Pete Seeger “Clearwater II”

While this record is technically credited to various artists, I’m calling it a Pete record here (he likely wouldn’t accept the credit) for convenience and recognition of the fact that it wouldn’t exist without the Hudson River Valley’s hero and national treasure, Pete Seeger. If you haven’t read up on Pete’s body of work, seen the excellent documentary The Power of Song, tried to learn 5-string banjo, or ever listened to an American folk tune, there is little doubt that Seeger’s music or social efforts have still reached you in some way. On this rarely found followup to 1974’s Clearwater, Pete and friends, including folk names like Judy Collins and Tom Paxton, deliver an outstanding set of traditional folk, sea chanties, and progressive folk numbers devoted to the Hudson River.

Tom Winslow’s “It’s the Clearwater” kicks off this rather fine sequence of gems, a rousing and catchy anthem to the Clearwater Sloop that’s sailed the Hudson promoting environmental awareness since 1969. I had heard lot’s of Pete Seeger’s music recorded with the Weavers, solo cuts from scores of best-of albums, but I had yet to hear his “Golden River,” a gorgeous ode you could only imagine played on bank of the river, featuring lazily swift guitar patterns and a vocal as honest and pleasant as a voice could provide. This may be Pete at his finest, his banjo machine seeming to perform the melody by itself for “My Dirty Stream,” a plainly clear assessment of the Hudson’s polluted condition; the picking sounds almost accidentally natural. Several boisterous sea chanties lend a presence similar to Graceland, albeit a little more from under an Irish bar than African skies.  The tracks balance gently, never allowing one feel or another to steal the show.

A couple surprises turn up too, like side A closer “Jebah Brown” by the Womblers, a traditional sounding number hiding a dark, synth-padded almost-psych section, detailed with some nice electric picking and a good and out-there mix. Another gem is Frostwater’s “Haul Away,” a laid-back folkster groove educated with a slight taste of rock.

If you aren’t a serious folkie, you may not get down with every tune here, but Clearwater II stands as a sweet slice of American folk that while gravely honest, and to-the-point in message, feels like a celebration among friends. As local and homegrown as it gets, yet universal, and rich with life.

As stated on the back cover, “Proceeds from this album will be used by the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater to improve the ecology of the river.” If you manage to find this one out in the wild or enjoy the tracks posted here you can find out how to donate to the Clearwater cause at clearwater.org and you can find some of the tracks  from Clearwater and Clearwater II posted at their site as well.

mp3: Pete Seeger – Golden River
mp3: Frostwater – Haul Away

:) Original | 1977 | Sound House Records | search ebay ]

Doc Watson “Doc and the Boys”

There’s little doubt folk and bluegrass lost one of its legends in Doc Watson, a self-taught founder of flatpicking and popularizer of traditional American music for 60 some years. While you can’t miss on any Doc record, this one is my go-to favorite.

Though Doc and the Boys was Doc’s highest charting LP (41 on US Country), little mention is heard of the record today. A lot of the early pickers are subjugated to compilations, best-ofs, and box sets. Fortunately, this LP comes from a time when singles were eschewed for album length statements, and Doc and the Boys delivers a rock solid 35:00 straight from the prime of that funky, in-the-groove Nashville country of the mid-70s.

Starting from the studio recording side, we get a smoking kickoff in “Darlin’ Corey,” Jim Isbell’s zip-tight rhythm dispelling any doubt that a drum kit belong in a bluegrass tune. Merle trades lines with Doc’s harp on the deep-in-the-pocket “Cypress Grove Blues” and Doc proves his gifts with a song on Tom Paxton‘s very sweet “Can’t Help But Wonder (Where I’m Bound),” an easygoing “Girl I Love,” and a bouncy number called “Natural Born Gamblin’ Man.” Side one closes with the hottest rendition of “Little Maggie” I’ve yet to hear. He may be known for his picking, but Doc may have had one of the best rounded and perfectly suited vocal tones in the history of country music. Such a comforting, deep, and rooted voice.

Recorded live at the Hub Pub in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, side two doesn’t skip a beat in its sound. It took me a year to even realize the sides were split between live and studio! If anything, the live atmosphere only adds to the octane in the picking and harmonies. In any case, tunes like the a capella “Southbound Passenger Train” clearly had to be recorded live and we are treated to honest takes on gems like Mississippi John Hurt’s “Spikedriver Blues” and a fine original from piano player Bob Hill in “Southern Lady.” Cash may have done better with “Tennessee Stud” but it’s nice to hear Doc close with a happy take on a hit.

If you’re a fan of “honest, down-to-earth” and damn good country music, track this one down. We’ll miss you, Doc!

mp3: Cypress Grove Blues
mp3: Spikedriver Blues

:D Reissue | 2003 | 2fer w/ Live & Pickin | buy here ]
:) Original | 1976 | United Artists | search ebay ]

Douglas Dillard “The Banjo Album”

Douglas Flint Dillard died in a Nashville hospital on May 16th, 2012, at the age of 75. He never became a household name – doesn’t even rate a personal Wikipedia page – but that was probably fine by this self-effacing, self-mocking virtuoso musician. On the plus side, he survived to an age not achieved by so many of his peers whose names are more widely celebrated. Sometimes it’s better not to become a rock’n’roll legend, especially if it’s posthumously.

Hailing from deepest Missouri and starting out as a bluegrass purist along with guitarist brother Rodney as the eponymous Dillards, Doug became part of the West Coast country-pop revolution of the late 60s, initially as a session player (it’s probably him on the Monkees’ “What Am I Doing Hanging Round”, although Peter Tork could handle the five-string instrument quite capably) and then as a band member touring Europe with the Byrds playing the Sweetheart Of The Rodeo material. Prior to the tour Doug struck up an enduring friendship with former Byrd Gene Clark, contributing to Gene’s album with the Gosdin Brothers, and on his return jam sessions with Gene, Bernie Leadon and Don Beck led to his own Banjo Album.

Coming as it does between Sweetheart and Dillard & Clark’s peerless Fantastic Expedition, the humdrum-titled Banjo Album occupies a seminal place in the evolution of country-rock, as the instruments and players of the standard bluegrass ensemble go in search of new and uncharted musical areas to occupy whilst taking a rockin’ sledgehammer to the traditional lightweight bluegrass sonic envelope. The historical notes by Joe Foster to the present CD put it more dramatically: “Eclectic is certainly a good description . . . jazz drums, harpsichord, djembek, tablas and various sound effects, as well as a manic attack poised somewhere between Earl Scruggs and the Ramones”. Amen to that. And yet despite the frenzied presentation of the numbers – most of the tracks rush along at breakneck pace and clock in at around two minutes – the oddball instrumentation and the thick rock production, this remains an instrumental bluegrass music album at heart. Bill Monroe fans have nothing to fear.

Whilst credited to Douglas Dillard, this is a genuine band effort: Doug on the five-string plus the core combo of Leadon on acoustic and electric guitars, Beck on Dobro, John Hartford on fiddle and Red Mitchell on upright and electric basses. LA session veteran Andrew Belling contributes the harpsichord licks, future longtime Ry Cooder companion Milt Holland adds drums and exotic percussion and there’s a cameo from Gene Clark on harmonica. Departing on “Train 4500”, surely one of the best musical train simulations ever recorded, the journey takes us through a landscape of familiar and rare traditional tunes spiced with Dillard’s piquant arrangements. Sometimes only the timbre of the instrument reveals who’s soloing, as Beck and Belling can both whack out the triplets damn near as fast as Doug. The other high spots are “Clinch Mountain Back Step” on which Doug slurs the notes like the skirl of bagpipes, never missing a triplet roll even through the deliberate lurch in the rhythm, and the closing Dillard/Leadon original “With Care From Someone” with its distinctly non-bluegrass descending chromatic minor chord progression, on which all the protagonists get a chance to solo and Belling produces some revolutionary rock harpsichord. The bonus track on the Rev-Ola reissue is “Runaway Country”, the one-off track Doug contributed to the movie Vanishing Point with scorching assistance from Byron Berline and Billy Ray Latham of Country Gazette.

After the high-water-mark of Fantastic Expedition Doug’s career would settle into a comfortable stream of sessions with just about every country-flavoured performer in California and subsequently Nashville, intertwined with recordings and live appearances with a procession of reformed Dillards, New Dillards, Doug Dillard Bands and Rodney Dillard Bands until Doug became too ill to perform around 2010. If his epitaph be sought, it’s probably fair to say that every subsequent outfit from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to Bela Fleck & The Flecktones that’s twisted the tail of banjo-powered country music into new and unfamiliar shapes can be said to owe a debt to what Doug and Co. did on The Banjo Album.

mp3: Train 4500
mp3: Clinch Mountain Back Step

:D Reissue | 2012 | Floating World | buy here ]
:) Original | 1969 | search ebay ]

PODCAST 26 Garage,Pop

 

I Want to Hold Your Hand (1968-) – The Moving Sidewalks
Naughty Girl (1965/1966) – The Missing Links
Sad and Lonely and Blue (1966) – The Easybeats
I’m On Fire (1968-) – The Easybeats
Calm Me Down (1966) – The Human Expression

Her Face (1966/1967) – Steve Ellis and the Starfires
You Lied To Me Before (1966) – The Treez
You’re Too Young (1965) – The Vagrants
I’ll Come To You (1967) – The Elite
Gone To The Moon (1966) – The Savages
Out of the Question (1967 – from the Future LP) – The Seeds

Download: Podcast26.mp3
To subscribe to this podcast: http://therisingstorm.net/podcast.xml [?]

Dillard

Skip Battin “Topanga Skyline”

It took a while longer to appear than expected, but Skip Battin’s second solo album has finally surfaced on CD after thirty-nine years. The explanations for its shelving in 1973 include, depending on whom you read and believe, (a) the vinyl shortage resulting from the oil embargo following the Yom Kippur War, (b) the cancellation of the fall-of-‘73 national tour featuring Skip, Gene Parsons, Gram Parsons, Clarence White and Country Gazette through various city fathers vetoing the presence of “longhairs”, or (c) loss of heart in the recording project following the death of Clarence. Following Skip’s own passing in 2009, his son Brent negotiated with California’s Sierra Records to issue the “lost” album posthumously in celebration of the fortieth anniversary of Skip’s first appearance with the Byrds. Three years further on, we finally have it, and it’s been worth the wait despite the sad circumstances of its gestation and publication.

Clarence was killed on July 15, 1973, three days before recording was due to begin, but the sessions went ahead nevertheless. In place of the various Byrds alumni who backed Skip on his eponymous debut set, he received the services of members of the redoubtable Country Gazette and assorted friends: Bob Beeman and Herb Pedersen (acoustic guitars), Chris Etheridge (RIP April 23, 2012 – bass), Byron Berline (fiddle), Alan Munde (banjo), Roland White (brother of Clarence – mandolin) and Mike Bowden (drums), and in Clarence’s place came Al Perkins from the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band on electric guitar, pedal steel and Dobro. A more capable combo could not have been wished for, and the album resonates with their flawless musicianship behind Skip’s down-home Dylanish vocal and piano. If there was an atmosphere of sadness and loss in the studio, it doesn’t show in the music, which is relentlessly upbeat and powerful on the fast tunes and warm and sympathetic on the ballads. The bluegrass players shine both ensemble and as soloists, and Perkins’s contributions are remarkably assured given his last-minute drafting. Production by Skip’s longtime writing and recording partner Kim Fowley is exemplary, as you’d expect.

The CD package as released by UK imprint Floating World on licence from Sierra includes the nine original studio tracks completed before the decision to abandon. These are split between typically idiosyncratic Battin/Fowley country-rock originals – “Bolts Of Blue”, “Don’t Go Down The Drain”, “Stoned Sober” – and supercharged bluegrass covers – the Morris Brothers’ “Salty Dog Blues”,  A.P. Carter’s “Foggy Mountain Top”, the traditional ”Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” – plus a truly inspired reworking of the old 1959 Olympics hit “Hully Gully”. In addition to these there are several bonuses. “Willow In The Wind” and “China Moon” are taken from Skip’s 1981 album “Navigator”, an Italian-only release featuring Sneaky Pete Kleinow on pedal steel. The ghost of Clarence walks on an alternative version of “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” and on “Old Mountain Dew”, two rehearsal tapings which are thought to be the last recorded work Clarence ever laid down. Rounding the package out is a short mpeg of a clean-cut Elvis-quiffed Skip performing solo on a 1965 Californian TV show similar to Ready Steady Go on which he lip-synchs a couple of pre-British Invasion teenypop songs, “Searchin’” and “She Acts Like We Never Have Met”. All in all, then, a lot of Skip for the money and well worth the investment if you’re interested in the long and varied career of this fine musician, in which case you’ll also want to see this astonishingly comprehensive history, rare photos and discography.

mp3: Bolts of Blue
mp3: Salty Dog Blues

:D Reissue | 2010 | Sierra | buy here ]

The Ace of Cups “It’s Bad For You But Buy It”

San Francisco’s the Ace Of Cups deserves mention in these pages because the band occupies a singular place in rock history. It wasn’t the first all-female self-contained rock outfit to achieve public recognition; elsewhere on this site you’ll find mention of the Liverbirds, one of several all-girl groups playing their own instruments who came out of Liverpool during the British Beat Boom. But the Ace Of Cups, whose name derives from the eponymous Tarot card, is generally acknowledged as the first female rock band anywhere to truly gain the recognition of its (male) peers, and to share stages and theatres with its top-flight contemporaries. You can see the Ace playing live in the Haight in Jack O’Connell’s quasi-documentary hippie film Revolution (1968-); inter alia, they perform alongside Country Joe & The Fish, the Steve Miller Band and Quicksilver Messenger Service. And these are not just five doe-eyed, flaxen-haired hippie chicks doing it wistfully; they’re full-on female Rolling Stones wannabes, sassy, sexy and unashamedly beating seven bells out of their equipment. The excellent liner note of the present CD lists many of their other onstage and offstage companions, most notably Jimi Hendrix, Mike Bloomfield, Ralph Gleason, Jann Wenner, the Sons Of Champlin, Steppenwolf, the Band, the Dead and the Airplane. You didn’t move in much higher company than that in ’68 San Fran.

Onstage the focus was on raw excitement rather than virtuosity and the visual centrepoint was usually diminutive Denise Kaufman, sneeringly intoning the lyrics from behind an enormous Gibson Tal Farlow jazzbox or blowing a blueswailing harp. Musically the strongest areas were the muscular jazz-punk organ work of Marla Hunt – sort of Jimmy Smith meets the Mysterians ­- and the choral-quality harmony vocals of all five protagonists, stemming from a seam of gospel that ran through their otherwise British Invasion and Stax soul-influenced repertoire. Their recorded legacy rambles from the garage R’n’B of “Glue” – a witty attack on conventional society values – and “Stones” – an unabashed paean to the Rolling Ones – through the five-part acapella “Music” and a rocked-up, organ-dominated cover of Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue” to the pure funk-rock of “Circles” and the minor-key bluesy soul of “Simplicity”.

Notwwithstanding all of which the present CD, released in 2003, is the first time the sound of the Ace Of Cups has been available on record, and that’s because despite their celebrity around the hotspot that was the late 60’s Bay Area the Ace never managed to visit the inside of a professional recording studio. Several labels showed interest in signing them in the early days but manager Ron Polte insisted in holding out, supposedly to allow the band to develop their sound further before committing to wax, but in reality for better deals. As it turned out, he held out too long. By the time they achieved a really consistent standard around 1969 the offers were still there but at that time an almost universal condition of a contract was an undertaking to tour nationally and heavily to promote the album, and by then some band members had become mothers. The original lineup splintered soon after, quoting reluctance to take their new families on the road and disillusionment with the corruption and decay of the Haight scene. An Ace Of Cups of sorts lingered on until 1972 with revised lineups that included male players. The present CD was assembled by the Big Beat subsidiary of the UK’s estimable Ace Records from sundry demos, rehearsal room tapes and live and TV recordings by the original lineup. It has to be said that because of their sources the sound quality, and indeed the warts-and-all singing and playing, of some of the earlier tracks leaves a lot to be desired, but their historic nature and their intractable energy make them essential listening for students of the golden age of West Coast Rock. Someone out there certainly likes the Ace Of Cups, because you can find several musical photomontages, a scruffy but engaging clip from the Revolution movie and a couple of clips from Gleason’s TV documentary West Pole on YouTube.

mp3: Circles
mp3: Simplicity

:D Compilation | 2003 | Big Beat | buy it here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

The Third Power “Believe”

The Third Power get straplined nowadays as “Detroit’s answer to Cream” and their sole album from 1970 is touted as “one of the finest psychedelic hard rock albums of its era”. Frankly, the first statement is an exaggeration; okay, there are similarities, particularly to the Brit trio’s live recordings, but find me a guitar-led three-piece of the time that didn’t draw on Cream, and of course on Hendrix, if you will. Like Jack Bruce, bassist Jem Targal utilised the thick, grinding sound of a Gibson EB-3 and sang in a beautifully articulated sub-operatic high tenor that could sound uncannily like Bruce’s, but guitarist Drew Abbott’s style owed little to Eric Clapton other than in his use of the universal pentatonics and bends and his occasional wielding of a clangy, reverbed Firebird. However, like Cream (but unlike many of their contemporaries: take a bow, Grand Funk Railroad), these guys really could play. Targal frequently includes fearsome bass double-stops and whole chords that even Bruce would never have sanctioned, and drummer Jim Craig moves effortlessly from subtle snare rolls to all-out cymbal assaults on his double kit, whilst Abbott’s funky rhythm chops and no-holds-barred mega-fast fretboard excursions contrast with Clapton’s by-then mature, restrained studio technique.

The album, too, is certainly fine but exhibits few real psychedelic moments, though the band had sprung from genuinely psych beginnings as their fine ’68 debut single (both sides included on the Relics CD reissue as bonus tracks) proves. By the time of their signing to Vanguard they’d settled into a straightforward progressive power-trio style based on collaborative musicianship with little studio trickery other than overdubbed lead guitars and occasional well-mixed-back keyboards. The material lacks the quirky artfulness of Bruce’s compositions with lyricist Pete Brown and the reliable blues-based inflections of Clapton’s writing with Martin Sharp; instead of Cream’s prevailing jazzy edge and twelve-bar framework you get melodic riff-rock, rattling funk-rock and stately ballads, nothing startlingly original but masterfully performed, with a crisp production by Vanguard’s legendary roots-music producer Sam Charters  which the reissue gratifyingly reproduces. The galloping “Lost In A Daydream” may owe a debt to Moby Grape, whilst “Comin’ Home” borrows the bombastic drums and pounding bass of many a Led Zep moment, and they get undeniably close to Cream on “Feel So Lonely” whose centre section steals its live feel, rolling rhythm and wailing guitar leads directly from “Crossroads” on the live Wheels Of Fire. “Passed By” is a totally un-Cream-like ballad carried on 12-string acoustic, piano and tambourine, whilst “Crystalline Chandelier” with its windchimes, flowing orchestral basswork and baroque harmonies is about as psychedelic as they get and could, I guess, be compared to some of Jack Bruce’s post-Cream solo work. The opening “Gettin’ Together” and closing “Like Me Love Me” are full-on, distortion-laden generic hard rock with all three players firing on all cylinders. The only real concession to psych is the closing thirty-second untitled fade-out with its backwards snare drum rolls and processed “Little Drummer Boy” vocal.

The Third Power probably thought they’d clinched a good deal getting signed to the illustrious Vanguard imprint, and the quality of Charters’s studio production must have appeared a real bonus, but allegedly the label found their product too heavy for its generally folky tastes and declined to give it any support at all, dropping the band almost immediately after its release. Despite modest sales around Michigan, boosted by appearances at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom supporting local heroes the MC5 and Bob Seger and high-profile visiting acts, it never took off nationally and the trio split soon afterwards. Only Abbott seems to have subsequently prospered, lending his guitar skills to Seger’s Silver Bullet Band. In 2009 the Third Power reformed to open the Grande Ballroom’s 40 Year Reunion concert with Arthur Brown, Big Brother & The Holding Company and Canned Heat.

mp3: Feel so Lonely
mp3: Crystalline Chandelier

:) Original | 1970 | Vanguard | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2010 | Relics | 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 ]

Music Emporium “Music Emporium”

This 1969 West Coast Rock curio by a little-known LA combo exudes novelty well beyond its appalling band name and its trashy cod-psych cover art. With three out of four musicians classically-trained and featuring an all-female rhythm section, the outfit’s claimed influences ranged from Iron Butterfly to the Carpenters, with members of both of whom they were on first-name terms.

Bill Cosby (no relation) was a five-time all-USA accordion champion, classical organist and UCLA music major whose preferred rock tool was a mega-cheap Italian Galanti GEM organ amplified through two massive Vox Super Beatle rigs. Diminutive Dora Wahl, also originally an accordionist, switched to percussion to join her elementary school band and by ’69 bestraddled a huge double-bass-drum kit in emulation of her hero, Ginger Baker. Carolyn Lee had played orchestral double bass from childhood and sang in choirs and acapella groups before being seduced by pop music and taking up electric bass guitar. Only guitarist Dave Padwin was an unschooled player, but his fluid, instinctive technique and extensive beat group experience won him the audition. Changing their moniker from the rather doomy Cage to the more psych-twee Music Emporium, the four performed around SoCal at weddings, barmitzvahs, high school hops, beach parties and anywhere else they could score a gig, confusing promoters and audiences alike with their unusual combination of clean-cut appearance, classical/folk/acid-rock fusion and unexpectedly high volume. The album was recorded in a couple of clandestine overnight sessions at Sunset Studios and then remixed with new vocals by an ex-Liberty employee just starting his own local label. The money saved on recording went on the tacky but elaborate die-cut cover through whose “windows” the portraits on the inner sleeve photo peeped out.

The defining sounds of the album are undoubtedly Cosby’s organ and the collective vocals. The GEM as recorded has a reedy, piercing power only approached by Frank Rodriguez of the Mysterians, though Cosby’s classical chops take it way beyond the realm of garage R’n’B. All except Wahl take lead vocals, though only Lee is by any means a polished singer; however, when their voices meld, the confident, slightly atonal harmonies are as effective and distinctive as the Airplane’s. Kicking off with “Nam Myo Renge Kyo”, which mutates from a garage-band romp into a Buddhist chant, the material ranges widely from the dreamy folky excursion of “Velvet Sunsets” and the almost country-rock “Times Like This” with its unexpected piano licks through the shamelessly Bach-inflected “Prelude” to “Winds Have Change”, whose soft harmonies and pulsating guitar work suggest early Moody Blues, and the uncompromising riffs, thundering drums and downright punk vocal of “Sun Never Shines”, the album’s most forthright track. Whilst unashamedly forefronting the musicians’ considerable skills, all the songs are rendered collaboratively and concisely with relatively few and short solos, only the proto-prog mini-suite “Cage” breaching the four-minute barrier. The Sundazed CD reissue also includes five of the same tracks in instrumental form, giving the opportunity to hear how deliberately and delicately the backings were constructed.

An initial pressing of just 300 copies and zilch press or radio exposure guaranteed the album’s rarity, because the Draft Board got Cosby’s number soon afterwards; unlike many of his compatriots he eschewed the Toronto option and elected to serve, and the band promptly broke up. Various crappy bootlegs of their sole waxing surfaced before Sundazed got hold of the master tapes for the definitive CD reissue in 2001. On this Bob Irwin’s remastering is excellent and the insert booklet offers a fine account of the band’s genesis and the making of the album, including touching personal updates by all four members: Padwin became a press photographer, Lee returned to orchestral work, Wahl became a teacher and Cosby served 17 years as Instructor of Cadet Music at West Point.

mp3: Prelude
mp3: Winds Have Changed

:) Original | Sentinal | 1969 | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | Sundazed | 2001 | buy ]