The Night Shadows “Square Root of Two”

Square Root of Two

The Night Shadows were one of the first and longest lived garage bands. They started out in the 50’s hailing from Georgia and first received notoriety when releasing the dirty, perverted garage rock single Garbage Man. The early 60’s were not kind to the Night Shadows as they went through various lineup changes. Other singles followed though, influenced by the British Invasion, utilizing feedback and other current recording techniques. In 1966 a new revived Night Shadows (including Little Phil) released the excellent 60 Second Swinger. It’s similar to the Seed’s efforts from around the same time but the Night Shadow’s cleary had more instrumental prowess and experience behind them.

In 1968 they released their psychedelic masterpiece, Square Root of Two. Square Root of Two has some rerecorded psychedelic interpretations of earlier singles along with then current compositions. Of the 11 songs there are a few throw away tracks such as the Prologue, Hot Dog Man and Turned On. These songs are a little too self indulgent with sped up vocals, lengthy commentary, backward tapes, phased guitars and just plain stupidness. The rest of the lot fairs much better though and even with the above mistakes this album still rates as a prime slice of acid punk.

I Can’t Believe follows the silly intro on side one and is nine and a half minutes of fuzz guitar soloing and howling courtesy of Little Phil. Somehow it all works and the psychedelic versions of Plenty of Trouble, 60 Second Swinger and So Much work well too. Plenty of Trouble sounds like a devil chant with shakers and wicked vocals from Phil. The classic 60 Second Swinger is transformed into a hard, bluesy garage shuffle with some Itchycoo Park-like organ and a fake live intro. Most essential though are Anything But Lies and So Much. Anything But Lies is characterized by distorted, angry vocals and jackhammer riffs while So Much has great stinging acid guitar and is psych punk perfection. The Square Root of Two is a good, forgotten album that should not be missed by garage psych fans.

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“So Much (1967 Version)”

The Downliners Sect “The Country Sect”

Country Sect

Sandwiched in between two great mod punk/garage blues albums and some classic singles is Country Sect, the Downliners Sect’s second album released way back in 1965. This is one of the earliest country rock records and most definitely the first by a British band.

When the album was released it met with critical backlash and was considered a commercial suicide. Listening to this music today, 40 plus years later, it sounds fresh and unlike anything in the country rock canon. Just imagine four or five drunk Brits playing their favorite old country and blues songs in the basement (essentially a monumental country album made in the garage with genuine redneck spirit) but with focus and intensity.

The intensity reaches a peak with an excellent country blues cover Rocks In My Bed. This composition is raw as hell and feature’s some old fashioned piano and crazied Don Craine screaming. Hard Travellin’ is similar in mood and is a life affirming sh*t-kicking country rocker. Also, Ballad Of The Hounds, Above And Beyond and Wait For The Light To Shine really capture that backwoods sound effectively and some other numbers are even augmented with banjo and washboard. They throw in a sensitive folk-rock protest number with Little Play Soldiers and hark back to their British Invasion roots with the mysterious, uncertain Bad Storm Coming.

These guys were really one of the ultimate punk bands; they did what they pleased and made no apologies. You can hear and feel this attitude throughout the album. Country Sect is so special, so different, it’s the kind of record that is misunderstood more often than most. Give it some time though and you’ll hear why musicians like Billy Childish rave about the Downliners Sect and this superb album.

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“Bad Storm Coming”

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The Beau Brummels “Triangle”

Triangle

The Beau Brummels hit it big in the early 60s with their hits “Laugh Laugh” and “Just A Little” which were produced by Sly of the Family Stone. As English as they tried to appear, they were an American rock band hailing from San Fransisco.

I wholeheartedly recommend that you check out their early material, especially a record called From The Vaults, but it’s their adventurous and refreshing 1967 Triangle that steals the show. Sal Valentino is the voice of the Brummels, a vox of raw power and vibrato, certainly a highly unique voice that matches an almost unclassifiable and surprising album. Triangle has everything: it’s a tightly produced country record that is rooted in rock; it’s straight and folky and underlined by psychedelic imagery.

The production always drew me in on these records. By records, I mean, if you like this one, you’re in luck because there’s also Bradley’s Barn, a sequel of sorts to Triangle that was recorded in Nashville with some exceptional picking and production. Sometimes modern music can sound over produced – Bradley’s Barn and Triangle are like that, but in an inviting, interesting way, rather than a glossy, manufactured way.

Merle Travis’ “Nine Pound Hammer” is masterfully covered on this record, the most inventive version I’ve heard and one that always catches bluegrass audiences by surprise. Songs like the excellent “Magic Hollow,” “The Wolf of Velvet Fortune,” and “Painter of Women” are songs you’ll never hear anywhere near a record deemed “country.” Other’s, like Randy Newman’s “Old Kentucky Home” and “Are You Happy?” are straight up good timers.

Pick this one up, it may take a little getting used to, but it’s well worth it. The Beau Brummels are a seriously underrated treasure. Note to Beau Brummel fans: you’ll be wanting this.

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“The Keeper Of Time”

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Skip Bifferty (self-titled)

Skip Bifferty

Skip Bifferty’s only album is one of the very best pieces of British underground psychedelia. This Newcastle band started out life as a rhythm and blues based band named the Chosen Few (as did Lindisfarne). After a few very good singles, they morphed into Skip Bifferty in or around 1966/1967.

Their debut single, On Love was a great full-throttle hard rocker that should have put them on the map, but sunk commercially. Other singles, like the splendid paisley pop of Man In Black followed, but this did little to enhance their commercial reputation. The above album captured all the excitement and buzz surrounding London, England in the mid to late 60’s.

Skip Bifferty could rock hard when the mood suited them, as heard on the punky fuzz rocker Planting Bad Seeds. Trippier songs like the tabla pounding Guru and the dreamy riff laden Time Track are also ace compositions. Lead singer Graham Bell sounds like a jazzier Steve Winwood, especially on the beautifully downbeat, piano-dominated Follow The Path To The Stars. There are also some sweet, soft psych pop creations such as Orange Lace and Gas Board Under Dog that recall the Hollies Butterfly album.

The album is full of variety, creativity, and most of all great songs. Skip Bifferty were intelligent, skilled musicians with an original sound and they are one of the best one album bands around. Essential.

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“Time Track”

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The Wackers “Hot Wacks”

Hot Wacks

Hot Wacks is unquestionably the Wackers best album. Although at times a bit derivative of Abbey Road era Beatles (there’s even a side 2 suite), Hot Wacks is really a lost power pop gem.

In 1971, the Wackers released a strong debut, lushly produced by Gary Usher. While Usher was no doubt a great producer, some may find his production on Hot Wacks a little too slick. The songs and performances save the day though, and show the band maturing at a rapid rate. Bob Segarini, one of the band’s founders, had been in Family Tree and Roxy prior to forming the Wackers. He’s still on the scene today making albums, and if push comes to shove, I’d say that his other two masterpieces are Miss Butters by Family Tree (1968-) and Gotta Have Pop which is a solo effort from the late 1970’s.

With Hot Wacks, Segarini and the Wackers’ Beatles obsession reached an apex. On vinyl, the side two suite is very good with some superb harmonies and tight songcraft. Anyone who enjoyed Shake Some Action or Now era Flamin’ Groovies will love this album. The early 70’s psych pop (distorted vocals) of Find Your Own Way and the catchy, sensitive accoustic rocker Time Will Carry On are definite highlights of this medley. Side 1 has a power pop masterpiece in We Can Be. It’s everything you would hope from an underground band like this, a great epic guitar riff and Segarini’s wonderfully gritty, soulful vocals. Even the John Lennon self-analyzing classic Oh My Love is a killer cover, performed with care and panache.

Anyone interested in power pop or Beatles-influenced bands should pick this album up and delve a little deeper into the career of Bob Segarini. A critical assessment of this lost figure is long overdue.

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mp3: Oh My Love

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Henske & Yester “Farewell Aldebaran”

Farewell Aldebaran

Farewell Aldebaran was one of the key albums that signified the end of the 60’s. It’s one of the great cult rock records with a beautiful melancholy edge that few artists have equaled since.

Farewell Aldebaran was released by the fabled Straight label in 1969. Both Judy Henske (folk) and Jerry Yester (production) had been in the music business for years before cutting this astonishing record. It’s actually unbelievable that few people picked up on the great music this duo produced. After almost 40 years, this album comes off like a well worn classic. Every song is uniformly strong and there are some exquisite arrangements, weird but clever lyrics, and creative string and horn arrangements.

The harpsichord laced folk ballad Lullaby is strangely alluring, with a puzzled, jarring edge that recalls how our great nation felt as the decade came to an uncertain end. Snowblind, opens the album with a boom, it’s really the oddball amongst a quiet group of songs but an effective, hard charging psychedelic rocker nonetheless. This composition really gives Henske room to stretch out and let her vocals roar with conviction and arrogance. The Raider is another great song with a great backwoods feel. For some people this is absolute nirvana, five minutes of great fiddle, banjo, accoustic guitars and hillbilly vocalizing delivered with 1850’s drunk on whiskey venom. But this is really just the beginning, as there are gothic ballads, bubblegum pop, entrancing folk-rock and psychedelic love songs. Three Ravens, is an absolutely stunning psychedelic ballad with a sweeping string arrangement (and horns) and an otherworldly vocal performance from Judy Henske. Others may have a soft spot for Charity, which is a finely crafted sunshine pop, folk-rock song with just a hint of sadness.

At this point in the decade, the Vietnam War and civil rights issues were exhausting people and musicians worldwide. Hence, you can hear the pain within the music. The duo managed to release one more album in 1970 under the Rosebud moniker. Rosebud was fair at best, possessing none of the magic the duo captured on Farewell Aldebaran. I must add that it’s records like Farewell Aldebaran that keep me going. It’s rare to come across something so honest, unpretentious, homespun and most of all, real. A wonder to behold!!

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“Lullaby”

This record has unfortunately been heisted by Fallout Records and is being sold without permission from the artist or copyright holders. We won’t be reviewing any more records that are only available from Fallout and urge you to find it in any way that won’t profit this pirate organization. Click here to learn more.

Montage (self-titled)

Montage

Michael Brown, though not credited, is the man behind this strange, beautiful album. His work with The Left Banke will go unmentioned for this review, as we will certainly revisit it later. But if you don’t know the Left Banke, think The Zombies gone classical, replacing the Fender Rhodes with a harpsichord.

And if you don’t know Montage, think The Left Banke gone Zombies, though a year or three later, replacing the harpsichord with a bass-driven rhythm section and confident grand piano. Though we have all the chamber elements in place; each song is adequately ornamented with winds, strings and brass when needed, though never when not. What differs from the Banke is a seemingly more progressive sound, certainly a step beyond their great first accomplishments, but one that could go no further.

These songs will surprise you: the haunting She’s Alone, the unbelievable “off-note” that tunes you in to the message of Men Are Building Sand, a Left Banke leftover actually, along with Desiree, a major highlight on this disc, and even better than its original counterpart.

Best of all, The Song is Love, a lite pop master stroke: it’s awesome.

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“The Song Is Love”

[ CD / Bonus Tracks / Sundazed ]

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The Left Banke “Desiree”

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Montage “Desiree”

The Beach Boys “Smiley Smile”

Smiley Smile

I remember, the first day I bought this album, I couldn’t listen to it right away, I was at a party for something. But I clutched it and stared at it all night, because I knew I had something special in my hands.

And I did. Smiley Smile usually gets the cold shoulder because it wasn’t Smile, Brian’s “teenage symphony to God” that never materialized (oh, but it did a year or so ago). However, if you would like to care more about what Smiley Smile is rather than what it is not, I think you are going to find yourself a great introduction to that side of The Beach Boys you may not have yet heard but were always wondering about.

Opening with the fantastic and complex Heroes and Villains, with uncharacteristic (for the Boys at least) lyrics penned by Van Dyke Parks, Smiley Smile is a real trip. This album follows Pet Sounds in the discography, so we have the creative remnants showing in arrangements and orchestration, but this time much toned down. Smiley Smile is a scarce and subtly produced record employing sound effects, laughter + dialogue, great percussion sounds, very basic instrumentation, and all throughout those marvelous Beach Boy voices shine as the lead instruments.

Of all the Boys records, this is by far the most psychedelic. Carl Wilson reported that a clinic in Fort Worth played it for their patients, their sole method in helping them out of bad LSD trips (see here, actually all the quotes make a great read). Some parts are a little over the top, as in She’s Goin’ Bald, but usually contain a great payoff. Plus, you’ll get the monstrous #1 hit Good Vibrations, and in the bonus tracks a revealing look at all the hard work that went into its development in three separate takes of the powerhouse track. Also in the bonus: the amazing Can’t Wait Too Long – this long study has a great feel and builds towards 25 seconds of one of my favorite Beach Boys instrumental moments.

Plus, with Capitol making available the entire Boys catalog in two-fer packages, you can’t pass this one up. Smiley Smile is packaged with Wild Honey, a Beach Boys-gone-soul record that I would love to talk more about. For under $10 it’s a no-brainer. Grab this record, and if you haven’t already, let this summer be your Beach Boys summer, you’ll never forget it!

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“Fall Breaks And Back To Winter”

Remastered / Extra Tracks/plus Wild Honey!

The Watersons “Bright Phoebus”

Bright Phoebus

The Watersons are to English folk what the Carter Family are to American Country & Western music, an institution. Bright Phoebus is the white elephant in their great catalog, an album of original material (not one traditional cover amongst its 12 songs!!).

Mike and Lal Waterson wrote these compositions and trade off vocal duties throughout the album. A superstar cast of musicians (Martin Charthy and Richard Thompson handle guitars and backup vocals) assist them throughout, creating what some have called the Sgt. Pepper of the English folk scene.

Bright Phoebus was released in 1972, though I believe many of these songs were recorded in the late 1960’s – I am not positive on recording dates. The album itself, is very warm and eclectic, encompassing a variety of styles such as psychedelia, rock, folk, country, and rockabilly. All these styles are filtered through a unique English sensibility which gives the record originality and origin. There are some great acid folk/folk-rock moves in the album opener, Rubber Band, which has some of the strangest lyrics this reviewer has ever heard. This song is followed by the enchanting Scarecrow, a pastoral acid folk song sung by Mike Waterson which is absolutely marvelous. Magic Man is another good acid influenced number with some playful childlike lyrics and bouncy percussive sounds. Fine Horsemen is a very serious folk song with some beautiful singing by Lal and a excellent string arrangement.

The album ends with Bright Phoebus, an upbeat country ditty that brings great promise and optimism to a very serious folk-rock masterpiece. It’s one of the highlights of this great record, which never makes all-time album lists but surely deserves to!

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Only Available in UK

The Bonzo Dog Band “Cornology”

Cornology

If you are a fan of British humor, Monty Python, John Cleese & Fawlty Towers and all that stuff, than I highly highly highly highly highly highly highly highly HIGHLY highly highly highly highly recommend recommend. I’ll repeat that, highly recommend that you check out THE BONZO DOG BAND.

It’s the subtlety, I think, that makes these bits of dialogue, silly orchestrations, and bizarre lyrics and song topics so growingly hilarious. It’s better with each listen, and I can’t recommend recommend enough that you try this one out on a road trip (where more than one person is actually listening intently to an album, for once). For, although the Bonzo music is incredibly rockingly satisfying, to fully appreciate the experience their discography requires your complete, complying, curfew-denying, centered and well-mentored concentric concentration.

Ok, well that’s enough of that. My attempt at wit just doesn’t find par with these vaudevillian joke meisters. But my point is, we don’t just have humor here. The Monty Python albums, uproarious as they are, don’t suit casual, real-life listening. The Bonzo albums on the other hand, hilarious as they can indeed be, will fail to spoil the delicate hipness of your careful being. Though the mp3 below is a classic, it was hard to choose one, as these tunes vary between brilliantly witty, insanely catchy, and psychedelically rocking.

If you have read this far, then I recommend you just dive in deep and purchase the 3-CD boxset, Cornology. You’ll get everything you need from the band who so luckily pulled off a guest spot in The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour movie performing a song that modern wonder group Death Cab For Cutie payed tribute to, borrowing its title for their bandname.

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“My Pink Half Of The Drainpipe”

3 CD Set Import, (check out the used&new prices)