Archive for the ‘ Country Rock ’ Category

Michael Nesmith “Magnetic South”

Magnetic South

Michael Nesmith was never really a Monkee. At least, not in the way that most folks imagine the Monkees – as 60s bubblegum phonies in a TV show. The Monkees eventually got with it enough to deserve much more cred than that, but Nez was always ahead of the game.

By 1965, Nezzy was writing and selling hits in LA that were recorded by artists like The Stone Poneys and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. His only mistake was showing up for an audition advertising their need for “four insane boys.” While there’s no telling if it was a mistake or not, Nezzy grew unhappy with lack of freedom afforded to him on the Monkees’ records. He was a musician and a songwriter in the first place!

In 1970 he paid a mint to end his contract early and got to business. It’s clear he wanted to renew his image, because The First National Band he assembled went on to record this country rock classic which is right on par with the Burritos and Poco. When you spin this you’ll realize why Nezzy got frustrated in the Monkees; his songwriting is incredibly strong.

The tone is almost more country than rock, not to say he turned his back on his pop roots. The pedal steel verges on Hawaiian and the band commits to a laid back but very tight sound. Nezzy doesn’t have that “deep in the heart a” country bass kind of vox, but he gets nice and yodelly-melodic on Joanne (the album’s #21 single) and brings out the high-lonesome on Keys To The Car. Things tend to get a little groovy here and there, but First National always brings it back home! Great licks and a very memorable album.

This is a real-deal country rock record, every bit influential as all the others. If you look for this on CD, you’ll also get the other two First National Band records that followed Magnetic South, both as great as the first.

mp3: Hollywood

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Swampwater “Swampwater”

Swampwater

Swampwater’s 1970 debut stands alongside Sweetheart of the Rodeo, Guilded Palace of Sin, Poco’s debut, the Everly Brothers’ Roots and Bradley’s Barn as one of the best country-rock records ever.

Founder, Gib Guilbeau had a strong Bakersfield resume prior to forming Swampwater. Guilbeau and Gene Parsons had released a few early country-rock singles in the late 60’s as well as an album which eventually saw light of day in 1970 (although recorded in 1968-). The two recruited Clarence White in 1968 to record the legendary Nashville West album. This album has a good live feel and is highlighted by some of Clarence White’s best playing which was always breathtaking and revolutionary.

Eventually Swampwater formed and started out as Linda Ronstadt’s backing group in the late 60’s. Eric White, Clarence’s brother was also in the band and prior to forming Swampwater had been in the excellent Kentucky Colonels. Swampwater made two distinct albums in the early 70’s without Linda Ronstadt’s involvement. The above album was different than many notable country rock acts of the time for adding cajun and swamprock elements. The album opens and closes with two certified country-rock classics, Louisiana Woman and Big Bayou. Guilbeau had recorded the classy Louisiana Woman with both Nashville West and on his 1970 album with Parsons, though the version heard on Swampwater is the best. Big Bayou is a hard rocking, white hot country song with pretty fiddle that has been covered by many popular artists inlcuding Rod Stewart. Other songs like the acoustic flavored Man From New Orleans are highlighted by beautiful harmonies and a tear in your beer ambience.

Swampwater’s musicianship is high caliber and Guilbeau’s lyrics are always first-rate and thoughtful. Great songs like Kathleen, Desperation’s Back Again (supposedly an Everly Brothers homage with great down and out lyrics) and River People are beautifully arranged and display superior craftsmanship. It’s really a wall of greatness, with each song just as good as the next.

Swampwater mastered all the rural styles from cajun to folk-rock but just never received the breaks they so justly deserved. Their members were slugging it out in bars playing this sort of music years before anyone else had thought to do so. This album is a masterpiece and recommended to any true country fan.

Can anyone provide further information regarding their self-titled RCA album from 1971/1972?

EDIT: John Beland himself was kind enough to stop by and inform us about it in the comments! Thanks for visiting, John!

mp3: Big Bayou

:D CD Reissue | buy from amazon
:) Original Vinyl | search ebay ]

The Gosdin Brothers “Sounds of Goodbye”

soundsofgoodbye.jpg

The Gosdins were no strangers to country-rock in 1968. The prior year the two contributed harmony vocals and guitar to Gene Clark’s exquisite masterpiece, Gene Clark and the Gosdin Brothers. They had also released some great singles that were caught between the earlier Byrdsian folk-rock sound and a new, emerging country-rock scene (check out There Must Be Someone or I’ll Live Today).

Sounds of Goodbye, released in 1968, would be the duo’s only album together. It was a groundbreaking effort that somehow slipped through the cracks. The originals, For Us To Find and The Victim are outstanding cynical country rockers that stand out for Vern Gosdin’s crystal clear vocals with an added Bakersfield twang. On The Victim, the acoustics sparkle and glitter beautifully with a slight psychedelic production that adds to the Gosdin’s unique vision. Sounds of Goodbye and She’s Gone are very wistful and sad but good nonetheless, recalling Gene Clark’s material from around the same time.

It’s an album that should be filed alongside Swampwater, Gene Clark’s 1st solo album, Roots by the Everly Brothers, and the late 60’s Dillards material. Even the covers on this album are done with taste and care, Let It Be Me (The Everly Brothers hit) particulary stands out in this vein. The cd reissue on Big Beat adds 13 singles and outtakes to the original album, most of which are essential. The above mentioned I’ll Live Today’s intro recycle’s Gene Clarks I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better but eventually evolves into a folk-rock masterpiece. Hang On, one of their hit singles, even finds the Gosdin’s successfully experimenting with a mellotron – in a country rock song!!!

Then we have There Must Be Someone I Can Turn To, one of the first country rock standards and a good enough reason to buy this album. The Byrd’s did a nice version of this song on their Untitled album, but nothing beats the original. The only strange element to the album is the sleeve, in which the Gosdin brothers look like a couple of squares in turtlenecks.

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“The Victim”

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Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit, and Greenhill “The Unwritten Works Of Geoffrey, Etc.”

The Unwritten Works of Geoffrey, Etc.

This is an accomplished album for a band that was barely noticed in their day. In fact, their real names are David Bullock, John Carrick, Scott Fraser, Philip White, and Eddie K. Lively. With the exception of the horrible, trippy music hall influenced Street In Paris, The Unwritten Works of Geoffrey, Etc. is loaded with good songs.

I don’t believe these guys ever played any live gigs as Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit and Greenhill. More or less WCDG were a group of friends experimenting with the sounds of the day. They did this sort of experimentation in their basements until they were rewarded a recording contract. This Texas foursome knew how to write, play and sing and could compete on a number of levels with any peers you care to name. They were a one of a kind band that blended folk, blues, country, psychedelia, soul, and rock seamlessly (think Moby Grape or Buffalo Springfield).

The opening song, The Viper, sounds like a lost track from an early Allman Brothers album, being a great blend of outlaw country and folk rock. Day of Childhood is an intense, psychedelic classic with some great Byrds influenced Rickenbacker guitar, Neil Young-like vocals and swirling backwards guitar solos. Other great moments are House of Collection which is highlighted by some creepy, dazed organ and the righteous droning psych of Ready To Move. The remaining compositions combine folk, light psychedelia and country elements effectively, making this album full of variety.

The band released one more album in the early 70’s, changing their name to Space Opera. Space Opera is a pretty unique effort as well, mixing Byrds influenced folk/country with the burgeoning progressive rock scene.

“Day Of Childhood”

Don’t Buy Fallout or Radioactive

This record has unfortunately been heisted by Fallout Records and is being sold without permission from the artist or copyright holders. We won’t be reviewing any more records that are only available from Fallout and urge you to find it in any way that won’t profit this pirate organization. Click here to learn more.

The Flatlanders “More a Legend Than a Band”

More A Legend Than A Band

This became my favorite new record in under a full day. Normally, we are looking at albums that we’ve sat with, kinda know inside out, but this is an emergency. It’s been an evil secret that nobody told me about this one sooner.

Originally released in 1972, and only available on 8-track cassette until 1990, when it was finally put out on CD- just in time for the alt-country kids to scoop it up- this is a perfect country album. If you’ve ever detected a note of irony when the Byrds put their cowboy hearts on for Sweetheart, this is the record to set you straight. The real deal (and you know because it’s on Rounder).

It’s hard to describe what it is about the sweet spot this record hits, but here’s a shot: The Flatlanders match an electric sound with acoustic, bluegrass instrumentation (sans banjo). They play in an old-timey (lazy fiddle) way with a swing in their step, and add a nice psych touch with the musical saw (imagine a tasteful theremin adding hints of accompaniment on about half the record). Jimmie Dale’s singing is A+ number one and the harmony is also great. Oh and listen to that fine dobro work on Stars In My Life.

Or look at it this way: 13 great new songs to love, a beautiful forgotten classic for your shelves, and a serious contender for Sweetheart of the Rodeo’s coveted country-rock trophy spot. Yes, it’s the newest record in my collection, but I think I would grab for it first on my way to the island.

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“Jole Blon”

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The Downliners Sect “The Country Sect”

Country Sect

Sandwiched in between two great mod punk/garage blues albums and some classic singles is Country Sect, the Downliners Sect’s second album released way back in 1965. This is one of the earliest country rock records and most definitely the first by a British band.

When the album was released it met with critical backlash and was considered a commercial suicide. Listening to this music today, 40 plus years later, it sounds fresh and unlike anything in the country rock canon. Just imagine four or five drunk Brits playing their favorite old country and blues songs in the basement (essentially a monumental country album made in the garage with genuine redneck spirit) but with focus and intensity.

The intensity reaches a peak with an excellent country blues cover Rocks In My Bed. This composition is raw as hell and feature’s some old fashioned piano and crazied Don Craine screaming. Hard Travellin’ is similar in mood and is a life affirming sh*t-kicking country rocker. Also, Ballad Of The Hounds, Above And Beyond and Wait For The Light To Shine really capture that backwoods sound effectively and some other numbers are even augmented with banjo and washboard. They throw in a sensitive folk-rock protest number with Little Play Soldiers and hark back to their British Invasion roots with the mysterious, uncertain Bad Storm Coming.

These guys were really one of the ultimate punk bands; they did what they pleased and made no apologies. You can hear and feel this attitude throughout the album. Country Sect is so special, so different, it’s the kind of record that is misunderstood more often than most. Give it some time though and you’ll hear why musicians like Billy Childish rave about the Downliners Sect and this superb album.

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“Bad Storm Coming”

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The Beau Brummels “Triangle”

Triangle

The Beau Brummels hit it big in the early 60s with their hits “Laugh Laugh” and “Just A Little” which were produced by Sly of the Family Stone. As English as they tried to appear, they were an American rock band hailing from San Fransisco.

I wholeheartedly recommend that you check out their early material, especially a record called From The Vaults, but it’s their adventurous and refreshing 1967 Triangle that steals the show. Sal Valentino is the voice of the Brummels, a vox of raw power and vibrato, certainly a highly unique voice that matches an almost unclassifiable and surprising album. Triangle has everything: it’s a tightly produced country record that is rooted in rock; it’s straight and folky and underlined by psychedelic imagery.

The production always drew me in on these records. By records, I mean, if you like this one, you’re in luck because there’s also Bradley’s Barn, a sequel of sorts to Triangle that was recorded in Nashville with some exceptional picking and production. Sometimes modern music can sound over produced – Bradley’s Barn and Triangle are like that, but in an inviting, interesting way, rather than a glossy, manufactured way.

Merle Travis’ “Nine Pound Hammer” is masterfully covered on this record, the most inventive version I’ve heard and one that always catches bluegrass audiences by surprise. Songs like the excellent “Magic Hollow,” “The Wolf of Velvet Fortune,” and “Painter of Women” are songs you’ll never hear anywhere near a record deemed “country.” Other’s, like Randy Newman’s “Old Kentucky Home” and “Are You Happy?” are straight up good timers.

Pick this one up, it may take a little getting used to, but it’s well worth it. The Beau Brummels are a seriously underrated treasure. Note to Beau Brummel fans: you’ll be wanting this.

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“The Keeper Of Time”

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Moby Grape “Moby Grape”

Moby Grape

Moby Grape’s debut encapsulates the frantic power and inspired genius of the group in the brief moment that it existed. All members contributed songs to this explosive record, giving each song a fresh feel within the triple-guitar rock/country/psych Grape sound. The songs are quick, great, and perfect illustrators of the San Fransisco sound from whence they came.

The problem is, things practically fell apart for the Grape after their debut record; it’s widely reported that the talents of this great, legendary band fell prey to mismanagement. If the Jefferson Airplane were today’s “Strokes,” then Moby Grape were “The Vines” or “Jet” or whatever over-hyped carbon copy band the music industry could get on the shelves in the wake of the former. Their record company released five singles at once, trying to stir up an artificial demand. Worst of all, the mismanagement continues today with the Moby Grape name being held hostage by some guy named Matthew Katz (hence, the still exorbitant CD price). The 2007 reissue of this record from Sundazed has been halted as well, producing a stilted run of 180G vinyl lps that are going for hefty prices on ebay.

Following the recording of this record, frontman Skip Spence lost it Syd Barrett style and took an axe with him on a short rampage at his band member’s hotel before being committed to Bellevue Hospital. After his release, he would take off on his motorcycle, equipped in pajamas rather than leather jacket, on the way to record his magnificent, and only solo album, Oar.

But despite these unfortunate circumstances, Moby Grape’s eponymous debut remains well respected as one of the best albums of the psychedelic era, its sound still holding up extremely well. In fact, you may have even heard the sometimes classic rock radio-worthy Omaha. And while this powerful debut may be one of the best rock records of all time, the Grape managed to reinstate its spirit in moments over several more excellent albums during their frenzied life span.

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“Fall On You”

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Maxfield Parrish “It’s A Cinch To Give Legs To Old Hard-Boiled Eggs”

It's A Cinch To Give Legs To Hard-Boiled Eggs

Maxfield Parrish’s only album was released in 1972, well after the band had split up. Members from the great California band Kaleidoscope produced and played on this underappreciated record which was originally recorded in early 1969. Had this album seen release in 1969, it would have been regarded today, as an early, innovative slab of country-rock.

It’s A Cinch strongly recalls the Byrds’ Notorious Byrd Brothers/Easy Rider era or even the New Riders early material (great stuff!!), with strong songwriting, superb musicianship and a few nifty psych/space rock moves. There are some great, catchy acoustic rock songs in “Julie Columbus” and “Cruel Deception.”  The weirder creations, “The Widow,” an 8 minute mantra, and “The Untransmuted Child” work really well too. In particular, “The Untransmuted Child” is excellent, sounding like a trippy mountain hymn with hillbilly vocals, organ, harmonica and hallucinary guitar sustain.

Fans of the Byrds, Dillards, and Euphoria should not miss this one before it goes out of print forever!

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“The Untransmuted Child”

[ Available as Import ]

EDIT: Read the comments below to hear the story direct from lead singer David Biasotti and some of the other folks behind the creation of this record.

Steven Stills “Manassas”

Manassas

Check out the album cover. Now, that, is boss! It’s kind of grungy, got every player’s name just as big as the title; it’s almost as if they decided to call the album Manassas because it happened to already be on the photograph. To me, it says, “Look, the 60s are over, we’re not making some artsy album, we just got a kick-ass crew here and we’re going to play it straight up for ya.” Yup, got to give it up for that classic album cover.

I figured this would be a good album with which to introduce the country rock angle of this here blog. But Manassas (technically the band and album name) goes a bit beyond simple categorization here. The album is divided into 4 parts, as briefly described below:

The Raven
Imagine you walk into a bar, and the dudes pictured above are all rocking. Yeah, ok, great, another bar band. But as soon as you order your beer and take your first sip, you suddenly realize you’re not blabbing on as usual, and nobody else is either, because the whole audience, yourself included, is entranced with the bar band, who, to your ultimate surprise, has been teaching your heart to pump to a new rhythm.

The Wilderness
Where I’m from, the kids used to say the same thing all the time: “I like all music… except for classical and country of course.” Hate to say I may have been one of them, but things changed when I finally caught the country bug… and my music collection started to get a lot better too. If you find the need to skip this whole section, basically straight-forward bluegrass and country music, the album is still worth your while, but I wouldn’t skip this part for my life, nor would I recommend skipping it.

Consider
This is the part you want to be driving on the open road with. By the time we get to How Far, it starts to feel like a folk-tinged shadow of the first section, but by now we’re firm believers. Damn, I’m glad I got this album, we say. And we keep driving on with that long-reaching look in our eye.

Rock & Roll is Here to Stay
And just when we thought we had made it, Manassas puts the nail in the coffin. Just in case you were braindead for the previous fifty minutes, the 8:00 minute Treasure is here and will serve to remind you what is going on.

Typically, an album this ambitious just couldn’t be good. No way could they pull it off. But, damn it all, Manassas really hits the spot, and it sounds great today. It’s hard to imagine rock music that makes you feel so good it’s like you already knew the tunes, but this is it.

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“Anyway”

Go on and Get it

Stephen Stills - Manassas