Archive for March, 2011

Emerald Web “Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales”

Emerald Web was the wind playing electronic duo of Kat Epple and Bob Stohl.  Although they’d become better known for their work scoring nature documentaries (including many collaborations with Carl Sagan), Emerald Web’s 1979 debut album was a milestone in electronic psychedelia- rooted in the prog of the mid 70s and foreshadowing much of what would come in the early 80s.

Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales mixes analog synthesizing with the heavy use of wind instruments, augmented occasionally by the angelic vocals of Kat Epple. The sound is incredibly unique. There is a very haunting experimental quality to this music that prevents it from sounding like muzak, although it occasionally veers in that direction.

The Lyricon wind controller makes a very early recorded appearance on this album and is one of the reasons the many sounds heard here are hard to place. The line is constantly blurred between live flutes and the electronic approximations, even occasionally mimicking bird calls. It’s these sound combinations that give the songs an otherworldly quality- like hearing indigenous music from another planet.

Although some pastoral vocal songs show up here and there, eerily dreamy instrumentals make up a little more than half the record. These are certainly among the highlights and show Emerald Web’s talent for crafting soundtrack music that would come to the fore later on. “The Flight of the Raven” is a brief but gorgeous piece, summing up all that is good about this record in under three minutes. Fleeting melodies give way to dramatic clashing synths, fading away at just the right moment. “The Powerstone” recalls early King Crimson, especially the vibe of “Moonchild”. It’s on this track that Emerald Web’s knack for creating natural sounding tones and soundscapes from very electronic instruments is most evident.

This record is highly recommended for fans of golden era progressive and electronic music. Originally released as a private pressing on Stargate, Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales LPs are somewhat rare these days, although they do turn up regularly on eBay.

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“Fight of the Raven”

:) Original Vinyl | 1979 | Stargate | search ebay ]

Bell + Arc “Bell + Arc”

Bell & Arc’s one and only record is a prime cut of early 1970s British rock and roll. Born out of the psychedelic ashes of Skip Bifferty, Bell & Arc saw a reunion of sorts between singer Graham Bell and his former band mates, keyboardist Mick Gallagher and guitarist John Turnbull. Anyone delving into this record expecting the underground freak-beat of that earlier band, however, is in for a rude surprise. This band is an entirely different beast, and even Graham Bell’s singing has undergone some serious evolution since Skip Bifferty sank in 1969.

Heavy threads of American soul music, as well as tasteful touches of gospel and country, are what inform this record more than anything. From the insistent groove of “High Priest of Memphis” to the rollicking banjo rolls in “Keep A Wise Mind,” it is clear what musical traditions these cats are mining. Graham Bell’s vocals here are so soulful it almost hurts, with the obvious reference point being the shredded-throat testifying of fellow countryman Joe Cocker. Turnbull’s guitar is also on fire, whether he’s indulging in tight wah-pedal workouts in “Let Your Love Run Free” or keeping things beautifully restrained in the band’s sizzling, slow-burn workout of Leonard Cohen’s “So Long, Marianne.” In the meantime, I would assert that it is Gallagher’s rhythm piano which seems to be the bedrock of the band’s sound. Each cut displays inspired playing that really seals together the spirit of the band. His concluding improvisations on “Yat Rock” are particularly enjoyable, where he compliments his driving rhythm playing with the occasional Jerry Lee Lewis run.

Side A of this record is one of those rare cases where every song is absolutely killer, and the energy just does not let up. The opening three song punch blows me away every time. By the second side, things start to lose a little steam, but only barely. In fact, “Dawn,” the one acoustic track on the album, is a pleasant, hazy respite from the high-octane rave-ups that surround it. In fact, the guitar dynamics and subdued atmosphere might actually make it a highlight. “Children of the North Prison” draws the band back, and throws out one of the catchiest hooks on the record against a great ascending piano line. In the years since I first happened on this record, it has slowly but surely become one of my absolute mainstays. It’s hard not to be drawn in to Arc’s tight grooves and Bell’s cosmic rock and roll songs, and  I dare say it makes some fantastic road music. Check out the (out-of-print, but easy to find) Rock and Groove Records reissue, or keep your eye peeled for one of the original copies. I should probably note that it looks as though the British and American copies of this one have different artwork; the British record has a bright red cover, with what looks like layered fists.

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“Children of the North Prison”

:) Vinyl | 1971 | Columbia | search ebay ]
😀 CD Reissue | 2009 | Rock & Groove | buy here ]

Asylum Choir “Look Inside the Asylum Choir”

Long before Leon Russell became the albescent bearded high-priest of gritty rock’n’soul, he was a session musician in Phil Spector’s LA stable backing acts as diverse as The Byrds and Herb Alpert. Around this time Russell met the young Marc Benno, a talented blues guitarist just up from Austin, Texas who had moved to LA to also take up session work. Benno had been crashing in a closet at Russell’s place where a veritable who’s who of the 60’s rock scene would hang out and jam. It was here that Benno met Eric Clapton and many of the other famous musicians with whom he would collaborate later in his career. Benno described it as being “in the right place at the right time.” Russell and Benno decided to formally join forces as “Asylum Choir” and released the first of two LP’s in 1968, Look Inside the Asylum Choir, on the Smash imprint.

Look Inside the Asylum Choir rightly earns the oft overused label “psychedelic” for tracks such as “Icicle Star Tree” or “Death of the Flowers” which are psychedelic pop in the classical late 60’s sense, however musicians as diversely talented as Russell and Benno couldn’t help but include R&B, soul, ragtime and jazz elements along with numerous diegetic sound-bites and ironic lyrics into an eclectic musical collage that assumes a psychedelia of a higher order. The lofty words of 40+ years worth of hindsight don’t change the fact that the album was a commercial flop, despite favorable reviews from the groovy critics of the time. Perhaps the greatest commercial misstep was a marketing one: the album was originally released with a closeup photograph of a roll of toilet paper on the front cover. While perfectly in line with the deeply tongue-in-cheek lyrical irony of the album, the ablutional image offended the much more delicate sensibilities of the day.

It is this pervasive irony that both sets this album apart as a smart if gentle critique of the contemporary 60’s culture and dates much of the lyrical content. Despite this the album is quite enjoyable and musically delightful. The jaunty opener, “Welcome to Hollywood”, with its punchy horns and bouncy beat lyrically sticks a pin in Tinseltown’s balloon in jubilant vocal harmony. This is followed by the relatively straight honkey tonk ode to “Soul Food” and is a strong hint at the musical direction Russell would take later in his career. With the third track, “Icicle Star Tree”, the album takes a left turn into the sunshiny technicolor terain of psychedelic pop. The dreamy melody complete with abstruse and surreal lyrics floats over alternating cascades of shimmering keyboard and soulful telecaster for an overall heavily lysergic vibe. The album keeps this mood with the elegiac “Death of the Flowers” which tells the poignant story of Elaine “who is visibly moved by the death all around her…” The first side of the album closes with “Indian Style” that opens with a sound collage of tribal drumming eventually giving way to the sounds of cavalry, machine gun fire and war. This wordless statement abruptly ends as the upbeat honkey tonk song proper kicks in, evolving the initial statement with ironic lyrics about the mis-appropriation and commodification of indian culture by the flower children.

The second side opens with a six minute musical hodgepodge entitled “Episode Containing 3 Songs: N.Y. Op. Land of Dog Mr. Henri the Clown” that has a number of memorable moments such as a 30 second bit of “Mr. Henri the Clown” that is reminiscent of Beck’s “The New Pollution” off of Odelay, and witty lyrics about a flea who has a “little flea-osophy on organized insanity.” The heavy theme of the next track, “Thieves in the Choir”, is anticipated by the dolorous peal of church bells. The song warns of “Magic policemen who don’t need a reason to color your eye.” In deliberate contrast to this subject matter the song ironically borders on ebullient as Russell sings about how he “figured out, good guys with bullets are really quite bad.” The swinging blues closer “Black Sheep Boogaloo” rips it up pretty thoroughly, punctuated by Zappa/Beefheart-esque interludes of self-referential weirdness.

Despite its poor sales at the time, Inside the Asylum Choir remains an enjoyable listen both as a period piece and as an interesting insight into the future directions of two musicians of the highest caliber.

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“Thieves in the Choir”

:) Original Vinyl | 1968 | Smash | search ebay ]
😀 CD Reissue |  2007 | Revola | buy here ]

Various Artists “Zabriskie Point Original Soundtrack”

All three major American counterculture movies of the late sixties benefitted from the new vogue for rock soundtracks. The Strawberry Statement mixed purpose-written orchestral themes with mostly familiar numbers by CS&N and Neil Young, plus the predictable but appropriate “Something In The Air” and “Give Peace A Chance”. Easy Rider thrummed along to a more eclectic but still fitting selection from Dennis Hopper’s record collection: Steppenwolf, Hendrix, the Byrds and stoned oddities from the Holy Modal Rounders and the Electric Prunes. But maverick director Michelangelo Antonioni’s choices for Zabriskie Point are more enigmatic, and the story of their choosing more bewildering.

The film itself, part wilfully perverse take on the late sixties student unrest, part classic road movie and part soft-porn skinflick, has been analysed to death; you either love it or hate it. The soundtrack album by contrast has received few reviews and deserves examination in these pages. The story goes that Antonioni commissioned the then “hot” acts Pink Floyd, John Fahey and Kaleidoscope (US) to create new music for various scenes in the film including the notorious desert love scene, which they duly did, and then summarily rejected almost all of this when delivered, instead delving into the back catalogues of these acts and others. (According to legend, the spurned Fahey was so affronted he “decked” the director forthwith.) The lengthy, dusty love scene was eventually orchestrated by Jerry Garcia’s solo guitar improvisations, and even then Antonioni insisted on a fussy edit compiled from four different improvs for the final seven-minute opus.

Perhaps the oddest thing is that despite all these creative shenanigans the soundtrack still works, both in the movie and as a long-player. Floyd’s opening “Heart Beat, Pig Meat” is an organ-driven sound collage that contains enough menace to convey the tension as the students discuss the upcoming strike, and their soft, Byrdsy “Crumbling Land” provides a fleeting but apt background to the start of Daria’s desert odyssey in the Buick though, as Dave Gilmour admitted, it “could have been done better by any number of American bands”. A brief spiralling segment of the Dead’s live “Dark Star” accompanies Mark’s liftoff of the stolen Cessna from the airfield at LA, while Fahey’s “Dance Of Death”, which is somewhat discordant but isn’t actually very morbid, plays after Daria hears over the radio of Mark’s gunning-down by the cops on his return to the airfield. Patti Page’s venerable “Tennessee Waltz” is an inspired choice for the old rednecks in the desert truckstop (and would cost Antonioni a small fortune to licence from the State, which owned the copyright). Garcia’s sweet, restrained playing provides a genuinely sensitive background to the balletically-choreographed desert orgy. And of course the explosive climax is tailor-made for Floyd’s climactic “Careful With That Axe, Eugene”, which appears in a re-recording unfortunately inferior to the wonderful original single B-side and with the alternative title “Come In Number 51, Your Time’s Up”. The two Kaleidoscope tunes “Brother Mary” and “Mickey’s Tune”, Roscoe Holcombe’s down-home “I Wish I Was A Single Girl Again” and the Youngbloods’ “Sugar Babe” are all excellent, delightfully obscure country rock items which accompany various highway scenes out in the Mojave.

The movie also featured Keith Richards’s bluesy “You Got The Silver”, which for licensing reasons never appeared on the OST album, and Roy Orbison’s splendid but inappropriate “So Young” which played over the closing titles and was allegedly added at post-production without Antonioni’s permission, and is hence with some justification also omitted. The 2-CD Sony reissue offers on its first disc all the other soundtrack tunes in complete form apart from the truncated “Dark Star”, and on the other the four complete Garcia improvs and four pieces of the rejected Floyd material, most of which are interesting enough but sound rather raw and unfinished, presumably not having being polished up for the final takes, and hence really for Floyd completists only. The CD booklet offers as cover picture a bizarre solarised still of the film’s two principals au naturel and a really excellent essay on the soundtrack by David Fricke.

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“Crumbling Land”

:) Original Vinyl | 1970 | MGM | search ebay ]
:) CD Reissue | 2010 | Sony | buy here ]
😎 Spotify link | listen ]

The Brazda Brothers “The Brazda Brothers”

By the early 70’s Slovakia-born brothers Bystrik and Andy Brazda had relocated to Ontario, Canada in search of greener pastures. Shortly after settling down in their new home they began writing music together. Canadian owned Dominion Records released their first and only lp, The Brazda Brothers, in 1974. Rumour has it that the brothers laid the entire album to tape in a marathon six hour session at RCA Studios in Toronto. Marathon session or not, The Brazda Brothers is one of the finest psych-folk lps ever pressed to wax.

The first track, “Walking Into the Sun”, sets the warm and peaceful pace that permeates the album when a lightly strummed acoustic guitar gives way to a gentle soft-psych tune that comfortably slinks by–full of melodic, wistful vocals, crystal clear electric guitar, thumpy tubby drums, and a wonderful appearance by what sounds to be a calliope, but is credited as a Cordovox–the same keyboard that shows up frequently to add its unique touch to much of the record. Right off the bat it’s clear that the brothers had a vision to share and they do so in an innocent, heartfelt way. This homegrown feel sets their record apart from the pack, earning it a place at the table with other lost classics of the era.

“Share With Love” is an upbeat number that encourages the listener to consider the needs of their fellow brothers and sisters. With its reverb drenched guitar and minor key refrain this tune has an almost garage flavored folk-rock sound, and its slightly eerie vibe adds a different taste to the record and shows a different side of the brothers’ sound. Midway through the album the brothers turn the volume up a bit with “Gemini”. Complete with gloriously fuzzed-out electric guitar and an almost-boiling Hammond Organ that adds something exotic to the mix, this tune definitely delivers in the psych category and comes out as one of finest cuts on this collection. The entire song has a subtle Eastern-European vibe that becomes most apparent when the brothers harmonize on the refrain. On the next track, “Nature”, Andy dreams of a carefree life spent living in the country, singing “the sun will shine all day/Mother nature will be our neighbor”. Reminiscent of “Hello Sunshine” and other tunes off of the Relatively Clean Rivers lp, this song has a great late sixties soft-psych vibe as well as a catchy chorus, and continues the acid-rural-pastoral-folk vibe that begins with the album opener.

“Lonely Time” is a beautifully sad little gem that finds Andy again longing for the peace and serenity of a home surrounded by nature and the familiar faces of friends and loved ones. In 2008 Panda Bear of Animal Collective fame payed tribute to these Slovak brothers when he released a remix of The Notwist’s “Boneless” that uses the opening riff of “Lonely Time” to fine effect.

The only criticism of this album is that several of the songs, such as “My Little Girl” and “Nature” have a very similar sound. However, it’s hard for it to bother you when it’s such a great sound! In the end, the pure and honest nature of the album along with the wonderfull vibe trumps any criticism.

The Brazda Brothers is a great album that stands shoulder to shoulder with other similar sounding lost classics of the time such as Relatively Clean Rivers, Rodriguez’s Cold Fact, and Jim Sullivan’s UFO. With their laid-back attitude, sunny rural vibe, and unique voices, the brothers crafted the perfect album for a lazy summer afternoon full of good vibes. As you’ve already guessed, original copies are rare, and sell for a very pretty penny when they do pop up. Hallucination CDs out of New Jersey re-released the album on cd with a limited pressing of 1,000 copies, and Void Records has reissued the album on vinyl. Pick up a copy while they’re still available!

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“Walking Into The Sun”

:) Orig Vinyl | 1973 | Dominion Records | search ebay ]
😀 CD Reissue | 2009 | Hallucination | buy here ]

The Small Faces “There Are But Four Small Faces”

As it has been said many times before, The Small Faces were, undoubtedly, one of Britain’s most influential rock bands.  Despite being together for only four years in their original incarnation, The Small Faces have gone on to be remembered as one of the most important British bands of the mod/psychedelic era.  Combining the best-of-the-best American soul and R&B and their own special brand of British Beat (and later, psychedelic rock), The Small Faces were definitely unique.  And what is there to say about Steve Marriott that hasn’t been said before?  In many peoples’ opinions, he was the greatest rock & roll singer who ever lived.

1967’s There Are But Four Small Faces holds a special place in my record collection.  Unlike some albums of the same era, this album has held up well without sounding too dated.  Side one kicks off with the flower power classic “Itchycoo Park”.  With its use of tape effects and flanging, it was a song that sounded totally out of this world at the time of its release.  It was also the only major US hit The Small Faces would enjoy in their brief career, reaching a respectable #16 on the Billboard Hot 100.  There was so much more to this band worthy of “hit status” than just that song, though.

“I Feel Much Better”, which closes side one of the LP, contains one of the very first “breakdowns” in hard rock.  The end of the song closes with such power and intensity that it leaves the listener begging for more.  We weren’t used to that much power in a rock song until about two years later when a little band called Led Zeppelin exploded on the music scene.  “I Feel Much Better” was ahead of its time. Side two starts off with one of the most powerful songs ever recorded, “Tin Soldier”.  Originally written for singer PP Arnold (who is heard singing back-up vocals on the track), “Tin Soldier” is a song about unrequited love (and not a sappy one, at that).  Steve Marriott sings this with such fiery passion that it sounds like a man ripping his heart out of his chest, putting it on his sleeve, and begging to be loved by the woman of his dreams.  A masterpiece.  There are very few songs which have made some sort of a spiritual impact on me, but this is definitely one of them.  Listening to “Tin Soldier” is a near religious experience.

“Here Come The Nice” is another lost psych gem.  A drug-influenced song, for sure, it’s about a dealer who’s apparently “always there if you need some speed”.  But, if not for the obvious drug references, “Here Come The Nice” had the potential of being another big hit single, based on its catchiness alone.

Steve Marriott went on to form Humble Pie, and Rod Stewart was brought in to the Faces as his replacement where they enjoyed continued success.  To many, however, nothing compared to the Marriott-era Small Faces.  The fact that the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame has neglected to induct this legendary and important band is an atrocity.  Much has been written about the history of this band and its members; the internet is full of information.  If you have the spare time, read up about them…very interesting band.

If you’ve never heard The Small Faces, I’d definitely suggest to start here.  You can’t really go wrong.  To fully appreciate this band, though, one must seek out their entire discography.  Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.  You may have a new favorite band on your hands.

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“I Feel Much Better”

:) Original Vinyl | 1967 | Immediate | search ebay ]
😀 CD Reissue | 2006 | JVC Japan | buy here ]

Earth Opera “Great American Eagle Tragedy”

Earth Opera was one of several groups to come out of the rather infamous “Bosstown” scene, a motley wave of rather disparate bands modeled on the highly successful San Francisco sound and pushed by MGM publicity man Alan Lorber. Despite being grouped together in marketing and subsequent rock and roll history, the only real common denominator among these groups is, well, Boston. Each band really did have its own unique sound and aesthetic, and each deserves to be looked at independent from the record company hype that clouded their reputations back in the late 1960s. Earth Opera, headed by future bluegrass pioneers David Grisman and Peter Rowan (who had already made something of a name for himself singing with Bill Monroe), gave testimony to this spirit of individuality when they released The Great American Eagle Tragedy in 1968.

The album opens with what could have been a killer single, Rowan’s“Home To You”. This song would later be re-recorded by Seatrain in the early 1970s, but the original recording is absolutely superior. Soaring harmonies and snaking steel guitar lines make this one probably the closest Earth Opera got to country rock, which, though eminently enjoyable, doesn’t quite prepare you for the weirdness to follow. “Mad Lydia’s Waltz” is a surreal and atmospheric sketch of a woman heading down a “cobblestone alley” to meet her lover. The lyrics and trilling mandolin almost draw the sound into the British folk rock territory of Fairport Convention, and Rowan’s keening vocals really do border on unsettling.

From there, the band skips through a myriad of sounds, from the rather pale, lightweight pop of “Alfie Finney” to the rollicking “Sanctuary From the Law”. Earth Opera has a well-defined sound, and their real talent is in exploring that sound from all possible angles. The end result is that every cut has its own distinct character, while at the same time working towards building a coherent whole. This whole comes together beautifully on the undeniable centerpiece to the record, the ten-and-a-half minute title track. “The Great American Eagle Tragedy” begins with the mournful wailing of saxophones, with the band eventually building into an explosive early climax and a brief bit of silence. Heavy drums draw the music back in and the band rumbles into a pounding anti-war anthem replete with free-jazz fuzz guitars, whistling flute improvisations and some of the most intense vocal screaming I’ve heard on a 1960s recording. To be perfectly honest, experiencing this song may be worth the price of the album alone.

It’s hard to imagine what could possibly follow “The Great American Eagle Tragedy,” but somehow the band clears the hurdle by throwing in an undeniably catchy rocker that somehow manages to compare love to a roast beef sandwich against a backdrop of mangled guitars. It may sound ridiculous, but this is one you’ll be humming to yourself long after the needle’s been lifted. The tasteful production, courtesy of underground folk legend Peter Siegel, helps keep this gnarly tangle of instruments and sounds in order, and really does give the record just the right amount of fine-tuning it needs to succeed.

Earth Opera released a self-titled record before this one, which is rather different from its follow-up, but definitely solid. Both albums were reissued on compact disc by Wounded Bird Records in 2001, but it looks as though The Great American Eagle Tragedy has since gone out of print. Fortunately, you can find original copies of the album relatively cheap, and seeing as Edsel Records recently reissued it on vinyl, new copies aren’t that hard to snag.

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“Home to You”

😀 CD Reissue | 2001 | Wounded Bird | buy here ]
:) Vinyl |  1969 | Elektra | search ebay ]

Little Feat “Dixie Chicken”

Dixie Chicken (1973) is when Little Feat came up with their signature sound.  Many fans cite this as the group’s best LP.  I’ve always thought their debut was one of the best albums from the time (Sailin’ Shoes is also superb), so I’m not really sure which side of the fence I stand on.

Dixie Chicken is a more produced (rich, full sound), laid back affair when compared to the raw eccentricity of those first two albums.   Most of the tracks are Lowell George originals but to give you an idea of the influences at work here, the group covers Allen Toussaint’s “On Your Way Down.”  This means there’s a strong New Orleans aroma throughout Dixie Chicken.  Classics like the title track and “Two Trains Running” while great songs, feature soulful backup vocalists, which make them sound a bit more produced than the group’s earlier efforts.  That being said, this is certainly one hell of an album – one of the defining roots rock discs.  On Dixie Chicken, the group incorporated funky, almost danceable rhythms within many of the song structures while other tunes such as the excellent “Kiss It Off,” replete with ominous synth or “Juliette,” feature dark, intense vibes.  Dixie Chicken is also notable for featuring one of Little Feat’s greatest songs, the much loved “Fat Man In The Bathtub.”

Impassioned vocals, great lyrics, piano, slide guitar and a rock steady beat make this track one of classic rock’s great legends – there’s nothing like it.  My picks are the acoustic (and slide guitar) piece “Roll Um Easy” and the jumpin’ “Fool Yourself.”  Both songs have the feel and style of Little Feat’s earlier triumphs.  All told, Little Feat came up with their third masterpiece in as many years.  Essential.

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“Kiss It Off”

:) Original Vinyl | Warner Bros | 1973 | search ebay ]
😎 Spotify link | listen ]

The Graham Bond Organization “The Sound of 65”

It’s a matter of record that the British Blues Boom of the sixties – as discrete from British Rhythm‘n’Blues, a similar but different beast – was originally created not by former rock’n’roll or Beat musicians but principally by ex-jazz players searching for a new “authentic” music. Its earliest practitioners came to the blues via skiffle, the ersatz rural American folk movement of the mid-fifties; subsequent ones via the brief vogue for revivalist traditional jazz at the turn of the sixties. Furthermore, the Blues Boom began not, as popularly thought, with erstwhile jazzman John Mayall’s landmark 1966 album Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton, but with the formation of Alexis Korner’s influential, ever-mutating Blues Incorporated in 1961. Bluesbreakers may be the defining record of the British Blues Boom, the one that induced a whole regiment of Beat guitarists to emulate Muddy, Wolf and BB, but by the time it hit the decks the ground had already been prepared by other former jazzers, notably Korner and his acolyte, the larger-than-life, manic-depressive Hammond organist Graham Bond.

Bond had started out as a bebop alto saxophonist in Charlie Parker vein, but at the turn of the sixties he switched to organ and, along with other high-profile jazz instrumentalists, began to concentrate on the twelve-bar form. Enlisting fellow Korner alumni Jack Bruce on upright and Fender basses, Ginger Baker on drums and (after rapidly firing early guitarist John McLaughlin) Dick Heckstall-Smith on tenor sax, Bond christened his outfit the Graham Bond ORGANisation, leaving no doubt where the engine room lay. The band immediately became a live tour-de-force on the London club circuit but, as with so many other artists who are ahead of their time, failed to find commercial success in terms of record sales; its albums weren’t even released in North America, where the whole concept of “British Blues” was initially treated as a joke. The ORGANisation lasted for two studio albums before disbanding shortly after Bruce and Baker, finding the bipolar Bond too difficult a taskmaster, departed for new challenges.

Compared with the straight-ahead purist electric blues of Bluesbreakers, the earlier Sound Of 65 shows a band attempting engagingly to pervert the blues in every conceivable direction. It combines the expected traditional blues covers (“Hoochie Coochie Man”, “Got My Mojo Working”) and instrumental R’n’B workouts (“Wade In The Water”, “Train Time”), reworked in distinctive, individual fashion, with lyrically naïve but musically adventurous Bond originals which move confidently in the direction of what would later be called “jazz-rock”. All the tracks are carried along by the sheer, rough-edged energy of Bond’s vocals and the irrepressible swing of the band’s ensemble playing, plus a remarkable cheap-studio production with plenty of reverb that gives the impression of a live recording. In fact the album was the ORGANisation’s well-honed live set with each number pared down to three minutes or less, the solos from Bond’s growling B-3 and Heckstall-Smith’s squalling tenor short and ferocious rather than extended and building. High spots include the flavouring of “Wade In The Water” with more than a soupçon of Bach’s Toccata, the spoof field holler of “Early In The Morning”, Bruce’s rumbling upright bass figures on “Mojo”, Bond’s and Heckstall-Smith’s wailing snake-charmer licks on “Spanish Blues”, and the eerie “Baby Make Love To Me” which is carried on just harmonised saxes, bass and drums and boasts lead vocal and braggadocio harmonica from Bruce. Only the mandatory (and thankfully truncated) Baker drum solo on “Oh Baby” and the maudlin closer “Tammy” (intended as a “commercial” single) conspire to lower the overall appeal.

The second and final ORGANisation album There’s A Bond Between Us offered a slightly wider musical range played with a bit less verve, and Bond’s pioneering use of the Mellotron (before the Beatles, Stones and Moody Blues discovered it) presaged his move towards progressive music. After an erratic subsequent career and involvement with hard drugs and Satanism he was mysteriously found dead under a stationary London Underground train in 1974: a sad end to one of rock’s most colourful characters. The BGO twofer combining both studio albums is a bargain; for a flavour of the band’s live sound, try Solid Bond, the posthumous Rhino release featuring the short-lived final line-up of Bond, Heckstall-Smith and Jon Hiseman.

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“Baby Make Love to Me”

😀 CD Reissue | 2008 | Repertoire | buy here ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1965 | Columbia | search ebay ]

Tiny Tim “God Bless Tiny Tim”

Love him or hate him, there was no one else like Tiny Tim in the late 60’s.  John Lennon was reportedly a fan, and Tim was a staple on late night television of the time. In 1968 he released his debut album on Reprise- a blend of American popular songs and extreme weirdness that often veers into psychedelia.

God Bless Tiny Tim was promoted as a joke record, but beneath all the camp and novelty there are some stunning gems on this very musical album.

This is an early example of outsider music and Tim did exactly what he wanted here, aided with expert production by Richard Perry. Some moments recall the whimsy of Van Dyke Parks’ debut, or even that of Randy Newman’s first with dense dynamic orchestral arrangements supplementing a full band. Tracks like “Strawberry Tea” and “The Coming-Home Party” and the brilliant version of Irving Berlin’s “Stand Down Here Where You Belong” are completely straightforward pop songs and would have been coveted by any self respecting psych band of the era.

The creepiness of “Daddy Daddy, What is Heaven Like?” is overpowered by Tiny Tim’s sincerity. His knowledge of American musical tradition and dedication to music hall and vaudeville allow these songs to come to life in very satisfying ways. It’s somewhat prophetic that in 1968 Tim was singing “The ice caps are melting…”, and there is a definite vibe that Tim’s not only in on the joke, but is really the one laughing here (which he does hysterically at one point).

The between-song narration occasionally stifles the flow, but it gives us a little glimpse into Tiny Tim’s mindset- his intentions were clearly to open himself up to the world and put on a show; his tastes, interests, showmanship, and quirky personality are all clearly present here. It’s the perfect production and it’s Tiny Tim’s consistently entertaining performances that really elevate this record above mere musical comedy status.

God Bless Tiny Tim is available from Rhino Handmade as a single disc or the 2006 “God Bless Tiny Tim: The Complete Reprise Studio Masters . . . And More” box set.

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“Strawberry Tea”

😀 CD Reissue | 2008 | Rhino Handmade | buy here ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1968 | Reprise | search ebay ]
😎 Spotify link | listen ]