Archive for June, 2010

Starry Eyed And Laughing “Starry Eyed And Laughing”

The elder statesman of rock historians, Fred Dellar, wrote of the hugely-underrated Starry
Eyed And Laughing that “they were either 15 years ahead of their time or 10 years too
late”, by which he meant that with better timing they could have been as big as the Byrds or
REM. Certainly, SEAL arrived somewhat late for the first and most popular phase of their
chosen genre, country-rock. The two involuntary albatrosses they carried round their necks
didn’t help much, either: being cast by the UK rock media as an ersatz Byrds by dint of their
prominent Rickenbacker twelve-string jangle and close harmony vocals, and being saddled
with the uncultured, back-to-basics Pub Rock image by virtue of working the same London
venues as the R’n’B and Chuck Berry-fuelled likes of Dr Feelgood and Ducks Deluxe.
Neither association was deserved.

SEAL was initally old school friends Ross McGeeney and Tony Poole from Bedford, who
worked the capital’s folk clubs, pubs and subway stations as a guitar/vocal duo in the
early 70s, taking their name from a line in Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom” and covering the
Zim himself, Jackson Browne, Michael Nesmith and other quality singer-songwriters. Late
in ’73 they aspired to a stable four-piece line-up with Brighton bassist Iain Whitmore and
appropriately-named drummer Mike Wackford, and began working up a set of country-rock
originals based around the songwriting of the three frontmen, Poole’s chiming Rickenbacker
330-12, McGeeney’s bend-laden Telecaster and fluid vocal harmonies. These graced
the eponymous debut album which appeared on CBS in October ’74 to considerable
critical approval. While the Byrds influence could be detected, so could those of various
other heroes of the genre – CSN&Y, Poco, even Moby Grape – and there were yet plenty
of original touches. The songwriting may not have been as smoothly adroit as the more
sublime compositions of McGuinn or Browne, but still showed an adventurous respect for
their West Coast antecedents. Poole’s dexterity on the Rick Twelve was (whisper it low . . .)
way ahead of Roger McGuinn’s, and his duels with McGeeney’s fiery Fender made the
uptempo cuts sizzle.

The debut’s twelve tracks comprised a classy, energetic, varied set. “Lady Came From
The South” recalls Notorious-era Byrds with flanged 12-string, powerhouse percussion
and psychedelic overtones, while the joyous boogie “Oh What?” rocks along on guitar
and piano in best Southern Rawk style. All four musicians generate an absolute tour-de-
force on “Going Down”, on which Poole’s licks in particular are incandescent. But despite
support from heavy UK touring the album failed to sell in large numbers at home, and didn’t
get a release in America at all. CBS nonetheless optioned a follow-up which appeared
eleven months later as Thought Talk and which, following the prevailing trend, offered more
keyboards, less twelve-string twang and more mature, complex compositions; different, but
certainly as accomplished and rewarding as the debut. SEAL then embarked on a brief but
well-received US tour, during which McGeeney visited Gene Parsons to have his Tele fitted
with a String Bender.

The history becomes sketchy thereafter; at a tour post-mortem meeting McGeeney was
summarily fired or resigned (depending on whose account you read) for reasons never made
public, and the depleted band fell apart shortly afterwards when their management went
bust. Unlike many of their contemporaries, there has been no reformation, though Poole
remains active in the genre as producer and record label owner and struts his Rickenbacker
along with Whitmore in the rather excellent Falcons. The best way to experience SEAL’s
oeuvre thirty-five years on is via the fine 2CD package That Was Now And This Is Then,
containing all of both albums, interesting bonus cuts (including their version of “Chimes Of
Freedom”) and snatches of concerts and radio broadcasts, available only from their official
website
.

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“Lady Came from the South”

😀 2CD Reissue | 2003 | Aurora | buy direct from starryeyed ]
:) Orig Vinyl | 1974 | CBS | search ebay ]

Pete Quaife

l-r: Pete Quaife, Original Kinks Bassist, Ray & Dave, Mick Avory

LP Giveaway: R.Stevie Moore “Phonography”

As I’ve posted over at AD , there’s a new issue of Phonography out. Here’s how R. Stevie describes Sundazed’s latest pressing:

“Premier. the audiophile pressing is shocking. pure warm loud lo-fi sound – zero vinyl surface detection. no turntable rumble, not one tick or pop, no static cling even. absolutely total quiet. and especially in the more silent passages. kinda hard to believe. it’s magic….don’t think it’s EVER sounded this good. A+++”

We love this record + luckily Sundazed got us a free LP to give away to a Rising Storm reader, SIGNED by R. Stevie himself. To enter for a chance to win, just leave a comment below (with a working email address). While you’re at it, tell us what’s your favorite cult classic, lo-fi, d.i.y, home-taped artist, album, song or anything (besides Stevie of course).

:) HD Vinyl | 2010 | sundazed ]
😎 Spotify link | listen ]

Second Hand “Reality”

Second Hand’s Reality is rarely mentioned when collectors compile their lists of best ever UK psych albums.  That’s a shame, because Reality is probably better than most of the well-known psych classics.

Second Hand was originally known as The Next Collection, a Clapham/Balham/Streatham group who, early on, were structured around the guitar talents of Bob Gibbons (Gibbons would eventually quit the band due to depression).  The Next Collection were heavily influenced by the sounds of the Who, the Creation and the Small Faces, utilizing feedback and charging arrangements in many of their early tunes.  The axis of the group would eventually become keyboard player Kenny Elliot and drummer Kieran O’Connor.  This group would change their name to the Moving Finger as psychedelia became the new trend and some time later, they’d eventually settle on Second Hand.  Early copies of their debut, released in 1968, are in fact credited to the Moving Finger.  The group changed their name to Second Hand because another group called the Moving Finger had just released a 45 on Mercury.

Lots of people comment that the album’s one weak point is Kenny Elliot’s vocals.  This reviewer feels his vocals fit the music appropriately and do not take anything away from the album’s greatness.  Some tracks such as “A Fairy Tale” and “Good Old ’59” are appealingly twee while others hit much harder, like the stoner rock of ‘Rhubarb!”  There’s lots of mellotron and cool studio tricks throughout Reality.  The album’s one certified classic, “The World Will End Yesterday” has swirling backward tapes, crashing drums and heavy guitar – a psych masterpiece!  A few of the longer cuts have led some people to unfairly label this disc prog.  Reality is pure psychedelia but more experimental and challenging than most.  Two sad drug OD songs (“MainLiner” and “The Bath Song”) hit really low, downer moods but are truly brilliant.  An album that can be played from beginning to end, without skipping thru any tracks.  One of the great unknown LPs from 1968.

Second Hand would issue their second album in 1971.  This disc, titled May Death Be Your Santa Claus, is another standout effort from the early progressive era, full of great ideas and eccentric music.

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“Good Old ’59 (We Are Slowly Getting Older)”

😀 CD Reissue | 2007 | Sunbeam | at amazon ]
:) Orig Vinyl | 1968 |  Polydor | search ebay ]
😎 Spotify link | listen ]

Pure Prairie League “Pure Prairie League”

After spending the sixties ruthlessly disparaging country music, I experienced a Damascene conversion on catching the Eagles’ groundbreaking 1972 appearance on BBC TV’s Old Grey Whistle Test. Country rock, its reluctant antecedents and its bastard children became, and have remained, my favourite musical genre ever since, taking in everything from the Carter Family to the Drive-By Truckers. Yet the first I knew of Pure Prairie League was when I found out that Vince Gill had come to prominence with an early-eighties version of the band. PPL’s story is one of a couple of early near-misses at commercial success, followed by a long history as cult favourites with a small but faithful following, a bewildering sequence of line-up changes and periods of non-existence. After incarnations during which it contained not even one original member, the band prevails to this day, centred round prodigal returnee, founder Craig Fuller.

Originally coming out of the unpromising country-rock territory of Columbus, Ohio, the first stable line-up was led by principal singers and writers, lead guitarist Fuller and acoustic guitarist George Powell, and produced a sound not a million miles from the definitive LA country rock style of early Poco. The addition of pedal steelist John David Call strengthened the resemblance still further, but also allowed Fuller and Call to trade licks in a highly personal conversational style harking back to Western Swing. Their eponymous debut album appeared on RCA in March 1972, but after just one short national tour promoting it Fuller received draft papers and felt obliged to relocate rapidly to Toronto. The band promptly split, leaving the album largely unheard, and it disappeared without troubling the charts. This was a shame, because PPL could certainly have been as big as their Californian contemporaries: they had a memorable name (borrowed from the fictitious ladies’ temperance organisation in the Errol Flynn Western Dodge City), a distinctive image (reinforced by their logo featuring the Norman Rockwell cartoon cowboy character “Luke”) and undeniable chops as writers, singers and players. Moderate commercial success did come with the second album Bustin’ Out, recorded in October 1972 by just Fuller and Powell with session musicians and friends, but not until its re-release more than two years afterwards on the back of a hard-earned new popularity resulting from the reformed band’s gruelling touring. RCA did re-sign them and released a series of further albums throughout the seventies, but these generally failed to light up the record store tills.

Notwithstanding this, all of PPL’s recorded legacy is, perhaps surprisingly, still in print. The sophomore Bustin’ Out is a more mature album offering a more varied, more rock-oriented menu as befits its shifting personnel, plus the novelty of string arrangements by Bowie sidekick Mick Ronson. Personally, however, I prefer the inexplicably unappreciated debut’s softer, warmer, more countrified sound, with its ubiquitous lush harmonies and pedal steel licks and the occasional “blue” chord. The instrumental break in the gently swinging “Take It Before You Go” forefronts the interplay between Fuller’s squealing six-string and Call’s sinuous steel, while “Woman” is a magnificent guitar-driven song with power-pop overtones, and the closing “It’s All On Me” highlights Powell’s elegant fingerstyling and recalls the Byrds’ “Chestnut Mare” period. Available at the time of writing are an Acadia twofer comprising the first two albums complete and a Camden anthology which includes most of the debut, all of the follow-up and selected later cuts. Admirers of the Eagles, Poco, the Dirt Band, the New Riders, etc., should apply; they won’t be disappointed.

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“Take It Before You Go”

:) Orig Vinyl | 1972 | RCA Victor | search ebay ]

Plainsong “In Search of Amelia Earhart”

Plainsong was a short-lived folk-rock outfit with country-rock leanings that briefly provided a pretty close British equivalent to the likes of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Singer-songwriter Iain Matthews had been the frontman with Fairport Convention during their early West Coast-influenced period, and had subsequently enjoyed moderate success as a solo artist and with his pioneering British country-rock outfit Southern Comfort. His main collaborator in Plainsong would be guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Andy Roberts, former musical kingpin of the loose collective of folk musicians and performance poets known as the Liverpool Scene. Rounding out the new band were bassist/pianist David Richards and Californian acoustic guitarist Bob Ronga, with percussion being provided on an ad-hoc basis by Iain’s former Fairport colleague Dave Mattacks or fellow folk-rock stalwart Timi Donald. The gentle irony of the band’s name belies their strengths: Matthews’s angelic voice and their superb four-part harmonies, plus immaculate instrumental backings.

Prior to their formation in early 1972 Roberts had become infatuated with the alternative version of the Amelia Earhart story propounded in Fred Goerner’s book The Search For Amelia Earhart, which suggested that she had been on a clandestine aerial spying mission for the US government on the Japanese at Saipan in 1937 and had perished at their hands, the whole affair then being hushed up to avoid an early war. Matthews became readily interested in the topic. Unable to stretch the concept to a whole album, they decided to make a short suite on it the centrepiece of their Elektra debut, which also took as its title that of Goerner’s tome and featured appropriate cover art. A cover of David McEnery’s traditional account “Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight” was followed by Matthews’s own “True Story Of Amelia Earhart” which proffered the Goerner line. Cleverly splitting the two was a soulful version of the old bluegrass spiritual “I’ll Fly Away”. The remainder of the album comprised mellow, thoughtful compositions by Matthews and widely varying but carefully chosen covers of numbers by obscure but respected folk-rock and country artists, including Paul Siebel’s “Louise”, Henske and Yester’s “Raider” and Jim & Jesse’s rollicking “Diesel On My Tail”.

What you got from this apparent mishmash was a beautifully coherent folk-country-rock album with glorious vocals and superbly understated, largely acoustic accompaniment with the occasional fiery Telecaster tail-twist, the whole having a wistful, summery feel absolutely redolent of 1972. It nonetheless failed to trouble the Top 100 album charts, and the Ronga-less follow-up provisionally titled Now We Are 3, which moved further towards country-rock, was shelved when the remaining band members split abruptly due to ferocious antipathy between Matthews and Richards and Iain’s long-aspired determination to move his muse to California. The album lay dormant till 2005 when the Water label in San Francisco released it as part of an absolutely stunning 2-CD compilation entitled simply Plainsong which includes the debut album, the unreleased follow-up, an early single and a dozen live stage and radio recordings: just about everything laid down by the original line-up. Matthews and Roberts had meanwhile reunited in a new Plainsong in the nineties, but I’ll leave you to investigate that if you will.

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“Call the Tune”

😀 CD Reissue | 2005 | Water | buy at amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1972 | Elektra | search ebay ]
😎 Spotify link | listen ]