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Skip Bifferty (self-titled)

Skip Bifferty

Skip Bifferty’s only album is one of the very best pieces of British underground psychedelia. This Newcastle band started out life as a rhythm and blues based band named the Chosen Few (as did Lindisfarne). After a few very good singles, they morphed into Skip Bifferty in or around 1966/1967.

Their debut single, On Love was a great full-throttle hard rocker that should have put them on the map, but sunk commercially. Other singles, like the splendid paisley pop of Man In Black followed, but this did little to enhance their commercial reputation. The above album captured all the excitement and buzz surrounding London, England in the mid to late 60’s.

Skip Bifferty could rock hard when the mood suited them, as heard on the punky fuzz rocker Planting Bad Seeds. Trippier songs like the tabla pounding Guru and the dreamy riff laden Time Track are also ace compositions. Lead singer Graham Bell sounds like a jazzier Steve Winwood, especially on the beautifully downbeat, piano-dominated Follow The Path To The Stars. There are also some sweet, soft psych pop creations such as Orange Lace and Gas Board Under Dog that recall the Hollies Butterfly album.

The album is full of variety, creativity, and most of all great songs. Skip Bifferty were intelligent, skilled musicians with an original sound and they are one of the best one album bands around. Essential.

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“Time Track”

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The Wackers “Hot Wacks”

Hot Wacks

Hot Wacks is unquestionably the Wackers best album. Although at times a bit derivative of Abbey Road era Beatles (there’s even a side 2 suite), Hot Wacks is really a lost power pop gem.

In 1971, the Wackers released a strong debut, lushly produced by Gary Usher. While Usher was no doubt a great producer, some may find his production on Hot Wacks a little too slick. The songs and performances save the day though, and show the band maturing at a rapid rate. Bob Segarini, one of the band’s founders, had been in Family Tree and Roxy prior to forming the Wackers. He’s still on the scene today making albums, and if push comes to shove, I’d say that his other two masterpieces are Miss Butters by Family Tree (1968-) and Gotta Have Pop which is a solo effort from the late 1970’s.

With Hot Wacks, Segarini and the Wackers’ Beatles obsession reached an apex. On vinyl, the side two suite is very good with some superb harmonies and tight songcraft. Anyone who enjoyed Shake Some Action or Now era Flamin’ Groovies will love this album. The early 70’s psych pop (distorted vocals) of Find Your Own Way and the catchy, sensitive accoustic rocker Time Will Carry On are definite highlights of this medley. Side 1 has a power pop masterpiece in We Can Be. It’s everything you would hope from an underground band like this, a great epic guitar riff and Segarini’s wonderfully gritty, soulful vocals. Even the John Lennon self-analyzing classic Oh My Love is a killer cover, performed with care and panache.

Anyone interested in power pop or Beatles-influenced bands should pick this album up and delve a little deeper into the career of Bob Segarini. A critical assessment of this lost figure is long overdue.

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mp3: Oh My Love

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Henske & Yester “Farewell Aldebaran”

Farewell Aldebaran

Farewell Aldebaran was one of the key albums that signified the end of the 60’s. It’s one of the great cult rock records with a beautiful melancholy edge that few artists have equaled since.

Farewell Aldebaran was released by the fabled Straight label in 1969. Both Judy Henske (folk) and Jerry Yester (production) had been in the music business for years before cutting this astonishing record. It’s actually unbelievable that few people picked up on the great music this duo produced. After almost 40 years, this album comes off like a well worn classic. Every song is uniformly strong and there are some exquisite arrangements, weird but clever lyrics, and creative string and horn arrangements.

The harpsichord laced folk ballad Lullaby is strangely alluring, with a puzzled, jarring edge that recalls how our great nation felt as the decade came to an uncertain end. Snowblind, opens the album with a boom, it’s really the oddball amongst a quiet group of songs but an effective, hard charging psychedelic rocker nonetheless. This composition really gives Henske room to stretch out and let her vocals roar with conviction and arrogance. The Raider is another great song with a great backwoods feel. For some people this is absolute nirvana, five minutes of great fiddle, banjo, accoustic guitars and hillbilly vocalizing delivered with 1850’s drunk on whiskey venom. But this is really just the beginning, as there are gothic ballads, bubblegum pop, entrancing folk-rock and psychedelic love songs. Three Ravens, is an absolutely stunning psychedelic ballad with a sweeping string arrangement (and horns) and an otherworldly vocal performance from Judy Henske. Others may have a soft spot for Charity, which is a finely crafted sunshine pop, folk-rock song with just a hint of sadness.

At this point in the decade, the Vietnam War and civil rights issues were exhausting people and musicians worldwide. Hence, you can hear the pain within the music. The duo managed to release one more album in 1970 under the Rosebud moniker. Rosebud was fair at best, possessing none of the magic the duo captured on Farewell Aldebaran. I must add that it’s records like Farewell Aldebaran that keep me going. It’s rare to come across something so honest, unpretentious, homespun and most of all, real. A wonder to behold!!

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This record has unfortunately been heisted by Fallout Records and is being sold without permission from the artist or copyright holders. We won’t be reviewing any more records that are only available from Fallout and urge you to find it in any way that won’t profit this pirate organization. Click here to learn more.

The Watersons “Bright Phoebus”

Bright Phoebus

The Watersons are to English folk what the Carter Family are to American Country & Western music, an institution. Bright Phoebus is the white elephant in their great catalog, an album of original material (not one traditional cover amongst its 12 songs!!).

Mike and Lal Waterson wrote these compositions and trade off vocal duties throughout the album. A superstar cast of musicians (Martin Charthy and Richard Thompson handle guitars and backup vocals) assist them throughout, creating what some have called the Sgt. Pepper of the English folk scene.

Bright Phoebus was released in 1972, though I believe many of these songs were recorded in the late 1960’s – I am not positive on recording dates. The album itself, is very warm and eclectic, encompassing a variety of styles such as psychedelia, rock, folk, country, and rockabilly. All these styles are filtered through a unique English sensibility which gives the record originality and origin. There are some great acid folk/folk-rock moves in the album opener, Rubber Band, which has some of the strangest lyrics this reviewer has ever heard. This song is followed by the enchanting Scarecrow, a pastoral acid folk song sung by Mike Waterson which is absolutely marvelous. Magic Man is another good acid influenced number with some playful childlike lyrics and bouncy percussive sounds. Fine Horsemen is a very serious folk song with some beautiful singing by Lal and a excellent string arrangement.

The album ends with Bright Phoebus, an upbeat country ditty that brings great promise and optimism to a very serious folk-rock masterpiece. It’s one of the highlights of this great record, which never makes all-time album lists but surely deserves to!

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Only Available in UK

Maxfield Parrish “It’s A Cinch To Give Legs To Old Hard-Boiled Eggs”

It's A Cinch To Give Legs To Hard-Boiled Eggs

Maxfield Parrish’s only album was released in 1972, well after the band had split up. Members from the great California band Kaleidoscope produced and played on this underappreciated record which was originally recorded in early 1969. Had this album seen release in 1969, it would have been regarded today, as an early, innovative slab of country-rock.

It’s A Cinch strongly recalls the Byrds’ Notorious Byrd Brothers/Easy Rider era or even the New Riders early material (great stuff!!), with strong songwriting, superb musicianship and a few nifty psych/space rock moves. There are some great, catchy acoustic rock songs in “Julie Columbus” and “Cruel Deception.” ┬áThe weirder creations, “The Widow,” an 8 minute mantra, and “The Untransmuted Child” work really well too. In particular, “The Untransmuted Child” is excellent, sounding like a trippy mountain hymn with hillbilly vocals, organ, harmonica and hallucinary guitar sustain.

Fans of the Byrds, Dillards, and Euphoria should not miss this one before it goes out of print forever!

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“The Untransmuted Child”

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EDIT: Read the comments below to hear the story direct from lead singer David Biasotti and some of the other folks behind the creation of this record.

The Idle Race “Birthday Party”

Birthday Party

The Idle Race’s “Birthday Party” is one of the great, neglected English pop albums. This was Jeff Lynne’s first album from 1968, although he had released some singles in earlier beat era bands. Even at this stage of the game, his refreshing melodies and lyrics were fully developed and realized and as a songsmith he was superb.

The Birthday Party is an unusual British pop album loaded with strange sound effects, buzzing mellotrons, tinkling harpsichords, great harmonies and the like. Lucky Man, I Like My Toys, and Pie In The Sky are joyously trippy, similar in tone to the Blossom Toes great first album, but maybe even better.

The album strongly recalls early Pink Floyd, late 60’s Kinks (just listen to Don’t Put Your Boys In The Army) and the early Move in the best possible way while keeping a strong flavor of originality. Even the ballads, like the heavily phased On With The Show are great listening, speaking of English life and its trials and tribulations. And then there is Morning Sunshine, one of the most beautiful English psychedelic pop ballads ever.

Anyone interested in the evolution of ELO or even fans of the Move, Kinks or Beatles should seriously check this one out!!

mp3: “Morning Sunshine”

Worth the Price of Admission