The Complete Recordings (RPM Retro D944)
Active between 1964 and 1969, Unit 4+2’s relatively brief career packed in twelve singles, two LPs and a fair number of line-up changes. Starting out as a very capable vocal harmony group, the band’s sound diversified into a pleasing Latin/Flamenco sound, going completely against the grain of the wildly successful beat sound of the period. The band will always be remembered for their top notch No 1 hit, ‘Concrete and Clay’, with its distinctive Latin sound and urgent lyrical declaration of love. It’s here of course, but so is much more, varied material, much of it written by singer Tommy Moeller and guitarist Brian Parker.
‘The Green Fields’ rolling country banjo number has you on your feet and ready for a hoe-down soon enough, in a song of lost and hopeful new love. ‘Swing Down Chariot’s sweet gospel harmonies works hard to get into the most stony of hearts, with its bright, happy message, and ‘Sorrow and Pain’ borrows the banjos and sings a gentle tear-jerker to one who caused it all. ‘The Lonely Valley’s play on self-pity and solitude may have been a step too far into the saccharine, but with the sublime ‘Concrete and Clay’ following it, it’s almost forgivable.
This harmony band’s strength definitely lay in the standards and their gentle, subtly instrumented take on classic ballad ‘When I Fall In love’ would pass muster in any company. ‘Woman from Liberia’s banjo-ridden jokey gospel will raise a smile, followed by enjoyable-enough jaunty Mex country plicker ‘Wild Is the Wind’. The band’s keen-as-mustard take on ‘Cotton Fields’ stands in the long shadow cast by The Beach Boys, and suffers from the comparison.
‘Cross A Million Mountains’ rhythmic journey song recalls The Hollies’ Latin tinges, and the lively guitar/banjo workout ‘To Be Redeemed’ reminds us of The Weavers’ ever-energetic approach. ‘(You’ve) Never Been in Love like This Before’s gentle stroll, assured lead guitar and numerous changes is kept together well with a great chorus. ‘Tell Somebody You Know’ is a tentative step into a more pop/rock and roll sound, in a song of hope for the loveless.
‘Couldn’t Keep It To Myself’ returns to the gospel sound the band seem most comfortable with, followed by a departure, in the form of ‘You’ll Remember’, with its Beach Boys style start up and slow, steady build. ‘500 Miles’ harmonies carry well, in what is basically another sorrowful departure song, followed by their take on ‘La Bamba’, an excellent version, with a few extra beats to vary the rhythm. I wish I could say the same for their maudlin cover of ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’, which suffers on its own choices, and not just by comparison with The Righteous Brothers’ sublime original.
The band’s cover of ‘Girl from New York City’ is a most enjoyable one, and I’d certainly like to see this girl who’s ‘Cute In her Mohair Suit’ for myself. ‘Hark’ takes us to some other place where there’s sun and sand, in a sultry country song that may be the best treatment here since their immortal hit. ‘Stop Wasting Your Time’ utilises the band’s famously good harmonies in an otherwise routine song of jealousy, and ‘You’ve Got To Be Cruel To Be Kind’, introduced by some tense bass and minimal triangle, has a rich stew of guitars, handclaps and thumping rhythm, with a great lead vocal to keep you interested. The CD closes with the poppy ‘I Won’t Let You Down’, whose rock and roll beat and twangy guitar underpins a really great vocal performance.
CD2 opens with ‘Baby Never Say Goodbye’, one that borrows a little of ‘Concrete and Clay’s jaunty rhythm. The clapping intro to ‘Rainy Day’ sets the scene for a fairly routine piece that must have sounded out of date by the early 60’s, never mind the latter part of that decade. ‘For A Moment’s bass pulse and climbing verse and resolution puts you in mind of the glorious pop of Dave Dee & Co, with an added surf sound they would have been wise to pursue further. ‘Fables’ late 60’s trippy hippy sound is pleasing enough, and is followed by what is surely the most elegantly worked song on this compilation, ‘I Was Only Playing Games’. The quiet guitar chords and gentle voice, backed by tense cello sawing and confessional lyrics lead into a mighty, beautifully orchestrated swell.
‘I’ve Seen The Light’ s poignant feel and marching beat is another standout, perhaps suggesting that this band took a while to hit its stride after the huge hit. ’Too Fast Too Slow’s Spanish guitars drive the song well, with ‘Booby Trap’s beaty, twangy psyche-lite dutifully earning its place on the record. ‘Butterfly’s soaring chorus and medieval strings send us into a nostalgic reverie, perfectly suited to the song’s subject, making its chirpy neighbour, ‘A Place to Go’ sound a little trite by comparison.
‘Loving Takes A Little Understanding’s wailing mouth organ and sultry marimba atmosphere suits the arrangement well, even if the ‘Lesson One’ lyrics would have sounded a little old-fashioned by then. ‘Would You Believe What I Say?’ is a beatier, funkier affair, and all the better for it, and the band seem to revel in their new-found Stateside twang, in Bob Dylan’s ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’, which they performs as a West Coast piece with a smooth, swinging sort of beat.
‘So You Want to Be a Blues Player’ has a lively, danceable and most un-bluesy beat, but is nevertheless one of the best selections here. The echoing, haunting ‘3.30’ seems less than the sum of its parts, and ‘I Will’ reprises the faintly medieval sound that so enlivened an earlier song. With all these borrowings from the hippie phase, we are once again puzzled by an unmistakably late 50’s Drifters-style treatment of ‘Face in My Head’, with its ‘fool’ voice and tight orchestration. The simple, joyous ‘Something I Can Believe In’ is a slight, but celebratory track in the final run up of this collection, followed by the maudlin start to ‘(Living In) The World of Broken Hearts’, a song well worth persisting with for its drama and great chorus. We end with the bouncy ‘I Can’t Stop’, and this is where the story of Unit 4+2 draws to a close, also. Packed with extensive liner notes, photos and record covers, this CD is a worthy addition to anyone’s music library. BUY HERE!