Archive for November, 2007

Dillard & Clark “The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark”

The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark

Ya’ll said it couldn’t be done! Doug Dillard (left) and Gene Clark (right) after leaving their respective acts (Dillards and Byrds) teamed up with Bernie Leadon (Hearts&Flowers/Flying Burrito Bros/Eagles), Sneaky Pete, and Chris Hillman for the Expedition, one of the world’s greatest country rock albums, slightly ahead of its time and seriously overlooked even today.

Out On The Side, the opener, has to be one of the finest produced tracks I’ve ever heard. The drums are barely there but echo away on the fills. Not easily accessible yet so perfect, it’s a real treasure. The coda to this song, around 2:45 with the off-time drum fill, has to be one of rock’s most inspired moments. And while On The Side is worthy of intense dissection, the rest of Expedition continues to represent. A lush and laid-back bluegrass troupe owns it on She Darked The Sun, setting the tone firmly, nailed down by the straight-up Dillards feel on Don’t Come Rolling. The Gene Clark sound takes it back for the next few songs: a triumvirate of gems molding the sweet spot of the record and providing all the proof we need to declare this a legendary match-up. I love the lazy swing to Train Leaves Here This Mornin’ with the confused lyric to its chorus.

What follows has become a newgrass standard, printed in bluegrass songbooks and covered by the New Grass Revival. With Care From Someone is probably one of the first real progressive bluegrass numbers, and still one of the best. All of these songs are Clark originals excluding the well-delivered spiritual Git It On Brother (usually Get In Line Brother) and a bonus take on the Elvis number, Don’t Be Cruel. Something’s Wrong, the album’s closer, is brilliant perfect Gene Clark.

Fantastic Expedition grows better and better, undoubtedly, with each listen. It is pure joy, pure beauty, a one of a kind favorite and sort of a miracle for the genres of both rock and country. Has anybody else fallen deep for this record?

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“Out On The Side”

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The Dillards “Wheatstraw Suite”

Wheatstraw Suite

The Dillards are a pioneering bluegrass group that got started releasing tight as hell traditional records and performing as the hillbilly band on The Andy Griffith Show during the early 60s. Their legacy has been influence to the best in bluegrass, newgrass, country and folk rock and one of their most significant contributions is kinda the Sweetheart of bluegrass, Wheatstraw Suite.

It may not be as revered or rugged as Sweetheart of the Rodeo, having a cleaner sound akin to that of the Beau Brummel’s country rock work, but it oughta’ be every bit as influential. While still present are the exquisite and precise harmonies and banjo from Doug Dillard,  added to the mix we hear orchestral parts, electric instruments and drums. These are big no-no’s in the world of trad bluegrass but the hallmarks of pop rock, but there you have it: combine this set-up with a strong set of tunes from multiple disciplines and stir for breakthrough classic status.

“Nobody Knows” is an instant winner and fell me in love with this record right away with that intricately produced Bradley’s Barn sound. There are a few silly fun numbers in “Hey Boys,” “The Biggest Whatever,” and the cowboy tune “Single Saddle.” These are the tunes that turn people off to this record, but they are good enough to be included I believe. You’ll be happy you stayed for the delicate and different “Lemon Chimes” and great poetic country song “She Sang Hymns Out Of Tune.” “Don’t You Cry” and “Bending The Strings” seriously cook. And great choices in covers from Tim Hardin and the Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen A Face.”

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“I’ve Just Seen A Face”

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Gene Clark “White Light”

White Light

As a songsmith, Gene Clark was the master – in his lyrics and changes he carved his unique vision indelibly into the history of American music.

White Light gets right into it, as the best often do. Gene’s discography can be a little confusing to navigate, until you get to this one, where it’s clear that everything hit the finest spot. It’s delicate, intense, and instantly likable, especially for fans of Clark and his defining work with The Byrds and following projects.

The orchestra is stripped and real: acoustic guitar, forceful harmonica, electric bass, brush drum kit, drops of electric guitar here and there. Touches of soft organ and bare percussions. This is good American roots music in a style only Gene owned. There was always something mysterious and cool going on; it won’t let you call it country music. t has a transcendental value. Regardless of classification, the tunes are downright beautiful, and incredibly original.

The album never drags for careful listeners, becoming anthemic and elusive, this one gives me a weary eyed stare and a gentle shake. The classic “Tears Of Rage” sounds like a whole new piece towards the close of the record; Gene makes his cover sound more like the imagined original, toned down, less developed, with his trademark, somewhat ghostly sound.

White Light is subtle, but it will steal you away. It can make you sad and wonder why. Highly recommended masterpiece.  The reissue is simple and clean, good bonus tracks, affordable and great sounding.

so short and so sweet, you have to listen twice.

cryptic lyrics

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“White Light”

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The Bachs “Out of the Bachs”

Out of the Bachs

This is one of the top local garage lps of the 60’s along with the Rising Storm, the Savages, Bent Wind, the Fantastic Dee-Jays, the Contents Are and the Mystery Meat. Only 150 copies of this record were pressed and originals occasionally sell on ebay for thousands of dollars.

The band members came from the Chicago suburbs of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff. The Bachs existed for 3 years performing at school dances, teen clubs and private parties up and down the Chicago north shore and surrounding suburbs (usually making $150-200 a night). All of the songs were written by Blake Allison and John Peterman and the lp was released privately in 1968. After the release of the lp the band members decided to retire from a career in music and thought it was best to move on with their lives.

The recording quality is admittedly crude and unbalanced but by no means unlistenable. The unbalanced factor was due in part to the band recording instruments first and then laying down vocals over them. Tables Of Grass Fields is the one classic on the record that anyone into garage psych sounds must hear. Tables was an imaginative, bold song for the time and has an excellent no-nonsense intro and some great psychedelic era lyrics. But the Bachs deliver throughout the whole album and raw garage numbers like the blistering Minister to a Mind Diseased (listen to the unhinged, mind melting guitar solo) are mixed with jangle folk-rock downers. Diversity only makes a great album even better and most fans usually cite the middle-third of the lp as one of the seminal highlights in garage rock history. Answer to Yesterday, Nevermore, Free Fall, and My Independence Day are all superb as well and really dig deep down inside to produce dark jangle folk-rock from suburbia Chicago. You’re Mine opened the album, and is a hard rocker in a classic garage sense and definitely a solid example of prep rock. The last track, I’m a Little Boy, shows the band expanding their horizons into the world of psychedelia with wads of feedback and hideously sloppy vocals.

Originals are preferred over the recent cd reissue by Gear Fab, as they have more punch and separation. In any event, this is a great album full of teenage expression and high caliber angst.

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“Tables Of Grass Fields”

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The Kinks “Are The Village Green Preservation Society”

Village Green Preservation Society

A Hall of Fame record, a go-to standby, the Kinks’ magnum opus, and a lifelong friend. Village Green Preservation Society feels like an old vinyl record no matter how digital your copy. It’s light and fun, wistful and teary, a beautiful definition of nostalgia in the form of Ray Davies’ finest work.

VGPS followed the lovely Something Else by The Kinks and took its sound a step further, presenting a selection of songs loosely dedicated to a unified idea: preservation. Whether it be in personal reflection, a photograph, or the Village Green itself, Ray longs for another time in these songs. Do You Remember Walter says it nearly best: “people often change, but memories of people can remain.” The line gets me every time.

The instrumentation features a wonderful small orchestra of happy acoustic guitar, woody drums, cheery backing vocals, and a handsome lot of subtle instrumental highlights. The songs are playful and imaginative, eternally catchy. The Kinks firmly embraced their Englishness with this album, and it sure can make an American boy feel envy! Village Green, perhaps the least accessible but prettiest, features a real orchestral string backing and brandishes a lovely chorus with pizzicato violin decorations. Other woodwinds and strings ornamenting the album are whirred from the famous Mellotron keyboard (see Phenomenal Cat).

The fold-out digipak reissue of VGPS is a dream package with 2 discs full of extra content that will surely please, but Kinks kollectors probably have much of it from rarity discs. Get this record if you don’t have it, and if you already do, put it on. This is a masterpiece from one of rock’s finest groups.

One of my favorite tracks, old-fashioned but sweet:

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“All Of My Friends Were There”

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Maitreya Kali “Inca”

Satya Sai Maitreya Kali

Despite reading the occasional negative review, I think Inca by Maitreya Kali is a good one. Maitreya Kali is actually Craig Smith who was one of the key members of California folk-rock band the Penny Arkade. Theirs was a sound influenced by mystical psychedelia but also grounded in American roots and C&W.

Chris Ducey along with Craig Smith were the creative architects of this hardluck outfit and many of their songs employed guitar distortion, plenty of Californian harmonies and jangly, amplified country folk twang. Some of the Penny Arkade tracks appeared on Inca when it was released in 1972. Apache, Smith’s debut, had appeared earlier that year and also featured a handful of Penny Arkade leftovers from 1966-1968. Both albums feature Craig Smith solo tracks and while both records are solid, Inca may have a slight edge in terms of quality.

In his earlier years, Craig Smith had written songs for the Monkees, Andy Williams and Glen Campbell. With these songwriting royalties Smith traveled the world and financed the release of the Apache and Inca albums. Solo tracks such as Sam Pan Boat are very sensitive and fragile acid folk with pretty vocals and a beautiful burned out ambience. The Penny Arkade tracks have a sound that has often been compared to a garage version of Buffalo Springfield. Their most popular song, included on this album was the 12 and a half minute Knot the Freeze. This psychedelic folk-rock opus is a must for 60’s fans and strongly resembles Buffalo Springfield’s Broken Arrow in it’s suite-like structure. Knot the Freeze reportedly received some local airplay when Inca was released but it is by no means the only highlight on this private release. There are other good Arkade tracks like the tuneful garage folk-rocker Lights of Dawn and the confused acid folk philosophy of Thesis. Country Girl was one of their unqualified triumphs as a band, a prehistoric shimmering country rock number with carefree lyrics and an honesty that is rare in much music.

Not much is known about Craig Smith’s whereabouts today, although it’s been said that after these lps were released he suffered a mental breakdown possibly due to drug intake. Both albums are really good listening and well worth a spin for fans of psychedelia and roots music. Sundazed recently released all of the Penny Arkade’s recordings, including 16 unreleased tracks from the vaults. This disc is also highly recommended to fans of folk-rock, psychedelia or anyone wanting to delve a little deeper into the world of 60’s underground rock.

Craig Smith solo:

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“Sam Pan Boat”

The Penny Arkade:

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“Country Girl”

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Joe Meek & The Blue Men “I Hear A New World”

Hear A New World

What a fine outer space adventure album! Several years before British producer Joe Meek and the Tornados scored an international super-hit with “Telstar,” Meek had composed and recorded his adventurous masterpiece, I Hear a New World, an imaginative musical take at life on the moon.

In 1960, the moon remained very much a mystery and with human spaceflight becoming more and more likely, public anticipation concerning the mysteries of outer space may have reached its peak. Meek stepped forward to create this lunar-inspired “music fantasy” record, technologically and conceptually well ahead of the time. Joe Meek:

“I wanted to create a picture in music of what could be up there in outer space. At first I was going to record with music that was completely out of this world but realized that it would have very little entertainment value, so I kept the construction of the music down to earth.”

Helping to keep Meek’s compositions “down to earth” was Rod Freeman, the musical director and arranger for the project (the music itself was performed by the Blue Men, formerly the skiffle group the West Five). Freeman, it seems, saved Hear a New World from becoming a stereo sound effects record. Accounts of Meek’s early demos report the tracks were a challenging listen.

The music production and engineering for this recording were unique and visionary. In a pre-synthesizer world, Meek used a wide array of homemade electronics and unique instruments to achieve a signature sound. Most notably, perhaps, was the Clavioline, a three-octave keyboard instrument somewhere between an organ and a simple analog synthesizer. The Clavioline handles many of the lead melodies on this record (as well as on “Telstar”). The Hawaiian guitar was another noticeable go-to instrument on this record. Different types of echo effects (tape echo and chamber echo) are also used liberally and to great effect.  Meek recorded these sessions at his legendary home recording studio in North London, where he produced some of the most unique independent music in English history and sadly ended his own life in a murder-suicide at the age of 37.

I Hear A New World was never fully released until recently. In 1960 a sampler EP was released by Triumph Records, including only four of the twelve original tracks. Recorded in stereophonic sound, the sampler was sent to retail stores as a demonstration of what “stereo” was capable of (then, a young technology).  The 2001 CD release on RPM is well done, with the 12 original tracks, plus 30 minutes of interviews with Meek (probably only appealing to enthusiasts), as well as a brief film clip of Meek from 1964.

There are discernable musical highlights inside this record, however it is recommended to listen to “I Hear a New World” in its entirety at first and with headphones. Meek takes you on a memorable journey around the moon, stopping in to visit different lunar civilizations! Don’t miss it!

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“The Bublight”

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The Soft Boys “Underwater Moonlight”

Underwater Moonlight

While we’re a little ahead of the era, I’d like to throw in this post-70’s classic from The Soft Boys. Full of great songs, that get to you slowly, and jangly guitars, Underwater Moonlight is their masterpiece 2nd record and (excuse my indulgence) it fucking rocks.

First off, any album that opens with I Wanna Destroy You would make the cut any day. A serious blast from the speakers and dual guitars stabbing all over the place, a great harmony line sings the title, but Robyn Hitchcock says the “You” part with an ‘F off’ sensibility, and thus bridges the gap between The Byrds and punk rock. By Kingdom of Love, we’re in for the ride. It may take a few listens to get used to these tracks, but they will become anthems to you; each track on Underwater Moonlight is a treat. There are Television-like bass and guitar runs, breakdowns and some gnarly licks like in the bluesy I Got The Hots. Lyrically, Underwater Moonlight is extremely weird and surrealist. Take this bit from Got The Hots for example: “When you see her your eyes awake, electric bulbs on a birthday cake. Would you care for a lump of steak?” But the lyrics never sound dumb and they won’t embarrass you, just don’t try figuring them out.

Insanely Jealous is a powerhouse track with an almost 80’s dance beat sound to its pulsating high-hat pinching rhythm. Tonight and the surf-inspired instrumental workout, You’ll Have To Go Sideways are personal favorites and Old Pervert beats with intense authority, showing some Capt. Beefheart influence. It’s an album that will slowly work its way into your psyche and eventually become a simple classic.

The 2001 Matador re-release includes a 2nd disc chronicling the rehearsal takes leading up to Underwater Moonlight. These are not throw-away tracks by any means (especially Only The Stones Remain) and it’s a beautiful reissue. This may not mean much to you, but this is an album that I carried around with me for a whole summer, dinging up the case, dripping paint on it somehow, and making it all the more VG+++ in my mind.

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“Insanely Jealous”

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Grin “1+1”

1+1

1+1 was the second album from Grin, an LA based band fronted by Nils Lofgren (who originally hailed from Washington, DC). This lp followed their rock solid, self-titled debut album from 1971. 1+1 sounded stronger, more confident and clearly displayed Lofgren’s talent as a musician and songwriter.

Lofgren had always believed in straight ahead rock n roll though some of the songs on this lp veer towards roots rock and orchestrated pop rock. The first side of the original lp featured mid tempo rockers while side 2 was devoted to Emitt Rhodes/Paul McCartney-like ballads. It was yet another hard luck record from the era, and even though 1+1 had many shining moments, it still did not sell well. White Lies opened 1+1 on a firey note with sharp Lofgren vocals, Moody Blues-like harmonies and sparkling rustic accoustic guitars. The first half of this lp is really a record for classic rock fanatics and will surely appeal to fans of Todd Rundgren and Crazy Horse. Moon Tears, End Unkind and Please Don’t Hide are ballsy, hard hitting and tasteful, making it hard to believe that Lofgren is known for who he has played with (Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young) rather than that of his own music.

Most of the rock n roll heard on this record is much stronger than what you would hear on your local classic rock radio station. For pop obsessives side 2 had some lost gems. Hi, Hello Home has some pretty banjo and is a folk-rocker that strongly recalled the Buffalo Springfield classic A Child’s Claim to Fame. Other tracks such as Just A Poem, Sometimes and the excellent harpsichord/strings ballad Soft Fun have a lost romanticism that really penetrates the soul.

There are no weak moments on this lp and as solid as it is, Lost a Number is the one track that exists outside the box. It’s a timeless classic, a heartbreaking piece of lost love with beautiful accordian playing and a catchy melody. In a perfect world, had this wonderful power pop song been released as a single, it would have been a hit record. Lofgren went on to release a few more records with Grin and some fine critically acclaimed solo works throughout the 1970’s.

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“Lost A Number”

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Crazy Horse “Crazy Horse”

Crazy Horse

Crazy Horse was formed by the excellent songwriter Danny Whitten, who originally released an album while known as The Rockets, considered essential for collectors. Nils Lofgren, virtuoso guitarist, and Jack Nitzsche, Spector associate and renowned producer, joined when Neil Young recruited the band to back him on his 2nd solo album, and they were renamed Crazy Horse. Their debut is an excellent hard country rock LP that would prove the capability of the band apart from Neil Young’s lead vocal and songwriting.

This record packs a most satisfying punch. There are some bruisers on here in “Gone Dead Train” and the foot-stompin’ “Beggars Day” with its phaser/flanger effect penetrating the mix. Parts sound inspired by Young and “Dance, Dance, Dance,” under his pen, is a kickin country rock number with an old-timey feel. Arguably, the best tunes come from Whitten, like the hypnotic “Look At All The Things,” a soft and beautiful ballad, “I Don’t Want To Talk About It,” and of course the rollicking “Downtown” which would resurface on Neil’s Tonight’s The Night.

Sadly, Danny Whitten’s heroin use would lead to him being excused from Crazy Horse and he overdosed in late 1972. A major loss considering his unrealized talents, best heard on this album, and his death would partly influence the Ditch Trilogy.

Forget the whole story though. Forget Neil Young. Just get yourself some Crazy Horse and drive.

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“Look At All The Things”

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