Archive for January, 2008

Poe “Up Through The Spiral”

Up Through The Spiral

This is a pretty good late period hard rock psych concept LP that few people know about. Poe originally were the Playboys of Edinburg, a McAllen Texas band who began releasing singles in 1965. The Playboys of Edinburg released 7 or 8 singles in various pop rock styles (garage, beat, folk-rock and hard rock) throughout the 1960’s and eventually relocated to Houston.

For this 1970/71 UNI release the Playboys of Edinburg changed their name to Poe and created this concept lp. Many of the songs were written and arranged by band members McCord and Williams. The album chronicles the life and thoughts of Edgar Cayce, a man who could put himself into some kind of self-induced sleep state by lying down on a couch, closing his eyes, and folding his hands over his stomach. This state of relaxation and meditation enabled him to place his mind in contact with all time and space.

No song better illustrates this theme than the great Up Up Thru The Spiral. This track opens with classic paisley guitar riffs and one of the all time great opening psych lines which refers to Cayce’s incredible ability. Up Up Thru The Spiral is also notable for a horn arrangement, distorted vocals and what sounds like tape loop experimentations. This is flat out a great psych pop track with an English sound similar to that of the Move. Other tracks like the futuristic psych of Automatic Writing, Tune In, the furious Sons of Belial, and Fallin’ Off are pretty vicious and rock hard. Fallin’ Off is more than a nod to English rock group Free, with it’s great, heavy guitar riffs, gritty vocals and sound fx explosion mid way thru the track. This song sounds like a lost classic rock radio hit and had considerable pop appeal, it’s definitely a good one! The lead off track, There Is A River reveals a strong gospel influence and has George Harrison style guitar playing and Beatlesque harmonies. Another reflective number, Debt To Pay is a really good acoustic song with sweet, sugary harmonies and a personal favorite.

This is a solid set from an unknown band who can balance soft reflective tunes with druggy, stoned hard rockers. Vinyl orginals are somewhat cheap although the album saw a cd reissue in 2006 off the Mr. Nobody record label.

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“Up Up Through The Spiral”

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Karen Dalton “In My Own Time”

In My Own Time

The first time you hear her voice. Listen to track 1 on this record (see below) and you’ll know what I mean. Karen’s got “whoa” factor that few singers can pull off and has been lauded by the likes of Bobby Dylan, Freddy Neil, the Holy Modal Rounders, and must have inspired Joanna Newsom. Yeh, the first time you hear that voice, it can transfix you.

We tend to favor garage rock and country rock records with a high ratio of original material, and tribute numbers seem to rarely ever surpass originals, but this sophomore LP comprised solely of cover songs will dash any preconceptions. Karen didn’t write songs, she interpreted really good ones. Her voice is described elsewhere in a million similar words and comparisons (“to describe it would take a poet” -Fred Neil), but all I’ll say about it, she’s got soul. It’s almost like how Miles used to say it’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t; Karen phrases in a way that pwns every tune.

Songs by Dino Valenti, Richard Manuel, Paul Butterfield mix with traditionals and pop classics recorded at legendary Bearsville Studios, featuring a couple players from the Bobby Charles sessions. The sound is akin to that of The Band on some takes, but riding solely on a clawhammer banjo on others. It’s something special though to close your eyes with this record and let her take you.Hard to get all the way through to Are You Leaving For The Country without feeling something; this one’s a mover.

The CD digipak 2006 reissue, with excellent liners, is the best way to go, containing an additional disc of alternate takes that are truly different versions, proving the strength of the material and versatility of the band. No idea what’s up with the backwards cut of Are You Leaving… but it sure would explain why people sometimes refer to this music as psychedelic folk. Her only other album, 1969’s It’s So Hard To Tell Who’s Going To Love You The Best will be essential for fans, but the above record is essential for everybody.

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“Something On Your Mind”

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Mickey Newbury “Looks Like Rain”

Looks Like Rain

Mickey Newbury’s 1969 release Looks Like Rain is one of the best singer songwriter country folk albums ever. It’s that rare thing of beauty, a perfect album, and could also be considered the outlaw movement’s very own Astral Weeks. Looks Like Rain is more of a folk record than Newbury’s later lps and similar to the Tim Hardin, Tim Buckley, Townes Van Zandt, and Fred Neil confessionals.

This highly desirable lp occasionally pops up on ebay though it’s somewhat hard to get and was recently reissued on cd (1998-) as part of the Mickey Newbury Collection from Mountain Retreat (box set). Newbury along with contemporaries Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson stayed true to C&W’s traditions while adding a unique, sophisticated spin on songwriting and an emotional reach that was new to the music. Newbury’s importance to the world of Americana is still strong and deeply felt, and Looks Like Rain would be known as his first major work (his debut lp is solid and worth owning though more of a country baroque psych lp!).

One song off the above album, T. Total Tommy, clearly had commercial potential with delicate harpsichord and a catchy chorus. Each song is linked by the sound of rain and many of these tracks have clever arrangements and brilliant studio effects. The chimes and electric guitar on Write A Song A Song create an intimate atmosphere that is peerless. This is a quiet album for sure, a very personal statement that finds Newbury in superb voice, writing excellent lyrics and sounding down and out. I Don’t Think About Her No More, 33rd of August, and San Fransisco Mabel Joy are country folk masterpieces of the highest order. Every detail and nuance is so precise and well thought out, everything from the sitars that grace Mabel Joy to the distorted vocals that briefly highlight 33rd of August. The latter song has gorgeous Newbury vocals that are similar to Happy Sad era Tim Buckley.

While the studio production is a rare work of genuis and will catch your ear first, Looks Like Rain’s stories will eventually penetrate your heart and soul. It’s a very deep lp and Newbury’s tales speak of freedom, death, depression, failure, love, and happiness. This is definitely a must for country and folk fans and will proudly stand next to any of the best singer songwriter albums you care to name.

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“I Don’t Think Much About Her No More”

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David Blue (self-titled)

David Blue

At first listen (and glance, just check out the cover) it’s hard not to dismiss David Blue’s first LP as a shameless Bob Dylan imitation. And that would be a fair assessment. From the drunken delivery of his pal’s (yes, they were actually friends) unmistakable drawl to the grittier interpretation of Highway 61’s revved-up folk, Blue seems to be doing everything possible and more to convince the world that he is Bob Dylan.

So why even bother? Because the songs are actually pretty decent. It’s definitely the harder-driving ones that’ll snag you like a rusty old nail. A Bo Diddley beat is shredded to pieces on “If Your Monkey Can’t Get It,” a grinding cut that’s further damaged by a dissonant collision of overdriven guitars and screaming keyboards. Another standout, “It Tastes Like Candy,” closes the album with some fuzz guitar savage enough to find a permanent home on a Seeds record. And it’s all propelled by a primitive thump that never lets up.

Slightly less engaging are the quieter moments where he proves to be a fairly competent balladeer. The best of these are “Midnight Through Morning” and “Grand Hotel,” with their graceful piano/keyboard work and Blue’s attempts to actually hit a note here and there. And, no, the lyrics are not spared the treatment as he gets us tangled up in obscure, imagery evoking language we know we’ve heard somewhere before.

Although this album could only be crowned a masterpiece in some dreadful Dylan impersonator contest, it is a consistent, enjoyable ride if you give it a chance. And let’s be thankful that someone had enough sense to snatch that harmonica (conspicuously absent from the recordings) away from him before he really made a fool of himself.

Blue toned down the Dylanisms and continued releasing material into the 70s, occasionally under his real name (Cohen). David Blue was reissued on Collector’s Choice Music.

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“If Your Monkey Can’t Get It”

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The Savage Rose “Savage Rose”

Savage Rose

This is one of the great rock albums from 1968. Denmark’s Savage Rose are one of the greatest European experimental, progressive bands with a career that successfully spans over 40 years. Legendary rock critic Lester Bangs ranted and raved over the Rose and lead singer Anisette’s stunning vocal approach. He once described the frightening, powerhouse lead singer: “Grace Slick at 78 RPM”; “Minnie Mouse on a belladonna jag” and claimed that the band’s early 70’s album Refugee alongside 71’s Who’s Next, were a reason to believe in the magic and life force of rock & roll.

The band was formed in 1967 by songwriters Thomas and Anders Koppel (keyboards, piano and harpsichord) and drummer Alex Riel. Their sound was organ/keyboard dominated but guitarist Flemming Ostermann lent a helping hand with some wonderful jazz influenced guitar licks. This stunning debut appeared a year later featuring 11 strong tracks straight from the streets of Demark. Incredible songs like A Girl I Once Knew, You’ll Be Alright and Open Air Shop are highlighted by Annisette’s wailing vocals but it’s the arrangements that are equally brilliant and a breath of fresh air. Some people refer to this disc as psychedelic but that’s not really the case as there are no whacked out studio sound effects, phased vocals, raga guitar solos and the like. Many of the songs are strongly influenced by European folk, jazz, classical and soul music though the organ playing occasionally delves into some trippy, underwater soundscapes. Other tracks like Sleep and You Be Free are beautiful, dreamy statements that drift away in a Euro haze but are equally as good as the more intense, hard rocking numbers.

This record is strong all over with impressive musicianship, excellent tracks, diversity and of course, great songwriting. It’s also worth noting that in recent years the band as well as Anisette’s vocal style have provided a major inspiration to many of the new folk and progressive artists. The Savage Rose’s first 8 albums are all worth getting but it’s In The Plain (68-), Your Daily Gift (71), Refugee (71), the progressive Dodens Triumf (72) and this fabulous debut that are considered great Euro rock classics.

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“Open Air Shop”

Below is a track from the Your Daily Gift album. Unfold deserves special attention because not only is it a great track but it shows the band taking in an experimental C&W influence. Anisette’s vocals sound weathered, wise, and fantastic and Unfold is also notable for a fine harpsichord intro.

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“Unfold”

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Os Mutantes “Mutantes”

Mutantes

Any Mutantes record is a mind-blower and this one makes an unforgettable introduction. The music and voice of Os Mutantes transcends any language barrier such that even the most literary of music fans can still fall deep for these dazzling sounds. David Byrne, who reissued an anthology of the Mutants on his Luaka Bop label, seems to back this sentiment up in the fantastic liner notes to Stop Making Sense: “Singing is a trick to get people to listen to music for longer than they would ordinarily.” One phrase echoes in my head when I listen to Os Mutantes: ‘better than the Beatles.’

Though greatly inspired by them, Os Mutantes expanded the music further than The Beatles were capable, and still maintained the disparate elements of pop song and art form. Laced with the sexiest assortment of fuzz tones and electronic effects, the production is startling and the compositions are eclectic, addictive, and lovely.

Os Mutantes’ history is as complex and interesting as their music; they are one of the best known bands of the Tropicália movement and aimed straight at the frightening political climate of Brazil 1968. With no small thanks to Byrne’s efforts, serious interest in their music led the band to reform and they are performing and releasing new records today.

No serious rock collection overlooks the Mutants. At the same time, the joy in their music should appeal universally and to all tastes.

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“Nao Va Se Perder Por Ai”

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Som Imaginario (self-titled)

Som Imaginario

This was Som Imaginario’s (Imaginary Sound) debut album from 1970. A Brazilian band that often backed the great Milton Nascimento just as Os Mutantes had backed Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso on their early albums. In fact, this album could be seen as the perfect companion piece to Os Mutantes’ 1969 masterpiece, A Divina Comedia Ou Ando Meio Desligado.

The band’s name is very fitting, Som Imaginario is an invigorating blend of folk, soul, psychedelia, brit influenced pop, rock and Brazilian homeland music. For a debut album, the band sounds extremely confident and wild, steaming and cooking thru the album (and there are no duff tracks either!!).

Morse opens the album on a funky note, with blasts of fuzz guitar and swirling organ. The next song, Super-God has some great use of wah-wah and distorted vocals. Milton Nascimento guests on the mysterious Pantera, which is another highlight with a bomb explosion intro. Nascimento’s voice is highly original and experimental and adds depth to an already good composition. The two songs in English, Poison and Make Believe Waltz, are also very good, soulful folky ballads.

An essential psychedelic album and a must for fans of Tropicalia. Som Imaginario released a few albums during the progressive rock era which are also highly recommended but reissues are criminally unavailable.

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“Sabado”

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The Nightcrawlers “The Little Black Egg”

The Little Black Egg

What the Hell is that little black egg all about!? I’m still not sure, but ever since that jangly mess of a song got permanently stuck in my head, I’ve found myself wanting one too. If that egg’s anything like the tune, then it must be something good. It was certainly good enough to crack the billboard charts and secure The Nightcrawlers a spot in that pantheon of garage bands (along with the Syndicate of Sound and The Choir) with nothing more to offer than one remarkable song.

Well I’m glad to say that ain’t the case. With any of those bands. And especially Florida’s The Nightcrawlers, who were kind enough to leave behind a whole album of equally deranged folky-garage songs. Big Beat’s reissue of The Little Black Egg LP adds some fine bonus cuts that are sure to please both 60s punk and folk-rock fans alike. When they’re not bashing your head in with harmony laced stompers (“I Don’t Remember” “Who Knows”), they slip into a plaintive mood and climb quietly up and down a minor chord (“The Last Ship”). Perhaps the finest cut is the jangle-punk gem “Basket of Flowers” which sounds something like the early Turtles being pulverized in The Swamp Rats’ blender. Charlie Conlon’s often inscrutable lyrics and ability to chameleon his vocals to fit the songs gives the album a unique edge, making it stick out from the crowd like a priest in a strip club. A feat that very few mid-60s bands were able to pull off.

All this is enough to qualify LBE as an underappreciated classic, but what they should really be revered for is leaving us utterly devastated with what has to be one of the saddest songs ever recorded, “If You Want My Love”. This one could even give the almighty Hank Sr. a run for his money in the broken heart department. Prepare to be torn apart by slow, eerie guitars, sparse percussion and agony-laden lyrics: “My heart it was broken when you said…If you want my love, you have to die for it. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be mine.” Maybe? Damn, it doesn’t get much harsher than that.

The album was reissued on CD by Big Beat (Ace) with some great unreleased cuts along with some less charming Brit R&B imitations. The extensive liner notes feature an oral history by members of the band that may shed some light on the mystery of that damn egg. Read it and find out.

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“A Basket Of Flowers”

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Kak “Kak”

Kak

Kak’s only release is a solid West Coast album with strong Moby Grape and garage rock influences. I am not totally sold on the Kak album but I feel it’s at least very good, not really a classic work by any means, although some people swear by it.

Group members included Dehner C. Patton on lead guitar, Gary L Yoder rhythm guitar and lead vocals, Joseph D Damrell bass guitar, sitar, and tambourine, and Christopher A. Lockheed drums, tabla, and harpsichord. Kak resided in San Fransisco and while their existence proved to be brief, the Yoder/Patton guitar combo was pretty potent – they could rock out relentlessly but also hit you with a certain charm. Yoder was notable for playing in the legendary garage psych band the Oxford Circle, who released the awesome Foolish Woman single in1966 and were a feared live band.

The Kak album begins with three outstanding, garage-like San Fransisco ravers that bear out Yoder’s roots. Everything Changes is a personal favorite with a classic hard charging San Fran acid rock vibe very similar to Moby Grape but it’s Electric Sailor that is often cited as a renowned psychedelic classic. This track is pure late period garage rock at its finest including pounding drums, an incredible acid solo, light feedback, childish lyrics, and a great catchy chorus. The album opener HCO 97658 is very similar and pretty good, pounding briefly for about a minute and forty seconds. Other songs like I’ve Got Time and Flowing By have more of a country folk-rock vibe that took me a while to get into, but I now appreciate these tracks and the diversity of this album. Trieulogy is the album’s longest and strangest track at 8 plus minutes, but a good acid rock suite with sitars and great psychedelic solos. A piece of this suite, Rain was released as a single and is a very good slice of speed-induced guitar psych. The last track off the album, Lemonaide Kid received lots of radio play years ago and is a good Dylan influenced folk-rocker with sitar and tabla.

Overall, this is a very good album without any dud tracks, the musicians are topflight and there are some great acid ballroom antics, though I would not recommend this disc to new psych fans. A 1999 Big Beat reissue is the easiest way to obtain this obscure record.

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“Electric Sailor”

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Simply Saucer “Cyborgs Revisited”

Cyborgs Revisited

Quite simply, this is one of the best proto-punk albums out there. Cyborgs Revisted is equal parts Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd garage psych raunch and early Velvet Underground art-rock sophistication, sounding well ahead of the game and almost too good to be true. It’s a fabulous record that few people have heard, and will appeal to adventurous listeners who are tired of today’s top 40 garbage.

Simply Saucer formed in Hamilton, Canada (Ontario), releasing just one single in 1978 and playing live shows throughout the region. I don’t think Cyborg’s Revisited was officially released during the mid 70’s. I do know that in 1989 an lp version appeared featuring 9 songs. In 2001/2002 a cd version of Cyborg’s revisited was reissued, containing the full album as well as live cuts, their lone single and raw demos. Most of the cuts featured on the 1989 lp (which are the first 9 tracks of the cd) were recorded in 1974. Edgar Breau was the brains behind Simply Saucer writing all the band’s material, singing lead vocals and playing guitar.

Many of these songs are highly experimental within a garage rock format using theremin, audio generators, and other primitive electronics. Electro Rock showcases this experimental aspect of the band with great results and also highlights some exceptional guitar work. Instant Pleasure is a great, brief track as well, with Syd Barrett type vocals and guitar noise mayhem. On Bullet Proof Nothing the band pulls off a great acoustic rocker that sounds like a Lou Reed Loaded era outtake. I can’t see anyone into early Pink Floyd, the Stooges, the Velvet Underground or Can not liking this record.

Simply Saucer has also proven to be influential to popular artists such as the Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn who quotes the She’s A Dog 45 as one of his all-time favorites. Other bands of this ilk worth checking out are Debris’, George Brigman, the Electric Eels, the Mirrors, Styrenes, and Rocket From The Tombs.

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“Instant Pleasure”

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