Kaleidoscope (US) “A Beacon From Mars”


As good as Kaleidoscope’s debut was (1967’s Side Trips), A Beacon From Mars expanded on the group’s sound greatly, as it includes two excellent “long” tracks: the Eastern instrumental jam “Taxim” and the ghostly blues-rocking title cut, which is full of feedback and excellent harp work.  These two tracks were cut live in the studio with no overdubs or studio interference.  Chris Darrow explains, “We needed an album that really sounded like us live, not a stacked, layered sound that was so prevalent. We decided to record the way only jazz musicians were recording, live” (taken from the Edsel reissue liner notes). Needless to say, this conscious effort to capture the group in true form is a success, as both cuts are amazing, showing off Kaleidoscope’s legendary eclecticism and peerless musicianship. “Taxim” is an astonishing Eastern folk instrumental that builds into an exciting crescendo unlike anything you’ve heard before. Incredible stuff.

Kaleidoscope were some of the most accomplished musicians of their day – up there with the best San Fran had to offer (ie. Grateful Dead, Quicksilver, Moby Grape and so on).  Chris Darrow, principal songwriter, is one of LA’s most underrated musicians, he penned fine 3 minute pop songs while David Lindley and Solomon Feldthouse mastered a variety of strange, stringed instruments.  Remaining cuts like “I Found Out,” “Greenwood Sidee” and “Life Will Pass You By” are exciting roots excursions that mix folk, country and psychedelia into something that’s genuine and authentic.   Other than being a standout acid folk-rocker, “I Found Out” is also notable for a cool dobro solo and what sounds like primitive synthesizer.  Another great track is the excellent Smokestack Lightning rewrite “You Don’t Love Me.”  This track features incredible graffiti-like lead guitar (with lots of bluesy fuzz) while the aforementioned “Life Will Pass You By” is a beautiful Byrds-like folk-rocker with accomplished finger picking (think Byrds crossed with early Nitty Gritty Dirt Band).  The only misstep here is a rather lame attempt at good time/jugband music titled “Baldheaded End Of A Broom.”  My pick of the bunch is “Greenwood Sidee.”  This track is actually an Irish murder ballad, a tremendous one at that, with stoneface vocals and an eerie acidic vibe -no doubt aided by effective fiddle work.   This is one of my favorite lps.

This would be Chris Darrow’s last LP with Kaleidoscope.  After Beacon he would join the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and also release a few solo discs.  David Lindley and co. soldiered on releasing the fine Incredible! from 1969 and the disappointing Bernice.  Edsel reissues are pretty hard to come by these days but the recent box set Pulsating Dream is highly recommended as it features all their classic albums and rare non-lp singles.

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“Life Will Pass You By”

:D CD Reissue | Box Set | 2004 | Acadia | at amazon ]
:) Vinyl Reissue | 2008 | Sundazed | buy at sundazed ]

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  • Len Liechti

    Hey, are we on a Mars theme this month, or what? Ziggy Stardust next? Actually, the way one post can provide inspiration for another is the beauty of a multi-contributor blog like TRS, I guess.

    On David Lindley, I saw him with Ry Cooder at what was then called the Hammersmith Odeon sometime in the 90s, I can’t remember exactly when. I’ve never seen a more accomplished multi-instrumentalist – if it has strings, Lindley’s a virtuoso on it. He and Cooder didn’t just sound like four musicians, at times they sounded like six. I must get round to reviewing something from Lindley’s solo oeuvre somewhen.

  • Jason

    I’ve heard Lindley’s first album is a classic record, I wanna say it’s from the early 80’s. Some of the songs have a strange reggae influence from what I remember but it’s definitely been a while. Another album that’s underrated is Ry Cooder’s debut from 1970….a pretty good American roots album.

    I wanted to post a few British rock albums soon. There’s an amazing progressive pop album from 1970…Lemmings by Bachdenkel. There’s lots of guitar in place of the usual keyboard jams and the song writing takes it’s inspiration from the Beatles. Very unique and different – a great album.

  • Louder than Milk

    Kaleidoscope, what a band. They must have been awesome live. The comp Bacon From Mars is also worth seeking out. Highlights how eclectic those boys were and one of the great banjo track to boot.

    Weird that 2 of the most underrated bands of the 60’s share the same name.

  • Joshua Bonder

    Thanks for such an informative review. I’ve known of this group for some time, without really knowing much about them or their music. The sample you posted is awesome, and after looking a bit more into them, you’ve inspired me to take the plunge and purchase “Pulsating Dream”. Very much looking forward to discovering some great music in my mailbox!

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