Archive for June, 2009

Spirit “Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus”

12 Dreams of Dr Sardonicus

Perhaps Spirit’s finest album although some fans champion the psych pop of 68’s The Family That Plays Together.  Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus was released by Epic in 1970. Sessions for the album came to a grinding halt when Randy California fell off a horse and suffered a fractured skull. He spent one month in the hospital and because of this it took the group nearly 6 months to complete Sardonicus. On top of this, tensions within the group were mounting. Randy California (guitarist) and Jay Ferguson (vocals) could not agree on the future direction of Spirit; Ferguson wanted to play commerical rock n roll while California favored a loose, experimental approach. This would be the last lp from the original lineup as internal friction would lead to Spirit’s demise. The band split up after the recording of this album, which was subsequently pieced together by producer David Briggs.

If you were to round up all the essential LA/California rock albums from the late 60’s/early 70’s this would be amongst the very best on that list. The songs on Sardonicus are more structured than before, only “Space Child,” a trippy progressive instrumental, has a slight jazz/fusion element that was featured so prominently on earlier albums.  “Animal Zoo” (a psych pop gem), “Mr. Skin” (quirky hard rock with horns), and the gorgeous “Nature’s Way” were all released as singles in 1970.  “Nature’s Way” is one of Spirit’s most popular tracks and a definite highlight on Sardonicus. The vocals and electric/acoustic guitars on this number are positively sublime and create a very intimate mood; it’s the kind of song that’ll stick in your head for years to come. Other great tracks were the moody piano ballad “Soldier” and the psychedelic folk-rocker “Life Has Just Begun,” which features a beautiful chorus.

While the Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus contained some of Spirit’s most radio friendly material, the group was still experimenting aplenty.  “When I Touch You,” one of their best hard rock tracks, featured a strong psych influence and a fine vocal performance from Jay Ferguson. Another track, “Love Has Found A Way” is a morass of backwards effects, strange lead vocals, and pristine harmonies. Two other hard rockers, “Prelude – Nothin’ To Hide” and “Street Worm” are full of great guitar work, clever fuzz effects, and killer solos: these tracks cleary explain why Randy California is so highly esteemed by his peers. Despite its clean, commercial production and the fact that it was loved by musicians and critics alike, Sardonicus did not sell.

The Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus was as good as any record coming out in 1970, certainly up there with the era’s very best.  And although Sardonicus is progressive and  foward thinking, it never sounds dated or self indulgent, the LP is a true masterpiece. It’s been reissued many, many times and originals on vinyl are easy to find. The best reissues have been put out by Sundazed (vinyl), Epic/Sony (cd) and Repertoire Records (cd). Spirit would soldier on with drummer Ed Cassidy and guitarist Randy California, releasing some fine albums and playing many memorable live shows. Ferguson went on to form Jo Jo Gunne, a commercial hard rock/boogie band that saw success in the 1970s.

In 1997 Randy California tragically died in Hawaii while saving his son from a dangerous ocean wave. It was a sad end to one of rock’s great groups.

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“Why Can’t I Be Free”

:) Vinyl Reissue | Sundazed | buy from sundazed ]
😀 CD Reissue | Sony | buy from amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | Epic | 1970 | search ebay ]
😎 Spotify link | listen ]

R. Stevie Moore “Phonography”


R. Stevie Moore, with hundreds of albums under his belt – most of them home-recordings released on hissy cassette tape and hand-marked CD-R – is an unrecognized genius. Born in Nashville, son to session man and Elvis’s bass player Bob Moore, Robert Steven Moore grew up in the music business. Opting to make it on his own with the reel-to-reel instead of working sessions, his dedication to independent recording has yielded troves of unaffected, wildly original music. He recently told Vanity Fair: “I’ve worked harder than anybody to become rich and famous, but I remain poor and anonymous!”

Phonography was Stevie’s first official long player, recorded from 1973 to 1976 and originally released in 100 copies on the artist’s private Vital Records. Comes with lo-fi, direct input, overloaded electric guitar, a classical approach to warbly analog synth arrangements, hi-pitched erratic vocals, oddball skits that are genuinely funny, and an exceptionally fine gift for pop songcraft. Within a few listens you’ll hear traces of Brian Wilson, The Mothers, Gary Wilson, Daniel Johnston (especially on goofball cuts like “Goodbye Piano”), and Ariel Pink, a big fan who had R. Stevie open up his recent tour.

The opener, “Melbourne,” sets an unexpected stage: an anthemic introduction on an Elka synthesizer. Then Stevie shares a few words about his background whilst taking a piss!  The album is schizophrenic, but wonderfully listenable, even through a thick wall of magnetic tape. The beauty is in the fidelity, Moore recognizes what’s special about home recordings, and the record’s flow is engaging rather than plain weird.

Phonography record is finally available on vinyl again, remastered by Sundazed from R. Stevie’s original reels with the restored Vital artwork and insert. Earlier this year a CD version was reissued by Recommended Records in the UK and it’s available on iTunes as well.

Phonography is a record like no other, and merely an introduction to the incredible world of R. Stevie Moore. Find more than you could ever handle at

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“I Want You In My Life”

😀 CD Reissue | 1998 | Flamingo | ]
😉 MP3 Album | download at amzn ]
😎 Spotify link | listen ]

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PODCAST 13 Cherokee Boogie

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Hank Williams “Cherokee Boogie” (The Unreleased Recordings)

Bob Dylan and the Band “Quinn The Eskimo” (The Genuine Basement Tapes/Biograph, 1967)

The 13th Floor Elevators “You Don’t Know” (Sign of the 3-Eyed Men – Live 1966)

The Beau Brummels “Two Days Til’ Tomorrow” (1967 45 release)

Carl Perkins “Gone, Gone, Gone” (The Dance Album, 1958-)

The Blue Things “The Man On The Street” (1966 45 and on self-titled album)

Willie Nelson “Yesterday’s Wine” (Yesterday’s Wine, 1971)

John Fahey “A Raga Called Pat, Part IV” (The Voice of the Turtle, 1968-)

The Electronic Hole “Love Will Find A Way III” (The Electronic Hole, 1969)

The Sons of Adam “Saturday’s Son” (1966 45 with Randy Holden)

Johnny Cash “Time Changes Everything” (Now, There Was A Song, 1960)

The Avengers “Daniel The Postman” (1968 45 by a great New Zealand psych pop band)

The Ballroom “Spinning, Spinning, Spinning” (1967 single from Magic Time cd)

Clip from “Diamond Head” by The Beach Boys (Friends, 1968-)

The Beach Boys “When Girls Get Together” (Landlocked, 1970)

Clip from “Diamond Head” by The Beach Boys (Friends, 1968-)

OWL “Gabriel” (Of Wondrous Legends, 1971)

The Bobby Fuller Four “My True Love” (1966 45)

The Byrds “Ballad Of Easy Rider”

Ballad of Easy Rider

Ballad of Easy Rider was one of two great Byrds’ albums to be released after the groups’ acknowledged heyday (Mr. Tambourine Man to Sweetheart of the Rodeo).  Released in 1969, before the excellent double set Untitled, Ballad of Easy Rider was a quiet, tranquil record with good songs and fine, professional performances.  By this time Clarence White was a full-time member and the group was looking to rebound from their prior release, the uneven Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde.

Ballad of Easy Rider kicked off with the title track, two minutes of beautiful countrified folk-rock that was notable for its stately orchestration.  This was definitely one of the latter group’s finest performances and legend has it that Dylan wrote half the lyrics down on a napkin (McGuinn naturally finished up the song).  Perhaps the album’s most popular track was the gospel influenced “Jesus Is Just Alright,” a fine pop number in it’s own right that reached the lower regions of the charts.  There were great covers of “Tulsa Country” (country-rock with excellent guitar work from Clarence White), “There Must Be Someone I Can Turn To” (a classic Gosdin Brothers‘ track), “Jack Tarr The Sailor” (a sea shanty folk-rocker with stinging electric guitar and banjo) and Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee.”    The story behind “There Must Be Someone I Can Turn To” is rather interesting. One night Vern Gosdin came home after playing a gig to find his house completely empty.  His wife and kids were gone along with the furniture and there was a goodbye note from his wife.  With this in mind, Vern sat down and wrote “There Must Be Someone I Can Turn To.”  The Byrds decided to include this number into their set because of its meaning and emotional power.

The originals on Ballad of Easy Rider are also impressive.  “Fido,” written by John York is a funky number about a stray dog.  There’s a brief drum solo and some strong guitar riffs, it’s unlike anything the Byrds would ever record.  “Oil In My Lamp” showcases a Clarence White vocal and is an excellent country rocker with a very laid back, rustic feel (with more great guitar riffs).  The best of the bunch is “Gunga Din,” a minor Byrds’ classic with Gene Parsons taking lead vocals and really great finger picking via Clarence White.  It almost seems as if Roger McGuinn relinquished his leadership role in the Byrds to let Clarence White take the spotlight on Ballad of Easy Rider

I think it’s wrong to assume the Byrds were dead after Sweetheart of the Rodeo.   Many fans suggest this version of the Byrds was less innovative and lacked a strong songwriter.  While the Byrds did write fine original material they were also known as great interpreters of folk and country material.  I must point out that these latter day Byrds were known to be a great live band (probably the best in the group’s history), featured one of the era’s finest guitarists in Clarence White, and released two classic country-rock records.  This is one of them.

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“Jack Tarr The Sailor”

😀 CD Reissue | 2008 | Sbme | amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1969 | Columbia | ebay ]
😉 MP3 Album | download ]

The Band “Rock of Ages”

Rock of Ages

I usually stay away from live albums. Rock of Ages was my last chip at The Band’s discography, but what a thrill to hear the band at their peak, a true live-rock classic.

Before this record, I’ve always felt “Across The Great Divide” plays kind of hokey at the helm of one of the top records of all time, but here it nearly brings me to tears, revealing the power of a good song. A considerable chunk of this recording’s force comes from Allen Touissaint’s horn arrangments, adding a level of raw, visceral energy, one that fails to detract from the original tunes (unlike so many last-minute horn-section supplements).

Subtle road-variations kill me: the super-slowed chorus to “Stage Fright” (it should have been like this from the beginning), the embellished arrangment for the “Rag Mama Rag” tag (Touissaint again), not to mention the killer Lowrey Organ solo from Garth Hudson, “The Genetic Method,” introducing blazing hot “Chest Fever,” and Robby Robertson’s emotic guitar solo for “Unfaithful Servant.”

I’m glad I saved it for last. Guaranteed to put everybody in a good mood. Though The Band still had more great material in the wings, specifically Northern Lights – Southern Cross, I say make this your Last Waltz.

Q. Are there any other essential live records?

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“Across The Great Divide”

😀 CD Reissue | 2001 | Capitol | buy amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1972 | Capitol | search ebay ]
😉 MP3 Album | download ]
😎 Spotify link | listen ]

The Plastic Cloud “The Plastic Cloud”

Plastic Cloud

The Plastic Cloud were a psychedelic rock band based out of Bay Ridges, Ontario.  Had their homebase been located elsewhere (San Fran, NYC, or LA) things may have been very different for the Plastic Cloud but instead this sole album has languished in obscurity.  Psych fans and collectors remain divided, however: collectors consider Plastic Cloud one of Canada’s best psych albums (or indeed the best from anywhere) while some jaded day-trippers merely find it just ok/ nothing special.   All lyrics were written by guitarist/vocalist Don Brewer but other members were drummer Randy Umphrey, bass player Brian Madill, and guitarist Mike Cadieux.

At first listen I was not impressed with the Plastic Cloud’s only offering.  After reading all the hype about mind-jarring fuzz guitars and John Lennon-like vocals I found the disc rather mediocre and unimpressive.  After several more spins I began to appreciate the band’s intensity and lysergic charm: this disc truly does deliver the goods if you’re into hardcore, late-night psych sounds.  Two of the tracks (“Civilization Machine” and “You Don’t Care”) come close to or exceed the ten minute mark and both are repetitive but also very good.   “You Don’t Care” features nasty eastern style fuzztone and powerful drum work that never bores despite its 10.5 minute length.  Other tracks like “Epistle To Paradise” and the superb “Bridge Under The Sky” show a dreamy, softer folk-rock side which is equally appealing.  These tracks have a nice trippy production and attractive ringing guitars.  Another gem, the “Dainty General Rides Again” sounds like a lost British psych pop nugget and features a nice brief fuzz guitar break.  While not a major classic, Plastic Cloud is surely one of the better Canadian psych albums and is consistently good throughout.  The guitarists’ tones vaguely remind me of Jorma Kaukonen’s work with the Jefferson Airplane: these guitar tones coil, uncoil, and burrow deep into your head like all great psych guitar solos should.  Once again, if you enjoy great, ripping fuzz guitar and sinister vocals (check out “Shadows Of Your Mind”) this album is definitely for you.

Originals came out on Allied in 1968 and are very expensive.  The group also released a single off Allied in 1968 (“Shadows Of Your Mind” coupled with “The Dainty General”).  The best and only official cd reissue I know of is by Pacemaker (from 2005) although it offers nothing in the way of liner notes, just a couple of photos.  If Canada produced acknowledged, underrated classics like Spirit Of Christmas’ Lies To Live By (prog), The Guess Who’s It’s Time (garage/beat), The Sinners Vox Populi (psych pop/garage) and Kensington Market’s Aardvark (psych pop) then Plastic Cloud is just a notch or so below these records but still a great album.

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“Dainty General Rides Again”

😀 CD Reissue | 2008 | Phantom | amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1968 | Allied | ebay ]

Van Dyke Parks “Discover America”

Discover America

Van Dyke Parks’ second album, released four years after his celebrated Song Cycle,  is an exploration of Trinidadian calypso music infused with Parks’ ingeniously offbeat treatment. Like its predecessor, the record is clever, intriguing, and musically brilliant. Discover America adds an unexpected ingredient: fun.

The album opener echoes that of Song Cycle‘s, an intentionally degraded song clip, “Jack Palance” performed by the Mighty Sparrow himself (those interested in exploring more calypso through this angle might investigate Mighty Sparrow’s Hot and Sweet, an album produced by Van Dyke Parks in 1974). Wooden marimbas, steel drums, island rhythms, and other calypso staples (supplied by the Esso Trinidad Steel Band) grace many of the tracks, but Parks maintains style thru vast string arrangements, orchestration, gratuitous experimental bits, and the vintage Americana themes examined in the lyrics.

Parks reimagines and rearranges traditional material on Discover America, as well as borrowing two killer tunes from Allen Touissaint (“Occapella” and “Riverboat”) and Lowell George’s “Sailin’ Shoes” (Little Feat actually play on Park’s “FDR In Trinidad”). The adapted material is brilliantly produced and addictingly melodic. Couple of standouts include the lilting “John Jones” and mind boggling “G-Man Hoover” (a tune as weird as it is captivating), though the entire album is consistently 5-star. A masterpiece from a master.

Song Cycle is great but not for everyone. If you’re looking to play Van Dyke Parks in a public forum, this is the album. I would submit that it’s catchy, fun, odd, and funky enough to be played just about anywhere. Have it with you this summer.

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“John Jones”

:) Vinyl Reissue | Sundazed | buy sundazed ]
😀 CD Reissue | 1990 | Warner | buy amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1972 |  Warner | search ebay ]
😎 Spotify link | listen ]

uReview: Bob Dylan “Self Portrait”

Self Portrait

allmusic: 2 stars
Robert Christgau: C+
Rolling Stone’s Greil Marcus: “What is this shit?”
Rolling Stone today: 4 stars

TRS uReview:
12345678910 (52 votes, average: 6.37 out of 10)

mp3: Wigwam

😀 CD Reissue | 1989 | Sony | buy amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1970 | Columbia | search ebay ]

Cat Mother & The All Night News Boys “The Street Giveth…and the Street Taketh Away”

Street Giveth

I first bought this 1969 release on Polydor vinyl the following year when I saw a copy for fifteen shillings in a bargain bin in Woolworth’s and noticed that it had “produced by Jimi Hendrix and Cat Mother” on the cover. I’d also heard the track “Marie” on John Peel’s radio show on Radio One, and been impressed by its bittersweet theme and clever production. On the basis of these two recommendations I handed over the fifteen bob. Well, this tentative bargain turned out to be, IMHO, one of the best rock albums, not just of 1968, which is itself saying something, but EVER, and remains to this day my favourite pop/rock album of all time. 

Despite its quality, and despite the celebrity co-production credit, it sold only modestly in the US and hardly at all in the UK, hence its appearance in Woolies’ bargain bin. It’s since been re-released twice in CD format, probably just for Hendrix completists (being the only album ever officially known to have been produced by Jimi for another artist), both times in very small quantity production runs, and I was lucky enough to score a copy of the second (2003) CD release whilst it was current and therefore available at a sensible price. 

The five unknown musicians, all vocalists, all writers, and all multi-instrumentalists to session musician standard, produce a string of self-penned songs in a breathtaking variety of styles, from funky riff-rock (“Can You Dance To It”) through tramping Steeleye-style electric folk (“Boston Burglar”), sixties Baroque (“Marie”) and tongue-in-cheek revivalist rock’n’roll (“Good Old Rock’N’Roll:” the medley covered by The Dave Clark Five) to string-laden hippy-dippy epic (“Bramble Bush”) and swamp-tinged, chilled-out instrumental jam (“Track In A”). Musicianship, vocals, and production are faultless throughout. 

When the original album came out the track listing on the sleeve omitted the three final tracks from side 2, namely “Bramble Bush,” “Probably Won’t” and “Track In A” (“Nebraska Night”). Instead, the seven components of the “Good Old Rock’N’Roll” medley were credited as separate tracks. Oddly, the CD release, with completely redesigned packaging, repeated this mistake. Rest assured, the three aforementioned tracks are all present on the CD as they were on the original vinyl. 

Pending a further CD re-release, if one ever happens, copies are now available only rarely and at collector prices. However, if you happen to chance on a used copy at a sensible price, don’t hesitate: snap it up. You won’t regret it.

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“Boston Burglar”

😀 CD Reissue | 1997 | Polygram | buy amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1968 | Polydor | search ebay ]

Double Zappa |FZ| 1968-1969 Solo

zappa 68-69

These two mostly instrumental albums are the first Frank Zappa solo records. Sans Mothers, Zappa used these forays to assert his interest in serious composition, drawing on influences like Igor Stravinsky, Edgar Varèse, and of course, popular rock and roll music.

Lumpy Gravy (1968-)
Lumpy Gravy is a wildly impressive collection of musical ideas, set in two musical suites. Incorporating surf and pop rhythm sections with musique concrete and absurdist vocal samples (recorded inside a piano with all the keys pressed down, nabbing harmonics from the resonating strings nearby), it does in fact feel like “phase two of We’re Only in It for the Money,” borrowing its wonderful sped-up, tape manipulated feel. The composition is loaded with themes that would be recycled on later releases (“Bwana Dik,” “Oh No,” “King Kong”). Recorded with the Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony and meticulously spliced and diced by FZ, Lumpy Gravy is a monumental achievement – but only a drop in the bucket from one of rock’s most prolific composers.

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“Duodenum (Theme From Lumpy Gravy)”

😀 CD Reissue | 1995 | Zappa Records | from amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1968 | Verve |  search ebay ]

Hot Rats (1969)
I wouldn’t say this album is notably better than any other FZ record, but it caught on big. Maybe it’s the short, catchy title; may be the toned down weirdness;  could be that Zappa just cut all the bullshit and delivered an undeniable slab of rock that the masses could dig and critics would acclaim. Two of these tracks (“Peaches En Regalia” and “Son of Mr. Green Genes”) even made the legendary (albeit illegal) jazz standards tome, The Real Book, proving the album was the equal of contemporary ‘musician’s music.’ While “Peaches,” featuring Shuggie Otis on bass guitar, may have been the zaniest track ever to become a standard (played on baseball stadium organs to this day), the rest of the album eschews condensed complexity in favor of long form jams and sickening guitar work. Captain Beefheart’s vocal performance on the hot-licked “Willie The Pimp” might be one of his defining moments, though certainly not from Capn’s viewpoint – his distaste for FZ’s production prowess begins here. The rest of the album is fully instrumental – groovy, melodic, jazzy, brilliant, essential listening. In case you haven’t heard it by now:

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“Peaches En Regalia”

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