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Kalacakra “Crawling To Lhasa”

Crawling to Lhasa

This is perhaps one of the strangest and most underrated records to have emerged from the first wave of krautrock. 1972’s Crawling To Lhasa was the first and, ultimately, only set of recordings ever released by Kalacakra, the short-lived duo of Claus Rauschenbach and Heinz Martin, but where the band lacked in staying-power they more than made up for themselves in pure imagination. You would be hard-pressed to find much in the way of comparable material from this era in time.

Resting somewhere between the surreal communality of Amon Düül and the spooky grooves of Can, Crawling To Lhasa is a largely instrumental affair (even when vocals are featured, they are generally whispered, cackled or chanted to the point that they serve more as instruments than as any real vehicles of communication) exploring a sort of mysterious, stoned spiritualism hinted at by the record’s many allusions to Tibetan Buddhism. Songs meander, drift, or press on at indistinguishable points, and while this may seem to point to the record as simply being a collection of directionless jamming, the modus operandi serves the mood here in a way more elaborately crafted songs would fail to do.

All this talk about religion and mystery is not to say that this record lacks a sense of humor, however. My German is not very good, but judging by the amount of (admittedly eerie) laughter going on in the background to some of these songs, Martin and Rauschenbach definitely made it a point to enjoy these sessions – even when discussing such topics as the Black Plague in opener “Nearby Shiras.” Tempos are generally slow, though the electric Indian/medieval music hybrid “Raga Eleven” does up the energy a little with cymbal crashes and an alarmingly insistent tambourine. Though the record maintains an extremely constant atmosphere, the band is not afraid to explore several different facets of sound, from the rather beautiful, nine-minute acoustic guitar and flute meditation “September’s Full Moon” to the creeping blues pastiche “Tante Olga,” which keeps reminding me of some sort of cosmic, acoustic Endless Boogie jam session. Rauschenbach’s deranged vocal mantra and Martin’s nauseous electric guitar riff just keeping their cyclical choogling from driving me up the wall.

Garden of Delights reissued this album back in 2001 on compact disc, but unfortunately took it upon themselves to grace the end of this issue with two New Age synthesizer numbers from what must have been a reunion of sorts. Their vinyl issue makes the crime even worse: rather than tacked on at the end of the record where they can be easily ignored, these two additions are spread across both sides of the LP. Looks like you will either have to suffer through these two anomalies or look for one of the few rare original pressings of Lhasa before we can get a properly restored remaster from the band. Don’t let it dissuade you from hunting this number down, though. This is a real gem from the krautrock underground that anyone interested in the music deserves to hear.

 mp3: Nearby Shiras

:D Reissue | 2012 | Bacillus | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Flaviola e o Bando do Sol

Flaviola e o Bando do Sol

Interest in Brazil’s 1960s/1970s music scene is pretty much dominated by Tropicalia these days, but behind this popular front lay a bevy of fantastic psychedelic rock albums that don’t otherwise fit in with the kaleidoscopic coastal sounds of folks like Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa or Os Mutantes. One of these is the self-titled release by Flaviola e o Bando do Sol, an ethereal slice of psychedelic folk music put together by many of the same cats who made Lula Côrtes and Zé Ramalho’s Paêbirú such an enduring classic.

There is a lazy, mellow vibe to the proceedings here that really puts you in a midnight, beach campfire vibe, with jangling acoustic guitars and wispy flashes of percussion bedding Flaviola’s warm, reassuring vocals. Flute, dulcimer, and what sounds like a harp also make appearances here, as well as several other instruments that sound distinctly Brazilian, though I’ll be damned if I can name them. The rare, rapid-fire semi-electric number “Asas” and the catchy “Balalaica” are definitely the numbers to play to Tropicalia fans, featuring the record’s most energetic rhythms, with Flaviola and friends cheerily chanting out the title on the latter (whether or not the song actually makes use of a Russian balalaika I have no idea). Slower pieces like “Noite” and the autoharp punctuated “Canção de Outono” are more personal numbers, with sleepy sways to them and delicate finger picking.

The record is pretty short, at just under half an hour long, so I’ll keep the review short in turn. After all, this isn’t exactly an album that you can say very much about, as it’s more about the magic of hearing all these simple acoustic sounds come together – there is nothing shocking or avant-garde here, simply beautiful music that is bound to stick with you long after the needle’s been lifted. British-based reissue label Mister Bongo has done us all a favor by repressing this one on 180 gram vinyl, though if that’s not your thing (and it should be) then they also have copies on compact disc. Don’t miss this one.

mp3: Canto Fúnebre
mp3: Do Amigo

:) Reissue | 2012 | Mr. Bongo | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2012 | Mr. Bongo | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

 

Grateful Dead “Birth of the Dead”

birthofthedead

It’s no secret that the Grateful Dead jumped the shark many, many times during the course of their long career. In fact it’s pretty easy to dismiss the group outright as figureheads of the sixties counterculture’s gradual descent into hippie/yuppie oblivion, as their constituency dropped back into the mainstream American fold during the rather nihilistic, Cocaine-fueled post-Nam years and carried the band along with it. But behind the burden of all this history lies a remarkable early career that, while by no means providing the most extraordinary music of the times (our articles here should have made that one clear enough by now), managed to give us a good run of righteous records. Now Birth of the Dead, a relatively generous two-disc set released by Rhino Records back in 2001, adds another, perhaps even more exciting piece to the puzzle that is early Dead.

Split between studio and on-stage material, the material found on the former represent some of the band’s earliest forays into the recording studio, and the sounds they waxed during these sessions are a revelation. The band here is raw, frazzled and gnarly, still rooted in the blues and folk traditions they emerged from and free from any of the light funk fusion flavors that would come to tarnish their jams in the proceeding decade. The tempos here are fast, the guitars brittle and Pigpen’s Vox Continental dripping with garage cool. Had it come from any other group, “Mindbender” (possibly the crown jewel of the collection) and “Can’t Come Down” would be regarded as psychedelic folk-rock nuggets of the highest caliber. One almost wishes that some of the instrumental takes of these songs would be shuffled around the disc instead of being placed back-to-back with their masters, but the lack of vocals here help alleviate any repetition irritation. The most unusual cut on the first take is probably “Fire In the City,” in which the band is found backing jazz singer Jon Hendricks on a political number originally written for use in a mid-sixties documentary feature. The combination works much better than one might expect, with Hendricks letting his hair down a little beside Jerry Garcia’s piercing blues leads.

The live disc is a further joy, painted in surprisingly crisp sound quality and featuring a lengthy anthology of 1966 concert recordings apparently culled from a number of sources. Some of the usual suspects are to be found here, numbers which would follow the Dead onto their debut album such as “Viola Lee Blues” and “Sitting On Top of the World,” but these are backed with some rarely-heard material from the era, including a solid rendition of Dylan’s oft-covered “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and the traditional ballad “In the Pines.” The blues and R&B numbers in-between are all solid, if not particularly exhilarating, but are definitely worth their weight for hearing this band in its prime really cut loose. The seven-minute closing romp “Keep Rolling By” has some razor-sharp Garcia guitar action going – at times sounding more like fellow Bay Area pickers John Cippollina or Jorma Kaukonen than his own latter-day self – and a bevy of endearingly ragged group vocal shouting. Merry Prankster Dead like it should be.

So if you’ve never really given the band their due, put off by their mythological hokum and alarmingly obsessive legacy, give this set a shot and see where you end up. There’s a lot of great rock and roll to be found here, and it deserves to be taken on its own merit. And if you’re digging this and haven’t already jumped into the band’s self-titled debut (released a year after the material contained herein was recorded but born of many of the same impulses), maybe now you’ll have the proper context to digest that often underrated set.

mp3: Mindbender
mp3: One Kind Favor

:D CD Issue | 2001 | Rhino | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

El Congreso “El Congreso”

A pounding bass drum and a cyclical guitar riff slip into a swaying flute rhythm before exploding into a whirl of electricity and an explosive chorus. Calm, dynamic and controlled: thus does “Mastranzas de Noches,” a psychedelic garage-folk adaptation of a classic Pablo Neruda poem, manage to provide one of the most memorable opening hooks of any psychedelic record to emerge from Latin America. This 1971 debut by Chile’s Congreso is one of those rare, imperfect albums that somehow manages to hit a certain chord despite the noticeable flaws. A beautiful mix of jangling folk rock, cordillera accents and jazz touches, El Congreso would be a crate digger’s holy grail if there were even the slightest chance that this southern hemisphere obscurity might make it into the bins anywhere outside its own continent. All us extranjeros will probably have to rely on Record Runner’s excellent, Brazilian import-only reissue to tap into the sounds here, but don’t let the difficulty of acquisition deter you from exploring these grooves. This one is worth hunting down.

Despite El Congreso‘s relatively even conformity of sound, there are definitely some cuts that stand out a little higher than the rest. Emerging from the record’s heart, “Has Visto Caer Una Lágrima” and the heavy-battery “Mírate al Espejo” show the band at the peak of their artistic powers. The former affords us with an infectious melody and some radically grounded bass, which let the song’s incisive, obtusely-political lyrics seep in to full effect as we are confronted with “una bala de cristal, un cañón de turrón, o una bomba como un bombón” (“a bullet of crystal, a gun of nougat, or a bomb like candy”). “Espejo” shows of Fancisco Sazo’s soulful vocals and lets the band explode into what might be the record’s most impressive instrumental performance with pounding piano and dive-bombing lead guitar. This is immediately followed by the swaying anti-aggression of “Rompe Tu Espada, Vive La Vida” (“Break Your Sword and Live Your Life”), which is worthy of classic status in pretty much every sense of the word, commercially-hampered but artistically-graced by its ragged acoustics and a somewhat fevered production.

That rough-hewn construction is beautiful, but is also the product of one of the record’s flaws: the band is loose beyond all get-up, especially drummer Sergio González, whose uniquely constructed, tom-heavy runs occasionally fall out of time as the band pushes things outward. Usually this works, considering the nature of the material, but it is not enough to qualify the man for the stoned Pollockian drum solo that closes out the album’s longest cut: the otherwise funky eleven minute instrumental “A.A.R.” It’s a rather undignified way to lead us out of the swirling flute and fuzz guitar improvisation that precedes it, and would have been better off sacrificed for the inclusion of one of the two non-album cuts that close out the Record Runner reissue. The psychedelic, wah-pedal overdrive of “Nuestro Es El Momento” would have been the worthiest replacement, introducing some tasteful, sylvan flute and violin accents to what are perhaps the band’s most brilliantly claustrophobic moments.

All quibbles aside though, this one comes very highly recommended. Few records of any vintage manage to bring as much to the table as Congreso does here, and you’d be doing yourself a great disservice not to lend an ear to your South American brothers-in-arms. The band continues to perform around Chile (I managed to catch a show of theirs early last year at a political rally), albeit in a revamped lineup that veers dangerously close to middle-of-the-road jazz fusion. If you’ve given this one awhile to sink and are eager for more, I’d recommend turning to 1975’s Tierra Incognita or 1977’s similarly self-titled Congreso, which, while polishing up the band’s sound, maintain most of the fundamental elements that make these earliest recordings such a distinct pleasure.

mp3: Maestranzas de Noche
mp3: Rompe Tu Espada, vive la vida

:D Reissue | Record Runner | buy here ]
:) Original | 1971 | Odeon | search ebay ]

Flower Travellin’ Band “Make Up”

In the wake of their rather extraordinary, barnstormer of a classic, Satori, the Flower Traveling Band stepped up to the bar and managed to pull off that all-too-rare of feats, an artistically successful follow-up. While not quite the record that Satori had been, Made In Japan managed to establish the Band as a force to be reckoned with, and hinted at a long and illustrious career to come. Something seems to have gone a little haywire in-between the time that third record hit shelves and the compilation of what would come to be the group’s fourth, and final, release: 1973’s studio/live double-record set, Make Up. The Traveling Band had shed off a good percentage of the psychedelia that had marked their most legendary work, and instead developed themselves into a progressive, hard rock band, in tune with the sound of the era.

So what does all this have to say about Make Up? Well, despite the odds being against it, the record is a solid work, with some memorable material and at least a few gems. Most of it is something of a grab bag, veering back and forth between hard rock bluster and rather sentimental balladry. “All the Days” is one of the record’s heavier, most typical Traveling Band numbers, with a gnarly guitar solo and a rather schizoid bass line. The following “Look  At My Window” is a ten minute cut of acoustic prog that makes it clear that the band wasn’t planning on resting on their laurels, as marked by some great vocal harmonies. “The Shadow of Lost Days” is hundred-proof blues, and a showcase of sorts for Joe Yamanaka’s soulful wail. The more unusual cuts to be found here include a twenty-three minute work-out on Made In Japan‘s “Hiroshima,” half of which is unfortunately taken up by a ridiculously overextended drum solo, and a laughable riff on “Blue Suede Shoes” featuring the band’s manager on lead vocals that never should have happened in the first place, much less have been recorded for all of posterity. If it weren’t for a roaring live take of Satori‘s legendary second movement and the soaring, atmospheric acoustic closing number, “After the Concert,” the second record might be considered pure filler, but as it is these last two tracks almost makes it worth sitting through the preceding half hour of hits-and-misses.

Make Up may not be the place to start with the Flower Traveling Band’s catalog, but if you have already dug the majestic freak-outs of Satori, then you could do a lot worse than picking this collection up as well. The band would not release another record until 2008’s rather dismal reunion album We Are Here, making this the end of the line for one of Japan’s most highly-regarded psychedelic exports. The two-disc set has most recently been reissued by Phoenix Records, and while their set commands a rather high, double-CD price new, you can score a copy second-hand for far less.

mp3: Look At My Window

:D Reissue | 2011 | Phoenix | buy here ]
:) Original | 1973 | Atlantic | search ebay ]

H.P. Lovecraft “H.P. Lovecraft II”

There are some bands that maintain classic status to a certain informed percentage of listeners despite almost complete anonymity elsewhere. Chicago folk-rockers H.P. Lovecraft may never have made much of a musical impact on the 1960s/1970s psychedelic rock scene, but they did manage to lay down two extraordinarily cosmic records of west coast rockers that rank up with the best the era had to offer. Their self-titled debut, released on Philips in 1967, set the scene: tight rhythm section, spaced-out guitars, whirling organ, and wide-screen vocal harmonies. Though they took their name from Edgar Allen Poe’s most worthy of successors, the mind-warping writer H.P. Lovecraft, their music itself leaned far closer to the wired, black-light anthems of bands like Jefferson Airplane and Mad River than anything overtly Gothic.

By the time that H.P. Lovecraft II hit shelves, the band had undergone a series of personnel changes and a timely relocation to Los Angeles. Though the material was immediately recognizable as being that of the same band, the jams were tighter and just that much more surreal, with a greater emphasis on experimental keyboard work (as well as a heavy new dose of reverb and tape delay). It was a clear distillation of all that the first album had promised, a kaleidoscopic refraction of the folk influences that weighed so heavily in the band’s choice of material and a closer embrasure of the spectral edge to their sound. Even when the band was not drawing inspiration directly from their namesake’s work, as in the frenetic “At the Mountains of Madness,” there was a weird edge to their lyrics that was hard to ignore. Cuts like “Electrollentando” and “Möbius Trip” were some of the most memorable compositions the band had conjured: floating, meditational heirs to the preceding album’s centerpiece, “The White Ship,” which had been the closest that Lovecraft had ever come to a charting single. Momentary detours here come in the form of the medieval folk pastiche “Blue Jack of Diamonds” – which, while not one of the group’s finest moments, manages to survive on a twist of charm and a benignly pleasant melody – and the brief-but-bizarre affected vocal collage of “Nothing’s Boy.”

After releasing H.P. Lovecraft II, the band would find itself disintegrating at the height of its powers due to band member disillusionment and differing ambitions. A false reincarnation of the band (under the abbreviated monicker Lovecraft) would release a mild slab of country rock a couple years down the line, but for a more authentic “lost third album” one should turn to the live Fillmore West recording released on compact disc in the mid nineties. Here the band’s talents shine brighter than ever as their instrumental prowess is unleashed from the restrictions of the studio. Really, though, any additions to Lovecraft’s limited catalog are welcome. If you don’t have of of this band’s recordings, do yourself a favor and remedy the situation: these are a few slabs of wax that no collection should be without.

mp3: It’s About Time
mp3: At the Mountains of Madness

:) Original | 1968 | Philips | search ebay ]
;) Download | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Almendra “II”

Yet another classic group out of Argentina’s inspirational seventies rock scene. Almendra is probably one of the country’s most legendary groups, if for no other reason than for laying roots for the career of Luis Alberto Spinetta, who has become the country’s most celebrated pop/rock songwriters. Almendra has more value than as some sort of origin story, however (hell, I’d go so far as to argue that this is the raddest music the man has ever made). The band’s two self-titled records are heavy, eclectic slabs of late-sixties psych grounded in smoky, Buenos Aires blues, with brief acoustic flourishes that hint at the mellower sounds to come from the quartet’s principal exponent. In fact, Almendra runs a pretty similar current to the work of fellow travelers Vox Dei.

Though the first of these two vinyl slabs is the most celebrated, its follow up is just as worthwhile. What sets this one off from the first, however, is the fact that this thing is a monster: a twenty-one track double record brimming with enough riffing and rumbling to last you halfway to the Mojave and back. Though those more familiar with European and North American hard rock might find these South American kids’ jams to be a little on the raw and unvarnished side, I find it’s that very characteristic that makes Almendra stand out from the pack. This could very well have been just another overloaded grab-bag of biker rock miscellanea, but Almendra has enough character and songwriting power to turn a now worn-out format into something earthy and reinvigorating.

That being said, the record’s finest moments do come with its occasional deviations from the norm. “Los Elefantes Saben Descansar” is a memorable slice of semi-acoustic psychedelia, brushed in warm bottleneck and wah-pedal guitar playing, while the short, late-period Beatles venture “Jingle” proves that the band could be as subtle and charming as the best of them. My particular favorite here, however, arrives when the band finally comes in and lays all these sounds down together on the fourteen-and-a-half minute opus “Agnus Dei,” which makes up the bulk of the first LP’s second side. Songs seem to bleed in and out, as a loopy acoustic groove slowly descends into a choogling electric improvisation. The bass work is a particular highlight here, especially during in the number’s rather chaotic final segment.

Almendra II may not be a perfect record – very few double albums like this are – but it manages to rise above its less successful moments (the silly interlude “Verde Llano,” the obnoxiously loud bongos on the otherwise excellent “Carmen,” and a couple of somewhat generic blues-rock cuts) and reward repeated listening. This one’s best listened to the way it was intended, either on wax or with a good break to refresh your senses in-between records (for those of you digging this one on compact disc or otherwise, this would fall right after track ten, which I may as well note is another highlight, despite failing to receive a mention in the preceding paragraph). Reissues of this one are remarkably easy to come by at budget prices for whatever reason, so what are you waiting for? Get out there and dig it.

mp3: Toma El Tren Hacia El Sur
mp3: Los Elefantes (Saben Descansar)

:) Original | 1970 | RCA Vik | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2008 | Sony | buy here ]

The Poor “Help The Poor”

Eagles may have earned themselves a reputation for taking late 1960s country rock and turning it into slick, corporate drivel, but that doesn’t change the fact that the band’s early members have some solid histories in underground rock and roll. Just check Bernie Leadon’s much-lauded work with The Flying Burrito Brothers, Dillard & Clark, and Hearts and Flowers (and that’s one horribly abbreviated list) for a glimpse. One of the least explored Eagles histories, however, is that of bass player Randy Meisner. Not only did Meisner work high-profile stints with Poco and the Stone Canyon Band, but he also served time in a number of far-lesser-known mid-sixties garage bands, such as The Poor, The Esquires, and The Soul Survivors, all of whose recordings have been assembled by Sound City Music on 2003’s rather forgotten Help the Poor.

If the Eagles references have you frightened, fear not: Help the Poor is solid psychedelic garage rock, about as far removed from Meisner’s later band’s output as you can get. From the chiming folk-rock of “Hung Up On Losing” to the crashing psychedelia of Tom Shipley’s “She’s Got the Time, She’s Got the Changes,” this is a platter full of strong songwriting, sharp harmonies, and adventurous arrangements. These guys knew what they were doing, taking cues from west-coast combos like The Byrds and The Association and adding a hefty dose of sonic bite. If there’s any complaint to be made here it’s that this anthology is rather top-heavy: the first half-dozen cuts are absolutely phenomenal could-have-been-hit-singles, while the remainder (with the exception of the aforementioned “She’s Got the Changes,” which is actually one of my favorite pieces here) tend to be a little less memorable.

As is always the case with a comprehensive anthology spanning two or three different bands, you are bound to get some musical anomalies. The choogling surf-rock of “The Prophet” (the only cut we get from Meisner’s short-lived Esquires) is Help the Poor‘s case-in-point, featuring a booming introduction and awkwardly overdubbed applause which mar an otherwise righteous Morricone flavored instrumental. The album as a whole remains an exciting listen, however, and like all successful compilations leaves the attuned listener hungry for more. Too bad this fifteen-track collection looks to be all we get – another should-have-been from an era brimming with great sounds.

mp3: Come Back Baby
mp3: She’s Got the Time, She’s Got the Changes

:D Collection | 2000 | Sound City Music | buy here ]

Fred (self-titled)

The band Fred emerged out of a late-sixties, rural Pennsylvania university scene with a unique sound born not only from its laid-back surroundings, but from a rather heady record collection spanning everything from The Band to the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Though they were only around for a couple years before dissolving into the Lost Annals of Forgotten Music You’ve Probably Never Head About, they managed to record a series of testaments to their musical development that have stood the test of time. The first of these, the dopily self-titled Fred, is definitely the crown jewel of the lot, and captures the band in a beautiful, early stage of development in which they are still experimenting at blending their eclectic interests under the spell of their mellow surroundings.

Perhaps nowhere is the band’s catholic tastes more in evidence than in the opening number, the cryptically entitled “Four Evenings.” Everything here swirls and meanders, but all around a central point. I have never been one for what is generally known as “progressive rock,” but Fred manages to borrow certain elements from that emerging genre and incorporate them seamlessly into a group sound that is clearly grounded in American country, blues and folk music (it doesn’t take much to identify the influence of ye olde favorites Crosby, Stills and Nash on their vocal harmonies, that’s for sure). The searing violin work never comes across as musically exhibitionist, or as one of those cliched attempts at transforming a collection of simple little rock and roll songs into some more respectable/bourgeoisie form of “high art.” Rather, the instrument serves as an accent where it is needed, and is not afraid to make itself scarce when it is not.

Perhaps a good reference point to give would be the British rock group Mighty Baby, who were in the process of cutting their excellent Jug of Love record. Both recordings manage to fuse a deep sense of popular aesthetics and traditional musical forms with innovative musical virtuosity and daring. Fred does not engage in the same measure of lengthy improvisations, but more than makes up for this by penning a series of beautiful (albeit surreal) ballads, such as “Soft Fisherman” and “Salvation Lady,” the latter of which includes a tasteful example of the aforementioned violin work. The longest piece here, the seven minute space odyssey “Wind Words,” is a pretty odd composition, and is perhaps the closest that Fred comes to jazz-fusion territory, though the gonzo vocal lines and wah-pedal guitar also hint at the Mothers of Invention influence claimed in the record’s liner notes.

One would think that such an unusual little nugget of a record would have managed to draw at least a little popular attention in psychedelic circles, but Fred still remains elusive. In fact, the record remained entirely unreleased until 2001, when the German record label World In Sound reissued this collection on both vinyl and compact disc, drawing together what would have otherwise been the group’s first record with the aid of several of the original members, who also contribute liner notes. Two additional releases have also seen the light of day, a sophomore album and a live set, both from 1974, but these make the full plunge into prog/jazz-fusion, sadly abandoning most of Fred‘s hazy, country roots.

mp3: Four Evenings
mp3: A Love Song

:D Reissue | 2001 | World in Sound | buy from world in soundamazon ]

Sandy Denny and the Strawbs “All Our Own Work”

It is telling that during the course of Sandy Denny’s short but illustrious career, she managed to cut two full-length records which, despite remaining unreleased for many years, are nowadays heralded as essential pieces in the puzzle that is British folk-rock. One of these two “rediscovered” LPs was Fotheringay 2, which met a good deal of critical claim when it was put out on CD a few years back, while the other is this: All Our Own Work, the tragically-unreleased debut album that Denny cut with a young, unknown group known as The Strawbs back in 1967, but which failed to see the light of day until Denny had built a name for herself with Fairport Convention.

It is actually rather interesting to place late-sixties Strawbs alongside Fotheringay, as both bands share a number of commonalities outside of Denny’s extraordinary faerie voice. Each group borrows from both British and United States pop and folk-music traditions, and pair Denny’s voice against a strong, distinct male lead…actually, now that I read back over that, Fairport pretty much followed the same formulas, though they quickly shucked off the U.S. influences and contemporary rock and roll material for starker, traditional ballads and old English dance songs. On All Our Own Work, Denny and The Strawbs are still drawing out bits and pieces from mid-to-late sixties radio sounds, as the densely-orchestrated balladry of “You Need Me” and the bouncy, acoustic “Always On My Mind” reveal. There are also many touches of classic psychedelia here that never quite carried over into any of Denny’s other work, such as the droning sitar work on “Tell Me (What You See In Me).”

The songs here are almost uniformly excellent, making it even more of a shame that this album never saw the light of day back when it would have made the biggest impact. It’s hard to select just a few cuts to talk about, as each has its own unique, quirky charms. “How Everyone But Sam Was A Hypocrite” and “Poor Jimmy Wilson” could have easily come from the pen of Ray Davies, while the simple, swirling acoustics on “Two Weeks Last Summer” create an entrancing day-in-the-life head space that could very well have made this one a classic on the folk-psych genre. Perhaps the most historically notable song on here is Denny’s original full-band recording of “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” which would soon be put on vinyl first by Judy Collins and later by a Denny-fronted Fairport Convention. There’s a lot of ground covered here considering the constrained palette of sounds that the band conjures, touching on all the best British flavors of the era. On later records, Strawbs would expand their arsenal of instruments considerably, but to hear the band working primarily with acoustic guitars and touches of orchestration is something of a revelation. Sometimes you just have to clear away the clutter and Mellotrons and electric guitars and just let a record breath.

There have been a couple separate reissues of All Our Own Work, released under varying titles, but the most readily available these days is Witchwood Media’s CD issue, which includes not just the original LP but also a wealth of additional cuts from the same sessions. I imagine that this is one of the more obscure Denny releases out there, so if you’re a fan and have yet to hear this – one of her earliest recorded offerings – you are in for quite a treat.

mp3: Who Knows Where the Time Goes
mp3: Tell Me (What You See In Me)

:) Original | 1973 | Pickwick | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2010 | Witchwood | buy here ]