Archive for July, 2008

Khan “Space Shanty”

This is the first Canterbury prog album I heard, and it’s the one that led me to explore the whole scene. But it’s amazing that this album even got made.

“Space Shanty” is a one-off album by a foursome of pedigreed Canterbury musos, and it’s considered a love-it or hate-it classic by proggies. Some love its loose, jazzy jams, and others hate its hippie lyrics and flowery arrangements. But what’s notable is that “Space Shanty” is a distillation of the many styles of the Canterbury musos — the cosmic-hippy humor, the fascinating and busy arrangements — but it remains completely fresh and exciting.

As is typical of the Canterbury bands, each member was also a member of a number of other bands. Keyboardist Dave Stewart played with Arzachel, Egg, Gong, Hatfield and the North, and National Health, to name a few. Guitarist Steve Hillage went on to play and record a number of notable albums with Kevin Ayers, Gong, and as a solo artist. Basist Nick Greenwood had done time with the Crazy World of Arthur Brown.

After a few false starts and some rotating membership, Khan came together in 1971, and finished this album in March, 1972 with Neil Slaven producing. Dave Stewart even took time off from his band Egg to sit in on the “Space Shanty” sessions. Khan did its share of live shows, supporting such acts as Van Der Graaf Generator and Genesis. Khan continued playing live after “Space Shanty” was finished, but its membership continued to change. Only Hillage remained the original member. After some live dates the money dried up and Khan dissolved. Hillage joined Kevin Ayers on the road four days later and played on the “Banamour” album and later joined Daevid Allen’s Gong.

The music has a real sense of scale and joy, and the guys are clearly enjoying themselves and their instruments. The recording is warm and straightforward with panning and flanging done to good effect. The Canterbury crowd were quite innovative, particularly with combining effects pedals with keyboards, so by this time weren’t relying too much on studio trickery and tape manipulation.

“Mixed Up Man Of The Mountains” starts with a fairly straightforward rock beat played at a stride. “Looking at the ground, I’m crying for the sky. I know I can’t hope to go where I can’t be found. But when I close my eyes I start to fly.” And fly they do — just listen and wait for them to break into some of the best Canterbury prog jamming you’ll ever hear. “Driving to Amsterdam” features some particularly fiery keyboard work by Dave Stewart and his prepared keyboards.

The album has been issued quite a few times, starting with the original Brain and Pink Elephant vinyl pressings in 1972, and a vinyl reissue in America in 1978 on PVC records. There have been CD pressings by Mantra, Deram, Polydor (a Japanese mini-LP style reissue). The vinyl has also recently been reissued by Tapestry records. The CD to get is the new remastered expanded edition by Eclectic Discs (ECLCD 1016), which features great, tight sound from the original master tapes, excellent liner notes, and two previously unreleased cuts.

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“Mixed Up Man Of The Mountains”

😀 CD Reissue | 2005 | Esoteric (Eclectic) | buy from esoteric | amazon ]
:) Vinyl Reissue | Tapestry | search ebay ]

Double Zappa |FZ| 1967 & 1969

This is where putting Zappa’s albums into pairs of two may fall under some scrutiny. Sure these records were released two years apart, with three albums in between them, but chronology does not a sister-album make. Absolutely Free and Uncle Meat are linked thru their equal yet disparate parts of experiment, satire, absurdist pop recreations, and early Mothers dada fun. And “Louie Louie” of course.

Absolutely Free (1967)
After releasing one of the first double-LPs in history, the unprecedented and fantastic Freak Out!, FZ further pushed the singularity of his music with Absolutely Free, an album near conceptual in its composition. Tracks like Plastic People, Duke of Prunes, the classic Call Any Vegetable followed by a powerhouse orchestrated jam make up a virtual Act I, laden with referential voiceovers and musical segues. The 2nd side contains more traditional Mothers pop rockers: Big Leg Emma, Why Don’tcha Do Me Right, Status Back Baby, all doo-wop inspired favorites. While the sound of the band is spectacular and gritty with drastic tape manipulations and editing, the vocals are often purposely dissonant and off-putting (save for Ray Collins’ soulful singing). Even for weirdos like me, this is one of the harder albums to listen completely, but still a classic.

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“Why Don’tcha Do Me Right”

😀 CD Reissue | 1995 | Zappa Records | buy from amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1967 | Verve | search ebay ]

Uncle Meat (1969)
This double-album was the result of the unfinished film, Uncle Meat. There is a tape out there comprising most of the footage, much of it extreme dadaism (“He’s using the chicken to measure it…”) but often some glimpses into the Mothers’ life on the road. The album is indeed cinematic, the orchestrations are advanced and informed from We’re Only In It From The Money, with Zappa carving out many of the elements to his unique sound. Some unforgettable tracks on here include Sleeping In A Jar, Dog Breath In The Year Of The Plague (see video below), Louie Louie on the Albert Hall pipe organ, and the monstrous instrumental King Kong parts I-VI, taking up the final side of the record. I have heard more than a few Zappaholics claim this as their number one.

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“Sleeping In A Jar”

😀 CD Reissue | 1995 | Zappa Records | buy from amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1969 | Bizarre | search ebay ]

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Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance “One For The Road”

One For The Road

This album snuck up on me, from behind, and knocked my ass on the floor. I forget how important it is to space them out. Put em away for awhile, re-listen two weeks later. Change the situation. Sometimes, you just need to crank it up and let them do their thing.

Ronnie is well-known as one of the founding members of The Small Faces and The Faces. His solo output is consistently good, the Slim Chance recordings a late-night, rousing and old-timey affair, usually combining mandolin, harmonica, acoustic for a solid roots rock sound. One For The Road seems to be the moment where it fell together best. There are memorable tunes set a dynamic paces, some starting off at barely audible levels. Every number is damn near anthemic the way they build. The music is at once traditional and uniquely original. No, this one doesn’t kick in right away, but when it does. Something something.

I have two more requests concerning Mr. Lane. I heard the 2006 biopic, The Passing Show, was really good. Anybody got word on this? Also, the Slim Chance twofer excludes two tracks, Single Saddle from Slim Chance, and Snake from One for The Road. I’d be glad if somebody could pass them my way so I can replace the tracks here.

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“32nd Street”

😀 CD Reissue | 2003 | Acadia | 2fer | buy from amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1975 | search ebay ]

Space Opera (self-titled)

Space Opera

An obscurity from day one, Space Opera is an overlooked classic-rock wonder. Three of the four members of Space Opera (Philip White, Scott Fraser, David Bullock) had previously recorded a stellar country-folk gem in Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit, and Greenhill. As good as that record was, they were still green compared to the fully developed band (adding drummer Brett Wilson) they would become by 1972.

From Forth Worth, Texas, but recorded in Canada, Space Opera forged a familiar rock sound in an unheard context, combining blissful three part harmonies with searing guitar leads and righteous, intricate jams. The reissue is appropriately billed as “12 string prog rock” and while references to the Byrds and Zappa abound in other reviews, it behooves me to agree. Though it is a must; Space Opera combines these musical forces like nothing I have ever heard before. Still, if you have ever hankered for the sounds of local FM radio rock, this is an album you won’t believe didn’t hit the airwaves.

Songs are well developed and near classical in form, developing into finely tuned suites. “Country Max” leads off as the clear “hit” record, remarkably recognizable, it’s the kind of record you feel like you’ve heard a million times. Moodier numbers like “Holy River” and “Riddle” jangle their way into your head with good craftsmanship and memorable refrains. “Guitar Suite” is the album’s instrumental centerpiece that successfully merges prog and country rock during every moment of sound; gnarly double-tracked harmonica and tape effects stealing the show. The recordings are so warm it’s as if the master tapes were filtered through a rainbow of vintage tape machines, and the flutes on “Outlines” even sound suspiciously mellotron-esque. Some of the beauty to this record must be owed to the warmth and grit that you just can’t get with modern digital technology.

More than pleased to discover one like this. Beautiful songs that are truly unheard classics. These fellas clearly understood how to create rock music in a way more advanced than many better known contemporaries and are still awaiting their recognition.

Available from It’s About Music as a digital download or Collectors Choice CD. The liner notes are actually halfway decent for a CC release, including a scan of the original 16-track channel assignments, revealing all sorts of uncredited instrument parts and the lyrics.

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“Holy River”

😉 MP3 Album | download at itsaboutmusic ]
😀 CD Reissue | 2003| Collectors Choice | buy from itsaboutmusic ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1973 | Epic | search ebay ]

Kim Fowley “International Heroes”

This was waxed around the time he produced legendary recordings by the Modern Lovers so it’s no surprise that this is one of the best albums from the ubiquitous Kim Fowley. Son of actor Douglas Fowley, he produced the novelty hit “Alley Oop” in 1960, then went on to release some commercially unsuccessful solo albums, produced and wrote more oddities for other artists (including Kiss) and eventually unleashed Runaways on the world. And that’s just to name a few. He even found time to write songs with Skip Battin, which were recorded by the Byrds (Untitled LP) and Gene Parsons.

Those who’ve worn out their copies of Roxy Music/Eno/Bowie albums will be thrilled to exhume this forgotten (or never really even known) specimen of oddball glam. Judging from the cover, he didn’t want to leave anyone guessing about the sound he was shooting for. This platter plays like an instant classic, falling into some no man’s land somewhere between Roxy Music and the New York Dolls. Like Eno, he’s often playing post-punk years before it existed, but Fowley’s songs are looser and more accessible, sure to get you hooked on the first spin. “Something New” is simply a perfect pop song with a great update on a Byrdsian jangle feel. “I Hate You” is a gloomy slice of contempt that’ll leave you feeling good about your shitty mood. There are nice female soul/gospel backings throughout. “Dancing All Night” rocks like a garbage can bound outtake from Sticky Fingers.

International Heroes is another exceptional rocknroll record that is in dire need of CD release. Good luck finding any cheap copies on ebay.

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“E.S.P. Reader”

😉 MP3 Album | download at amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1973 | Capitol | search ebay ]

Poco “Pickin’ Up The Pieces”

Poco came to fruition after the breakup of Buffalo Springfield. The late Buffalo Springfield masterpiece Kind of Woman (every bit the equal of Gram Parson’s Hickory Wind), written by Richie Furay, had already provided a template for Poco’s sound. Jim Messina (a late Buffalo Springfield addition) and Furay built a group around this new, emerging country-rock sound. The lineup that recorded the above debut was Richie Furay (guitar/vocals), Jim Messina (guitar/Vocals), Rusty Young (dobro/pedal steel/organ/vocals), Randy Meisner (bass/vocals) and George Grantham (drums/vocals).

Prior to the recording sessions Poco had worked on creating a live following, a clear vision, and a strong group identity. Song for song, this 1969 debut is one of the best buys in the country-rock genre. The playing is well above average, and because of the early release date and origins of this group, Poco’s importance was understood from the very beginning.

Many of these tracks are graced with beautiful hickory smoked harmonies and plenty of fine guitar playing. I have noticed that Poco is usually labeled as a good-time effort and while this is only partially true (due to the excellent Pickin’ Up The Pieces) there are plenty of country weepers and superb hard rockers. Tracks like Tomorrow and First Love capture the group in a reflective, mellow buzz mood and are highlighted by excellent lead vocals and great steel playing. Other stellar tracks like Short Changed and Calico Lady rock really hard and give the listener a solid dose of blistering fuzz guitar. The above mentioned Pickin’ Up The Pieces captures the genre’s essence and is one of the great country-rock classics. Another classic, Make Me Smile is one of the most heartbreaking love songs you’re likely to hear, with a great guitar oriented arrangement and plenty of unique twists and turns.

Poco had already developed into a first-rate group by the time of this recording, that’s a rare thing and it’s part of what makes these songs so great and fully realized. Also of note is the group’s strong, varied songwriting. Unlike many of their country-rock/country contemporaries Poco was able to deliver an album full of well written, fully formed originals. Poco would go on to record another 4 or 5 good albums but this is their finest and one of the seminal, early country-rock lps.

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“Pickin’ Up The Pieces”

😀 CD Reissue | 1995 | Sony | buy from amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl |1969 | Epic | search ebay ]
😉 MP3 Album | download at amzn ]

Ernie Graham (self-titled)

Ernie Graham

Ernie Graham was a member of Eire Apparent, whose claim to fame was their Sunrise album, produced by Jimi Hendrix. His brilliant 1971 solo record often gets the ‘pub rock’ tag, but sounds closer to genuine Americana, like The Band record that never was. It doesn’t feel like most pub rock (even considering Nick Lowe’s Brinsley Schwarz filled out the backing band); it may just be because Graham hailed from England that we call it pub rock. Labels aside, this is a pretty much perfect record.

“Sebastian” is a wonderful folksy opener, but overtly dylanesque.  “Belfast,” the closer, is the other anomaly on this disc, definitely a good number but drastic in its divergent Irish style. All the tunes in between are delicately produced gems and true lost classics. Thankfully, the Dylan impersonation tones down as Ernie lets his natural voice shine through. “So Lonely” kicks in with that mellow groove and tunes like “Girl That Turned The Lever” etch their melody into your mind. A laid-back combo: acoustic guitar, touch of organ, the bass and drums sound warm and wooden, with doubled electric guitar punching it up. Even the harmonies are low key, just barely there, lending to the album’s lovely, lulling mood. The “la la” refrains to “For A Little While” and “Don’t Want Me Round You” are positively anthemic and the psyched-out shuffle of “Blues To Snowy” and dreamy feel to “Sea Fever” seal the deal.  It’s hard to believe this record could fall so far through the cracks.

Beautiful growing melodies, choruses that resonate before you even know the song. Bruce Eder calls this “perhaps the greatest unknown album of the 1970s” and I tend to agree.

The bonus tracks included on the Hux Records reissue are interesting but severely out of place, sounding like Springsteen jams. After this record, Graham would play guitar and pen tunes for Help Yourself, who released their own Cali-flavored gem from the pub rock scene, and would later form his own band, Clancy, who released two albums in 1975.

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“So Lonely”

😀 CD Reissue | 2003 | Hux | buy from amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1971 | Libery | search ebay ]

Bohemian Vendetta “Enough”

Bohemian Vendetta

A melee of clangy guitars, screeching Vox Contintental, thick fuzz, angst, acid, and pure energy make Bohemeian Vendetta’s album one of the best garage finds ever reissued. It’s maybe no masterpiece, waiting to change your life or blow your mind, but it is the essence of rock music, and too powerful to miss out on.

After a series of ripping beat demos and a single for United Artists, even scoring a tv spot on Dick Clark’s Rate-A-Record, the Long Island bred Bohemians got a shot at a full LP on the legendary Mainstream label in 1968. Given the chance, this small group of teenage acid punks let loose with their monster, penning some excellent original numbers and warping a couple of very popular covers. The label delayed their album and hardly promoted it, relegating Enough to the cracks in the floor, but it screams.

While the album’s lead-off, Riddles & Fairytales is a little too good for words, songs like I Wanna Touch Your Heart combine a healthy Rnb feel with psychedelic interludes, and suprisingly well played vocal backups. Love Can Make Your Mind Go Wild shows the band could write and sing tunes on par with The Remains, adding their own touch with the fuzz lead breakdowns. And narrated segments and operatic interludes in numbers like Deaf Dumb & Blind and Paradox City reveal the band’s psychedelic tendencies. The two non-originals are daring and disturbingly drawn-out cover versions of Satisfaction and House of the Rising Sun. It makes you wonder why modern groups fear the notion to cover songs of their contemporaries – it’s part of the tradition of rock and roll, and so many rediscovered garage bands make that exceedingly clear.

After their album went nowhere, members of Bohemian Vendetta formed the backing band for Faine Jade. Today the record is available on an anthology put out by Distortions Records, including all the singles leading up to the album and unreleased acetates. There are also several fairly recent LP reissues. Enough is strange, but a record to reaffirm your love of garage rock.

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“Riddles & Fairytales”

😀 CD Reissue | Distortions | buy from amazon ]
:) Vinyl Reissue | 2006 | Tapestry | search ebay ]

Touch “Touch”

Touch

Touch’s sole album was released in early 1969. Prior to that, the band’s leader, Don Gallucci, had been in the Kingsmen and later on with Don and the Good Times. With the Kingsmen ,he co-wrote and played electric piano on Louie Louie, the most legendary of junk rock classics. Don and the Good Times were a Portland based rock & roll/pop-rock group who had a few small local hits in the mid 60’s. In 1967 the band’s old school style of pop had become passe, a change was needed, and in a fit of inspiration Gallucci wrote Seventy Five. This track would prove to be the centerpiece on Touch’s only album.

The lineup that recorded Touch was Don Gallucci (vocals, keyboards), Jeff Hawks (vocals), Bruce Hauser (vocals, bass), Joey Newman (vocals, guitars) and John Bordonaro (vocals, percussion). The group rented a castle in the Hollywood Hills in which they would rehearse and invite interested record company executives who would see them play live. With numerous record companies competing for a contract, Coliseum/London Records finally won the bid with a record breaking $25,000 advance. The band began recording at Sunset Sounds but sessions were soon plagued with hype and out of control partying. Word quickly spread about the mind blowing music Touch had been recording at Sunset Sounds. Grace Slick, Mick Jagger, and the great Jimi Hendrix stopped by the studio to witness Touch in action. What they heard on those sessions was thankfully put down to wax and released at the tail end of the decade.

The Touch album is graced with the adventurous spirit of the 60s, a record overflowing with ideas, killer musicianship, and great performances. It’s one of America’s first progressive rock albums albeit one that still has a strong psychedelic hangover. The above mentioned track, the nearly 12 minute Seventy Five is one of the great early progressive rockers with a fabulous guitar solo and a wonderful, atmospheric vocal performance from Jeff Hawks. Seventy Five is often described as a theatre-of-the-mind epic but is by no means an overblown ELP keyboard extravaganza. Two straight ahead rockers, We Feel Fine and Miss Teach, are really good and distinctive too, with confident vocals, great guitar work, and well written lyrics. Other songs are more psychedelic like the piano dominated Friendly Birds, the classically influenced ballad Alesha and Others, and the experimental Down At Circe’s Place. Down At Circe’s Place is an underrated psychedelic classic with flanged vocals, a great spaced out guitar solo, powerful drum work, trippy sound fx ,and noisy keyboard work – it’s got everything you’d want from an album like this.

Touch hangs together as an album quite well and never succumbs to endless jamming or unfinished ideas. This is a great album and one that deserves its classic status. Gallucci would go on to produce the Stooges’ Funhouse but Touch is probably his finest hour as a musician. Touch has been repressed numerous times but the best reissues in recent years have been by Wild Places and Eclectic.

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“Alesha And Others”

😀 CD Reissue | 2008 | Rock Candy | buy from amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1969 | London | search ebay ]

Mu “Mu”

Recognize those licks? Fans of Antenna Jimmy (Jeff Cotton’s) unmistakable slide guitar work will hear it off the bat. And this may be the record to clue the skills behind the Magic Band to those who ever thought Captain Beefheart’s troupe were overrated hacks. But Mu is really a Merrell Fankhauser project, the man behind a string of awesome albums including Fapardokly and HMS Bounty’s Things.

The band happened across a copy of James Churchward’s The Lost Continent of Mu, a book about the mythical “Hawaiian Atlantis.” This provided the band name and a set of ideals (the bands’ matching those of the lost civilization) for inspiration. The fascination grew to a point that the group moved to Maui to try and find the lost city themselves.

The sound of Mu is a wholly unique mix of psychedelic rock and rhythm and blues. The interlocking rhythms and primal pulse of the Captain’s music shows its influence, but Mu is a more radio-friendly affair, think the Magic Band Lite. The tunes are largely instrumental and mildly progressive suites, with just enough structure and restraint to entice more conventional listeners. Mu benefits from this, the rare even blend of experimental with consonant songcraft. Cotton turns in some excellent slide, but also bass clarinet, and contributes a good deal of the songwriting. The rhythms are undeniably good, the songs sound better and better, and the drum break on the 9 minute Eternal Thirst (the longest track by a while) nudges the album into the realm of the hypnotic.

After an unissued follow up record recorded in Maui (included on the Sundazed 2CD set). Jeff Cotton, along with Randy Wimmer, left Mu in 1975 to study the Christian Ministry. Merrell grew increasingly fascinated with the lost continent of Mu, recording more albums based on the Mu theme and continuing to play music in the Hawaiian islands. The record they created in 1971 is remarkably fresh, out-there, and absolutely one-of-a-kind. Recommended.

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“Ain’t No Blues”

😀 CD Reissue | Sundazed | buy from sundazed ]
:) Original Vinyl | Lemurian | search ebay ]

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