Archive for the ‘ Classic Rock ’ Category

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 ]

Racing Cars “Downtown Tonight”

Scene: a cold, draughty village hall in Corston near Bath, winter 1971. The entire audience of your correspondent and a dozen or so other slightly drunk teenage loonies giggle and cavort round the bare floor whilst on the stage a four-piece band manfully reconstructs, note-for-note perfect, the entire medley from the flip side of Abbey Road. The lead guitarist, a stubby, bearded Welshman called Morty, stands motionless behind his Les Paul at stage right. The members of Oswald Orange from the Rhondda are living the rock’n’roll lifestyle . . .

1977, and a South Wales band called Racing Cars appears on primetime TV show Top Of The Pops for the first and last time, playing their unexpected minor hit single, the maudlin ballad “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”, inspired by Sydney Pollack’s 1969 film on the marathon jitterbug dance contests of the thirties’ depression. The lead vocalist and principal songwriter is a stubby, bearded Welshman called Morty, or Gareth Mortimer to give him his full moniker. Aside from Morty the most notable name amongst these assorted sons of the Rhondda is that of Ray Ennis, sometime trad jazz banjoist and member of the celebrated sixties Merseybeat ensemble, the Swinging Blue Jeans.

Racing Cars came together in 1973 and belatedly joined the London Pub Rock circuit early in ‘76, playing with a degree of sophistication and instrumental virtuosity that marked them out above most of their contemporaries. Landing a contract with Chrysalis Records, they cut their first album Downtown Tonight just in time to see it swept away by the punk explosion. Very much the right product at the wrong time, it deserved better treatment: the single was briefly in vogue a year on, but the album predictably failed to set the record shop tills alight. Residual popularity on the college circuit kept the band going for four further years and two further albums, but the one-hit-wonders tag would stick till the end.

Apart from the atypical, string-quintet-laden “Horses”, Downtown Tonight features the honest, solidly-constructed sort of electric guitar-based music that the Pub Rock genre is still regarded with affection for: rocking mid-tempo songs mixing blues, country, soul and funk inflections, a powerful twin-lead attack, solid rhythm section, occasional guest piano, and warm rough-cut vocal harmonies. Ennis in particular plays mean slide and crafts some fine harmony runs with partner Graham Hedley Williams on “Pass The Bottle”, as well as exhuming his banjo for some rapid three-finger picking against Williams’s Albert Lee-style Telecastering on the unashamedly honkytonk “Get Out And Get It”. The stirring opener “Calling The Tune” offers some fine pentatonic widdling over its simple riff structure, whilst “Four Wheel Drive” is a butt-kickin’ funk instrumental right out of the Average White Band’s fakebook. Add in the languid ballads of the title track and “Horses” and the unassuming, lo-fi production and all in all it’s a set that would have been a modest pleasure heard live and loud one evening in some smoky tavern.

Racing Cars reunited in 1988 for a modest second career which saw numerous personnel changes – only Morty and Williams eventually remaining from the original lineup – and produced two further albums before finally hanging up their instruments in 2009.

mp3: Calling the Tune
mp3: Get Out and Get It

:) Original | 1976 | Chrysalis | search ebay ]
:D Amazon |  2004 | Lemon | buy at amazon ]

Rare Bird “Epic Forest”

Rare Bird formed in London in 1969 and rapidly became one of the standard-bearers for the new neo-classical, keyboard-driven strain of British progressive rock. Whilst eschewing the pompous on-stage approach of ELP and Yes, they exhibited an equally impressive musical pedigree. Unusually, they included no guitarist, the four-man line-up consisting of organ, electric piano, bass guitar and drums. Classically-trained organist Graham Field’s songwriting and bassist Steve Gould’s powerful, soulful voice yielded an immediate UK and pan-European hit single in “Sympathy”, and this line-up subsequently recorded two moderately well-received but sparingly purchased albums. Field then announced his departure and the Bird was forced to re-fledge. Moving from one extreme to the other, it became a twin-lead-guitar outfit, though retaining pianist Dave Kaffinetti, with Gould upgrading from four strings to six and new second guitarist/singer Ced Curtis giving them fine opportunities for harmonies, both instrumental and vocal.

The first album to feature the new roster appeared in 1972, its title a skit on Epping Forest, a sylvan suburb of the capital. It displays two of the dominant threads of mainstream UK rock music of the time: the melodic guitar-driven soft-rock approach of bands in the Wishbone Ash mould and the soaring close-harmony vocals lifted from Californian good-time outfits such as CS&N. With two first-class singers and the extra dimension provided by Kaffinetti’s organ, piano and synth work, it’s probably fair to say that this incarnation of Rare Bird transcends the Wishbone template. Sadly, unlike the latter this didn’t translate into gratifying record sales: possibly their change of direction alienated their original prog-rock supporters, whilst a potential new soft-rock fan base may have wrongly construed them as old, po-faced art-rockers. Such are the vagaries of rock fame! They certainly achieved more penetration in Europe than at home, whilst recognition in America eluded them almost completely. The Bird flew haltingly on for a further four years, suffering several further changes of personnel and releasing two further albums to modest critical acclaim but little commercial success before bowing to the punk-powered inevitable.

Having recorded more material for Epic Forest than required for a conventional single-disc vinyl release and not wishing to shelve any of the completed tracks, Rare Bird adopted the then novel tactic of pressing three of these as a maxi-single included free with the album. The twelve tracks, totalling over sixty minutes of music, exhibit a uniformly high quality in the writing, singing, playing and production. Up-tempo and languid compositions alternate, electric and acoustic guitars predominate, but the support from Kaffinetti’s keyboards and the rhythm section of Paul Karas on bass and Fred Kelly on kit is unerringly solid. The two opening tracks set out the menu; I love the simple, powerful bass riff that drives “Baby Listen” and the ensemble guitars and harmonies on the much softer “Hey Man”. There are some harder touches; on “Turn It All Around”, they even move mildly into riff-rock territory, Zeppelin style, after a deceptively quiet intro. The extended instrumental interludes on the nine-minute title track and on the ten-minute closer “You’re Lost” were clearly as enjoyable for the musicians as they will be to the listener, on the evidence of their final whoops of satisfaction on the latter’s fadeout.

A quality second-division seventies outfit worth investigating in both its principal incarnations, Rare Bird’s complete discography remains gratifyingly in print. Epic Forest is currently available on CD on the estimable Cherry Red imprint’s Él subsidiary. When investigating the Bird’s oeuvre, it’s probably as good a place to begin as any.

mp3: Baby Listen
mp3: Hey Man

:) Original | 1972 | Polydor | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2007 | El Records | buy here ]

The City “Now That Everything’s Been Said”

Seven years after 1960s girl group poster-girls The Shirelles scored a number one smash hit with “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and three years before recording one of the best selling pop albums of all time, singer-songwriter Carole King was a member of a fledgling west-coast folk-rock outfit called The City. Built around King’s heavily refined Brill building song-craft and the tight, funky guitar playing of one Danny Kootchmar, The City had an extraordinarily brief moment in the spotlight – if the spotlight is even what you could call their momentary spark into existence – before King’s stubborn reluctance to perform sealed the band’s fate. Nonetheless, they managed to cut a very solid record with 1968’s Now That Everything’s Been Said, and it deserves to be slid back into the popular radar, not only as a curious artifact from one of pop’s most legendary songstresses, but as an extremely well-polished disc of mellow rock and roll from a period when even the popular mainstream was starting to dip its sticky fingers in the electric currents of the musical counterculture.

The opening track is one of the album’s finest moments, with the hiccup of a tape deck cutting into Kootchmar’s fluid electric guitar and King’s floating, elemental piano chording. “Snow Queen” has all the Laurel Canyon trademarks, from soaring harmonies and textured instrumental interplay that never intrudes on the vocals but rather elevates them above the laid-back rhythm section into a sort of ethereal timelessness. Perhaps this record’s second biggest claim to fame, besides the obvious presence of King herself, is her own performance of “Wasn’t Born To Follow,” a quiet assertion of individuality and counterculture ideals taken to the charts by The Byrds around the same time that Now That Everything’s Been Said first saw the light. The City’s arrangement is not far removed from McGuinn and company’s, but King’s singing does throw a new spin on the number that lets it rival its more famous counterpart rather than being subsumed by it. For whatever reason I never realized the blatant similarities between this song and Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” until I heard this less well-known take – open-handed plagiarism or the old folk-revival card, who’s to say; either way both songs retain their beauty and this particular selection remains a City highlight.

Taken as a whole this is a relatively safe and consistent record, without many real surprises save for Kootchmar’s star turn on the soulful “A Man Without A Dream.” It’s unfortunate that he was not given more chances to shine here (though he does do a sort of informal duet with King on the rambling “My Sweet Home”) as his strong and earthy voice helps ground his partner’s occasional flights into Tin Pan Alley melodramatics. His one song at least manages to add some variety to the proceedings and make this more than just another Carole King record. One wonders how much collaboration there was between musicians here, for despite King’s obvious claim on songwriting credits there are a couple of moments that sound as though they’d been born in an atmosphere of collective improvisation. “That Old Sweet Roll” even sees the band dipping its hands into a sort of rollicking American blues bag, though the song ends up channeling Cab Calloway in a prom dress more than it does Howlin’ Wolf or the Reverend Gary Davis.

So where does this leave us? I’d argue that The City helps illuminate a time in which even the more conservative members of the American popular music establishment were willing to dip their fingers in the new wave of artistic expression that would in a few years simply become old guard. The results are an unlikely mixture of mainstream talent and late-sixties rebelliousness – a powerful combination, however questionable the concept’s street cred may sound. Considering the personnel here it’s rather surprising that Now That Everything’s Been Said is out-of-print, but with enough scrounging one of the three past reissues should turn up. Maybe you’ll get lucky: my own copy came from the cut-out bin at my local record store mixed in with a bunch of latter-day Carole King records.

mp3: Man Without A Dream
mp3: That Old Sweet Roll

:) Original | 1968 | Ode Records/A&M | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | Sony | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Jimmy Buffett “High Cumberland Jubilee”

Today we delve into yet another unexpected gem by an artist that is usually considered anathema to any discerning aficionado of American popular music. Long before Jimmy Buffett started scoring big in the top-twenty with insipid margarita beach music he was cutting weird, electric folk-rock records and hanging out with folks like Steve Goodman (yeah, that’s him on the cover of Somebody Else’s Troubles) and Jerry Jeff Walker. Nowadays Buffett doesn’t even acknowledge these earlier records, though they have been kept in print under a seemingly-endless number of guises on his own Margaritaville Records.

The second and, unfortunately, last of these, 1976’s High Cumberland Jubilee, is a killer, even though it remained unreleased until three years after it was recorded. The sound of the band here lays somewhere between psychedelic country-rock and late-sixties power-pop, with lots of weird phased drums, banjos, and twelve-string guitars. Heavy attitude everywhere, believe it or not. The production is pretty well-polished, but hardly overproduced; there’s just the right amount of definition between the instruments to keep things clean, which actually proves to be a beautiful thing when the band leaps into its little instrumental breaks, such as that which closes the record. The most relaxed pieces here definitely call to mind the man’s aforementioned folk-rock affiliates, but also have a touch of starry-eyed Gordon Lightfoot polish to them that you don’t normally find on records like this one.

As one might expect, Buffett’s songwriting tends to be hit-and-miss here. There are some light and entertaining moments, with slight-but-eventually-memorable lyrics, some good shots at obtuse sixties social commentary, and then some numbers which read like failed assignments from Songwriting 101; cliché, dragged-out, full of tired juvenile romanticism. It’s too bad that any chance to hear the singer mature as a songwriter was cut short by his untimely descent into artistic oblivion.

The unfortunate side to some of the reissues of Down To Earth and High Cumberland Jubilee is that Buffett has taken to cutting out the first song of the former, a relatively-scathing indictment of Christian hypocrisy which he today, as beachfront-yuppie-poster-child, presumably suspects will hurt his image. If you can track down original copies of these records, which looks to be a difficult task, snatch them up because, despite all the faults to be found here, there really is a lot to enjoy. Plus you get to see the look on your friends’ faces when you suggest breaking out some Buffett (and they thought they knew you so well).

mp3: England (As the Sun Went Down)
mp3: Travelin’ Clean

:) Original | 1975 | Barnaby | search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Soundtrack to Performance

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

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

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

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

mp3: Gone Dead Train
mp3: Poor White Hound Dog

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

 

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 ]

Los Jaivas “La Ventana”

To the average Chilean, writing an article about Los Jaivas’ 1972 sophomore record La Ventana may very well read like beating a dead horse. Indeed, there is perhaps no single band here in Chile which has become more representative of Chilean culture and patria than this psychedelic folk-rock ensemble, and no song more universally known than their anthem of popular unity and brotherhood, “Todos Juntos.” Though the band was born from the great social and political revolutions of the early 1970s, they are today accepted even by the more conservatively minded members of the populace as, at the very least, an established symbol of Chile’s national artistic identity.

Los Jaivas were born in the heart of Viña del Mar, a bustling coastal city resting against the northern border of the port of Valparaíso, itself one of Chile’s principal seaports and cultural centers. Though the concept of combining late-1960s rock and roll with traditional Chilean folk music may not seem so novel today, at the time there was a strong gap between the folksingers and the mainstream rock and roll youth crowd. Like everything in Chile, this was a conflict born out of radical politics and social consciousness as the country tried to break the stranglehold countries like the United States and Britain had on its economic and cultural life. Los Jaivas refused to accept this unnecessary barrier between musics, however, recognizing both the radical consciousness and importance of their country’s folkloric movement as well as the raw excitement and appeal of the burgeoning psychedelic rock scene.

Out of this set-up comes La Ventana, the band’s second record and the first one to really put the band on the map. Whereas their debut, El Volantín, had read like a highly improvised experiment, this sophomore release sharpened the focus of the band’s attack while retaining the weird, lysergic edge that made their instrumental excursions so engaging. The band’s fight to draw the threads of Chilean music together was strengthened by the participation of Patricio Castillo and Julio Numhauser, former members of the revolutionary Nueva Canción ensemble Quilapayún, then working in their own way to help build Chilean folk-rock as Los Amerindios. The sound here is a beautifully dovetailing blend of heavy, early 1970s psychedelia and northern altiplano folk, featuring searing electric guitars over a bed of charangos and quenas. The album is divided more or less evenly between vocal and instrumental numbers, with Side B built upon a series of percussion-heavy improvisations. The one exception to this divide is “Los Caminos Que Se Abren,” a pounding, nine-and-a-half minute Krautrock stomp with discordant piano and wandering guitars which dominates the first half of the album. Near its droning finale this bizarre number actually goes so far as to bring in an orchestra and sawing violin solo, all of which serve to darken rather than lighten the cut’s surreal intensity. Calmer moments include the preceding track, the popular ballad “Mira Niñita,” which opens with an arpeggio of gently strung-together acoustic guitar and marimba before eventually building to its own high peak of pounding drums and piano. “Ayer Caché” takes coastal Iberian influences and throws in lazy, reverb-drenched surf guitars – an absolutely pitch-perfect slice of coastal, South American daydream, though also a little out-of-place in the context of the rest of the record, especially when it is followed by one of the album’s heaviest rockers.

Following the success of the song “Todos Juntos” La Ventana was reissued under the same name with new album artwork adhering to the progressive rock aesthetics that the band began to take on in the later seventies. The record is widely available in Chile and neighboring countries, but somewhat more difficult to come by north of the equator. Import Chilean copies include several bonus tracks that, while not essential, help to expand the album’s artistic scope and give further testimony to the group’s ground-breaking work during this era.

mp3: Todos Juntos
mp3: Indio Hermano

:) CD Reissue | Ans Records | buy here ]