Posts Tagged ‘ 1970 ’

Ron Elliott “The Candlestickmaker”

Now here’s a record that, for all practical purposes, should not be this obscure. In fact, I’m often taken aback at how many Beau Brummels fans aren’t even aware that Ron Elliott, said group’s guitarist and songwriter, ever cut a record on his own. Fortunately, however, Collector’s Choice saw fit to remind the world a few years back and reissued 1970’s The Candlestickmaker, which would prove to be Elliott’s one and only record.

The music here is beautiful. Mining a deep spiritual vein that was only hinted at in the last two Beau Brummels records (on 1968’s Triangle, in particular) Elliott’s vivid word craft and west coast roots are bolstered by the musicianship of such luminaries as Chris Ethridge, Bud Shank, Ry Cooder, and Mark McClure. Elliott’s voice is a marked contrast to Sal Valentino’s tremulous purr, boasting a rich depth that calls to mind that crown prince of Americana, John Stewart. Interestingly enough, this entire record makes me think of the dense, rocky wildernesses of the Pacific northwest. Maybe this has something to do with how the overall sound of the band is rather sparse, while managing to invoke a richly woven sound. Even the orchestral arrangements of Bob Thompson convey an organic and understated character.

When a record only holds five songs, it seems ridiculous to pick highlights, but “All Time Green” and the gently flowing train song “Deep River Runs Blue” really are absolutely beautiful. Mark McClure’s sharp, spidery guitar lines on the former, while Ry Cooder’s distinctive slide work on the latter blends majestically with either Elliott or McClure’s burbling wah guitar. Meanwhile, Bud Shank’s flute marks the mellow jazz folk of “Lazy Day,” and Leon Russell’s subtle brass arrangements drive “To the City, To the Sea.” Each of these little touches make the songs both memorable and distinctive.

The magnum opus here, however, is clearly the fifteen minute long title track. As Elliott suggests in Richie Unterberger’s liner notes, the song “has a healing quality to it.” The lyrics build on what seems to me to be a driving theme throughout The Candlestickmaker: man’s struggle to break through the cold iron landscape of modern capitalist society and rediscover a free, wild America. Arguably a common theme in the early 1970s United States, but rarely one so eloquently presented. The music never once falters: Ethridge’s bass runs warm and melodic, while McClure’s guitar craft truly sparkles as it trails around Elliott’s words. Indeed, McClure proves himself to be one of the greatest revelations, and his grace on his instrument draws me towards exploring his own work further.

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“All Time Green”

:D Reissue | 2003 | Collector’s Choice | buy here ]
:) Original | 1970 | Warner Bros | search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

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 ]

Moris “Treinta Minutos De Vida”

Mauricio Birabent started his musical career as guitarist the groundbreaking Argentinian rock and roll band Los Beatniks, who released “Rebelde,” a scorcher of a 45, to mild commercial success in 1966. Along with Los Gatos and their legendary recording of “La Balsa,” the song was one of the earliest examples of Argentina’s emerging rock nacional scene, which took the energetic sound of groups like the Rolling Stones and reshaped it with Spanish lyrics and South American influences. However, Los Beatniks soon broke apart due to the censorship and oppression of Carlos Onganía’s conservative military government, and Birabent found himself performing on his own, under the nickname Moris.

His debut LP, Treinta Minutos de Vida (or Thirty Minutes of Life, referencing the approximate running time of the record) was recorded for the fledgling Mandioca Records label in 1970. It represented a move towards psychedelic folk rock, with acoustic guitars and literate lyrics replacing the wild stomp and shout explored by Los Beatniks. The raw, minimalist production of Treinta Minutos may have been striking at the time, but in hindsight it is highly refreshing when contrasted with the slick, plastic sound many of Moris’ contemporaries would soon be wallowing in. Argentina’s independent music scene was just starting to test its wings at this time, and many of the records produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s illustrate musicians building their own recording studio standards from scratch.

The songs on the record are uniformly strong, a number of them having come from his recent past, such as “Ayer Nomás,” which had actually been made into a hit single by Los Gatos. However, the most famous song here is arguably the opening cut, “El Oso,” or “The Bear,” which would soon become an Argentinian standard and almost a rite-of-passage for fledgling singers. The words speak of a bear who once roamed free in the forest, only to be taken into captivity by man and trained to perform for the circus – an intriguing, if straightforward narrative allegory. Despite the many adaptations this tune has seen through the years, the bare-bones recording here is arguably the definitive take.

Additional highlights include the nearly eight minute lyrical odyssey “De Nada Sirve” and “Esto Va Para Atras,” which is marked by righteous fuzz guitar, whirring organ, and reverberating vocals. The seventh song, “Piano de Olivos,” is perhaps the weirdest departure of them all, being a instrumental that for all the world sounds like a psychedelic slinky jumping a staircase of pianos – and of course I mean that as a compliment, wouldn’t you?

Treinta Minutos de Vida has only been re-released on compact disc in Argentina, but import copies are relatively easy to find, and worth tracking down. After this record Moris would start to tone down the psychedelic flourishes in his recordings and accentuate the tango and 1950s rock and roll influences, culminating with a hit recording of Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” in the late 1970s.

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“Esto Va Para Atras”

:D Reissue | 2003 | Sony | buy ]
:) Original | 1970 | Mandioca | search ]

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 ]

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 ]

Fotheringay (self-titled)

In 1970, Sandy Denny’s departure from British Folk heroes Fairport Convention brought us Fotheringay, named after Denny’s original composition “Fotheringay” (about Fotheringay Castle), which appeared on Fairport Convention’s 1969 album What We Did on Our Holidays. Two former members of Eclection (Trevor Lucas, who would become Denny’s future husband, and Gerry Conway), and two former members of Poet and the One Man Band (Pat Donaldson and Jerry Donahue) completed the line-up. The newly formed group was ready to head in to the studio, and give us their first (and long believed to be) only album. Fotheringay has become recognized as a lost British folk rock treasure.

Of course, Sandy Denny’s voice is immaculate and flows ever so sweetly. “Nothing More,” track one, immediately sets the mood for the album, and features some of Denny’s finest vocals. This definitely sounds like a woman who knows all about pain, and offers her fellow mankind the best possible advice to move on from the past. Self-aware, yet sensitive, this is classic Sandy Denny. But believe me, the album just keeps getting better. The second track, “The Sea,” is absolutely stunning, a song that always gets me choked up a bit and gives me goosebumps. Let’s not forget to mention the musical quality here, either. For a newly formed and fresh band, they sound as though they’re completely comfortable with each other and have been jamming for years. The group knew exactly what they were doing.

Trevor Lucas takes the mic for “The Ballad Of Ned Kelly,” “Peace In The End,” a positively killer cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Way I Feel,” and an almost equally impressive cover of Bob Dylan’s “Too Much Of Nothing.” I’ve always loved Lucas’ vocals on this album. He has a country-rock leaning to his voice, and I instantly dug it right from the start. The album closes with the truly beautiful traditional “Banks Of The Nile,” a perfect ending to a nearly perfect album.

I kept my favorite track for last. “The Pond and the Stream” affected me in a pretty personal way. In fact, when I first got my hands on a copy of this album, I played that one song five times in a row. Lyrically and musically, it hits me pretty hard. I’ve since held it in the same high regard as classic Denny-era Fairport songs such as “Genesis Hall” and the immortal “Who Knows Where The Time Goes?”

Sadly, Fotheringay split in January of 1971, right while they were in the middle of recording tracks for their second album. Some of these songs managed to make it on to Denny’s debut in ’71, The North Star Grassman and the Ravens. Lucas, Donahue, and Conway later resurfaced in the “new” Fairport Convention in 1972 for the album Rosie, which also contained some Fotheringay songs. In 2007, Donahue completed the abandoned album by using takes never-before-heard from the original tapes. Fotheringay 2 was finally released in 2008, and is also recommended.

I cannot say enough about this album. A definite “desert island disc” for me, it has brought me a lot of listening pleasure for quite some time. It may also become one of your favorite discs to spin on a cold winter’s night. Highly recommended.

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“The Sea”

:) Original vinyl | 1970 | Island/A&M | search ebay ]
:D CD Reissue | 2004 | Fledg’ling UK | buy here ]

Twink “Think Pink”

You may not recognise the name John Charles Alder, but his musical DNA is already deeply ingrained within these pages. Drummer, percussionist and all-round looner Twink, whose nickname was bestowed by his waggish friends because his mass of (naturally) curly hair suggested a 1960s home perm product, thumped the tubs for psych maestros Tomorrow, kept time for the Pretty Things around the time of SF Sorrow and later became one half of the twin-kit power train of the Pink Fairies. Somehow amongst all this collective activity Twink also found time to record his only “solo” album, recorded in July 1969 and released on Polydor the following year. Besides being engaging in its own right, Think Pink is historically notable as perhaps the last hurrah of genuine old-school UK psychedelia.

Twink was a prominent member of the unique musical scene that sprang from the Notting Hill hippie enclave of the late sixties, characterised by a strong communal music-making spirit that placed enthusiasm above virtuosity and evinced a propensity for playing free concerts at every possible opportunity. The music was inevitably pharmaceutically influenced and displayed a reluctance to let go the elements of freakbeat and psychedelia, long after the more highbrow practitioners of those genres had progressed to the gentility of prog-rock. The likes of the (Social) Deviants, the Pink Fairies and Hawkwind retained a penchant for high volume, pounding rhythms, ultra-fuzzed guitars, simple, repetitive chord structures and lyrics of the most lysergic variety, and the musicians would meld and interchange seamlessly at each others’ live jams and recording sessions.

Think Pink, coming between Twink’s involvements with the Pretties and the Fairies, not surprisingly features contributions from the former’s John Povey, Viv Prince and Vic Unitt and the latter’s Paul Rudolph and Russell Hunter, as well as John “Junior” Wood from Tomorrow, John “Honk” Lodge from Junior’s Eyes and numerous other local acquaintances. Twink’s chief compositional collaborator was erstwhile Tyrannosaurus Rex conga-thumper Steve Peregrine Took. This motley crew, together with their various mind-expanding substances, produced a rambling collection of wigged-out chants, whimsical nonsense rhymes, wry fuzzed-up instrumentals, cross-legged acoustic workouts and genuine psych gems that defies any homogeneous description but will bring a nostalgic tear to the eyes of any former freak-culture adherent (if you can remember being there, that is). Production was by the Deviants’ mainman Mick Farren, and although production quality is pretty good it still sounds as if a hell of a party was enjoyed whilst the recordings were going down.

The album states its intent on the opener “The Coming Of The One” which simulates an acid trip more closely than anything else I’ve ever heard, with whacked-out wailings backed by backwards sitars and tablas. The cover of Twink’s own “10,000 Words In A Cardboard Box” from his Aquarian Age days is far, far heavier than the original and features the first of many examples of downright Stratocaster/Big Muff abuse from Rudolph. “Tiptoe On The Highest Hill” has a similar feel to the Floyd’s “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” but offers Mellotron and various contrasting guitar sounds, whilst the following “Fluid” features Twink’s lady Silver on orgasmic moans (it’s better than that makes it sound, honest). “Mexican Grass War” fades in with a sinister military snare drum march and random guitar noise and builds to a percussion tour-de-force, while the anarchic “Three Little Piggies” is as silly as it sounds and could have been Syd Barrett on even more acid. Like I said, the whole package defies easy description (though the estimable Julian Cope described it splendidly as “one trippy, hobbitty mindf*ck of the highest water”) but remains relentlessly listenable to folk of a certain age and disposition.

The only CD reissue I’ve been able to find is clearly a bootleg on the Collector’s Digitally (sic) Recordings imprint from somewhere behind the former Iron Curtain. Somehow, however, I don’t think Twink and friends would be all that concerned.

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“Mexican Grass War”

:D CD Reissue | 2001 | Akarma | buy here ]
:) Vinyl Reissue | 2001  | Akarma | search ebay ]
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 ]

uReview: “Nilsson Sings Newman”

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Today is a day to remember John Lennon, but I just finished the watching the 2006 biopic on his good pal, Harry Schmilsson. Maybe I’m just a big Nilsson fan, but I thought Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) was moving, revealing, an excellent film; every great artist deserves a tribute this devoted. But when they got to Nilsson Sings Newman I remembered that I never really fell for this record, for whatever reason.

Q. Am I missing out on a knockout LP? Does Harry really improve on Newman’s tunes? Why wouldn’t I just listen to Randy sing em? Have you seen the doc and what’d you think?

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“Livin’ Without You”

:D Deluxe CD Reissue | 2008 | buy here ]
:) Original Vinyl | RCA | 1970  | search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

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 ]