Archive for the ‘ Classic Rock ’ Category

Timebox “Beggin'”

You could say Timebox got a pretty fair deal out of life when compared to other bands we feature here in these pages.  They had a top 40 hit with the Four Seasons’ “Beggin’,” are represented by two terrific cd reissues and their story has been told countless times by all the serious rock n roll magazines/fanzines (Record Collector, Mojo, Shindig, and Ugly Things).   Timebox’s roots lay in the Take 5, a group who came from Southport, England (near Liverpool) and featured talented drummer/guitarist/vibraphonist Peter (Ollie) Halsall.

The group’s classic lineup didn’t really stabilize until early 1968.  By that time Timebox looked something like this: Mike Patto (lead vocals), Ollie Halsall (guitar, vibes and vocals), Chris Holmes (keyboards), Clive Griffiths (bass), and John Halsey (drums).  Prior to these personnel shifts Timbox had released three 45s in 1967.  Piccadilly issued the first two 45s which were largely instrumental efforts but in the cheerful Swingin’ London style.  The A-side of the first 45, “I’ll Always Love You,” was an excellent pop-soul number, similar in style to the early Action or Small Faces – in other words real mod pop.  In late 67 the group switched over to Deram and released one of the jewels in their crown, a superb cover of Tim Hardin’s “Don’t Make Promises” backed by the soulful acid pop of “Walking Through The Streets Of My Mind.”  Timebox’s version of “Don’t Make Promises” was rather special in that Ollie Halsall played sitar and vibes; the song was dramatically rehauled into something imaginative.  The next single was Timebox’s run at the big time.  “Beggin'” topped out at 38, their highest chart entry by some distance but it was again, a great remake of the Four Seasons classic.

By this time the Patto/Halsall songwriting partnership had began to solidify into something productive.  The group began crafting records that were both experimental but also radio friendly.  Timebox needed a hit 45 for survival.  Their next Deram release was a baroque soul pop number titled “Girl, Don’t Make Me Wait.”  While this track was respectable enough,  it was the brilliant, swirling psychedelia of the B-side that caught my attention most.  “Gone Is The Sad Man” is comparable to a really good track off the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour: dense, tripped out psych rock.  This single stiffed as did Timebox’s next two Deram releases.  The best of these were “Baked Jam Roll In Your Eye/Poor Little Heartbreaker.”  The A-side was another slice of skewed psychedelia that recounts the tale of two dozen martians who are led by Galloping Klaus (a German martian?).  It’s flip side edged comfortably toward classic rock and is a fine slice of metallic angst.

After so many failures Timebox finally broke up around 1969/1970.  Out of the ashes of Timebox came Patto, the great progressive rock outfit formed by Mike Patto and Ollie Halsall.  Timebox is usually remembered as a table setter for Patto, who would release 3 classic progressive LPs in the early 70s.  RPM’s Beggin’ (2008-) collects all Timebox’s 45s (including a rare French release) and much of the Moose On The Loose sessions.  These sessions were recorded in 1968/1969 for what would have been a projected Timebox album.  The group recorded about a dozen tracks at Morgan Studios in Willesden.  Decca heard the results and hated it.  They pulled out, leaving this unheard gem in the vaults for many years.   To my ears Moose On The Loose would have been a fascinating album, close in sound to Traffic’s self-titled 2nd LP.  There’s catchy psych pop (“Promises,” “Tree House,” and “Barnabus Swine”), effective Traffic-like forays into roots rock (“Love The Girl,” “Country Dan and City Lil,” and “Stay There”) and blazing hard rock (“Black Dog”) that point to the future direction Patto and Halsall would take with their progressive outfit.  These recordings highlight Patto’s soulful vocal approach and Ollie Halsall’s wizardry on guitar and vibes .  The Moose On The Loose tracks deliver the goods and prove once and for all that Timebox was one of England’s great lost pop groups.

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“Walking Through The Streets Of My Mind”

:D CD Anthology | 2008 | RPM | buy at amazon ]

Jericho “Jericho”

Jericho

Has classic rock radio made a bad name for itself because the music doesn’t wear well with age, or is it because they keep playing the same old shit? In a perfect world, classic rock gems like Jericho would no longer be neglected by the airwaves and listeners would abound in new sounds from a previous era. Just imagine your local classic rock station slipped in one cut off this record, in place of the usual barrage of Zep and Skynyrd repeats; there could easily be a demand for this sweet sounding, authentic-as-it-gets, yet unissued and unplayed recording.

Jericho members Frank DiFelice, Denny Gerrard, Fred Keeler, Gordon Fleming hailed from Canada and recorded this one-off at the famous Bearsville studio in Woodstock, with engineering and production by Todd Rundgren. These guys were a part of the same scene as Jesse Winchester and The Band, sharing Rundgren as producer and art director Bob Cato between this and Stage Fright, and the music falls right in line, albeit with a harder edge.

They bust down the door with “True Fine Girl,” sounding like the Band on steroids with overdriven organ and screeching guitars notching a next-level sound. “SS #4″ even sounds a little like hard rock “Cripple Creek,” but the key here isn’t loud guitar rippin but a loose knit down-home groove. There are nasty prog moves and killer Clavinet shredding on “Cheater Man;” Gordon Fleming really steals the show on keys, often overshadowing the guitar leads (a rare feat for keyboardists). “Baby’s Gone Again” is a blues that shuffles harder than Cream and “Backtrack” is a killer Edgar Winter style instrumental with gnarly parts played thru Garth Hudson’s own Leslie speaker and Clav. I’m a sucker for “Goin’ To The Country,” a goofy, stoned country groover with wowy Moog bass replacing the “jug” line. The vocalist shines on this little number (vocals are really great all the way through, actually) that definitely stands out from the rest.

One track, “Make It Better,” would score a minor hit, but Jericho would be largely forgotten, unissued since its original release. I do find that this record tends to push a little too hard; it’s kind of relentlessly hard-rockin. But it deserved much more than it got.

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“Backtrack”

:) Original Vinyl | 1971 | Bearsville / Ampex | search ebay ]

はっぴいえんど 風街ろまん (Happy End “Kazemachi Roman”)

Kazemachi Roman

From 1971 Japan comes this gleaming gem of classic rock, encompassing a myriad of American styles from rural rock and country to raw garage, blues, experimental, and blazing west coast rock – but contrary to prevailing trends of the time, the lyrics are not sung in English. If this poses a problem for your ears it is a great shame, for Kazemachi Roman (Wind City Romance) is a must-listen record, and #1 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Japanese Rock Albums.

Kazemachi Roman owes its sound to many influences, but the band maintains an unmistakable originality while flawlessly running the gamut of American popular music. “Haikara Hakuchi” drives with the ferocity of a Moby Grape track, “Haru Ranman” combines byrdsian folk with a roaming west coast feel, while “Sorairo no Crayon” dabbles with country & western, replete with pedal steel and a yodeled outro.  “Natsu Nandesu” and “Kaze wo Atsumete” have a soulful, bucolic charm, the latter finally getting its due via 2003’s Lost In Translation soundtrack. “Dakishimetai” sounds like a classic 70s rock anthem and “Hanaichimonme” grooves like a freight train, prodded along by rolling guitar licks and driving piano. “Ashita Tenki ni Naare” gets to funky rhythm and blues featuring a fantastic Beegees multi-falsetto vocal part. And then there’s “Taifuu” (typhoon), the clear alpha dog of the set. On this authorative rocker the singer lets it all out with gnarly, gutteral yelps and grunts.

Even the slightest investment in this record should prove the attraction goes way beyond novelty.  The sound is instantly recognizable feel-good rock and easily transcends the language barrier. Had these gentlemen hailed from California and sang in English, Happy End would have been a household name.

The lead man, Haroumi Hosono, would later form the sensational Yellow Magic Orchestra (titans of the pre-midi synth age) and continues to make music with his electronica duo, Sketch_Show.

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“花いちもんめ (Hanaichimonme)”

:D CD Reissue | search ebay ]

Manassas “Pieces”

Pieces is just what the title says, but shouldn’t be discounted. The original Manassas album was a disconnected smattering of “pieces” itself. Nobody had combined country, rock, salsa, blues, and bluegrass like Stephen Stills’ powerhouse 7-piece that formed out from the wake of CSNY and the Burrito Brothers.
Pieces collects some leftovers from the Miami sessions that led to the first album (“Witching Hour” “Like A Fox”), warmups and ideas intended for the lost 2nd Manassas album, Down The Road (“Lies” “Love and Satisfy”), and what Stills refers to as “Chris Hillman and Byron Berline teaching me bluegrass” (“Panhandle Rag” “Uncle Pen”). Other tracks are electrified covers from Stills 1 & 2, the largely successful solo albums that gave Stephen the freedom to form a band like Manassas.
I can’t imagine Stills had heard the original Fox On The Run by Manfred Mann, which the Country Gentlemen would turn into a bluegrass standard, before writing Like A Fox. Even with Bonnie Raitt lending her voice, the chorus is still hard to listen to under the circumstances. The bluegrass numbers have no knockout picking, but a treat to hear Stills and Hillman harmonize on “Uncle Pen.” “Do You Remember The Americans” is bluegrass cooler than I’ve ever heard, a song that I wish had spawned an entire record’s worth.
“I Am My Brother” is a sick solo blues proves Stills true worth.
Al Perkins on steel

Pieces

Pieces is the perfect name for this new Manassas outtakes collection from Rhino.  Nobody had combined country, rock, salsa, blues, and bluegrass like Stephen Stills’ powerhouse 7-piece that formed out from the wake of CSNY and the Burrito Brothers, and their eponymous album was a disconnected smattering of “pieces” itself. This new hodgepodge of unheard treats may be scattered, but it’s right in line with tradition and kicks ass like any Manassas fan would expect.

Pieces collects some leftovers from the Miami sessions that led to the first album (“Witching Hour” “Like A Fox”), warmups and ideas intended for the 2nd Manassas album, Down The Road (“Lies” “Love and Satisfy”), as well as what Stills refers to as “Chris Hillman and Byron Berline teaching me bluegrass” (“Panhandle Rag” “Uncle Pen”). Other tracks are electrified covers from Stephen Stills 1 & 2, the hugely successful solo albums that gave Stephen the freedom to form a band with Doug Sahm level schizophrenia.

There are a number of gems here; “Witching Hour” and “Sugar Babe” are easy classics. Stills throws together the chorus of “Like a Fox” last minute and presages  Manfred Mann’s “Fox On The Run” (which the Country Gentlemen would turn into a bluegrass standard) word for word. Only problem, even with Bonnie Raitt lending her voice, I can’t hear past the Manfred version to this one. On Side B, the bluegrass numbers have no knockout picking, but it’s a treat to hear Stills and Hillman harmonize on “Uncle Pen.” “Do You Remember The Americans,” however, is cooler grass than I’ve ever heard. I wish Stills had recorded an entire album in this vein. “I Am My Brother” is a sick solo blues to prove Stills’ immense talent and soul.

This is a no-brainer for Stills, CSNY, Byrds, Burrito, or rock music fans.

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“Do You Remember the Americans?”

:D CD Compilation | 2009 | Rhino | buy at amazon ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

The Moody Blues “In Search Of The Lost Chord”

In Search of the Lost Chord

It took a while for the Moody Blues to catch on in the US, though their retrospective catalogue scored quite well there after 1971. At home in the UK, however, the Moodies were huge during what I think was their best period, 1968-1970, when their highly individual and sophisticated mix of psych and prog was always spinning on the platters of more cerebral music lovers.
After the band’s 1967 reshuffle their yearning to combine pop and classical musics surfaced strongly. The first effort, Days Of Future Passed, interleaved some good early Moodies songs with second-rate orchestral interludes resembling B-movie soundtracks, and was therefore a patchy affair. Then Mike Pinder discovered the Mellotron, and everything clicked into place.
Pinder is probably the most accomplished Mellotron practitioner of the era, and during the period 1968-70, when miking of acoustic pianos was still hit-and-miss, it was the only onstage keyboard he employed. Its sound in his hands is absolutely fundamental to the Moodies’ output of the times. This is not to downplay the musicianship of the other members; especially notable are John Lodge’s bass playing, his picked Fender Jazz lines and arpeggios functioning as a further lead instrument, and Ray Thomas’s flute solos and obligatos, this instrument being rare in rock at the time.
The songs on In Search Of The Lost Chord feature lyrics of the sort that would ultimately make the Moodies a bit of a laughing stock for a while: plenty of hippie mysticism and Oriental metaphysical musing typical of the era. But they are delivered by four fine solo voices, often combining to produce immaculate harmonies. The melodies and accompaniments are top quality and there’s plenty of variation in keys and time signatures. Above all this there’s a spirit of experimentation typical of the times, with band members tackling unfamiliar instruments – Pinder on harpsichord, Justin Hayward on sitar, Lodge on cello, Thomas on oboe, Grahame Edge on a kit of cardboard boxes – and a production which belies the limitations of the recording equipment then available to the band, with segues, fade-ins and fade-outs galore.
“Legend Of A Mind” is part of a short suite, bookended by “House Of Four Doors” Parts One and Two, but stands alone quite capably. Like many other tracks on the album, this tongue-in-cheek paean to LSD guru Timothy Leary and its bracketing tracks feature some breathless sound effects. These achieve their zenith in “The Best Way To Travel”, whose stereo effects were quite startling to a generation unused to the new mode of sound reproduction. Of the other tracks, “Ride My See Saw” is a galloping rocker often reserved for a show closer on stage, while “Om” incorporates an Oriental chant with huge drum sounds and vocals that sound like a revved-up football crowd.
Very much of its time, and subject to ridicule a decade later, today In Search Of The Lost Chord represents what was best in the days when psychedelia was mutating into progressive music. The follow-up, On The Threshold Of A Dream, offered the same high quality and experimental edge, with subsequent works becoming rather safer and more predictable, if even more grandiose.
PS: this is one that doesn’t work in mono!

It took a while for the Moody Blues to catch on in the US, though their retrospective catalogue scored quite well there after 1971. At home in the UK, however, the Moodies were huge during what I think was their best period, 1968-1970, when their highly individual and sophisticated mix of psych and prog was always spinning on the platters of more cerebral music lovers.

After the band’s 1967 reshuffle, their yearning to combine pop and classical musics surfaced strongly. The first effort, Days Of Future Passed, interleaved some good early Moodies songs with second-rate orchestral interludes resembling B-movie soundtracks, and was therefore a patchy affair. Then Mike Pinder discovered the Mellotron, and everything clicked into place.

Pinder is probably the most accomplished Mellotron practitioner of the era, and during the period 1968-70, when miking of acoustic pianos was still hit-and-miss, it was the only onstage keyboard he employed. Its sound in his hands is absolutely fundamental to the Moodies’ output of the times. This is not to downplay the musicianship of the other members; especially notable are John Lodge’s bass playing, his picked Fender Jazz lines and arpeggios functioning as a further lead instrument, and Ray Thomas’s flute solos and obligatos, this instrument being rare in rock at the time.

The songs on In Search Of The Lost Chord feature lyrics of the sort that would ultimately make the Moodies a bit of a laughing stock for a while: plenty of hippie mysticism and Oriental metaphysical musing typical of the era. But they are delivered by four fine solo voices, often combining to produce immaculate harmonies. The melodies and accompaniments are top quality and there’s plenty of variation in keys and time signatures. Above all this there’s a spirit of experimentation typical of the times, with band members tackling unfamiliar instruments – Pinder on harpsichord, Justin Hayward on sitar, Lodge on cello, Thomas on oboe, Grahame Edge on a kit of cardboard boxes – and a production which belies the limitations of the recording equipment then available to the band, with segues, fade-ins and fade-outs galore.

“Legend Of A Mind” is part of a short suite, bookended by “House Of Four Doors” Parts One and Two, but stands alone quite capably. Like many other tracks on the album, this tongue-in-cheek paean to LSD guru Timothy Leary and its bracketing tracks feature some breathless sound effects. These achieve their zenith in “The Best Way To Travel”, whose stereo effects were quite startling to a generation unused to the new mode of sound reproduction. Of the other tracks, “Ride My See Saw” is a galloping rocker often reserved for a show closer on stage, while “Om” incorporates an Oriental chant with huge drum sounds and vocals that sound like a revved-up football crowd.

Very much of its time, and subject to ridicule a decade later, today In Search Of The Lost Chord represents what was best in the days when psychedelia was mutating into progressive music. The follow-up, On The Threshold Of A Dream, offered the same high quality and experimental edge, with subsequent works becoming rather safer and more predictable, if even more grandiose.

PS: this is one that doesn’t work in mono!

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“The Best Way to Travel”

:D CD Reissue | 2008 | Polydor | at amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1968 | Deram | at ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Chicago Transit Authority (self-titled)

Opinion on what is surely one of the finest debut albums ever made tends to be somewhat polarised these days. Detractors of what eventually, sadly, unforgivably, metamorphosed into the ultimate slush-rock outfit simply ignore it; admirers of the earlier stuff who nonetheless try to distance themselves from the currently unfashionable genre of jazz-rock describe the band as a mainstream hard-rock quartet accompanied by a more-adventurous-than-average Memphis-style horn trio. In fact Chicago Transit Authority has real jazz in bucketloads, alongside blissed-out rock, blues, funk-soul and some wilful psychedelic oddness, particularly in the lyrics and occasional sound effects. And in this instance the mixture really does work.
The first thing that hits your consciousness is the bullhorn-brash confidence of this nascent outfit. Seven unknown but uncompromising musicians offer as their first recording a double album containing eleven lengthy tracks (and one short prologue). The staple fare is meticulously arranged songs, some of which contain enough modulations and changes of tempo to allow them to qualify as suites. Heaven knows how long they rehearsed to get their sh*t this tight, but they are that good and they know it. What other band had the chutzpah to include on its debut a seven-minute solo guitar piece comprising only electronic feedback, long before Lou Reed or Neil Young did so? No wonder the guitarist can be heard laughing into the amplifier mike half way through the piece. He’s not giving the finger to the record company; he’s saying, “this isn’t gratuitous noise, this is our art: make up your own mind whether it’s valid”.
All the musicians are excellent, but in particular guitarist Terry Kath can give Hendrix a fright in the sustain/widdling stakes (“Poem 58”: reportedly, Jimi rated him as a peer) and can perform a continually-inventive twelve-minute strut on the pentatonic comparable to Frank Zappa at his best (“Liberation”). Yes, the horns can throw in the choreographed stabs, but they show themselves capable of ambitious yet economical improv soloing (“Introduction”). Together, the septet move beyond finely honed jazzy pieces (“Beginnings”) through a bludgeoning riff-blues (“South California Purples”) to a latin-drenched drum solo (the fine cover of Steve Winwood’s “I’m A Man”), while the lyrics veer from hippy-dippy mysticism (“Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”) to abrupt political statement (“Prologue, August 29, 1968” / “Someday”). The latter segues seamlessly and intelligently out of the former, a location recording of a chanting civil rights crowd, to drum the message home.
Chicago’s second release was also a jazzy double album, but the experimental weirdness was gone, leaving only a more sterile virtuosity. After that, it was downhill all the way to “If You Leave Me Now”. Chicago Transit Authority stands as their finest.

Chicago Transit Authority

Opinion on what is surely one of the finest debut albums ever made tends to be somewhat polarised these days. Detractors of what eventually, sadly, unforgivably, metamorphosed into the ultimate slush-rock outfit simply ignore it; admirers of the earlier stuff who nonetheless try to distance themselves from the currently unfashionable genre of jazz-rock describe the band as a mainstream hard-rock quartet accompanied by a more-adventurous-than-average Memphis-style horn trio. In fact Chicago Transit Authority has real jazz in bucketloads, alongside blissed-out rock, blues, funk-soul and some wilful psychedelic oddness, particularly in the lyrics and occasional sound effects. And in this instance the mixture really does work.

The first thing that hits your consciousness is the bullhorn-brash confidence of this nascent outfit. Seven unknown but uncompromising musicians offer as their first recording a double album containing eleven lengthy tracks (and one short prologue). The staple fare is meticulously arranged songs, some of which contain enough modulations and changes of tempo to allow them to qualify as suites. Heaven knows how long they rehearsed to get their sh*t this tight, but they are that good and they know it. What other band had the chutzpah to include on its debut a seven-minute solo guitar piece comprising only electronic feedback, long before Lou Reed or Neil Young did so? No wonder the guitarist can be heard laughing into the amplifier mic half way through the piece. He’s not giving the finger to the record company; he’s saying, “this isn’t gratuitous noise, this is our art: make up your own mind whether it’s valid.”

All the musicians are excellent, but in particular guitarist Terry Kath can give Hendrix a fright in the sustain/widdling stakes (“Poem 58”: reportedly, Jimi rated him as a peer) and can perform a continually-inventive twelve-minute strut on the pentatonic comparable to Frank Zappa at his best (“Liberation”). Yes, the horns can throw in the choreographed stabs, but they show themselves capable of ambitious yet economical improv soloing (“Introduction”). Together, the septet move beyond finely honed jazzy pieces (“Beginnings”) through a bludgeoning riff-blues (“South California Purples”) to a latin-drenched drum solo (the fine cover of Steve Winwood’s “I’m A Man”), while the lyrics veer from hippy-dippy mysticism (“Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”) to abrupt political statement (“Prologue, August 29, 1968” / “Someday”). The latter segues seamlessly and intelligently out of the former, a location recording of a chanting civil rights crowd, to drum the message home.

Chicago’s second release was also a jazzy double album, but the experimental weirdness was gone, leaving only a more sterile virtuosity. After that, it was downhill all the way to “If You Leave Me Now.” Chicago Transit Authority stands as their finest.

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“Prologue, August 29, 1968″

:D CD Reissue | 2002 | Rhino | amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1969 | Columbia | search ebay ]
;) MP3 Album | download ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Procol Harum “A Salty Dog”

A Salty Dog

Agruably Procol Harum’s finest hour, A Salty Dog (A&M, 1969) was the last album with keyboard/organ player Matthew Fisher.  Fisher’s keyboards dominate typical Procol Harum numbers like “Pilgrim’s Progress,” “All This and More,” and the excellent progressive rocker “Wreck of the Hesperus.”  These songs (all very good) are what you’d expect to find on a late 60’s Procol Harum record, a slow paced, keyboard driven sound.  It’s the remaining tracks that push the group’s resources to the limit, seeing them branch out into new musical territory that is often exciting and original.

The album opened with the title track, “A Salty Dog.”  One of Procol Harum’s most ambitious statements, this composition features beautiful string arrangements and Gary Brooker’s tremendous vocals (he never sounded better).  Also of note are B.J. Wilson’s powerhouse drum work and the brilliant lyrics of Keith Reid, which accurately describe the paranoia ocean explorers encounter at sea.  For these reasons, the music and lyricism work well together, creating a peculiar sense of impending doom or fear of the unknown.  “A Salty Dog” is still regarded as one of the finest pieces of early progressive rock, and with good reason, it’s a superb song that conjures up eerie feelings – a must own.  Other standouts are the dreamy folk of “Too Much Between Us,”  intelligent roots rock in “The Hand of Human Kindness” and the pre World War II style blues of “Juicy John Pink.”  The latter sounds lo-fi and may be the rawest, most basic track Procol Harum has ever cut; it really is an authentic blues piece too, highlighted by Trower’s fantastic guitar leads and Brooker’s boozy late nite vocals.  “Boredom,” another unique number, is a pretty accoustic campfire jam with distinct Caribbean rhythms.  This is an LP full of variety and style. 

Hard rock enthusiasts may want to pick this up for the great, sludgey rocker titled “The Devil Came From Kansas.”  This one has pounding drums and pile driving guitar riffs, probably their heaviest song – essential music for the classic rock fan.  In fact, all throughout the album Robin Trower’s guitar work is a joy, reaching highs with his own epic composition “Crucifixion Lane” and the cool, stuttering fuzztones heard on aforementioned “The Hand of Human Kindness.”  The band tries all kinds of different experiments out on A Salty Dog, so in a sense it may sound overwhelming at first.  Patience and mutiple listens pay off and reveal A Salty Dog to be one of the best classic rock albums of 1969.

Originals are easy to find in good shape (vinyl).  There have been several good cd reissues by Salvo (2009) and Westside as well.  These reissues feature excellent bonus material and copious liner notes.  By the way, A Salty Dog is slang for an experienced sailor or a libidinous man.  It’s also the name of an acoholic beverage which is made with vodka or gin and grapefruit juice.

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“Milk Of Human Kindness”

:) Original Vinyl | 1969 | A&M | search ebay ]
:D CD Reissue | 2009 | Salvo | amazon ]

Blind Faith “Blind Faith”

The story of Blind Faith – was ever such a star-crossed project more appropriately named? – is so thoroughly documented that there’s no need to elaborate upon it here. (For those around but inexplicably absent from Planet Rock during 1969, and for those then unborn, the excellent booklet in this CD provides a concise and honest history.) Objective examinations of the band’s music, however, are thinner on the ground.
In June 1969, fired by the blaring press announcements of Blind Faith’s formation, I hitch-hiked to London’s Hyde Park to see the free concert that would prove to be their only UK appearance. Far smaller than the hype, of course, the performance drew mixed reviews, but I recall being well enough impressed by the quality songs with Steve Winwood’s solid, soulful fronting on vocal and Fender Rhodes and Eric Clapton’s uncharacteristically diffident but technically faultless guitar playing. On encountering the film of the show on TV almost exactly forty years later, I found no reason to change my mind.
When the LP was announced I was early in the queue. When it proved to be the first album to be released in the UK in stereo only, I had to purchase a stereo-compatible tone arm and cartridge and fit them to my old mono record player simply to accommodate the new purchase. I was impressed with the record then, and remain so today. I’m well aware that this is not a universal view, and will read comments to this post with interest.
Of the original six tracks, Winwood’s “Had To Cry Today” and Clapton’s “Presence Of The Lord” are rock music of the highest quality, and IMHO feature Steve’s voice and Eric’s guitar at their absolute zenith. A younger Clapton once said that his ambition was to make an audience cry with just one note; the final bend of his solo on “Presence” damn nearly makes it happen. “Can’t Find My Way Home” is a charming unplugged ensemble rendition spoilt only by rather obtrusive cymbal splashes from  Ginger Baker – the only blemish on an otherwise excellent Jimmy Miller production –  whilst Baker’s own “Do What You Like” stands comparison with Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” in its rambling linear structure and funky feel. The weakest offering, “Sea Of Joy”, is rescued by a superbly melodic violin solo from Rick Grech. The compositional strength of the tracks is undeniable; “Had To Cry Today” was strong enough to justify covering by Joe Bonamassa as the title track of his album, whilst Faith’s tasteful reinvention of Buddy Holly’s “Well All Right” was covered almost verbatim by Carlos Santana.
The original 35-minute vinyl album may have represented just about all the quality material Faith had to offer, but there was no filler. By contrast the latest reissue CD, the “deluxe” 2-CD version, includes as bonus tracks several alternative (and inferior) versions of the original songs, a couple of other songs not deemed (quite rightly) strong enough to release first time round, and a second discful of rehearsal jams of historic interest only. New converts should concentrate on the first six tracks here, and also if possible seek out the DVD of the Hyde Park concert, which is by no means faultless as cinema but is an above-average record of a historic sixties concert.

Blind Faith

The story of Blind Faith – was ever such a star-crossed project more appropriately named? – is so thoroughly documented that there’s no need to elaborate upon it here. (For those around but inexplicably absent from Planet Rock during 1969, and for those then unborn, the excellent booklet in this CD provides a concise and honest history.) Objective examinations of the band’s music, however, are thinner on the ground.

In June 1969, fired by the blaring press announcements of Blind Faith’s formation, I hitch-hiked to London’s Hyde Park to see the free concert that would prove to be their only UK appearance. Far smaller than the hype, of course, the performance drew mixed reviews, but I recall being well enough impressed by the quality songs with Steve Winwood’s solid, soulful fronting on vocal and Fender Rhodes and Eric Clapton’s uncharacteristically diffident but technically faultless guitar playing. On encountering the film of the show on TV almost exactly forty years later, I found no reason to change my mind.

When the LP was announced I was early in the queue. When it proved to be the first album to be released in the UK in stereo only, I had to purchase a stereo-compatible tone arm and cartridge and fit them to my old mono record player simply to accommodate the new purchase. I was impressed with the record then, and remain so today. I’m well aware that this is not a universal view, and will read comments to this post with interest.

Of the original six tracks, Winwood’s “Had To Cry Today” and Clapton’s “Presence Of The Lord” are rock music of the highest quality, and feature Steve’s voice and Eric’s guitar at their absolute zenith. A younger Clapton once said that his ambition was to make an audience cry with just one note; the final bend of his solo on “Presence” damn nearly makes it happen. “Can’t Find My Way Home” is a charming unplugged ensemble rendition spoilt only by rather obtrusive cymbal splashes from  Ginger Baker – the only blemish on an otherwise excellent Jimmy Miller production –  whilst Baker’s own “Do What You Like” stands comparison with Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” in its rambling linear structure and funky feel. The weakest offering, “Sea Of Joy,” is rescued by a superbly melodic violin solo from Rick Grech. The compositional strength of the tracks is undeniable; “Had To Cry Today” was strong enough to justify covering by Joe Bonamassa as the title track of his album, whilst Faith’s tasteful reinvention of Buddy Holly’s “Well All Right” was covered almost verbatim by Carlos Santana.

The original 35-minute vinyl album may have represented just about all the quality material Faith had to offer, but there was no filler. By contrast the latest reissue CD, the “deluxe” 2-CD version, includes as bonus tracks several alternative (and inferior) versions of the original songs, a couple of other songs not deemed (quite rightly) strong enough to release first time round, and a second discful of rehearsal jams of historic interest only. New converts should concentrate on the first six tracks here, and also if possible seek out the DVD of the Hyde Park concert, which is by no means faultless as cinema but is an above-average record of a historic sixties concert.

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“Presence of the Lord”

:D CD Reissue | 2001 | Polydor | amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl |  1969 | Atco | ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

The Flames “The Flame”

The Flame

One of Carl Wilson’s inspired contributions to the Beach Boys, lead singer Blondie Chaplin and percussionist Ricky Fataar form the core of this unrecognized group. The album was recorded for the Beach Boys’ own Brother Records in 1970.

Before this record they were The Flames and fairly popular in South Africa. They even released six records before being spotted by Al Jardine and Carl Wilson in a UK nightclub. The band moved to California, changed their name to The Flame (avoiding confusion with James Brown’s Famous Flames), and recorded this solid but long neglected record. After this record, Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin would join with the Beach Boys for Carl & The Passions “So Tough” and Holland, Fataar going on to become one of the Rutles (the awesome mock Beatles act). Chaplin would later perform with the Band, the Byrds, and the Stones.

“See The Light” kicks it off high — this track even had enough to scrape the national charts. “Make it Easy Baby” and “Hey Lord” propel the album’s sensitive hard-rock mood with relentless multi-tracked guitar riffing. “Lady” reveals a Harry Nilsson influence and “Don’t Worry Bill” dives heavily into Abbey Road territory. But on tracks like “Get Your Mind Made Up” and “Highs and Lows” you can hear similarities to artists as diverse as Frank Zappa and Ernie Graham.

Unbelievably, the Flame recorded a follow-up record that has never been released. Both records are in desperate need of a reissue. The currently available “Fallout” CD is a blatant act of piracy and should be avoided at all costs. Why the Flame recorded such pure-hearted kick ass classic rock that hasn’t been reissued and never gets an ounce of airplay evades me.

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“Highs and Lows”

:) Original Vinyl | 1970 | Brother | search ebay ]

The Band “Rock of Ages”

Rock of Ages

I usually stay away from live albums. Rock of Ages was my last chip at The Band’s discography, but what a thrill to hear the band at their peak, a true live-rock classic.

Before this record, I’ve always felt “Across The Great Divide” plays kind of hokey at the helm of one of the top records of all time, but here it nearly brings me to tears, revealing the power of a good song. A considerable chunk of this recording’s force comes from Allen Touissaint’s horn arrangments, adding a level of raw, visceral energy, one that fails to detract from the original tunes (unlike so many last-minute horn-section supplements).

Subtle road-variations kill me: the super-slowed chorus to “Stage Fright” (it should have been like this from the beginning), the embellished arrangment for the “Rag Mama Rag” tag (Touissaint again), not to mention the killer Lowrey Organ solo from Garth Hudson, “The Genetic Method,” introducing blazing hot “Chest Fever,” and Robby Robertson’s emotic guitar solo for “Unfaithful Servant.”

I’m glad I saved it for last. Guaranteed to put everybody in a good mood. Though The Band still had more great material in the wings, specifically Northern Lights – Southern Cross, I say make this your Last Waltz.

Q. Are there any other essential live records?

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“Across The Great Divide”

:D CD Reissue | 2001 | Capitol | buy amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1972 | Capitol | search ebay ]
;) MP3 Album | download ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]