Archive for May, 2011

Ya Ho Wa 13 “Savage Sons”

When discussing obscure rock and roll bands from the 1960s, you often find yourself mired in the same old backstory; local band starts out in some cat’s garage and tries on Beatles and Stones songs for size until they finally meet Sgt. Pepper, turn on with the rest of the country, chip in for a sitar and some guitar effects, and start getting metaphysical. Fortunately, however, you will occasionally get a group of musicians that has a tale far more interesting and unique – such as Ya Ho Wa 13.

Formed not out of someone’s garage but out of someone’s cult, Ya Ho Wa 13 was the house band for the Source Family commune, a tight-knit group of wayfaring strangers under the tutelage of health food restauranteur and ex-Nature Boy Jim Baker, alias Father Yod. With Yod at the helm, the group spent the late 1960s and early 1970s recording a series of wildly eccentric albums of cosmic improvisation, philosophical earth-child hymns and pounding drums. Though many of these records remain almost overwhelmingly anti-commercial and generally inaccessible to the general listener (wait, who?), their 1974 record Savage Sons of Ya Ho Wa brims with strong songs and righteous grooves, and comes highly recommended to all fans of underground American rock and roll.

It is perhaps telling that musical accessibility first arrives with Father Yod taking a backseat to the proceedings and allowing members of the Source Family to contribute their own material. Though the band itself remains constant here – Djin and Rhythm Aquarian on the guitars, Sunflower Aquarian on bass, and Octavius Aquarian on drums – the lead vocals are handled by whoever contributed the song. This gives each cut an individuality that really keeps things burning, and allows for a consistently exciting listen. The two strongest voices here are Electron Aquarian’s frenzied growl on cuts like“Fire in the Sky” and “Man the Messiah,” and what I believe is Djin Aquarian channeling Topanga-era Neil Young on “Red River Valley,” among several others. The music here is definitely in the old west coast tradition, full of weird, chiming guitars, fiery San Francisco style leads and raw jams. In fact, this is some of the best of this type of music I think I’ve ever heard, with the record’s backwoods production helping to ground the band’s most lysergic explorations. The band is real tight, with a funky back-beat over which Djin’s guitar weaves transcendental – check out his playing on the seven minute odyssey “A Thousand Sighs,” as brother Electron drips cosmic soul across lyrics like “the church, the archive/with rules contrived/the truth you hide”.

Unfortunately, Savage Sons is one of several Ya Ho Wa 13 recordings to remain out-of-print, released in limited number on vinyl, and only being reissued once in 1999 when former Source family member Sky Saxon oversaw the release of the six-disc God and Hair box set. Until someone oversees a proper re-release of this album on its own, you’re going to have to try and track down either that box set or one of those 500-1000 existing original copies. Meanwhile, you can learn more about this unique group and the people behind it by checking out Isis Aquarian’s great book The Source.

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“The Edge of A Dream”

:) Original | 1974 | Higher Key Records | search ebay ]

Michael Bloomfield “Analine”

By 1977 Michael Bloomfield was well past his glory days as a stellar sessioneer on Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited and as one half of the Butterfield Blues Band’s fearsome two-pronged guitar attack with Elvin Bishop. Disillusioned by the guitar-star pressure resulting from the Fillmore supersessions with Al Kooper and his brief tenure as figurehead of the crazily over-hyped Electric Flag, and succumbing to increasing depression and substance abuse, he’d drawn in his horns and largely retired to his San Fran home, emerging occasionally to record low-key albums with friends including John Hammond Jr, Barry Goldberg and Dr John, or to play low-profile gigs with pickup bands in the Bay area. After a prolonged spell of not playing at all due to the effects of heroin, psychological disturbances and arthritis, Bloomfield re-emerged in ’77 to cut a series of four albums over three years for John Fahey’s Takoma label, in which he returned largely to the pure Chicago blues of his formative years, now leavened with soul, gospel and jazz influences.

The first Takoma album, Analine, finds Bloomfield stretching out in leisurely fashion alone in the studio, playing all the instruments himself on a selection of self-penned tunes and covers in enough styles to delight any Ry Cooder aficionado, and airing a tenor voice with a slightly cracked heroin edge and a wicked and very necessary sense of humour on the opening “Peepin’ An’ A-Moanin’ Blues” and on “Big ‘C’ Blues” whose decidedly non-PC lyrics deal with sexual perversions and cancer respectively, and on a wonderful ragtime rendition of the ancient murder ballad “Frankie And Johnny”. Most of the guitars are acoustic and sublimely played, with nods to Django Reinhardt on the swinging twelve-bar “Mr Johnson And Mr Dunn” (on which Bloomfield’s jazzy rhythm comping is a delight), to Stefan Grossman on the effortless Scott Joplin-syle “Effinonna Rag”, and to Cooder on the beautiful Tejano “Hilo Waltz”, forefronting Dobro and tiple. Bloomfield also offers an effective bluesy piano, an instrument with which he’s not usually associated, on the sombre gospel instrumental “At The Cross” and on a maudlin but stylish reading of Ellington’s “Mood Indigo”. The only disappointments are that he lets rip only once in his legendary electric blues style, on “Big ‘C’ Blues”, and that his expeditions on electric slide guitar tend to be a bit weedy and undisciplined, as on “At The Cross” and on the concluding, soulful, title track. The latter is the only cut to feature other musicians, including old supersession colleague Nick Gravenites on vocal, and is a pointer to the following albums which would be recorded in a band milieu.

Hopelessly out of sync with the prevailing musical industry trends, the four Takoma outings predictably sank without trace saleswise. After a couple more desultory albums and a one-off reunion on stage with Dylan at SF’s Warfield Theater in November 1980 at which he contributed to a stirring revisitation of “Like A Rolling Stone”, Bloomfield was found dead from a massive heroin OD in his car two months later, his body allegedly having been removed from a party and driven to a different location in a gruesome echo of Gram Parsons’s demise. Sic transit gloria mundi, or in Mike Bloomfield’s case perhaps the finest white blues guitarist ever. Analine can be found with the subsequent Michael Bloomfield on the first of Ace’s 2007 twofer reissues of the four Takoma albums.

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“Effinonna Rag”

:) Original | 1977 | Takoma | search ]
:D Reissue | 2007 | Ace | 2fer | buy ]

Addie Pray “Late For The Dance”

Addie Pray, otherwise known as Bill Lincoln, was part of an American (LA/Texas) rock n roll group called Euphoria.  In 1969, to little fanfare or label support, Capital Records released their explosive sole album, A Gift From Eurphoria.  This disc is commonly referred to as one of the best LPs from the period –  it’s that good.  After this great album, the main members of Euphoria, Wesley Watts and Bill Lincoln, went on to several other interesting studio/side projects.  One of them was this unreleased album that Bill Lincoln quietly recorded in 1970/1971, titled Late For The Dance.

Late For The Dance doesn’t have the wild guitar playing of Wesley Watts nor Euphoria’s over-the-top 60s experimentation.   Replacing these sounds are quiet country-rockers and fragile, broken folk-rock songs.  It’s all good listening too.  Late For The Dance’s closest reference (in production, sound and style) is probably the Everly Brothers’ Stories We Could Tell, a record that was also released around the same time – 1972.  One of the album’s better cuts, “Kentucky”, even sounds like something that would have come off Stories We Could Tell or 1968’s Roots.   Two of the album’s hard rocking tracks, “Train” and “Will You Miss Me?” are clear highlights that have a care free country-rock ambiance that brings Poco to mind.

The low key songs are the real meat of this fine disc.  “Free,”  “Sad Eyed Broken Man,” “Wings In The Wind,” “It Just Keeps Rollin,” and the gospel tinged “Sail On” are all quiet pleasures – excellent tracks that are on par with any big time country-rock productions you care to name.  So while this disc isn’t as experimental as A Gift From EuphoriaLate For The Dance is a really good, straightfoward country-rock record that deserved an official release back in 1970/1971.

CD Baby offers Late For The Dance in cd and mp3 formats.  If one were to jugde Euphoria on their early garage era singles, unreleased material, the A Gift From Euphoria album and the various solo/collaborations of Bill Lincoln and Wesley Watts, you could easily make a case for this group being one of America’s great lost 60s bands.

Also, here’s an interesting interview (via WPKN) with Bill Lincoln, regarding the Euphoria story and the Addie Pray album.  Bill Lincoln put together Late For The Dance with the help of his wife.

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:D Reissue | 2008 | Euphoria Records | buy ]
;) MP3 Album | download ]

Moris “Treinta Minutos De Vida”

Mauricio Birabent started his musical career as guitarist the groundbreaking Argentinian rock and roll band Los Beatniks, who released “Rebelde,” a scorcher of a 45, to mild commercial success in 1966. Along with Los Gatos and their legendary recording of “La Balsa,” the song was one of the earliest examples of Argentina’s emerging rock nacional scene, which took the energetic sound of groups like the Rolling Stones and reshaped it with Spanish lyrics and South American influences. However, Los Beatniks soon broke apart due to the censorship and oppression of Carlos Onganía’s conservative military government, and Birabent found himself performing on his own, under the nickname Moris.

His debut LP, Treinta Minutos de Vida (or Thirty Minutes of Life, referencing the approximate running time of the record) was recorded for the fledgling Mandioca Records label in 1970. It represented a move towards psychedelic folk rock, with acoustic guitars and literate lyrics replacing the wild stomp and shout explored by Los Beatniks. The raw, minimalist production of Treinta Minutos may have been striking at the time, but in hindsight it is highly refreshing when contrasted with the slick, plastic sound many of Moris’ contemporaries would soon be wallowing in. Argentina’s independent music scene was just starting to test its wings at this time, and many of the records produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s illustrate musicians building their own recording studio standards from scratch.

The songs on the record are uniformly strong, a number of them having come from his recent past, such as “Ayer Nomás,” which had actually been made into a hit single by Los Gatos. However, the most famous song here is arguably the opening cut, “El Oso,” or “The Bear,” which would soon become an Argentinian standard and almost a rite-of-passage for fledgling singers. The words speak of a bear who once roamed free in the forest, only to be taken into captivity by man and trained to perform for the circus – an intriguing, if straightforward narrative allegory. Despite the many adaptations this tune has seen through the years, the bare-bones recording here is arguably the definitive take.

Additional highlights include the nearly eight minute lyrical odyssey “De Nada Sirve” and “Esto Va Para Atras,” which is marked by righteous fuzz guitar, whirring organ, and reverberating vocals. The seventh song, “Piano de Olivos,” is perhaps the weirdest departure of them all, being a instrumental that for all the world sounds like a psychedelic slinky jumping a staircase of pianos – and of course I mean that as a compliment, wouldn’t you?

Treinta Minutos de Vida has only been re-released on compact disc in Argentina, but import copies are relatively easy to find, and worth tracking down. After this record Moris would start to tone down the psychedelic flourishes in his recordings and accentuate the tango and 1950s rock and roll influences, culminating with a hit recording of Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” in the late 1970s.

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“Esto Va Para Atras”

:D Reissue | 2003 | Sony | buy ]
:) Original | 1970 | Mandioca | search ]

Sandy Bull “Inventions”

In a world full of musical copycats, where imitation is often regarded as the highest form of flattery, a musical artist as singular as Sandy Bull truly stands on his own. Born in New York City in 1941, Bull picked up the guitar at the age of 15 and first began performing at clubs and coffeehouses on the folk music circuit in Cambridge, Massachussets in the early 60s. Though he was only in his early 20s at the time, Bull had already adopted a distinctive yet subtle approach when it came to combining elements of different styles, ranging from jazz to raga to country and western to Arabic–Bull loved it all and mixed and matched styles and instruments in unique and challenging ways that often defy the listeners’ expectations. Although often, and understandably so, lumped in with visionary guitar poet-composers such as Takoma’s John Fahey and Leo Kottke, Bull was truly in a league of his own and his music has an exotic, smokey, almost acid-tinged vibe that doesn’t exactly sound like anything else out there. While not quite exactly psych-folk, Bull’s early output is quite possibly some of the weirdest folk music released in the guitar and banjo boom of the time. Bull was exploring radically altered tunings and transposing ragas to guitar when most guitarists his age were still trying to figure out the chords to Woody Guthrie tunes.

In 1965 Vanguard Records released Bull’s second solo record, Inventions. Inventions can easily be seen as the second half of an excellent pair of records that began with his first lp, Fantasias for Guitar and Banjo, which was released in 1963. Inventions is the perfect name for an album where Bull doesn’t so much cover other writers’ tunes, but completely re-imagines them–constructing a whole new world for the the songs to exist inside of and to be experienced within. Bull, a multi-instrumentalist, musician, composer, and all-around musical artiste, covers tunes from sources as disparate as Chuck Berry (“Memphis, Tennessee”) and Bach (“Gavotta No. 2”). Along the way, he manages to lay down some killer riffs on the acoustic guitar, the banjo, the electric guitar and bass, and the Turkish oud–an instrument whose open, airy, exotic, and seductive tone he specializes in wielding with truly mesmerizing results. On several tracks he is accompanied by Billy Higgins–a highly lyrical and expressive drummer with an impressive track record that, at the time, had already included gigs with Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, and Thelonious Monk. As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, the results are stunning to say the least, and make for some of the most evocative, emotional, and expressive music ever to be laid to tape.

Bull kicks it all off with “Blend 2,” a sequel of sorts to “Blend,” which appeared on Fantasias for Guitar and Banjo. On “Blend 2” Bull and Higgins take the listener along for the ride as they travel to lands both east and west, north and south–combining riffs from different songs from all over the world in a sort of fluid free-form emotionally evocative expressionist piece. Elements of jazz and raga surface frequently, although “Blend 2” is neither, as such it is a wonderful example of the kind of piece that only Bull seems to be able to construct and deliver in such an astonishing fashion. One moment the listener notices traces of an Ornette Coleman tune, the next moment Ali Akbar Khan, the next a Mike Seeger melody. “Blend 2” certainly can be a challenging song to listen to as the tension slowly builds and releases and Bull and Higgins pick up their bag and move from one side of the world to the other. In many ways “Blend 2” is a sort of test for the listener–if you can make it through, you’ll certainly love the rest of the record. Bull is, almost above all, an artist intent on challenge.

A discussion about Inventions simply wouldn’t be complete without mention of Bull’s version of the classic Luiz Bonfa tune “Manha de Carnival.” With the help of the most advanced multitrack recording technology available at the time Bull was able to accompany himself on several different instruments. Warm and gooey electric bass holds down the low end, and an acoustic guitar plays the chord changes while Bull delivers an astonishing performance, playing the melody on the oud. Seductive, humid, and airy, this incredibly evocative piece is one of Bull’s most effective. As if the idea to play this genre defining Brazilian Bossa Nova piece on the Middle Eastern oud wasn’t brilliant enough, Bull’s performance magically guides the listener to lands yet undiscovered.

Bull’s version of the Chuck Berry classic “Memphis, Tennessee” takes the listener straight to the swamps of the southern bayou. Here the listener is treated to another wonderfully expressive performance where Bull, along with help of Higgins, seems to extract the most interesting ingredients of the song and reinsert them in a distilled form. Never content to stay in one place for too long, Bull and Higgins travel east for portions of the song, using raga inspired elements to give the bluesy tune an exotic feel. It was another genius move on Bull’s part to blend these two approaches together, as the true origins of the pentatonic scale–which Blues and Rock n’ Roll are both largely based on–originally made its way to West Africa from India.

Sadly, even as Fahey and company were gaining attention for their American Primitive compositions, Bull languished in obscurity for his entire career. He managed to release only two more albums, 1969’s E Pluribus Unum and 1972’s Demolition Derby, before disappearing for many years into the horrors of addiction–barely returning to perform the occasional show. In the 1990’s he resurfaced in Nashville, where he lived until his passing in 2001, releasing a small handful of albums on the Timeless Recording Society label. Those interested to learn more about Bull would do well to check out the excellent documentary, “No Deposit, No Return Blues.” There’s no doubt that Bull was quite a complicated artist; “Inventions” stands not only as Bull’s finest hour, but as an excellent introduction to the man and his music.

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“Memphis, Tennessee”

:) Original | 1965 | Vanguard | search ]
:D Reissue | 2009 | Sutro Park | buy ]

The Rolling Stones “Metamorphosis”

For reasons unexplained, officially-sanctioned outtakes from the Rolling Stones’ Decca (a.k.a. London) period remain as rare as rocking-horse manure. Was the Glimmer Twins’ quality control really so good that they recorded little more than those tracks that appeared as singles or on albums? Or were they so perfectionist that almost all the other stuff was immediately wiped, Paul Dukas-style, rather than being archived? Although to date no fewer than 23 compilations of their ’63-’70 material have been issued worldwide, the number of cuts on these which were not used on the scheduled studio releases can just about be counted on the fingers of one hand – with one notable, noble exception.

At first glance, Metamorphosis, with its Kafka-derived cover art, is just one of the many “exploitation” back-catalogue collections issued by Allen Klein’s ABKCO Music in the wake of the Stones’ defection to Virgin. But where Metamorphosis differs is that it consists completely of studio material unavailable elsewhere – including possibly the meagre sum total of the album-session outtakes remaining from the sixties. These include a cracking cover of Chuck Berry’s “Don’t Lie To Me” with rollicking piano by Ian Stewart, and the stomping, Motownish original “Try A Little Harder”, both of which inexplicably got left off their 1964 LP releases; a strange alternative take on “Heart Of Stone” with pedal steel (by Jimmy Page?); a funky alternative punt (to that used in performance and subsequently issued as a UK-only Mick Jagger solo single) at “Memo From Turner” featuring Al Kooper and possibly Steve Winwood; and three unused cuts from the sessions for Let It Bleed plus one each from Aftermath, Beggars’ Banquet and Sticky Fingers. For rarity freaks these include the gloriously sloppy “Downtown Suzie”, one of only two Bill Wyman songs ever committed to tape by the band, with open-G guitar supplied by Ry Cooder, and a fine cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Don’t Know Why” taped the night Brian Jones died and featuring slide guitar solos from both Keith Richards (recorded earlier) and Mick Taylor (overdubbed later). Taylor also makes a confident early declaration of intent on the studio version of the live concert favourite “Jiving Sister Fanny”.

And that’s only half the story. Almost half the album consists of demos of songs penned by Jagger and Richards but intended for other artists to record, during the Twins’ first fertile period as writers around 1965 (several songs from that year’s Aftermath album were similarly covered). These were cut under Andrew Oldham’s tutelage with Jagger vocalising and backings provided by sessioneers and studio guests including Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, Clem Cattini, John McLaughlin, Tony Hicks and Graham Nash. Jagger sings “Out Of Time” over the actual string-laden backing track used by Chris Farlowe for his UK no. 1 and “Each And Every Day Of The Year” over that used by Bobby Jameson, and on demos of “Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind”, “I’d Much Rather Be With The Boys”, “(Walkin’ Thru The) Sleepy City” and “We’re Wastin’ Time” which were realised with new backings respectively by Dick And Dee Dee, the Toggery Five, the Mighty Avengers and (honestly) Jimmy Tarbuck.

So how worthwhile are the sixteen genuine rarities here? Well, the demos are all pretty good, the songs certainly strong enough and the backings sophisticated enough to have made it as single releases under Jagger’s name, apart from the uncharacteristically wimpy “I’d Rather Be With The Boys” (credited to Oldham rather than Jagger as co-writer). And it’s genuinely hard to decide why the excellent band originals here were sidelined in favour of the tracks that made it on to the albums. The schizoid chronology of this collection (mostly 1964-65 and 1969-70) makes it an uneven rather than a homogenous listen, but any serious collector of the Stones’ oeuvre needs to own these tracks.

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“Don’t Lie to Me”

:) Original | 1975 | ABKCO | search ]
:D Reissue | 2002 | ABKCO | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Country Joe McDonald “Thinking of Woody Guthrie”

During the reigning years of San Francisco headband Country Joe and the Fish, singer and songwriter Joe McDonald took some time out to head to Nashville and record a pair of solo albums with the city’s top session men. Released on the iconic Vanguard Records, these two albums saw McDonald take a broad left turn, away from psychedelia and deep into the traditional folk and country music that had helped inform his earlier years as a radical-political folksinger. Indeed, the first of these two albums, Thinking of Woody Guthrie, was a heartfelt, play-it-straight tribute to the daddy of them all (the radical-political folksingers, that is).

With Nashville aces such as Grady Martin, Norbert Putnam, and Buddy Harmon on board, nobody can accuse McDonald of doing the country thing half-assed. The band lends a warm Opry-house vibe to the wide range of Guthrie material on display, from the weary “Blowing Down That Old Dusty Road” (see “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad”) to “Tom Joad,” the seven minute Steinbeckian epic that closes the first side of the album. The music tends to be dense, but the sound is always crisp, with sharp guitar and steel lines darting in and out across McDonald’s plainspoken singing. Martin’s electric sitar lines in “Pastures of Plenty” and the woven acoustics that drive “Tom Joad” are particularly notable. At some points in the proceedings, one does wish that McDonald’s voice was a little more emotive, but as it stands he does a fine job at conveying what is otherwise well-worn material.

All things considered, it would be a stretch to suggest that Thinking of Woody Guthrie is an essential record, but for what it is it manages to stand remarkably strong. Anyone putting together an electric album of Guthrie songs risks missing the point completely and overdoing the material, but McDonald’s take is understated enough to avoid this misstep. He is always sympathetic to the song. In fact, as he himself notes in the spoken introduction to “This Land Is Your Land,” the magic in Woody Guthrie’s songs lay in the fact that Guthrie “never gave you the feeling that he was better than you in any way, and he never gave you the feeling that he was worse than you. But that he loved you, because you were just like him and he was just like you.” I’d argue that the same can be said for old Country Joe here.

An unusual release such as this often risks being forgotten, and left to rot in the vaults, but fortunately Vanguard Records has been remarkably good about keeping their material in print, and their reissue from the early nineties is still widely available. I’d definitely recommend giving it a spin; this is a great record if you’re looking to take some Guthrie songs on the road.

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“Pastures of Plenty”

:D Reissue | 1991 | Vanguard | buy here ]
:) Original | 1969 | Vanguard | search ebay ]

Timbercreek “Hellbound Highway”

Timbercreek, a young band of ruffians who hailed from the small town of Boulder Creek (pop. 4081), nestled deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains of Northern California, recorded this lost country-rock gem with a for-real-not-ironic-rural-vibe in 1975. The small California indie label Renegade Records released the lp, and depending on who’s story you choose to believe, somewhere between 100 and 3,000 copies of Hellbound Highway were pressed. Needless to say, this record is very rare, and very, very good. If you’re a fan of The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Band, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, or Workingman’s Dead/American Beauty era Grateful Dead then today is your lucky day.

Larry Ross, Jon Hicks, Carl Holland, Bill Woody, and Frank Gummersal met in the Santa Cruz Mountains area and began, along with the help of lyricist Frank Andrick, writing tunes not unlike those being churned out some fifty miles north by the great songwriting team of Garcia/Hunter. Before long they were playing the Bay Area circuit, hitting clubs from Santa Cruz to Palo Alto to La Honda, the one time home of The Merry Pranksters and the site of numerous acid tests. By the time the group of friends entered The Church in San Anselmo, Ca to record their debut record they had developed a solid rural country-rock sound complete with twanging telecasters, bluesy benders, Big Pink harmonies, and tales of life on the road and the fight to take it easy.

The title track is the highlight of the bunch, the story of a highway kind enjoying the finer pleasures in life–jukebox tunes, honky tonk saloons, and of course the midnight special with the truck stop girl. The narrator seems to know that the life will kill him eventually, but he’s trying to make the most of the cards that he’s been dealt. Complete with a few sounds of the road, a killer opening and closing riff, and a nauseous phased out bridge, this song surely delivers. “Nobody on the Streets” has that funky backwoods bootcut sound, complete with wah-wah guitar and a groovy bassline–played by bassist Jon Hicks on his completely homemade bass guitar no less! “Hell in the Hills” is a wonderful album closer that really shows off the band’s jammier side.

After working the circuit, opening for groups like Kingfish and The Sons of Champlin, and even receiving radio play in the San Francisco Bay Area, the members went their separate ways. Fortunately we have Hellbound Highway to remember them by. If you’re looking for a tasty tonic to satisfy your craving for more laid-back West Coast country-rock, Timbercreek’s Hellbound Highway will get you drunk on funky rural vibes straight from the backwoods hill country of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Avoid the unlicensed Radioactive Records bootleg cd release and score an original pressing on vinyl, you won’t regret it!

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“Hellbound Highway”

:) Original | 1975 | Renegade Records | search ebay ]

Bob Carpenter “Silent Passage”

Bob Carpenter’s Silent Passage was a Warner Brothers release from 1984. Supposedly, the sessions for this album were cut between 1971 and 1973 but the Riverman Records reissue OBI strip dates Silent Passage at 1975.  Artists as diverse as Tom Rush, Billy Joe Shaver and Emmylou Harris have covered Carpenter’s material.

Bob Carpenter’s rustic, gritty vocals will probably be an acquired taste but don’t let this deter you from listening to this fine album. There’s a certain spirtual vibe that cloaks Silent Passage, also, it’s not the cheeriest record but not many country-rock albums are. The lyrics usually deal with depression, isolation, loss and the occasional religious overtone but these themes are common among many early 70s country rock/Americana/singer songwriter releases. It’s closest cousin is probably Bob Martin’s classic Midwest Farm Disaster.

Key tracks are the great, eerie Americana of “Gypsy Boy,” a spiritual highlight titled “Morning Train,” the desolate “Down Along the Border,” and the depressing but strangely optimistic “The Believer.” Some tracks such as “Miracle Man” and “Old Friends” offer up a more commerical rock sound while “First Light” is a folk gem with strings and organ.

Overall this is a very good, overlooked LP with many strengths. A quiet gem for the folk-rock and country-rock fans.

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“Gypsy Boy”

:D Reissue | 2009 | Riverman | buy here ]
:) Original | 1975 | Warner Reprise | search ebay ]

The Liverbirds “Star Club Show 4”

“Girls with guitars / What’s the world coming to?” sang Mary Chapin Carpenter in 1993, with her Rickenbacker 620 clutched firmly to her bosom and her tongue firmly in her cheek. Since the emancipating mid-70s influence of punk, women have been free to pick up electric guitars and emulate, or even outperform, their male counterparts, either as solo virtuosi (Bonnie Raitt, Rosie Flores) or in all-female bands (the Slits, the Bangles). How different it all was back in the sixties! Ever since the arrival of the Stratocaster back in ’54 the electric axe had garnered a near-universal image as a phallic symbol, culminating in the onstage antics of Hendrix, Page, Ted Nugent and Marc Bolan. As a matter of course, only men played the electric guitar and bass, and indeed the drum kit; a few lady folksingers got to pick melodiously at an acoustic, but during the Beat Era and the ensuing Golden Age Of Rock the idea of females seriously picking up the men’s toys and running with them was almost unthinkable. What about Fender bassist Megan Davies with the Applejacks, or drummer Honey Lantree with the Honeycombs, you ask? OK, they turned a few heads on Ready Steady Go, but they were almost universally dismissed as novelties.

It was with some surprise, then, that I discovered the Liverbirds, a fully-fledged all-female Beat band from Liverpool who came together as early as 1962, were regulars at the Cavern, opened for the Rolling Stones several times in late ’63, spent two years on the infamous Hamburg circuit, and despite a forecast to the contrary by John Lennon (“All-girl outfits can’t last”) stayed together for six years, finally bowing out after a tour of Japan. Nothing remotely folky about these ladies; they elected to play an abrasive brand of R’n’B with all the spiky garage-band pizzazz of the early Stones or Pretty Things, whilst coming onstage in masculine-cut waistcoat suits and frilled shirts for all the world like a female Kinks. Their enduring lineup featured Pam Birch on lead vocal and rhythm guitar, Valerie Gell on lead guitar, Mary McGlory on bass and Sylvia Saunders on kit, and their recorded legacy reveals that they all had real chops.

Beyond cosmopolitan Liverpool, the girls’ reception by conservative UK audiences and sceptical record company A&R men proved predictably underwhelming. However, when invited to work in Germany by Star-Club owner Manfred Weissleder early in 1964 they immediately wowed the famously indulgent Reeperbahn audiences with their energetic, high-volume set of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley covers, earning the nickname “die Weiblichen Beatles” – “the female Beatles”. As an inducement to a second tour, Weissleder offered to record them on his recently-incepted label; their recording career on Star-Club would eventually stretch to four singles and two albums. German chart entries and TV appearances followed, and the girls toured extensively there and in Denmark and Switzerland, even once sharing a bill with Berry himself in Berlin, where legend has it they defied a management instruction to avoid Berry’s songs and brazenly opened with “Roll Over Beethoven”.

Their recordings were unsurprisingly never released in the UK, and apart from the odd anthologised track remained firmly underground here till compiled by Ace subsidiary Big Beat in 2010 as From Merseyside To Hamburg, the CD comprising the entire 1964-65 Star-Club recordings, 29 cuts in all. The tracks from their first original album, Star Club Show 4, are the best: raw, unadorned R’n’B covers recorded live in the studio. These could almost be the Pretties, driven along as they are by Birch’s angry, punky contralto, McGlory’s muscular, metronomic bass, Saunders’s no-nonsense percussion and Gell’s scratchy machine-gun Fender Jaguar lead work. Their takes on Chuck Berry’s “Talking About You”, Berry Gordy’s “Money” and the blues chestnut “Got My Mojo Working” are fit to strip wallpaper. The later sessions offer more of the same but also move further towards Motown, with creditable tilts at the likes of Doug Sahm’s “She’s About A Mover”, Holland-Dozier’s “Heatwave” and Smokey Robinson’s “Shop Around” – all good Reeperbahn fare – plus a couple of modestly Beatle-ish Pam Birch originals which originally appeared as single B-sides; the production is more measured and less viscerally exciting. Today, the individual albums remain unavailable but the compilation is a great-value testament to a bunch of pioneering female rockers, and is highly recommended.

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“Talking About You”

:D Compilation | 2010 | Big Beat | buy here ]