Out of the Woods review by Dan Barrett
First, the short review. Every Gentle Giant fan should buy this album. Now, the longer review. :-)
Culled from the vaults of the BBC, Out of the Woods (OOTW) is both a historical document and a damn good album. Not only does it contain a previously unreleased track, City Hermit, but also for the first time, we have legitimate live recordings of Isn't It Quiet And Cold?, Aspirations, Way Of Life, and Cogs in Cogs. The performances of all pieces range from very good to excellent. The sound quality is quite intimate, like listening to a private Gentle Giant concert in your own parlor or living room. The clarity is excellent. This is no scratchy, screechy bootleg.
OOTW begins with the unreleased City Hermit, written around 1970-71. It's a rocker that would have fit comfortably on their first album but lacks the sophistication that emerged in their second. Gentle Giant's blues roots are evident here, and though the lyrics are a bit silly, the piece works. I can't say it's one of my favorites, but fans will undoubtedly enjoy hearing this long-lost piece.
For me, the highlights of OOTW are Way of Life and Excerpts From Octopus. The performance of Way of Life is full of energy and excitement, showcasing a band in its prime. Excerpts From Octopus begins with a keyboard-heavy version of Knots, and segues into a wonderful acoustic guitar duet that's completely different from the version on Playing the Fool, featuring reworked parts from The Boys In The Band, Experience, and even Edge Of Twilight. It's outstanding. This is followed by Gentle Giant's patented recorder ensemble, complete with "Yankee Doodle." The final section, The Advent of Panurge, contains some excellent but subtle twists; Kerry hits a beautifully dissonant note at the end of "Look at my friend..." that made me jump and sigh.
The final three tracks, Just The Same, Free Hand, and On Reflection, are the least interesting on the album, but only because they are scarcely distinguishable from the originals. If you've heard Free Hand and Playing the Fool, there's little new here, and Derek's voice is distractingly overprocessed (electronically). One can also hear overdubbed sax parts which detract from the "live" feel. Still, it's nice to have studio versions of the arrangements that Gentle Giant used in concert.
Overall, OOTW is a vital album that belongs in every fan's collection.
Dan's ratings (out of 5 points):
Recording quality: 5 Performance: 4.5 Historical value: 5 Overall: 5