Archive for the ‘ RnB ’ Category

Delbert and Glen “Delbert & Glen”

Delbert and Glen were a country-rock group that was founded by two Texas musicians, Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark. Prior to that, McClinton, a musician’s musician, had began his career in the late 50s, playing harmonica on Bruce Channel’s classic 1961/1962 hit single “Hey! Baby.” After touring with Channel in England, McClinton went on to form his own mid 60s folk-rock group, the Rondells. The Rondells kicked around the Fort Worth scene, recording some material (but never an official album), most famously, the orignal version of “If You Really Want Me To, I’ll Go” (covered by the Sir Douglas Quintet). When McClinton relocated to LA, he met up with Fort Worth musician Glen Clark. These two musicians recorded two very good Texas-style country-rock albums for Atlantic affliate Clean Records.

Delbert and Glen was the first of these efforts, released in 1972. Songwriting credits are split evenly between the two artists but McClinton’s harmonica playing and hoarse, soulful vocals were the highlight of this LP. Delbert and Glen differentiated themselves from the twangy country-rock crowd by crafting a unique mixture of ballsy, intimate texas music: greasy blues, hillbilly country music, gospel, raucous rock n roll, and funky Southern-style jive. The 1972-1973 era was a prolific time for both musicians as they served up a handful of lost Americana classics. Songs such as “Old Standby,” “I Received A Letter,” “Here Come The Blues,” “I Feel The Burden,” “Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday,” and “Ain’t What You Eat But the Way That You Chew It” are wonderful examples of the genre. My hit picks are the gorgeous, soulful pop of “Everyday Will Be A Holiday,” the tough rocking album opener “Old Standby” (what a great track!) and the underrated country tune “All Them Other Good Things.” Alternative country and country-rock fans cannot miss this gem and are urged to track down these recordings – they are essential. Also, check out the duo’s worthy swan song from 1973, titled Subject To Change.

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“Old Standby”

:D Reissue | 2005 | Koch Records | buy here ]
:) Original | 1972 | search ebay ]

The Rondells (1965): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVBKm8xo2rI

Kaleidoscope (US) “When Scopes Collide”

Though it is generally written off as a failed reunion album, Kaleidoscope’s When Scopes Collide really does demand re-evaluation. Though the record was released six yearsafter Kaleidoscope’s disastrous swan song Bernice, this is not the work of a band that has lost its way. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that When Scopes Collide reveals a group that has not only gained a new lease on life, but has managed to reclaim some of the carefree, communal spirit that had, over time, become less and less apparent in their recorded output. Some of the credit here may be due to multi-instrumentalist Chris Darrow, who finally returns after having jumped ship in the wake of 1968’s A Beacon From Mars.

Some folks have criticized this album as being too “rock and roll,” presumably having hoped for a half hour of lysergic middle-eastern breakdowns. Might I remind these unfortunate listeners, however, that good-old-fashioned rock and roll was always a major part of the Kaleidoscope sound and, though their legend may have been cemented through their innovative use of eastern instruments and rhythms, their more exotic numbers were always outnumbered by their ventures into traditional American musical forms. The band’s strength has always lain in their willingness to cross-pollinate between east and west, whether by laying down whirring shahnai lines across an old Coasters novelty hit like “Little Egypt,” or arranging “Ghost Riders In the Sky” around a haunting oud and lap-steel duet.

Having said all that, however, I will admit that the most transcendent moment on this record does in fact come on the cut with the strongest middle-eastern influence. Solomon Feldthouse’s “It’s Love You’re After” is a hazy, nine-minute tapestry of saz, oud, kemenche, piano, doumbag, violin, gudulka and steel guitar. This may very well be one of the band’s great masterpieces; an epic descendant of earlier Kaleidoscope classics such as “Egyptian Gardens” and “Lie To Me.” Not even an awkward attempt at a percussion solo halfway through is able to dampen the magic.

This record was originally released on Michael Nesmith’s Pacific Arts Records, but in 2005 the German roots-music label Taxim reissued both When Scopes Collide and Kaleidoscope’s second reunion effort, Greetings From Kartoonistan…We Ain’t Dead Yet. It would appear that both are still available, though those of you in the Americas are probably going to have to fork over a little extra in shipping. It’s more than worth it, though; if you dug the first few Kaleidoscope records there’s a good chance you’ll find something to enjoy in this collection. Keep your mind open.

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“So Long”

:D Reissue | 2005 | Taxim | buy here ]
:) Original | 1976 | Pacific Arts | search ebay ]

Hill, Barbata & Ethridge “L.A. Getaway”

Anybody familiar with L.A. canyon-rock circa 1970 should be familiar with the name Chris Ethridge. Having more or less made his debut as the R&B-minded bass player with the Flying Burrito Brothers, the man soon went on to become one of Americana’s most in-demand session players, serving with everyone from Phil Ochs to Ry Cooder to Judy Collins. There’s a good chance that you can find him on more than one of your favorite records. A less recognized part of Ethridge’s career, however, is his time served as a member of Hill, Barbata & Ethridge, a tight congregation of musicians who had until the band’s formation only really been seen working the sidelines of the nascent country rock movement. John Barbata probably had the highest profile of any of them, having spent several years manning the kit for sardonic folk rockers The Turtles, while singer Joel Scott Hill had only cut a couple of solo sides for small independent labels out of the west coast.

So it was really only with L.A. Getaway that these three really got a chance to shine on their own. Hill, perhaps the largest unknown quantity here, turns up positively mind-blowing on cuts like “Old Man Trouble,” where he takes Otis Redding’s classic heart breaker and wrenches out one of the most satisfying blue-eyed soul performances I’ve ever heard. Ethridge, whose bass work has always lain somewhere between Stax and McCartney, finally gets a chance to work out his R&B tendencies, having heretofore been confined mostly to country and folk-rock music. I should also mention the cast of supporting players here, if only to emphasize the weight these cats held in the world of Los Angeles rock and roll. Hammering the piano and Hammond organ are none other than the holy quadrumvirate of Leon Russell, Spooner Oldham, Booker T. Jones, and Mac Rebennack. Clarence White throws down some trademark guitar solos.

If there is any part of this record which disappoints, it is in the fact that the band here relies so much on other people’s material. Though songs like Dr. John’s swampy “Craney Crow” and Allen Toussaint’s woozy closer “So Long” are given strong and inspired readings, the most memorable moments come with Ethridge’s numbers, such as the barnstorming “It’s Your Love,” which could have been a radio staple had fortune only dealt more cards in their favor. His laconic vocal drawl on the twangy title track, a wry kiss-off to the smoggy city, makes one wish he had gotten a chance to record more of his own material in this way. Otherwise, the band’s treatment of rock and roll standards like Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Eyesight To the Blind” are fun, but not remarkable.

It’s a shame that L.A. Getaway didn’t get the chance to develop further than this one album. All three musicians would go on to other high-profile ventures, though I would argue that their sum was greater than their parts. John Barbata would serve time in many different bands through the seventies, from Jefferson Airplane to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, while Hill joined up with Canned Heat for a couple of years. Eventually, him and Ethridge were reunited in a latter-day incarnation of the Flying Burrito Brothers, though the recordings they made under that name, including 1975’s Flying Again, are a solid disappointment, especially in regards to Hill’s vocal performances.

L.A. Getaway did in fact see a compact disc reissue in 2004, courtesy of Water Records, but it has since fallen back out of print. At this point it’s probably easier to track down an original vinyl copy, though if the word gets around one hopes that this long-neglected classic will soon be made available again.

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“It’s Your Love”

:) Original | 1971 | Atco | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2004 | Water | get it here ]

Ry Cooder “Chicken Skin Music”

Not exactly a “lost” album, though hardly a classic – on first release in 1976 it struggled to position 177 on the Billboard album chart – Chicken Skin Music can now be seen as an early landmark in Ry Cooder’s lifelong odyssey to reinterpret and re-popularise the various roots musics of North and Central America. His first four solo releases had concentrated on the traditional musical styles of the United States’s poor blacks and whites: blues, country, rural folk and gospel. With this collection he widened his sweep to include cultures on the margins of American society, and in doing so produced one of the earliest forays by a “rock” musician, and the first of many by Cooder himself, into what we now call World Music. It’s now widely regarded as his finest work in a distinguished oeuvre.

Leonardo “Flaco” Jiménez is a virtuoso Tejano accordionist, playing a South Texas style that sprang from German polka and Mexican mariachi roots; since coming to wider prominence with Cooder, he’s enjoyed a long and successful career with Doug Sahm’s Texas Tornadoes. Cooder had played with him shortly before and asked him to contribute to his next recording. Jiménez accordingly graced several tracks on the album with his quicksilver button accordion motifs, giving a lively Tex-Mex topping to Cooder’s revolutionary revivals of the Nashville hit “He’ll Have To Go”, refashioned in a glorious baion rhythm with the accordion harmonised by alto sax in pure Mariachi fashion;  of Lieber and Stoller’s evergreen “Stand By Me”, rendered as a sombre spiritual; and of the hoary old Leadbelly chestnut “Goodnight Irene” in which the accordion fronts a traditional string band in a loping waltz. Cooder contributed to the Hispanic flavour with his newly-incorporated bajo sexto and tiple, as well as his usual electric and slide guitars.

The late Charles “Gabby” Pahinui was a master of Hawaiian lapsteel guitar, and Leland “Atta” Isaacs a virtuoso of the indigenous slack-key guitar style in which the instrument is tuned to one of a variety of open chords but is fretted fingerstyle rather than with a slide. Both were longtime heroes of traditional music in their home islands, and the lynchpins of the revival of Hawaiian roots music in the early 1970s. Cooder flew to Honolulu specifically to record with them: the sessions produced a relaxed Hawaiian rendition of Hank Snow’s old hit “Yellow Roses” and an effortless Western Swing instrumental version of Gus Kuhn’s venerable “Chloe”. Taking his cue from his hosts, Cooder added additional slack-key on the former, and on the latter he harmonised Pahinui’s C6 lapsteel with another, plus overlaying some toothsome mandolin work. Cooder would return the favour by playing on several Pahinui/Isaacs albums.

On the remaining tracks Cooder emulates his distinguished collaborators, adding slack-key guitar to a lilting rendition of the ancient spiritual “Always Lift Him Up” and a modest Cajun accordion – under Jiménez’s tutelage – to a sympathetic reading of Leadbelly’s anti-racist polemic “Bourgeois Blues”. He provides continuity with his earlier recordings by including rocking versions of the old minstrel songs “I Got Mine” and “Smack Dab In The Middle” performed in his accustomed style with faultless electric and slide guitar accompaniment. The presence of various buddies from the LA session Mafia – notably Chris Etheridge (bs), Jim Keltner (drs), George Bohannon (horns) – and his long-standing soulful backing vocal trio of Bobby King, Terry Evans and Herman Johnson ensure quality results throughout.

In more recent years Cooder’s campaign on behalf of the roots musics of America has finally achieved substantive commercial penetration with those of Cuba (Buena Vista Social Club) and Latino California (Chávez Ravine), whilst his urge to collaborate with musicians from more distant cultures has seen him work with Hindustani classical veena player H.M. Bhatt (A Meeting By The River) and the late and greatly lamented Mali multi-instrumental maestro Ali Farka Touré (Talking Timbuktu). They’re all excellent works. At 64 he shows no sign of slowing down and it’s impossible to second-guess what his next project will be. Whatever, you know it’ll be worth a listen.

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“Chloe”

:) Original | 1976 | Reprise | search ebay ]
;) MP3 Album | download here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

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 ]

Michael Bloomfield “Analine”

By 1977 Michael Bloomfield was well past his glory days as a stellar sessioneer on Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited and as one half of the Butterfield Blues Band’s fearsome two-pronged guitar attack with Elvin Bishop. Disillusioned by the guitar-star pressure resulting from the Fillmore supersessions with Al Kooper and his brief tenure as figurehead of the crazily over-hyped Electric Flag, and succumbing to increasing depression and substance abuse, he’d drawn in his horns and largely retired to his San Fran home, emerging occasionally to record low-key albums with friends including John Hammond Jr, Barry Goldberg and Dr John, or to play low-profile gigs with pickup bands in the Bay area. After a prolonged spell of not playing at all due to the effects of heroin, psychological disturbances and arthritis, Bloomfield re-emerged in ’77 to cut a series of four albums over three years for John Fahey’s Takoma label, in which he returned largely to the pure Chicago blues of his formative years, now leavened with soul, gospel and jazz influences.

The first Takoma album, Analine, finds Bloomfield stretching out in leisurely fashion alone in the studio, playing all the instruments himself on a selection of self-penned tunes and covers in enough styles to delight any Ry Cooder aficionado, and airing a tenor voice with a slightly cracked heroin edge and a wicked and very necessary sense of humour on the opening “Peepin’ An’ A-Moanin’ Blues” and on “Big ‘C’ Blues” whose decidedly non-PC lyrics deal with sexual perversions and cancer respectively, and on a wonderful ragtime rendition of the ancient murder ballad “Frankie And Johnny”. Most of the guitars are acoustic and sublimely played, with nods to Django Reinhardt on the swinging twelve-bar “Mr Johnson And Mr Dunn” (on which Bloomfield’s jazzy rhythm comping is a delight), to Stefan Grossman on the effortless Scott Joplin-syle “Effinonna Rag”, and to Cooder on the beautiful Tejano “Hilo Waltz”, forefronting Dobro and tiple. Bloomfield also offers an effective bluesy piano, an instrument with which he’s not usually associated, on the sombre gospel instrumental “At The Cross” and on a maudlin but stylish reading of Ellington’s “Mood Indigo”. The only disappointments are that he lets rip only once in his legendary electric blues style, on “Big ‘C’ Blues”, and that his expeditions on electric slide guitar tend to be a bit weedy and undisciplined, as on “At The Cross” and on the concluding, soulful, title track. The latter is the only cut to feature other musicians, including old supersession colleague Nick Gravenites on vocal, and is a pointer to the following albums which would be recorded in a band milieu.

Hopelessly out of sync with the prevailing musical industry trends, the four Takoma outings predictably sank without trace saleswise. After a couple more desultory albums and a one-off reunion on stage with Dylan at SF’s Warfield Theater in November 1980 at which he contributed to a stirring revisitation of “Like A Rolling Stone”, Bloomfield was found dead from a massive heroin OD in his car two months later, his body allegedly having been removed from a party and driven to a different location in a gruesome echo of Gram Parsons’s demise. Sic transit gloria mundi, or in Mike Bloomfield’s case perhaps the finest white blues guitarist ever. Analine can be found with the subsequent Michael Bloomfield on the first of Ace’s 2007 twofer reissues of the four Takoma albums.

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“Effinonna Rag”

:) Original | 1977 | Takoma | search ]
:D Reissue | 2007 | Ace | 2fer | buy ]

The Liverbirds “Star Club Show 4”

“Girls with guitars / What’s the world coming to?” sang Mary Chapin Carpenter in 1993, with her Rickenbacker 620 clutched firmly to her bosom and her tongue firmly in her cheek. Since the emancipating mid-70s influence of punk, women have been free to pick up electric guitars and emulate, or even outperform, their male counterparts, either as solo virtuosi (Bonnie Raitt, Rosie Flores) or in all-female bands (the Slits, the Bangles). How different it all was back in the sixties! Ever since the arrival of the Stratocaster back in ’54 the electric axe had garnered a near-universal image as a phallic symbol, culminating in the onstage antics of Hendrix, Page, Ted Nugent and Marc Bolan. As a matter of course, only men played the electric guitar and bass, and indeed the drum kit; a few lady folksingers got to pick melodiously at an acoustic, but during the Beat Era and the ensuing Golden Age Of Rock the idea of females seriously picking up the men’s toys and running with them was almost unthinkable. What about Fender bassist Megan Davies with the Applejacks, or drummer Honey Lantree with the Honeycombs, you ask? OK, they turned a few heads on Ready Steady Go, but they were almost universally dismissed as novelties.

It was with some surprise, then, that I discovered the Liverbirds, a fully-fledged all-female Beat band from Liverpool who came together as early as 1962, were regulars at the Cavern, opened for the Rolling Stones several times in late ’63, spent two years on the infamous Hamburg circuit, and despite a forecast to the contrary by John Lennon (“All-girl outfits can’t last”) stayed together for six years, finally bowing out after a tour of Japan. Nothing remotely folky about these ladies; they elected to play an abrasive brand of R’n’B with all the spiky garage-band pizzazz of the early Stones or Pretty Things, whilst coming onstage in masculine-cut waistcoat suits and frilled shirts for all the world like a female Kinks. Their enduring lineup featured Pam Birch on lead vocal and rhythm guitar, Valerie Gell on lead guitar, Mary McGlory on bass and Sylvia Saunders on kit, and their recorded legacy reveals that they all had real chops.

Beyond cosmopolitan Liverpool, the girls’ reception by conservative UK audiences and sceptical record company A&R men proved predictably underwhelming. However, when invited to work in Germany by Star-Club owner Manfred Weissleder early in 1964 they immediately wowed the famously indulgent Reeperbahn audiences with their energetic, high-volume set of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley covers, earning the nickname “die Weiblichen Beatles” – “the female Beatles”. As an inducement to a second tour, Weissleder offered to record them on his recently-incepted label; their recording career on Star-Club would eventually stretch to four singles and two albums. German chart entries and TV appearances followed, and the girls toured extensively there and in Denmark and Switzerland, even once sharing a bill with Berry himself in Berlin, where legend has it they defied a management instruction to avoid Berry’s songs and brazenly opened with “Roll Over Beethoven”.

Their recordings were unsurprisingly never released in the UK, and apart from the odd anthologised track remained firmly underground here till compiled by Ace subsidiary Big Beat in 2010 as From Merseyside To Hamburg, the CD comprising the entire 1964-65 Star-Club recordings, 29 cuts in all. The tracks from their first original album, Star Club Show 4, are the best: raw, unadorned R’n’B covers recorded live in the studio. These could almost be the Pretties, driven along as they are by Birch’s angry, punky contralto, McGlory’s muscular, metronomic bass, Saunders’s no-nonsense percussion and Gell’s scratchy machine-gun Fender Jaguar lead work. Their takes on Chuck Berry’s “Talking About You”, Berry Gordy’s “Money” and the blues chestnut “Got My Mojo Working” are fit to strip wallpaper. The later sessions offer more of the same but also move further towards Motown, with creditable tilts at the likes of Doug Sahm’s “She’s About A Mover”, Holland-Dozier’s “Heatwave” and Smokey Robinson’s “Shop Around” – all good Reeperbahn fare – plus a couple of modestly Beatle-ish Pam Birch originals which originally appeared as single B-sides; the production is more measured and less viscerally exciting. Today, the individual albums remain unavailable but the compilation is a great-value testament to a bunch of pioneering female rockers, and is highly recommended.

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“Talking About You”

:D Compilation | 2010 | Big Beat | buy here ]

Bell + Arc “Bell + Arc”

Bell & Arc’s one and only record is a prime cut of early 1970s British rock and roll. Born out of the psychedelic ashes of Skip Bifferty, Bell & Arc saw a reunion of sorts between singer Graham Bell and his former band mates, keyboardist Mick Gallagher and guitarist John Turnbull. Anyone delving into this record expecting the underground freak-beat of that earlier band, however, is in for a rude surprise. This band is an entirely different beast, and even Graham Bell’s singing has undergone some serious evolution since Skip Bifferty sank in 1969.

Heavy threads of American soul music, as well as tasteful touches of gospel and country, are what inform this record more than anything. From the insistent groove of “High Priest of Memphis” to the rollicking banjo rolls in “Keep A Wise Mind,” it is clear what musical traditions these cats are mining. Graham Bell’s vocals here are so soulful it almost hurts, with the obvious reference point being the shredded-throat testifying of fellow countryman Joe Cocker. Turnbull’s guitar is also on fire, whether he’s indulging in tight wah-pedal workouts in “Let Your Love Run Free” or keeping things beautifully restrained in the band’s sizzling, slow-burn workout of Leonard Cohen’s “So Long, Marianne.” In the meantime, I would assert that it is Gallagher’s rhythm piano which seems to be the bedrock of the band’s sound. Each cut displays inspired playing that really seals together the spirit of the band. His concluding improvisations on “Yat Rock” are particularly enjoyable, where he compliments his driving rhythm playing with the occasional Jerry Lee Lewis run.

Side A of this record is one of those rare cases where every song is absolutely killer, and the energy just does not let up. The opening three song punch blows me away every time. By the second side, things start to lose a little steam, but only barely. In fact, “Dawn,” the one acoustic track on the album, is a pleasant, hazy respite from the high-octane rave-ups that surround it. In fact, the guitar dynamics and subdued atmosphere might actually make it a highlight. “Children of the North Prison” draws the band back, and throws out one of the catchiest hooks on the record against a great ascending piano line. In the years since I first happened on this record, it has slowly but surely become one of my absolute mainstays. It’s hard not to be drawn in to Arc’s tight grooves and Bell’s cosmic rock and roll songs, and  I dare say it makes some fantastic road music. Check out the (out-of-print, but easy to find) Rock and Groove Records reissue, or keep your eye peeled for one of the original copies. I should probably note that it looks as though the British and American copies of this one have different artwork; the British record has a bright red cover, with what looks like layered fists.

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“Children of the North Prison”

:) Vinyl | 1971 | Columbia | search ebay ]
:D CD Reissue | 2009 | Rock & Groove | buy here ]

Asylum Choir “Look Inside the Asylum Choir”

Long before Leon Russell became the albescent bearded high-priest of gritty rock’n’soul, he was a session musician in Phil Spector’s LA stable backing acts as diverse as The Byrds and Herb Alpert. Around this time Russell met the young Marc Benno, a talented blues guitarist just up from Austin, Texas who had moved to LA to also take up session work. Benno had been crashing in a closet at Russell’s place where a veritable who’s who of the 60’s rock scene would hang out and jam. It was here that Benno met Eric Clapton and many of the other famous musicians with whom he would collaborate later in his career. Benno described it as being “in the right place at the right time.” Russell and Benno decided to formally join forces as “Asylum Choir” and released the first of two LP’s in 1968, Look Inside the Asylum Choir, on the Smash imprint.

Look Inside the Asylum Choir rightly earns the oft overused label “psychedelic” for tracks such as “Icicle Star Tree” or “Death of the Flowers” which are psychedelic pop in the classical late 60’s sense, however musicians as diversely talented as Russell and Benno couldn’t help but include R&B, soul, ragtime and jazz elements along with numerous diegetic sound-bites and ironic lyrics into an eclectic musical collage that assumes a psychedelia of a higher order. The lofty words of 40+ years worth of hindsight don’t change the fact that the album was a commercial flop, despite favorable reviews from the groovy critics of the time. Perhaps the greatest commercial misstep was a marketing one: the album was originally released with a closeup photograph of a roll of toilet paper on the front cover. While perfectly in line with the deeply tongue-in-cheek lyrical irony of the album, the ablutional image offended the much more delicate sensibilities of the day.

It is this pervasive irony that both sets this album apart as a smart if gentle critique of the contemporary 60’s culture and dates much of the lyrical content. Despite this the album is quite enjoyable and musically delightful. The jaunty opener, “Welcome to Hollywood”, with its punchy horns and bouncy beat lyrically sticks a pin in Tinseltown’s balloon in jubilant vocal harmony. This is followed by the relatively straight honkey tonk ode to “Soul Food” and is a strong hint at the musical direction Russell would take later in his career. With the third track, “Icicle Star Tree”, the album takes a left turn into the sunshiny technicolor terain of psychedelic pop. The dreamy melody complete with abstruse and surreal lyrics floats over alternating cascades of shimmering keyboard and soulful telecaster for an overall heavily lysergic vibe. The album keeps this mood with the elegiac “Death of the Flowers” which tells the poignant story of Elaine “who is visibly moved by the death all around her…” The first side of the album closes with “Indian Style” that opens with a sound collage of tribal drumming eventually giving way to the sounds of cavalry, machine gun fire and war. This wordless statement abruptly ends as the upbeat honkey tonk song proper kicks in, evolving the initial statement with ironic lyrics about the mis-appropriation and commodification of indian culture by the flower children.

The second side opens with a six minute musical hodgepodge entitled “Episode Containing 3 Songs: N.Y. Op. Land of Dog Mr. Henri the Clown” that has a number of memorable moments such as a 30 second bit of “Mr. Henri the Clown” that is reminiscent of Beck’s “The New Pollution” off of Odelay, and witty lyrics about a flea who has a “little flea-osophy on organized insanity.” The heavy theme of the next track, “Thieves in the Choir”, is anticipated by the dolorous peal of church bells. The song warns of “Magic policemen who don’t need a reason to color your eye.” In deliberate contrast to this subject matter the song ironically borders on ebullient as Russell sings about how he “figured out, good guys with bullets are really quite bad.” The swinging blues closer “Black Sheep Boogaloo” rips it up pretty thoroughly, punctuated by Zappa/Beefheart-esque interludes of self-referential weirdness.

Despite its poor sales at the time, Inside the Asylum Choir remains an enjoyable listen both as a period piece and as an interesting insight into the future directions of two musicians of the highest caliber.

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“Thieves in the Choir”

:) Original Vinyl | 1968 | Smash | search ebay ]
:D CD Reissue |  2007 | Revola | buy here ]

The Graham Bond Organization “The Sound of 65”

It’s a matter of record that the British Blues Boom of the sixties – as discrete from British Rhythm‘n’Blues, a similar but different beast – was originally created not by former rock’n’roll or Beat musicians but principally by ex-jazz players searching for a new “authentic” music. Its earliest practitioners came to the blues via skiffle, the ersatz rural American folk movement of the mid-fifties; subsequent ones via the brief vogue for revivalist traditional jazz at the turn of the sixties. Furthermore, the Blues Boom began not, as popularly thought, with erstwhile jazzman John Mayall’s landmark 1966 album Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton, but with the formation of Alexis Korner’s influential, ever-mutating Blues Incorporated in 1961. Bluesbreakers may be the defining record of the British Blues Boom, the one that induced a whole regiment of Beat guitarists to emulate Muddy, Wolf and BB, but by the time it hit the decks the ground had already been prepared by other former jazzers, notably Korner and his acolyte, the larger-than-life, manic-depressive Hammond organist Graham Bond.

Bond had started out as a bebop alto saxophonist in Charlie Parker vein, but at the turn of the sixties he switched to organ and, along with other high-profile jazz instrumentalists, began to concentrate on the twelve-bar form. Enlisting fellow Korner alumni Jack Bruce on upright and Fender basses, Ginger Baker on drums and (after rapidly firing early guitarist John McLaughlin) Dick Heckstall-Smith on tenor sax, Bond christened his outfit the Graham Bond ORGANisation, leaving no doubt where the engine room lay. The band immediately became a live tour-de-force on the London club circuit but, as with so many other artists who are ahead of their time, failed to find commercial success in terms of record sales; its albums weren’t even released in North America, where the whole concept of “British Blues” was initially treated as a joke. The ORGANisation lasted for two studio albums before disbanding shortly after Bruce and Baker, finding the bipolar Bond too difficult a taskmaster, departed for new challenges.

Compared with the straight-ahead purist electric blues of Bluesbreakers, the earlier Sound Of 65 shows a band attempting engagingly to pervert the blues in every conceivable direction. It combines the expected traditional blues covers (“Hoochie Coochie Man”, “Got My Mojo Working”) and instrumental R’n’B workouts (“Wade In The Water”, “Train Time”), reworked in distinctive, individual fashion, with lyrically naïve but musically adventurous Bond originals which move confidently in the direction of what would later be called “jazz-rock”. All the tracks are carried along by the sheer, rough-edged energy of Bond’s vocals and the irrepressible swing of the band’s ensemble playing, plus a remarkable cheap-studio production with plenty of reverb that gives the impression of a live recording. In fact the album was the ORGANisation’s well-honed live set with each number pared down to three minutes or less, the solos from Bond’s growling B-3 and Heckstall-Smith’s squalling tenor short and ferocious rather than extended and building. High spots include the flavouring of “Wade In The Water” with more than a soupçon of Bach’s Toccata, the spoof field holler of “Early In The Morning”, Bruce’s rumbling upright bass figures on “Mojo”, Bond’s and Heckstall-Smith’s wailing snake-charmer licks on “Spanish Blues”, and the eerie “Baby Make Love To Me” which is carried on just harmonised saxes, bass and drums and boasts lead vocal and braggadocio harmonica from Bruce. Only the mandatory (and thankfully truncated) Baker drum solo on “Oh Baby” and the maudlin closer “Tammy” (intended as a “commercial” single) conspire to lower the overall appeal.

The second and final ORGANisation album There’s A Bond Between Us offered a slightly wider musical range played with a bit less verve, and Bond’s pioneering use of the Mellotron (before the Beatles, Stones and Moody Blues discovered it) presaged his move towards progressive music. After an erratic subsequent career and involvement with hard drugs and Satanism he was mysteriously found dead under a stationary London Underground train in 1974: a sad end to one of rock’s most colourful characters. The BGO twofer combining both studio albums is a bargain; for a flavour of the band’s live sound, try Solid Bond, the posthumous Rhino release featuring the short-lived final line-up of Bond, Heckstall-Smith and Jon Hiseman.

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“Baby Make Love to Me”

:D CD Reissue | 2008 | Repertoire | buy here ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1965 | Columbia | search ebay ]