Archive for the ‘ Prog ’ Category

Klaatu “3:47 EST”

In the late summer of the U.S. Bicentennial, an album was unleashed upon the public which caused much rumor-mongering and gossip within the music world. That album was 3:47 EST, the debut album by Canadian progressive/psychedelic group Klaatu.  The album was hailed superb by critics and fans alike.  Furthermore, what people couldn’t get over was the striking similarity between the style of some of the tunes on the album with The Beatles’ music.  Thus, the inevitable “did The Beatles reunite to make an album?” rumors began.

Supposedly, in 1966, The Beatles recorded enough material to fill an entire album that was intended to be a follow up to Revolver.  Of course, the master tapes were somehow “lost” from Abbey Road studios.  Dealing with Paul McCartney’s alleged “death” in a car accident, The Beatles didn’t want to be bothered with re-recording the album.  When a Paul McCartney look-alike stepped in to take “dead Paul’s” place, The Beatles decided to stop touring and began working on an entirely new album which turned out to be Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  1975 rolled around, and these very “missing” master tapes were rediscovered while researchers were gathering information for a future Beatles documentary entitled The Long And Winding Road (which became the Anthology series twenty years later).  The remaining Beatles decided it would be a great opportunity to release the recorded material as a proper album, sort of in tribute to the “late” James Paul McCartney.  They came to the conclusion that it would be best to release the album with no songwriting credits, and no photographs.  That way, the album could be purchased and enjoyed solely on its musical merits, and free of any Beatles-hype.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?  Well, maybe not completely…

When the record hit store shelves, people began wondering a bit.  Why was the album put out by Capitol records (which was the label The Beatles songs were released on in America and Canada)?  Why were there no pictures or names of the band members anywhere on the sleeve?  Why were there no proper production or songwriting credits given, only “Produced by Klaatu”, and “All selections composed by Klaatu”?  “Klaatu” was the name of the alien from the film The Day The Earth Stood Still, and why on Ringo Starr’s Goodnight Vienna album was there a photo of Ringo dressed as Klaatu, standing with Gort (the robot in the film) in front of the spaceship from the movie?  Is that just an odd coincidence?  Why did a few of the songs on the album have vocals which sounded a lot like Paul McCartney and John Lennon?  The questions go on and on.  I don’t want to waste any more of your time on this entire back-story.  There’s tons of information available on the internet.  What is for sure, however, is the pure listening joy this album delivers, no matter who was responsible for it!  (By the way, Klaatu was/is a real band from Toronto, Ontario.  They released several other critically-acclaimed albums, and went on tour.  They’re still performing today.)

“Calling Occupants (Of Interplanetary Craft)” starts off the album, and is probably Klaatu’s best remembered song, although it only stalled at #62 on Billboard’s Hot 100.  A year later, The Carpenters recorded the song, where it reached a respectable #32 on Billboard’s Hot 100.  A perfect piece of proggy-space pop, with a memorable shout-out to visitors from outer space.  “California Jam” is track two, and sounds more like early ’70s AM Bubblegum pop than The Beatles.  A good, uptempo power-pop tune, though.  The album continues with “Anus Of Uranus,” which is a bit of a heavier song with a silly title.  Side one finishes with the second highlight of the album (the first being “Calling Occupants”), “Sub-Rosa Subway”.  Now, this is where I can begin to understand The Beatles comparisons.  The singer certainly sounds a lot like Paul McCartney, and the basslines are undeniably McCartney-esque.  But still, the song sounds a bit too modern to have been supposedly recorded in mid-1966.  This is a song which you’ll probably find yourself putting on repeat.

The album continues being a blast to listen to.  The production is great, the songs are great, the music is great!  True, songs like “Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III” sound a bit like something the Muppets (Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem!) may have recorded, so you’re not going to find a life-changing album here by any means.  But, who cares?  This album finds its way to my turntable almost on a bi-weekly basis, when I want to listen to something fun and arrogance-free.  Pick it up if you have the chance.  You’ll be wanting to purchase their other albums after hearing this, which are just as much fun.  This record will put a smile on your face, for sure.

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“Sub-Rosa Subway”

:D Reissue | 2010 | Indie Europe/Zoom | buy here ]
:) Original | 1976 | Capitol | search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Emerald Web “Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales”

Emerald Web was the wind playing electronic duo of Kat Epple and Bob Stohl.  Although they’d become better known for their work scoring nature documentaries (including many collaborations with Carl Sagan), Emerald Web’s 1979 debut album was a milestone in electronic psychedelia- rooted in the prog of the mid 70s and foreshadowing much of what would come in the early 80s.

Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales mixes analog synthesizing with the heavy use of wind instruments, augmented occasionally by the angelic vocals of Kat Epple. The sound is incredibly unique. There is a very haunting experimental quality to this music that prevents it from sounding like muzak, although it occasionally veers in that direction.

The Lyricon wind controller makes a very early recorded appearance on this album and is one of the reasons the many sounds heard here are hard to place. The line is constantly blurred between live flutes and the electronic approximations, even occasionally mimicking bird calls. It’s these sound combinations that give the songs an otherworldly quality- like hearing indigenous music from another planet.

Although some pastoral vocal songs show up here and there, eerily dreamy instrumentals make up a little more than half the record. These are certainly among the highlights and show Emerald Web’s talent for crafting soundtrack music that would come to the fore later on. “The Flight of the Raven” is a brief but gorgeous piece, summing up all that is good about this record in under three minutes. Fleeting melodies give way to dramatic clashing synths, fading away at just the right moment. “The Powerstone” recalls early King Crimson, especially the vibe of “Moonchild”. It’s on this track that Emerald Web’s knack for creating natural sounding tones and soundscapes from very electronic instruments is most evident.

This record is highly recommended for fans of golden era progressive and electronic music. Originally released as a private pressing on Stargate, Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales LPs are somewhat rare these days, although they do turn up regularly on eBay.

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“Fight of the Raven”

:) Original Vinyl | 1979 | Stargate | search ebay ]

Various Artists “Zabriskie Point Original Soundtrack”

All three major American counterculture movies of the late sixties benefitted from the new vogue for rock soundtracks. The Strawberry Statement mixed purpose-written orchestral themes with mostly familiar numbers by CS&N and Neil Young, plus the predictable but appropriate “Something In The Air” and “Give Peace A Chance”. Easy Rider thrummed along to a more eclectic but still fitting selection from Dennis Hopper’s record collection: Steppenwolf, Hendrix, the Byrds and stoned oddities from the Holy Modal Rounders and the Electric Prunes. But maverick director Michelangelo Antonioni’s choices for Zabriskie Point are more enigmatic, and the story of their choosing more bewildering.

The film itself, part wilfully perverse take on the late sixties student unrest, part classic road movie and part soft-porn skinflick, has been analysed to death; you either love it or hate it. The soundtrack album by contrast has received few reviews and deserves examination in these pages. The story goes that Antonioni commissioned the then “hot” acts Pink Floyd, John Fahey and Kaleidoscope (US) to create new music for various scenes in the film including the notorious desert love scene, which they duly did, and then summarily rejected almost all of this when delivered, instead delving into the back catalogues of these acts and others. (According to legend, the spurned Fahey was so affronted he “decked” the director forthwith.) The lengthy, dusty love scene was eventually orchestrated by Jerry Garcia’s solo guitar improvisations, and even then Antonioni insisted on a fussy edit compiled from four different improvs for the final seven-minute opus.

Perhaps the oddest thing is that despite all these creative shenanigans the soundtrack still works, both in the movie and as a long-player. Floyd’s opening “Heart Beat, Pig Meat” is an organ-driven sound collage that contains enough menace to convey the tension as the students discuss the upcoming strike, and their soft, Byrdsy “Crumbling Land” provides a fleeting but apt background to the start of Daria’s desert odyssey in the Buick though, as Dave Gilmour admitted, it “could have been done better by any number of American bands”. A brief spiralling segment of the Dead’s live “Dark Star” accompanies Mark’s liftoff of the stolen Cessna from the airfield at LA, while Fahey’s “Dance Of Death”, which is somewhat discordant but isn’t actually very morbid, plays after Daria hears over the radio of Mark’s gunning-down by the cops on his return to the airfield. Patti Page’s venerable “Tennessee Waltz” is an inspired choice for the old rednecks in the desert truckstop (and would cost Antonioni a small fortune to licence from the State, which owned the copyright). Garcia’s sweet, restrained playing provides a genuinely sensitive background to the balletically-choreographed desert orgy. And of course the explosive climax is tailor-made for Floyd’s climactic “Careful With That Axe, Eugene”, which appears in a re-recording unfortunately inferior to the wonderful original single B-side and with the alternative title “Come In Number 51, Your Time’s Up”. The two Kaleidoscope tunes “Brother Mary” and “Mickey’s Tune”, Roscoe Holcombe’s down-home “I Wish I Was A Single Girl Again” and the Youngbloods’ “Sugar Babe” are all excellent, delightfully obscure country rock items which accompany various highway scenes out in the Mojave.

The movie also featured Keith Richards’s bluesy “You Got The Silver”, which for licensing reasons never appeared on the OST album, and Roy Orbison’s splendid but inappropriate “So Young” which played over the closing titles and was allegedly added at post-production without Antonioni’s permission, and is hence with some justification also omitted. The 2-CD Sony reissue offers on its first disc all the other soundtrack tunes in complete form apart from the truncated “Dark Star”, and on the other the four complete Garcia improvs and four pieces of the rejected Floyd material, most of which are interesting enough but sound rather raw and unfinished, presumably not having being polished up for the final takes, and hence really for Floyd completists only. The CD booklet offers as cover picture a bizarre solarised still of the film’s two principals au naturel and a really excellent essay on the soundtrack by David Fricke.

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“Crumbling Land”

:) Original Vinyl | 1970 | MGM | search ebay ]
:) CD Reissue | 2010 | Sony | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Space Opera “Safe At Home”

It’s quite a challenge for me to write a good, subjective review on these guys.  I’ve been a big fan of their music for some time now, probably since the first time I heard the opening chords of “The Viper” from Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit and Greenhill’s 1968 album, The Unwritten Works of Geoffrey, Etc I was hooked.  That album was more of a collection of studio experimentation/tracks whereas Space Opera (1973) was conceived as an actual album – the band played lots of live festivals/gigs during the Space Opera years.  The Space Opera LP shares many of the same characteristics that made the WCD&G album so enjoyable but in place of psychedelia (or psych pop) are the more structured, studied sounds of a good progressive rock band.  It’s a classic record too, very different from the majority of  “progressive rock” and “country-rock” albums being released at the time.   Not many unknown groups who release one album in their lifetime have this many quality tracks lying around the cutting room floor.  Therefore, I was shocked and excited to find out the release of these early demo tracks from the group’s prime years.

Space Opera are closer in sound to latter day Byrds or more distantly, Moby Grape.   They had a knack for mixing blues, rock n roll, country, folk, and psych/progressive rock into something that still sounds fresh today and uniquely American (they were from Texas).  Space Opera’s guitar sound leans towards the jazz/progressive end of the spectrum.  Also, some of the tracks like the trippy reprise of “Singers and Sailors” feature vibes and David Bullock’s trance-like flute work.  The Exit 4 (named after Exit 4 studios) demos are the first 9 tracks (approximately 40 minutes) of this album, cut in 1970/1971, before Space Opera’s self title debut.  While the remaining 6 tracks, cut between 1975-1978 are very solid and musical (check out folk-rock gem “Snow Is Falling”), the Exit 4 demos are the real meat of the Safe at Home project.  Exit 4 should have been Space Opera’s debut album.  Both “Country Max” (their most popular song) and a heavily phased “Over and Over” make appearances on the Exit 4 album albeit in very good, early versions.  The remaining cuts are unique to this compilation and are nearly the equal of anything on Space Opera – these cuts sound like finished tracks rather than demos.

Every track is strong and worth multiple spins.  The album leads off with “Singers and Sailors/Father,” a tough bluesy hard rocker  with spiraling guitar leads and gutsy vocals.  This track segues into the excellent “Journey’s End.”  This cut has a country folk intro that eventually morphs into soft, tuneful rock that would have been fine radio fodder.  The guitar playing throughout is outstanding.  These guys were intelligent musicians that could have played any style well.  Space Opera also knew how to balance out their instrumental prowess with quality songwriting.  Check out “Psychic Vampire”, another creative gem, which is similar to “Journey’s End” in it’s mixture of soft progressive sounds and fluid, expressive guitar work.  Songs like “Marlow” and “Fly Away” show off the groups country and folk origins (with interesting chord progressions) and are no less potent than the aforementioned tracks.  All in all, Exit 4 (and Safe at Home as a whole) is a superb album by one of America’s great lost bands.

Check out the excellent Cyber City Radio interview with Space Opera founder, David Bullock (2002).

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“Snow Is Falling”

:D CD Reissue | 2010 | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Zerfas “Zerfas”

Until recently this one was completely unknown to me; I bought it after reading a glowing recommendation from a Rising Storm commenter (nice to see the process working in both directions.) Gratifyingly, it turned out to be as good as its reputation.

It’s better still for being a vanity release from a bunch of unsigned but clearly precociously talented teenagers. It was lovingly cut over six months in 1973 at the tiny 700 West Studio in New Palestine, Indiana, using a four-track 3M recorder, plenty of overdubs, a lot of homemade wine and a hell of a lot of creative ingenuity. There’s no need for me to give a detailed historical perspective of the band, the album or the studio here, because it’s all available at the excellent website dedicated to 700 West and I couldn’t improve on that compiler’s excellent job.

Interestingly, the band members chose to add colour to their 1969-British-prog-rock style songs with the techniques of 1967 psychedelia, and the album stands as a fine psych/prog artefact despite being several years behind the timeline. The fun starts with “You Never Win”, which opens with a fade-in backwards version of the closing fade-out – a simple but brilliant idea. “I Don’t Understand” launches with an eerie half-speed recording of small children’s voices, whilst the meandering instrumental heart of “Hope” is washed by shoreline effects. Much use is made elsewhere of backwards voices, backwards instruments, fade-outs, fade-ins, wild stereo panning, ring modulators, tape loops and leftfield echo effects, and even a blast from an elkhorn. However, the underlying compositions don’t rely solely on these touches for interest; the eight songs, all originals, offer an engaging variety of styles from the “Born To Be Wild” knockoff of “You Never Win” through the cosmic boogie of “Stoney Wellitz” to the lush progressive soundscapes of “Hope”, culminating in “The Piper” which appropriately recalls Pink Floyd’s earliest stoner offerings. The playing and singing are excellent throughout, especially considering the tender ages of the musicians; Herman Zerfas’s keyboards in particular are exceptional.

The word on the street among other reviewers of this album is that it’s the record the Beatles might have made if they’d stuck with the psychedelic formula after Pepper. Personally, I don’t buy this; these youthful compositions lack the distinctively whimsical signatures of the mature Lennon, McCartney and Harrison. To my ears there’s some Floyd influence, some Grape, some Dead, some Steppenwolf, some Allmans, maybe even some Steve Miller, but really such comparisons are unnecessary. This is a fine album by a fine band in its own right, and should be respected as such.

Finally, be sure to ignore the CD release by Radioactive, which is purportedly mastered from vinyl and has a poor sound to suit. The Digipak CD from Lion Records of Germany is another bootleg to be avoided.

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“Stoney Wellitz”

:) Vinyl Reissue | 2008 | Phoenix | buy here ]

Atomic Rooster “Death Walks Behind You”

Although it provided the background to my formative years as a musician, I’d be the first to admit that the late sixties/early seventies first wave of British progressive hard-rock veered wildly between creative sophistication and plodding self-indulgence. For every Led Zeppelin, there was a Black Sabbath; for every Deep Purple, an Edgar Broughton Band. (My apologies to adherents of those two combos.) Somewhere in the middle came the curiously-named Atomic Rooster, whose constantly changing line-up centred on keyboard wizard Vincent Crane released a series of undistinguished albums plus one genuine gem, the sophomore effort Death Walks Behind You.

Classically-trained organist and pianist Crane had been the instrumental cornerstone of wigged-out psych outfit The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, as witness his Hammond histrionics on their eponymous long-player. The Rooster should have satisfied Crane’s search for his own direction but, bedevilled by impatience, musical perfectionism and manic depression, he changed his style and his fellow musicians almost from year to year in search of a constantly moving and unattainable target. The second, and best, line-up teamed Crane with guitarist/vocalist John Cann, a.k.a. Du Cann, and drummer Paul Hammond. Cann had seen through the psychedelic era with Five Day Week Straw People and Andromeda and offered crunching rhythms and flyaway bluesy leads not unlike Ritchie Blackmore, whilst Hammond was a teenage tub-thumper with no real CV but just the sort of no-frills, aggressive style that Crane’s prevailing riff-tastic compositions demanded. In the best Jimmy Smith tradition, Crane played the bass lines on his pedals and on the bass-boosted low keyboard register of his B3. Between them they could sound as full as Deep Purple with two musicians fewer, and usually did.

At first sight slightly unnerving with its Dark Side imagery, but actually surprisingly accessible and in places even commercial – “Tomorrow Night” would become a top twenty single in the UK – Death Walks combines mostly straightforward but tightly-executed riff-based chord structures and bass lines with formulaic Gothic horror-inspired lyrics, overlaying these with energetic, optimistic soloing by the two frontmen. The net result is surprisingly “up” if you don’t take the words too seriously and aren’t put off by the cover art featuring William Blake’s “Nebuchadnezzar” and clichéd shots of the band in a graveyard. Mostly eschewing the possibilities of overdubbing in the studio, the tracks are largely played live, as evinced by the BBC radio session versions of two of the same tunes offered on the CD reissue as bonus tracks. (I recall hearing that actual session back in the day, and it’s clear that the trio was a hot live act.) The lightest moment is provided by “Tomorrow Night” with its catchy riff, singalong refrain and brief, soaring solos, whilst the title track is the most ponderous, starting with eerie piano arpeggios and creaking into the most leaden of descending chromatic chord sequences. Cann kicks off the surprisingly funky “Sleeping For Years” with what became his trademark feedback introduction. The oddly titled “Vug” and “Gershatzer” are instrumentals on which the band’s undoubted musicianship is given free rein, Cann and Crane exchanging lines in fine conversational style on the former while the latter confirms that Crane wasn’t far behind Keith Emerson in the deranged virtuosity stakes.

Death Walks proved the commercial and artistic zenith for all three band members. Crane carried an ever-mutating Rooster into the eighties before taking his own life in 1989. Hammond was badly injured in a road accident in 1973 and played only at intervals thereafter. Cann formed a praiseworthy and briefly popular hard-rock quartet, Bullet, a.k.a. Hard Stuff, but moved post-punk   into uninspired power-pop which considerably diluted his talent. Recently he’s overseen the reissue of the Rooster catalogue and associated items on the excellent Angel Air label.

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“Sleeping for Years”

:D CD Reissue | 2009 | Castle | buy here ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1970 | B&C | search ebay ]

Bachdenkel “Lemmings”

Bachdenkel started out life as the U NO Who.  This late 60s group had been active on the Birmingham scene for some time and played psychedelic pop.  They recorded a handful of respectable tracks which were pitched to the Beatles’ Apple label but no deal ever materialized.  The U NO Who would go on to become Bachdenkel at the end of the decade.  Bachdenkel’s lineup looked something like this:  Colin Swinburne on vocals, guitar, piano, organ and harpsichord, Peter Kimberley on vocals, bass and piano, Brian Smith on drums, and Karel Beer on Organ.

Bachdenkel would relocate to France and record the great Lemmings album in 1970.  Although the LP was completed by the summer of 1970, Phillips didn’t release Lemmings until 1973 – released throughout Europe but not in the UK.  This really sealed this unique British group’s fate – unfairly so because they were very talented.  I believe a UK reissue/rerelease appeared in the late 70s (maybe 1978-) but by that time Bachdenkel had ceased to exist.    The group released another solid progressive album titled Stalingrad (1975) and toured Europe in 1976 before breaking up.

And as for the Lemmings LP? It’s one of the best 70s progressive rock albums out there.  The musicians here keep their egos in check and know when to end a song, unlike Yes or ELP.  To me this is a much better (and more interesting) album than anything Yes or ELP would ever release.  The ringing guitars dominate Bachdenkel’s sound but there are tasteful keyboards as well.  Some people have linked Bachdenkel’s sound to Caravan, Abbey Road era Beatles, and King Crimson.  These are all valid comparisons – think of Bachdenkel as a missing link between the Beatles and the mighty Crimso, progressive guitar pop with a slight psychedelic hangover.  “An Appointment With The Master”, the LP’s most popular song, is a lost classic that might be what the Beatles would have sounded like had they lasted into the progressive rock era.  Crashing drums and superb psychedelic guitar work give this cut a fresh edge.  “Translation” and “Equals” are also outstanding dark mood pieces that sound completely modern by today’s standards – this LP has not dated one bit.  All of Lemmings 7 tracks are excellent, whether it be the 11 minute epic “The Settlement Song” or the shorter, tuneful tracks like “Long Time Living” – every works beautifully.  So…interesting arrangements that take chances (unique twists and turns), a dark aura, rock solid songwriting, Caravan-like vocals, and great musicianship unify this very special musical statement.  Any fan of classic rock needs to own this essential masterpiece.

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“Equals”

:D CD Reissue | 2007 | Ork | buy ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1973 | Philips | search ebay ]

Deep Purple “The Book Of Taliesyn”

The first incarnation of Deep Purple has tended to be ignored until lately, shaded by the
overwhelming success of Mark II which benefited from a homogeneous (and supremely
timely) musical direction and the outstanding talent of Ian Gillan. By contrast Mark I found
itself at a many-sided crossroads; musically the band was pulled in the conflicting directions
of freakbeat, psychedelia, retro-classical and nascent prog-rock, and perversely it enjoyed
unexpected early adulation in the States whilst remaining virtually unknown in its homeland.
Adverse critical comment of Mark I has only recently begun to ease, as the undoubted
attractions of some of the early works become retrospectively appreciated and the works
themselves remastered and reissued.

Even the beginnings of Purple were artificial, the band being conceived by ex-Searchers
drummer Chris Curtis as Roundabout, an ever-changing musicians’ combine, and sponsored
by two London businessmen looking for a purely commercial foothold in the pop market.
The Mark I lineup pulled in diversely-experienced, classically-trained session musicians
Ritchie Blackmore (gtr), Jon Lord (keys) and Ian Paice (drs). Bassist Nick Simper had played
rock’n’roll with Johnny Kidd and Screaming Lord Sutch alongside Blackmore, and vocalist
Rod Evans came with Paice from Mod R’n’B outfit the Maze. A unified direction was unlikely
from the start.

Following the clearly saleable example of Vanilla Fudge, the band developed a set
based largely on grandiose reinterpretations of known hit songs, subjected to Lord’s cod-
classical Hammond interludes, Paice’s jazzy percussion and Blackmore’s unique, manic
style of soloing involving heavy use of his Stratocaster’s whammy bar. The first album,
Shades Of Deep Purple, produced an unexpected US hit single with a rollicking cover of
Joe South’s “Hush”. This led rapidly to a second album and a prestigious support slot to
Cream on the latter’s final US tour. Meanwhile, the band couldn’t get arrested at home.
The Book Of Taliesyn (pronounced Tal-ee-ess-in) followed the pattern of Shades Of,
expending first-class musicianship over a confusingly diverse mix of styles, most of which
deserves more attention than it’s received. “Listen, Learn, Read On” is tautly-constructed
psychedelia with a semi-recitative vocal extolling the virtues of the tome in the album’s title
(Taliesyn was the bard at King Arthur’s court); Evans’s powerful vocal on this belies one
critic’s description of him as a “supper-club crooner”, although he does display Scott Walker
ish tendencies on the string-quartet-enhanced ballad “Anthem”. “Kentucky Woman” is a
similarly energetic workout on the modest Neil Diamond tune to the earlier “Hush” which
would again feature in the US singles chart. “Wring That Neck” is a stereo-tastic proto-prog
instrumental in which Lord and Blackmore vie for supremacy; it portends the sound of In
Rock
and would remain in the live set for years. Pretentious covers of “We Can Work It Out”
and “River Deep, Mountain High” segue out of equally bombastic classical themes in which
Lord displays the same leanings as Keith Emerson without the outrageous stagecraft; this
is the sort of “pomp-rock” material that’s reduced Mark I in the eyes of its later heavy-metal
acolytes. Perhaps the best track, “Shield”, is a funky, loping offering with an impenetrable
hippie (or possibly sci-fi) lyric, a catchy, almost oriental organ riff, and splendid guitar work
throughout which deserved to be a hit single in its own right.

Home success continued to elude Purple until the collapse of its US label, Tetragrammaton,
forced the band to return home, re-evaluate and regroup. Evans and Simper were fired and
replaced, and the rest is history. The first three albums, however, show that all the required
elements were in place; only the focus was missing. Avoid the earliest CD reissues and go
for the remastered (at Abbey Road) versions with bonus tracks.

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“Listen, Learn, Read On”

:D CD Reissue | 2000 | EMI | buy at amazon ]
:) Vinyl | 1968 | Harvest | search ebay ]

Hawkwind “Hawkwind”

You mightn’t know it in North America – there’s nary a mention of the band in my 1992 Rolling Stone Album Guide – but Hawkwind is a British rock institution of over forty years’ standing. Coming out of the late sixties Notting Hill freak culture along with such other proto-prog outfits as Quintessence and the Pink Fairies, the Hawks became the ultimate stoner community band – a bit like the Dead, but with intensity and over-the-top stage visuals taking precedence over virtuosity and compositional complexity. Musically, they took as their initial reference the space-rock instrumentals of Syd-era Pink Floyd, from which they rapidly forged the blend of pounding riff-rock, unbridled electronic noise and abstruse science fiction lyrics with which they willingly became stereotyped, as exemplified by the cacophonous hit single “Silver Machine”.

Hawkwind hit big with their second album In Search Of Space, in which they gave themselves over totally to the aforementioned formula that would endure for the next several decades. This, I have to say, is not really my cup of tea. Their first, more tentative, release, however, was one of the better psych-prog crossover albums of the era, despite inexplicably failing to achieve any chart penetration then or since. The roots of the heavy space-rock agenda are there, but the material also harks back to the lysergic side of psychedelia; this is one of the most genuinely trippy albums I’ve ever enjoyed blissing out to. Despite being constructed from the simplest of musical building blocks, there’s plenty of sonic variety. Nik Turner’s primitive freeform sax playing may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s balanced by the muscular lead guitar of Huw Lloyd-Langton, while DikMik’s untutored but atmospheric VCS3 ramblings generate a variety of moods from the sinister to the orgasmic. The production is by Pretty Things mainman Dick Taylor, refreshingly open and uncluttered by later Hawkwind standards, but with plenty of contemporary stereo effects and studio trickery thrown in.

The original album really contained only three pieces. After the opening “Hurry On Sundown”, an engaging acoustic bluesy hangover from founder Dave Brock’s street busking days, the main body of the album, while listed as five separate tracks, is the segued suite that comprised their early stage act. The electronic wash of “The Reason Is?” leads into “Be Yourself” and “Seeing It As You Really Are”, two lengthy, mainly instrumental confections featuring metronomically repetitive chord riffs, separated by “Paranoia (Parts 1 and 2)”, a thudding six-note unison riff excursion fractured by a deliberate tape slowdown at the point where the vinyl album had to be flipped. The final track, and the best, is the seven-minute maracca-tastic “Mirror Of Illusion” which combines Brock’s delightfully atonal twelve-string with a terser, tighter improvisational mid-section and some tasty mixing-desk widdling.

Few bands have ever polarised opinion as much as the Hawks; like Marmite, you either loved or hated their combination of duh-duh musicianship and outrageous stage antics. Yet, after forty-two years and innumerable lineup changes, the band endures, with 69-year-old Brock still at the helm. Interestingly, their name has nothing to do with their sci-fi agenda but derives, allegedly, from Nik Turner’s predilections for coughing and flatulating (figure it out).

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“Hurry on Sundown”

:D MP3 Download | at amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl |  1970 | United Artsits | search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band “Manfred Mann’s Earth Band”

The Small Faces, the Pretty Things, the Zombies and the Move have seen numerous write-ups, send offs, and press in all the big-time (and small-time) classic rock publications.  But of all the major British Invasion acts, none has been as ill-served and neglected in rock critic circles and the collector circuit as Manfred Mann.  Mann and his group are usually thought of as a singles act, which is a cryin’ shame as many of their albums are great if not better than that.  Manfred Mann’s Earth Band followed the excellent jazz rock explorations of Chapter Three (Volume 1 is a stone cold classic).  The self-titled Earth Band debut remains one of the forgotten progressive rock masterpieces.  Manfred Mann’s Earth Band is an LP that’s actually worth hearing as it’s one of the best albums of its time and a fan favorite of sorts.

Originally the Earth Band had been working on Stepping Sideways, a rootsy album that was scrapped in favor of newer, more challenging material, which had been part of their live act at the time.  Many of the Stepping Sideways tracks are as good as much of what ended up on the Earth Band’s debut.  Most of the lost Stepping Sideways sessions later appeared on the Earth Band’s outtake box set, Odds & Sods.

On Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, the group take the best aspects of pop and progressive music and meld them into something original and distinctive.  Manfred Mann’s Earth Band came out in 1972, the height of the progressive rock boom.  The album is half covers, half originals.  There are no long, wanky keyboard solos, everything here is well structured and tight – the band cooks throughout.  Mann still kept some of the rootsy singer songwriter material from the earlier, Stepping Sideways sessions.  “Part Time Man,” a cover of Dylan’s “Please Mrs. Henry,” and “I’m Up and I’m Leaving” are all wonderful, underrated cuts that hold up to repeated plays. Other worthy tracks are “Captain Bobby Scout” which features a cool middle synth section, “Tribute,” a mysterious space rock instrumental and the great, hard rocking “Prayer.” Mann’s use of the Minimoog/synth/keyboards is inventive and often overlooked, he never loses focus or falls prey to mindless self-indulgence.  The album’s centerpiece, a cover of Randy Newman’s “Living Without You,” was a minor US hit and is perhaps the best version of this song you’re likely to hear.  The Moog work on this track is subtle but powerful while the hooks are huge.  “Living Withou You” is one of those great early 70s singles that wasn’t a big hit, but truly deserved to be.  Overall, not a wasted note or duff track to be found on this lost classic.

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“Part Time Man”

:D CD Reissue | 2009 | Polydor | at amzn ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1972 | search ebay ]