This intelligently assembled nineteen-track compilation covers the years that Country Joe & The Fish, in its various line-ups, existed as a working band before Joe McDonald embarked on a solo career with many album issues on Vanguard and Fantasy Records during the seventies. The group in its generally accepted classic line-up form that cut the first three albums may have looked like models for Gilbert Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brother comic book characters, although the delicacy of their music often belied this. Here was the ultimate group of musicians who were happy to do their own thing, paying no heed at all to any traditional music business modus operandi. It took a label like Vanguard to realise their potential amid all their music variety, and now we can enjoy this fine artifact of the heady days of the later sixties when blues, folk, rock and even eastern influences happily meshed together. They were never a group to attempt fat, heavy sounds, but rather were notable for their sparseness, letting guitar or keyboard lines have space to develop, uncluttered by other instrumentation. Examples here are ‘An Untitled Protest’ with its finger cymbals, ‘Porpoise Mouth’, ‘Flying High’ and the extended instrumental ‘Section 43’. Contrasting with these are the gentle country jog-along of ‘Sad And Lonely Times’ and the rabble-rousing and crowd-pleasing version of their best known song ‘I Feel Like I'm Fixing To Die’. ‘Eastern Jam’ from 1967 draws on some of the same influences that The Paul Butterfield Blues Band had drawn from for their fabulous ‘East-West’ track, while utilising a range of guitar effects including an effective form of strangulated fuzz on the fade.
The group were much more successful with album sales for Vanguard than they ever were with singles, with only ‘Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine’ ever bothering the lower reaches of the US Top 100, Nevertheless Vanguard did issue six singles between 1967 and 1970, with ‘Here I Go Again’ being the fifth. Included here it is arguably their most potentially commercial song, with some country rock influences creeping in, possibly anticipating Joe MacDonald's soon-to-be forays into the studio as a soloist with the cream of Nashville session men. It is easy to see how this vast array of musical influences that made it difficult for the record buying public to latch on to the group in any consistent way, but in retrospect this variety also makes them a fascinating act for the times. Their invention and musicality that was so evident in the clarity of their playing allows them to remain so listenable from a twenty-first century perspective. Joe McDonald's voice and songs shine through, with the funky rock of ‘Rockin' Round The World’ and blues workouts like ‘Crystal Blues’ presenting the band as a particularly strong and cohesive unit.