Posts Tagged ‘ 1971 ’

El Congreso “El Congreso”

A pounding bass drum and a cyclical guitar riff slip into a swaying flute rhythm before exploding into a whirl of electricity and an explosive chorus. Calm, dynamic and controlled: thus does “Mastranzas de Noches,” a psychedelic garage-folk adaptation of a classic Pablo Neruda poem, manage to provide one of the most memorable opening hooks of any psychedelic record to emerge from Latin America. This 1971 debut by Chile’s Congreso is one of those rare, imperfect albums that somehow manages to hit a certain chord despite the noticeable flaws. A beautiful mix of jangling folk rock, cordillera accents and jazz touches, El Congreso would be a crate digger’s holy grail if there were even the slightest chance that this southern hemisphere obscurity might make it into the bins anywhere outside its own continent. All us extranjeros will probably have to rely on Record Runner’s excellent, Brazilian import-only reissue to tap into the sounds here, but don’t let the difficulty of acquisition deter you from exploring these grooves. This one is worth hunting down.

Despite El Congreso‘s relatively even conformity of sound, there are definitely some cuts that stand out a little higher than the rest. Emerging from the record’s heart, “Has Visto Caer Una Lágrima” and the heavy-battery “Mírate al Espejo” show the band at the peak of their artistic powers. The former affords us with an infectious melody and some radically grounded bass, which let the song’s incisive, obtusely-political lyrics seep in to full effect as we are confronted with “una bala de cristal, un cañón de turrón, o una bomba como un bombón” (“a bullet of crystal, a gun of nougat, or a bomb like candy”). “Espejo” shows of Fancisco Sazo’s soulful vocals and lets the band explode into what might be the record’s most impressive instrumental performance with pounding piano and dive-bombing lead guitar. This is immediately followed by the swaying anti-aggression of “Rompe Tu Espada, Vive La Vida” (“Break Your Sword and Live Your Life”), which is worthy of classic status in pretty much every sense of the word, commercially-hampered but artistically-graced by its ragged acoustics and a somewhat fevered production.

That rough-hewn construction is beautiful, but is also the product of one of the record’s flaws: the band is loose beyond all get-up, especially drummer Sergio González, whose uniquely constructed, tom-heavy runs occasionally fall out of time as the band pushes things outward. Usually this works, considering the nature of the material, but it is not enough to qualify the man for the stoned Pollockian drum solo that closes out the album’s longest cut: the otherwise funky eleven minute instrumental “A.A.R.” It’s a rather undignified way to lead us out of the swirling flute and fuzz guitar improvisation that precedes it, and would have been better off sacrificed for the inclusion of one of the two non-album cuts that close out the Record Runner reissue. The psychedelic, wah-pedal overdrive of “Nuestro Es El Momento” would have been the worthiest replacement, introducing some tasteful, sylvan flute and violin accents to what are perhaps the band’s most brilliantly claustrophobic moments.

All quibbles aside though, this one comes very highly recommended. Few records of any vintage manage to bring as much to the table as Congreso does here, and you’d be doing yourself a great disservice not to lend an ear to your South American brothers-in-arms. The band continues to perform around Chile (I managed to catch a show of theirs early last year at a political rally), albeit in a revamped lineup that veers dangerously close to middle-of-the-road jazz fusion. If you’ve given this one awhile to sink and are eager for more, I’d recommend turning to 1975’s Tierra Incognita or 1977’s similarly self-titled Congreso, which, while polishing up the band’s sound, maintain most of the fundamental elements that make these earliest recordings such a distinct pleasure.

mp3: Maestranzas de Noche
mp3: Rompe Tu Espada, vive la vida

:D Reissue | Record Runner | buy here ]
:) Original | 1971 | Odeon | search ebay ]

Fred (self-titled)

The band Fred emerged out of a late-sixties, rural Pennsylvania university scene with a unique sound born not only from its laid-back surroundings, but from a rather heady record collection spanning everything from The Band to the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Though they were only around for a couple years before dissolving into the Lost Annals of Forgotten Music You’ve Probably Never Head About, they managed to record a series of testaments to their musical development that have stood the test of time. The first of these, the dopily self-titled Fred, is definitely the crown jewel of the lot, and captures the band in a beautiful, early stage of development in which they are still experimenting at blending their eclectic interests under the spell of their mellow surroundings.

Perhaps nowhere is the band’s catholic tastes more in evidence than in the opening number, the cryptically entitled “Four Evenings.” Everything here swirls and meanders, but all around a central point. I have never been one for what is generally known as “progressive rock,” but Fred manages to borrow certain elements from that emerging genre and incorporate them seamlessly into a group sound that is clearly grounded in American country, blues and folk music (it doesn’t take much to identify the influence of ye olde favorites Crosby, Stills and Nash on their vocal harmonies, that’s for sure). The searing violin work never comes across as musically exhibitionist, or as one of those cliched attempts at transforming a collection of simple little rock and roll songs into some more respectable/bourgeoisie form of “high art.” Rather, the instrument serves as an accent where it is needed, and is not afraid to make itself scarce when it is not.

Perhaps a good reference point to give would be the British rock group Mighty Baby, who were in the process of cutting their excellent Jug of Love record. Both recordings manage to fuse a deep sense of popular aesthetics and traditional musical forms with innovative musical virtuosity and daring. Fred does not engage in the same measure of lengthy improvisations, but more than makes up for this by penning a series of beautiful (albeit surreal) ballads, such as “Soft Fisherman” and “Salvation Lady,” the latter of which includes a tasteful example of the aforementioned violin work. The longest piece here, the seven minute space odyssey “Wind Words,” is a pretty odd composition, and is perhaps the closest that Fred comes to jazz-fusion territory, though the gonzo vocal lines and wah-pedal guitar also hint at the Mothers of Invention influence claimed in the record’s liner notes.

One would think that such an unusual little nugget of a record would have managed to draw at least a little popular attention in psychedelic circles, but Fred still remains elusive. In fact, the record remained entirely unreleased until 2001, when the German record label World In Sound reissued this collection on both vinyl and compact disc, drawing together what would have otherwise been the group’s first record with the aid of several of the original members, who also contribute liner notes. Two additional releases have also seen the light of day, a sophomore album and a live set, both from 1974, but these make the full plunge into prog/jazz-fusion, sadly abandoning most of Fred‘s hazy, country roots.

mp3: Four Evenings
mp3: A Love Song

:D Reissue | 2001 | World in Sound | buy from world in soundamazon ]

The Groundhogs “Split”

Here’s one I can’t believe I haven’t heard before. For a record with such a commanding presence, excellent would-be classic tunes, and an ahead of its time Nirvanesque sound it’s a shock I can find too scant mention of it around these parts or elsewhere. In reality, it’s my shame I haven’t run across the Groundhogs before now, as their legendary run through most of the 60s’ British blues scene and subsequent forays in hard jam-rock are not to be overlooked.

Not at all “blues” and too cool for the prog tag, Split is more like a psych-tinged  insanity-fueled classic rock opus. Side A, a continuing amalgam of anthemic classic rock jams, “Split Parts 1-4″ (the lyrics apparently inspired by a panic attack), is the kind of amped-up music it can be dangerous to drive to; “Part 1″ is so juiced it makes me want to join a frantic crime spree. “Part 2″ may be the catchiest song with its driving wah-guitar lead and chop chords. Tony McPhee is clearly running the show, his guitar playing so effortless, dynamic, reeking of virtuosity; this is as in the zone as it gets. Not to diminish the efforts of Peter Cruikshank on guitar and bass and Ken Pustelnik wildly beating away, this band can fucking play.

“Cherry Red” may be the sickest, meanest classic I’ve never heard. How this masterpiece has evaded classic rock radio, movie soundtracks, and my ears altogether I’ll never understand. (Instead of the endless barrage of Black Keys and Jack Whites on the airwaves, music supervisors would do well to score something like this, both for the better of their budgets and our sanities.) On the self-titled “Groundhog,” McPhee proves he can swat the devil blues out of his electrified acoustic as fine as Robert Johnson, providing the album’s only real taste of blues.

Grab this mean, mighty bastard as soon as you can find it.

mp3: Split (Part One)
mp3: Cherry Red

:) Original | 1971 | Liberty | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2003 | Caroline | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Víctor Jara “El Derecho de Vivir en Paz”

Today we take a slight detour from our usual fare and delve, albeit briefly, into the work of Víctor Jara; namely, his fifth record, El Derecho de Vivir en Paz, or The Right to Live in Peace. Jara is a legend in both his homeland of Chile and the rest of South America, but his strong anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist sympathies have not been conducive to widespread popularity here in the United States. Indeed, it was the United States-backed military junta in Chile which saw Jara brutally tortured and executed in 1973 alongside thousands of other fellow workers and artists. This may be unusually political territory for the Storm but, if you will, simply think of this as a bridge between Moris Birabent’s Argentine folk-rock classic Treinta Minutos de Vida and the work of the great Phil Ochs, another singer irrevocably tied to the far-left who actually befriended Jara on a trip to Chile with Jerry Rubin, traveling with him across Chile and singing in the copper mines and shanty towns.

El Derecho de Vivir en Paz is something of a landmark album in Jara’s body of work, if for no other reason than it saw him reaching out to the popular rock and roll music of the day for the first time. In 1960s Chile, rock and roll was often viewed as suspect, being a product of American imperialism as translated through U.S. domination of media. Jara appreciated the music of groups like The Beatles, however, and thus approached underground Chilean folk-rock group Los Blops to accompany him on a couple of songs for his new record, the first and foremost being the anthemic title track. If anyone had any worries that Víctor was “selling out” to American pop music, however (as ridiculous a sentiment as that may be), the song’s passionate dedication to Ho Chi Minh was swift in erasing them. In any case, it would not be long before other Nueva Canción singers – including the great Patricio Manns and the brother and sister duo of Isabel and Angel Parra – were inviting Chilean rock and roll musicians onto their own recordings.

“Abre La Ventana” is a call to the dispossessed working people of Chile to open up their windows and let the light of social change shine in. The song features middle eastern touches in the music (guitar and charango playing off each other quite beautifully) and an extremely warm display of Jara’s voice. As with his past albums, Víctor explores all different forms of South American folksong, from the irresistible revolutionary singalong “A Cuba” to the traditional Peruvian folk song “A La Molina No Voy Más.” He even reaches out to the North American folk music underground by including a translation of Malvina Reynolds “Little Boxes,” presented here as “Las Casitas del Barrio Alto” and featuring an addendum of biting, topical lyrics against racism, the Chilean right wing, and United States imperialism. According to Jara’s wife, Joan, Reynolds herself heard this reworking and lauded it for its sharper political slant. The most renowned, and quite possibly the most moving song on this record, however, comes at its end, with “Plegaria A Un Labrador,” a driving prayer to the working man to take up arms against his oppressors.

Though the influence of contemporary European and North American music is relatively small on El Derecho de Vivir en Paz, the music itself is not so far removed from the kind of folk and folk-rock being explored elsewhere in the world. Indeed, its roots come from much the same place: Europe, Africa, and the many indigenous cultures of the Americas. Whether you support Jara’s politics or not, the beauty of the man’s music and the lyricism of his singing cannot be denied. Though most Chilean vinyl copies of Jara’s albums were destroyed by the military in the mid 1970s, Warner Music Chile has reissued his most popular albums with the assistance of the Víctor Jara Foundation, and El Derecho de Vivir en Paz is now available with bonus tracks, including several rare live performances and a handful of non-album tracks. Dedicated searching should also be able to lead you to one of several foreign reissues of the album under a series of different titles and covers, most of which, however, follow the original track order.

mp3: El Derecho de Vivir en Paz
mp3: Abre le Ventana

:) Original | 1971 | Odeon | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2003 | Wea | buy here ]

Kennelmus “Folkstone Prism”

Innocuously described by the compiler of the Sundazed reissue CD liner notes as “the hardest working psychedelic surf band in Arizona”, Kennélmus laid down in the grooves of this collection some of the weirdest shit to be tracked to wax as psych gave way to its early seventies successors. The compositions are clumsy, the vocals almost totally unmusical, the instrumentation mostly wild and undisciplined and the studio production way over the top. Yet there’s something compulsive about this whacked-out mess of an album by a forgotten band that’s right up there with the Elevators, the Prunes and Syd Barrett. Or think Cold Sun, with the same peyote-driven woozy urgency and the trademark autoharp substituted with a melodica, and you won’t be a million miles out.

Morphing from Phoenix-based top forty/British Invasion covers outfit the Shi-Reeves, this four-piece, centred on the compositional and multi-instrumental talents of guitarist/keyboardist Ken Walker, took its name from his own unanglicised birth moniker: Kennélmus Walkiewicz. The album’s title was derived inexplicably (but probably under chemical influence) from Folkestone Prison, a minor penitentiary in the environs of the sedate Kentish seaside resort and Channel port, and was originally to have been Folkestoned Prism, but to avoid prejudicing potential radio exposure the “d” was left off. As it turned out they needn’t have worried; a vanity run of a thousand copies on small independent Phoenix International Records was all that surfaced and, as Walker relates, “It took a long time to sell out the original pressing . . . some of them were given away for sexual favours”.

It’s a schizophrenic son of a bitch, this record. Most of what would have been the first side is instrumental and – the psychedelic surf tag notwithstanding – these tracks exhibit to my ears a combination of the guileless chord sequences and melodies that Joe Meek was using with his instrumental combos a decade earlier and the sonic palette of Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti Western soundtracks, in the arrangements but also notably in the clean, springy lead guitar work, with a whiff of Lost In Space electronic frippery thrown in for good measure. “Dancing Doris” has an intermittent Middle Eastern zither riff that makes you want to scratch, and “Goodbye Pamela Ann” brazenly steals the jerky drum pattern from the Fabs’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”. When the vocals start to infiltrate on what was originally the flipside it’s clear that the band are off on a shamelessly lysergic expedition. The nearest thing to a conventional sung song is “Mother Of My Children” with its classic chat-up line refrain “woman, would you be the mother of my children?” “Think For Yourself” is a four-chord garage bash with melodica, wah-wah guitar and schizophonic stereo-split vocals, whilst “Shapes Of Sleep” is Beefheart’s Magic Band reflected in a distorting mirror and the hysterical plane-crash narrative of “Sylvan Shores” boasts wilfully out-of-tune bass guitar and an appropriately disintegrating outro. The lengthy closing “The Raven”, based on Poe’s verses of the same name, combines proto-punk vocals and chainsaw rhythm guitar with further primitive electronic squeals. The five “songs” are seamlessly segued with short intermissions incorporating backwards instrumentals, found sounds, vocal gibberish and a fake radio newsreel. It really shouldn’t work, but it all does, though it might take you several plays to rub down to the shine beneath the verdigris.

The band lasted around six years, but despite frequent gigging and a parallel career for Walker and fellow guitarist Bob Narloch as a folk club duo the album never raised major label interest and would remain their sole recorded product and a great rarity until reissued by Sundazed in 1999. Interestingly three of the band actually worked at Phoenix International’s pressing contractor and literally pressed their own album, probably a first in rock annals.

mp3: Dancing Doris
mp3: Think for Yourself

:) Original | 1971 | Phoenix International | search ]
:D Reissue | Sundazed | buy from sundazed | amazon ]

Jesse Ed Davis “Jesse Davis”

While Jesse Ed Davis’ legacy has finally started to see the light of recognition, there is still a long way to go in establishing his rightful place in the pantheon of rock and roll legends. The Kiowa guitarist’s career encompassed work with everyone from Conway Twitty to John Lee Hooker to Bob Dylan, and his time served in the original Taj Mahal band would be highly influential on up-and-coming guitar slingers like Duane Allman (he being the inspiration for the latter’s taking up bottleneck-style guitar in the first place). Davis never really managed to establish himself as a commercially successful singer in his own right, but that did not prevent him from cutting a series of strong and invigorating records in the early 1970s, the first and foremost of these being Jesse Davis.

Davis has surrounded himself with a real who’s-who of rock and roll musicians here, including Eric Clapton, Joel Scott Hill, Gram Parsons and the oddly-omnipresent Leon Russell. This is a hearty American brew; it’s only too bad that the liner notes do not include a track by track breakdown of who is playing what on which songs. Davis’ voice may be an acquired taste – being slightly nasally and, yes, sometimes a little pitchy – but it also has a lot of character, and its hard not to give the guy a break; in the end, whatever vocal limitations the cat may be accused of are more than made up for by his exemplary musicianship. In his guitar playing I have noticed that Davis exhibits a certain degree of Curtis Mayfield influence (similar to that of Woodstock-era Robbie Robertson) in his ability to always serve the song and the rhythm; that is, until it comes time to let loose into a sharp and jagged solo, such as that which leaps out from the end of the otherwise lethargic “Reno Street Incident” – an original composition which was also recorded by Southwind’s Jim Pulte. The expansive horn arrangement on “Every Day Is Saturday Night” falls somewhere between Memphis boogie-woogie and red dirt dixieland, with Davis’ sharp staccato guitar leaping and swerving through the collective improvisation until its gleeful collapse. Make a joyful noise, indeed.

Perhaps the most memorable number here is “You Belladonna You,” which not only manages to lock into a serious groove, but also boasts an inescapable vocal hook. The extended jam at the end is the reason I harbor such ill will towards “the fade-out” on rock and roll records: is this not where the real magic happens? On the other hand, the oddest moment on the record comes with “Golden Sun Goddess,” which is an uncharacteristic detour into Los Angeles yacht rock replete with groovy electric sitars and a lava lamp vocal choir. It sounds like the album’s closest thing to a hit single, though its Steely Dan-isms are pretty jarring. Pretty much everywhere else Davis leans on an earthy, deadpan charm that betrays his deep Oklahoma roots. “Redheaded woman wants me to get a haircut,” Davis grumbles at the end of Pamela Polland’s “Tulsa County” before cracking, “man, I can’t get no haircut. Redhead? That’s a redneck.” Alright, so the Byrds may have cut the definitive take on this one, but they never let themselves have this much fun in the studio. Davis may be criticized for relying so heavily on other people’s material for his own albums, but his takes on these songs are always individualistic, and anyways, the guy’s got some good taste.

Jesse Davis has been reissued both individually and as a set with the follow up release, 1972’s Ululu, but somehow both are currently out-of-print and demanding ridiculously high prices. Your best bet is to keep an eye out for some original vinyl or else sucking it up and purchasing a digital copy, which may in fact be the most affordable choice at the moment though it does entail missing out on the righteous jacket artwork.

mp3: Washita Love Child
mp3: You Belladonna You

:) Original | 1971 | Atco | search ]
:D Reissue | 2006 | Wea | amazon ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Dory Previn “Mythical Kings and Iguanas”

The life history of the woman born Dorothy Veronica Langan reads like an archetypal Hollywood biopic and is well enough documented elsewhere as to need no repetition here; a fine account can be found in Paul Pelletier’s booklet notes to the current twofer CD of which Mythical Kings And Iguanas is a part. Suffice to say that her father’s abuse and the breakup of her marriage to André Previn were just the two most high-profile of the stream of life experiences that coloured this woman’s approach to songwriting. Put these together with her poetic talent, her extensive career as a staff lyricist for MGM musicals, and her years – she was 45 when her first proper solo album appeared – and the nature and quality of the half-dozen astonishingly personal and almost uncategorisable albums that Dory Previn recorded as a seventies singer-songwriter become clearly explicable.

Mythical Kings was the second of the six studio albums that Previn cut for three different labels between 1970 and 1976 and remains the best known, particularly here in the UK where she enjoyed a brief prominence during the “white room” singer-songwriter vogue that made heroes out of James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. Musically it’s a restrained delight, with production and orchestral arrangements by Nik Venet and beautifully understated instrumentation by Clark Maffitt and Brian Davies on acoustic guitars, Larry Knechtel on Fender Rhodes, Joe Osborn and Ron Tutt as rhythm section plus the cream of the LA session mafia on other guitars, keys, strings and winds. The joy of the music here is that for all its quality it lets the words shine through, and what words they are! Previn’s lyrics are sometimes masked in allusion and symbolism, but at others they communicate unalloyed her raw hope and hurt, the prevailing themes on this album being unrequited love and the futility of personal ambition and spirituality. The leadoff title track rues the pursuit of the ethereal at the expense of the real to the accompaniment of an immaculately spare piano backing by Knechtel and a disconcerting slide guitar. “Lemon Haired Ladies” is a barely-disguised admonishment of her former husband and his new amour, while “Angels And Devils The Following Day” compares two former lovers: “One was an artist, one drove a truck / One would make love, the other would fuck” – guess which one came out preferred. “Yada Yada La Scala” implores a prospective lover to stop making small talk and get down to romantic business to a jazzy, hopeful beat and segues beautifully into the haunting “Lady Of The Braid” which starts with the line “Would you care to stay till sunrise?” and rides effortlessly on Maffitt and Davies sweet acoustics and muted orchestral backing. “A Stone For Bessie Smith” is actually a bluesy paean to the late Janis Joplin, and “Mary C Brown And The Hollywood Sign” uses the suicide of a failed actress as a symbol of the futility of the American Dream (and would provide the theme of a whole later album), set to a mournful New Orleans backing. Maffitt’s and Davies guitars provide a gorgeous accompaniment to “The Game” which uses gambling, cheating and lying as a metaphor for life – a lure to which Previn inevitably succumbs.

Mythical Kings is hard to find on its own in any format but is available on the aforementioned twofer CD along with the follow-up Reflections In A Mud Puddle, which includes the astonishing “Taps, Tremors And Time Steps” suite in which Previn juxtaposes the receipt of the news of her father’s death with the disaster of the Hindenburg.  At the end of my review on Chris Bell’s I Am The Cosmos I suggested that if you felt like getting emotionally wrung out one evening, you might try playing that album end-to-end with Tonight’s The Night, In Utero and Elliott Smith’s eponymous second album. Add this one to the list.

mp3: Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign
mp3: The Game

:) Original | 1971 | Mediarts | search ]
:D Reissue | 2002 | BGO | buy ]

John Baldry “It Ain’t Easy”

Most folk who remember “Long” John Baldry at all recall only his chart-topping single of 1967, the maudlin crooner ballad “Let The Heartaches Begin”. But if the mettle of a performer is measured by the affection and respect of his fellow professionals and their willingness to participate in his art, then this album is a testament to a musician who’d been an industry favourite from his earliest days as the original vocalist and occasional guitarist with Alexis Korner’s pioneering Blues Incorporated. To proffer just two examples, the virtually unknown Baldry was an invited guest on the Fabs’ 1964 international TV spectacular “Around The Beatles” – which is where I first heard him – and is credited in Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” after he dissuaded John from suicide following the latter’s distraught realisation of his sexuality. Himself openly gay, dazzlingly handsome and at six foot seven a magnificent, elegant figure, Baldry’s talent deserved wider commercial success than it ever achieved.

After his misguided, though briefly successful, flirtation with middle-of-the-road music Baldry angled to get back to his folk-country-blues roots and in 1971, via former Steampacket and Bluesology colleagues Rod Stewart and Elton John, signed with Warner Brothers for whom he would cut two albums, It’s Not Easy being the first. The then nascent rock superheroes Stewart and John produced one side of the album each, and the result is a mildly schizophrenic opus with the Stewart topside comprising mostly rollicking bluesy outings and the John flipside more thoughtful, soulful fare. Baldry’s warm, abrasive tenor delivery makes the best of both. The lists of musicians also signify the esteem in which Baldry was held; among many other front-liners, the Stewart sessions feature Rod’s old muckers Ron Wood and Mickey Waller from the erstwhile Jeff Beck Group, while the flip includes Elton himself on piano plus his early sidekick guitarist and organist Caleb Quaye. The eclectic list of writers includes Baldry’s original muse Huddie “Leadbelly” Leadbetter, Tuli Kopferberg of the Fugs, Lesley Duncan, Randy Newman, the John/Taupin axis and Stewart himself.

The opening recitative “Conditional Discharge”, in which Baldry wryly relates an encounter with the Metropolitan Police during his Soho busking days over an effortless boogie-woogie piano backing, segues brilliantly into the thunderous “Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King Of Rock And Roll” with everybody in the band rocking out like there’s no tomorrow. Baldry’s faithful homage to Leadbelly on “Black Girl” is a duet with chainsaw-voiced chanteuse Maggie Bell over piano, Dobro and mandolin, whilst the title track is a rolling country boogie with Bell again in tow and a great Delaney-And-Bonnie vibe. “Mr Rubin” is a beautifully understated piano-led take on Duncan’s plangent appeal to the militant Yippie founder. The final track of the original ten is a splendid extended cover of the Faces’ “Flying” with great piano from Elton and soaring, gospel-inspired ensemble backing vocals.

The album sold sparingly in the US and barely at all in the UK, and received its first CD reissue only in 2005 when Warners put it out with a clutch of bonus outtakes and a panegyric booklet note by Sid Griffin. The extras included alternative, less-produced takes on three of the originals plus four delightful classic acoustic blues covers which contrast with the densely-produced originals and showcase Baldry’s voice and guitar in a setting otherwise unadorned but for an anonymous harmonica player (Stewart?). The second and last Warner album Everything Stops For Tea in 1972 made no showing and Baldry’s career thereafter was uneven and mostly unedifying, with continuous health problems, and sporadic, patchy albums and live appearances alternating with commercially more successful placements as a bit-part actor and voiceover specialist. He relocated to Vancouver in 1978 and died there from pneumonia aged just 64, just a month after this album was reissued.

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“Flying”

:) Original | 1971 | Warner Bros | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2005 | Rhino | buy ]

Cowboy “5’ll Getcha Ten”

Cowboy were a country-rock group usually remembered for their associations (The Allman Brothers and Eric Clapton) rather than the fine body of music they produced in the early 70s. 5’ll Getcha Ten was Cowboy’s second LP, released by the Capricorn label in 1971.  Never released on cd, this is arguably Cowboy’s finest moment and indeed one of the best forgotten country-rock albums from the late 60s/early 70s.  It’s worth mentioning that one of Cowboy’s key members, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Tommy Talton was formerly in the great Florida garage rock group We The People.  Scott Boyer, Cowboy’s other key member, played guitar and co-wrote many of group’s songs.

Fans of Crazy Horse, Poco, and CSNY will want to own this fine album.  Cowboy’s sound is similar to Poco but instead of rocking out Talton and Boyer prefer a more relaxed, introspective back porch sound.  Only on the excellent “Seven Four Tune” does Cowboy truly let loose and rock out.  Every track on 5’ll Getcha Ten features transcendent harmonies (perhaps the group’s greatest asset), terrific songwriting, and strong musicianship – these boys can play.  If it’s any consolation as to the quality of the music here, Eric Clapton chose to cover Cowboy’s bluesy country-folk number “Please Be With Me” on his classic 461 Ocean Boulevard album.  Other great tracks include an upbeat number with electric sitar titled “Right On Friend,” the introspective “Innocence Song,” and “The Wonder,” a superb track that recalls Crazy Horse circa 1971.   Duane Allman playing dobro/guitar on 5’ll Getcha Ten adds a little star power and credibility to the proceedings but don’t let this be the reason you purchase this album (vinyl originals can still be found for cheap!). In their own right, Cowboy were a talented group of musicians who made great music.  5’ll Getcha Ten is a classic roots rock album that deserves a lavish LP or cd reissue.  Also, Cowboy’s debut, Reach For The Sky and their 1974 album, Boyer & Talton are great records worth seeking out.

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“The Wonder”

:) Original | 1971 | Capricorn | search ebay ]

Soundtrack to American Dreamer

During the post-production of Dennis Hopper’s surreal and unjustly-forgotten South American anti-imperialist western, The Last Movie (which would prove disastrous for his career upon release, yet go on to become a cult classic and one of Hopper’s own proudest achievements), the actor and director was the subject of a sort of loose, biographical documentary, filmed around his Taos, New Mexico home as he wandered the desert, got wasted, and philosophized about life (see tag line: “I’d rather die fighting than die getting fat”). American Dreamer would share in the fate of The Last Movie and quickly disappear into obscurity, but among the film’s remains lays a beautiful acoustic soundtrack, featuring original compositions courtesy of Hopper’s personal acquaintances, such as John Buck Wilkin and Chris Sikelianos, as well as better-known performers such as Gene Clark and gonzo-mime-band The Hello People.

The album itself is relatively short, as are the individual tracks of which it is composed. Gene Clark’s contributions may be the crown jewels of this collection, though they only consist of two pieces, each less than two minutes in length. His “Outlaw Song” is particularly powerful, a stark anthem of personal revolution against the “rational lines that all men draw.” The following number, a hushed performance of the country blues standard “Easy Rider” by Chris Sikelianos, is majestic American folk music in the best Jack Elliott tradition. You can hear Hopper and others laughing and interacting with Sikelianos in the background, giving this one that grace of intimacy that is so hard to find in recorded music.

John Buck Wilkin was a friend of Kris Kristofferson’s who was introduced to Hopper just prior to the filming of The Last Movie, in which he would appear and perform. He scores three songs here, which are basically hit-and-miss. “Screaming Metaphysical Blues” recounts the Last Movie expedition, and while it has some topical charm, it suffers from a case of weak songwriting. The driving “Look at Me, Mama” is much better, accompanied by some righteous picking and boasting a solid chorus. The record closes with a reading of Fred Neil’s “The Other Side of This Life” by The Abbey Road Singers, which is not some long-haired religious choir as one might expect from the name, but rather a heavy acoustic rock-and-roll ensemble, with a singer who vaguely reminds me of John Kay, of Steppenwolf fame.

Like the film which birthed it, the soundtrack to American Dreamer has never been re-released on any modern format, but the record is definitely worth tracking down if you’re into Gene Clark or even just eccentric American folk music. If you’re lucky the vinyl also includes a pretty wild fold-out poster of Dennis Hopper toting a rifle and a joint that’s almost worth the price of the album itself. Like they say, peace and love, right?

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“American Dreamer”

:) Original | 1971 | Mediarts | search ebay ]