Archive for April, 2007

Barclay James Harvest “Their First Album”

Barclay James Harvest

Barclay James Harvest were one of England’s most unappreciated, hardluck underground bands throughout the 60’s and 70’s. They released a handful a good albums and came very close to major stardom.

Often labeled the “poor man’s Moody Blues,” Barclay James Harvest began their career in or around 1967. In 1968, they released their superb debut single, Early Morning. Early Morning was a confident, mellotron drenched psychedelic ballad that should have gained them notoriety but failed to do so (sounding similar to a really good cut on the Zombie’s Odessey and Oracle). Another good prog-psych single followed but did little to enhance their reputation.

In 1970, their outstanding debut was released in a gorgeous stained-glass illustrated sleeve. Barclay James Harvest (self-titled) was absolutely dynamite, opening up with Taking Some Time On. This song has some seriously vicious, punky psychedelic guitar riffs and hard hitting drums. It’s a pummeling, devastating rock song and a great way to open up this debut, displaying a mature band with wildly inventive ideas. The next song, Mother Dear is a beautiful acoustic composition augmented with strings that is almost a response to the Move’s classic Beautiful Daughter (from Shazaam). Another highlight is The Sun Will Never Shine, a great piece of dramatic progressive psychedelia highlighted by great use of mellotron. The album closes with the 12 minute Dark Now My Sky, which is a sterling example of early progressive rock.

There are no false steps on Barclay James Harvest and this great record never fails to challenge and reward its listeners.

The whole album is absolutely wonderful, finding some kind of middle ground between the Move, psychedelic era Pretty Things and late 60’s Procol Harum. A genuinely fantastic album that is not to be missed, pitched half way between the psych and prog eras.

mp3: Taking Some Time On

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Stained Glass “Crazy Horse Roads”

Crazy Horse Roads

The wonderful world of Crazy Horse Roads, released in 1968 by Stained Glass, has been unjustly forgotten with the passing of time. The band started out life covering Beatles songs in San Jose, California. Their first single, a cover of the Beatles’ If I Needed Someone was released in 1966. It was a respectable cover of the Beatle’s classic though the flip was better, being a moody folk-rock original.

The single tanked, prompting the band to quickly release the self-penned My Buddy Sin later on that year. My Buddy Sin was an excellent folk rock song with wailing harmonica, soaring harmonies, sharp lyrics and an acid tinged production. This single failed to attract attention despite it’s quality, forcing the band to record a brill building classic for their next 45.

In the 1960’s, artists and rock bands depended on the success of the single to grant them artistic and creative control/freedom (making albums). We Got A Long Way To Go was a huge local hit, well executed, pleasant enough and professional, though betraying the band’s roots and creative aspirations. A few other decent though commercially unsuccessful singles followed in the psychedelic pop vein. Eventually the band was granted freedom to record two albums on the Capital label.

Crazy Horse Roads is a unique effort, and much different from their jam oriented Aurora album. There are some solid psych pop songs (Night Cap, Twiddle My Thumbs and Fingerpainting), soul rock (Two Make One and Fahrenheit), galloping country-rock (Horse On Me) and hard folk-rockers (Light Down Below, Doomsday, I Sing You Sing, and Soap and Turkey). Doomsday really stands out as the lost mini classic though, with some huge vibrating fuzz riffs, hard strumming accoustic guitars, tight harmonies and a psychedelic production. Night Cap is also a really good bouncy, twisted psych pop song with a British influence. You never know whats coming next throughout the album and the band’s sound resembles Moby Grape, HMS Bounty and Buffalo Springfield.

Aurora, released the following year (1969), is only half a good album finding the band indulging in a guitar based San Fransisco ballroom style. Jim McPherson, the founding member of Stained Glass, went on to form Copperhead with Quicksilver’s John Cippolina. Together they made one expensive (for the time), quality album that was overlooked in it’s day. Oh, and by the way, this album is housed in arguably the greatest cover of the 60’s.

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“Doomsday”

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Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit, and Greenhill “The Unwritten Works Of Geoffrey, Etc.”

The Unwritten Works of Geoffrey, Etc.

This is an accomplished album for a band that was barely noticed in their day. In fact, their real names are David Bullock, John Carrick, Scott Fraser, Philip White, and Eddie K. Lively. With the exception of the horrible, trippy music hall influenced Street In Paris, The Unwritten Works of Geoffrey, Etc. is loaded with good songs.

I don’t believe these guys ever played any live gigs as Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit and Greenhill. More or less WCDG were a group of friends experimenting with the sounds of the day. They did this sort of experimentation in their basements until they were rewarded a recording contract. This Texas foursome knew how to write, play and sing and could compete on a number of levels with any peers you care to name. They were a one of a kind band that blended folk, blues, country, psychedelia, soul, and rock seamlessly (think Moby Grape or Buffalo Springfield).

The opening song, The Viper, sounds like a lost track from an early Allman Brothers album, being a great blend of outlaw country and folk rock. Day of Childhood is an intense, psychedelic classic with some great Byrds influenced Rickenbacker guitar, Neil Young-like vocals and swirling backwards guitar solos. Other great moments are House of Collection which is highlighted by some creepy, dazed organ and the righteous droning psych of Ready To Move. The remaining compositions combine folk, light psychedelia and country elements effectively, making this album full of variety.

The band released one more album in the early 70’s, changing their name to Space Opera. Space Opera is a pretty unique effort as well, mixing Byrds influenced folk/country with the burgeoning progressive rock scene.

“Day Of Childhood”

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Frank Zappa “We’re Only In It For The Money”

We’re Only In It For The Money

Not everybody has the time and/or interest to invest in collecting the entire Frank Zappa discography, but if you are interested in rock music enough to be here, reading this, you need to at least acquaint yourself with this album.

The original album cover shown above really says it all. For The Money is Zappa’s thesis statement on the music culture surrounding him during the summer of love. It goes something like this: “every town must have a place where phony hippies meet, psychedelic dungeons popping up on every street.”

Yet, when I listen to this album, I don’t hear biting, social satire, as so many reviewers will mention. Yes it’s there, but how can I concentrate on the lyrics when there is a such an astounding musical arrangement. Zappa’s mastery of the studio is evident in every millisecond of sound; drum toms, orchestral instrumentation, clean treble guitar chords and melodies, sped up vocals, saxophone fills, and affected tape samples combine to create an unimaginable, indescribable sound.

The record is a fantastic journey and I never get tired of taking it. It’s funny too, after a few listens, once you start to get used to FZ’s humor. It is important to remember that Frank Zappa was a classical composer that merely used the pop music of the day to paint his own picture. He was an accomplished genius whose hardest drug was a cigarette. All of his work is superb, though the early Mothers stuff is the best, and this one is cream of the crop, unlike any other.

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“Who Needs The Peace Corps”

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We All Together (self-titled)

We All Together

We All Together’s first album came out sometime in the early 70’s. The band hailed from Peru and had roots in Laghonia, who themselves released two good late 60’s psychedelic albums. The music is written and sung in English and has a strong late 60’s Beatles influence.

Not the most original album of the year, We All Together is very good though, including four covers of Paul McCarthy/Badfinger and ten group originals. The covers are strong including great versions of Tomorrow, Carry On Till Tomorrow and Some People Never Know.

The original compositions are what make this album worth owning. Hey Revolution sounds like a White Album era outtake with Lennonesque vocals and hard blues guitar riffs. The same goes for Dear Sally which is also characterized by some angry vocals and pounding piano that recall Lennon’s first proper solo album, Plastic Ono Band. This really hints at how tight a grip the Beatle’s influence was on musicians throughout the world (keep in mind the Beatles were falling apart at this juncture). It’s A Sin To Go Away is the most popular song on this album due to it’s inclusion on the Nuggets compilation. This South American psychedelic classic begins with Procol Harum style organ then procedes with thick fuzz guitar riffs, backward and phased guitar solos and helium high vocals.

None of the songs reach this kind of high but overall the album does not have any real weak points and is solid all the way through. We All Together released another strong album the following year entitled 2. These albums are recommended to fans of power pop and Beatles inspired rock.

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“Some People Never Know”

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The Flatlanders “More a Legend Than a Band”

More A Legend Than A Band

This became my favorite new record in under a full day. Normally, we are looking at albums that we’ve sat with, kinda know inside out, but this is an emergency. It’s been an evil secret that nobody told me about this one sooner.

Originally released in 1972, and only available on 8-track cassette until 1990, when it was finally put out on CD- just in time for the alt-country kids to scoop it up- this is a perfect country album. If you’ve ever detected a note of irony when the Byrds put their cowboy hearts on for Sweetheart, this is the record to set you straight. The real deal (and you know because it’s on Rounder).

It’s hard to describe what it is about the sweet spot this record hits, but here’s a shot: The Flatlanders match an electric sound with acoustic, bluegrass instrumentation (sans banjo). They play in an old-timey (lazy fiddle) way with a swing in their step, and add a nice psych touch with the musical saw (imagine a tasteful theremin adding hints of accompaniment on about half the record). Jimmie Dale’s singing is A+ number one and the harmony is also great. Oh and listen to that fine dobro work on Stars In My Life.

Or look at it this way: 13 great new songs to love, a beautiful forgotten classic for your shelves, and a serious contender for Sweetheart of the Rodeo’s coveted country-rock trophy spot. Yes, it’s the newest record in my collection, but I think I would grab for it first on my way to the island.

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“Jole Blon”

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Traffic “Mr. Fantasy”

Mr. Fantasy

Bookending the mega radio hit, Dear Mr. Fantasy, are the wild and varied sonic experiences that comprise this classic psych record: Traffic’s debut, Mr. Fantasy.

Stevie Winwood was a prodigy with one of the great mellow rock voices and some crazy organ skills; by age 15 he was singing with The Spencer Davis Group and by age 20 he was playing with Joe Cocker and Jimi Hendrix, but before that he joined up with Dave Mason to create this short-lived supergroup and they kicked it off with a most interesting bang.

On Mr. Fantasy, we get a little something for everyone: a campy british melody here; a driving drum kit there, horns, strings, and sitars, some weirdo dialog bits, experimental audio collage, and some absolutely must-hear beautiful songs in No Face, No Name, No Number, Coloured Rain, and my personal favorite, Heaven Is In Your Mind.

Tunes like Giving To You and House For Everyone may present a challenge for the less psych-minded among us but not very much. The great thing about Mr. Fantasy is that it’s both adventurously catchy and accessibly far out. I know this for sure, as I spent night-after-middle-school-night soaking this record in with my young, impressionable, untrained Led Zeppelin and Doors loving ears.

And thankfully, no 20-minute On The Road style Traffic jams! Got to give it up for this classic gem! You rule Stevie!

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“Heaven Is In Your Mind”

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The Night Shadows “Square Root of Two”

Square Root of Two

The Night Shadows were one of the first and longest lived garage bands. They started out in the 50’s hailing from Georgia and first received notoriety when releasing the dirty, perverted garage rock single Garbage Man. The early 60’s were not kind to the Night Shadows as they went through various lineup changes. Other singles followed though, influenced by the British Invasion, utilizing feedback and other current recording techniques. In 1966 a new revived Night Shadows (including Little Phil) released the excellent 60 Second Swinger. It’s similar to the Seed’s efforts from around the same time but the Night Shadow’s cleary had more instrumental prowess and experience behind them.

In 1968 they released their psychedelic masterpiece, Square Root of Two. Square Root of Two has some rerecorded psychedelic interpretations of earlier singles along with then current compositions. Of the 11 songs there are a few throw away tracks such as the Prologue, Hot Dog Man and Turned On. These songs are a little too self indulgent with sped up vocals, lengthy commentary, backward tapes, phased guitars and just plain stupidness. The rest of the lot fairs much better though and even with the above mistakes this album still rates as a prime slice of acid punk.

I Can’t Believe follows the silly intro on side one and is nine and a half minutes of fuzz guitar soloing and howling courtesy of Little Phil. Somehow it all works and the psychedelic versions of Plenty of Trouble, 60 Second Swinger and So Much work well too. Plenty of Trouble sounds like a devil chant with shakers and wicked vocals from Phil. The classic 60 Second Swinger is transformed into a hard, bluesy garage shuffle with some Itchycoo Park-like organ and a fake live intro. Most essential though are Anything But Lies and So Much. Anything But Lies is characterized by distorted, angry vocals and jackhammer riffs while So Much has great stinging acid guitar and is psych punk perfection. The Square Root of Two is a good, forgotten album that should not be missed by garage psych fans.

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“So Much (1967 Version)”

The Downliners Sect “The Country Sect”

Country Sect

Sandwiched in between two great mod punk/garage blues albums and some classic singles is Country Sect, the Downliners Sect’s second album released way back in 1965. This is one of the earliest country rock records and most definitely the first by a British band.

When the album was released it met with critical backlash and was considered a commercial suicide. Listening to this music today, 40 plus years later, it sounds fresh and unlike anything in the country rock canon. Just imagine four or five drunk Brits playing their favorite old country and blues songs in the basement (essentially a monumental country album made in the garage with genuine redneck spirit) but with focus and intensity.

The intensity reaches a peak with an excellent country blues cover Rocks In My Bed. This composition is raw as hell and feature’s some old fashioned piano and crazied Don Craine screaming. Hard Travellin’ is similar in mood and is a life affirming sh*t-kicking country rocker. Also, Ballad Of The Hounds, Above And Beyond and Wait For The Light To Shine really capture that backwoods sound effectively and some other numbers are even augmented with banjo and washboard. They throw in a sensitive folk-rock protest number with Little Play Soldiers and hark back to their British Invasion roots with the mysterious, uncertain Bad Storm Coming.

These guys were really one of the ultimate punk bands; they did what they pleased and made no apologies. You can hear and feel this attitude throughout the album. Country Sect is so special, so different, it’s the kind of record that is misunderstood more often than most. Give it some time though and you’ll hear why musicians like Billy Childish rave about the Downliners Sect and this superb album.

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“Bad Storm Coming”

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The Beau Brummels “Triangle”

Triangle

The Beau Brummels hit it big in the early 60s with their hits “Laugh Laugh” and “Just A Little” which were produced by Sly of the Family Stone. As English as they tried to appear, they were an American rock band hailing from San Fransisco.

I wholeheartedly recommend that you check out their early material, especially a record called From The Vaults, but it’s their adventurous and refreshing 1967 Triangle that steals the show. Sal Valentino is the voice of the Brummels, a vox of raw power and vibrato, certainly a highly unique voice that matches an almost unclassifiable and surprising album. Triangle has everything: it’s a tightly produced country record that is rooted in rock; it’s straight and folky and underlined by psychedelic imagery.

The production always drew me in on these records. By records, I mean, if you like this one, you’re in luck because there’s also Bradley’s Barn, a sequel of sorts to Triangle that was recorded in Nashville with some exceptional picking and production. Sometimes modern music can sound over produced – Bradley’s Barn and Triangle are like that, but in an inviting, interesting way, rather than a glossy, manufactured way.

Merle Travis’ “Nine Pound Hammer” is masterfully covered on this record, the most inventive version I’ve heard and one that always catches bluegrass audiences by surprise. Songs like the excellent “Magic Hollow,” “The Wolf of Velvet Fortune,” and “Painter of Women” are songs you’ll never hear anywhere near a record deemed “country.” Other’s, like Randy Newman’s “Old Kentucky Home” and “Are You Happy?” are straight up good timers.

Pick this one up, it may take a little getting used to, but it’s well worth it. The Beau Brummels are a seriously underrated treasure. Note to Beau Brummel fans: you’ll be wanting this.

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“The Keeper Of Time”

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