Liner Note Author: Ian McFarlane.
Recording information: Sound Recorders Studio, Hollywood, CA; United Recording Of Las Vegas, NV; Wally Heider Inc., Studio 3, Hollywood, CA; Western Recorders, Studio 3, Hollywood, CA.
Raven's 2014 double-disc set serves up a lot of 5th Dimension: four albums' worth -- 1967's Up, Up and Away; The Magic Garden and Stoned Soul Picnic, both from 1968; 1969's Age of Aquarius, plus five non-LP sides, including "Too Poor to Die," which was the flip of "Go Where You Wanna Go," both sides of the 1966 single "I'll Be Lovin' You Forever" (the B was "Train' Keep on Movin'"), and two cuts originally released on Buddha's 2000 CD reissues of Stoned Soul Picnic and The Age of Aquarius. The 5th Dimension are generally thought of as a singles band -- often rightly so, as they had giant hits culled from each of these albums, save The Magic Garden -- and while it's possible most listeners will be satisfied with a hits compilation, this double-disc shows the full-length albums harbored quite a bit of variety. Up, Up and Away embraces the burgeoning sunshine pop of 1967, but the undercurrent running beneath the smiling surface belongs to Jimmy Webb's progressive ambition. Webb took control of The Magic Garden, producing and penning every song outside of a radical reworking of the Beatles' "Ticket to Ride." It bombed, but it stands as the group's most interesting album, bending compositional and production conventions of the late '60s. Stoned Soul Picnic straightens things out considerably, staying within the lines of easy listening even as it adds the slightest hint of soul to the rhythms, along with a hefty and welcome dose of Laura Nyro. The Age of Aquarius follows a similar template but its highs, usually from either Nyro or Webb, are higher, just as its lows are lower (Neil Sedaka's happily crass, decidedly un-hep "Workin' on a Groovy Thing" and "Up with People"'s arrangement of Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love"). These subtle differences appear stronger when the albums are listened to back to back, and even if The Magic Garden is the only truly neglected gem here, it's enough to warrant a close listen. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine