Archive for July, 2011

Buffy Sainte-Marie “Illuminations”

Beginning with 1967’s Fire & Fleet & Candlelight, the music of Cree folksinger Buffy Sainte-Marie began to take on a decidedly schizophrenic nature. Traditionally celebrated for her biting political songs, as well as her stark approach to folksong, the late sixties saw her take her distinctive sound in a series of surprising directions. Candlelight experimented with sweeping orchestral arrangements and electric pop music, while its follow-up, I’m Gonna Be A Country Girl Again, saw Buffy immersing herself deep in Nashville traditions. Come winter, 1969, and the young firebrand decided to turn the tables once again, releasing what is perhaps her most esoteric album of all: Illuminations.

From the very first notes you know you’re in for something unique. “God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot” is an eerie, electronically treated adaptation of lines from Leonard Cohen’s novel Beautiful Losers, featuring bizarre production touches courtesy of Vanguard Records president Maynard Solomon himself. Buffy’s voice and guitar are taken and warped into distorted moans and oscillating loops of sound that build upon themselves into a kind of electric witch’s chant. I should warn you not to get too comfortable with all this, though, because if this record is anything, it’s unpredictable. After almost five minutes, this unsettling opening fades into the short, church organ hymnal “Mary,” before a gnarly electric guitar and banjo jerk into the rapid-fire folk-rock of “Better To Find Out For Yourself,” featuring Buffy at her yelping, wailing best. In the clucking fadeout, what might return but Solomon’s electronic screeching, teasing the record back down into a dark, candlelit vampire ballad.

Honestly, I could go on for the entirety of the track list like this, as every song here is  indispensable to the whole. In fact, I’m almost tempted to label this one a concept album, with the opening track acting as a sort of manifesto. As for the music, though, it’s everywhere, from the raw west coast psychedelia of “He’s A Keeper of the Fire” to the caustic “Suffer the Little Children,” which itself sounds straight out of one of Buffy’s earlier records. One of the most wild segments is when the stomping “With You, Honey” closes with a shrill scream and dissolves into the pretty, lilting acoustic love song “Guess Who I Saw In Paris.” This latter track is so overly cute that in any other context I might write it off as a low point, but in context with the rest of the music here it somehow comes off as extraordinary. Like the rest of the album, it’s hard to really put the magic into words. This is one you just have to experience.

Interestingly enough, this album was not only groundbreaking musically, but it was also the very first quadrophonic vocal record ever made. Unfortunately, it appears that few people cared about either of those two points at the time of its release, as it was a huge commercial disaster and would quickly be deleted from Vanguard’s catalog. If you can, I would recommend you all find a vinyl copy, since this seems like the kind of record that was born for the needle, but should that fail there’s always Vanguard’s compact disc reissue. Also worth checking out is Buffy’s follow up to this one, She Used To Want To Be A Ballerina, which, of course, sounds little like Illuminations, but does feature Jack Nitzsche and the original lineup of Neil Young and Crazy Horse.

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“Adam”

:) Original | 1969 | Vanguard | search ebay ]
😀 Reissue | 2000 | Vanguard | buy here ]
😎 Spotify link | listen ]

Tages “Contrast”

I first heard of the Swedish band Tages through this very site, from a great post on their memorable 1967 album Studio.  Tages actually released two albums that year, and I find the earlier release Contrast to be an interesting foil to Studio (which it preceded by seven months). Both albums are filled with their signature brew of incredibly creative psychedelic rock, but I find myself more attracted to the songs on “Contrast” (with all but four being originals).

What sets Tages apart from many other ‘foreign’ psych bands of the era is their high production standards, which could be credited at least partly to producer Anders Henriksson. The arrangements and unique sounds of Tages’ records elevate them above mere copy-cat status and have helped make both their 1967 albums an interesting listen to this day.

The track “You’re Too Incomprehensible” alone is enough to convert any skeptic to a Tages devotee. Multiple movements, lush yet avant-garde strings, and a myriad of sound effects all bubble around a really lovely tune- progressive psychedelia at it’s finest. “Fuzzy Patterns” would be fairly straight forward, if not for the orchestral freakout placed right in the middle. “Prisoner 763” is an incredibly dark tune- played on a harpsichord heavily treated with delay. The line “I am condemned” hits hard, with the melody owing  much to to the Swedish folk the group was reared on.

Some tracks fall slightly short of the mark, like “Sister’s Got a Boyfriend” and “Why Do You Hide It?”, the latter of which carries the creepy lyric “I think you are the prettiest child a woman ever has born”. Both of these songs contain great production; their shortcomings are simply that they are strange songs (which may in fact be due to their troubles with English).

Opener “I’m Going Out” is an upbeat jaunt in the vein of The Zombies “This Will Be Our Year”, except with the ironic lyrics “I want to cry; I want to die”. It’s this slightly off kilter tendency that has kept “Contrast” fresh; the nuances reveal themselves on repeat listens.

Contrast stands on it’s own as an interesting record, and it was met with deserved success in Tages’ homeland.  It’s yet to be released in it’s entirety on CD, but many of the songs can be found on various “Greatest Hits” collections as well as their retrospective “1964-1968” disc.

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“You’re Too Incomprehensible”

:) Original | 1967 | Parlophone | search ebay ]
😀 Anthology |  2010 | EMI | buy here ]

Taos “Taos”

Here’s an unusual jewel, released on Mercury Records in 1971. The band Taos was actually a quintet pieced together by a group of young men who had moved to the legendary Taos commune in the early 1970s, namely: Jeff Baker on guitar and vocals, Steve Oppenheim on keyboards and vocals, Albie Ciappa on drums, Burt Levine on guitar and banjo, and Kit Bedford on bass, with the occasional intermixing of instruments going on in between cuts. If the band’s commune connection leads you into expecting some sort of stoned, improvisational musical meanderings, however, you’re in for a surprise: their sole, self-titled record is pop music all the way.

Indeed, the band itself is surprisingly together, tempering mildly eccentric diversions into psychedelia and country music with a solid foundation in 1960s rock and roll. If there’s one band to which Taos owes its biggest debt, I’d say it would have to be The Beatles. Kit Bedford’s warm, melodic bass work channels Paul McCartney all the way, while the group’s vocal harmonies show a tendency to lean more towards the ragged schoolboy charm of the Four than the choirboy constructions of American groups such as the Byrds, or the Mamas and Papas. This influence is not to say that Taos lacks an identity of its own, however. On the contrary, they manage to take this influence in surprising directions, whether it’s the lonesome cosmic cowboy pastiche “After So Long” or the phased psychedelic boogie of “Twenty Thousand Miles In the Air Again”.

Despite the general cohesiveness of the album, however, there are the occasional faults, such as the unnecessary, repeating theme “The Day Begins,” which should have simply been turned into a full-fledged song rather than left as fragmentary interruptions in the tracklist. Every now and again the musicians also reveal a slight weakness in the vocal department, as the slightly squirrely lead on “Morning Sun” illustrates. Lastly, the song lyrics aren’t really worth shedding too much ink over – there’s certainly no metaphysical contemplation or social commentary going on here, whatever other Sixties sensibilities the record may boast. These latter complaints border on quibbling, though, because the music here is almost too much fun to criticize. Again, this is pop music, and should be enjoyed for what it is. I think that Taos is certainly consistent enough that, if you’re digging the tracks below, you’re gonna like what you hear the rest of the way through.

Unfortunately, Taos is currently unavailable digitally. Yeah, there had to be a bum note at the end of all this. It looks as if you all are going to have to search this one out on vinyl, though at the time of writing this article it looks as though there are at least a few copies haunting eBay for around ten or fifteen dollars apiece, which certainly ain’t bad. And speaking of the vinyl, this record comes adorned in a really great gatefold sleeve, with pictures of the band rehearsing and bumming around Taos. I’m almost tempted to imagine the psychedelic, southwestern Hard Day’s Night bouncing around in these kids’ heads.

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“After So Long (So Long)”

:) Original | 1970 | Mercury | search ebay ]

The Beau Brummels “Bradley’s Barn”

By the time Bradley’s Barn (Warner Brothers – 1968-) recording sessions commenced, the Beau Brummels had scaled down to the duo of founders Ron Elliott (guitarist) and Sal Valentino (vocalist). Nashville session pro contributions (guitarist Jerry Reed and drummer Kenneth A. Buttrey) tend to overshadow the strong batch of Elliott/Valentino/Durand originals written for this classic LP. Some 40 years after it’s release date, Bradley’s Barn is still considered one of the very best country-rock records. Instead of taking their cues from Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams Sr. and The Louvin Brothers (see The Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers), the Brummels created their own unique fusion of rock and roots music that’s arguably more original and less reliant on the C&W masters.

Highlights run across the board, making it really tough to single out individual performances. Elliott’s guitar work is nimble, Lenny Waronker’s arrangements/production sparkle (Waronker was a real wild card and major influence during these important sessions) and Valentino’s vocals are rich and expressive. There is no pedal steel guitarist on these recordings but session men used dobros, banjos, keyboards, marimbas and any other instruments they could find in the studio to create a mystical, backwoods vibe. If you think Poco rocked hard, check out the awesome “Deep Water.” “Deep Water” along with “Love Can Fall A Long Way Down”, find the group locked in and at their best – these are country-rock classics. Other key tracks such as “Turn Around” and “Cherokee Girl” have a unique spiritual feel without losing their rock underpinnings. “Bless You California,” a Randy Newman original, recalls the roots/psych fusion of the Beau Brummels 1967 masterpiece, Triangle. Other great cuts: “The Loneliest Man In Town” is the Brummels most traditional country offering while “Jessica” and “Long Walking Down To Misery” progress into excellent songs.

Vinyl originals are easy to find and inexpensive. Check out Rhino’s new double disc reissue (with plenty of great bonus cuts) of this landmark recording while those on a budget might want to consider the Collector’s Choice disc. Records such as Triangle, Bradley’s Barn and earlier material from the group’s jangle folk-rock phase, Volume 2 and From The Vaults, should be part of any serious rock n roll collection.

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“Long Walking Down To Misery”

😀 2cd Reissue | 2011 | Rhino | buy here ]
:) Original | 1968 | Warner Bros | search ebay ]
😎 Spotify link | listen ]

Billy Nicholls “Would You Believe”

For a man who’s enjoyed a solid five-decade membership of the British rock establishment, Billy Nicholls must be one of its least-known figures. From being engaged as a staff songwriter to Andrew Loog Oldham’s upstart Immediate Records at the tender age of eighteen, to composer of “I Can’t Stop Loving You (Though I Try)”, the royalties from the multiple cover versions of which should assure his pension, to MD of the Who’s and Pete Townshend’s concert activities for the last thirty-odd years, Nicholls has enjoyed a fruitful but surprisingly low-profile relationship with the industry, only recently achieving acclaim as the author of one of psychedelia’s great “lost” gems.

The history of Would You Believe is as engaging a tale as that of Nicholls himself. When Oldham fell out with the Stones in 1967 he redirected all his resources into making the youthful Nicholls a star of the psychedelic pop scene. The results were the single “Would You Believe”, which hit the racks in January 1968, and the like-titled album that followed in short order. The single has been described as “the most over-produced record of the sixties”, and with reason; a modest psych-pop love song, it’s swathed in overblown orchestration including baroque strings, harpsichord, banjo (!), tuba (!!), and demented answer-back vocals from Steve Marriott. A trifle late for the high tide of UK psych, it failed to trouble the charts. Unfazed, Oldham and Nicholls pressed on with the album, Nicholls providing a steady stream of similarly well-crafted ditties and a bevy of top-rated London sessionmen providing the backings, thankfully with somewhat more subtlety than on the prototype cut. The album was ready for pressing just as the revelation of Oldham’s reckless financial overstretch brought about Immediate’s overnight demise, and only about a hundred copies ever made it to wax, most of which somehow surfaced in Sweden. The album became one of the mythical lost albums of the sixties, and original copies now fetch over a grand in GBP.

The record itself was heralded then, and is still often described today, as the English answer to Pet Sounds, with Nicholls’s songwriting being compared to Brian Wilson’s. This is blatant hype, and the writing certainly doesn’t get close, but the album is still the epitome of sixties Britsike, a bunch of fine acid-pop songs rendered with glorious harmonies and superb lysergic arrangements that wouldn’t have disgraced George Martin. Put it this way, if you like Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake or A Teenage Opera or even The Who Sell Out you’ll enjoy this. The sound and the production are sometimes closer to the Stones’ “We Love You” / Satanic Majesties output, unsurprising since it was recorded in the same studio with many of the same sessioneers, including the incomparable Nicky Hopkins on assorted keys, though this is – the title track apart – a far more taut and less self-indulgent collection than the Glimmer Twins’ psychedelic endeavours. Sundry Small Faces hung around, with Marriott contributing huge fuzz-psych guitar to “Girl From New York”. Indeed there’s plenty of sonic variety, from the tight structure and Townshend-style telegraph guitar of “London Social Degree” (go figure the acronym there, folks), through the lush Byrdsy 12-string-driven “(Cut And) Come Again” which garnered a cover from Del Shannon,  to the full-on acid rock treatments of “Being Happy” and “It Brings me Down” with its trippy false ending.

After the failure of Would You Believe Nicholls took a back seat from stardom and began a belated apprenticeship in the music industry, initially working on low-profile projects with Ronnie Lane and old acquaintance Townshend whilst gaining an understanding of all its facets that would stand him in good stead for the next forty years. He released nothing new under his own name until 1974’s Love Songs, a solid soft-rock venture that deserves a review of its own here, and may well get one. Meanwhile Would You Believe is readily available as a CD reissue, or you can get seven of its eleven songs – plus three outtakes from the album’s sessions, which are every bit as good as those eventually used – on Nicholls’s fine career retrospective Forever’s No Time At All.

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“London Social Degree”

:) Original | 1968 | Immediate | search ebay ]
😀 Anthology | 2005 | Castle | buy here ]

Klaatu “3:47 EST”

In the late summer of the U.S. Bicentennial, an album was unleashed upon the public which caused much rumor-mongering and gossip within the music world. That album was 3:47 EST, the debut album by Canadian progressive/psychedelic group Klaatu.  The album was hailed superb by critics and fans alike.  Furthermore, what people couldn’t get over was the striking similarity between the style of some of the tunes on the album with The Beatles’ music.  Thus, the inevitable “did The Beatles reunite to make an album?” rumors began.

Supposedly, in 1966, The Beatles recorded enough material to fill an entire album that was intended to be a follow up to Revolver.  Of course, the master tapes were somehow “lost” from Abbey Road studios.  Dealing with Paul McCartney’s alleged “death” in a car accident, The Beatles didn’t want to be bothered with re-recording the album.  When a Paul McCartney look-alike stepped in to take “dead Paul’s” place, The Beatles decided to stop touring and began working on an entirely new album which turned out to be Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  1975 rolled around, and these very “missing” master tapes were rediscovered while researchers were gathering information for a future Beatles documentary entitled The Long And Winding Road (which became the Anthology series twenty years later).  The remaining Beatles decided it would be a great opportunity to release the recorded material as a proper album, sort of in tribute to the “late” James Paul McCartney.  They came to the conclusion that it would be best to release the album with no songwriting credits, and no photographs.  That way, the album could be purchased and enjoyed solely on its musical merits, and free of any Beatles-hype.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?  Well, maybe not completely…

When the record hit store shelves, people began wondering a bit.  Why was the album put out by Capitol records (which was the label The Beatles songs were released on in America and Canada)?  Why were there no pictures or names of the band members anywhere on the sleeve?  Why were there no proper production or songwriting credits given, only “Produced by Klaatu”, and “All selections composed by Klaatu”?  “Klaatu” was the name of the alien from the film The Day The Earth Stood Still, and why on Ringo Starr’s Goodnight Vienna album was there a photo of Ringo dressed as Klaatu, standing with Gort (the robot in the film) in front of the spaceship from the movie?  Is that just an odd coincidence?  Why did a few of the songs on the album have vocals which sounded a lot like Paul McCartney and John Lennon?  The questions go on and on.  I don’t want to waste any more of your time on this entire back-story.  There’s tons of information available on the internet.  What is for sure, however, is the pure listening joy this album delivers, no matter who was responsible for it!  (By the way, Klaatu was/is a real band from Toronto, Ontario.  They released several other critically-acclaimed albums, and went on tour.  They’re still performing today.)

“Calling Occupants (Of Interplanetary Craft)” starts off the album, and is probably Klaatu’s best remembered song, although it only stalled at #62 on Billboard’s Hot 100.  A year later, The Carpenters recorded the song, where it reached a respectable #32 on Billboard’s Hot 100.  A perfect piece of proggy-space pop, with a memorable shout-out to visitors from outer space.  “California Jam” is track two, and sounds more like early ’70s AM Bubblegum pop than The Beatles.  A good, uptempo power-pop tune, though.  The album continues with “Anus Of Uranus,” which is a bit of a heavier song with a silly title.  Side one finishes with the second highlight of the album (the first being “Calling Occupants”), “Sub-Rosa Subway”.  Now, this is where I can begin to understand The Beatles comparisons.  The singer certainly sounds a lot like Paul McCartney, and the basslines are undeniably McCartney-esque.  But still, the song sounds a bit too modern to have been supposedly recorded in mid-1966.  This is a song which you’ll probably find yourself putting on repeat.

The album continues being a blast to listen to.  The production is great, the songs are great, the music is great!  True, songs like “Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III” sound a bit like something the Muppets (Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem!) may have recorded, so you’re not going to find a life-changing album here by any means.  But, who cares?  This album finds its way to my turntable almost on a bi-weekly basis, when I want to listen to something fun and arrogance-free.  Pick it up if you have the chance.  You’ll be wanting to purchase their other albums after hearing this, which are just as much fun.  This record will put a smile on your face, for sure.

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“Sub-Rosa Subway”

😀 Reissue | 2010 | Indie Europe/Zoom | buy here ]
:) Original | 1976 | Capitol | search ebay ]
😎 Spotify link | listen ]

Ry Cooder “Chicken Skin Music”

Not exactly a “lost” album, though hardly a classic – on first release in 1976 it struggled to position 177 on the Billboard album chart – Chicken Skin Music can now be seen as an early landmark in Ry Cooder’s lifelong odyssey to reinterpret and re-popularise the various roots musics of North and Central America. His first four solo releases had concentrated on the traditional musical styles of the United States’s poor blacks and whites: blues, country, rural folk and gospel. With this collection he widened his sweep to include cultures on the margins of American society, and in doing so produced one of the earliest forays by a “rock” musician, and the first of many by Cooder himself, into what we now call World Music. It’s now widely regarded as his finest work in a distinguished oeuvre.

Leonardo “Flaco” Jiménez is a virtuoso Tejano accordionist, playing a South Texas style that sprang from German polka and Mexican mariachi roots; since coming to wider prominence with Cooder, he’s enjoyed a long and successful career with Doug Sahm’s Texas Tornadoes. Cooder had played with him shortly before and asked him to contribute to his next recording. Jiménez accordingly graced several tracks on the album with his quicksilver button accordion motifs, giving a lively Tex-Mex topping to Cooder’s revolutionary revivals of the Nashville hit “He’ll Have To Go”, refashioned in a glorious baion rhythm with the accordion harmonised by alto sax in pure Mariachi fashion;  of Lieber and Stoller’s evergreen “Stand By Me”, rendered as a sombre spiritual; and of the hoary old Leadbelly chestnut “Goodnight Irene” in which the accordion fronts a traditional string band in a loping waltz. Cooder contributed to the Hispanic flavour with his newly-incorporated bajo sexto and tiple, as well as his usual electric and slide guitars.

The late Charles “Gabby” Pahinui was a master of Hawaiian lapsteel guitar, and Leland “Atta” Isaacs a virtuoso of the indigenous slack-key guitar style in which the instrument is tuned to one of a variety of open chords but is fretted fingerstyle rather than with a slide. Both were longtime heroes of traditional music in their home islands, and the lynchpins of the revival of Hawaiian roots music in the early 1970s. Cooder flew to Honolulu specifically to record with them: the sessions produced a relaxed Hawaiian rendition of Hank Snow’s old hit “Yellow Roses” and an effortless Western Swing instrumental version of Gus Kuhn’s venerable “Chloe”. Taking his cue from his hosts, Cooder added additional slack-key on the former, and on the latter he harmonised Pahinui’s C6 lapsteel with another, plus overlaying some toothsome mandolin work. Cooder would return the favour by playing on several Pahinui/Isaacs albums.

On the remaining tracks Cooder emulates his distinguished collaborators, adding slack-key guitar to a lilting rendition of the ancient spiritual “Always Lift Him Up” and a modest Cajun accordion – under Jiménez’s tutelage – to a sympathetic reading of Leadbelly’s anti-racist polemic “Bourgeois Blues”. He provides continuity with his earlier recordings by including rocking versions of the old minstrel songs “I Got Mine” and “Smack Dab In The Middle” performed in his accustomed style with faultless electric and slide guitar accompaniment. The presence of various buddies from the LA session Mafia – notably Chris Etheridge (bs), Jim Keltner (drs), George Bohannon (horns) – and his long-standing soulful backing vocal trio of Bobby King, Terry Evans and Herman Johnson ensure quality results throughout.

In more recent years Cooder’s campaign on behalf of the roots musics of America has finally achieved substantive commercial penetration with those of Cuba (Buena Vista Social Club) and Latino California (Chávez Ravine), whilst his urge to collaborate with musicians from more distant cultures has seen him work with Hindustani classical veena player H.M. Bhatt (A Meeting By The River) and the late and greatly lamented Mali multi-instrumental maestro Ali Farka Touré (Talking Timbuktu). They’re all excellent works. At 64 he shows no sign of slowing down and it’s impossible to second-guess what his next project will be. Whatever, you know it’ll be worth a listen.

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“Chloe”

:) Original | 1976 | Reprise | search ebay ]
😉 MP3 Album | download here ]
😎 Spotify link | listen ]

Ron Elliott “The Candlestickmaker”

Now here’s a record that, for all practical purposes, should not be this obscure. In fact, I’m often taken aback at how many Beau Brummels fans aren’t even aware that Ron Elliott, said group’s guitarist and songwriter, ever cut a record on his own. Fortunately, however, Collector’s Choice saw fit to remind the world a few years back and reissued 1970’s The Candlestickmaker, which would prove to be Elliott’s one and only record.

The music here is beautiful. Mining a deep spiritual vein that was only hinted at in the last two Beau Brummels records (on 1968’s Triangle, in particular) Elliott’s vivid word craft and west coast roots are bolstered by the musicianship of such luminaries as Chris Ethridge, Bud Shank, Ry Cooder, and Mark McClure. Elliott’s voice is a marked contrast to Sal Valentino’s tremulous purr, boasting a rich depth that calls to mind that crown prince of Americana, John Stewart. Interestingly enough, this entire record makes me think of the dense, rocky wildernesses of the Pacific northwest. Maybe this has something to do with how the overall sound of the band is rather sparse, while managing to invoke a richly woven sound. Even the orchestral arrangements of Bob Thompson convey an organic and understated character.

When a record only holds five songs, it seems ridiculous to pick highlights, but “All Time Green” and the gently flowing train song “Deep River Runs Blue” really are absolutely beautiful. Mark McClure’s sharp, spidery guitar lines on the former, while Ry Cooder’s distinctive slide work on the latter blends majestically with either Elliott or McClure’s burbling wah guitar. Meanwhile, Bud Shank’s flute marks the mellow jazz folk of “Lazy Day,” and Leon Russell’s subtle brass arrangements drive “To the City, To the Sea.” Each of these little touches make the songs both memorable and distinctive.

The magnum opus here, however, is clearly the fifteen minute long title track. As Elliott suggests in Richie Unterberger’s liner notes, the song “has a healing quality to it.” The lyrics build on what seems to me to be a driving theme throughout The Candlestickmaker: man’s struggle to break through the cold iron landscape of modern capitalist society and rediscover a free, wild America. Arguably a common theme in the early 1970s United States, but rarely one so eloquently presented. The music never once falters: Ethridge’s bass runs warm and melodic, while McClure’s guitar craft truly sparkles as it trails around Elliott’s words. Indeed, McClure proves himself to be one of the greatest revelations, and his grace on his instrument draws me towards exploring his own work further.

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“All Time Green”

😀 Reissue | 2003 | Collector’s Choice | buy here ]
:) Original | 1970 | Warner Bros | search ebay ]
😎 Spotify link | listen ]

Spirit “Spirit of ’76”

With the exception of their first four albums,  Spirit released some of their best music in the mid 70s.  Spirit of ’76 (released in 1975 by MCA) is a brilliant double album that saw Ed Cassidy and Randy California “officially” reunite for the first time since the legendary 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus.  This disc was also the first band release to feature Randy California in complete creative control of the group’s sound.  Prior to the album, California had suffered a nervous breakdown, an event that led him to relocate to Hawaii.  In Hawaii, California lived on the beaches, miserable and destitute until he was taken in by a Christian family.  The guitarist wrote most of the material for Spirit of ’76 while being employed as a gardener in Hawaii.  When California recovered, he phoned Ed Cassidy (the drummer) and when the two met up, the Spirit name was once again resurrected.

Gone are the jazzy, intricate textures of the group’s early albums.  This version of Spirit favored a classic rock sound with plenty of distortion and phased guitars, vocal effects and a dreamy, stoned production – a strong Hendrix influence abounds. As with many double albums, there’s some indulgent moments sprinkled throughout the two discs.  The brief “Tampa Jam/Jack Bond” theme appears 5 times throughout the album.   Also,  some listeners may be surprised by the 5 or 6 covers that appear on the LP.  The original Spirit albums solely relied on original material.  To me, the covers sound excellent.  “Happy” (The Rolling Stones) is reckless and hard rocking, “Hey Joe” is suitably spacey and faithful to Hendrix’s version, “America The Beautiful/The Times They Are A Changing” is inspiring while “Walking The Dog” is a powerful rendition that features lots of great guitar work.

The California originals are truly exceptional.  “Sunrise,” “Veruska,” and “Victim Of Society” rock hard and fierce, featuring plenty of fuzz guitar, distortion and pounding drums.  Some of the album’s tracks such as the trippy “Urantia” are influenced by California’s interest in the religious teachings of the Urantia Book/Urantia Foundation (a religious organization).  Other great moments include acoustic, reflective numbers “What Do I Have?” and “My Road” and a few lighthearted cuts such as “Lady Of The Lakes” and the country-psych gem, “Joker On The Run.”

Not many great classic rock albums were being issued in 1975/1976.  At this point, all the heavy hitters (example – at this juncture The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks and solo Beatles were releasing weak, uninteresting LPs) were peddling slick, corporate dreck to the public.  Taken in this context, Spirit of ’76 is one of the better classic rock releases from 1975 that actually does possess real artistic integrity; a hidden gem from 1975.

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“My Road”

😀 Reissue | 2004 | BGO | buy here ]
:) Original | 1975 | Mercury | search ebay ]

uReview: Jim Sullivan “U.F.O”

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I had heard a lot about Jim Sullivan’s UFO before Light in the Attic’s 2010 reissue and jumped at the chance to finally get my hands on a copy. This one won our poll of the best reissues from 2010, so from any big fans of this record, let’s hear your thoughts on it…

:) Reissue | 2010 | Light in the attic | buy here ]