit of all time). Yet it also showed him rapidly becoming a brilliant writer and arranger. Oh Well's second part - a spaghetti western epic of strings and spanish guitar is exquisite. His final single with Fleetwood Mac, The Green Manalishi - inspired by a vision glimpsed while on the very substance that made his psyche disintegrate - displays a man wracked with Robert Johnson-style fear and loathing yet blossoming into a something far more than just a top notch blues maestro.
And that's why any kind of compilation of Green will be frustrating and never entirely satisfying. Despite his return from the wilderness, his path as an innovative artist really does seem to just vanish in 1970, just when it was getting really interesting. The 70s and 80s were largely lost years. The handful of cuts from this period are pale or just ill-judged. Still, few could complain about the renaissance years, where he finally returned to active service with tthe Splinter Group. The final disc shows Green still able to coax that tone out of a Les Paul, but ultimately too fragile to really engage with the demons that made his early work so compelling. In truth it's a return to the safety zone of the Chicago blues that was his first love.
Like Hendrix living beyond 27, Nick Drake overcoming crippling shyness, Syd Barrett keeping his marbles in a safe place or Lee Perry not burning his studio to the ground, Green remains one of music's great 'what if?'s.