Hiwatt collects the cream, so to speak, of extant early Cream for that elusive "finest-ever" sound quality. As best as I can tell all of this has appeared in one form or another in the past, but it's great to have it all under one cover.
In particular, the Tulip material (previously available on Cool Engine's Tulip Bulb Auction Hall disc) and the Ricky Tick Club show are among some of the most in-your-face audience recordings I've ever heard - you can practically feel the speaker cabinets (the ones onstage with Clapton, Bruce and Baker, not those at home with you) rattling in places, with vocals and guitars being uncommonly clear - and they do, in fact, approach line quality. At first I was fooled, thinking they were soundboards, but a close listen to audience noise and stage comments between songs eventually suggested otherwise. One can only surmise that the tape was dead square in front of the stage, possibly right next to a PA stack. The Swedish broadcast is superb as well.
In fact, this set pretty makes for one-stop shopping if you're looking for a representative collection of Cream at the peak of its blues-jamming powers. Even given some song duplication across the five shows (partial, no doubt) documented here, each performance is unique unto itself, incendiary enough to cure revisionists' notions that Cream was an study in excess.
It would have been nice, however, if Hiwatt had included more in the way of packaging, for despite a cardboard slipcase for the jewel box, the booklet is just a four-panel affair with source annotations (full color photos), while the tray panel is single-sided, featuring a color action photo of Clapton, curly 'fro hairstyle period. That aside, it would be hard not to recommend this to either novice or veteran Cream collectors. -- OSWALD