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Critic's pick: Creedence Clearwater Revival

Creedence Clearwater Revival

Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bayou Country, Green River, Willie and the Poorboys, Cosmo's Factory and Pendulum

Too often, the legacy of a great band, one long since deceased as a performance unit, exists only through compilation recordings. For ages, that has been the case with Creedence Clearwater Revival, which countered the counter-culture of late '60s San Francisco pop with swamp psychedelia that sounded as if it had been brewed in deep Louisiana rather than the band's native California.

Now the band's six principal albums — initially released in rapid succession in less than 2½ years beginning in 1968 — have been scrubbed up for the second time (an inferior remastering was done in 2000) with bonus archival material and re-issued for a rock generation that knows Creedence mostly as a classic-rock radio staple.

There are hits, of course, on each of these albums. The backwoods boogie of Suzie Q, for instance, stretches out in two versions on the band's 1968 self-titled debut album, including a newly unearthed 12-minute live take that was cut at San Francisco's famed Fillmore West. By the time that Have You Ever Seen the Rain, from 1970's underrated Pendulum, entered charts in December 1970, the band's cracks were revealed. But the album's embrace of twilight-hued soul and R&B now sounds beautifully subversive in retrospect.

But what sits alongside the masterful radio singles Proud Mary, Green River, Down on the Corner and Lookin' Out My Back Door fuels these sublime albums, as does the vision of a young John Fogerty, Creedence's primary singer, guitarist, writer and producer.

The riverboat classic Proud Mary, from 1969's Bayou Country, might have viewed the South in regal terms. But for Fogerty, the bayou was more a place of dark mystery. “Been an awful long time since I've been home,” he sang in Porterville, from the 1968 debut album. “But you won't catch me going back down there all alone.”

Fogerty led that journey with a singing voice that seemed drenched in North Mississippi blues. It was a vocal full of shadows that were either shed in the face of warmer but still wary reflections (including Wrote a Song for Everyone, from 1969's Green River) or boosted for something darkly spiritual (the menacing Effigy, which balanced out the homespun gospel intimacy of The Midnight Special and Cotton Fields on a third 1969 album, Willie and the Poor Boys, which arrived a mere three months after Green River).

But all of Creedence's magic — the Southern imagery, the post-psychedelic grooves, the root-savvy tradition, the pop reinvention, the killer guitar hooks, the brewing political swagger and that ghostly, indefinable voice — converged on 1970's Cosmo's Factory.

The album's hits shifted from the exquisitely forlorn Who'll Stop the Rain (did any West Coast singer ponder the rain more than Fogerty?) to the jubilation of Up Around the Bend, which outlined a trip to the hereafter with a gospel reverence built on a proudly screaming guitar hook. There was also the redesign of I Heard it Through the Grapevine (already a hit for both Gladys Knight and Marvin Gaye) into a downbeat, 11-minute dirge. Ramble Tamble, probably the most politically urgent rocker that Creedence ever cut, absolutely screams on the new edition of Cosmo's Factory, as does a bonus version of Born on the Bayou with Booker T. and the MGs.

A final, disastrous Creedence record, Mardi Gras, was issued in 1972 after rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty left. It is rightly excluded from these new remasters. The remaining six albums, now more robust and revealing than ever, reaffirm Creedence's original 30-month chart assault. Seldom has rock 'n' roll burned so briefly and brilliantly.