Archive for May, 2007

Wizards from Kansas (self-titled)

Wizards from Kansas

This group is primarily known for their devastating version of High Flying Bird. This song is on their only album from 1970 which bears the strong influence of Jefferson Airplane’s masterpiece Volunteers (which is also from 1970).

The Wizards from Kansas started off in the late 60’s playing festivals alongside other, more well known bands. They have a disc of late 60’s outtakes and alternate versions that are trippier and more psych oriented than the above album. It took me a while to get into this album, but I now consider it one of the best San Francisco style acid guitar LPs. As mentioned before, High Flying Bird is radically reworked into a psychedelic tour de force, full of hard distorted guitar and great Airplane-like vocals. The Wizards also do a powerful cover of Codine, which is slow, progressive and tripped out. The originals also hold up, mixing country, psychedelia, folk and rock into a heady brew. Hey Mister and Country Dawn are standout rural rockers, the latter is really one hell of a tune with a classic intro. Mass is a great psychedelic rocker with acid leads that twist inside and out recalling Jerry Garcia’s guitar style.

Anyone into the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, the Youngbloods or H.P, Lovecraft will really appreciate this great, unknown record. By the way, these guys were from Kansas.

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“High Flying Bird”

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H.M.S. Bounty “Things”

Things

This was one of many Merrell Fankhauser bands throughout the mid to late 60’s and early 70’s. Things was released in 1968, sandwiched in between Fankhauser’s Fapardokly and Mu albums. Mu is agruably his masterpiece, an innovative slab of slide guitar desert psychedelia from the early 70’s. Things has more of a bona fide 60’s sound, coming across like a meeting between Buffalo Springfield, Spirit, the Byrds and Cream.

This album is much more psych minded than 1966’s folk-rock inclined Fapardokly too. A Visit With Ashiya is possibly Fankhauser at his most psychedelic, awashed with stoned vocals and walls of sitar. It’s also one of the album’s centerpieces and a raga rock killer that ends with some thick fuzztones. Things has a handful (about 4) of tuneful, melodic folk-rockers that hark back to earlier times. Ice Cube Island is one of the best of these folk-rockers, being so blissed out and eretheral. It’s an excellent example of acid folk-rock. Other songs like Madame Silky, What Does He See In You and Rich Man’s Fable work really well too and are characterized by paranoid vocals and liquidy fuzz guitar leads. For most listeners though, the highlight of this album is Your Painted Lives. It’s one of those incredible 60’s songs, an early foray into country psych that chugs along with echoed vocals and once again, hard fuzz guitar riffs.

Things is delicate and raunchy all at once and a great, American underground rock record. Fankhauser would go on to make better albums (Mu and his 1976 solo effort) but this record still deserves a special place among the psychedelic 60’s.

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“Your Painted Lives”

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The Savages “Live ‘N Wild”

Live N Wild

Good rock n roll is supposed to move you emotionally or “blow you away.” Great artists like Bob Dylan or the 13th Floor Elevators have always been brutally honest, searched for meaning and never gave in to commercial demands. Many years ago rock n roll was powerful because it never made any promises. Recordings were murky, guitars distorted and trebly and vocalists were love-struck gods. The Savages Live ‘N Wild album is one of the great holy grails of rock music.

Very few of these albums were pressed, and as time went on Live ‘N Wild only became harder to come by. The Savages created a private press album that possesses clarity, vision and originality. The group cut the album live in Bermuda, 1965. The sound quality and musicianship is excellent, sounding like many studio cut garage albums of the day. The only low point of the album is a competent cover of the Drifters classic, On Broadway.

It’s rare for a private press garage album to mainly consist of originals, let alone good originals (9 of the 12 songs). Like the Rising Storm, the Savages effectively mixed slow moody folk-rock-like compositions with garage raunch. The most famous number here is a garage-punk classic, The World Ain’t Round, It’s Square. It’s an aggressive, trebly mess with angry, tormented screams and is by far the heaviest song amongst the batch.

Quiet Town is very introspective and mysterious, sounding like a 1965 lost Zombies single which hints at the darkness within. Kudos has to be given to the Savages for covering the great Icelandic band Thor’s Hammer with He’s A Man. The Savages version may best the Hammer’s for sheer recklessness and soul. Two other numbers, Gone To The Moon and I Believe are naive teenbeat that glow with sincerity and show a band with a lot of heart.

This is really what rock n roll is all about, cutting straight to the heart. These guys must have been garage kings amongst the affluent who resided in Bermuda. In a perfect world they would have been millionares. The proof is within this stunningly great, lost record.

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“Quiet Town”

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Michael Nesmith “Magnetic South”

Magnetic South

Michael Nesmith was never really a Monkee. At least, not in the way that most folks imagine the Monkees – as 60s bubblegum phonies in a TV show. The Monkees eventually got with it enough to deserve much more cred than that, but Nez was always ahead of the game.

By 1965, Nezzy was writing and selling hits in LA that were recorded by artists like The Stone Poneys and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. His only mistake was showing up for an audition advertising their need for “four insane boys.” While there’s no telling if it was a mistake or not, Nezzy grew unhappy with lack of freedom afforded to him on the Monkees’ records. He was a musician and a songwriter in the first place!

In 1970 he paid a mint to end his contract early and got to business. It’s clear he wanted to renew his image, because The First National Band he assembled went on to record this country rock classic which is right on par with the Burritos and Poco. When you spin this you’ll realize why Nezzy got frustrated in the Monkees; his songwriting is incredibly strong.

The tone is almost more country than rock, not to say he turned his back on his pop roots. The pedal steel verges on Hawaiian and the band commits to a laid back but very tight sound. Nezzy doesn’t have that “deep in the heart a” country bass kind of vox, but he gets nice and yodelly-melodic on Joanne (the album’s #21 single) and brings out the high-lonesome on Keys To The Car. Things tend to get a little groovy here and there, but First National always brings it back home! Great licks and a very memorable album.

This is a real-deal country rock record, every bit influential as all the others. If you look for this on CD, you’ll also get the other two First National Band records that followed Magnetic South, both as great as the first.

mp3: Hollywood

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The Kinks “Something Else”

Something Else

My favorite Kinks record. This one is special. On Something Else, not only do we get the famous and beautiful Waterloo Sunset, but a fine roster of prime Kink gems.

David Watts and Situation Vacant provide the grit and rock, while three slower but wonderful numbers, Two Sisters (read: Two Davies Brothers), No Return, End of The Season, are magnificent reflective Kinksongs. Three Dave Davies numbers appear on this record and while they don’t match the genius of Ray’s masterpieces, they still feel right in their place. The remaining tunes half-define the Kinks for me as staunch Brits that refused to Americanize and rebelled by going conservative. You won’t hear the Beatles refer to a cigarette as a Harry Rag or writing tunes about their hometown traditions, Afternoon Tea (one of my all time favorites).

This album was released in between two of the most revered 60s Kink albums, Face to Face and VGPS, and in a way it does feel like a transitional record. They’re not trying too hard conceptually, just some busy brit rockers kicking out their next decent record. And dammit-all it’s another brilliant one! Damn Ray, let me get some of that! Why’s he got to write all the best songs? God save the Kinks.

Note: all bonus tracks awesome.

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“Afternoon Tea”

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Tamam Shud “Goolutionites and the Real People”

Goolutionites and the Real People

Australia has had a vibrant music scene for many years. The 60’s produced many great Aussie bands like the Wild Cherries, the Twilights, the Easybeats, the Loved Ones, Tully, and the Masters’ Apprentices, among others. Tamam Shud came out of the ashes of The Sunsets, who released several decent garage rock singles before their transformation.

The band’s name was taken from a Persian phrase meaning “the very end” which founder Lindsay Bjerre took from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Tamam Shud began playing popular festivals and clubs in or around 1967/1968 and were one of Australia’s first genuine acid rock bands (although it’s important to note that Australia’s surf culture played an important influence). Their first album, Evolution, was released in 1969 and was hailed as Australia’s first original album.

Goolutionites and the Real People was a concept album which came the following year, 1970. At this point, they had added teenager Tim Gaze to their lineup. Gaze was much younger than his other bandmates but his contributions were astonishing. Instrumentally, Tamam Shud was the equal to any band in England or the United States. Goolutionites is highlighted by Gaze’s intense guitar playing with lightning fast leads and jazzy licks. It’s a heavy hard rock psych prog album that will appeal to listeners interested in guitar solos and atmospheric vocals. Fans of early Ash Ra Temple, the Flower Travellin’ Band or even Live Dead 1970 will really dig cosmic rockers I Love You All and Heaven Is Closed. Heaven Is Closed begins with thumping drums and ragging guitar riffs, then mellows out to deliver the band’s lyrical apocalyptic visions. A Plague is also really good with great psychedelic riffs that form a tapestry, weaving in and out during the song’s two and a half minutes. The album closing Goolutionites Theme is awesome, a great space rock song with some incredible guitar solos.

At the time of it’s release Goolutionites was considered a major breakthru, an Oz classic and one of Australia’s finest contributions to rock music. When Tamam Shud disbanded a few of its members went on to form Khavas Jute, who released another great acid rock album in 1971.

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“Take A Walk On A Foggy Morn”

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John Hartford “Aereo-Plain”

Aereo-Plain

John Hartford started off like many songwriters, writing song after song trying to hit a big one. And when he did, with Gentle On My Mind (one of the most recorded songs ever), he hung out on those royalties, and all of his subsequent albums were exactly what you would expect from a bluegrass entertainer who did just exactly what he wanted to do. Of course, I must admit that the first time my buddy showed me his tattered LP with some goggled longhair singing hillbilly tunes I wasn’t too interested (probably opting at that time for Trout Mask Replica or the like), but of all the albums I once ignored, this was my biggest mistake.

Hartford is the Frank Zappa of bluegrass. Not quite as prolific in terms of releases, but both musicians were so firmly entrenched in their respective musics, and at the same time, so able to comment on it from an outside, and humorously different point of view. With Aereo-Plain, the first album any wannabe John (or even bluegrass) fan should nab, Hartford grabbed some of the best pickers in town (Norman Blake, Tut Taylor, Vassar Clements, and Randy Scruggs on electric bass guitar) and just let ’em go. In the studio, the only requirements were that at least one picker had to know the song, and the rest could follow. It was a free-form recording and they didn’t listen to playback until it was all over.

There was magic there at that studio, and for a closer look we have the wonderful, newish companion CD, Steam Powered Aereo-Takes which gathers many great outtakes from the sessions. But seriously, start here with the biggie. John’ll rip that banjo and sing about Steamboats (of which he was a Mississippi River pilot), hippies, drug dealin’, songwriting, and the “Goodle Days” in general. In fact, this nearly conceptual album has a nostalgic theme almost in line The Kinks’ classic Village Green album.

Not to be missed, then get Morning Bugle.

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“Back In The Goodle Days”

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Swampwater “Swampwater”

Swampwater

Swampwater’s 1970 debut stands alongside Sweetheart of the Rodeo, Guilded Palace of Sin, Poco’s debut, the Everly Brothers’ Roots and Bradley’s Barn as one of the best country-rock records ever.

Founder, Gib Guilbeau had a strong Bakersfield resume prior to forming Swampwater. Guilbeau and Gene Parsons had released a few early country-rock singles in the late 60’s as well as an album which eventually saw light of day in 1970 (although recorded in 1968-). The two recruited Clarence White in 1968 to record the legendary Nashville West album. This album has a good live feel and is highlighted by some of Clarence White’s best playing which was always breathtaking and revolutionary.

Eventually Swampwater formed and started out as Linda Ronstadt’s backing group in the late 60’s. Eric White, Clarence’s brother was also in the band and prior to forming Swampwater had been in the excellent Kentucky Colonels. Swampwater made two distinct albums in the early 70’s without Linda Ronstadt’s involvement. The above album was different than many notable country rock acts of the time for adding cajun and swamprock elements. The album opens and closes with two certified country-rock classics, Louisiana Woman and Big Bayou. Guilbeau had recorded the classy Louisiana Woman with both Nashville West and on his 1970 album with Parsons, though the version heard on Swampwater is the best. Big Bayou is a hard rocking, white hot country song with pretty fiddle that has been covered by many popular artists inlcuding Rod Stewart. Other songs like the acoustic flavored Man From New Orleans are highlighted by beautiful harmonies and a tear in your beer ambience.

Swampwater’s musicianship is high caliber and Guilbeau’s lyrics are always first-rate and thoughtful. Great songs like Kathleen, Desperation’s Back Again (supposedly an Everly Brothers homage with great down and out lyrics) and River People are beautifully arranged and display superior craftsmanship. It’s really a wall of greatness, with each song just as good as the next.

Swampwater mastered all the rural styles from cajun to folk-rock but just never received the breaks they so justly deserved. Their members were slugging it out in bars playing this sort of music years before anyone else had thought to do so. This album is a masterpiece and recommended to any true country fan.

Can anyone provide further information regarding their self-titled RCA album from 1971/1972?

EDIT: John Beland himself was kind enough to stop by and inform us about it in the comments! Thanks for visiting, John!

mp3: Big Bayou

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The Byrds “Notorious Byrd Brothers”

Notorious Byrd Brothers

Na Na Notorious! The Byrds sure are notorious gangstas and especially on this album, recommended as a good introduction to The Byrds. The Byrds were a huge, huge group back in the day. Sometimes, today, it seems like they aren’t considered up there with the big boys (Beatles, Stones, Who, Byrds), but to those in the know, it’s no question. The Byrds were a monumental force in mashing up the folk and rock scenes, and they were also huge fans of Bob Dylan (averaging around two Dylan covers per release). On Notorious Byrd Brothers, they hit their pyschedelic apex, enlisted the Moog synthesizer, fell apart, and created a masterpiece.

They say the horse replaced David Crosby on the sleeve there, he quit the band halfway through the Notorious sessions, as did drummer Michael Clarke. But Chris and McGuinn knew where The Byrds ought to be going (just consult their next album, the heroic and classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo). Some more about this album: produced by Gary Usher;  SFX transitions, swirling 12-string guitars, laid-back rhythms, ever present and beautiful Byrd harmonies, and two of the greatest Carole King/Gerry Goffin penned hits (“Goin’ Back” and “Wasn’t Born To Follow,” (Easy Rider Soundtrack).

It’s the most psych of the Byrds’ outings, closing with the trippy “Space Odyssey,” apparently an attempt to get a piece of Kubrick’s movie soundtrack. All the Byrds reissues are great, with plenty of bonus. Remarkably, all of it on this one is really good. Especially the super-weird “Moog Raga.”

Besides, if you don’t have any Byrds, you won’t understand when we refer to them every other review.

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“Draft Morning”

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P.F. Sloan “Twelve More Times”

Twelve More Times

P.F. Sloan is one of America’s great artists. It’s truly a shame that his work is not as celebrated (or in print) as other pop figures from the 1960’s. From 1965 to 1967 few artists were as prolific as Sloan.

He released 2 great albums, numerous quality singles, an album under the Grass Roots name in 1966 and produced a plethora of outtakes which are currently unavailable on compact disc. Sloan also wrote numerous folk-pop hits for many popular acts of the day which include the Turtles, Barry McGuire and many others. One of the best songwriters of his generation, Sloan also had good vocals that were moody and just right for rock music.

The 1966 album, Twelve More Times was an electrified folk-rock album, dealing with more sophisticated subject matter as compared to his 1965 debut. From A Distance, Here’s Where You Belong, Upon A Painted Ocean and Lollipop Train sound like they could have been hit singles. Sloan calls upon a style that mixes 1966 Bob Dylan, Tambourine era Byrds, folk-rock era Beau Brummels, and the Leaves on some of their more garage oriented efforts. I Found A Girl, is completely acoustic and a lovely naive folk lullaby in which Sloan spreads the joys of finding a girl. The above mentioned Lollipop Train is more teenage heartbreak, primitive, but an astonishing treasure.

This was a time when so many rock musicians were making great music but it was not being noticed or hitting the air waves. Halloween Mary is a great Bob Dylan cop that has some excellent girl put-down lyrics and good hooky guitar riffs. Let Me Be is also killer, a slice of proto power pop finding the singer analyzing himself over some acoustic guitars and pounding drums.

This album has a lot of character and punk bite, something that many of those great folk-rock albums had. It’s a tragedy that Sloan’s first two albums are unavailable on compact disc. They are truly lost classics!

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“Halloween Mary”