Archive for October, 2010



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UK Psychedelia’s Finest Hour

The rediscovery of British psychedelic music over the last twenty years or so has unearthed a stream of rare recordings from the magic period, 1966-1968. It has to be said that quite a lot of these deserve to remain rare, and that many others have dubious psychedelic credentials, but some excellent previously passed-over stuff has also surfaced on a number of anthologies. The Rising Storm brings you (well, in my humble opinion) UK Psychedelia’s Finest Hour: sixty minutes of whimsy, Baroque, cod-Oriental and just plain electronic madness, all wrapped around lysergically-assisted lyrics and acid-drenched instrumentals. A sitar here, a Mellotron there, everywhere a Fuzz Face. A couple of copper-bottomed hits, a clutch of genuine obscurities and a whole bunch of unexpected curveballs from well-known names just passing through. Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream.

1. George Martin “Theme One”
2. The Who “Armenia City In The Sky”
3. Nirvana (UK) “Rainbow Chaser”
4. Traffic “Hole In My Shoe”
5. The Beatles “Baby You’re A Rich Man”
6. Tintern Abbey “Vacuum Cleaner”
7. The Ivy League “My World Fell Down”
8. Dantalian’s Chariot “Madman Running Through The Fields”
9. David McWilliams “The Days of Pearly Spencer”
10. Cream “Dance the Night Away”
11. Keith West “Excerpt from a Teenage Opera”
12. The Small Faces “The Universal”
13. Donovan “Hurdy Gurdy Man”
14. The Yardbirds “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”
15. The Aquarian Age “10,000 Words in a Cardboard Box”
16. The Rolling Stones “In Another Land”
17. Pink Floyd “Apples and Oranges”
18. The Pretty Things “Defecting Grey”

Spur “Spur of the Moments”

Spur was an unknown Illinois band who gained some local notoriety in the late 60’s but never hit the big time (they opened for many of the era’s big bands: The Byrds, Cream, Bob Seger, Steve Miller and The Grateful Dead).  For Spur of the Moments, Drag City compiled the best tracks from their sole album (1968-), along with several outtakes and rare 45 cuts.  Tons of blogs and rock magazines/fanzines have reviewed this gem, so we figured we’d give our own spin on this exciting new reissue.

While Spur of the Moments is by no means a cohesive, album-like statement, each song is finely crafted 60’s rock n roll that’s well worth a spin.  Spur started out life as a garage band who called themselves The Unknowns.  The Unknowns would eventually change their name to Spur and touch on a variety of classic 60’s sounds: garage, folk-rock, heavy psych and country-rock.  It must’ve been a challenge to assemble and piece together this anthology.  Spur were certainly long-lived by 60’s standards (1965-1972) but they were also a group who frequently revamped their sound/style and spent very little time in the recording studio.  That being said, Drag City does a great job putting all their highlights together in one convenient place.

The LP’s first five cuts are its most brilliant ones.  We begin with “Mind Odyssey,” a classic slice of psychedelic country-rock that’s highlighted by fluid guitar work and mild studio experimentation.   With “Tribal Gathering,” Spur turns a classic Byrds track into a 14 minute Grateful Dead-like acid guitar jam.   “Time Is Now,” another great performance, is quality West Coast psychedelia with good harmonies (about mid way through), fuzz guitar and a strong Jefferson Airplane feel.  These 3 cuts also suggest that Spur may have been listening to The Byrds’ Notorious Byrd Brothers album.  “Modern Era,” a 1966 single which was originally backed by a cover of Gene Clark’s “Feel A Whole Lot Better” (not included), recalls 5D Byrds, with it’s punchy, jangley guitars and acid fried lyrics – definitely a keeper.  “Mr. Creep,” a terrific cut from Spur’s sole album, sports cool, distorted vocals, razor sharp guitars and bizarre lyrics (great, twisted garage psych).  Other fine tracks: Spur’s excellent country-rock take on The Beatles’ classic “Eight Days A Week” (banjo and steel guitar make me think of a cross between Dillard & Clark and The Flying Burrito Brothers), the suprising power pop of “Help Me I’m Falling” and the jumpy garage number “Be Tender, My Love.”

Spur of the Moments is only being offered on vinyl and MP3 formats (not cd).  This is certainly one of the better reissues of 2010.  A good one to own if you’re into Moby Grape, The Byrds or Buffalo Springfield.

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“Mr. Creep”

:) Vinyl Reissue | 2010 | Drag City | here ]
😉 Digital Download | here ]

Koerner, Ray And Glover “Lots More Blues, Rags And Hollers”

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but when white musicians decided to copy and adapt
black popular music forms in the nineteen-fifties and early sixties the result was all too often insipid,
sanitised shades of what had been urgent, emotive works. Fortunately there were exceptions:
Koerner, Ray And Glover may have been to all intents and purposes a white Sonny Terry And
Brownie McGee, but their version of the acoustic blues and plantation folk music was no less brash,
enthusiastic and full of energy than that of Sonny and Brownie.

“Spider” John Koerner, whose nickname allegedly derived from his being built like a harvestman
and walking like one, was an early reviver of the acoustic country blues and acapella field hollers
largely abandoned by the classic black bluesmen when they moved north from the Delta and
embraced electricity. Adeptly picking his weapon of choice, a seven-string non-resonator National
with an octave G string, and singing in a clear, powerful, distinctly non-black voice, engineering
student Koerner developed his catalogue of Leadbelly and similar covers and upbeat, lyrically witty
originals in the coffee houses around the University of Minnesota, frequently performing alongside
a teenage Bob Dylan (who compliments Koerner in Chronicles, Volume One). Encountering fellow
undergrads “Snaker” Dave Ray, who fingered a rare and mean Martin twelve-string and sang like
Muddy Waters, and Tony “Little Sun” Glover, a then unusual white exponent of blues harmonica, the
trio became official in time to benefit from the explosion of interest in “authentic” white folk music
around 1962.

Their first album, Blues, Rags And Hollers, appeared in a limited vanity run in June 1963 and was
quickly snapped up by Elektra for national distribution. The threesome had taped forty songs in one
twelve-hour session, recording as individuals, as duos (either Koerner or Ray with Glover) and just
occasionally as a trio, and when these were trimmed to twenty the resulting record was raw, gutsy,
one-take, down-home acoustic music, its jug-band feel propelled by Koerner’s favoured percussion
instrument, his foot, crisply recorded with plenty of reverb. The second album, Lots More Blues,
Rags And Hollers
, appeared a year later. After a third and final collection, The Return Of, in 1965,
the group bowed to the inevitable decline in the popularity of unamplified folk music following the
British Invasion and went their separate ways.

It’s been said that the intensity of Lots More is rather less than that of the debut, but to my ears
the record displays more mature musicianship, classier songs and considerably more originality
in the performances, and thus it’s my preferred platter. Outstanding are Koerner’s solo “Whomp
Bom” which highlights his outstanding seven-string dexterity and distinctive vocal; the cover of
Muddy’s “Honey Bee” in which Glover’s buzzing, stinging harp wonderfully complements Ray’s
relaxed vocal and throbbing guitar; and “Fine Soft Land” on which Ray picks an astonishing riff with
a bottleneck on his twelve-string (only Leo Kottke comes close). Both albums are currently available
individually, augmented with bonus tracks, or as a twofer without the extras. The latter includes a
top-quality insert booklet with the original extensive liner notes plus a fine new retrospective.

Unexpectedly, I recently discovered in a charity shop a private-label reunion album the three players
had cut in 1996: One Foot In The Groove. The style hasn’t changed much; the heads are greyer,
the voices hoarser, but the enthusiasm is still audible in the songs and the twelve-strings chime as
sweetly as ever.

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“Honey Bee”

😀 CD Reissue | 1999 | Red House | order here ]
:) Original Issue | 1964 | Elektra | search ebay ]
😉 MP3 Album | download here ]

Bachdenkel “Lemmings”

Bachdenkel started out life as the U NO Who.  This late 60s group had been active on the Birmingham scene for some time and played psychedelic pop.  They recorded a handful of respectable tracks which were pitched to the Beatles’ Apple label but no deal ever materialized.  The U NO Who would go on to become Bachdenkel at the end of the decade.  Bachdenkel’s lineup looked something like this:  Colin Swinburne on vocals, guitar, piano, organ and harpsichord, Peter Kimberley on vocals, bass and piano, Brian Smith on drums, and Karel Beer on Organ.

Bachdenkel would relocate to France and record the great Lemmings album in 1970.  Although the LP was completed by the summer of 1970, Phillips didn’t release Lemmings until 1973 – released throughout Europe but not in the UK.  This really sealed this unique British group’s fate – unfairly so because they were very talented.  I believe a UK reissue/rerelease appeared in the late 70s (maybe 1978-) but by that time Bachdenkel had ceased to exist.    The group released another solid progressive album titled Stalingrad (1975) and toured Europe in 1976 before breaking up.

And as for the Lemmings LP? It’s one of the best 70s progressive rock albums out there.  The musicians here keep their egos in check and know when to end a song, unlike Yes or ELP.  To me this is a much better (and more interesting) album than anything Yes or ELP would ever release.  The ringing guitars dominate Bachdenkel’s sound but there are tasteful keyboards as well.  Some people have linked Bachdenkel’s sound to Caravan, Abbey Road era Beatles, and King Crimson.  These are all valid comparisons – think of Bachdenkel as a missing link between the Beatles and the mighty Crimso, progressive guitar pop with a slight psychedelic hangover.  “An Appointment With The Master”, the LP’s most popular song, is a lost classic that might be what the Beatles would have sounded like had they lasted into the progressive rock era.  Crashing drums and superb psychedelic guitar work give this cut a fresh edge.  “Translation” and “Equals” are also outstanding dark mood pieces that sound completely modern by today’s standards – this LP has not dated one bit.  All of Lemmings 7 tracks are excellent, whether it be the 11 minute epic “The Settlement Song” or the shorter, tuneful tracks like “Long Time Living” – every works beautifully.  So…interesting arrangements that take chances (unique twists and turns), a dark aura, rock solid songwriting, Caravan-like vocals, and great musicianship unify this very special musical statement.  Any fan of classic rock needs to own this essential masterpiece.

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😀 CD Reissue | 2007 | Ork | buy ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1973 | Philips | search ebay ]

Neil Young “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”

This record holds a very special place in my musical affections. In 1969, being still in the grip of the
Beatles, the British Blues Boom and the tail end of the psychedelic era, I hadn’t even heard of Mr
Young. One day whilst idling around London’s West End I strolled into the HMV store in Oxford
Street and heard the long central guitar workout from “Down By The River” playing over the PA. I
guess in my five decades of record buying I’ve bought an unknown album merely from hearing it
played in a store maybe four, five times; the most recent was Beth Orton’s Trailer Park about eight
years ago. Everybody Knows was my first such purchase. It’s still a mega-favourite.

Why did this record turn out so great? I think it’s a case of simple serendipity; everything seemed
just to fall into place at these sessions. Neil discovered exactly the right backing band, sympathetic
to his muse to an almost uncanny degree, as evinced by the unselfishly solid bass and drum
backing and the almost telepathic interplay between Young’s and Danny Whitten’s guitars. Neil’s
simultaneously fragile and potent voice has never sounded better, and the slightly ragged harmonies
are exquisite. The songs show their composer at a creative summit, and whilst they provide
prototypes for all of his future directions (the perverse electronica of Trans excepted), their variety
is surely unmatched on any single later album; from the distortion-laden proto-grunge of “Cinnamon
Girl” through the wry cod-Nashville of “The Losing End”, via the sparse, punky groove of “Down
By The River” with its crunching, wailing solos, and the understated acoustic beauty of “Round
& Round”. There’s a vein of sadness and despair that runs all the way through the album like the
lettering through a stick of seaside rock; in particular, Bobby Notkoff’s tremulous Klezmer violin work
on “Running Dry” should bring a tear to even the most jaundiced eye. And producer David Briggs
achieves a rare and gratifying symbiosis of warmth and clarity on the original vinyl waxing that the
latest CD reissue finally recaptures (earlier ones being less than perfect in this respect).

I know that I’m courting a flurry of comments by opining that Uncle Neil peaked this early in
his career, and that his second solo album is the best of his remarkable forty-year oeuvre. I’ve
subsequently absorbed pretty well all of his stuff from the simple, sunny country-folk of Old Ways
to the teeth-loosening fury of Ragged Glory, and I love and respect the man for the breadth of his
vision and his wilful, capricious determination to choose and change his own direction. However, for
me this one still holds the top spot. That said, anyone who wants to propose another Young opus as
the man’s masterwork is welcome to do so – with reasons given, of course. Over to you . . . .

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“Running Dry (Requiem for the Rock)”

😀 CD Reissue | 2009 | Reprise | buy ]
:) Vinyl Reissue | 2009 | Reprise | buy ]
:) Original Vinyl |  1969 | Reprise | search ebay ]
😎 Spotify link | listen ]

John Pantry “The Upside Down World Of John Pantry”

John Pantry is one of those artists that deserves to be heard by more people, especially those who value melodic British pop.  He released one decent solo disc in the early 70s (which has not been reissued as of this date) before delving into the world of Christian music.  Prior to that, he had been a talented studio engineer for IBC Studios (working with Eddie Tre-Vett), producing for the likes of Donovan, The Small Faces, The Bee Gees, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, and Cream.  He was also a member of Peter & The Wolves, an accomplished mid 60s pop group from Leigh-on-Sea/Southend and had a major hand with many other IBC studio projects of the time: the Factory, Sounds Around, Wolfe, The Bunch and Norman Conquest.

In 2009, Wooden Hill released a double disc set of Pantry’s late 60s/early 70s work.  It includes singles/tracks from all the above groups plus numerous outtakes and demos.  If anything, this set (53 tracks!) illustrates the depth of Pantry’s talents.  Besides being a savy studio technician, Pantry was a gifted songwriter and vocalist and an accomplished musician (he played the keyboards).  The earlier tracks stem from one of Pantry’s first groups, Sounds Around.  These guys played straight pop with slight soul and psych influences – they released two singles in 1966-1967.  Peter & The Wolves came shortly after Sounds Around’s demise (they were essentially the same group).  This is the group with which Pantry is most associated, along with The Factory.  Peter & The Wolves released several singles and lasted into the early 70s.  This group’s most productive period was probably the years of 1967-1969, where they released a string of pop gems:  a good, upbeat blue-eyed soul number titled “Still”, the superb Emitt Rhodes like “Woman On My Mind” and several tuneful psych pop creations, “Lantern Light,” “Birthday,” and “Little Girl Lost And Found” being the best in this style.

It was around this time that John Pantry was asked to write two tracks for The Factory, a legendary psychedelic group who had previously released the classic “Path Through The Forest” 45.  Pantry wrote and sang lead on the two Factory standouts, “Try A Little Sunshine” and the more folk-like “Red Chalk Hill.”  “Try A Little Sunshine” is the heaviest song on this comp, a classic that mixes Who power with Moody Blues spaciness.

During this period Pantry took advantage of free studio time and recorded a slew of demos.  While the sound quality is slightly below par, the power of popsike gems like “Battle Of Trafalgar,” “Pitsea Pub,” “Wash Myself Away,” and “Mississippi Paddleboat” cannot be denied.   Most of the material spanning these two discs strongly recalls Paul McCartney, Emitt Rhodes/The Merry-Go-Round and a more cheerful, punchy Bee Gees.  Wooden Hill exercised quality control (no duff tracks to be found) and should be commended for reissuing this great anthology.

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Peter and the Wolves “Woman On My Mind” (1968-)

😀 CD Reissue | 2009 | Wooden Hill | buy at amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1999 | Tenth Planet | search ebay ]