Archive for the ‘ Concept Albums ’ Category

Kalacakra “Crawling To Lhasa”

Crawling to Lhasa

This is perhaps one of the strangest and most underrated records to have emerged from the first wave of krautrock. 1972’s Crawling To Lhasa was the first and, ultimately, only set of recordings ever released by Kalacakra, the short-lived duo of Claus Rauschenbach and Heinz Martin, but where the band lacked in staying-power they more than made up for themselves in pure imagination. You would be hard-pressed to find much in the way of comparable material from this era in time.

Resting somewhere between the surreal communality of Amon Düül and the spooky grooves of Can, Crawling To Lhasa is a largely instrumental affair (even when vocals are featured, they are generally whispered, cackled or chanted to the point that they serve more as instruments than as any real vehicles of communication) exploring a sort of mysterious, stoned spiritualism hinted at by the record’s many allusions to Tibetan Buddhism. Songs meander, drift, or press on at indistinguishable points, and while this may seem to point to the record as simply being a collection of directionless jamming, the modus operandi serves the mood here in a way more elaborately crafted songs would fail to do.

All this talk about religion and mystery is not to say that this record lacks a sense of humor, however. My German is not very good, but judging by the amount of (admittedly eerie) laughter going on in the background to some of these songs, Martin and Rauschenbach definitely made it a point to enjoy these sessions – even when discussing such topics as the Black Plague in opener “Nearby Shiras.” Tempos are generally slow, though the electric Indian/medieval music hybrid “Raga Eleven” does up the energy a little with cymbal crashes and an alarmingly insistent tambourine. Though the record maintains an extremely constant atmosphere, the band is not afraid to explore several different facets of sound, from the rather beautiful, nine-minute acoustic guitar and flute meditation “September’s Full Moon” to the creeping blues pastiche “Tante Olga,” which keeps reminding me of some sort of cosmic, acoustic Endless Boogie jam session. Rauschenbach’s deranged vocal mantra and Martin’s nauseous electric guitar riff just keeping their cyclical choogling from driving me up the wall.

Garden of Delights reissued this album back in 2001 on compact disc, but unfortunately took it upon themselves to grace the end of this issue with two New Age synthesizer numbers from what must have been a reunion of sorts. Their vinyl issue makes the crime even worse: rather than tacked on at the end of the record where they can be easily ignored, these two additions are spread across both sides of the LP. Looks like you will either have to suffer through these two anomalies or look for one of the few rare original pressings of Lhasa before we can get a properly restored remaster from the band. Don’t let it dissuade you from hunting this number down, though. This is a real gem from the krautrock underground that anyone interested in the music deserves to hear.

 mp3: Nearby Shiras

:D Reissue | 2012 | Bacillus | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

The Groundhogs “Split”

Here’s one I can’t believe I haven’t heard before. For a record with such a commanding presence, excellent would-be classic tunes, and an ahead of its time Nirvanesque sound it’s a shock I can find too scant mention of it around these parts or elsewhere. In reality, it’s my shame I haven’t run across the Groundhogs before now, as their legendary run through most of the 60s’ British blues scene and subsequent forays in hard jam-rock are not to be overlooked.

Not at all “blues” and too cool for the prog tag, Split is more like a psych-tinged  insanity-fueled classic rock opus. Side A, a continuing amalgam of anthemic classic rock jams, “Split Parts 1-4″ (the lyrics apparently inspired by a panic attack), is the kind of amped-up music it can be dangerous to drive to; “Part 1″ is so juiced it makes me want to join a frantic crime spree. “Part 2″ may be the catchiest song with its driving wah-guitar lead and chop chords. Tony McPhee is clearly running the show, his guitar playing so effortless, dynamic, reeking of virtuosity; this is as in the zone as it gets. Not to diminish the efforts of Peter Cruikshank on guitar and bass and Ken Pustelnik wildly beating away, this band can fucking play.

“Cherry Red” may be the sickest, meanest classic I’ve never heard. How this masterpiece has evaded classic rock radio, movie soundtracks, and my ears altogether I’ll never understand. (Instead of the endless barrage of Black Keys and Jack Whites on the airwaves, music supervisors would do well to score something like this, both for the better of their budgets and our sanities.) On the self-titled “Groundhog,” McPhee proves he can swat the devil blues out of his electrified acoustic as fine as Robert Johnson, providing the album’s only real taste of blues.

Grab this mean, mighty bastard as soon as you can find it.

mp3: Split (Part One)
mp3: Cherry Red

:) Original | 1971 | Liberty | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2003 | Caroline | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Bo Hansson “Ur Trollkarlens Hatt”

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

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

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

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

mp3: Findhorns Sång
mp3: Vandringslåt

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

David Wiffen “Coast to Coast Fever”

The name David Wiffen may or may not ring a bell, but to anyone with an interest in 1970s folk rock I can promise that at least one of his songs will. His material has seen quite a bit of mileage in other performers’ repertoires, and through them a small handful have even filtered up into popular consciousness. Tom Rush and The Byrds both threw their individual spins on “Driving Wheel,” Eric Andersen recorded “More Often Than Not” on his doomed-romantic classic Blue River, and calypso crooner Harry Belafonte rather unexpectedly included both “One Step” and the self-referential “Mister Wiffen” on his 1973 record Play Me. It was the age of the singer-songwriter and David Wiffen seemed to be the next big thing. So what happened?

Coast To Coast Fever, Wiffen’s follow-up to his critically-lauded debut, tells the tale. An informal concept album illustrating the life of the traveling musician and the rigors involved in trying to gain success as a songwriter, it plays as a sort of autobiographical meditation on where the man was at. “He played his tunes to empty rooms, right on down the line,” Wiffen sings on the melancholy title track, “but before he went the money got spent on good times, whiskey and wine.” As in the rest of the album, the singer’s guitar downright sparkles. The production, courtesy of legendary Canadian songwriter Bruce Cockburn, is as laid back and stripped down as one would hope on a record like this, built around a wide acoustic piano sound and smokey percussion. Indeed, Wiffen could hardly have found a more sympathetic ear to this collection of beat meditations and road songs, and Cockburn’s understated guitar playing is arguably one of the record’s musical highlights.

It is hard to break this record into specific highlights when every piece of the puzzle is so essential to the album’s overall character, but a few key cuts do stand out. The down-and-out blues of “Smoke Rings” rests uneasily between gruff, masculine charm and absolute desolation, cigarette smoke drifting quietly out into an empty landscape and paralleling the sad admissions already found in “Coast To Coast Fever.” The story wouldn’t be quite so affecting if one did not get the feeling that this is not a man who has lost it all, but rather one who never had it to begin with, only having glimpsed the possibilities of fame and seen them immediately dissolve into a hard and bitter reality. It’s a strange story for being so common, the successful songwriter that’s never able to make it on his own terms. Then again there must be some light to all this darkness considering that we are not only still listening to and talking about David Wiffen’s records, but that he’s still around and singing. The man even managed to record a belated follow-up to Coast To Coast Fever in 1999, featuring a handful of new songs that still stand strong alongside his most enduring material.

Whereas Wiffen’s debut seems to have disappeared into the aether, only having been reissued once by an independent Italian label before quickly falling back out of print (original copies of the album are obnoxiously hard to obtain, and have sold second-hand for several hundred dollars apiece), Coast To Coast Fever has remained somewhat easier to find. A North American release on compact disc remains available through most online retailers, and original vinyl copies seem to have seen far wider distribution than any of Wiffen’s other recordings, frequently appearing in record store cut-out bins and online auction sites.

mp3: Coast To Coast Fever
mp3: White Lines

:) Original | 1973 | United Artists | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2009 | Isotope | buy here ]

 

Robert Calvert “Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters”

It wasn’t strictly necessary to be a musician to be a member of Hawkwind, the proto-punk space-rock commune from Notting Hill; longtime associate Stacia’s contribution consisted of stripping nude, painting herself blue and gyrating energetically to the rhythms. Robert Calvert’s efforts were a little more artistically substantial: he was an established poet and playwright who featured at intervals during the 1970s as the band’s lyricist and singer. His first “solo” album was originally conceived as a stage play, but in the pilled-out experimental spirit of the times, and with the willing assistance of most of Hawkwind’s musicians and some suitably eccentric guest vocalists, it became a studio-produced concept album alternating songs with darkly-comic sketches and Monty-Pythonesque dialogues. Though having nothing thematically in common with the Monkees’ Head album, its structure is not dissimilar and it’s just as absurd and disorienting. Bob Calvert was famously bipolar, always teetering between rationality and madness and passing occasional intervals in institutions; unsurprising, then, that he produced such an off-the-wall opus.

Calvert had nursed a boyhood yearning to become an RAF jet pilot, an ambition thwarted by a perforated eardrum. His simmering regret for this is probably reflected in his choice of theme for Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters: the German Luftwaffe’s F-104G scandal. The story is well known, but briefly the air arm of West Germany was persuaded to purchase the Lockheed Corporation’s F-104 Starfighter, conceived for the USAF as a supersonic daylight interceptor, as an all-weather strike fighter, a role for which it was totally unsuited. The story also allegedly involves ruthless hard-sell tactics by the manufacturer, bribes accepted by high-ranking German officials, a lamentable lack of training for flight and ground crews and various technical shortcomings including ejector seat failures, the end result being 292 lost aircraft and 115 dead pilots and the nicknaming of the plane as “Widowmaker”. Calvert was clearly familiar with all these factors and included them all in his hard-hitting and highly satirical libretto.

The eight songs commonly employ familiar Hawkwind motifs: driving, repetitive riffs, pounding bass and drums and howling lead guitar and sax, with Calvert’s unhinged vocals wailing over the top. “The Right Stuff”, “The Widow Maker” and “Ejection”, all of whose themes are obvious from their titles, follow this template closely. “The Song Of The Gremlin Part One” and its subsequent companion “Part Two” are more intriguing, with freeform arrangements and some fine synthesiser work. The closing “Catch A Falling Starfighter” is a blackly-humorous dirge resting on the obvious tasteless pun. The intervening spoken-word interludes follow the uniquely British late-sixties fashion of absurdist comedy, seemingly largely improvised in the studio by Calvert, Arthur Brown, Vivian Stanshall of the Bonzos and, unexpectedly, Jim Capaldi of Traffic. Stanshall’s stereotyped hysterical voicing of the German officers is desperately non-politically-correct by today’s standards but hilarious to anyone who appreciated John Cleese’s contemporary “Don’t mention the War” routine, and on “Ground Crew (Last-Minute Reassembly Before Take-Off)” Stanshall and Capaldi recall the best moments of Peter Cook’s and Dudley Moore’s witless, peerless partnership.

One reviewer subsequently described the work as “Vaudevillean rock’n’roll theatre from a time when rock was intelligent (and) dangerous”, which seems to me to sum it up admirably. Normally anything this far leftfield would have sunk without trace, but its Hawkwind associations at a time when the band was at its popularity zenith meant it enjoyed considerable appreciation among the Hawk-faithful. Resuscitated for CD in 2009 by Cherry Red, its unique, utterly offbeat nature means that it doesn’t sound at all dated today. For a fuller understanding of Calvert and his oeuvre  read this account.

mp3: The Song of the Gremlin, Pt. 1
mp3: Ground Crew (Last Minute Reassembly Before the Takeoff)

:D Reissue | 2009 | Cherry Red | buy here ]
:) Original | 1974 | United Artists | search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

The Merchants of Dream “Strange Night Voyage”

Described in the CD liner notes as “a psychedelic concept album based around JM Barrie’s famous tale Peter Pan”, but in reality equal parts toytown-psych confection, twisted sunshine-pop song suite and wannabe stage musical, this curiosity from 1969 fails to convince as any one of these whilst exuding a homespun and totally unique charm that works if you don’t take it too seriously. Certainly I’ve found nothing else like it, apart perhaps from Mark Wirtz’s unfinished and unreleased Teenage Opera from three years previously which shares its guileless naivité. The blurb goes on to say that Strange Night Voyage “cleverly created a parallel between the original notion of Peter Pan as the boy who wouldn’t grow up and the contemporary rebellion against adult morals and mores and straight society that characterised Generation Gap America in the late sixties”. Well, maybe. But there’s no real attempt here to emulate the subversion of the Fish or the Fugs, the principal thrust of the lyrics being simply the perceived benefits of reverting to/remaining in a childlike state. Of course, for some hippies that also had, like, psychedelic connotations at the time, man . . .

Conceived by fellow St John’s graduates songwriter Jack Murphy and record producer Vinny Testa purely as a fun project, the songs were demoed to Testa’s friend George “Shadow” Morton, creator of the Shangri-Las’ hit catalogue. Morton saw potential in the project and scored a deal with Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss of A&M to record it and release it as an album. A core group of musicians was drafted to lay down the tracks, becoming the Merchants Of Dream, though not in reality a performing outfit. Murphy’s songwriting emphasised the vocal harmonies of MOR sunshine-pop and the sophisticated arrangements of show tunes, whilst Morton utilised his proven talents for leftfield orchestration and sound effects. The result came across like the Association on acid meeting the cast of Hair with elements of Sergeant Pepper thrown in for good measure. Whether this mixture proved unpalatable, or maybe the strange cover art was too much, or perhaps due to the lack of an obvious single, the label failed to promote the early ’69 release and it sank like a lead balloon until resuscitated for CD by Tune In forty-two years later.

Kicking off with an exhortation to “listen . . . grow young” and a brief soliloquy in an unconvincing Peter Pan voice, the album offers not one but two brief overtures, one per original album side, which recall Pete Townshend’s similar use on Tommy as they recap musical themes from the following songs. “The Strange Night Voyage Of Peter Pan” with its rolling power-pop rhythm and pulsating bass is the first of a series of disparate character portraits on the original topside dedicated respectively to Peter, Wendy, Hook and the Crocodile plus “Dorothy The Fairy Queen” and “Lovelife’s Purple Circus” (neither of these Barrie characters). “Circus” is a genuinely psychedelic montage item and probably the strongest track on the album, all disorienting tempo changes, disembodied organs, calliopes and circus sounds. On the flip the tracks take more abstract themes – the swirling waltz of “Come Back Into Your Childhood With Me”, “Sing Me Life” and the jokey toddler-rebellion of “When You’re Pushin’ Six”. The final “(We Are) Dream Vendors”, a fine takeoff of generic 1967 Britsike, closes with a crazy coda as the dream state evaporates and the Pan voice returns to intone “now I lay me down to sleep” and a series of “blesses” for Uncle Jack (Murphy), Uncle Vinny (Testa), Uncle Shadow (Morton), Uncle Herbie (Alpert), Uncle Jerry (Moss) and Uncle Everyone Else who had anything to do with the production and release.

After Strange Night Voyage nothing further was heard of from the Merchants Of Dream apart from Murphy who, perhaps unsurprisingly, moved on to a prolific career in stage musicals, finally coming full circle with his Broadway production Wonderland: A New Alice which debuted in 2011.

mp3: Lovelife’s Purple Circus
mp3: (We Are) Dream Vendors

:) Original | 1969 | A&M | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2011 | Cherry Red | buy ]

Bill Fay “Time of the Last Persecution”

Bill Fay’s is a name that has crept back into the underground consciousness in recent years due to some unexpected word-of-mouth publicity which has culminated in a series of commendable reissues of the artist’s work. Going into Time of the Last Persecution, however, I was unaware of such recent windfalls and totally unprepared for what I was delving into save for having read a record store tag-line which compared him to Ray Davies and Bob Dylan, or something along those lines. Sounded like hype of the highest order, but I was willing to take a chance; it was a somewhat impulsive bargain-bin purchase, anyways: cut-out bin at $2.99, and with a stark photograph on the cover that was hard to ignore.

At first I was a little uncertain as to Fay’s songwriting, which is quite strong in exploring the author’s religious ideologies, but that hurdle was quite quickly cleared. The truth is that Fay does not preach or praise so much as pray for understanding and salvation; here is the same tortured spirituality that haunts such landmark recordings as Satan Is Real or Dave Bixby’s Ode To Quetzlcoatl. For example, if it were not for the cracked desperation in Fay’s voice, a line like “Satan is in the garden shed, he’d like to screw you all” might come off as ridiculous. As it stands, however, it is both surreal and terrifying. Fay invokes all sorts of twisted black imagery here, from mental collapse to ecological disaster to chemical warfare. The music is a dynamic tapestry of melancholy piano tracks and heavy psychedelic guitars, often exploding into free-jazz inspired chaos as in the incredible title track. Guitarist Ray Russell is sure to blow your mind over the course of Persecution, capable of shifting between savory Nashville accents and volatile Sharrockian squalls. Horn players Tony Roberts, Nick Evans and Bud Parkes help to underscore the occasional free aspects here – this is the kind of jazz-rock fusion I’ve always hoped to hear. Mahavishnu, eat your heart out.

Most of the time, however, the sound of The Last Persecution is closer to Ernie Graham’s equally underrated self-titled record in that it blends elements of British folk-rock with imported American weariness. Alan Rushton and Daryl Runswick make for a crisp rhythm section whose propensity for laid-back grooves is not too far removed from Rick Danko and Levon Helm’s work in The Band. Runswick’s melodic playing on “Dust Filled Room” is a particular delight, though I’m surprised to find that his own artistic background actually extends the record’s free-jazz connections: he has spent time with Ornette Coleman, of all people! Which is all to say that these are some serious musicians, and even if you have trouble latching onto Fay’s songwriting or reedy voice there’s an entire world of delicacies to be tried within the music. Just take a listen to the frenzied coda to “Release Is In the Eye,” with Russell painting lightning all up and down his fretboard as the rhythm section latches on to a droning freight-train pattern.

Eclectic Discs reissued Time of the Last Persecution back in 2005 and did a beautiful job of it, too. This is a unique and heartfelt statement of a man searching through the darkness and while it may not be easy listening, its grooves are full of rewards for the dedicated listener. As Fay himself writes in Eclectic’s liner notes, “I worry to an extent about its ‘heaviness’ circulating out there in a small way, but at the same time I feel there’s maybe something of a therapeutic release in some of the intensity of the music,” which is about as fitting a description as I could ever think to assign.

mp3: Release Is in the Eye
mp3: Time of the Last Persecution

:D Reissue | 2005 | Eclectic | buy ]
:) Original | 1970 | Deram | search ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

The Freak Scene “Psychedelic Psoul”

The story of pop music in the 1960s is littered with “bands” that were never truly bands, but were, rather, the creation of record companies and record producers anxious to cash in on prevailing trends. This, too, is the story of The Freak Scene.

The Freak Scene was the creation of Rusty Evans, an ostensible folksinger who’d gotten his start recording rockabilly for Brunswick Records. The Kasentez-Katz of psych-pop, Evans was responsible for several albums by “bands” that were, in actuality, Evans and a group of studio musicians.  The Freak Scene was the second of Evans’ psych-pop groups, following on the heels of The Deep, and featuring many of the same musicians who’d played on the The Deep’s sole album.

Like The Deep, The Freak Scene was credited with one album before Evans lost interest. Psychedelic Psoul, the lone contribution by The Freak Scene, is a fascinating late-60s curio, made up of songs interspersed with spoken word vignettes that address all the hot-button issues of the time – the Vietnam War, civil rights, the plight of hippies. The result is as much art-rock as psych-pop.

Not surprisingly, the spoken word vignettes have not aged well, but several of the songs on Psychedelic Psoul have lasting appeal. “A Million Grains of Sand,” “Rose of Smiling Faces” and “My Rainbow Life”’ bear heavily the Indian influence that dominated the music of the Summer of Love, with their mystical lyrics and swirling strings; however, “My Rainbow Life” suffers from banal lyrics that make it sound more like a soundtrack entry on an acid exploitation flick than a real song. “Behind the Mind,” “The Center of My Soul” and “Mind Bender” bear a striking resemblance to garage-psych on the level of the Electric Prunes (another pre-fab band) or the Strawberry Alarm Clock.

By far the best offering on Psychedelic Psoul is “The Subway Ride Through Inner Space,” which somehow manages to mash-up the stream-of-conscious lyrical quality of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and any of George Harrison’s sitar-heavy Beatles tracks, all on top of a loping, hypnotic rhythm.

Evans abandoned The Freak Scene after Psychedelic Psoul. Evans worked in A&R for a time, establishing Eastern Productions, which signed both Third Bardo and The Facts of Life, and producing the Nervous Breakdown for Take Six.

Although The Freak Scene was short-lived, Evans wasn’t quite finished with the band’s output; when he re-emerged as a recording artist in 1969 under his given name, Marcus, he recycled “A Million Grains of Sand” as “Grains of Sand,” slowing the tempo, simplifying the instrumentation, and generally going for a more seductive vibe.

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“The Subway Ride Through Innerspace”

mp3: Marcus – Grains Of Sand

:D Reissue | 2010 | TBird | buy here ]
:) Original | 1967 | Columbia | search ebay ]

Bobbie Gentry “The Delta Sweete”

With its picture of the gorgeous Bobbie Gentry superimposed in monochrome over a falling down shack, The Delta Sweete promises the peculiarly Southern music that Gentry was known for. The Delta Sweete is Bobbie Gentry’s second album, coming on the heels of the tremendous success of one of the most memorable, if bizarre, hits of the 1960s, “Ode to Billy Joe.”

A loosely-formed concept album of sorts, Delta further explores the vagaries of the Mississippi Delta country  of “Ode to Billy Joe.”  Here, Gentry evokes the county fairs and family reunions that would have been events during Gentry’s girlhood, along with the small, everyday moments that made “Ode to Billy Joe” such a classic.

“Okolona River Bottom Band,” a song about a southern talent show, is a veritable travelogue of the Mississippi Delta area, delivered in the husky voice that’s Gentry’s trademark.  It sounds like something from another time, or at least a lost track from one of the Band’s early albums.

“Reunion” is a child’s experience at that most Southern of traditions, the family reunion, complete with gossip, hair pulling, and a finger stuck in a Coke bottle.

Songs like “Penduli Pendulum,” “Courtyard,” and “Jessye’ Lizabeth” don’t lyrically reference the Delta country, but are musically evocative of the South,  from the dog days rhythm of “Penduli Pendulum” and the folk-song like structure of “Courtyard” and “Jessye’ Lizabeth.”

“Sermon,” “Louisiana Man,” and “Tobacco Road” are well-known covers, but are of a piece with the rest of the album, referencing the hellfire and brimstone of a country church service and the hand-to-mouth existence of sharecroppers and trappers.

The strength of The Delta Sweete makes the case for Bobbie Gentry as one of the most underrated and largely forgotten songwriters of the late 1960s-early 1970s era.  Gentry’s episodic lyrics, referential of the South of her girlhood, married to the simple, often melancholic melodies of her music are as arresting today as when they were released, yet most of her catalogue is out-of-print in the U.S.  Even “Ode to Billy Joe,” in its ubiquitousness, is often dismissed as a one-hit-wonder or novelty song.

If you appreciated the husky vocals or the unforgettable lyrics of “Ode to Billy Joe,” The Delta Sweete is worth looking for.

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“Okolona River Bottom Band”

:) Original Vinyl | 1968 | Capitol | search ebay ]
;) MP3 Album | download here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Lee Hazlewood “Love and Other Crimes”

Shortly after the release of the million-selling Nancy & Lee, Lee Hazlewood exercised his newfound clout with Reprise and headed to Paris to record a new solo album. Along for the ride were rhythm guitarist extraordinaire Donnie Owens and Wrecking Crew members James Burton, Hal Blaine, Chuck Berghofer, and Don Randi. If Hazlewood’s stream of consciousness notes on the back of the album are to be believed, they lived the life of the jet set, their days and nights a bacchanal of fine wine, beautiful women, and Lotus Europas with all the extras. Fortunately for us, Hazlewood and crew still managed to find the time to record the stunning Love and Other Crimes.

A baroque precursor to his minimalist Requiem For An Almost LadyLove and Other Crimes finds Hazlewood in a reflective mood, sifting through the ashes of a love gone wrong. Yet the album isn’t all loser’s tears and raindrops – by the end of side two, Hazlewood is unbowed, undefeated, and above all, unrepentant.

This is prime Hazlewood and essential listening for fans of the man and his work. With its sophisticated production, this is a truly great sounding album, and at just under thirty minutes, it demands to be listened to from start to finish. James Burton and company effortlessly shift from country-fried pop to jazzy lounge to elegant ballads and back again. Among the inventive arrangements, “She Comes Running” and “Pour Man’” successfully pair twangy guitar and harpsichord, with “Pour Man’” coming off like a mash-up of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” and Paul Mauriat’s “Love Is Blue.” And you haven’t heard Burton’s trademark volume swell technique until you’ve heard it on full display in “Rosacoke Street.” Even Chuck Berghofer’s distinct upright bass work deserves special mention – listen for his famous “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” bass slide at the end of “Pour Man’.”

Tracking down an original copy of this album is highly recommended – to these ears, Hazlewood’s voice has never sounded better. Although Love and Other Crimes doesn’t appear to have been reissued as a stand-alone CD, tracks from the album are available on several compilations. However, note that the import LHI compilation, which inexplicably shares the same title and cover art as Love And Other Crimes, only contains four tracks from the album. A better bet is Rhino Handmade’s two-disc Strung Out On Something New, which presents Hazlewood’s three Reprise albums in their entirety, as well as a handful of hard‑to-find singles produced by or featuring Hazlewood.

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“Forget Marie”

:) Original Vinyl | 1968 | Reprise | search ebay ]
:D CD Reissue | 2008 | Rhino Handmade | 2CD Comp | buy here ]