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Donovan “Open Road”

Open Road was Donovan’s first album of the 1970’s.  Here he was backed by a sympathetic group of the same name (Open Road) and this change made all the difference.  Gone are the psychedelic trappings of previous years and in their place are a collection of sharp Celtic influenced folk-rock tracks.

The lyrics and backing band are straight forward and direct, giving this album a back to the basics feel (there are no sitars, horns, harpsichords or elaborate studio productions) – so in the case of Open Road, less is more.  While there are no huge hits in the order of “Mellow Yellow” or “Sunshine Superman”, Open Road rates as one of Donovan’s most consistently enjoyable sets.  To these ears tracks such as “Curry Land,” “Celtic Rock,” “Roots of Oak,” and “People Used To” are some of the most powerful music of Donovan’s career.  “People Used To” features gutsy slide guitar while “Roots of Oak,” “Curry Land,” and “Celtic Rock” are outstanding compositions that could hold their own with any authentic, critically praised UK folk-rock act of the time or place.  These mesmerizing tracks are a unique mixture of traditional Irish folk, hard rock, roots music and the dying embers of psychedelia.

The album’s most popular song and minor hit, “Riki Tiki Tavi,” is a jaunty studio jam with politically charged lyrics and a playful vibe.  Other winners are the punchy pop-rock opener “Changes”, sensitive folk-rock numbers “New Year’s Resolution” and “Season of Farewell” and the whimsical throwback “Joe Bean’s Theme.”  Donovan would never record anything like Open Road again.  Not only is this one of Donovan’s most mature records but it’s also one of his best – surely an underrated LP that deserves recognition.

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“People Used To”

:) Original | 1970 | Dawn | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2000 | Repertoire | buy ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

The 13th Floor Elevators “Bull of the Woods”

Bull Of The Woods (an International Artists release) is the Elevators most controversial offering.  Some fans claim it’s their best LP but many, myself included, feel Psychedelic Sounds and Easter Everywhere are the group’s finest discs.  Frequent personnel changes, drug busts and Roky Erickson’s fragile state had destroyed the original core of Sutherland, Hall and Erickson.  Stacy Sutherland was the only original member left by 1968 and he made a game effort by putting together some newly recorded “solo” tracks with older, stray Elevator tunes that were cut during the previous year.

The Sutherland solo cuts on Bull Of The Woods are a mellow mixture of blues, roots and psych – totally different than Erickson’s feral, howling rockers.  The best of these cuts are the psychedelic “Rose And Thorn,” the spacey, heavy echoplex guitar work of “Street Song,” and the rootsy blues jam “Down At The River.” Erickson sings lead on four tracks: “Dear Doctor,” which was supposedly written as a response to a Bob Dylan number, a powerful blues rocker titled “Livin’ On,” the demented acid psych of “Never Another” (a superb psych track) and finally, Erickson’s acid damaged goodbye, “May The Circle Remain Unbroken.”   This last cut is loaded with reverb and bears striking similarities (in concept) to the final contributions of Syd Barrett (“Jugband Blues”) and Skip Spence (“Seeing”).

Overall, Bull Of The Woods is a very good album that’s worth owning – you are buying this album for the Erickson tracks.   Not recommended to casual psych or 60’s rock fans but essential listening for the Elevator enthusiast.

The excellent Sign of The 3 Eyed Men box set offers an alternative third album in the form of A Love That’s Sound (presented as a lost album of sorts).  The tracks that make up this disc are the original group’s final sessions (with Erickson and Hall in tow) and include many of the songs that made up the bulk of the Bull Of The Woods album. There are a few outtakes that never made Bull Of The Woods, such as the excellent, hard charging psychedelic rocker “It’s You” (also known as “I Don’t Ever Want To Come Down”).  Also, some of the cuts on A Love That’s Sound do not have the horn overdubs that appeared on the original Bull Of The Woods LP.

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“Rose And The Thorn”

:) Original | 1969 | International Artists | search ebay ]
:D Reissue |  2007 | Spalax | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Cowboy “5’ll Getcha Ten”

Cowboy were a country-rock group usually remembered for their associations (The Allman Brothers and Eric Clapton) rather than the fine body of music they produced in the early 70s. 5’ll Getcha Ten was Cowboy’s second LP, released by the Capricorn label in 1971.  Never released on cd, this is arguably Cowboy’s finest moment and indeed one of the best forgotten country-rock albums from the late 60s/early 70s.  It’s worth mentioning that one of Cowboy’s key members, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Tommy Talton was formerly in the great Florida garage rock group We The People.  Scott Boyer, Cowboy’s other key member, played guitar and co-wrote many of group’s songs.

Fans of Crazy Horse, Poco, and CSNY will want to own this fine album.  Cowboy’s sound is similar to Poco but instead of rocking out Talton and Boyer prefer a more relaxed, introspective back porch sound.  Only on the excellent “Seven Four Tune” does Cowboy truly let loose and rock out.  Every track on 5’ll Getcha Ten features transcendent harmonies (perhaps the group’s greatest asset), terrific songwriting, and strong musicianship – these boys can play.  If it’s any consolation as to the quality of the music here, Eric Clapton chose to cover Cowboy’s bluesy country-folk number “Please Be With Me” on his classic 461 Ocean Boulevard album.  Other great tracks include an upbeat number with electric sitar titled “Right On Friend,” the introspective “Innocence Song,” and “The Wonder,” a superb track that recalls Crazy Horse circa 1971.   Duane Allman playing dobro/guitar on 5’ll Getcha Ten adds a little star power and credibility to the proceedings but don’t let this be the reason you purchase this album (vinyl originals can still be found for cheap!). In their own right, Cowboy were a talented group of musicians who made great music.  5’ll Getcha Ten is a classic roots rock album that deserves a lavish LP or cd reissue.  Also, Cowboy’s debut, Reach For The Sky and their 1974 album, Boyer & Talton are great records worth seeking out.

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“The Wonder”

:) Original | 1971 | Capricorn | search ebay ]

The Kings Verses “The Kings Verses”

In 1966, Fresno CA band the Kings Verses went into the studio to cut the 10 tracks that make up the bulk of this special LP release.  What could have been a fine mid 60s garage LP ended up in the can for what seemed like an eternity.  The good folks at BeatRocket took it upon themselves to release these excellent recordings on vinyl/MP3.  The record label was also kind enough to include two quality live cuts from around the same time – all in good sound. This live material was culled from the band’s first place performance at the 1966 KYNO Battle of the Bands. Legal complications with the musicians’ union and LA’s Hullabaloo Club would ultimately seal this legendary group’s fate.

During their heyday the Kings Verses played LA’s Griffith and also appeared at the Elysian Park Love-Ins. Their sound alternated between crunching garage punk and sullen folk-rock (think early Love).  For garage rock fanatics this is a major find, along the lines of another mysterious CA group that never released any official singles or albums in their day but produced a slew of unreleased recordings, the Public Nuisance.

To my knowledge, all the tracks on the Kings Verses LP are original compositions that come from the pen of guitarist Jim Baker.   Furious punkers “The Ballad of Lad Polo” and “A Million Faces” caught my attention first but album opening raver “Light” is just as good.  “The Ballad of Lad Polo” is a near classic track that proves this group was more than just a myth – the Kings Verses catch fire here, unleashing a blazing fast paced rocker with lots of great static-like fuzz.  Other good cuts are the fuzzy instro “Mind Rewind”, the menacing garage ballad “She Belonged To Me” and a trio of beguiling folk-rockers, “It’s Not Right”, “E. Sok Baxter” and “You Can Be.”

Had this been released on vinyl back in 1966 it would have been up there with the very best garage rock albums.

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“It’s Not Right”

:D Compilation | 1998 | BeatRocket | buy from sundazed ]
;) Digital Download | buy from reverbnation ]

Delbert and Glen “Delbert & Glen”

Delbert and Glen were a country-rock group that was founded by two Texas musicians, Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark. Prior to that, McClinton, a musician’s musician, had began his career in the late 50s, playing harmonica on Bruce Channel’s classic 1961/1962 hit single “Hey! Baby.” After touring with Channel in England, McClinton went on to form his own mid 60s folk-rock group, the Rondells. The Rondells kicked around the Fort Worth scene, recording some material (but never an official album), most famously, the orignal version of “If You Really Want Me To, I’ll Go” (covered by the Sir Douglas Quintet). When McClinton relocated to LA, he met up with Fort Worth musician Glen Clark. These two musicians recorded two very good Texas-style country-rock albums for Atlantic affliate Clean Records.

Delbert and Glen was the first of these efforts, released in 1972. Songwriting credits are split evenly between the two artists but McClinton’s harmonica playing and hoarse, soulful vocals were the highlight of this LP. Delbert and Glen differentiated themselves from the twangy country-rock crowd by crafting a unique mixture of ballsy, intimate texas music: greasy blues, hillbilly country music, gospel, raucous rock n roll, and funky Southern-style jive. The 1972-1973 era was a prolific time for both musicians as they served up a handful of lost Americana classics. Songs such as “Old Standby,” “I Received A Letter,” “Here Come The Blues,” “I Feel The Burden,” “Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday,” and “Ain’t What You Eat But the Way That You Chew It” are wonderful examples of the genre. My hit picks are the gorgeous, soulful pop of “Everyday Will Be A Holiday,” the tough rocking album opener “Old Standby” (what a great track!) and the underrated country tune “All Them Other Good Things.” Alternative country and country-rock fans cannot miss this gem and are urged to track down these recordings – they are essential. Also, check out the duo’s worthy swan song from 1973, titled Subject To Change.

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“Old Standby”

:D Reissue | 2005 | Koch Records | buy here ]
:) Original | 1972 | search ebay ]

The Rondells (1965): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVBKm8xo2rI

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”

:D Reissue | 2005 | Pseudonym | buy here ]
:D 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 ]
:D Reissue | 2009 | Guerssen Records | 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”

:D Reissue | 2004 | Revola | get it here ]
:) Original | 1970 | Philips | 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”

:D 2cd Reissue | 2011 | Rhino | buy here ]
:) Original | 1968 | Warner Bros | search ebay ]
8-) 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”

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