Archive for August, 2011

Kaleidoscope (US) “When Scopes Collide”

Though it is generally written off as a failed reunion album, Kaleidoscope’s When Scopes Collide really does demand re-evaluation. Though the record was released six yearsafter Kaleidoscope’s disastrous swan song Bernice, this is not the work of a band that has lost its way. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that When Scopes Collide reveals a group that has not only gained a new lease on life, but has managed to reclaim some of the carefree, communal spirit that had, over time, become less and less apparent in their recorded output. Some of the credit here may be due to multi-instrumentalist Chris Darrow, who finally returns after having jumped ship in the wake of 1968’s A Beacon From Mars.

Some folks have criticized this album as being too “rock and roll,” presumably having hoped for a half hour of lysergic middle-eastern breakdowns. Might I remind these unfortunate listeners, however, that good-old-fashioned rock and roll was always a major part of the Kaleidoscope sound and, though their legend may have been cemented through their innovative use of eastern instruments and rhythms, their more exotic numbers were always outnumbered by their ventures into traditional American musical forms. The band’s strength has always lain in their willingness to cross-pollinate between east and west, whether by laying down whirring shahnai lines across an old Coasters novelty hit like “Little Egypt,” or arranging “Ghost Riders In the Sky” around a haunting oud and lap-steel duet.

Having said all that, however, I will admit that the most transcendent moment on this record does in fact come on the cut with the strongest middle-eastern influence. Solomon Feldthouse’s “It’s Love You’re After” is a hazy, nine-minute tapestry of saz, oud, kemenche, piano, doumbag, violin, gudulka and steel guitar. This may very well be one of the band’s great masterpieces; an epic descendant of earlier Kaleidoscope classics such as “Egyptian Gardens” and “Lie To Me.” Not even an awkward attempt at a percussion solo halfway through is able to dampen the magic.

This record was originally released on Michael Nesmith’s Pacific Arts Records, but in 2005 the German roots-music label Taxim reissued both When Scopes Collide and Kaleidoscope’s second reunion effort, Greetings From Kartoonistan…We Ain’t Dead Yet. It would appear that both are still available, though those of you in the Americas are probably going to have to fork over a little extra in shipping. It’s more than worth it, though; if you dug the first few Kaleidoscope records there’s a good chance you’ll find something to enjoy in this collection. Keep your mind open.

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“So Long”

😀 Reissue | 2005 | Taxim | buy here ]
:) Original | 1976 | Pacific Arts | search ebay ]

The Outsiders “C.Q.”

C.Q.

With a plethora of recent reissues (Jackpot – vinyl and RPM – cd), it seemed like a good idea to backtrack to this classic record and give it another listen.  C.Q. was to be the Outsiders last album (their 3rd LP), an attempt to reach the group’s original core audience amidst a troubling commerical downfall.  Not only is this one of the best “international” psych albums but it’s as good as anything by the early Pink Floyd, psychedelic era Pretty Things or Love.  Its closest reference point is probably the Pretty Things superb S.F. Sorrow – there are no soft, wimpy moments on either of these records, just pure intensity and garage punk muscle.  C.Q. is what the Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request should have sounded like.

C.Q.’s strength is in it’s consistency and diversity.  No two songs sound alike yet every experiment is well thought out and successful.  The group’s hallmark start-stop punk rhythms are firmly in place on many of C.Q.‘s tracks but by 1968 the Outsiders had grown considerably, incorporating more folk-rock and psych sounds into their repertoire.  Psych cuts such as the very European sounding “Zsarrahh” (supposedly a nod to Wally Tax’s Russian roots), the brief “Bear,” an avant garde folk-rock cut titled “Prison Song” and “C.Q.” heralded a new, more experimental outfit.   Other cuts such as the sensitive “You’re Everything On Earth,” a bluesy, spacy cut titled “It Seems Like Nothings Gonna Come My Way Today,” and “I Love You No. 2”  were folk-rock gems that showed off Tax’s soft, expressive side.  That being said, it’s the harder cuts that warrant the greatest attention.  “Misfit,” “Doctor,” “The Man On The Dune,”  “Happyville,” and “Wish You Were Here With Me Today” are masterful acid punkers.  “Doctor,” one of the group’s best LP tracks, features distorted vocals and an explosive fuzz guitar freakout.  “The Man On The Dune,” another classic and personal favorite, is a blistering psych punker with jagged guitar fuzz and a strange, unsettling conclusion.  It goes without saying that C.Q. is one of the immortal 60s albums.

As mentioned above, there have been many reissues of C.Q. To me, the Pseudonym reissue was the best as it featured three terrific non-lp tracks (“Do You Feel Alright” is an excellent cut that should have been a hit).  The recent RPM disc features six good live cuts from 1968 while the Jackpot reissue is a straight up vinyl offering with no extras.

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“The Man On The Dune”

😀 Reissue | 2005 | Pseudonym | buy here ]
😀 Reissue | 2011 | RPM | buy here ]
:) Reissue | 2011 | Jackpot | buy here ]

The Tree People “Human Voices”

Human Voices, the Tree People’s second album from 1984, is a solid dose of American folk-rock.  The group hailed from Eugene Oregon, releasing their debut LP in 1979.  Human Voices was a limited edition cassette only release, of which only 300 copies were pressed.  Stephen Cohen (guitar and voice), Jeff Stier (recorder, flue, bells and percussion) and Denis Mochary (drums) recorded the album at The Recording Arts Center.  It’s an album that sounds wonderfully out of step with the post-punk times.

Allmusic.com refers to the album as a “mini gem” while psychedelicfolk.com notes that Human Voices is “a very strong album, that should be regarded as a classic for the genre.”  A few songs, such as the album opening title track, have an English folk influence (early 70s) but the rest of this LP is original American folk/folk-rock music.  Highlights include “Grandfather,” a moody singer-songwriter number, “Thomas,” a great, ahead of its time indie sounding composition, the freeform “If That’s Entertainment” and a superb folk instrumental titled “Opus III,” which delves into spacy soundscapes.  Human Voices is evenly divided between instrumentals and vocal arrangements.

Guerssen Records, a reissue company based in Spain, reissued this very impressive title on vinyl and cd – it’s well worth a spin and highly recommend to those who are into freakier folk sounds.

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“Thomas”

:) Reissue | 2009 | Guerssen Records | search ebay ]
😀 Reissue | 2009 | Guerssen Records | get it here ]

Bo Grumpus “Before the War”

I came to this one working backwards along bassist Jim Colegrove’s timeline. I’d heard Colegrove’s wonderfully idiosyncratic bass playing on Bobby Charles’s eponymous album, whence I’d backtracked him to Hungry Chuck. It turned out that in an earlier life both Colegrove and Charles/Chuck drummer N.D. Smart II were founder members of Bo Grumpus, hence my initial interest in this album.

Originally assembling in Boston as a funky jugband comprising Colegrove, Smart and guitarists Ed Mottau and Joe Hutchinson, Bo Grumpus mutated into a New York-based folk-rock outfit in the style of the Byrds and veered towards psychedelia at about the same time as their West Coast contemporaries. Indeed, Before The War has been compared to The Notorious Byrd Brothers, though IMHO it also owes a debt to Revolver-era Fabs. The harmony vocals are sometimes very Byrds-ish indeed, but at others very Beatle-ish, as are the keyboards and other esoteric instruments provided by their George Martin equivalent, the classically-trained Felix Pappalardi. The production by Pappalardi is also more sophisticated and glossy than anything the various homely McGuinn collectives ever laid down.

Whatever, Before The War is a classy folk-rock-into-psych collection in its own right with carefully-constructed songs and excellent musicianship and vocals. For no obvious reason its original release on Atco in spring of 1968 tanked completely, and the album lay dormant until resuscitated by Wounded Bird for CD release forty years later. Meanwhile Bo Grumpus had moved to Bell Records with Pappalardi when he was headhunted by that imprint and recorded a further album Home under the changed name of Jolliver Arkansaw, again featuring Felix and also a guest appearance by his future colleague Leslie “Mountain” West. When this too bombed they called it a day late in ’69 and Colegrove and Smart subsequently joined Ian and Sylvia Tyson’s Great Speckled Bird. Today Before The War is readily available on CD or as an Atco vinyl re-release, but Home still awaits rediscovery and originals on vinyl will set you back a pretty penny.

Despite the intricacy of much of the playing and production and the frequently mournful and introspective hippy-trippy lyrics, this album has a carefree, floating feel to it. Most of the tracks use the same gentle 4/4 rhythm and seem to flow into one another effortlessly; it almost feels like the whole album is one suite. Colegrove’s nimble flatpicked Gibson bass work is distinctive throughout; like Paul McCartney he was a lead guitarist turned bassist, which helps explain the nature of his playing, adventurous but never intrusive. Probably by comparison to their live sound, the guitars are mostly mixed well back but provide plenty of sonic variety, with fuzz, wah and electric 12-string all exercised. By the time recording had finished drummer Smart had left to be replaced by Ronnie Blake; their no-frills styles are pretty well indistinguishable. The polymath Pappalardi contributes various keys, trumpet, ocarina and glockenspiel. The opening “Sparrow Tune” sets the template, led out by a trademark Colegrove riff and coloured by fuzzed guitar and churchy organ backing. Also notable are the overtly psychedelic “Yesterday’s Streets” with its electronically treated vocals, baroque harpsichord trills and glock fills; the string-laden “Travelin’ In The Dark” which recalls early Moody Blues, and the unmistakeably Beatle-ish “The Moon Will Rise” with lush answer-back vocals and a sublime ocarina solo. The wry “Ragtimely Love” and “Brooklyn” are hangovers from the outfit’s jugband origins.

Oh, and that name? Pappalardi’s artist wife Gail provided the name Bo Grumpus from a drawing of a fictional monster that she’d hung on their living-room wall. Perhaps that’s why the record didn’t sell; a distinctive name, but one unlikely to be taken seriously even in those hippy-dippy days. (Why they thought Jolliver Arkansaw would be an improvement is even more inexplicable.) For a lot more on this and a whole slew of related projects, visit Jim Colegrove’s website.

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“Yesterday’s Streets”

:) Original | 1968 | Atco | search ebay ]
😀 Reissue | 2008 | Wounded Bird | get it here ]

Dave Van Ronk and the Hudson Dusters

The Hudson Dusters was a band put together by legendary folksinger Dave Van Ronk in a short-lived attempt to buy into the folk-rock craze that hit the States in the mid-sixties. Though Van Ronk was one of the founding fathers of the original Greenwich Village revival, he had never really conformed to any of the stereotypes which were so quick to develop among his contemporaries. Thus, the music which developed out his “going electric” was far more eccentric than most people’s. This was no attempt to simply copycat (and thus capitalize on) Dylan’s new aesthetics, this was an artist expanding his sonic palate on his own terms.

Dave Van Ronk and the Hudson Dusters, like any Van Ronk record, is an eclectic experience. Not only does the band draw from folk, blues, jazz and rock and roll traditions, but Van Ronk’s unique sense of humor and unmistakable whiskey-and-tobacco voice lend the music a surreal edge. In fact, I’d argue that the convoluted middle-class satire of “Mister Middle” almost lands the proceedings in Mothers of Invention territory. Though neither it nor “Keep Off the Grass” should be considered the era’s sharpest attempts at social commentary, the tongue-in-cheek approach and adventurous musical arrangements make them more entertaining than most such material.

I have to admit that I’ve never been wild about Joni Mitchell, but Dave Van Ronk’s back-to-back takes on “Chelsea Morning” and “Both Sides Now” are surprisingly successful. This is one of those instances where you wouldn’t expect the artist and the material to click, but somehow the deadpan earthiness of the interpreter lends new angles to what are otherwise rather spacey and introverted lyrics. Apparently Mitchell herself praised Van Ronk’s recording of “Both Sides Now” as being definitive, but I’ll leave that one up to the reader to decide.

The Hudson Dusters also run through a few numbers previously recorded by Van Ronk on his acoustic records, such as the Reverend Gary Davis’ “Cocaine Blues” – which has always been something of a signature song for the singer – and “Dink’s Song,” in which subtle strings underscore Van Ronk’s rough-yet-tender vocal performance. The goofy show tune “Swinging On A Star” would also become a Van Ronk standard in the years to come, though my own reaction to this one is lukewarm at best. I much prefer their psychedelic garage take on Dallas Frazier’s old rock and roll chestnut “Alley Oop” with it’s odd, echoplexed vocal chorus.

With a few notable exceptions, the majority of Van Ronk’s 1960s recordings remain unreleased or out-of-print on compact disc, and unfortunately this is one of the former. Don’t let this unfortunate detail deter you, though; Hudson Dusters may not be the definitive statement from Dave Van Ronk (he tended to stick to the acoustic guitar for a reason), but as a rare electric anomaly in his catalog, it is definitely worth checking out.

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“Both Sides Now”

:) Original | 1967 | Verve/Folkways | search ebay ]
😀

Harumi “Harumi”

There are many albums by  unknown artists that deserve to be dug up and reexamined (or perhaps examined for the first time). Then there are the very few that reach up and grab you by the ears, making you wonder why they were ever forgotten in the first place.  Harumi falls into the second category.

Somehow an unknown from Japan (with feminine name) managed to locate one of the most renowned producers of the day to record his self titled debut record for Verve in 1968. Tom Wilson, the impresario behind both Dylan and Nico’s best loved albums heard something special in Harumi’s psyched out English-penned originals and we are still reaping the benefits of that union today.

Comparisons don’t give this music its due. Easy references like mid period Byrds or Jefferson Airplane might be obvious because of the relatively familiar aesthetic (for the time period) , but there is much to this record that greatly sets it apart from the more successful contemporary acts.

The main draw here is Harumi’s exceptional original songs and the way his drugged out voice navigates them. “First Impressions” begins with a Zombie-esque guitar and organ lick before catapulting into full pop mode with strings and brass. Harumi sounds haunting here, especially when he glides back in after the baroque instrumental break in the middle. This track drips with an endless summer vibe that spills over on the rest of the record.

Organ and jazzy vibraphone (along with assorted Japanese instruments) are present on nearly every track, filling out an already tight rhythm section. Little subtleties, like the phase effect on Harumi’s vocals on “Sugar in Your Tea”, or the Eastern sounding guitar on “We Love” crawl to the fore on repeat listens. The latter song is one of the best here- it grooves steadily through the haze and features some lyrical highlights like “Would you like to say hello to everyone that you have ever known?” and “You are me and I am you- there is no comparison for two”.

From start to finish (including the 2 extended cuts that make up the second half of this double album), Harumi is a remarkable listen that sets a very persistent vibe.

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“First Impressions”

:) Original  | 1968 | Verve Forecase | search ebay ]
😀 Reissue | Don’t Buy Fallout ]

Hill, Barbata & Ethridge “L.A. Getaway”

Anybody familiar with L.A. canyon-rock circa 1970 should be familiar with the name Chris Ethridge. Having more or less made his debut as the R&B-minded bass player with the Flying Burrito Brothers, the man soon went on to become one of Americana’s most in-demand session players, serving with everyone from Phil Ochs to Ry Cooder to Judy Collins. There’s a good chance that you can find him on more than one of your favorite records. A less recognized part of Ethridge’s career, however, is his time served as a member of Hill, Barbata & Ethridge, a tight congregation of musicians who had until the band’s formation only really been seen working the sidelines of the nascent country rock movement. John Barbata probably had the highest profile of any of them, having spent several years manning the kit for sardonic folk rockers The Turtles, while singer Joel Scott Hill had only cut a couple of solo sides for small independent labels out of the west coast.

So it was really only with L.A. Getaway that these three really got a chance to shine on their own. Hill, perhaps the largest unknown quantity here, turns up positively mind-blowing on cuts like “Old Man Trouble,” where he takes Otis Redding’s classic heart breaker and wrenches out one of the most satisfying blue-eyed soul performances I’ve ever heard. Ethridge, whose bass work has always lain somewhere between Stax and McCartney, finally gets a chance to work out his R&B tendencies, having heretofore been confined mostly to country and folk-rock music. I should also mention the cast of supporting players here, if only to emphasize the weight these cats held in the world of Los Angeles rock and roll. Hammering the piano and Hammond organ are none other than the holy quadrumvirate of Leon Russell, Spooner Oldham, Booker T. Jones, and Mac Rebennack. Clarence White throws down some trademark guitar solos.

If there is any part of this record which disappoints, it is in the fact that the band here relies so much on other people’s material. Though songs like Dr. John’s swampy “Craney Crow” and Allen Toussaint’s woozy closer “So Long” are given strong and inspired readings, the most memorable moments come with Ethridge’s numbers, such as the barnstorming “It’s Your Love,” which could have been a radio staple had fortune only dealt more cards in their favor. His laconic vocal drawl on the twangy title track, a wry kiss-off to the smoggy city, makes one wish he had gotten a chance to record more of his own material in this way. Otherwise, the band’s treatment of rock and roll standards like Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Eyesight To the Blind” are fun, but not remarkable.

It’s a shame that L.A. Getaway didn’t get the chance to develop further than this one album. All three musicians would go on to other high-profile ventures, though I would argue that their sum was greater than their parts. John Barbata would serve time in many different bands through the seventies, from Jefferson Airplane to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, while Hill joined up with Canned Heat for a couple of years. Eventually, him and Ethridge were reunited in a latter-day incarnation of the Flying Burrito Brothers, though the recordings they made under that name, including 1975’s Flying Again, are a solid disappointment, especially in regards to Hill’s vocal performances.

L.A. Getaway did in fact see a compact disc reissue in 2004, courtesy of Water Records, but it has since fallen back out of print. At this point it’s probably easier to track down an original vinyl copy, though if the word gets around one hopes that this long-neglected classic will soon be made available again.

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“It’s Your Love”

:) Original | 1971 | Atco | search ebay ]
😀 Reissue | 2004 | Water | get it here ]

Rockin’ Horse “Yes It Is”

Jimmy Campbell was perhaps the most talented “unknown” musician to come out of the early 60s Liverpool scene.  One of his earliest bands, the Kirkbys, played Beatles’ influenced beat music and folkrock, releasing a few respectable singles in the mid 60s.  When psychedelia became the trend, Campbell put together the 23rd Turnoff, who released just one single, the excellent “Michaelangelo.”  In the middle of Campbell’s solo career (he released 3 albums) he took some time off and with the help of ex-Merseybeat Billy Kinsley put together Rockin’ Horse.  Most of the tracks on Yes It Is were written by Campbell with Kinsley contributing just 3 tunes.

Yes It is, released in 1970, is a mixture of power pop and Band influenced rural rock.  The Band influenced ditties are the weakest numbers (there’s just three) on the album with the notable exception of a very good rural track titled “Son, Son.”  The remainder of Yes It Is is first class power pop and probably the most powerful music of Campbell’s career.  Tracks such as “Biggest Gossip In Town” and “Oh Carol, I’m So Sad” hark back to Campbell’s early British Invasion roots.   These two gems characterize a unique album that has a  ragged, ramshackle feel – very intriguing.  Others songs like “Delicate Situation”, “Don’t You Ever Think I Cry”, “I’m Trying To Forget You” and the title track recall late period Beatles – think Abbey Road or Let It Be.

So with the exception of two duds, this is an excellent set of early 70s rock n roll by one of rock’s forgotten (albeit eccentric) talents.  Other notables:  the whimsical but tuneful “You’re Spending All My Money” and the rocking “Stayed Out Late Last Night.”  Rev-Ola reissued Yes It Is in 2004 with plenty of worthy extras.

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“Stayed Out Late Last Night”

😀 Reissue | 2004 | Revola | get it here ]
:) Original | 1970 | Philips | search ebay ]

Roger Morris “First Album”

Roger Morris’ First Album, released by Emi/Regal Zonophone in 1972, stakes a claim as one of the most American sounding British-folk albums of the seventies. Along with the painfully obscure solo album by Ernie Graham, First Album is one of a handful of rustic singer-songwriter lps of the era that landed unjustly under the radar. Owing much to the back-to-the-roots sound and vibe of The Band, Bobby Charles, and Hungry Chuck, and falling somewhere in between the British folk of the late 60s, the British country-rock of the early 70s, and the pub rock renaissance that would follow several years later, this album features contributions from a host of talented British musicians, including: the popular De Lisle Harper; Glen Campbell of Juicy Lucy and The Misunderstood; Family’s John Weider; Rod Coombes of Strawbs and later, Stealer’s Wheel; Chris Mercer; Terry Stannard of Kokomo; and Bruce Rowlands of the Greaseband. Obviously, the playing on this album is top notch. Furthermore, Morris comes across as a surprisingly accomplished songwriter.

On album opener “Taken for Granted” Morris mourns the loss of past loves to the tune of a folky country-rock number that calls to mind the early work of Help Yourself, as well as Ian Matthews. “Golightly’s Almanac” has a funky Bearsville ragtime feel, complete with a Tuba holding down the low end and a catchy horn part, sounding very similar to The Band’s “Rag Mama Rag” or Hungry Chuck’s “Hats Off America.” Morris’ vocals, which can sometimes be hit or miss, really excel on “Showdown”, one of the standout tracks of the set.  “Northern Star” features some tasty pedal steel and fiddle riffing courtesy of talented multi-instrumentalist John Weider, while “Livin’ On Memories” sounds similar to “Orange Juice Blues” off of The Basement Tapes, with Morris taking a cue from Richard Manuel’s vocal phrasing.

Morris’ account of one man’s experience in the years after the Civil War ,“All My Riches,” is his equivalent to The Band’s epic “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Morris’ tune, while not a total failure, never comes close to reaching the heights of The Band’s legendary song. If there’s any complaint to be made about First Album, it would be that Morris’ influences are worn right on his sleeves. However, this was in fact his first album, so you’ve gotta give the guy a break for letting his influences show a little bit.

Needless to say, First Album is essential listening for fans of the rustic Americana The Band perfected on their first three records, as well as fans of Silver Pistol era Brinsley Schwarz, early McGuiness Flint and Help Yourself, and Matthews Southern Comfort. Simply one of the best obscure British folk/Americana flavored singer-songwriter lps of the era, this one is worth tracking down. Although this, his first lp, was virtually ignored upon its initial release, Roger would later find his audience when he went on to achieve international recognition as the guitarist in The Psychedelic Furs. In 2009 Bella Terra Presents released a tastefully remastered limited edition cd reissue featuring four previously unreleased bonus tracks that were recorded just a year after First Album, as well the original album artwork and a lyric sheet insert. That same year Lilith Records released a version pressed on 180 gram vinyl. Take your pick!

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“Showdown”

:) Original | 1972 | Regal Zonophone | search ebay ]
😀 Reissue | 2009 | Riverman | get it here ]

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