Archive for the ‘ Concept Albums ’ Category

Van Dyke Parks “Song Cycle”

Song Cycle

“I’ve been in this town so long that back in the city I’ve been taken for lost and gone and unknown for a long, long time.” Beyond his work with the Beach Boys, Parks had an impressive and varied career, often working with a number of other groups, as varied as Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Byrds, Tim Buckley — all the way to Joanna Newsom. His marvelous solo debut, Song Cycle, is a classic and poetic tour de force.

Musically, I imagine it as a “song spiral.” Motifs aren’t recycled or revisited as much as they are abandoned for new ideas. The orchestration is borne of the poetry, the words directing each instrumental movement. Song Cycle is an album to let yourself soak in, to stay with for a week or even a year. I also recommend listening with the lyric sheet in hand because the layered sound of ever-changing chamber orchestra can be heavy for the mind to absorb concurrently with the poetry.

Being a fan of SMiLE most likely won’t offer a free pass to Song Cycle. The album is dense and difficult to infiltrate. There are traces of inspiration here and there, possibly a glimpse to what Brian could have done with SMiLE if he’d had the encouragement Van Dyke had in Lenny Waronker.

Truthfully speaking, I can’t really understand the concept behind the album. As far as I have read, the record was meant to span a breadth of American musical styles. I know the touch of bluegrass (Steve Young singing Black Jack Davy in a clip that introduces the record) and the homage to Gershwin/Showtune styles, a taste of jazz, but I just don’t really get it. While I’m happy to enjoy what is still unknown to me, for I do love this album, I would be grateful to hear from those who can lighten the mystery of Song Cycle.

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“Palm Desert”

:) Vinyl Reissue | 2007 | Sundazed | buy ]
:D CD | 1990 | Warner | amazon ]

The Fallen Angels “It’s A Long Way Down”

It’s A Long Way Down

People went crazy in the 1960’s and early 70’s. Great rock n roll was created everywhere, from New York City to Israel, big cities far and near. Rock music was a giant fuck you to the establishment and older generations.

“It’s A Long Way Down” by the Fallen Angels, from 1968, was a product of this revolutionary vortex. It’s a minor masterpiece, with a great cover. This album has been forgotten about, lost in the sands of time, a micro-organism lost in a virtual sea that produced an overwhelming body of music.

The Angels had released an uneven but generally exciting debut album in 1967 and some singles beforehand. There was some great highlights on the debut, but for their last album they produced the so-called Sgt. Pepper of Washington D.C. Just think of the Left Banke, late night, stoned and producing some serious outsider music.

Poor Old Man leads the album off and recalls late period (1968-) Zombies. A great song that gives way to A Horn Playing On My Thin Wall, a masterpiece of underground psych and what makes me believe that rock music is one of the best things that has ever happened to this country. Silent Garden and One Of The Few Ones Left are also strong and recall the good qualities of the great Left Banke. Look At The Wind has a hard, fluid jazzy groove while Something You Can’t Hide is pure paisley pop, a style which many current bands tend to mimic with less than desirable results.

This is a killer unknown 60’s album with a lot of great psych moves. Worth the search!!!!

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“A Horn Playing On My Thin Wall”

:) Vinyl Reissue | 2007 | EMI Roulette | ebay ]
:D CD Reissue | 1994 | Collectables | amazon ]

Poe “Up Through The Spiral”

Up Through The Spiral

This is a pretty good late period hard rock psych concept LP that few people know about. Poe originally were the Playboys of Edinburg, a McAllen Texas band who began releasing singles in 1965. The Playboys of Edinburg released 7 or 8 singles in various pop rock styles (garage, beat, folk-rock and hard rock) throughout the 1960’s and eventually relocated to Houston.

For this 1970/71 UNI release the Playboys of Edinburg changed their name to Poe and created this concept lp. Many of the songs were written and arranged by band members McCord and Williams. The album chronicles the life and thoughts of Edgar Cayce, a man who could put himself into some kind of self-induced sleep state by lying down on a couch, closing his eyes, and folding his hands over his stomach. This state of relaxation and meditation enabled him to place his mind in contact with all time and space.

No song better illustrates this theme than the great Up Up Thru The Spiral. This track opens with classic paisley guitar riffs and one of the all time great opening psych lines which refers to Cayce’s incredible ability. Up Up Thru The Spiral is also notable for a horn arrangement, distorted vocals and what sounds like tape loop experimentations. This is flat out a great psych pop track with an English sound similar to that of the Move. Other tracks like the futuristic psych of Automatic Writing, Tune In, the furious Sons of Belial, and Fallin’ Off are pretty vicious and rock hard. Fallin’ Off is more than a nod to English rock group Free, with it’s great, heavy guitar riffs, gritty vocals and sound fx explosion mid way thru the track. This song sounds like a lost classic rock radio hit and had considerable pop appeal, it’s definitely a good one! The lead off track, There Is A River reveals a strong gospel influence and has George Harrison style guitar playing and Beatlesque harmonies. Another reflective number, Debt To Pay is a really good acoustic song with sweet, sugary harmonies and a personal favorite.

This is a solid set from an unknown band who can balance soft reflective tunes with druggy, stoned hard rockers. Vinyl orginals are somewhat cheap although the album saw a cd reissue in 2006 off the Mr. Nobody record label.

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“Up Up Through The Spiral”

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Appletree Theatre “Playback”

Playback

Playback was released in 1968 off the Verve label. Both John and Terrence Boylan were the brains behind this project that is divided into three acts. It’s an inventive pop album with great songs, strange sound effects, comedy bits and trippy dialogue in between some of the tracks. Fans of Friends era Beach Boys, Family Tree, the Smoke (Michael Lloyd’s band) and the Millennium will really love this record though it has more of a downbeat mood than the before mentioned sunshine pop classics.

Playback was released in two different album covers (both covers are great) and was supposedly one of John Lennon’s favorites from 1968. Some of the tracks, such as I Wonder If Louise Is Home suggest the boys may have indulged in too many psychedelic drugs, with its distorted megaphone vocals and soaring horns. The album opener, Hightower Square, and Nevertheless It Was Italy are strong hallucinary floaters that play it straight, with light psychedelic arrangements. There’s even a beautiful 52 second acoustic track with gorgeous strings and downer vocals called Saturday Morning.

The real meat of this jaded pop album lies within it’s best 3 tracks: Brother Speed, You’re The Biggest Thing In My Life, and the wonderful What A Way To Go. Brother Speed is a great blue-eyed soul drug number with stax-like horn arrangements, pounding drums, stoned vocals, and a loud guitar psych solo. It’s a good one for sure but You’re The Biggest Thing In My Life is superb as well with tons of guitar feedback within the confines of a creepy but pretty conventional pop song. The album comes to a close with the outstanding What A Way To Go. This is one of the great introspective acid folk-rock songs that hits a downer psych nerve that few can equal. It’s a good one to play for square friends as the track has beautifully spaced out vocals and crazed, nonsensical lyrics.

In 1969 Terrence Boylan returned with a solo psych pop album credited to Alias Boona which I have never seen or heard. Just recently the Appletree Theatre’s Playback was reissued but can only be bought off Terrence Boylan’s homepage (The Official Terence Boylan Website). Highly recommended!

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“What A Way To Go”

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The Carpenters “A Song For You”

A Song For You

There is always a time and place when this will be the perfect record to put on. Many could use a little Carpenters in their collection, and this hit-studded near-concept album is their best work. You have to let down your guard and forget what you know about this group; they sound a little slick, sure, but they perform good honest songs, aren’t afraid of a little humor, and that voice…

My god, Karen Carpenter slays them all. American Idol losers and winners alike have never approached this type of talent, and I always think of Karen, somehow, when comparing the wannabes. There is a flippancy in her wide range, a lazy accent or something, as she didn’t care, we’ll act formal later. Listening to her sing Leon Russell’s A Song For You, the opener on this record, has become a ritual; could anybody top this version?? I’ll take it any day, sax solo, over-the-top affected chorus and all.

The first five tracks on the record represent the stages of a love-gone-wrong relationship. You can tell just by the titles: 1. A Song For You, 2. Top Of The World, 3. Hurting Each Other, 4. It’s Going To Take Some Time, 5. Goodbye To Love. Wow, what a great set of tunes. It’s worth noting that Top Of The World went to #1 and is a great, fun song with smooth country stylings. You will most likely recognize a few of these gems from scattered radio play and other recordings.

After a goofball ‘Intermission’ we have Side B, featuring a less serious set but still top-quality stuff. Richard Carpenter gets to shine a bit on this side, with his instrumental Flat Baroque and lispy vocals on Piano Picker. Piano Picker is hilarious, I must say, an ode to Richard Carpenter’s dedication to “banging on the keys” in lieu of “playing with the football.” This is the kind of song you put on as a joke, though I can’t explain why I know all of the words.  If you want to try on some classic soft rock, this is the record for you.

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“A Song For You”

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The Kinks “Are The Village Green Preservation Society”

Village Green Preservation Society

A Hall of Fame record, a go-to standby, the Kinks’ magnum opus, and a lifelong friend. Village Green Preservation Society feels like an old vinyl record no matter how digital your copy. It’s light and fun, wistful and teary, a beautiful definition of nostalgia in the form of Ray Davies’ finest work.

VGPS followed the lovely Something Else by The Kinks and took its sound a step further, presenting a selection of songs loosely dedicated to a unified idea: preservation. Whether it be in personal reflection, a photograph, or the Village Green itself, Ray longs for another time in these songs. Do You Remember Walter says it nearly best: “people often change, but memories of people can remain.” The line gets me every time.

The instrumentation features a wonderful small orchestra of happy acoustic guitar, woody drums, cheery backing vocals, and a handsome lot of subtle instrumental highlights. The songs are playful and imaginative, eternally catchy. The Kinks firmly embraced their Englishness with this album, and it sure can make an American boy feel envy! Village Green, perhaps the least accessible but prettiest, features a real orchestral string backing and brandishes a lovely chorus with pizzicato violin decorations. Other woodwinds and strings ornamenting the album are whirred from the famous Mellotron keyboard (see Phenomenal Cat).

The fold-out digipak reissue of VGPS is a dream package with 2 discs full of extra content that will surely please, but Kinks kollectors probably have much of it from rarity discs. Get this record if you don’t have it, and if you already do, put it on. This is a masterpiece from one of rock’s finest groups.

One of my favorite tracks, old-fashioned but sweet:

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“All Of My Friends Were There”

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Joe Meek & The Blue Men “I Hear A New World”

Hear A New World

What a fine outer space adventure album! Several years before British producer Joe Meek and the Tornados scored an international super-hit with “Telstar,” Meek had composed and recorded his adventurous masterpiece, I Hear a New World, an imaginative musical take at life on the moon.

In 1960, the moon remained very much a mystery and with human spaceflight becoming more and more likely, public anticipation concerning the mysteries of outer space may have reached its peak. Meek stepped forward to create this lunar-inspired “music fantasy” record, technologically and conceptually well ahead of the time. Joe Meek:

“I wanted to create a picture in music of what could be up there in outer space. At first I was going to record with music that was completely out of this world but realized that it would have very little entertainment value, so I kept the construction of the music down to earth.”

Helping to keep Meek’s compositions “down to earth” was Rod Freeman, the musical director and arranger for the project (the music itself was performed by the Blue Men, formerly the skiffle group the West Five). Freeman, it seems, saved Hear a New World from becoming a stereo sound effects record. Accounts of Meek’s early demos report the tracks were a challenging listen.

The music production and engineering for this recording were unique and visionary. In a pre-synthesizer world, Meek used a wide array of homemade electronics and unique instruments to achieve a signature sound. Most notably, perhaps, was the Clavioline, a three-octave keyboard instrument somewhere between an organ and a simple analog synthesizer. The Clavioline handles many of the lead melodies on this record (as well as on “Telstar”). The Hawaiian guitar was another noticeable go-to instrument on this record. Different types of echo effects (tape echo and chamber echo) are also used liberally and to great effect.  Meek recorded these sessions at his legendary home recording studio in North London, where he produced some of the most unique independent music in English history and sadly ended his own life in a murder-suicide at the age of 37.

I Hear A New World was never fully released until recently. In 1960 a sampler EP was released by Triumph Records, including only four of the twelve original tracks. Recorded in stereophonic sound, the sampler was sent to retail stores as a demonstration of what “stereo” was capable of (then, a young technology).  The 2001 CD release on RPM is well done, with the 12 original tracks, plus 30 minutes of interviews with Meek (probably only appealing to enthusiasts), as well as a brief film clip of Meek from 1964.

There are discernable musical highlights inside this record, however it is recommended to listen to “I Hear a New World” in its entirety at first and with headphones. Meek takes you on a memorable journey around the moon, stopping in to visit different lunar civilizations! Don’t miss it!

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“The Bublight”

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The Family Tree “Miss Butters”

Miss Butters

It’s great to see an album like Miss Butters finally getting the reissue treatment it deserves. The Family Tree was the product of the genius of Bob Segarini, and their only album is a fantastic and interesting conceptual piece with tunes as memorable as any Broadway musical (only really cool).

This record is a must for any Nilsson fan, not alone for some of the similar feels, it was recorded at the same studio as Aerial Ballet, using the same arranger for orchestra parts, same producer, and Harry even wrote a track. A Nilsson album in spirit, but unlike anything he was capable of creating. The Miss Butters recording is superb in its production, the equal of any Beatles record, and soars with string arrangement, backing vocal, and complex song structure.

Previously, Miss Butters was presented in an unapproved stereo mix on vinyl. The CD reissue has remastered audio from the master tapes presented in original mono (and really, really nice sounding). This is a masterful reissue from Revola for a record that truly deserves it. Bravo.

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“Any Other Baby”

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Harry Nilsson “The Point”

The Point

I wish I could say I grew up with this record. I can’t say whether I would appreciate it more or less having discovered it in my 20th year or my 10th. Regardless, Nilsson’s kid pop masterpiece is a delight to hear on first discovery or nostalgic relisten.

Piano and bongos open up the groove before Nilsson begins to speak. “Everything’s Got Em” is a wonderful, catchy opener. Each track is bookended with Harry’s comforting narration, audible sips of water sips and page turns providing homey color. The story is a fable. Oblio, the only boy in town without a point on his head. After multiple listens (a must have record for road trips) you may catch yourself singing the narration as much as the songs “…you see what you want to see and you hear what you want to hear.”

The orchestration: piano, clavinet, mandolin, pizzicato strings, mellow percussion; every rhythm on this record interlocks in the most satisfying way. Nilsson crafted a pop sound with a hint of jazz that you’ll find nowhere else. “Think About Your Troubles,” “Are You Sleeping,” and “Me And My Arrow” are tracks that you will never forget.

There was a cartoon movie version of The Point (DVD), with Ringo Starr’s voice, but I find it to be a let-down after hearing the album. I suppose you have to see the movie first to enjoy it. I’ve always dreamed of a redone animated film of The Point, using something like the knitted style shown above, as a visual accompaniment to the album. It would have to be quite a work of art, thinking of that, to approach the genius of this record on its own.

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“Think About Your Troubles”

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The Louvin Brothers “Satan is Real”

Satan Is Real

Here’s an essential country gospel record for any collection. Satan is Real is most (in)famous for its cover, which is a photograph of a real set designed and ignited by the Louvin’s themselves, highlighted by the magnificent 12 foot plywood Satan depiction, and noted in the liners to have nearly killed the fellas when the flames got out of hand. This album should be every bit as well known, however, for its quality of sound.

Regardless of your interest in religion, there is no denying the beauty and intensity in music devoted to the Higher Power. And as the Byrds taught us, there can be a campy joy, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, in singing together about “The Christian Life” and “Satan’s Jeweled Crown.” However, Charlie and Ira Louvin did NOT sing these songs with even the slightest intention of mockery; you can hear it in their passionate, strikingly harmonious singing. “You can hear him in songs that give praise to idols and sinful things of this world!

Aside from the shock of hearing the finest harmonized voices from the history of country music singing and preaching on the woes of doomed sinners and the realness of Satan, there is a perfectly restrained country combo backing, with church organ, snare drum, upright bass and excellently twanged electric guitar. Each song is well written and completely memorable. It’s a perfect, yet challenging and rewarding, album.

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“Satan Is Real”

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