Focal Point “First Bite of the Apple”

They say it’s not what you know but who you know, but sometimes even rubbing shoulders with the absolute royalty of rock can’t guarantee you success. Focal Point was a short-lived pop-psych outfit from Liverpool, based around songwriters Paul Tennant and Dave Rhodes who in the summer of 1967 became the first two writers signed to the fledgling Apple label. Tennant claims that he and Rhodes ambushed Paul McCartney walking his dog in Hyde Park and managed to blag an introduction to Apple Music Publishing head honcho Terry Doran. Allegedly the ensuing band’s name, Focal Point, was suggested by Brian Epstein. Apple sponsored the band through the rest of ‘67, housing and equipping them and recording demos of their songs at Apple’s makeshift studio at 94 Baker Street with producer Lionel Morton (ex-Four Pennies).

Focal Point signed to Decca’s progressive music subsidiary Deram early in 1968. Four songs were re-recorded to professional quality and the first 45 came out soon afterwards, “Love You Forever” b/w “Sycamore Sid”. Inexplicably the selected A-side was a sappy, unoriginal love song notable only for its excellent Mellotron accompaniment, and unsurprisingly it tanked chartwise. After unsuccessfully trying to reawaken interest at Apple, the band returned to Liverpool and concentrated on live work, supporting top-flight acts touring the North. By mid-69 they’d gone back to their day jobs.

The B-side of the single however, had been a fine, aggressive slab of hard psych and it appeared on psych compilations from the 1980s onwards, whilst the other Deram tracks appeared on 94 Baker Street, a compilation of sounds by lesser-known acts signed to Apple. In the wake of the new interest in 60s psychedelia erstwhile band members Tennant, Dave Slater and Tim Wells laboriously tracked down the surviving Apple demos and some later stuff they’d recorded independently in Manchester after returning North. The results were assembled along with the Deram tracks as First Bite Of The Apple and finally released to the world in 2005, giving an impression of how a Focal Point album recorded at the tail end of psych in ’68 might have sounded.

The Deram tracks and the first Manchester recordings mostly present dreamy soundscapes and lyrics not far from the Toytown end of psych, realised through layered vocal harmonies and sumptuous keyboard washes and all quite presentable. “Miss Sinclair”, “Sycamore Sid” and “McKinley Morgan The Deep Sea Diver” are typical Swinging Sixties third-party pen-portraits, the first benefitting from a hard-edged guitar and a flat Syd Barrett-style vocal whlist the last is an enjoyable singalong that could have come from The Teenage Opera via “Yellow Submarine”. “Never Never” is a blissed-out flower-power song with great organ work and a powerful walking bass line. “Far Away From Forever” is another languid, introspective soft-psych outing with some pleasant surprises in the chord sequence. Sadly the band took a wrong turning with their later attempts to find commercial success. “Falling Out Of Friends” is a dismal schlock ballad with an ersatz Hollies feel, whilst “Goodbye Forever” was an attempt to write for the Eurovision Song Contest and exhibits all that genre’s boom-bang-a-bang awfulness. The Apple demos illustrate how greatly the songs changed in their final realisation; “Miss Sinclair” is played purely on acoustic guitars whilst “Never Never” plonks along on what sounds like a honkytonk piano.

Focal Point has always been keen to lay to rest the assumption that “Sycamore Sid” who lived in a tree house was actually Syd Barrett. In fact it refers to John Mayall, who in his early days as a musician did just that. For a lot more detail on Focal Point and a first-hand history from Paul Tennant visit their page in the excellent Marmalade Skies UK Psych site.

mp3: Sycamore Sid
mp3: McKinley Morgan the Deep Sea Dive

:D CD Compilation | 2005 | Kissing Spell | buy here ]

Bo Hansson “Ur Trollkarlens Hatt”

Technically speaking, Bo Hansson’s Ur Trollkarlens Hatt (on English editions: Magician’s Hat) comes from the same Swedish music scene as the International Harvester record covered a few weeks back. Around the time that Bo Anders Persson was breaking down artistic and political barriers with said troupe of psychedelic renegades, Hansson was serving as one half of the musical duo Hansson and Karlsson, dropping heavy waves into the European music scene and eventually collaborating with Jimi Hendrix (who would go on to record a version of their song “Tax Free,” released on his posthumous record War Heroes). The two bands carved very different furrows in the realm of underground Swedish rock, however, and this 1973 solo record of Hansson’s definitely works well in highlighting the stunning diversity of the Swedish progg movement.

Where Harvester built its sound on a raw, spontaneous strain of improvised, communal music-making, Hansson was much more methodical in his composition and recording. His first album, the surprisingly well-known Tolkien-driven concept album Sagen Om Ringen, set the stage for most of what was to come later from the pen of this highly talented (and apparently quite reclusive) keyboardist: engaging soundscapes veering back and forth between cosmic space-outs and tight, electric grooves. Hatt takes that formula and throws it through all sorts of subtle little loops, incorporating fragmentary touches of…well, pretty much everything. Progressive keyboard passages melt beautifully into jazz horns, acoustic guitars, spy-theme allusions and blissed-out pedal steel flourishes, creating an eclectic, but somehow complementary, tapestry of music that, while not entirely connecting to the eye-catching album cover, is quite otherworldly.

The album opens with what is possibly its most ambitious statement, the epic, eleven minute suite “Storstad.” The piece may not be the highlight of the album, as one might hope by its length, but it is nevertheless a rewarding listen full of memorable moments. It somehow manages to shift back and forth between various complex dynamics without ever dissolving into the sort of pretentious, instrumental indulgences that mar so much similar music of the period. That which might be called the “middle” of the album is composed of a series of short numbers that, while marked as separate tracks, all work together in much the same way as the opening cut’s various movements. The guitar and flute interplay of “Fylke” and the acid-drenched “Findhorns Sång” are two highlights here. The second half of the record sees a shift away from the horns and jazz-flavored lines of the first side, and instead places more emphasis on the organ and electric guitar. These are the cuts I find myself returning to most often. Dig the driving rhythm and spiraling guitars of “Vandringslåt,” or the electric piano and fatback drums that almost help push “Solen” into krautrock territory. The final number even throws on some wah-wah and a heavy, fuzzed out lead guitar…before taking a disorienting detour into happy-go-lucky parlor jazz.

Both EMI and One Way Ticket Records have reissued Ur Trollkarlens Hatt at one point or another, both with extended versions of “Big City,” and the former with the added addition of two bonus tracks. Those wholly turned off by anything bordering on progressive rock may be wary of this album, but it’s distinct enough from such fare that you should be able to shake your preconceptions about the genre and take this record in on its own terms.

mp3: Findhorns Sång
mp3: Vandringslåt

:D CD Reissue | 2004 | EMI | buy here ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1973 | Silence Records | search ebay ]

Crazy Horse “Loose”

After releasing their classic debut on Reprise back in 1970, Crazy Horse underwent some serious changes in personnel. Guitarist Danny Whitten got kicked out for substance abuse, keyboardist Jack Nitzsche left to focus on his highly-successful career as composer and producer, and occasional Horse cohort Nils Lofgren got sucked into a promising solo career before eventually finding berth in a top dollar position backing Bruce Springsteen. The result was that Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina – band mainstays to a degree that they have pretty much become Crazy Horse – decided to call up their former Rockets compatriot George Whitsell and rewire the group. It would be foolish to claim the ensuing record, 1972’s scatter-shot country-rocker Loose, is anywhere as good as its predecessor, but it’s nowhere near the disappointment its neglected position in Horse history has led some to claim it as.

What we have here is a solid collection of 1970s Canyon stompers and Zuma beach jams, pulling the spirit and sound of the band’s first album into a slightly lower register and trading in a bit of the garage-band cackle for a smooth, whiskey-soaked groove. This is by no means a tamed Horse, as some might lead you to believe, but rather one that’s learned the ropes a little and has decided to switch pastures before getting ground up in Los Angeles smog. “She Won’t Even Blow Smoke In My Direction,” a seemingly insignificant one-and-a-half minute instrumental coda to the record, actually does everything to sum up this new Crazy Horse cool: loose, laid back groove, raw, twangy guitar and the “hell, might as well switch on the tape recorder” spirit that has always been the band’s modus operandi.

A reference point for some of the material might be the New Riders of the Purple Sage, especially on the mellow shuffle of “One Thing I Love” (very obvious shades of Sage ballads like “Last Lonely Eagle” here) and the barroom ramble “You Won’t Miss Me,” which features tasty pedal steel licks and honky tonk piano. “Hit and Run” is pure Horse, however; it would be hard to mistake those ragged harmonies and that classic rhythm section beat with any other group. Numbers like this help bridge the new, sleepier approach to the band’s prior incarnation, and perhaps even hint at where Horse catalyst (and arguably, founder) Neil Young’s own music was meandering around this time. Those missing the jams that defined the Horse’s original work on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere might be reassured to come to “All the Little Things,” which has some great guitar playing that, while remaining distinct, does occasionally slip into some Neil-style, one-note growls.

Loose has been reissued on compact disc twice: once in 1998 and, more recently, by Wounded Bird Records in 2006. Both of these are out of print, however, and commanding ridiculous sums. You’d be much better off tracking down an original vinyl copy, which occasionally finds its way into record store cut-out bins. If you’re a Horse fan, bite the bullet and give some of this mid-period material a shot. Though Whitten and latter-day Horse mainstay Frank “Poncho” Sampedro may be absent from the proceedings, this is a worthwhile chapter in the band’s history that has remained sorely overlooked.

mp3: All the Little Things
mp3: And She Won’t Even Blow Smoke In My Direction

:) Original Vinyl | 1972 | Reprise | search ebay ]

Public Nuisance “Gotta Survive”

Gotta Survive is an essential reissue from Jack White’s Third Man Records label. If Public Nuisance is remembered today at all it’s due to their appearance on many of the day’s psychedelic ballroom posters.  This group never released a single or LP in their lifetime but recorded two albums worth of material that sat on the shelf for over 30 years. Frantic Records first released a fine double disc anthology of Public Nuisance’s material which was followed up by this vinyl only reissue in 2012.

The bulk of Gotta Survive was recorded in 1967-1968. A precursor group called Moss & the Rocks released a mediocre garage folk-rock 45 in 1966 but the music on this record is much more experimental and exciting – garage psych with detours into folk-rock, hard rock and sunshine pop. Listening to Gotta Survive makes me think of a band caught between the primitive garage rock era (the Seeds, Music Machine, etc.) and the heavier, hard rock sounds that emerged in 1968 (think Blue Cheer or the underrated Yesterday’s Children). Public Nuisance also had a knack for catchy melodies and pop hooks as heard on the atmospheric “Sabor Thing.”  They were a versatile group whose songs have inventive arrangements and pop friendly melodies.

Tracks like the churning “Thoughts,” “Strawberry Man,” and “Magical Music Box” show the group wasn’t afraid to take a chance in the studio.  “Magical Music Box,” a punchy rocker with Who/Move-like energy (without sounding like either of these groups) and fuzz propelled guitar work is a particular standout.  “Small Faces,” a track Jack White has often covered live, is the album’s true classic – a powerful guitar heavy monster that has to rank as one of the best songs in the garage psych bag.  “Ecstasy”, another gem, is the group at their most psychedelic and complex, featuring flutes, harpsichord and morose vocals.

Had Gotta Survive been released in 1968 it would have ranked as one of the better psych albums of it’s day.  Hopefully Third Man Records will offer up the group’s remaining material on a second vinyl installment.  Public Nuisance may have been one of the era’s best kept secrets (hard luck acts) but it’s good to know that people still appreciate this music 45 years on.

mp3: Magical Music Box
mp3: Holy Man

:) Reissue | 2012 | Third Man Records | buy from third man ]

International Harvester “Sov Gott Rose-Marie”

One of the more under-appreciated international underground music scenes to emerge from the 1960s was Sweden’s iconoclastic progg movement, spearheaded by political organizers and avant-garde musicians such as International Harvester founder Bo Anders Persson. These musicians fought to cultivate a new social and artistic consciousness among Swedish youth, playing free shows across the country and recording experimental, minimalist improvisations that pushed back against an elitist, exclusionary musical culture. According to Persson, their principle goal was to bring the community back into the music. Many different bands would emerge from the progg scene, laying down sounds from fuzzed-out trance rock to traditional Swedish folk and more or less everywhere in-between. This record falls in-between.

The history of International Harvester is somewhat convoluted, due to a constantly shifting lineup and unstable name. Originally the group formed under the monicker Pärson Sound, recording two  albums’ worth of material but never releasing a proper record. On scoring a record deal, the band renamed itself International Harvester, a reference to the U.S.-owned tractor manufacturer and a symbolic attack against corporate agriculture. To avoid legal wrangling, however, the band soon had to shorten their name to Harvester, and released one last record with their current lineup before dissolving into Träd, Gräs och Stenar (Trees, Grass and Stone) and finally managing to score popular success.

Sov Gott Rose Marie, the band’s sole release under the International Harvester name, is an unusual patchwork of field recordings, electric krautrock jams and percussive experimentation that bridges the sonic gap between what the Velvet Underground was laying down in New York (the band was actually personally invited by Andy Warhol to play an exposition, but things fell through) and the Amon Düül commune was brewing in Munich circa 1969. Though the music may sound free-form, closer listening reveals the rigorous discipline displayed by the individual musicians. Each member leaves his ego at the door and subsumes himself in the music, a quality perhaps picked up from the band’s time spent studying and performing under the auspices of the aforementioned Riley back in the mid-sixties.

After opening with the deep drone of a Latin death hymn and the chirping of woodland birds, the record wastes no time kicking into gear. “There Is No Other Place” is perhaps Sov Gott Rose Marie‘s heaviest track, combining the band’s obsession with heavy, pounding tribal rhythms with an overdriven guitar line lifted straight out of the Hawkwind bible. Three tracks later and the disarmingly concise “Ho Chi Minh” serves as one of the band’s more unusual political statements, exploding the Harvester’s percussive tendencies into a Viet Minh war chant running on a hypnotic two-note figure by bassist Torbjörn Abelli. It is perhaps the group’s artistic and political spirit (the band was associated with the Swedish Communist Party’s youth league, and performed and recorded regularly at the Kafe Marx in Stockholm) most perfectly distilled: no time wasted, no unnecessary chords – the new electric underground resistance in less than two minutes.

The mellower side of International Harvester makes itself apparent on “The Runcorn Report on Western Progress” and the droning title track, which rides at a glacial tempo that perfectly foreshadows such later record’s as Earth’s The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull. “It’s Only Love” is one of the band’s closest forays into the realm of popular music, but coming in right after “Ho Chi Minh” it’s given its own surreal edge that keeps you on your toes through all of its one minute-forty seconds. All these shorter songs (basically encapsulating Side A of the originally-planned album release) are only a teaser for Sov Gott‘s second half, however, which is composed of three mammoth jams carried over from the group’s Pärson Sound days. “Skördetider (Harvest Times)” runs almost half an hour, a roaring cauldron of blissed-out space rock featuring spiraling violin lines and low, moaning vocals before an intense fuzz guitar improvisation rends the track to pieces. “I Mourn You” is thirteen minutes of a similar brew, while “How To Survive” is an extended Swedish folk chant built around sleepy-eyed percussion and what sounds like a saxophone impersonating an old, croaking hurdy-gurdy.

All of Pärson Sound/International Harvester/Harvester’s records have been recently re-released in one form or another, with Sov Got Rose Marie finding berth with the independent Swedish label Silence Recordings and finally emerging on compact disc in 2006. This is perhaps one of the definitive documents of 1960s Sweden, and an essential record for anyone interested in the more experimental and stimulating strains of acid rock. Hell, even on the most cursory listen it doesn’t take long to realize that International Harvester was truly a band ahead of its time, and one long overdue for popular rediscovery.

mp3: The Runcorn Report on Western Progress
mp3: Sommarlåten (The Summer Song)

:D Reissue | 2006 | Silence Recordings | buy from amazon ]
:) Original | 1969 | Love Records | search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

The Butts Band “Butts Band”

The Butts Band is one of those curios from the early-to-mid seventies when prominent rock musicians used to continually combine into various short-lived combos, always looking for that elusive commercial success. The Butts Band should have had a better chance than most, given the pedigree of its members; it grew out of an attempt in 1973 by the three remaining Doors to recruit a new vocalist after Jim Morrison’s demise. For some reason they elected to audition in London rather than LA, and all the prospective candidates were Brits. Partway through the search Ray Manzarek lost interest and went home, but Robby Krieger and John Densmore kept the faith, finally settling on Jess Roden as frontman. Roden had experienced critical acclaim but commercial failure with his previous project, the country-rock outfit Bronco, and as a student and practitioner of all the American roots music genres, not to mention an unassuming but distinctive vocalist and songwriter, he was an obvious candidate for the post. The band was made up by former Jeff Beck bassist Philip Chen and little-known keyboard player Roy Davies, with assistance in the studio from ubiquitous sessioneer Mick Weaver on organ.

Recording commenced at London’s Olympic Studios with former Doors engineer Bruce Botnick in the producer’s chair, but after three weeks the whole circus decamped to Kingston, Jamaica to complete the recordings. About half the tracks were cut in each location, and the final mixes were prepared back in LA. (The closing cover of “Kansas City” which purports to be a live recording was actually taped in a single take at Olympic and the crowd noise dubbed on later.) When Jac Holtzman declined to put the finished product out on Elektra, it was picked up by Bob Krasnow’s independent Blue Thumb imprint and subsequently distributed by Island.

The album comes across as equal parts The Band and Curtis Mayfield, with no real Doors flavour at all; perhaps no surprise as the two principal writers are Krieger and Roden in equal share. The original topside is a delight from start to finish; the leadoff “I Won’t Be Alone Any More” could be an outtake from The Basement Tapes, with its down-home twelve-string, wheezy organ, rustic bass and restrained lead guitar. “Baja Bus” is a mid-tempo funky-butt outing with a fine Fender Rhodes interlude and an extended Latin percussion jamming outro dominated by an apparently blissed-out conga player. “Sweet Danger” is mellow minor-key white soul, tailor-made for Roden’s honey-sweet double-tracked voice and featuring beautifully-restrained piano and guitar, but spoilt by an irritatingly-dated pitchwheel synth solo. “Pop-A-Top” rides on a reggaefied rhythm and a gorgeous electric piano riff; Krieger’s chillingly beautiful slide feature fades out far too soon. The flipside songs are less distinguished but benefit throughout from Chen’s and Densmore’s no-nonsense, sparse-but-inventive rhythm work. The closer, the aforementioned Kansas City, rocks along with a vengeance but Krieger’s ad-libbed slide work here is undeniably sloppy and bears no comparison to Duane Allman’s polished bronze licks.

With reviews of the album being generally favourable, the Butts Band scored a couple of live gigs in the UK as support to the Kinks and Sparks and a brief dilatory tour in the States, plus a few TV appearances including The Old Grey Whistle Test, but it was clear right from the start that the British contingent would not be willing to move permanently to the West Coast and the lineup rapidly fell apart. Krieger and Densmore recruited a bunch of American players, retaining the Butts Band name, and put together a further album, but it bore little relationship to its predecessor and is not highly regarded. Butts Band is currently out of print unless you’re prepared to settle for a bootleg CD, but pre-loved vinyl copies periodically surface on eBay. John Densmore’s website has a fine retrospective of the Butts Band(s).

mp3: I Won’t Be Alone Anymore
mp3: Pop a Top

:) Original | 1974 | Blue Thumb | search ebay ]

Crystal Syphon “Family Evil”

America’s great lost acid rock band.  Who knew California band Crystal Syphon had an album’s worth of material sitting in the can waiting to be heard by 60s psych rock fans?  This has to be not only one of the best reissues of 2012 but also one of the best archival classic rock discoveries of the year.

Crystal Syphon’s origins can be traced back to the Morlochs, a garage band who formed in 1965 and hailed from the San Joaquin Valley area.  As the years went by (and after several personnel changes) the Morlochs changed their name to Crystal Syphon.  Crystal Syphon played the S.F. live circuit with some of the era’s biggest names while the major labels expressed serious interest in this promising, up-and-coming group.  As the 60’s passed into the 70’s, no album or single appeared and the group members moved on to other projects, effectively putting an end to Crystal Syphon. Roaratorio did a superb job in assembling this excellent LP (vinyl only release), which was cobbled together from studio sessions, demos and live shows.  It’s arguably a fuller picture then any studio LP could give the listener, as all sides of the band are on full display, whether it be in the studio or on the live stage.

Does the music live up to the hype? You bet. The earliest tracks have a rawer sound than the later material, which is clearly influenced by big time S.F. bands Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.  “In My Mind,” recorded in 1968, sounds like a lost outtake from the first Quicksilver album.  The deep vocals and vibrating guitar tones strongly recall the mighty Quicksilver Messenger Service.  No matter, it’s an excellent track that could have easily made any psych compilation you care to name.  “Marcy, Your Eyes” and “Paradise” two of the earliest cuts from 1967, have thick garage fuzz, naive teen vocals, and cascading acid guitar work – outstanding.  The last 15 seconds of “Paradise” are especially great.  The guitarist starts playing eastern scales and just when you think they are about to explode into the most intense raga solo you’ve ever heard the song ends – what a clever trick!  Other highlights are the menacing acid rock of “Fuzzy and Jose,” “Family Evil” and “Winter Is Cold.”  These cuts are longer, slow paced and closer in sound to Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service – lots of acid guitar work, creative arrangements and spacey vocals.  “Try Something Different” is another earlier cut with a lilting folk-rock sound that recalls Buffalo Springfield in it’s guitar figures.

Every cut on Family Evil is worthwhile.  There’s nearly 50 minutes of great psych rock here – so not only a significant discovery but an absolute must own for any 60s rock fan.

mp3: Paradise
mp3: In My Mind

:) Reissue |2012 | Roaratorio | buy from roaratorio ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]


The Best Reissues of 2012

Here are some of our top picks for records reissued in 2012 (in no particular order):

  Mad Music
Drag City/Yoga Records [LP/MP3]
“A privately funded record of lavishly produced instrumental music originally published in 1977 and now reissued by Drag City / Yoga Records.” Mysterious and unreleased so-called “trance” music from anonymous creators.
  Van Dyke Parks “Song Cycle”
Bella [LP/CD]
Not just Van Dyke’s first album Song Cycle, but also his other records Clang of the Yankee Reaper and Discover America. If you are unfamiliar with his works these three are the place to start.
  Lee Hazlewood “Singles Nudes & Backsides”
Light in the Attic [LP/CD/MP3]
“The best of Lee’s solo songs and duets from his LHI (Lee Hazlewood Industries) imprint. Acid-folk and country-rock to pop-psych and soul, re-mastered for the first time from the original analog tapes, along with Lee’s output for other labels, rarities, and unreleased gems.”
  Davy Jones “The Bell Recordings”
Friday Music [CD]
“Davy Jones’ self titled 1971 masterwork featuring the hit single “Rainy Jane.” Long out of print album that became a pop classic finally available for the first time on CD.”
Steve Miller Band (first five albums)
Edsel [CD]
“Digitally remastered digipak editions of the first five records from SMB containing all the lyrics, interviews with Steve Miller, and photos from Steve’s own collection.”
The Velvet Underground 5 LP Box Set
Sundazed [LP]
“Includes the rare mono versions of the VU’s first three albums, the mono version of Nico’s Chelsea Girl and a definitive edition of the band’s unfinished fourth album. Housed in a deluxe box with all original LP artwork along with two bonus poster inserts.”
  The Fame Studios Story 1961-1973
Kent Records [CD]
“UK three CD collection focusing on the famed Alabama recording studio. Special attention is paid to those acts closely associated with the Fame label, such as Candi Staton, Jimmy Hughes and Clarence Carter, as well as its stable of writers and producers, including Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham and George Jackson.”
  The Kinks at the BBC
Sanctuary [CD]
“Limited five CD box set collated from all of the BBC owned Kinks recordings that still exist in the archive. Included also is a DVD of the bands sought after appearances on Top of the Pops and the Old Grey Whistle Test a well as concerts from throughout the band’s career.”
  R. Stevie Moore “Hearing Aid”
Knock Em Dead [LP]
“Compiled over the course of 17 years, digging deep into Stevie’s cassette catalog, Hearing Aid is a collection of Stevie’s songs that cover a wide range of variety. The end result is not a “greatest hits” collection but rather a diverse sculpture of the early world of R. Stevie Moore.”
  Suzanne Ciani “Lixiviation”
B-Music [CD/LP]
A fine selection of tracks that will appeal to fans of early electronic experiments and electronic music in general. Cleverly sequenced tracks combining short audio logos with lengthy soundscapes for an album-like listening experience. Sprinkled with brilliant sonic logos  non-commercial pieces teetering between psychedelia and ambient music.
  Laurie Spiegel “The Expanding Universe”
Unseen Worlds [LP/CD/MP3]
“Debut album by composer and computer music pioneer Laurie Spiegel. Composed and realized between 1974 and 1977 on the GROOVE system developed by Max Mathews and F.R. Moore at Bell Laboratories, the pieces on this album were far ahead of their time both in musical content and in how they were made.”
  Donnie & Joe Emerson “Dreamin’ Wild”
Light in the Attic [CD/LP/MP3]
“The sonic vision of the talented Emerson boys, recorded in a family built home studio in rural Washington State. Far removed from the late 1970s punk movement and the larger disco boom, Donnie and Joe tilled their own musical soil, channeling bedroom pop jams, raw funk, and yacht rock.’”
  Karen Dalton “1966”
Delmore [LP/MP3]
“Archive collection of previously unreleased impromptu recordings.” Featuring covers of Fred Neil and Tim Hardin songs, among others, captured by a friend on a portable reel-to-reel.
  Ray Stinnett “A Fire Somewhere”
Light in the Attic [LP/CD/MP3]
“Original guitarist in Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs recorded this masterpiece for A&M at the legendary Fame and Ardent Studios with assistance from Booker T. and co-mixer/ engineer Richard Rosebrough. Available now for the first time in 41 years.”
  Can “The Lost Tapes”
Spoon/Mute [CD]
“3CD box set of unreleased studio, soundtrack and live
material. Years of archived material, not outtakes, but rather tracks which had been shelved for a variety of reasons.”

Let us know in the comments what records you would have included in this year’s list…

Los Macs “Kaleidoscope Men”

Los Macs may very be one of the crown jewels of South American psychedelia. Born out of the bright, rambling port town of Valparaíso, Chile, the band first gained acclaim playing rock and roll classics on the local bar scene before eventually becoming engulfed in the international wave of lysergia kicked off by the Lonely Hearts Club Band. Kaleidoscope Men is arguable their magnum opus in this regard, a heady mix of ramshackle garage, folk-rock and sound experiments sung in heavily accented English as well as Spanish. The track “La Muerte de Mi Hermano,” or “The Death of My Brother,” penned for the band by noted Nueva Canción writer Payo Grondona, was even a national hit, managing to combine left-wing political sympathies and interpolated tape samples with an extraordinarily catchy beat-group chorus. On the strength of this single, the album was to become one of the group’s most enduring successes, and it is not uncommon for Chileans to still recall Los Macs brief blip in the charts.

A caveat, however: one should not go into this record expecting the artistic budget and sophistication of Sergeant Pepper, despite the many comparisons. At their heart Los Macs were always a garage band anyways, and their musical vocabulary never strays far from a classic Nuggets-family groove. Raw, jangly guitars predominate, with occasional overdubs and tape reversals providing a little local color. Perhaps the closest parallel I can find is the one and only Rockets album, as each band maintains a similarly tight and screwy groove. Standouts tend to come with the more ambitious pieces, such as the extremely Harrison-esque “Atravéz del Cristal” and the album-closer “Nada Dulce Niña,” with its orchestral flourishes and astral organ blips. “F.M. and C.I.A.” rides free and easy, despite having what may be strident left-wing political lyrics (in the given recording the vocals are pretty unintelligible, so it’s hard to say whether this is in fact a scathing indictment of United States media control in Chile or just another teenybopper love song. I like to pretend it’s both). It’s unfortunate that the band did not compose more of their material in Spanish, as the musicians’ own language better serves their material, but this artistic compromise is at least somewhat understandable considering the stranglehold English-language pop music had on the Latin American market at the time (and still does, unfortunately).

If there is one serious fault to Kaleidoscope Men then it’s the album’s rather disjointed nature. Whereas contemporary recordings in this vein tended, almost as a rule, to explore various styles and modes, such disparity was generally bridged by a unifying sound or theme. Los Macs have concocted a solid batch of material, but many of the actual recordings sound as though they may have come from different sessions or periods in the band’s evolution. “La Muerte de Mi Hermano” is a good case-in-point. The sound effects that bookend the song could have served to clear the gap between it and the following piece, the much crisper, baroque-tinted ballad “Anne Marie,” but the band fails to make use of any such transitions and instead opts for a rather abrupt cut. This in turn slips into the frenetic garage rock frenzy of “Tension Extrema,” with a zooming fuzz guitar lead and  rough, filtered vocals. Taken piece by piece, there’s nothing to complain about; it’s only when these disparate elements are pieced together under one name that it starts to get a little jostling.

Kaleidoscope Men has been reissued several times under varying circumstances, including a Chilean compact disc issue with bonus tracks and a Japanese mini-LP version that adheres to the original tracklist. You’re probably going to have a hell of a time finding an original vinyl copy in Europe or the United States, seeing as how the band failed to make any commercial inroads outside of Chile, but these latter-day issues are more than work seeking out for yourself, and help revisit an important puzzle piece in the development of South American rock and roll.

mp3: Atravéz del Cristal
mp3: El Amor Despues de Los Veinte Ano

:) Original | 1967 | RCA Victor | search ebay ]

The Artwoods “Art Gallery”

In contrast to the commercially-successful but artistically-bankrupt pop sensations of the UK’s 1960s beat era there was a small hardcore of bands in the UK who couldn’t get arrested record-sales-wise but whom other musicians would cross continents to catch playing live. Frequenting the trendy London club scene and playing funky tunes that oozed git-up-and-dance, they usually centred round a deft practitioner of the Hammond organ, and comprised the said keyboard god plus fellow musicians who refused to compromise their musical integrity and their blues and jazz influences. Alongside the likes of Graham Bond’s Organization, Georgie Fame’s Blue Flames and the Peddlers could be found the Artwoods, who despite their undeniable talent would have a brief career and only some of whom would find wider success in later combinations.

Vocalist and leader Arthur “Art” Wood was the elder brother of Ronnie, then guitarist with the Birds (sic) and later star sideman to Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart and the Glimmer Twins. Having served his on-stage apprenticeship with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, Art set about putting together his own band in 1963, finally settling with Derek Griffiths (gtr), Malcolm Pool (bs), Jon Lord (org) and Keef Hartley (drs). (A couple of familiar names there, then, but not till a few years later.) Eschewing the straight R’n’B of the Yardbirds, the Stones and the Animals, the Artwoods stuck out for the jazz-inflected soul mix that would soon be in vogue on the Soho club circuit, covering material by Jimmy Smith, Lieber & Stoller, Eddie Floyd, Allen Toussaint, Isaac Hayes and David Porter, and Solomon Burke. For four years they rocked the live club circuit until the trend towards psychedelia began to edge them out; unlike many of their contemporaries they declined to make that shift, electing instead to split in ’67.

The Artwoods did make records; over their four years they issued six singles plus – despite its cheesy title and homespun cover design – this splendid studio album. Predictably, none of these sold worth a damn: perhaps because the band’s oeuvre consisted almost completely of covers, albeit superb ones; perhaps because the recorded product lacked the visceral excitement of their live performances. The singles are indeed a little humdrum, given their attempts to polish their raw sound for commercial purposes, but the album is a gem of ensemble musicianship with flashes of individual brilliance. Recorded in a tiny basement studio in London’s Denmark Street under the tutelage of master Decca producer Mike Vernon, it clearly features the live set and gets as close as one could ask to the live vibe, only limited by the need to trim the tracks down to radio-friendly length. There’s a lot of variety available; the standout tracks include Burke’s “Down In The Valley” done in impeccable Stax style, Floyd’s “Things Get Better” as a superb garage soul opus with Merseybeat harmonies and raw-nerve fuzz guitar, and a scintillating cover of the Jimmy Smith instrumental “Walk On The Wild Side” in the middle of which the band lapse into a pure swing jazz groove and Lord produces an orgasmic solo that presages what he’d do with Deep Purple. Apart from a pedestrian reading of “If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody” there’s not a dull moment amongst the twelve original tracks. Art’s rough-as-a-badger’s-arse vocal is a guilty pleasure and Messrs Lord and Hartley shine throughout.

The subsequent careers of Lord and Hartley are well documented, but Art himself enjoyed far less success. He briefly formed a new outfit in ’69 with the musicians who would become the Faces; perhaps predictably for an outfit called Quiet Melon, it sank without trace. Art moved into a new career in graphic design with his other brother Ted and Malcolm Pool, singing only occasionally thereafter as a hobby musician till his premature death from cancer in 2006. His recorded legacy is available on the current 2009 CD from Repertoire which also includes no fewer than fourteen bonus tracks taken from the singles and the mega-rare Europe-only instrumental EP Jazz In Jeans.

mp3: Walk on the Wild Side
mp3: Things Get Better

:) Original | 1966 | Decca | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2009 | Repertoire | buy here ]