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Cherry Pop

Title - 'Snake Box'
Artist - Harvey Mandel

What's that, you've never heard the name Harvey 'The Snake" Mandel before? Well, OK, you won't be the only one, but you will be in a small group, that's for sure. While he’s never enjoyed household-name status, Mandel is an undeniably important figure in guitar circles, going back to his tenure with Charlie Musselwhite’s band, first captured on the 1966 LP Stand Back! Here Comes Charlie Musselwhite’s Southside Band.

As innovative as he was restless, Mandel displayed his singular technique (which helped popularize two-handed fretboard tapping) during stints with Canned Heat and John Mayall, as well as the Rolling Stones, with whom he auditioned to replace Mick Taylor following Taylor’s 1974 departure from the band. He’s also maintained a prolific solo career, starting with 1968′s Cristo Redentor and continuing through 2009′s Harvey Mandel and the Snake Crew (Live).

Sadly, for those of us in the know, in the past year or so the pioneering guitarist had been diagnosed with a rare form of invasive cancer, which led to some very extensive surgeries. In fact, five in all, and although he’s currently believed to be cancer-free, Mandel now faces additional operations to reconstruct his nose, as well as the difficult task of paying for his care.

OK, now that's the Where he came from, through to What he's done, and out into Where he stands today, which is (aside from the latter) exactly what this incredible, truly incredible 6-disc Snake Box is all about. This deluxe limited edition 6CD box-set includes 5 classic solo albums from 1968-1972 plus a bonus vintage concert recording from 1968 that features guests Jerry Garcia and Elvin Bishop!

The first CD in this collection from Mandel, born in Detroit, Michigan (which, coincidentally is where I am writing this review from here today), is 1968's Cristo Redentor. This album is completely instrumental, a rarity in pop-psych terms; the only voice to be heard is that of a wordless soprano singer on the title track. However, the stylistic diversity of the tunes and the variety of the backing tracks means that it is by no means repetitive. Next up is 1969's Righteous, and it's one hell of a killer blues rock album, of that have no doubt. Add in some touches of funk and it's sound, it's vibe is as unique now as it was when it was recorded.

Then comes 1970's Games Guitars Play, a nine track collection of blues rock combined magnificently with psychedelic rock, it speaks volumes about an era that was unfolding before Mandel's very eyes. Keeping the spirit of releasing an album every year, 1971's Baby Batter came along next, and showcased the man at his finest hour. Always best tucked safely within his bluesy and jazzy, fast but never flashy fret work, he simply had this wonderful way of finding a spot on the neck, locking in - - usually in the lower register - and just working magic with a pattern.

Skipping over 1972's Get Off in Chicago, the next disc in the box-set is 1972's The Snake. Now, if you've been a true fan of Mandel's from the off, and have also been following along here today, which I hope you have, you'll notice that Mandel's earliest recordings showed his Chicago blues influences, the late 1960's releases added a touch of psychedelia, and the early 1970's (ie: this album, The Snake and the subsequent release, Shangreneade) show that Mandel now had some clear jazz leanings in his arsenal. Again, and in tandem with Cristo Redentor, the entire album is instrumental. And again, great, great music.

The box-set is rounded out by a rare collector's item, Live at the Matrix 1968 which has always been, for the longest time, a bootleg / unauthorized recording. A rare live performance, Live At The Matrix may only feature four tracks - 'Jam,' 'You've Got To Feel It,' '3 O'Clock In The Morning' and 'She's A Mojo Worker' - but each and every one of these tracks are longer and grittier than some of Mandel's studio work of the time. So do yourselves a favor, devoted fans of Harvey Mandel or simply passerby's of great blues/rock/jazzy/psychedelia and sometimes completely instrumental works of art, and crack open this Snake Box today. Trust me, it won't bite ... but if it does, the antidote is contained musically within!