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Soundtrack to Performance

Despite boasting a rather eclectic hodgepodge of performers, the record was all cut by Nitzsche with a steady session band built on the inimitable guitar of Ry Cooder. Despite star turns by Mick Jagger and Randy Newman, however, it may very well be that it’s the soundtrack’s production that ends up stealing the show. Weird electric hums and echoing tape loops bounce in and out of the songs tying everything together and giving even the straightest material a surreal edge. I actually find that this album is very much in the spirit of two related works cut around the same time: Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Illuminations album and Mick Jagger’s warped and surprisingly uncharacteristic soundtrack to Kenneth Anger’s film Invocation For My Demon Brother.

It’s most likely Jagger’s participation which has kept this album available all these years, seeing as his one song here, “Memo From Turner,” has become something of a Stones classic. It’s a great song, but in no way overshadows the rest of the material. A young Randy Newman kicks off the record with one of his heaviest vocals on “Gone Dead Train,” which Nitzsche would later re-record on Crazy Horse’s self-titled album. Performance’s real gem, though? Merry Clayton turning in an absolute barnstormer with “Poor White Hound Dog.” This cut features my favorite example of Nitzsche’s weird electronic aesthetic, with random bursts of white noise and warbling Moog elevating the otherwise-straightforward R&B piece into something entirely unique. Buffy Sainte-Marie’s appearances here are unfortunately limited to two psychedelic mouth-bow instrumentals which, while enjoyable, aren’t much to write home about. Ry Cooder’s guitar pieces have a little more meat to them, with “Get Away” tuning in the spirit of early Captain Beefheart (on whose records Cooder, of course, contributed in a big way) and “Powis Square” highlighting the panoramic, soulful acoustic bottleneck style that would arguably culminate in his haunting score to Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas.

The oddball here is definitely the inclusion of the Last Poet’s black power anthem “Wake Up, Niggers,” an early political rap by New York’s pioneering street poets. While clearly interrupting the spectral mood of the record, this piece does nevertheless add an interesting new angle to the proceedings and help to break up the music’s intensely Nitzschean framework. The producer’s own compositions, the ethereally orchestrated “Rolls Royce and Acid” and rather beautiful piano piece “Harry Flowers,” shine a little bit of calm and meditation into the claustrophobia and are perhaps the most overtly cinematic recordings here.

Rarely does one find a rock and roll-based soundtrack that so perfectly manages to tie this kind of sweeping, emotional power with uniform listenability, and the fact that so many talented musicians managed to turn in such defining performances on this one thirty-seven minute album is a testament to the producer’s vision as well as the era from which it emerged (as Hunter S. Thompson would so famously put it, the “place where the wave finally broke and rolled back,” i.e. the end of the communal dream that was the sixties). It looks as though Performance is out of print these days in any tangible format, but besides the ever-present vinyl originals floating around out there you can pick up a digital copy without much hassle.

mp3: Gone Dead Train
mp3: Poor White Hound Dog

:) Original | 1970 | Warner Bros | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | Warner Bros | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

 

The Paupers “Ellis Island”

The Paupers don’t really need any introduction in these pages. Their debut record, Magic People, has already been discussed in an earlier review, and whatever biographical information Jason did not cover there can be found in this beautifully comprehensive history of the band over at Garage Hangover. Their 1968 swan song Ellis Island is such a unique piece of late-sixties psychedelia, however, that I think it more than deserves its own moment in the sun here on the Storm.

The opening cut here was my personal introduction to this band and it’d be hard to ask for a better first impression. “South Down Road” is a semi-orchestrated epic that rests somewhere between the West Coast rock of Quicksilver Messenger Service and early progressive rock. The dramatic arrangement, featuring buzz-saw guitar and sweeping strings, keeps this one from dissolving into monotony during any of its eight and a half minutes. The music here sounds like the hippest 1960s film soundtrack that never was. It’s a risky move to open your album with as ambitious a recording as this, but The Paupers not only make it work, but manage to draw the excitement established by this opening cut through the rest of the album without surrendering a shred of energy.

The majority of the songs on Ellis Island are in step with the sounds laid down on “Road,” featuring a good dose of fuzz-tone guitar and swelling organs. As is often the case, however, those songs which stray furthest from this pattern are some of the most interesting. The weird, affected piano ballad “Ask Her Again” is more than a little reminiscent of Van Dyke Parks’ straighter moments on Song Cycle, while “Another Man’s Hair On My Razor” is an early, tongue-in-cheek stab at country-rock. Few 1960s bands ever succeeded at doing atmospheric balladry like the Paupers do on “Oh, That She Might,” which somehow manages to incorporate delicate strings and a jazzy, night club saxophone without collapsing into affectation or period schmaltz. Perhaps the closest thing to a bum note here is the closing piece, which is in a somewhat earlier rock and roll vein and features a rather uninspired boogie-woogie piano arrangement.

Ellis Island was reissued on compact disc by Lion Records,and though it has since gone out of print, a used copy is not hard to find. In fact, original vinyl copies are surprisingly common, making this one of those rare obscurities that is both as solid as its reputation and accessible to those folks who don’t want to shell out a leg and an arm for a listen.

mp3: South Down Road
mp3: Ask Her Again

:) Original | 1968 | Verve | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2007 | Lion | buy here ]

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 ]
:D Reissue | Universal | buy here ]

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 ]

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)

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

Víctor Jara “El Derecho de Vivir en Paz”

Today we take a slight detour from our usual fare and delve, albeit briefly, into the work of Víctor Jara; namely, his fifth record, El Derecho de Vivir en Paz, or The Right to Live in Peace. Jara is a legend in both his homeland of Chile and the rest of South America, but his strong anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist sympathies have not been conducive to widespread popularity here in the United States. Indeed, it was the United States-backed military junta in Chile which saw Jara brutally tortured and executed in 1973 alongside thousands of other fellow workers and artists. This may be unusually political territory for the Storm but, if you will, simply think of this as a bridge between Moris Birabent’s Argentine folk-rock classic Treinta Minutos de Vida and the work of the great Phil Ochs, another singer irrevocably tied to the far-left who actually befriended Jara on a trip to Chile with Jerry Rubin, traveling with him across Chile and singing in the copper mines and shanty towns.

El Derecho de Vivir en Paz is something of a landmark album in Jara’s body of work, if for no other reason than it saw him reaching out to the popular rock and roll music of the day for the first time. In 1960s Chile, rock and roll was often viewed as suspect, being a product of American imperialism as translated through U.S. domination of media. Jara appreciated the music of groups like The Beatles, however, and thus approached underground Chilean folk-rock group Los Blops to accompany him on a couple of songs for his new record, the first and foremost being the anthemic title track. If anyone had any worries that Víctor was “selling out” to American pop music, however (as ridiculous a sentiment as that may be), the song’s passionate dedication to Ho Chi Minh was swift in erasing them. In any case, it would not be long before other Nueva Canción singers – including the great Patricio Manns and the brother and sister duo of Isabel and Angel Parra – were inviting Chilean rock and roll musicians onto their own recordings.

“Abre La Ventana” is a call to the dispossessed working people of Chile to open up their windows and let the light of social change shine in. The song features middle eastern touches in the music (guitar and charango playing off each other quite beautifully) and an extremely warm display of Jara’s voice. As with his past albums, Víctor explores all different forms of South American folksong, from the irresistible revolutionary singalong “A Cuba” to the traditional Peruvian folk song “A La Molina No Voy Más.” He even reaches out to the North American folk music underground by including a translation of Malvina Reynolds “Little Boxes,” presented here as “Las Casitas del Barrio Alto” and featuring an addendum of biting, topical lyrics against racism, the Chilean right wing, and United States imperialism. According to Jara’s wife, Joan, Reynolds herself heard this reworking and lauded it for its sharper political slant. The most renowned, and quite possibly the most moving song on this record, however, comes at its end, with “Plegaria A Un Labrador,” a driving prayer to the working man to take up arms against his oppressors.

Though the influence of contemporary European and North American music is relatively small on El Derecho de Vivir en Paz, the music itself is not so far removed from the kind of folk and folk-rock being explored elsewhere in the world. Indeed, its roots come from much the same place: Europe, Africa, and the many indigenous cultures of the Americas. Whether you support Jara’s politics or not, the beauty of the man’s music and the lyricism of his singing cannot be denied. Though most Chilean vinyl copies of Jara’s albums were destroyed by the military in the mid 1970s, Warner Music Chile has reissued his most popular albums with the assistance of the Víctor Jara Foundation, and El Derecho de Vivir en Paz is now available with bonus tracks, including several rare live performances and a handful of non-album tracks. Dedicated searching should also be able to lead you to one of several foreign reissues of the album under a series of different titles and covers, most of which, however, follow the original track order.

mp3: El Derecho de Vivir en Paz
mp3: Abre le Ventana

:) Original | 1971 | Odeon | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2003 | Wea | buy here ]

Hour Glass “Power of Love”

Some folks out there will tell you that the two records cut for Columbia Records by The Hour Glass, Gregg and Duane Allman’s early west-coast rock and roll band, are nothing but commercial garbage. Don’t listen to them. From the perspective of the rabid, biker-boogieing Allman Brothers fan, The Hour Glass may very well come across as nothing but lysergic flower-child pop, but to the more informed listener a record like The Power of Love is a rare and valuable slice of psychedelic soul; I know that, for this long-time Allman Brothers fan, these Hour Glass recordings have actually edged out that later band’s albums on my turntable by a considerable degree, though I will confess to occasionally missing Duane’s inimitable bottleneck runs.

Cut between reworked songs by southern soul legends like Don Covay, Eddie Hinton and Dan Penn and memorable originals, The Power of Love really does (for lack of loftier language) kick ass from start to finish. Duane Allman’s heavy fuzz guitar and electric sitar may be a world away from the supple slide style that made him a household name, but it does have a vintage appeal of its own, and at the very least manages to display the guitarist’s legendary ear for melody. Meanwhile, Gregg’s singing is as heavy and soulful as it would ever be – just listen as he tears the roof off of songs like “Home” and “I Still Want Your Love,” sounding much more rough-hewn than his tender age would otherwise imply. So many of these tunes had Billboard potential that it blows my mind that this band never managed to take off, whatever record company hassles they were caught up  in at the time.

Some of my personal favorites here include the organ-driven “Changing of the Guard,” the wild, burning take on Eddie Hinton’s “Down In Texas,” and the righteous, reverberating psychedelia of the closing number, “Now Is the Time.” Duane’s solo on that last piece displays a radical controlled feedback tone that really makes it for me, and his sitar spotlight on the group’s jazzy instrumental reading of The Beatles evergreen “Norwegian Wood” is entertaining, if rather inconsequential. After hearing these numbers one almost wishes that more of the artistic eccentricities heard here had carried over into the brothers’ latter-day careers.

The Hour Glass recordings have been repackaged and reissued under a number of different titles, but I’d say the best place to find them is in the comprehensive Hour Glass anthology, originally a double LP released in the early seventies but recently remastered by Beat Goes On Records.

mp3: Still Want Your Love
mp3: Now Is the Time

:) Original | 1968 | Liberty | search ]
:D Reissue | 2001 | BGO | buy ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

The Cryan’ Shames “A Scratch in the Sky”

Every now and then something unexpected hits you in a way that leaves a deep and  lasting impression. For me, one of those occasions came with Chicago garage band The Cryan’ Shames’ recording of the old Drifters hit “Up On the Roof,” off their incomprehensibly under-appreciated psychedelic classic A Scratch In the Sky. Granted, “Up On the Roof” itself has been overplayed to the point of nausea since it first made the scene back in 1963, but the Shames take the old Tin Pan Alley standard and turn it into a soaring, tightly woven piece of teenage magic that does not waste a second out of its three minutes and twenty four seconds. It’s the sound of youthful rebellion and romantic angst woven into a thing of panoramic beauty.

As a matter of fact, I reckon that the record that this song is buried in is itself well-defined by the above platitudes. A Scratch In the Sky is one of those rare records laid down at the height of the sixties which manage to pull in the best qualities of the band’s many influences and turn back out something wholly unto its own. The cosmic harmonies of the Beach Boys, the jangling spirit of The Byrds, the rollicking pop of The Beatles; these are all commonly borrowed sounds, but rarely ones so expertly disassembled and recast as we hear on this record. Though this collection of songs remains well-polished through studio-craft and the musicians’ own abilities, it retains a freshness and noncommercial edge that makes it both an accessible and adventurous listen.

The second track, “Sailing Ship,” is a good example of what I mean by all this. There are all sorts of influences detectable here, but nothing absolute. I never fail to be impressed by the thundering drums, jagged guitar chords and droning bagpipes here, all of which make the song sound strangely ahead of its time, or at least out of its own time. In true Sgt. Pepper fashion, the band clearly strove to make each song stand out as a distinct work of art, rather than sounding like something they had simply worked up on the road. The arrangements are ornate and layered with lysergic sounds and tape tricks, and besides the previously mentioned bagpipes the band manages to bring in accordion, harpsichord, tamboura, french horn, and…french lyrics (on “In the Cafe,” of course). If there’s any song reminiscent of the band’s work on their previous record, Sugar and Spice it’s the hard grooving “Mr. Unreliable,” which retains a lot of the garage band attitude and sweet harmonic edge that painted earlier jewels like “Ben Franklin’s Almanac”.

I’m rather blown away to find that the 2002 Sundazed reissue of this record has already dipped back out of print, leaving it perhaps the hardest of the Shames discs to track down. Should the following tracks catch you like they caught me, however, you shouldn’t have to fork over too much for a vinyl copy. It seems strange that so many new reissues end up becoming more obscure and desirable than vintage releases of the same recordings, but I suppose that’s the way it goes.

mp3: The Sailing Ship
mp3: I Was Lonely When

:) Original | 1967 | Columbia | ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2002 | Sundazed | amazon ]

Tom Paxton “Peace Will Come”

Tom Paxton was already a well-established voice from the American folk-revival by the time he cut 1972’s Peace Will Come. His songs “Last Thing On My Mind,” “Bottle of Wine,” and “Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound” had more or less filtered down into the canon of American folksong, having been recorded by everyone from Doc Watson to Dion DiMucci to the obscure New Mexican rock and roll band The Fireballs. By the seventies, however, Paxton’s popularity had slid as the great folk scare winded down to its inevitable demise and those who did not follow in the footsteps of Dylan’s electric full-tilt boogie years were thrown aside like yesterday’s papers.

This is not to say that Paxton was unwilling to embrace the emergence of folk-rock, however; there are a number of notable electric touches here, such as on the rollicking Jesus Christ Superstar satire “Jesus Christ, S.R.O,” which even tries for some vintage Sun Records slapback in its chorus. But the bulk of the material is low-key and acoustic, with arrangements hinging on Danny Thompson’s double bass. Paxton has to be admired for his lifelong commitment to his songwriting, as he has never let his words be buried by the need to score rock and roll hits on the Billboard charts, or whatever his contemporaries were doing at this point. Despite being considered a “latter-day” effort, Peace Will Come reveals this remarkable singer near the height of his powers, and contains many memorable additions to both sides of his repertoire: the sharp-tongued and often hilarious topical singer and the soft-spoken romantic poet. From that latter camp both “Out Behind the Gypsy’s” and the inspirational title track are vivid highlights, forgoing Paxton’s tendency towards humor and instead tapping into the spiritual passion that tends to mark his most enduring compositions. Thompson’s playing is as heartwarming as always, and Tony Visconti’s clear-eyed production is crisp and mellow in all the right places.

Unfortunately Peace Will Come is one of the few Tom Paxton records never to have been represented on compact disc. It’s quite easy to find original vinyl copies, but I don’t think that’s any excuse for allowing such a moving record (and by so respected a songwriter) to drift out-of-print. If you haven’t explored any of Paxton’s 1970s recordings this might also be a good place to begin before heading back to 1971’s slightly more esoteric Here Comes the Sun, also on Reprise.

mp3: Peace Will Come
mp3: Standing Room Only

:) Original | 1972 | Reprise | search ]

Tommy James and the Shondells “Cellophane Symphony”

Most people are familiar with Tommy James and the Shondells through their impressive string of radio hits, but what few people realize is that, alongside said bubblegum classics, the band was busy laying down some of the weirdest rock and roll of the era. 1969’s Cellophane Symphony is a beautiful case in point, and in fact doubles as an excellent gateway into the Shondells’ discography.

Few rock and roll groups have ever been adventurous enough to open an album of catchy, psychedelic rock and roll with a droning, ten minute space rock instrumental, especially when you keep in mind the percentage of kids buying this record after hearing lightweight hits like “Hanky Panky” over the waves and hoping for more of the same. “Cellophane Symphony,” however, is about as far from radio land as you’re going to get. I’d say it is far closer in spirit to early-seventies Pink Floyd than to anything else I’ve heard in this band’s body of work; a heavy, languorous bass riff supports a weird array of electronic noodling and slide guitar. Even if it weren’t so overwhelmingly slow and repetitive, it would still be a disarming way to open a record.

And yet the most bizarre part about it is that nothing else on this album sounds remotely like the first song. From  “Making Good Time” onwards, the band is back to their trademark brand of peculiarly accessible rock and roll. Like their last album, the smash psychedelic opus Crimson and Clover, however, the band manages to take relatively trite rock and roll formulas and stretch them in unique directions that hint at the subversively experimental frame-of-mind behind all the sing-along choruses and sunshine harmonies. The spidery analog electronics even make a return on “Changes,” one of the album’s most memorable pieces. The only low points here for me are the short novelty numbers that close each side of the album, though I’m sure that they may hold appeal for some listeners – especially the sly music hall wink of “Papa Rolled His Own.” As far as hit material goes, “Sweet Cherry Wine” actually did make it all the way to number seven on the Billboard charts, and features an insistent beat and the band’s famous tremolo background vocals.

Not only has Cellophane Symphony been reissued (and remained in print, no less), but it comes right alongside the band’s aforementioned Crimson and Clover. All in all it’s quite a steal, and I reckon we should applaud Rhino Records for letting this rather esoteric record find a new audience.

mp3: Cellophane Symphony
mp3: I Know Who I Am

:D Reissue | Rhino | 2fer | buy ]
:) Original | 1969 | Roulette | search ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]