pick-of-the-monthFocus goldenA great mix of Focus songs, old and not-so-old, but all certainly golden. Expect great playing, achingly beautiful melodies, humor, and some undeniably weird vocal moments...

Golden Oldies
Artist: Focus
In And Out Of Focus Records
9 tracks 50 minutes

Focus, those Dutch Masters, are back with a brand-new recording of classic material spanning their entire career of over four decades. Best known for the 1971's quirky mega-hit, "Hocus Pocus," the band took a hiatus of almost two decades before re-forming in 2002 with Focus 8, a studio project featuring founding member Thijs van Leer fronting a new, young group of capable players, carrying on the musical legacy as if the intervening years didn't matter at all. With original drummer Pierre van der Linden re-joining the group in 2004, Focus carries on making fine new music with the solid foundation of van Leer and van der Linden and the youthful, dynamic of Bobby Jacobs on bass and Menno Gootjes on guitar.

Of course, Focus was always much more than their catchy novelty single indicated. Their special mix of classical, jazz and pop remains at the core of the music then and now, and this retrospective assortment of selected re-recorded highlights from their ten previous studio albums is an excellent introduction to Focus' musical legacy.

Golden Oldies doesn't offer slavishly-duplicated songs, although the integrity of van Leer's original compositions and his distinct melodies are still delightfully intact as the 'focus' here. The 'new blood' of Jacobs and, especially, Gootjes (who has the formidable task of stepping into the shoes of the likes of master guitarists Jan Akkerman and Philip Catherine), keep the interpretations fresh and energetic while van Leer's keyboard work and unmistakable flute and vocals retain the character of the originals – of course, Pierre van der Linden's drumming remains a distinctively manic blend of jazz and rock textures.

There are more definite endings on some songs (like "House of The King") and, with the benefit of modern recording techniques, more of a piano presence on songs like the wonderful "Sylvia," which now begins with a minute and-a-half vamp of pure funk before introducing the familiar chunky chord intro.

The stunning "Focus 1" includes a bit of "Anonymous" near the end, and "Neurotica," from 2002's Focus 8, is a wild, fast-paced tour-de-force for the current line-up, complete with van Leer's signature yodeling!

This is a great mix of Focus songs, old and not-so-old, but all certainly golden. Expect great playing, achingly beautiful melodies, humor ("Aya Yippie Hippie Yee"), and some undeniably weird vocal moments from Thijs. The material might not be new, but the music is timeless and these fresh versions are a treat.
And, yes - you get an almost-seven minute version of "Hocus Pocus."

Focus' Golden Oldies is available from iTunes and http://www.cherryred.co.uk/shopexd.asp?id=4574

-Bert Saraco


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