Archive for April, 2012

John Mayall “Looking Back”

Despite the incredible amount of critical acclaim afforded to John Mayall’s mid-sixties recordings with the Bluesbreakers, the mainstream seems to have left him behind by the time 1969 rolled around. It’s a little tempting to assume that popular taste had simply drifted away from Mayall’s trademark strain of rhythm and blues, and yet the band-leader’s affinity for experimentation has always given testimony to his willingness to run with the times. Indeed, 1968 saw the release of both Blues From Laurel Canyon and Bare Wires; unusual masterpieces filtered through a kaleidoscopic tangle of American roots music. The man’s earlier material was still more-than relevant, however, a fact to which Looking Back would firmly attest the following year.

Looking Back was originally released by Polydor Records in order to draw together an odd assortment of singles and unreleased sides, most hailing from an earlier era in Mayall’s career. From tightly-wound Chicago wailers to rambling slices of back-porch blues, Looking Back ultimately manages to touch on pretty much every facet of Mayall’s style. In fact, there are even a few numbers that would not be all that out of place on Laurel Canyon, such as the atmospheric “Jenny,” in which Peter Green’s reverbed guitar sends out lazy pulses and foreshadows later masterpieces such as “Albatross” and “Heavy Heart.” The clickety-clacking “Sitting in the Rain” is more or less exactly what you’d think of looking at the album’s fantastic cover, with a choogling electric guitar and thumping bass line accompanied by a trotting drumstick rhythm, while “The Picture on the Wall” is the obligatory country blues cut, with grooving Dobro playing and a typically lazy Mayall vocal.

Most of the material to be found here is more upbeat and rambunctious, however; solid Marquee Club rockers from the height of the British revival. “Blues City Shakedown” rides a fun, heaving guitar figure as Mayall lets his amplified harmonica rip. Recordings of the blues standards “Stormy Monday,” “It Hurts Me Too” and “Double Trouble” are all righteously tackled – in all honesty you could hardly ask for a better interpreter on these songs. Between the crack ensembles assembled here and Mayall’s enviable talents as both bandleader and musician, these otherwise-overworked tunes are given fresh life. The instruments eschew just enough blues conventions and cliches to keep the train rolling all the way down the the end of the track. Dig the weird, warbled vocals on the latter cut, potentially bordering on the psychedelic but far too raw to fit in any one bag. Hell, there’s a lot to digest here, and it’s easy to see why it was Mayall’s groups that kept young musicians in England and the States on their toes and so  hungry to learn the trade back in the day.

So waste no time, go and check this one out! Deram Records has managed to keep Looking Back in print, and though it is technically only available as a British import it ain’t going to set you back any more than a domestic release would. The album cover may make it worthwhile to find a full-sized vinyl copy, however, and with this kind of music in the grooves its hard not to be pushed towards investing in the real deal. If there’s any extra selling point needed, might it be that I’ve heard said that the guitar solo on “Stormy Monday” is one of Eric Clapton’s all time bests? Surely we have some thoughts there.

mp3: So Many Roads
mp3: Sitting In the Rain

:) Original | 1969 | Deram | search ebay ]
😀 Reissue | Universal | buy here ]

Music Emporium “Music Emporium”

This 1969 West Coast Rock curio by a little-known LA combo exudes novelty well beyond its appalling band name and its trashy cod-psych cover art. With three out of four musicians classically-trained and featuring an all-female rhythm section, the outfit’s claimed influences ranged from Iron Butterfly to the Carpenters, with members of both of whom they were on first-name terms.

Bill Cosby (no relation) was a five-time all-USA accordion champion, classical organist and UCLA music major whose preferred rock tool was a mega-cheap Italian Galanti GEM organ amplified through two massive Vox Super Beatle rigs. Diminutive Dora Wahl, also originally an accordionist, switched to percussion to join her elementary school band and by ’69 bestraddled a huge double-bass-drum kit in emulation of her hero, Ginger Baker. Carolyn Lee had played orchestral double bass from childhood and sang in choirs and acapella groups before being seduced by pop music and taking up electric bass guitar. Only guitarist Dave Padwin was an unschooled player, but his fluid, instinctive technique and extensive beat group experience won him the audition. Changing their moniker from the rather doomy Cage to the more psych-twee Music Emporium, the four performed around SoCal at weddings, barmitzvahs, high school hops, beach parties and anywhere else they could score a gig, confusing promoters and audiences alike with their unusual combination of clean-cut appearance, classical/folk/acid-rock fusion and unexpectedly high volume. The album was recorded in a couple of clandestine overnight sessions at Sunset Studios and then remixed with new vocals by an ex-Liberty employee just starting his own local label. The money saved on recording went on the tacky but elaborate die-cut cover through whose “windows” the portraits on the inner sleeve photo peeped out.

The defining sounds of the album are undoubtedly Cosby’s organ and the collective vocals. The GEM as recorded has a reedy, piercing power only approached by Frank Rodriguez of the Mysterians, though Cosby’s classical chops take it way beyond the realm of garage R’n’B. All except Wahl take lead vocals, though only Lee is by any means a polished singer; however, when their voices meld, the confident, slightly atonal harmonies are as effective and distinctive as the Airplane’s. Kicking off with “Nam Myo Renge Kyo”, which mutates from a garage-band romp into a Buddhist chant, the material ranges widely from the dreamy folky excursion of “Velvet Sunsets” and the almost country-rock “Times Like This” with its unexpected piano licks through the shamelessly Bach-inflected “Prelude” to “Winds Have Change”, whose soft harmonies and pulsating guitar work suggest early Moody Blues, and the uncompromising riffs, thundering drums and downright punk vocal of “Sun Never Shines”, the album’s most forthright track. Whilst unashamedly forefronting the musicians’ considerable skills, all the songs are rendered collaboratively and concisely with relatively few and short solos, only the proto-prog mini-suite “Cage” breaching the four-minute barrier. The Sundazed CD reissue also includes five of the same tracks in instrumental form, giving the opportunity to hear how deliberately and delicately the backings were constructed.

An initial pressing of just 300 copies and zilch press or radio exposure guaranteed the album’s rarity, because the Draft Board got Cosby’s number soon afterwards; unlike many of his compatriots he eschewed the Toronto option and elected to serve, and the band promptly broke up. Various crappy bootlegs of their sole waxing surfaced before Sundazed got hold of the master tapes for the definitive CD reissue in 2001. On this Bob Irwin’s remastering is excellent and the insert booklet offers a fine account of the band’s genesis and the making of the album, including touching personal updates by all four members: Padwin became a press photographer, Lee returned to orchestral work, Wahl became a teacher and Cosby served 17 years as Instructor of Cadet Music at West Point.

mp3: Prelude
mp3: Winds Have Changed

:) Original | Sentinal | 1969 | search ebay ]
😀 Reissue | Sundazed | 2001 | buy ]

Levon

uReview: Your Record Stores

 

Record Store Day is this weekend and we thought we’d bring back this thread to hear about some new shops, stores not yet mentioned, openings, closings, stores from new readers etc. As before, if you mention a store, we’ll take care of the linking and mapping.


View Record Stores in a larger map

So, wherever you are, where are you going to be this Saturday to show your support for Record Store Day?

Los Jaivas “La Ventana”

To the average Chilean, writing an article about Los Jaivas’ 1972 sophomore record La Ventana may very well read like beating a dead horse. Indeed, there is perhaps no single band here in Chile which has become more representative of Chilean culture and patria than this psychedelic folk-rock ensemble, and no song more universally known than their anthem of popular unity and brotherhood, “Todos Juntos.” Though the band was born from the great social and political revolutions of the early 1970s, they are today accepted even by the more conservatively minded members of the populace as, at the very least, an established symbol of Chile’s national artistic identity.

Los Jaivas were born in the heart of Viña del Mar, a bustling coastal city resting against the northern border of the port of Valparaíso, itself one of Chile’s principal seaports and cultural centers. Though the concept of combining late-1960s rock and roll with traditional Chilean folk music may not seem so novel today, at the time there was a strong gap between the folksingers and the mainstream rock and roll youth crowd. Like everything in Chile, this was a conflict born out of radical politics and social consciousness as the country tried to break the stranglehold countries like the United States and Britain had on its economic and cultural life. Los Jaivas refused to accept this unnecessary barrier between musics, however, recognizing both the radical consciousness and importance of their country’s folkloric movement as well as the raw excitement and appeal of the burgeoning psychedelic rock scene.

Out of this set-up comes La Ventana, the band’s second record and the first one to really put the band on the map. Whereas their debut, El Volantín, had read like a highly improvised experiment, this sophomore release sharpened the focus of the band’s attack while retaining the weird, lysergic edge that made their instrumental excursions so engaging. The band’s fight to draw the threads of Chilean music together was strengthened by the participation of Patricio Castillo and Julio Numhauser, former members of the revolutionary Nueva Canción ensemble Quilapayún, then working in their own way to help build Chilean folk-rock as Los Amerindios. The sound here is a beautifully dovetailing blend of heavy, early 1970s psychedelia and northern altiplano folk, featuring searing electric guitars over a bed of charangos and quenas. The album is divided more or less evenly between vocal and instrumental numbers, with Side B built upon a series of percussion-heavy improvisations. The one exception to this divide is “Los Caminos Que Se Abren,” a pounding, nine-and-a-half minute Krautrock stomp with discordant piano and wandering guitars which dominates the first half of the album. Near its droning finale this bizarre number actually goes so far as to bring in an orchestra and sawing violin solo, all of which serve to darken rather than lighten the cut’s surreal intensity. Calmer moments include the preceding track, the popular ballad “Mira Niñita,” which opens with an arpeggio of gently strung-together acoustic guitar and marimba before eventually building to its own high peak of pounding drums and piano. “Ayer Caché” takes coastal Iberian influences and throws in lazy, reverb-drenched surf guitars – an absolutely pitch-perfect slice of coastal, South American daydream, though also a little out-of-place in the context of the rest of the record, especially when it is followed by one of the album’s heaviest rockers.

Following the success of the song “Todos Juntos” La Ventana was reissued under the same name with new album artwork adhering to the progressive rock aesthetics that the band began to take on in the later seventies. The record is widely available in Chile and neighboring countries, but somewhat more difficult to come by north of the equator. Import Chilean copies include several bonus tracks that, while not essential, help to expand the album’s artistic scope and give further testimony to the group’s ground-breaking work during this era.

mp3: Todos Juntos
mp3: Indio Hermano

:) CD Reissue | Ans Records | buy here ]

Groep 1850 “Agemo’s Trip to Mother Earth”

It’s finding rare gems like this that makes trudging through the dross in charity shop CD racks so addictive. I stumbled with fascination upon Agemo’s Trip To Mother Earth with its blurry, greyish cover photo depicting a large group of hippie folk of various ages. At first I thought it was by some retro psych outfit from the 90s, but a little research online revealed Groep 1850 to be a genuine 1960s psychedelic rock band from the Netherlands. Originally founded in 1964 as R’n’B group the Klits – being an abbreviation of “Klitoris”, meaning exactly what you think it means – they changed their name to Groep 1850 – “Groep” for “group”, “1850” not explained – and, following several stylish freakbeat and psychedelic singles, released their debut album on Philips in 1968.

Lyrically based around the hippie-dippy saga of Agemo, son of Dog from the Nirvana-like planet Irotas, who visits Earth to experience the urban paranoia and depravity of modern life, the album’s musical motifs draw shamelessly on Saucerful Of Secrets-era Pink Floyd but also evince a powerful West Coast acid rock influence. There is too a healthy dose of humour not present in either the Floyd’s straightlaced presentation or the similarly unsmiling Californian product, exacerbated by the band’s singing in strongly accented English with occasional Dutch interjections; clearly evident is the combination of instrumental virtuosity and vocal weirdness that would produce commercial success for their compatriots Focus a few years later. Peter Sjardin’s keyboard work is workmanlike and mostly mixed well back, but the lead guitar of Daniël van Bergen is unique and strongly forefronted, with penchants for atonality and sustain. Beer Klasse’s trapwork is also excellent, being simultaneously duck’s-arse-tight and jazzily freeform. The production by Hans van Hemert is splendidly sympathetic to the band’s psychedelic direction, with heavily treated vocals, sound effects, found sounds, phasing, stereo panning and all the tricks of the studio wholeheartedly employed.

An introductory metallic racket gives way to the acid-pop of opener “Steel Sings” as hard guitar chords and flying-saucer electronic bleeps announce Agemo’s arrival on Earth. “Little Fly” is heralded by the groan of an ancient door’s hinges and a female voice intones a brief litany before thudding drums, oriental Hammond licks and coruscating guitar frame the song’s stately harmony vocals. “You Did It Too Hard” is a brief nonsense item with a cheerful riff and honking saxes giving way to a gibberish dialogue by gnomish voices. The closing “Refound” and “Reborn” form a two-piece suite in a soft, hallucinogenic vein reminiscent of the Floyd’s “Cirrus Minor” with acoustic guitars and flutes accompanying the dreamy harmonised voices. The undoubted high spot is the astonishing procession of sounds that makes up the thirteen-minute full-blown musical acid trip “I Put My Hands On Your Shoulder”, including infinitely sustained guitar, crazy, reverbed harmonica, swooping keyboard expeditions and a disembodied, demented bilingual dialogue over a stuttering, heavily flanged drum solo before ending with a clap of thunder – a wigged-out mess that really works.

The album was released in Northern Europe and the UK (anglicised as Group 1850), but it barely sold at home and tanked totally everywhere else. Somehow they managed to cobble together a second studio collection, Paradise Now, more progressive and doomy but quality-wise as good as Agemo, plus a live set, but these sadly went the same way. Sjardin struggled on with different lineups until 1975, releasing a couple more albums in a jazz-rock vein before bowing to the inevitable. There’s not a huge amount of information about Groep 1850 out in cyberspace but a good critical discography can be found here.

Belatedly recognised as a European psych landmark, Agemo has had three CD reissues, the latest a 2002 budget offering on the Rotation imprint which appears to be a legit license. As well as Agemo’s seven songs this offers nine excellent pre-Agemo bonus tracks including the brilliantly absurd “Mother No-Head”, built around the melody of “Frère Jacques” and provided with alternative English and French lyrics. Oh, and that blurry album cover? It was originally offered in 3-D, with a free pair of 3-D specs thrown in. Sadly the reissue doesn’t reproduce that imaginative feature.

mp3: Little Fly
mp3: You Did It Too Hard

:) Original | 1968 | Philips | search ebay ]
😀 Reissue | 2002 | Rotation | buy here ]

Vox Dei “Caliente”

In the late 1960s there emerged in Argentina a heavy, thriving rock and roll scene, partially built by the independent record label Mandioca. Founded in Buenos Aires by a pair of radical young left-wing book publishers and inspired in part by The Beatles’ Apple Records project, the vinyl put out by Mandioca was raw compared to the slick records that flooded the Argentine pop scene of the day, but it was exactly that raw, uncompromising character – combined with the label’s anti-corporate approach to the music business – that helped put Mandioca’s artists at the forefront of the Argentina youth movement.

Mandioca only lasted long enough to put out five long-players, but every one delivers. One of the most prominent, both in the history of the label and Argentine rock and roll in general, is the debut record by the modestly-named power trio Vox Dei, or the “Voice of God.” Though the Dei would eventually find mass-market appeal with a pounding, progressive take on Catholic biker boogie, Caliente reveals a band better informed by the dusty growl of North American garage rock than the hair-brained swagger of Foghat’s ilk. Mandioca’s empty-pocket recording aesthetic adds further dimensions to the album’s appeal, with crunchy instrumental mixes and crisp, torn-speaker fuzz tones rarely heard outside of 1950s Link Wray records. There’s a real pleasure in finding home-brewed guitar sounds like these, calling to mind all the joy that is cracked, thrift-store amplifiers and cheap plastic Fenders.

And the best part here is that the music lives up to the aesthetic. Spin this one and dig the band as they immediately lash into a funky, cyclical vamp that could almost be on loan from an early Magic Band session. From this tight opening thrust, stacked percussion drops “Reflejos Tuyos y Míos” into a snarling guitar solo and atmospheric space break. The bongo drums and maracas give the cut a subtly indigenous Latin American flavor and help drive the improvised jam section home in impeccable style. The interplay between guitarists Ricardo Soulé and Juan Godoy is definitely a strength here, as in most of the album’s tracks. “Cuero” starts off with the two throwing down a relentless Hell’s Angel growl (arguably the album’s heaviest single moment) before the razor-throated funk cuts things back to a low prowl. It’s clearly these moments of laid-back clarity that allowed Vox Dei to stand above the glut of generic bar bands of the era and make their mark on music history. In fact, the album’s single biggest surprise may very well be “Canción Para Una Mujer Que No Está,” an otherwise unprecedented detour into cosmic, Floydian balladry, featuring some floating vocal harmonies and a barbed hook.

The unfortunate dissolution of Mandioca Records led to the disappearance of their admittedly-limited catalog from stores. As such, Vox Dei saw fit to re-record their album a few years later in order to make the songs available again. This second version, Cuero Caliente, is far less exciting than the original rendition, but today is easily avoided in favor of the real thing. Reissues of the original are only available out of Argentina, which perhaps highlights the limited success of the band – no matter how strong they were in their home country, they couldn’t quite break out across the border. Said import can be scored quite easily stateside, however, so don’t let that minor technicality prevent you from digging this hot slice of rock and roll from a time when rock and roll had real some serious bite.

mp3: Reflejos Tuyos y Míos
mp3: Total Qué (A Nadie Le Interesa Si Quedás Atrás)

😀 Reissue | Sony BMG | buy here ]
:) Original | 1970 | Mandioca | search ]