Archive for February, 2011

The Gurus “Are Hear”

With the current level of interest in Turkish and middle-eastern psychedelia out there, this may be
the perfect time to rediscover the sounds of The Gurus Are Hear. Formed in New York city in the
throes of 1966, the Gurus were the brainchild of a certain Ron Haffkine, a jeweler who liked to hang
around at Cafe Feenjon, a hip coffee shop on MacDougal Street that catered to a wild mixture of Arabs,
Israelis, and, apparently, psychedelic rock and roll musicians. His concept was a simple one: combine
the electric rock and roll beat that was rumbling across the charts with the exotic sounds of the middle
east. He put forward the concept to a number of talented local musicians, who not coincidentally also
happened to moonlight as Cafe Feenjon regulars, and they went in to cut a record.

The results could easily be compared to what Kaleidoscope was doing across the country at around
the same time, but the Gurus really kick things up a notch and cut back on some of the eclecticism
that distinguished their musical compadres. The Gurus Are Hear is very much a psychedelic garage
rock record, despite the prevalence of Pete Smith’s oud and the eastern warbling (the liner notes reveal
that these were often simple obscenities mispronounced in order to sound exotic). The record is full
of highlights, including a wonderfully unique take on the old garage band chestnut “Louie Louie”
coated in Smith’s tasteful oud playing. If you thought you’d heard every possible variation on this one
you could bear, you may want to reconsider. It really does speak to the band’s credit that, even when
delving into cosmic territories, the songs never stray far from their heavy go-go grooves. It may be
weird, but it’s always danceable. The single from the record, “Blue Snow Night,” backed with the crazy
album opener “Come Girl,” even managed to do well enough to land the band on the covers of both
Cashbox and Record World magazine.

Despite sounding so ahead of their time, however, the Gurus still come across as being an acquired
taste, due in large part to the eccentric singing of (the rather inexplicably named) Medulla Oblongata.
His faux-eastern vocalizing may lend the record a good deal of character, but also risk confounding
the unsuspecting listener. This is not to say that straighter singing would have made the record any
better, however, as his most accessible vocal just so happens to come with my least favorite cut on the
album, “Rainy Day in London”. Despite some intriguing instrumental flourishes, this one is a rather
turgid, sentimental ballad about walking in the rain and eating leftover cake that doesn’t quite sound
like anything else the band ever recorded.

It may come as a surprise that despite the success of the aforementioned single, The Gurus Are Hear
was to remain unreleased until 2003, when the tapes were rescued from the vaults by the good folks
at Sundazed Records. Five bonus tracks round out this rather belated release, those being a number of
alternate takes of songs already on the record and “They All Got Carried Away,” a moody psychedelic
pop number with some otherwise trying “Polly wants a cracker” vocal interjections.

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“Roads to Nowhere”

:D 2003 | Sundazed | buy from sundazed | amazon ]

Nicks and Buckingham “Buckingham Nicks”

In 1972 Lindsey Buckingham and his girlfriend Stevie Nicks arrived in Los Angeles with a stack of demos, determined to make a dent in the music industry. By 1973 the pair had scored a deal with Polydor Records and headed into Sound City recording studios in Van Nuys to record their debut with producer and engineer Keith Olson behind the board. The resulting 10 track lp, Buckingham Nicks, is a finely crafted pop record that features contributions from some of L.A’s finest studio musicians of the time, including Waddy Wachtel, Ronnie Tutt, Jerry Scheff, and the infamous Jim Keltner, as well as the exceptional six-string slinging talents that Buckingham would later become famous for and, of course, Nicks’ platinum pipes. Featuring a priceless cover photo, this is the release that first exposed the talents of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie (then credited as Stevi) Nicks to the world.

Side A kicks off with “Crying In The Night”, a poppy folk rocker complete with a lead vocal performance from the young Nicks, already sounding completely in her element. The sound of the song contrasts perfectly with the lyrics, which tell a cautionary tale about a woman on the prowl with not-so-good intentions–another devil in disguise. The driving rhythm, chiming guitars, and hook filled refrain sound straight from the sun bleached streets of Los Angeles and come together to perfectly sum up the essence of what the Buckingham Nicks team was all about. The song is catchy and compact, every element sounding perfectly placed, as if the duo had already perfected their songwriting style and were just waiting for the spotlight to shine their way.

“Without A Leg to Stand On” features both Buckingham and Nicks on vocals, giving Buckingham a chance to step up to the microphone while showcasing their perfectly executed harmonizations, foreshadowing the impressively layered harmonies that would follow shortly when the duo began cranking out hit records with Fleetwood Mac. Chiming 12-strings sparkle and shimmer throughout, and Buckingham even whips up a few tasteful guitar solos, sounding effortless as usual. Overall, the tune has a laid back Malibu vibe that skirts the line between a ballad and a mid-tempo rocker, finally ending up sounding like a lost outtake from Fleetwood Mac streaming out of an FM radio while cruising down Pacific Coast Highway on a sunny day. Which is, of course, a good thing!

“Crystal” surprisingly ends up being one the weaker cuts on the album, with Buckingham at times coming off as if he’s trying his hardest to sing a pretty song, instead of pouring himself into an emotional performance. The treatment given to the song on 1975’s Fleetwood Mac has an added depth lacking from this early version. Meanwhile, “Stephanie” and “Django” are both short instrumental tracks that highlight, you guessed it, Buckinghams enviable guitar skills. The first of these two, “Stephanie”, is a pretty little tune with more of Buckingham’s trademark shimmering Martin acoustic guitar tones, sounding similar to “Never Going Back Again” off of Rumours. The one minute long “Django”, is obviously a tribute to the Gypsy Jazz guitar master, but unfortunately offers little in the way of melodic development.  Neither “Stephanie” nor “Django” detract significantly from the experience of listening to Buckingham Nicks, but their odd placement in the sequencing of the album does disrupt the flow a little bit and leaves the listener wondering what in the world Polydor was thinking. Nevertheless, both of the tracks are valuable for their insight into the Buckingham Nicks machine and should interest listeners who have ventured far enough into the history books to reach word of this release.

The seven-minute long “Frozen Love” is an absolutely epic album closer. Starting off with fingerpicked acoustic guitar and eventually leading to orchestral flourishes, harmony vocals, and killer harmonized electric guitar leads, “Frozen Love” leaves the you yearning for more, practically taunting the listener to flip the record and do it all over again. Appropriately enough, this is the tune that Mick Fleetwood is rumored to have heard one day while touring Sound City, prompting him to offer Buckingham a spot as lead guitarist in Fleetwood Mac. Buckingham infamously told Fleetwood that Buckingham and Nicks were only available as a package deal, and the rest is history!

Unfortunately, Buckingham Nicks has never been reissued on cd. Fortunately, original vinyl copies aren’t too hard to come by, and several cd bootlegs have been available throughout the years. This album is essential listening for fans of Fleetwood Mac and the light it shines on Buckingham’s contribution to the British blues band’s new sound is truly revelatory. If you’ve got a craving for more in the way of 70s era Fleetwood Mac, you know how to score the fix!

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“Crying in the Night”

:) Original Vinyl | 1973 | Polydor | search ebay ]

Truck “Surprise! Surprise!”

Despite turning in one of the best forgotten pop records of the psych era, not much information can be found on the Malaysian band Truck. This may be due to their somewhat generic name, though I suspect it was their incredibly short lived existence as  a side project from the group “The October Cherries” that relegated them to obscurity.

Comprised of a fellow named Diaz and two brothers named Shotam, Truck released only one album, 1974’s Surprise, Surprise. The songs are solid throughout and certainly wouldn’t have been out of place on American radio of the time. On first listen, “Surprise, Surprise” certainly recalls “Odessy and Oracle”, but a few spins will reveal a strong Paul McCartney influence, especially the Wings-like use of the moog.

The vocals are reminiscent of Graham Nash, although I actually prefer Truck’s vocalist better. His doubletracked voice expertly navigates the songs, from the confident recitation of “Earth Song” to the soulful emoting of “Broken Chair”.

The most surprising aspect of this record is how consistent the songs are. There really isn’t a dud here- even the goofiness of “Take me Ohio” dissappears after multiple listens and becomes one of the more enjoyable tunes .

Surprise Surprise is a superbly crafted record, and it’s a shame not much more was ever heard of Truck. Luckily it has been reissued on Spanish label Guerssen, so it is relatively easy to find.

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“Surprise, Surprise”

:D CD Reissue | 2004 | Guerssen | buy here ]
:) Orig Vinyl | 1972 | search ebay ]

The Fallen Angels “The Fallen Angels”

The Fallen Angels were Washington D.C.’s greatest contribution to 60s rock.  They only released 2 LPs and several singles but their reputation as the area’s best act transcends this limited output.

While It’s A Long Way Down is their best offering, their first Roulette album, The Fallen Angels (1967/1968-) is packed with great songs and tight performances.  Admittedly, there are a few weaker jugband-type tracks (just two) but one can’t deny the sublime psychedelic power of rocker “Room At The Top,” the moody “Love Dont Talk To Strangers,” and trippier cuts like “Introspective Looking Glass.”  The group could lay down a groove with the best of them but on LP they favor songcraft over noodling.  Jack Bryant’s moody vocals and the album’s interesting production tricks catch the ear first but the group’s energetic drive, personal lyrics and catchy melodies will win you over in the end.  Personal favorites are the sweeping psychedelic folk-rocker “Most Children Do” and a great acid pop floater with distorted vocals titled “Painted Bird.”  The first of these, “Most Children Do” is really a fabulous mellow folk cut that’s spruced up with horns and sitar.  Harder cuts “You Have Changed” and “I’ve Been Thinking” lean toward the garage psych end of the spectrum but are no less essential.  Also, check out the bizarre Mothers of Invention influenced “Your Friends Here In Dundersville.”

While not an all-time classic on par with It’s A Long Way Down (nor is it as moody or intense as this title), The Fallen Angels is still a good album by a psychedelic group whose music has held up quite well – they were one of America’s best unknown psych rock groups.  Try to look for the vinyl reissues as the Collectables cds are marred by poor sound quality.

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“Most Children Do”

:) Original Vinyl | 1967 | Roullette | search ebay ]

Horses (self-titled)

Horses was a Los Angeles band pieced together by the crack songwriting team of John Carter and Tim Gilbert following the success of their lysergic bubblegum anthem “Incense and Peppermints” for the Strawberry Alarm Clock. Toting a bag full of new Carter and Gilbert songs, Horses recorded one album for the White Whale label in 1969, likely expecting the excitement around the Strawberry Alarm Clock’s record to carry over to their own. However, things weren’t quite that easy, and their self-titled record went nowhere fast despite containing a wealth of great material.

The first cut on the record, “Freight Train,” is an uptempo boogie number that was apparently being considered by Johnny Cash for his winning Orange Blossom Special album. Carter and Gilbert decided not to allow Cash to record it, however, wanting to reserve it for Horses. It would have been interesting to hear what the Man in Black would have made of the tune, but alas that was never to be. Either way, it’s a driving opener, and should have made quite a single. The melodic bass work here is courtesy of Dave Torbert, who would later go on to replace Phil Lesh in the New Riders of the Purple Sage. His playing is extraordinary throughout the record, and is definitely worth checking out if you are a student or enthusiast of the instrument in a rock and roll context.

Perhaps Horses’ greatest achievement on this record is that they manage to establish a unique and distinctive sound, a lack of which has brought many similar bands to an early grave. A key component to this sound, the subtle psychedelic flourishes, is perhaps best exemplified by “Birdie in a Cage,” in which the chorus brings in an electric organ and a floating vocal melody. It can’t really be said that Carter and Gilbert’s lyrics are very extraordinary here, but they function well enough in the context of the songs, and by no means detract from the overall experience. The theme to more or less every song is either travel or women, with the notable exception being the single “Class of ’69,” which seems designed to appeal to Summer of Love sentimentality and the revolutionary atmosphere of the times. It doesn’t quite succeed, being too firmly rooted in mainstream attitudes to really catch the spirit of the counter-culture. Nonetheless, it makes for a entertaining song.

The highlight of the record may very well come with the end of the record’s first side. “Run, Rabbit, Run” has a funky guitar riff and a memorable, if somewhat weird, chorus. Meanwhile, “Horseradish” serves as a showcase for Horses as instrumentalists, and the track fits firmly into a Little Walter blues bag, replete with rollicking amplified harmonica. Even this track proves to be memorable, a rare feat for what might otherwise have been mere filler.

It’s more or less impossible to find original copies of this album, seeing as people aren’t even sure whether or not it made it past the “promotional only” pressing stage. However, Rev-Ola Records has reissued it on compact disc with an early single by one of Tim Gilbert’s earlier projects, the Rainy Daze. These two tracks are more in a psychedelic garage rock bag, and aren’t all that memorable. In fact, the first of the tracks, “Make Me Laugh,” may be the one cut on the disc worth skipping, as it has a deadpan laugh going through it that tends to be extremely irritating.

It seems to speak for the unpredictability of the record industry that Gilbert and Carter weren’t able to make Horses a success. Modeled after popular groups like Moby Grape and the Buffalo Springfield, Horses had the musicianship and the songs that many of their contemporaries lacked. Now, however, the group is best remembered for having a singer by the name of Don Johnson. No, this is not the actor Don Johnson, though most of what you read about Horses says otherwise. It’s a real shame that this unusual piece of trivia has tended to obscure a righteous record by an extremely talented group, and Horses is long overdue for re-evaluation.

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“Cheyenne”

:D CD Reissue | 2003 | Revola | buy here ]

Fotheringay (self-titled)

In 1970, Sandy Denny’s departure from British Folk heroes Fairport Convention brought us Fotheringay, named after Denny’s original composition “Fotheringay” (about Fotheringay Castle), which appeared on Fairport Convention’s 1969 album What We Did on Our Holidays. Two former members of Eclection (Trevor Lucas, who would become Denny’s future husband, and Gerry Conway), and two former members of Poet and the One Man Band (Pat Donaldson and Jerry Donahue) completed the line-up. The newly formed group was ready to head in to the studio, and give us their first (and long believed to be) only album. Fotheringay has become recognized as a lost British folk rock treasure.

Of course, Sandy Denny’s voice is immaculate and flows ever so sweetly. “Nothing More,” track one, immediately sets the mood for the album, and features some of Denny’s finest vocals. This definitely sounds like a woman who knows all about pain, and offers her fellow mankind the best possible advice to move on from the past. Self-aware, yet sensitive, this is classic Sandy Denny. But believe me, the album just keeps getting better. The second track, “The Sea,” is absolutely stunning, a song that always gets me choked up a bit and gives me goosebumps. Let’s not forget to mention the musical quality here, either. For a newly formed and fresh band, they sound as though they’re completely comfortable with each other and have been jamming for years. The group knew exactly what they were doing.

Trevor Lucas takes the mic for “The Ballad Of Ned Kelly,” “Peace In The End,” a positively killer cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Way I Feel,” and an almost equally impressive cover of Bob Dylan’s “Too Much Of Nothing.” I’ve always loved Lucas’ vocals on this album. He has a country-rock leaning to his voice, and I instantly dug it right from the start. The album closes with the truly beautiful traditional “Banks Of The Nile,” a perfect ending to a nearly perfect album.

I kept my favorite track for last. “The Pond and the Stream” affected me in a pretty personal way. In fact, when I first got my hands on a copy of this album, I played that one song five times in a row. Lyrically and musically, it hits me pretty hard. I’ve since held it in the same high regard as classic Denny-era Fairport songs such as “Genesis Hall” and the immortal “Who Knows Where The Time Goes?”

Sadly, Fotheringay split in January of 1971, right while they were in the middle of recording tracks for their second album. Some of these songs managed to make it on to Denny’s debut in ’71, The North Star Grassman and the Ravens. Lucas, Donahue, and Conway later resurfaced in the “new” Fairport Convention in 1972 for the album Rosie, which also contained some Fotheringay songs. In 2007, Donahue completed the abandoned album by using takes never-before-heard from the original tapes. Fotheringay 2 was finally released in 2008, and is also recommended.

I cannot say enough about this album. A definite “desert island disc” for me, it has brought me a lot of listening pleasure for quite some time. It may also become one of your favorite discs to spin on a cold winter’s night. Highly recommended.

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“The Sea”

:) Original vinyl | 1970 | Island/A&M | search ebay ]
:D CD Reissue | 2004 | Fledg’ling UK | buy here ]

Twink “Think Pink”

You may not recognise the name John Charles Alder, but his musical DNA is already deeply ingrained within these pages. Drummer, percussionist and all-round looner Twink, whose nickname was bestowed by his waggish friends because his mass of (naturally) curly hair suggested a 1960s home perm product, thumped the tubs for psych maestros Tomorrow, kept time for the Pretty Things around the time of SF Sorrow and later became one half of the twin-kit power train of the Pink Fairies. Somehow amongst all this collective activity Twink also found time to record his only “solo” album, recorded in July 1969 and released on Polydor the following year. Besides being engaging in its own right, Think Pink is historically notable as perhaps the last hurrah of genuine old-school UK psychedelia.

Twink was a prominent member of the unique musical scene that sprang from the Notting Hill hippie enclave of the late sixties, characterised by a strong communal music-making spirit that placed enthusiasm above virtuosity and evinced a propensity for playing free concerts at every possible opportunity. The music was inevitably pharmaceutically influenced and displayed a reluctance to let go the elements of freakbeat and psychedelia, long after the more highbrow practitioners of those genres had progressed to the gentility of prog-rock. The likes of the (Social) Deviants, the Pink Fairies and Hawkwind retained a penchant for high volume, pounding rhythms, ultra-fuzzed guitars, simple, repetitive chord structures and lyrics of the most lysergic variety, and the musicians would meld and interchange seamlessly at each others’ live jams and recording sessions.

Think Pink, coming between Twink’s involvements with the Pretties and the Fairies, not surprisingly features contributions from the former’s John Povey, Viv Prince and Vic Unitt and the latter’s Paul Rudolph and Russell Hunter, as well as John “Junior” Wood from Tomorrow, John “Honk” Lodge from Junior’s Eyes and numerous other local acquaintances. Twink’s chief compositional collaborator was erstwhile Tyrannosaurus Rex conga-thumper Steve Peregrine Took. This motley crew, together with their various mind-expanding substances, produced a rambling collection of wigged-out chants, whimsical nonsense rhymes, wry fuzzed-up instrumentals, cross-legged acoustic workouts and genuine psych gems that defies any homogeneous description but will bring a nostalgic tear to the eyes of any former freak-culture adherent (if you can remember being there, that is). Production was by the Deviants’ mainman Mick Farren, and although production quality is pretty good it still sounds as if a hell of a party was enjoyed whilst the recordings were going down.

The album states its intent on the opener “The Coming Of The One” which simulates an acid trip more closely than anything else I’ve ever heard, with whacked-out wailings backed by backwards sitars and tablas. The cover of Twink’s own “10,000 Words In A Cardboard Box” from his Aquarian Age days is far, far heavier than the original and features the first of many examples of downright Stratocaster/Big Muff abuse from Rudolph. “Tiptoe On The Highest Hill” has a similar feel to the Floyd’s “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” but offers Mellotron and various contrasting guitar sounds, whilst the following “Fluid” features Twink’s lady Silver on orgasmic moans (it’s better than that makes it sound, honest). “Mexican Grass War” fades in with a sinister military snare drum march and random guitar noise and builds to a percussion tour-de-force, while the anarchic “Three Little Piggies” is as silly as it sounds and could have been Syd Barrett on even more acid. Like I said, the whole package defies easy description (though the estimable Julian Cope described it splendidly as “one trippy, hobbitty mindf*ck of the highest water”) but remains relentlessly listenable to folk of a certain age and disposition.

The only CD reissue I’ve been able to find is clearly a bootleg on the Collector’s Digitally (sic) Recordings imprint from somewhere behind the former Iron Curtain. Somehow, however, I don’t think Twink and friends would be all that concerned.

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“Mexican Grass War”

:D CD Reissue | 2001 | Akarma | buy here ]
:) Vinyl Reissue | 2001  | Akarma | search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

The Swamp Rats “Disco Still Sucks!”

For a brief period in time the Swamp Rats were one of Pittsburgh’s top rock n roll acts, they even needed bodyguards!  The group was basically an updated version of the Fantastic Dee-Jays, a crude garage pop group who released a handful of singles and a fine LP in 1966.  Unfortunately there would be no album for the Swamp Rats but most collectors agree that their original 45s represent some of the best (and rawest) music the genre ever produced.

The Swamp Rats’ Disco Sucks! compilation was released on vinyl in 1979/1980.  The original LP had cuts from the group’s 45s, an outtake, two reunion tracks from 1972 and a few tracks from Bob Hocko’s mid 70s hard rock band, Galactus.  Fast Forward to 2003,  Get Hip releases Disco Still Sucks!, the definitive overview of this great band’s mid 60s output.  The substandard reunion and Galactus tracks are thankfully replaced with quality unreleased Swamp Rats material.  Also, there are three acoustic Bob Hocko tracks that are unlisted but tacked on at the end of this disc. These cuts add nothing to the Swamp Rats’ legacy and are actually quite dispensable.

The Swamp Rats were together for a brief period of time – a year, possibly a year and a half at most.  During that time they released 5 singles (one of them a Dee-Jays track) and recorded quite a bit of studio material (not all of this material has been released).  Their first 45 was a blazing, raw punk cover of “Louie Louie” backed by a fuzzy version of “Hey Joe.”  This single was issued by St. Claire in 1966 and is one of the essential garage 45s – don’t miss this one.  The way I see it is that only two groups other than the Kingsmen did right by “Louie Louie,” one of them was the Sonics and the other was this masterful version put down on wax by the Swamp Rats.  A short while later the Swamp Rats issued their second 45, a cover of “Psycho” backed by a moody folk-rock interpretation of the Beatles’ “Here, There and Everywhere.”  “Psycho” was immortalized on the infamous first volume of Back From The Grave and is probably regarded as the group’s finest effort.  “Psycho” is more guitar oriented than the Sonics’ classic version as it features plenty of fuzz and a stinging solo by guitarist Dick Newton.   It’s every bit as good as the Sonics’ original but is also notable for Hocko’s psychotic vocals and a brief backwards guitar outro.  One of the best fuzz guitar garage 45s ever cut.  Their next 45 was another classic, sneering fuzz monster titled “No Friend of Mine” backed by a mediocre Stones’ cover ( “It’s Not Easy”).  Sadly, the Swamp Rats last 45 in 1967 was their weakest, a so/so cover of “In The Midnight Hour.”

Disco Still Sucks! features all the single cuts plus several unreleased gems.  I can live without their “It’s Not Easy” (there are two versions of this song) and “In The Midnight Hour” covers but everything else here is very good.  They turn in two powerful Kinks covers, a good raw version of “Tobacco Road” and two very impressive originals.  “I’m Going Home” is more of a moody folk-rock cut while “Hey Freak,” as the title suggests, is another fuzz monster that would have been a great followup to “No Friend Of Mine.”   So other than a few throw away tracks mentioned above (10 out of the 13 tracks are really good), this compilation of Swamp Rats material is essential listening.  They were one of the very best local garage punk groups of the mid 60s.

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“No Friend Of Mine”

:) Vinyl Issue | 2004 | Get Hip | search ebay ]
:D CD Issue | 2003 | Get Hip | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Chris Darrow “Chris Darrow”

By the time Chris Darrow entered Trident Studios in London to record his self-titled debut solo LP, he was already an accomplished, respected, and in-demand musician. As a member of the wonderful genre-bending Southern California psych band Kaleidoscope he had already contributed his talents to their first couple of albums, 67’s Side Trips and 68’s A Beacon from Mars–two excellent psych-rock albums that were some of the first to incorporate world music forms from all over the globe. After leaving Kaleidoscope he was recruited by The Nitty Gritty Dirt band, playing on 68’s Rare Junk, 69’s Dead and Alive, and 70’s Uncle Charlie and His Dog Teddie. After leaving The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band he found work as a session musician–playing guitar, banjo, fiddle, dobro, mandolin, bass, keyboards, and singing on a handful of wonderful albums, including Hoyt Axton’s Joy to the World, James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James, John Fahey’s Of Rivers and Religion, and more. Chris Darrow had established a reputation as a musical force to be reckoned with.

Darrow had already released his first self-titled solo LP in 1972 with Artist Proof, and his sophomore LP was released by United Artists in 1973. With a sound heavily influenced by and rooted in the traditional American musical forms Darrow loves so much–country, blues, jug-band, cajun music, bluegrass, and fiddle tunes–Chris Darrow comes out of the gate showcasing a list of influences nearly as long as the list of instruments which Darrow had already mastered. However, like a master craftsman he weaves it all together to form a musical tapestry of his own creation, allowing all the elements to work together seamlessly and create a cohesive and creative whole. Perhaps his greatest achievement with this album was the way in which it predicted the shift towards the more complex and genre bending approach we would come to see undertaken by singer songwriters in the years and decades following its release.

The highlight of the album, opening track “Albuquerque Rainbow”, sounds like that great lost “Exile On Main Street” outtake with Gram Parsons singing lead that we’ve been praying for all these years. Opening with just Chris and his guitar, this song is about as close to a perfect combination of country and rock as this record contains, matching tasteful pedal steel ornaments on an acoustic guitar driven tune with a catchy hook and Allman Brothers influenced harmonized guitar leads. With its easy going feel-good early 70’s rural vibes and upbeat tempo this song,which makes for a perfect addition to any road trip soundtrack, will not leave your head soon after you hear it.  “Take Good Care of Yourself”, with some exceptionally fine old-timey fiddling, anticipates the bluegrass/reggae sound that fellow Kaleidoscope member David Lindley would hint at on several of his future solo releases.

“Whipping Boy”, another Darrow original, is a blistering blues rocker with raunchy slide guitar and a driving rhythm that features some extra funky bass playing. When Darrow twangs out Listen here/I don’t care/I don’t wanna be your whipping boy he sings it like he means it and lays it on thick. Darrow’s voice really shines and imbues the song with a level of legitimacy and depth–Darrow didn’t just take inspiration from traditional American music; he played it, loved it, and most of all felt it. “Hong Kong Blues”, a Hoagy Carmichael cover, ventures into more typical singer songwriter territory with just Darrow’s voice and a piano accompaniment that sounds a lot like “Sail Away” era Randy Newman. It serves as a nice contrast to the other tracks, asking the listener to take a seat and enjoy the story. “Faded Love” is a beautiful, wonderfully written tune that sounds like an a cappella Appalachian ballad that’s been graced with subtle instrumental shades of the far east. A lone forlorn flute lilts above the track, singing the bittersweet song of a broken heart. “To What Cross Do I Cling” kicks off with a riff straight from the swamps of bayou country, bringing a much appreciated, laid-back Excello vibe to the tune that could easily satisfy any gumbo cravin’. Add some Clarence White influenced tele twangin’ and you’ve got one smoking tune that goes down like a good shot of Whiskey–warm, easy, groovy.

The other standout track among the set is Darrow’s version of the bluesy old-timey standard “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down”. This remake of the traditional American tune ends up sounding like Crazy Horse jamming with John Hartford–peppered with bluesy guitar runs, twangy telecasters, and dueling old-timey fiddles. The end result is wonderful, one of the best versions of the tune around. Coming up with a creative and compelling way to present traditional tunes can be tough for a rock musician, but Darrow’s work-up of the song is as fresh as the water from an Appalachian spring.

Of course echoes of Darrow’s previous groups abound–the old-timey depression-era string band send-up “We’re Living On $15 A Week”, which calls to mind  The Jim Kweskin Jug Band and their rural romps, makes use of one of Kaleidoscope’s favorite tropes. The end result sounds somewhat similar to “Baldheaded End of A Broom” off of A Beacon From Mars or any number of tunes by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Unfortunately the album’s closing track “That’s What it’s Like to Be Alone” leaves a bit to be desired. The track kicks off with a harpsichord and ends up sounding like a mutant attempt at baroque pop that falls just a bit short of the mark.

All in all Chris Darrow is an excellent albeit overlooked country-rock record from the heart of the genre during its heyday. It is also a unique and compelling artistic statement from a wonderfully gifted musician, and stands up as one of the most interesting singer-songwriter LPs of the era. Musically speaking, a wonderful point of comparison to Chris Darrow would be Dillard & Clark’s excellent first LP The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark, the main difference being (aside from the fact that Darrow was operating as a solo musician and D&C as a duo) that Dillard & Clark created a country-rock classic by coming at the genre from the angle of bluegrass, while Darrow created his own unique country-rock statement coming largely from the angle of blues and pre-bluegrass old-timey American music. The more stripped down intimate sound of old-time and blues music lends that feeling of intimacy and suits Darrow’s songs and voice. It sounds as if his intonation and diction had been reached by years of singing traditional American songs, including a cappella mountain ballads, southern blues, jug band tunes, gospel tunes, traveling medicine show music, bluegrass and folk. Although many of the tunes on Chris Darrow contain full band arrangements, featuring contributions from a handful of wonderful musicians (including members of Fairport Convention), ultimately it is Darrow you feel the connection with–and that’s the way it was intended to be.

Sadly, copies of the album didn’t fly off the shelf like hotcakes. Maybe his music was too ambitious, too richly textured and multifaceted for some fans of the emerging singer-songwriter genre that was streaming out from the West Coast, dominating the FM airwaves and selling millions of pairs of bootcut jeans. Darrow soldiered on, providing a fine follow-up, Under My Own Disguise, that was even more deeply rooted in bluegrass and old-time music. He continued working as a session musician, playing on fine albums of all shapes and size, even hitting the road to backup players such as Linda Ronstadt and John Stewart, pausing every now and then to release an album of his own material. In 1994 young friend and neighbor Ben Harper released a cover version of “Whipping Boy” on his album “Welcome to The Cruel World” that brought Darrow and his tune a little extra attention. In 2009 Everloving Records out of Los Angeles, California reissued remastered versions of both Chris Darrow and Under My Own Disguise in a limited edition deluxe box set that includes a 48 page book and 180 gram vinyl along with copies of both albums on cd as well. This is the set to get as the packaging and presentation really does justice to the material. If you’re low on dough, a BGO twofer is available that includes both of the albums conveniently placed onto one compact disc. Enjoy

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“Albuquerque Rainbow”

:) Vinyl Box Set | 2009 |Everloving Records | buy here ]
:D CD Reissue |  2008 | Beat Goes On | buy here ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1973 | UA Records | search ebay ]

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (self-titled)

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is perhaps best known for helping to bridge the gap between the older generation of American folk musicians coming out of the 1940s and 1950s, and the rock and roll youth of the 1960s. Their seminal double record Will the Circle Be Unbroken presented the band alongside a number of country and bluegrass luminaries such as Maybelle Carter and Roy Acuff, and more or less proved that American musical traditions could span the generation gap.

Listeners dropping the needle on the Dirt Band’s self-titled debut for the first time may be taken aback at how far removed the record sounds from the group’s later material. Indeed, the opening cut “Buy For Me the Rain” is firmly in the west coast folk-rock tradition. The chiming guitars and soaring orchestral flourishes may make it clear as to how this tune landed the Dirt Band their first American chart hit, but they also spotlight the dissimilarity between the 1967 Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and its later incarnations. The band here is more Beatle boots than cowboy boots, despite sporadic country and bluegrass touches. Jug band roots certainly make themselves clear on the second song, “Euphoria,” with funky instrumentation continuing into Jackson Browne’s “Melissa.” Browne had actually been a founding member of the Dirt Band before splitting to pursue a solo career, and though he does not appear on any of their records, a number of his songs remained in the Dirt Band’s repertoire.

In fact, it is another Browne composition that closes the first side of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and provides the record with its second highlight. Banjo and harpsichord drive “Holding,” yet another slice of folk rock featuring strong harmonies. “Song To Jutta” takes the mood into more ominous territory, with its plucky guitar picking acting as a weird foil to the chain gang beat and the slow, monotonous vocal. It’s a rather unnatural mood for the Dirt Band, but they’re quick to catch on and the next couple of cuts are back in the ole jug band tradition again. Mississippi John Hurt’s “Candy Man” receives a great arrangement, comparable to that of the Rising Sons, while the banjo comes back out for “Dismal Swamp,” a rollicking breakdown that calls together bluegrass instrumentation and a rock and roll beat. There is a lot going on during the course of this record, and if it were not for the band’s tendency to lean towards novelty numbers such as the snappy “Crazy Words, Crazy Tune,” it may have established them as pioneers in American music far before Will the Circle Be Unbroken.

Though The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is currently out of print in its complete form, about half of the tracks found their way onto a 1970 compilation entitled Pure Dirt, which is available on compact disc from Beat Goes On Records. This album is a rather weird combination of tracks off of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and the Dirt Band’s second release, Ricochet. As to why someone chose to reissue this instead of the original records…well, it’s beyond me, but fortunately original copies are still quite easy to find.

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“Holding”

:) Original Vinyl | 1967 | Liberty Records | search ebay ]