Posts Tagged ‘ 1971 ’

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 ]

Judee Sill “Judee Sill”

Judee Sill’s self-titled debut hit the shelves in 1971, the first release on David Geffen’s Asylum Records. Unjustly lost amongst the sands of time, and out of print for many years until it’s reissue a few years ago, Judee Sill is one-of-a-kind, an essential album, a defining example of West Coast canyon country, a hauntingly beautiful record by an extremely delicate soul and one of the 70’s most talented singer-songwriters.

Sill had been playing musical instruments of various kinds since her troubled childhood on the West Coast, which she spent dreaming of being a singer, a songwriter, and a star. An even more troubled young adulthood spent dabbling in hard drugs, armed robbery, and prostitution had landed her stints in reform schools and jail cells. After a near fatal overdose and a brush with the law that left her kicking heroin in a county jail cell, as well as the death of her brother and mother, Sill–who was increasingly drawn to metaphysical topics and occult, religious imagery–began taking her songwriting seriously. Her first big break came after landing a gig writing songs for Blimp Productions in Los Angeles when The Turtles decided to record a version of her song “Lady-O.” It was immediately clear to those around her that Sill had developed a lyrical style as distinctive as her achingly beautiful crystal-clear-as-a-mountain-stream singing voice. The time was ripe for Sill to make her “country-cult-baroque” vision a reality.

Opening with Judee’s fingerpicked guitar and a lone French horn, “Crayon Angels” is a beautifully evocative song, an honest prayer for heavenly hands matched with a gently breezy pastoral vibe perfectly suited to Judee’s delicate voice. Next up, “The Phantom Cowboy” lets Judee’s dirt road roots show through a little more while introducing the archetype of a traveling mystic ridge rider that appears frequently throughout Judee’s body of work. “The Archetypal Man” has even more of a laid-back Topanga-folk vibe with weeping pedal steel combined with baroque orchestral flourishes. “The Lamb Ran Away With The Crown” is an absolutely beautiful tune that kicks off with just Judee’s softly reassuring voice and lilting guitar, perfectly expressing Judee’s belief in the possibility of goodness in the world. The lushly orchestrated “Lady-O” goes miles beyond The Turtles recording of the song, showing just how unassumingly evocative Judee’s vocal delivery can be. Similarly, Judee’s performance of “Jesus Was A Cross Maker” is the definitive version of the song, which is perfectly suited to her crystalline vocalizations and the gospel piano inflections that she learned while leading the church choir as a teenager in reform school. Produced by Graham Nash, the song was a last minute addition to the album, obviously in high hopes of a hit.

“Ridge Rider” further fleshes out Judee’s vision of a bohemian saint who rides the rough road to salvation despite its perils, complete with tasty pedal steel and the sound of hoof beats carrying along the chorus. “My Man On Love” is an enchanting folk song full of Christian imagery. “Lopin’ Along Through the Cosmos” plods along at a pace just a bit slower than the rest of the album as Judee again pleads for the gift of peace. “Enchanted Sky Machines”, a song about salvation by UFO, quickly picks up the pace, beginning with another groovy gospel piano part that’s soon accompanied by brassy horns and upbeat drums. The beautifully orchestrated “Abracadabra” closes the album on a tender note and a major key.

Despite it all, Judee Sill didn’t sell as well as the troubadour and her friends had hoped. Nevertheless, she soldiered on to record and release 1973’s Heart Food, an equally outstanding album, which made even greater use of both her gospel influenced keyboard playing and her talent for orchestral composition. Sadly, Heart Food sold even fewer copies than the first album and Judee’s life began to gradually deteriorate. After a handful of auto-accidents in the late seventies Judee once again began turning to codeine, cocaine, and heroine in an attempt to numb the pain she suffered from so greatly.  Judee’s life was cut tragically short the day after Thanksgiving 1973 1979, when she died after overdosing on codeine and cocaine. She was 35 years old.

Who knows what heights Judee and her music may have reached had she lived long enough for more people to pick up on her gentle genius? Both Judee Sill and Heart Food rank right up there with the best from giants like Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, Sandy Denny, and Carole King, as well as releases by other unsung souls like Collie Ryan, Karen Beth, and Vashti Bunyan. Forty years later there still isn’t anything than can truly compare.

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“Crayon Angels”

:) Original | 1971 | Asylum | search ebay ]
;) MP3 Album | download here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Keith Christmas “Pigmy”

Acid Folk is one of those musicological genre headings that had to be invented retrospectively because it didn’t exist when the music it describes was extant in the late sixties. These days it’s taken to cover the acoustic singer-songwriter individuals and combos who sprang from Dylan-inspired folk-pop roots, picked up psychedelic overtones and morphed into the complexity of prog-rock – which satisfyingly describes Keith Christmas’s most creative period, up to and including Pigmy.

Originally an Essex lad, Christmas was an undergrad at Bath University (coincidentally my own alma mater at around the same time, though we never met) where he studied Building Technology in between extensive gigging on the vibrant London and Bristol folk club circuits. Never a true folkie but certainly influenced by the likes of Bert Jansch and John Rembourn, he combined an enviable fingerstyle technique on an unfashionable but strident Fender Palomino with hippie bedsitter lyricism and a reedy but distinctive voice, a combination also evident in the work of his contemporaries Nick Drake and Al Stewart. The schizophrenic nature of Keith’s career at this time – recording with session musicians but invariably gigging solo – is mirrored in the three albums he cut between 1969 and 1971, these setting his formidable acoustic guitar work alternately against orchestral ensembles and jazzy rock band backings.

Christmas has disowned his first album, 1969’s vaguely country-rock Stimulus, recorded with musicians from Mighty Baby and pedal steelist Gordon Huntley, as “overproduced”; I’d say it was rather a venture in an unsuitable musical direction for the man. He hit his stride eighteen months later with the second, Fable Of The Wings, recorded with session musicians with folk-rock credentials, which subsequently established the folk-baroque-prog template for which he’s best remembered today. There’s little to choose quality-wise between this and the ensuing Pigmy, which for me just has the edge, offering immaculate, restrained orchestral arrangements by Robert Kirby (who did the same for Nick Drake) and the LSO on its first side of introspective ballads, notably the earnest but cerebral “Timeless And Strange”, and powerful keyboards from Rod Argent and bass from Fuzzy Samuels on the other side’s trio of extended classy rockers, culminating in the extraordinary “Forest And The Shore” with its swelling, Ligeti-like choral interludes. Keith’s acoustic shimmers like a harpsichord on the top side, and his ferocious acoustic rhythm work on the flip is leavened with some fluid electric soloing. The album artwork shows him appropriately framed by a Narnia-like background, wispily-bearded, Afghan-coated and apparently rolling a joint, the true zeitgeist of the period.

Although critically his best-received works, neither Fable nor Pigmy sold in droves at the time, and after an even less successful move in a rock/soul direction Christmas threw in the professional music business. While his contemporaries Al Stewart and Nick Drake had gone on to contrasting fates – one to superstardom in LA, the other to clinical depression and an untimely death – Keith became a renovator of old houses and eventually a schoolteacher, settling in a pleasant village near Bristol and making music for his own pleasure, issuing privately-recorded small-circulation albums at intervals and occasionally gigging local pubs and small venues, his acoustic guitar mastery undiminished. Stimulus has been bootlegged for CD, but Fable and Pigmy remain unreissued and are now great rarities on vinyl; however, almost their entire contents are available on the excellent Castle compilation CD Timeless And Strange, whose title encapsulates his music of that period and which is available direct from Keith himself at his website.

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“Timeless and Strange”

:D Compilation | 2004 | Castle | buy here ]
:) Original | 1971 | B&C Records | search ebay ]

O.W.L. “Of Wondrous Legends”

Of Wondrous Legends is one of the holy grails of unknown acid folk/folk-rock.  As the story goes, Stephen Titra had played in various local Chicago groups, the most popular being the Uncalled Four (traditional folk), Rhythm’s Children (garage folk-rock) and of course, the legendary jam band Mountain Bus.  Titra left Mountain Bus just before the group gained serious traction, eventually releasing their great Dead-inspired rural psych LP from 1971.  Of Wondrous Legends was recorded at Universal Recording Inc. in 1971.  Titra tried shopping the final product around to labels such as Elektra, Fantasy, A&M, Capital and RCA but there were no takers.  Many of the record label A&R reps found O.W.L’s music hard to market, claiming the music was not commercial enough and that no one song on the LP stood out as a potential single.  This music is hard to categorize as it doesn’t fit into any comfortable niche.  The only reason this music was reissued is because Dawson Prater found one of the few pressings (maybe the only pressing!) of O.W.L in a Chicago thift store in the mid 2000’s.

The O.W.L. project sounds nothing like Mountain Bus.  Titra had been playing many of these songs live as early as 1967-1968.  By the time he entered the studio many of his creations were fully developed and ready to record.  Of Wondrous Legends holds a midground between the Left Banke (think “Shadows Breaking Over My Head” ) and Pearls Before Swine’s superb The Use Of Ashes LP.  There are no sitars, psychedelic effects, feedback, crazed electric guitar solos or distorted vocals.  Titra, vocals and guitars, is backed by a host of other musical instruments which include vibes, marimba, flute, alto, cello, drums, bass, piano, moog, mandolin and assorted horns.  If anything, the album’s production gives it a psychedelic feel.

The album is very strong and highly recommended to those who are into “progressive folk.”  “Upon The Wings Of Gabriel” and “A Tale Of A Crimson “Knight” are powerful slices of acid folk that have spacey production values – these tracks are not to be missed by psych fans.  “Be Alive” is what the Left Banke might have sounded like had they progressed into the early 70s albeit with more of a folk-rock approach to their music.  O.W.L.’s most progressive piece, the dreamy eight and a half minute “Midnight Carnival,” is another intricate piece of music whose lyrics deal with unity and chaos.  Finally, “Sunsets Of Smiles,” the closing track, is a very pretty folk song that feels much less produced when compared to the numbers that precede it.

Overview:  Many of the chamber orchestrations are complex, giving O.W.L.’s music a lush, arty feel.  This is certainly a unique, one of a kind album. The production is amazing but Titra’s vocals, arrangements and songwriting ability are also top notch.  4 out of 5 stars – excellent music and an important discovery.

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“Be Alive”

:D Reissue | 2008 | Locust | buy ]

Addie Pray “Late For The Dance”

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

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

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

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

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

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“Free”

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

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 ]

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 ]

Daniel Moore “Daniel Moore”

Daniel Moore is one of countless songwriters in the history of early rock and roll music that, despite attaining a measure of financial success through their material, never quite made a name for themselves as artists in their own right. It’s a rather old and tired tale, I’ll be honest, but what makes Moore’s story so much more frustrating is that in the midst of penning bland, superficial radio hits for artists like Three Dog Night and B.W. Stevenson, he also crafted one of the greatest ‘back to the roots’ records to come out of the early seventies.

Indeed, the songs found on Daniel Moore’s 1971 debut completely eschew the irritating soft rock sensibilities that scar his more famous material. We’re talking homegrown music here, weaving together the sounds of country, soul and blues into a tapestry that Gram Parsons once beautifully coined, ‘Cosmic American Music,’ From the very first tune, the haunting dirge “May 16, 1975,” it is clear that Moore had been keeping the Band’s first two records hot on the turntable, for the rustic vibes and mythical American spirit of those albums are everywhere. Not to say that this record is derivative, it will only take a single spin to recognize that this album stands very much on its own. From the horn-fueled rock and roll of “That’s What I Like In My Woman,” a spirited ode to wild and independent girls, to the oddly Zombies-esque ballad “Paul and Mabel,” about a preacher who “tried farming, and only grew failure,” Moore pieces together a compelling portrait of America.

As is the case with the best of all Americana, whether or not the world being invoked truly exists or is one founded in folklore and youthful romanticism isn’t really important. In most cases it’s as much about the message as the story anyways. The very last cut on the record, “Did I See You Tremble, Brother?”, may be one of the simplest, yet most powerful songs of brotherhood I have ever heard.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The second side of the record kicks up some serious dust with the rock and roll groove of “Funky Music,” but afterwards the band drops off, and things disappear and settle into the lazy acoustics of “World War I.” It should be noted at this point that the ragtag arrangements of background singers on these tracks really tend to capture that elusive, communal charm of the Band’s earliest recordings. It’s a beautiful sound, and one that can be hard to put into words. “Ride, Mama Ride” makes as if to continue the mood, with Moore’s singing evoking something between Lowell George and a backwoods Van Morrison, but before you get too comfortable some funky electric guitar work picks up the tempo and brings back the heavy grooves. The cats playing on this record, I should add, consist of some pretty recognizable names, including Chris Ethridge and Sneaky Pete from the Flying Burrito Brothers, Chris Stainton, Don Preston, Jim Keltner, T-Bone Burnett, Jim Price, and, believe it or not, the 1969 cast of Hair.

Daniel Moore is still very active in music, and since the early 1990s has recorded a number of additional records, but despite its obscurity this still stands as his crowning achievement. I was in touch with the man himself a while back, inquiring as to whether or not this album would ever see a reissue on compact disc here in the States, but he replied that the record company still has control of the master tapes, etcetera, and he is extremely doubtful of its re-release. From what I can tell there is a rather obscure Japanese pressing available, but I’m not all that sure as to its background. If you are a fan of artists like the Band, Delaney & Bonnie, or Leon Russell you should really work at finding yourself a copy; the original vinyl doesn’t appear to be too difficult to find online.

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“May 16th, 1975”

:) Original Vinyl | 1971  | ABC/Dunhill | search ebay ]

Michaelangelo “One Voice Many”

The use of the humble autoharp in rock may come as a surprise. Isn’t that the triangular doodad your elementary school teacher used to pull out of the cupboard to strum along to class sing-a-longs of “Go Tell Aunt Rhody”? And why take an instrument specifically designed for simplicity and bust a gut to play complicated stuff on it? Nevertheless, several intriguing instances of its use have come to light on rare albums from the late sixties and early seventies.

A zither is a small harp with its strings stretched across its soundbox; it has a beautiful, ethereal ringing sound, but is fiendishly difficult to play. To simplify matters, someone came up with the idea of spring-loaded bars that could be pressed down on to the strings so that felt pads under each bar deadened all the strings except those needed to sound a certain chord. Thus the “auto-harp” was born, and bingo – a simple rhythm instrument with from 3 to 21 chords, each available at the press of a button. Almost immediately other folks started working out how to put all the complexity back into the autoharp by using it for playing melodies, and some of those Appalachian guys got pretty good at this despite the instrument’s patent unsuitability for this purpose. Then a genial sixties folksinger called John Sebastian customised his harp with an electric pickup, and rock autoharp was born. Sebastian’s playing was fairly limited, but a certain Billy Miller developed an astonishing electric autoharp technique with his late sixties Texas psych outfit, Cold Sun.

Classically-trained pianist and autoharp enthusiast Angel Petersen probably never heard of Billy Miller, but she certainly caught John Sebastian toting his harp around the Village and forthwith obtained a similar electric 15-bar model, making it the centrepiece of the mildly psychedelic folk-rock combo she christened Michaelangelo, after the name she’d already given her harp. In 1971 Michaelangelo (the group) came to the notice of Columbia Records through a fortuitous meeting with electronic music producer Rachel Elkind and her partner, the synthesiser genius Wendy Carlos of Switched-On Bach fame. An album, One Voice Many, was cut in New York with Elkind and Carlos producing, and the band’s major label future should have been assured. However, the story goes that Columbia president Clive Davis was perpetually at loggerheads with Elkind and conspired to have the album suppressed. It was released but received absolutely no record label backup and quickly disappeared. Dispirited, the band dissolved soon afterwards and the album became a collector’s rarity until reissued on CD almost forty years later.

Although likely to be described in current-day reviews as Acid Folk, One Voice Many’s signature sound is predominantly folk-Baroque, with the autoharp frequently sounding more like a harpsichord than the Fender Rhodes-like tone of Billy Miller, particularly on the Bach-influenced instrumentals “Take It Bach” and “300 Watt Music Box”. Elsewhere, it sounds not unlike a Farfisa organ. Either way, there’s nothing remotely schoolmarmish about Petersen’s virtuoso playing. The picture of the band on the cover shows an earnest, studious-looking quartet, and the carefully-arranged music within generally bears this out, though it’s by no means sombre and there are some rocking and even exhilarating touches. The autoharp’s main foil is Steve Bohn’s clean, countrified electric guitar, and the two frontline players interweave their lines exquisitely within the four instrumental numbers. On the six songs, Petersen’s and Bohn’s respective lead vocals are workmanlike rather than attention-grabbing, but when harmonised and multi-tracked they produce a breezy, floating Harpers Bizarre-style texture. The highlights for me are the opening funky country-rocker “West”, the tinkling, twinkling “300 Watt Music Box”, the pulsating generation-gap rocker “Son (We’ve Kept The Room Just The Way You Left It)” and the shameless sunshine pop of “Okay” with its whistled accompaniment. Avoid the 2007 Fallout bootleg and go for the 2009 Rev-Ola licensed pressing.

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“Son (We’ve Kept the Room Just the Way You Left It)”

:D CD Reissue | 2009 | Revola | buy here ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1971 | Columbia | search ebay ]

Tripsichord “Tripsichord”

This notorious San Fransisco group is known to have toured in the late 60’s/early 70’s as “the fake Moby Grape” – a marketing scam created by the evil Matthew Katz, who himself was trying to capitalize on the legendary Grape’s short-lived success.

Tripsichord (also referred to as the Tripsichord Music Box) was actually a fine band, a real group too, who would go on to release a very good album in 1970.  Prior to their sole album (a Janus label release), the group recorded material for Katz that ended up on the Fifth Pipe Dream compilation.  These cuts are solid SF acid rock – heavy on intensity and dark aura, brooding harmony vocals and great guitar work.

Their only LP release is a midpoint between the psych sounds of early Quicksilver Messenger Service and Moby Grape’s shorter, more concise material – psych influenced rural rock/folk rock with plenty of stoned ruminations and lots of melodic guitar work – the classic SF sound.  Regarding the Tripsichord album, Fuzz, Acid & Flower’s Clark Faville added, “their self-titled album (recorded in 1969) proves conclusively that they alone carried the torch during that year that was once shared by Quicksilver Messenger Service, Frumious Bandersnatch and Moby Grape. The Tripsichord album is essentially what the world was hoping Shady Grove would be! The record is an embarrassing wealth of riches both musically and in its dark and menacing lyrical imagery. The dual guitar interplay on this under-rated gem is as good as anything by the three groups mentioned and has stood the test of time well.”   If the album has a weak spot, it’s “Short Order Steward,” a boring blues jam that’s nearly rescued by fine guitar soloing.   The remaining cuts are excellent.  “Fly Baby” and “Black Door” are two of the better unknown SF psych cuts (Fly Baby features great tribal rhythms) while the album’s last cut, “Everlasting Joy,” lifts off with inspired guitar leads.  Other gems are the relaxed country rock of  “We Have Passed On” and the mystical musings of “Narrow Way.”  If you’re interested in hearing this unsung band’s music, the Akarma reissue is probably the best bet.  Besides including the album in its entirety, this disc also features the Fifth Pipe Dream tracks along with Tripsichord’s two 45s.  A very classy reissue with lots of great music.

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“Black Door”

;) MP3 Album | 2010 | Akarma | download here ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1971 | Janus | search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]