Marc Bolan & T. Rex Spaceball - The American Radio Sessions Review

Released 2009.  

BBC Review

One for collectors and obsessives only.

Jon Lusk 2009

Subtitled The American Radio Sessions, this double-disc set collects largely acoustic versions of classic T. Rex songs performed in 1971 and 1972, when the original glam rock pixie was trying to bust his way into America. Both the poor recording quality and mostly minimal arrangements (without the space dust production of Tony Visconti) make it far from essential, although it does shed some light on Marc Bolan’s creative processes at his artistic and commercial peak.

At that time, T. Rex were the most popular group in the UK since The Beatles, riding a wave of ‘T. Rexstasy’ and shifting millions of singles. Because so many of Bolan’s role models were American (Chuck Berry, Elvis, Dylan etc), the assumption was that ‘Bolan boogie’ would be a hit stateside. But, as Andrew Gardner’s sleeve notes – though laden with typos and incomplete sentences – correctly point out:

“In many respects, Bolan was far too English to win America. Although he’d plundered the American archives for his inspirations musically. He’s added such a unique twist to them, that by the time he took his unique brand of ‘Cosmic Rock n’ Roll’ back to them, it went over their heads.”

It’s best to start with disc two, which inexplicably features the earliest interviews and on-air sessions at WBAI Radio, New York, in April 1971. Disappointingly, this is the only part featuring the full electric T. Rex line-up with Steve Currie (bass), Bill Legend (drums) and Bolan’s photogenic sidekick Mickey Finn on congas. The influence of Jimi Hendrix on Bolan’s wah-wah guitar is obvious on a loose, extended version of Elemental Child, and there’s a banging, 12-minute take on Jewel, which almost morphs into Jeepster.

The cover of Honey Don’t (by US rockabilly icon Carl Perkins) is another revealing obscurity, as is Get It On Blues. Unfortunately, the sound quality is badly muffled in the sessions done at Chicago’s WGLD Radio on 11 Dec, 1971, which features the wonderful b side Sunken Rags.

Disc one is basically just Bolan accompanying his own inimitable hippy whinny on acoustic guitar, doing songs largely from his overrated The Slider album, interspersed with pointless interviews and the odd jingle. The otherworldly, faux-posh speaking voice that this son of a Hackney truck driver adopted has its own entertainment value, but this is one for collectors and T.Rex obsessives only.

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