Archive for March, 2012

Country Funk “Country Funk”

Country Funk was a folk-rock/country-rock group whose members at one point played in earlier psych pop combo Adam.   The group materialized in Los Angeles but then moved out to Boston where they played all the well known venues of the day. Country Funk shared the stage with many of rock’s biggest names and because of their affiliation with Beantown, the group are usually remembered (unfairly so) as part of the Bosstown Sound.   From 1968 to 1970/1971 they recorded quite a bit of studio material, enough to fill out two albums.  In 1970, Polydor would release Country Funk’s only album in a generic blue sleeve with a black and white photo of the band.  While no classic, Country Funk is still a very good album (kind of a mini gem) thats appeal lies in its consistency (no weak tracks) and timeless sound – think Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, CSN&Y and Poco.  The group clearly had a knack for blending the blues, country, hard rock, folk, and psych into something that’s refreshing.  The members of Country Funk could also play and write with the best of them, never overextending their songs or falling prey to dated 60s cliches.

The album opens with “Apart of Me,” a track that was issued as a single in 1970 and some years down the line, sampled by alternative pop star Beck Hansen.  Clearly one of the LP’s highlights, this excellent track begins as a care-free country folk-rocker, exploding midway through into a soulful fuzz guitar rave-up.  The vocals are a dead ringer for Stephen Stills circa Buffalo Springfield Again – definitely a compliment here.  Other winners are the trippy folk-rock of “Phoebe,” a track that recalls David Crosby’s work on the Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday and the spritely country-rock of “A Way To Settle Down.”  Country Funk tempers the album’s softer moments with hard edged fuzz tone guitar workouts such as “Another Miss” and “When I’m Without You.”  These cuts give Country Funk an attractive classic rock/psychedelic edge.  Also, songs like “Poor Boy,” “For Me,” and “Really My Friend” deliver the classic West Coast style folk-rock goods with aching melodies and harmonies to spare – not to mention tambourines and fine, world weary vocals.  Given the quality of Country Funk, one wishes the group had stuck around long enough to record a follow up to this very promising LP.

Solid songs and thoughtful songwriting, succinct guitar solos, good use of fuzzbox and spirited vocals make Country Funk one of the finer, unsung American LPs of it’s time.  Its been reissued no less than three times but our nod goes to British label Slipstream, who is now offering a group authorized version of Country Funk, which includes the single sides by precursor group Adam.  In addition, CDBaby offers a CDR version of Country Funk on their website while the Fallout reissue from a few years back is an unauthorized vinyl rip bootleg.

mp3: For Me
mp3: Apart Of Me

😀 Reissue | 2012 | Slipstream | buy from slipstream ]
:) Original | 1970 | Polydor | search ebay ]

The Merchants of Dream “Strange Night Voyage”

Described in the CD liner notes as “a psychedelic concept album based around JM Barrie’s famous tale Peter Pan”, but in reality equal parts toytown-psych confection, twisted sunshine-pop song suite and wannabe stage musical, this curiosity from 1969 fails to convince as any one of these whilst exuding a homespun and totally unique charm that works if you don’t take it too seriously. Certainly I’ve found nothing else like it, apart perhaps from Mark Wirtz’s unfinished and unreleased Teenage Opera from three years previously which shares its guileless naivité. The blurb goes on to say that Strange Night Voyage “cleverly created a parallel between the original notion of Peter Pan as the boy who wouldn’t grow up and the contemporary rebellion against adult morals and mores and straight society that characterised Generation Gap America in the late sixties”. Well, maybe. But there’s no real attempt here to emulate the subversion of the Fish or the Fugs, the principal thrust of the lyrics being simply the perceived benefits of reverting to/remaining in a childlike state. Of course, for some hippies that also had, like, psychedelic connotations at the time, man . . .

Conceived by fellow St John’s graduates songwriter Jack Murphy and record producer Vinny Testa purely as a fun project, the songs were demoed to Testa’s friend George “Shadow” Morton, creator of the Shangri-Las’ hit catalogue. Morton saw potential in the project and scored a deal with Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss of A&M to record it and release it as an album. A core group of musicians was drafted to lay down the tracks, becoming the Merchants Of Dream, though not in reality a performing outfit. Murphy’s songwriting emphasised the vocal harmonies of MOR sunshine-pop and the sophisticated arrangements of show tunes, whilst Morton utilised his proven talents for leftfield orchestration and sound effects. The result came across like the Association on acid meeting the cast of Hair with elements of Sergeant Pepper thrown in for good measure. Whether this mixture proved unpalatable, or maybe the strange cover art was too much, or perhaps due to the lack of an obvious single, the label failed to promote the early ’69 release and it sank like a lead balloon until resuscitated for CD by Tune In forty-two years later.

Kicking off with an exhortation to “listen . . . grow young” and a brief soliloquy in an unconvincing Peter Pan voice, the album offers not one but two brief overtures, one per original album side, which recall Pete Townshend’s similar use on Tommy as they recap musical themes from the following songs. “The Strange Night Voyage Of Peter Pan” with its rolling power-pop rhythm and pulsating bass is the first of a series of disparate character portraits on the original topside dedicated respectively to Peter, Wendy, Hook and the Crocodile plus “Dorothy The Fairy Queen” and “Lovelife’s Purple Circus” (neither of these Barrie characters). “Circus” is a genuinely psychedelic montage item and probably the strongest track on the album, all disorienting tempo changes, disembodied organs, calliopes and circus sounds. On the flip the tracks take more abstract themes – the swirling waltz of “Come Back Into Your Childhood With Me”, “Sing Me Life” and the jokey toddler-rebellion of “When You’re Pushin’ Six”. The final “(We Are) Dream Vendors”, a fine takeoff of generic 1967 Britsike, closes with a crazy coda as the dream state evaporates and the Pan voice returns to intone “now I lay me down to sleep” and a series of “blesses” for Uncle Jack (Murphy), Uncle Vinny (Testa), Uncle Shadow (Morton), Uncle Herbie (Alpert), Uncle Jerry (Moss) and Uncle Everyone Else who had anything to do with the production and release.

After Strange Night Voyage nothing further was heard of from the Merchants Of Dream apart from Murphy who, perhaps unsurprisingly, moved on to a prolific career in stage musicals, finally coming full circle with his Broadway production Wonderland: A New Alice which debuted in 2011.

mp3: Lovelife’s Purple Circus
mp3: (We Are) Dream Vendors

:) Original | 1969 | A&M | search ebay ]
😀 Reissue | 2011 | Cherry Red | buy ]

Suzanne Ciani “Lixiviation”

Suzanne Ciani is probably best known today for her grammy nominated new-age records. That legion of fans may not be prepared for her latest comp from B-Music/Finders Keepers which explores her earlier, pioneering work composing synthesized soundscapes and logos. It’s this part of Ciani’s career I find most interesting and Lixiviation 1968-1985 curates a fine selection of tracks that will appeal to fans of early electronic experiments and electronic music in general.

Not a typical record, but rather a selection of cleverly sequenced tracks combining short audio logos with lengthy soundscapes for an album-like listening experience. Sprinkled with brilliant sonic logos like the famous “Coca Cola Pop & Pour” and “Atari Corporate Tag,” 30-60 second spots for adventurous sponsors like “Clean Room ITT TV” and “Almay Eclipse,” and four or five non-commercial pieces teetering between psychedelia and ambient music. The title track swerves from introductory blips and effects to a beautifully filtered odd meter sequence. “Paris 1971” explores droning pads and softly shifting wind sounds a full six minutes without becoming a bore. The buzzy “Princess With Orange Feet” finds her improvising with tape delay and using full range of the Buchla’s unique touch plate keyboard. It’s Ciani’s ability to guide listeners so delicately through each track, maintaining interest with the simplest changes in timbre and never rushing, that seems to define the masterful touch in these tracks.

Her commercial works really take off in the mid 70s as evidenced by “Discovery Magazine TV Spot,” which sounds especially indicative of electronic music’s future, a fresh sound made with tight delays and sharp sawtooth chords. “Inside Story PBS TV Spot” layers tape edited sound clips over some fancy sequence work; I wish I could hear 4-minute versions of these tracks especially. The spots are indeed short, but merely deserve some repeated listens.

Ciani’s career in synthesized music began after meeting Don Buchla and one of his fantastic modular machines. In the synth world, there is no machine I can think of more imaginative in design, complex in architecture, or more grandly exploratory in sound than any of Buchla’s rare machines. In her interview with the LA times, Ciani recalls her first encounter with its sound:

“Your ears woke up. The frequency spectrum was so much bigger. It had the high end and the very low end, and you could go to the very top and the very bottom. After hearing that, acoustic music seemed to occur along a very narrow path. It wasn’t alive.”

After listening to the full nine minutes of the droning, rich-frequency laden “Second Breath” I was surprised how much waking up my own ears have left to do. Suzanne has since become one of Buchla’s most famous users, as well as helping to make legendary tools such as the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5Roland’s MC-8 sequencer, as well as various voice synth/vocoder technology. While the album runs slightly short, it stands as the best introduction to Ciani’s illustrious, one-of-a-kind career. It’s even available on vinyl with detailed liners. If you like what you hear, make your next find the new-age classic Seven Waves.

mp3: Princess with Orange Feet
mp3: Discover Magazine (TV Spot)

😀 CD Comp | 2012 | B-Music | buy from Finders Keepers | amazon ]
:) Vinyl Comp | 2012 B-Music | buy from Finders Keepers ]
😎 Spotify link | listen ]

Coloured Balls “Ball Power”

Coloured Balls were one of the best pure rock n roll groups to emerge from the early 70’s Australian scene.  Sure, The Saints and Radio Birdman stayed together longer and released a slew of fine albums during the punk era but it was the Coloured Balls who pioneered the proto punk sound earlier in the decade.  Their wildcard was Lobby Loyde (also known as John Barrie Lyde), Australia’s premier guitar hero (detractors must check out his live at Sunbury performance of “G.O.D.” – from Aztec’s Ball Power reissue) whose pivotal roles in beat/psych/blues rock groups The Purple Hearts, The Wild Cherries and Billy Thorpe’s Aztecs made him a major home-grown star down under.  Ball Power is not only the Coloured Balls’ greatest album but also the finest music of Lobby Loyde’s long, fabled career.

Ball Power, released in 1973, favorably recalls the latter day MC5 or the Pink Fairies from their great Kings of Oblivion LP.  The best moments on Ball Power are transcendent.  “Human Being,” the album’s lone classic, is a blistering hard rock masterpiece notable for its crunching buzz saw guitars and bludgeoning rhythm section.  “That’s What Mama Said” is essentially “Human Being” drawn out to 10 minutes but this time around Coloured Balls utilize a foot-controlled Theremin and lots of guitar soloing/guitar noise (progressive raunch).  Other good ones are “Won’t You Make Up Your Mind,” which sounds like anarchy in the UK before there was such a thing, the powerful boogie rock of “Hey! What’s Your Name” and “Something New,” a hard psych number with phased guitar work.  Even the lesser cuts hold up quite well and if anything, serve to display the group’s diversity and unique talents.  “B.P.R.,” a strong blues instrumental, gives Lobby Loyde room to stretch out and solo while their rendition of “Whole Lotta Shakin'” rocks as hard as any version I’ve heard of this classic.  From beginning to end Ball Power is an excellent album that’s mandatory listening – all the performances have that road-honed tightness and tense, proto punk edge.

Several years back Aztec Music reissued this lost classic on cd but since then its become very expensive and increasingly hard to find.  Coloured Balls would release two other flawed but worthy albums, 1974’s Heavy Metal Kids and 1976’s First Last Supper (1972 recordings).

mp3: Won’t You Make Up Your Mind
mp3: Hey! What’s Your Name

:) Original |  1973 | EMI | search ebay ]
😀 Reissue | 2006 | Aztec | buy here ]