Archive for the ‘ Country Rock ’ Category

Randy Holland “Cat Mind”

There are many different kinds of records. Some latch onto you almost immediately and either stand the test of time or else slip away as easily as they came. Randy Holland’s 1972 album Cat Mind is the other kind; those unusual and sometimes uneven records that take more than one listen to fully appreciate. Released on the independent Mother Records label, it can probably be said that Cat Mind never had a chance at real commercial success. But hell, we’re not interested in the commercial success here – we’re after good records, wherever they ended up and in whatever condition. And Cat Mind is a good record.

Looking at that stark, black and white cover shot you’re probably expecting a good deal of grit here, and the opening cut doesn’t disappoint in that department. The off-kilter flower child stomp of “Bless the Naked Days” also wastes no time introducing the listener to Holland’s rough and nasally voice; a voice which he tends to push to the limits, and often far beyond. Depending on where you’re coming from, I reckon this could either be an acquired taste or a real attraction.

Following this first number, “Colors of Sad” is bizarrely saccharine, and it’s this vivid contrast between wildness and melancholy which perhaps defines this record more than anything else. Holland tilts mercilessly between incisive, jagged rock and roll numbers and melodramatic country cuts, with very little sense of transition or artistic compromise. His uncredited backup band really shines, especially on the former, where they lay down some of the most righteous country-stained rock this side of
Wray’s Shack Three Track. The hot swamp growl of “Muddy Water” is a real highlight, as is the weird title track, graced with scorching Davie Allan-style guitar work and an insistent rhythm section. Holland’s forays into the tamer side of Americana are more hit-and-miss, giving us both the warm and gentle “Ladybug” and an unfortunately overwrought reading of Mickey Newbury’s “Remember the Good”.

Fortunately, however, even the most underwhelming cuts are outweighed by the grittier numbers, and the overall quality and unique character of Cat Mind really does warrant it the kind of reissue treatment afforded so many other lost jewels of the period, such as Vernon Wray’s Wasted. As it stands, it isn’t all that hard to track down a used copy for a decent price. And what ever happened to Randy Holland? From what it looks like, he retired his attempts at making it in the music scene not long after cutting this record and moved to Las Vegas, where he opened an art gallery and devoted the rest of his days to painting and poetry. He passed away a few years ago, truly making this his one and only album.

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“Muddy Water”

:) Private | 1972 | search ebay ]

Gallery “Nice to be with You”

In 1972 Sussex Records released the first and only lp by the Detroit based pop group Gallery, fronted by singer/songwriter Jim Gold. Nice to be with You was produced and arranged by none other than legendary Motown axe-slinger extraordinaire and fuzzy funk brother Dennis Coffey (who also served as producer on the cult classic psych/folk/funk lp Cold Fact by Rodriguez) and his partner in crime, sleeper soul and funk producer Mike Theodore. Gallery’s sole lp is an entertaining slice of wax with a mostly soft-rock vibe that runs the gamut from country-rock to pop-psych to doo-wop to funk, and back again to pop–all the while standing side by side with soft-rock contemporaries of the time like Bread as well as soft-psych folk rock luminaries like Jim Sullivan. Thanks in no small part to the killer team of Coffey and Theodore, a handful of nice production touches really add to the tunes and result in album that stands a cut above many of the soft-rock releases of the time.

The boys kick it off with “Island in the Sun”, a sunny pop tune complete with harpsichord, glockenspiel, marimba, and pedal steel riffs with a Southern Pacific vibe. Things really start to get interesting with the next track, “Louisiana Line,” when acoustic guitar and twangy Telecaster give way to a funky country-rock tune with even more tasteful touches on the pedal steel guitar. Sounding like a slightly funkier version of Poco, the song calls to mind several of the more upbeat tunes on Ian and Sylvia’s excellent funky rural lp Great Speckled Bird, as well as “Move Over” from Bread’s self titled 1969 lp. “Louisiana Line” stands out as one the premier cuts on the album with a funky backwoods beat, an extremely catchy chorus with three part harmonies, and tasty Telecaster twangin’. “Ginger Haired Man” mines similar territory as “Louisiana Line,” featuring bluesy harmonica blowing, and yet another irresistibly catchy chorus.

On the other side of the spectrum, “Gee Whiz” is a 50’s throwback flavored with a touch of doo-wop that calls to mind the the pop-country of the Everly Brothers and their classic tune  “All I Have to Do is Dream,” as well as the ubiquitous “Earth Angel.” “I Believe in Music” pairs a tasty tremolo guitar riff and cowbell with a pre-disco/later day Motown sound full of tambourines, slinky Stratocasters doin’ the disco dance, and of course, syrupy strings. Midway through the song a bold synthesizer make a well appreciated yet extremely unexpected appearance. “Big City Miss Ruth Ann,” the third and final single from the album, sounds like a more polished take on the roadhouse rock of fellow Michigan natives Riley.

The million selling (!) title track, “Nice to be WIth You” is disappointingly sappy, suffering from just a touch too much sentimentality and over-production. On the same token, “Lover’s Hideaway” and “He Will Break Your Heart” are throwaway tracks that lack lyrical depth, catchiness, and punch. If there’s one bum note concerning Nice to Be With You’, it would be that Side B lacks overall when compared with Side A. Furthermore, several of the tracks on Side B seem to make fervent use of blatantly recycled tropes from Side A. Still, the album as a whole is such an entertaining listen in the forgotten early 70s soft-rock vein that no slight lack of killer tracks on Side B is gonna keep this gem off your table.

All things considered, Nice to Be With You is an enjoyable listen by a talented young band that incorporates a handful of early 70s sounds. One minute Gallery recalls the classic pop-psych of Buffalo Springfield; another moment they recall a slightly less greasy Grandma’s Roadhouse; then they step back in time and channel the timeless sound of 50s AM pop; when you’re least expecting it they all of the sudden sound like the Bee Gees after they discovered that disco beat! The bottom line is this–if you’re into vintage pop music, Nice to Be With You has certainly got something that will undoubtably float your boat.

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“Louisiana Line”

:) Original | 1972 | Sussex | search ]
:D Reissue | 2010 | Fuel | buy ]

Gene Vincent “If Only You Could See Me Today”

Gene Vincent’s self-titled lp (also known as If Only You Could See Me Today) is the first of a pair of records released by Kama Sutra Records in 1970. Recorded at the legendary Sound Factory recording studio in Hollywood, CA just a year before his untimely death in 1971, Gene Vincent was undoubtably an attempt to cash in on the roots-rock surge of the late 60s and early 70s. Just as Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Link Wray, and the Everly Brothers were busy updating their images and fashioning new sounds for the changing times, so was Gene Vincent. Fortunately, Gene and his band, which featured L.A session ace and Kaleidoscope co-founder Chris Darrow as well as not one, but three members of the infamous Sir Douglas Quintet (Harvey Kagan, Johnny Perez, and Tex-Mex Farfisa fanatic Augie Meyer), were able to deliver an excellent record that expands upon Gene’s classic sound while simultaneously creating a melting pot of numerous roots-rock styles; with touches of Cajun, Tex-Mex, Swamp Rock, Soul, R&B, Country, and Folk, Gene Vincent is an excellent example of some fine Cosmic American Music to be sure!

The first track, a cover of Mickey Newbury’s “Sunshine”, is quite possibly the finest version of the song that’s been laid to wax. Setting the blueprint for the sound of the record–70s bootcut boogie with a serious Texarkana twist–the tune opens with acoustic guitar and a funky bass line topped off with some tasty Tex-Mex tinged organ riffing courtesy of Augie Meyer. When Gene sings “Sunshine, you may find my window/But you won’t find me…Sunshine, as far as I’m concerned don’t be concerned with me,” his lazy laid-back delivery truly embodies the voice of the character in the song–a man who’s tired of struggling to keep out the darkness and has resigned himself to a life of depression and isolation. Almost entirely gone is the rollicking rockabilly style of his younger years, in its place is a laid back yet emotionally expressive vocal style.

Next up is “I Need Woman’s Love”, which sounds similar to a handful of tracks off Doug Sahm’s excellent 70s solo records. Augie’s presence once again goes a long way in terms of adding legit Tex-Mex flavor and the tune will likely be a favorite of Sahm fanatics craving more funky borderland jams. Slow Times Comin’ is a stoney swamp rock jam in the vein of CCR’s “Keep on Chooglin” and “Graveyard Train” that clocks in at just over nine minutes. “Danse Colida,” a traditional Creole folk tune, brings yet another slightly unexpected twist to the album with its spicy Cajun fiddle licks. “Geese,” which also appeared on the B-side of the “Sunshine” single, is a folky tune about the free wheelin’ lives of, you guessed it, geese. While not exactly a throwaway tune, it lacks momentum and substance compared with some of the other tunes on the release.

Gene’s take on the Bobby Bare tune “500 Miles” that kicks off Side B is absolutely irresistible with its swampy late-night Texarkana soul vibe. Fleshed out with funky wah-wah guitar, Garth inspired organ grinding, underwater leslie background guitar textures, and a bold fuzzed-out guitar line in the bridge, this is definitely one of the standout tracks on the lp–absolutely perfect for those wasted days and wasted nights! “Listen To The Music,” Gene’s plea for world peace through song, is a bouncy pop tune with a forever relevant message delivered in a fashion completely true to the time. “If Only You Could See Me Today” is a swampy country rocker written by Augie Meyer that recalls some of the more rocking tunes on Dale Hawkins’ L.A, Memphis, & Tyler, Texas, and “A Million Shades of Blue,”written by Gene along with the help of his wife Jackie Frisco, is a lovely pop/country tune that would’ve made an excellent single had Kama Sutra decided to release another one after “Sunshine”. The bluesy “Tush Hog” closes the lp with nearly 8 minutes of sultry southern swamp jammin’.

Unjustly dismissed upon its initial release, mostly ignored by long-time fans and deemed a failed attempt at a comeback by much of the rock press of the era, it’s high time that Gene and his gang receive the credit they deserve for what is not only an excellent time capsule of funky early 70s roots-rock sounds, but actually a really great album with an interesting and varied sound that could’ve and should’ve taken Gene’s career in a new direction had years of  hard livin’ not taken him away from us too soon. While not extremely pricey, original vinyl copies of Gene Vincent can be a tad tricky to come by. However, Rev-Ola has issued a cd compilation entitled A Million Shades of Blue that consists of Gene Vincent as well as the Kama Sutra follow up Day the World Turned Blue. Don’t miss out on this forgotten 70s classic!

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“Sunshine”

:D Compilation | 2008 | Revola | buy ]
:) Original | 1970 | Kama Sutra | search ]

Addie Pray “Late For The Dance”

Addie Pray, otherwise known as Bill Lincoln, was part of an American (LA/Texas) rock n roll group called Euphoria.  In 1969, to little fanfare or label support, Capital Records released their explosive sole album, A Gift From Eurphoria.  This disc is commonly referred to as one of the best LPs from the period –  it’s that good.  After this great album, the main members of Euphoria, Wesley Watts and Bill Lincoln, went on to several other interesting studio/side projects.  One of them was this unreleased album that Bill Lincoln quietly recorded in 1970/1971, titled Late For The Dance.

Late For The Dance doesn’t have the wild guitar playing of Wesley Watts nor Euphoria’s over-the-top 60s experimentation.   Replacing these sounds are quiet country-rockers and fragile, broken folk-rock songs.  It’s all good listening too.  Late For The Dance’s closest reference (in production, sound and style) is probably the Everly Brothers’ Stories We Could Tell, a record that was also released around the same time – 1972.  One of the album’s better cuts, “Kentucky”, even sounds like something that would have come off Stories We Could Tell or 1968’s Roots.   Two of the album’s hard rocking tracks, “Train” and “Will You Miss Me?” are clear highlights that have a care free country-rock ambiance that brings Poco to mind.

The low key songs are the real meat of this fine disc.  “Free,”  “Sad Eyed Broken Man,” “Wings In The Wind,” “It Just Keeps Rollin,” and the gospel tinged “Sail On” are all quiet pleasures – excellent tracks that are on par with any big time country-rock productions you care to name.  So while this disc isn’t as experimental as A Gift From EuphoriaLate For The Dance is a really good, straightfoward country-rock record that deserved an official release back in 1970/1971.

CD Baby offers Late For The Dance in cd and mp3 formats.  If one were to jugde Euphoria on their early garage era singles, unreleased material, the A Gift From Euphoria album and the various solo/collaborations of Bill Lincoln and Wesley Watts, you could easily make a case for this group being one of America’s great lost 60s bands.

Also, here’s an interesting interview (via WPKN) with Bill Lincoln, regarding the Euphoria story and the Addie Pray album.  Bill Lincoln put together Late For The Dance with the help of his wife.

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“Free”

:D Reissue | 2008 | Euphoria Records | buy ]
;) MP3 Album | download ]

Country Joe McDonald “Thinking of Woody Guthrie”

During the reigning years of San Francisco headband Country Joe and the Fish, singer and songwriter Joe McDonald took some time out to head to Nashville and record a pair of solo albums with the city’s top session men. Released on the iconic Vanguard Records, these two albums saw McDonald take a broad left turn, away from psychedelia and deep into the traditional folk and country music that had helped inform his earlier years as a radical-political folksinger. Indeed, the first of these two albums, Thinking of Woody Guthrie, was a heartfelt, play-it-straight tribute to the daddy of them all (the radical-political folksingers, that is).

With Nashville aces such as Grady Martin, Norbert Putnam, and Buddy Harmon on board, nobody can accuse McDonald of doing the country thing half-assed. The band lends a warm Opry-house vibe to the wide range of Guthrie material on display, from the weary “Blowing Down That Old Dusty Road” (see “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad”) to “Tom Joad,” the seven minute Steinbeckian epic that closes the first side of the album. The music tends to be dense, but the sound is always crisp, with sharp guitar and steel lines darting in and out across McDonald’s plainspoken singing. Martin’s electric sitar lines in “Pastures of Plenty” and the woven acoustics that drive “Tom Joad” are particularly notable. At some points in the proceedings, one does wish that McDonald’s voice was a little more emotive, but as it stands he does a fine job at conveying what is otherwise well-worn material.

All things considered, it would be a stretch to suggest that Thinking of Woody Guthrie is an essential record, but for what it is it manages to stand remarkably strong. Anyone putting together an electric album of Guthrie songs risks missing the point completely and overdoing the material, but McDonald’s take is understated enough to avoid this misstep. He is always sympathetic to the song. In fact, as he himself notes in the spoken introduction to “This Land Is Your Land,” the magic in Woody Guthrie’s songs lay in the fact that Guthrie “never gave you the feeling that he was better than you in any way, and he never gave you the feeling that he was worse than you. But that he loved you, because you were just like him and he was just like you.” I’d argue that the same can be said for old Country Joe here.

An unusual release such as this often risks being forgotten, and left to rot in the vaults, but fortunately Vanguard Records has been remarkably good about keeping their material in print, and their reissue from the early nineties is still widely available. I’d definitely recommend giving it a spin; this is a great record if you’re looking to take some Guthrie songs on the road.

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“Pastures of Plenty”

:D Reissue | 1991 | Vanguard | buy here ]
:) Original | 1969 | Vanguard | search ebay ]

Timbercreek “Hellbound Highway”

Timbercreek, a young band of ruffians who hailed from the small town of Boulder Creek (pop. 4081), nestled deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains of Northern California, recorded this lost country-rock gem with a for-real-not-ironic-rural-vibe in 1975. The small California indie label Renegade Records released the lp, and depending on who’s story you choose to believe, somewhere between 100 and 3,000 copies of Hellbound Highway were pressed. Needless to say, this record is very rare, and very, very good. If you’re a fan of The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Band, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, or Workingman’s Dead/American Beauty era Grateful Dead then today is your lucky day.

Larry Ross, Jon Hicks, Carl Holland, Bill Woody, and Frank Gummersal met in the Santa Cruz Mountains area and began, along with the help of lyricist Frank Andrick, writing tunes not unlike those being churned out some fifty miles north by the great songwriting team of Garcia/Hunter. Before long they were playing the Bay Area circuit, hitting clubs from Santa Cruz to Palo Alto to La Honda, the one time home of The Merry Pranksters and the site of numerous acid tests. By the time the group of friends entered The Church in San Anselmo, Ca to record their debut record they had developed a solid rural country-rock sound complete with twanging telecasters, bluesy benders, Big Pink harmonies, and tales of life on the road and the fight to take it easy.

The title track is the highlight of the bunch, the story of a highway kind enjoying the finer pleasures in life–jukebox tunes, honky tonk saloons, and of course the midnight special with the truck stop girl. The narrator seems to know that the life will kill him eventually, but he’s trying to make the most of the cards that he’s been dealt. Complete with a few sounds of the road, a killer opening and closing riff, and a nauseous phased out bridge, this song surely delivers. “Nobody on the Streets” has that funky backwoods bootcut sound, complete with wah-wah guitar and a groovy bassline–played by bassist Jon Hicks on his completely homemade bass guitar no less! “Hell in the Hills” is a wonderful album closer that really shows off the band’s jammier side.

After working the circuit, opening for groups like Kingfish and The Sons of Champlin, and even receiving radio play in the San Francisco Bay Area, the members went their separate ways. Fortunately we have Hellbound Highway to remember them by. If you’re looking for a tasty tonic to satisfy your craving for more laid-back West Coast country-rock, Timbercreek’s Hellbound Highway will get you drunk on funky rural vibes straight from the backwoods hill country of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Avoid the unlicensed Radioactive Records bootleg cd release and score an original pressing on vinyl, you won’t regret it!

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“Hellbound Highway”

:) Original | 1975 | Renegade Records | search ebay ]

Bob Carpenter “Silent Passage”

Bob Carpenter’s Silent Passage was a Warner Brothers release from 1984. Supposedly, the sessions for this album were cut between 1971 and 1973 but the Riverman Records reissue OBI strip dates Silent Passage at 1975.  Artists as diverse as Tom Rush, Billy Joe Shaver and Emmylou Harris have covered Carpenter’s material.

Bob Carpenter’s rustic, gritty vocals will probably be an acquired taste but don’t let this deter you from listening to this fine album. There’s a certain spirtual vibe that cloaks Silent Passage, also, it’s not the cheeriest record but not many country-rock albums are. The lyrics usually deal with depression, isolation, loss and the occasional religious overtone but these themes are common among many early 70s country rock/Americana/singer songwriter releases. It’s closest cousin is probably Bob Martin’s classic Midwest Farm Disaster.

Key tracks are the great, eerie Americana of “Gypsy Boy,” a spiritual highlight titled “Morning Train,” the desolate “Down Along the Border,” and the depressing but strangely optimistic “The Believer.” Some tracks such as “Miracle Man” and “Old Friends” offer up a more commerical rock sound while “First Light” is a folk gem with strings and organ.

Overall this is a very good, overlooked LP with many strengths. A quiet gem for the folk-rock and country-rock fans.

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“Gypsy Boy”

:D Reissue | 2009 | Riverman | buy here ]
:) Original | 1975 | Warner Reprise | search ebay ]

Hungry Chuck “Hungry Chuck”

I discovered Hungry Chuck serendipitously via Bobby Charles’s eponymous 1972 album. Beyond Charles’s inspirational songs I was fired by his core backing outfit’s astonishingly sympathetic funky swamp-rock playing. I knew Amos Garrett already from his liquid-fingered guitar solo on Maria Muldaur’s sublime worldwide hit “Midnight At The Oasis”, but the other guys were strangers to me. On researching Garrett further with a view to identifying yet more stuff on which he’d played, I came across Hungry Chuck.

Former Eric Andersen sideman Garrett, original Remains drummer ND Smart II, ex-Bo Grumpus bassist Jim Colegrove and peripatetic New York pianist Jeffrey Gutcheon had backed Ian and Sylvia Tyson on their fine country-rock album Great Speckled Bird, recorded in Nashville in 1970. From there the four journeymen musicians moved to Woodstock, NY, and became effectively the house band for Albert Grossman’s Bearsville Records, whence their contribution to the Bobby Charles opus, inter alia. With moonlighting pedal steel guitarist Ben Keith from Neil Young’s alternative backing combo Stray Gators and, curiously, session trumpeter Peter Ecklund, they became Hungry Chuck, presumably jokily named for underground cartoonist Dan Clyne’s repulsive character Hungry Chuck Biscuits (unconfirmed – feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). In between backing Grossman’s extensive register of talent the guys found time to assemble their own album, which appeared eponymously as Hungry Chuck in the US in 1972 but did not find a release in the UK until retrospectively put out by See For Miles in 1988 as South In New Orleans.

Typical of most albums recorded by aggregations of talented sidemen, Hungry Chuck is a slow burner which rewards repeated listening: such outfits by definition don’t usually include chartbusting songwriters or throat-grabbing lead vocalists, but the quality of such works invariably shines through with a little aural rubbing. (To see what I mean, listen to anything by Area Code 615 or Barefoot Jerry, or any of David Lindley’s solo and El Rayo-X waxings.) Most of the songs are penned by Gutcheon; musically they’re an eclectic stew of country rock, Memphis soul and New Orleans jazzy swing, and lyrically they’re joyous deprecatory pokes at 1970s American post-hippie culture and obvious parodies of The Band, Zappa and even James Brown, all recorded with a high sense of humour and absolutely no commercial ambition. Garrett’s playing is comparatively restrained compared to his Speckled Bird output, though gloriously tasteful throughout; Colegrove’s bass is less quirky, more solid than on the Charles outing; and it’s Gutcheon’s virtuoso piano and Ecklund’s multitracked trumpet, cornet and fluegel that largely shape the arrangements. As well as the ten “proper” songs there are three episodes of playful studio nonsense credited to Smart and Garrett, presumably to give them a writer credit. Again typically for albums by such aggregations there are no real standout tracks, but the highlights include the swinging opener “Hats Off, America!” (which includes the splendidly prescient line “Tell your kids, don’t worry ‘cos the banks will never fail!”), the obvious Eagles skit “Watch The Trucks Go By” with great guest harmonica from Paul Butterfield, and the splendidly po-faced “All Bowed Down” which caricatures The Band at their most morose.

After this freshman album Hungry Chuck recorded a second, which to date remains unreleased – why? – and soon afterwards went their own ways, all being highly valued as sessioneers. Most notably, Garrett worked extensively with Maria Muldaur; Smart thumped the tubs for Gram Parsons’s Fallen Angels; Gutcheon was musical arranger for the disparate likes of Gladys Knight and Ringo Starr; and Keith stroked the strings for seven years with Uncle Neil. Proving that the split was not rancorous, the Chuck members also intermittently toured and recorded in various combinations almost until the turn of the century, and most still remain active in the business.

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“All Bowed Down”

:) Original Vinyl | 1972 | Bearsville | search ebay ]

Hickory Wind “Hickory Wind”

This group took their name from the classic Byrds/Gram Parsons song.  Hickory Wind, from Indiana, were fairly young musicians when they cut this mini gem in 1969.  If you consider the limited studio technology on hand, Hickory Wind came up big, with a very good country-rock garage psych private press LP.  Initially, when you look at the record, it resembles one of those male/female folk duo LPs or maybe a private press christian rock album (note the small crucifix at the bottom of the record and the amatuer illustration).  Thankfully, it’s neither of those.   There are mild Buffalo Springfield, Byrds and Beatles echoes throughout the album but closer, more accurate references might be  Riley or Spur.

Most of the albums tracks are strong but only a handful qualify as excellent.   “Father Come With Me” and the bizarre spoken word number “Mr. Man” give the album its psychedelic folk-rock sheen – both are great tracks with lots of organ and moody garage vocals.  “Time and Changes,” a pounding garage rocker with sizzling fuzz would soon be recut by B.F. Trike, which was essentially a later version of Hickory Wind.  In some circles, “Time and Changes” is considered a classic.  The remaining cuts have a strong country-rock/folk-rock flavor.  The bare bones production of Hickory Wind gives these compositions a unique quality that makes this album memorable – no albums I know of have quite this sound.  “Country Boy,” “The Loner,” “I Don’t Believe,” “Judy,” and “Maybe Tomorrow” are well worth hearing, all eerie slices of early country-rock/Americana.

I’ve read other reviews that describe Hickory Wind as only half a good album or not that good at all.  Don’t believe this.  Hickory Wind is a fine album – consistent throughout with lots of interesting twists and turns.  Check out the recent Beatball reissue as original vinyl LPs will be impossible to find (just 100 original Gigantic label LPs were pressed).  Rockadelic would release B.F. Trike’s only album, which is also a good post psychedelic hard rock album.

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“Country Boy”

:D CD Reissue | 2007 | Beatball | buy here ]
:) Vinyl | 1969 | Gigantic | search ebay ]

Phil Ochs “Greatest Hits”

Few rock and roll tragedies have the sort of complex, emotional impact as that of Phil Ochs. As the most uncompromising of the 1960s protest singers, Ochs was arguably one of the only such singers who refused to surrender his revolutionary ambitions for abstract, personal romanticism. However, as the idealistic hopes of the decade began to give way to darker days, Ochs found the counterculture facing what looked like a losing battle. Caught between the collapse of the movement he had devoted himself to and a deep, chronic depression, Ochs did what any man would do: he took a wild left turn and released one of his most esoteric albums – one that remained fervently political, but which also turned out to be surprisingly autobiographical.

Despite its title, Greatest Hits is an album of ten new original songs, produced by the legendary Van Dyke Parks. This record had to have been one of the last thing Ochs fans expected from their hero, as it more or less entirely eschews the folk music foundations of his previous records and instead delves wholeheartedly into a sort of orchestral country rock. A taste of the man’s electric explorations was certainly evident on his last record, Rehearsals For Retirement, but that had been comparable to what Dylan and the Byrds had done before him; the country touch here is his most interesting indulgence.

Perhaps tellingly, Elvis Presley serves as one of the record’s most pervasive influences, from the Elvis In Memphis nod of the cover art, to the great, sarcastic tag-line “fifty Phil Ochs fans can’t be wrong.” One of Ochs’ best-remembered quotes is that “if there’s any hope for a revolution in America, it lies in getting Elvis Presley to become Che Guevara.” This record is his strongest attempt at bridging the wide gap between those two disparate icons, and though it has never received much critical or commercial attention, it really is an underrated classic.

Simply reading through the musicians involved gives testimony to the musical strength here. Players include Clarence White, Kevin Kelley and Gene Parsons from the Byrds, Ry Cooder, Chris Ethridge, James Burton, Earl Ball, and even Don Rich from the Buckaroos. Together they craft a driving and authentic honky-tonk sound that is given a unique bent by Parks’ contrasting orchestral arrangements – check out the opener “One Way Ticket Home” for one of the most interesting examples. Of course, that is not to say that Ochs’ old sound is entirely absent, as songs such as “Jim Dean From Indiana” and the eerily prophetic “No More Songs” certainly harken back to the somber and dramatic style he had been exploring on his last few recordings.

Greatest Hits is criminally out of print in any tangible format, though it is available digitally. This is absolutely a record worth investigating, whether you’re already an established Phil Ochs fan or are only now learning about the man and his music. A live record was made during the tour for this album, and eventually released in 1975 as Gunfight at Carnegie Hall. It takes Ochs’ robust new sound even further, featuring numerous rock and roll covers and rearrangements of older material. Also of note is the new, highly-recommended documentary about Ochs, There But For Fortune. It’s a compelling story, and the film really does manage to capture the many tangled aspects of his life, including his enduring legacy.

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“One Way Ticket Home”

:) Original Vinyl | 1970 | A&M | search ebay ]
;) MP3 Album | download here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]