Posts Tagged ‘ 1974 ’

The Butts Band “Butts Band”

The Butts Band is one of those curios from the early-to-mid seventies when prominent rock musicians used to continually combine into various short-lived combos, always looking for that elusive commercial success. The Butts Band should have had a better chance than most, given the pedigree of its members; it grew out of an attempt in 1973 by the three remaining Doors to recruit a new vocalist after Jim Morrison’s demise. For some reason they elected to audition in London rather than LA, and all the prospective candidates were Brits. Partway through the search Ray Manzarek lost interest and went home, but Robby Krieger and John Densmore kept the faith, finally settling on Jess Roden as frontman. Roden had experienced critical acclaim but commercial failure with his previous project, the country-rock outfit Bronco, and as a student and practitioner of all the American roots music genres, not to mention an unassuming but distinctive vocalist and songwriter, he was an obvious candidate for the post. The band was made up by former Jeff Beck bassist Philip Chen and little-known keyboard player Roy Davies, with assistance in the studio from ubiquitous sessioneer Mick Weaver on organ.

Recording commenced at London’s Olympic Studios with former Doors engineer Bruce Botnick in the producer’s chair, but after three weeks the whole circus decamped to Kingston, Jamaica to complete the recordings. About half the tracks were cut in each location, and the final mixes were prepared back in LA. (The closing cover of “Kansas City” which purports to be a live recording was actually taped in a single take at Olympic and the crowd noise dubbed on later.) When Jac Holtzman declined to put the finished product out on Elektra, it was picked up by Bob Krasnow’s independent Blue Thumb imprint and subsequently distributed by Island.

The album comes across as equal parts The Band and Curtis Mayfield, with no real Doors flavour at all; perhaps no surprise as the two principal writers are Krieger and Roden in equal share. The original topside is a delight from start to finish; the leadoff “I Won’t Be Alone Any More” could be an outtake from The Basement Tapes, with its down-home twelve-string, wheezy organ, rustic bass and restrained lead guitar. “Baja Bus” is a mid-tempo funky-butt outing with a fine Fender Rhodes interlude and an extended Latin percussion jamming outro dominated by an apparently blissed-out conga player. “Sweet Danger” is mellow minor-key white soul, tailor-made for Roden’s honey-sweet double-tracked voice and featuring beautifully-restrained piano and guitar, but spoilt by an irritatingly-dated pitchwheel synth solo. “Pop-A-Top” rides on a reggaefied rhythm and a gorgeous electric piano riff; Krieger’s chillingly beautiful slide feature fades out far too soon. The flipside songs are less distinguished but benefit throughout from Chen’s and Densmore’s no-nonsense, sparse-but-inventive rhythm work. The closer, the aforementioned Kansas City, rocks along with a vengeance but Krieger’s ad-libbed slide work here is undeniably sloppy and bears no comparison to Duane Allman’s polished bronze licks.

With reviews of the album being generally favourable, the Butts Band scored a couple of live gigs in the UK as support to the Kinks and Sparks and a brief dilatory tour in the States, plus a few TV appearances including The Old Grey Whistle Test, but it was clear right from the start that the British contingent would not be willing to move permanently to the West Coast and the lineup rapidly fell apart. Krieger and Densmore recruited a bunch of American players, retaining the Butts Band name, and put together a further album, but it bore little relationship to its predecessor and is not highly regarded. Butts Band is currently out of print unless you’re prepared to settle for a bootleg CD, but pre-loved vinyl copies periodically surface on eBay. John Densmore’s website has a fine retrospective of the Butts Band(s).

mp3: I Won’t Be Alone Anymore
mp3: Pop a Top

:) Original | 1974 | Blue Thumb | search ebay ]

Oliver “Standing Stone”

There’s nothing new under the sun, the old adage goes. Particularly in music, anything that eventually comes to be seen as groundbreaking can usually be traced back to earlier influences: Beethoven to Haydn, Dylan to Woody Guthrie, the Beatles to Carl Perkins and early Tamla Motown. What makes the new product distinctive is the way the influences are combined, remoulded and extended. Oliver’s über-rare psychedelic folk-blues opus Standing Stone clearly takes in the likes of Robert Johnson, Syd Barrett and Captain Beefheart, but his synthesis and development of these already abstruse sources is so imaginative that the end product is truly like nothing else, and that’s no exaggeration.

In early 1974 hippie musician Oliver Chaplin and his brother Chris, a BBC sound engineer, retreated to their parents’ farm somewhere in Wales “within shouting distance of the Standing Stone”, as the reissue booklet note puts it, to produce this totally unique, enigmatic collection. Oliver laid down vocals, acoustic, electric and slide guitars, hand percussion and occasional recorder and harmonica on a four-track Teac. Chris, a veteran of the Beeb’s Hendrix sessions, overlaid the various threads and added numerous sound effects, aided and abetted by occasional unsolicited input from various farm and wild creatures.

Oliver’s compositions give the effect of being totally spontaneous but are clearly carefully built up given the amount of overdubbing required. The material ranges from tiny, delicate fingerpicked acoustic numbers (“Off On A Trek”) via quirky Barrett-esque acid-pop ditties (“Getting Fruity”) to rambling, effects-laden one-chord blues extrapolations (“Freezing Cold Like An Iceberg”) and whacked-out marijuana-inflected nonsense (“Cat And The Rat”). Oliver’s guitar skills are manifold and dextrous and his sound palette seemingly boundless, sometimes sparklingly pure but at others bolstered by a battery of sound effects ranging from simple flanging to backwards taping and what sounds like Les Paul-style vari-speed recording. The lyrics are frequently incomprehensible but it doesn’t matter; Oliver uses his voice as another set of instruments, moaning, warbling and scatting, varying its timbre widely and sometimes distorting it electronically. As testament to Chris’s skills, the sound quality of the final recording is simultaneously utterly low-fi and outstandingly clean.

The end product was to be offered to the then fledgling Virgin label, but the reclusive Oliver’s reluctance to engage with the record industry scotched the deal and only a handful of private-press copies were produced, housed in plain bilious-green jackets. Around fifteen years later one of these surfaced at a car boot sale and the burgeoning psychedelic collector circuit sat up and noticed, applying the retrospective “acid-folk” appellation to it. Such was the demand created by the appearance of this single example that Oliver was tracked down and found to have several more copies still in his possession. These fetched crazy sums until the album was licensed to the tiny UK reissue label Wooden Hill and appeared in that imprint’s own habitual very-limited-edition format, firstly on vinyl in 1992 and then on CD in 1995. Appropriately enough, in truly serendipitous manner I stumbled on a copy gathering dust in a Bath charity shop earlier this year; I took it home and it blew my mind. If you decide that you want one you may have to search hard and long and pay top dollar, but if you’re lucky enough to find one it’ll be worth it. Meanwhile several tracks can be found on YouTube.

mp3: Off On A Trek
mp3: Cat And The Rat

:) Original | 1974 | Private | search ebay ]

Ray Manzarek “The Whole Thing Started With Rock & Roll Now It’s Out Of Control”

What do you do after you’ve been a member of the one of the most (in)famous American bands of the late sixties? Well, you try for a solo career . . . but the whole frequently proves to have been bigger than the sum of the parts, and the parts often wither on the vine. Despite his acknowledged keyboard genius and compositional talents, bespectacled former Door Ray Manzarek found life tough as a name recording artist: his two solo albums from 1973 and 1974 failed to ignite the charts, and his later career mostly consisted of collaborations with other artists and sessions in the producer’s chair until he finally reunited with Robby Krieger for live dates after three decades. The ‘73 album, The Golden Scarab, was a complex, cerebral, mostly instrumental concept album that received generally unappreciative reviews despite contributions from LA jazz royalty including Larry Carlton, Jerry Scheff, Milt Holland and Tony Williams. For the follow-up Manzarek selected a safer template, the prevailing vibe on The Whole Thing Started being funky jazz-tinged rock akin to what Steely Dan were also doing at the time, with Manzarek handling lead vocals on lyrics mostly penned by long-time Doors manager Danny Sugerman, and the guest appearances now included Joe Walsh on guitar, Flo & Eddie (Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan) on backing vox and a then unknown Patti Smith reading a fragment of Jim Morrison’s posthumous poetry. Sadly, this didn’t prevent it following its predecessor into oblivion.

Despite its promising moniker, the title track is an undistinguished piano shuffle boogie with flat horn stabs and clichéd lyrics, and Manzarek’s rather thin, pinched vocal does it no favours. From that point on things improve rapidly; “The Gambler” has a fine rolling Fender Rhodes rhythm not unlike later Deep Purple material, an exciting octaved bass line, charming celeste touches and a splendid Hammond solo also reminiscent of Jon Lord’s sound, and the compressed, taut vocal, though hardly Ian Gillan, doesn’t detract. “Whirling Dervish” is a cheery Zappa-like instrumental in alternating 9/8 and 12/8 metres with lots of modulations and soaring, saw-edged soprano sax from guest John Klemmer; the Eastern-inspired middle section pulsates with oriental percussion and keyboard modes and the only disappointment is that the track fades far too early. “Begin The World Again” is certainly redolent of Steely Dan, being driven by funky Clavinet with tongue-in-cheek female backing vocals and tremendous bass guitar work by resident low-end factotum Nigel Harrison. “Art Deco Fandango” is a slight but enjoyable New Orleans-style swinger with a chanted refrain à la Cab Calloway and more excellent woodwind playing. On “Bicentennial Blues (Love It Or Leave It)” Manzarek deliberately revives the spirit of the Doors; the verses employ a throbbing Wurlitzer groove whilst the central instrumental section offers a definitively Doors-style alternating-minor-chord spine with ostinato bass (played by Harrison, not by Ray on his Rhodes bass keyboard) over which Manzarek dusts off his old thin, reedy Vox Continental sound for a great solo in which he even shamelessly quotes the classic motif from “Light My Fire”. “I Wake Up Screaming” and “Perfumed Garden” are slighter fare musically but feature interesting gimmicks; the former includes the aforementioned Patti Smith recital, and the latter employs the simulated (?) soundtrack of a mutual sexual climax.

Still musically active, Manzarek’s most recent projects include two collaborations with blues guitarist extraordinaire Roy Rogers. I’ve not heard these but various opinions imply that they fail to emulate the experimental spirit of his seventies solo albums, which having been revived on CD by UK reissue specialists Cherry Red’s Lemon imprint certainly deserve reappraisal. Fans are also recommended to read Manzarek’s autobiographical Light My Fire: My Life With The Doors which despite its desperately unoriginal title is an articulate, uninhibited and thoroughly entertaining first-hand account of his own early life and the rise and fall of arguably America’s finest ever rock band.

mp3: Bicentennial Blues (Love It or Leave it)
mp3: Whirling Dervish

:) Original | 1974 | Mercury | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2005 | Lemon Records | buy ]

Robert Calvert “Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters”

It wasn’t strictly necessary to be a musician to be a member of Hawkwind, the proto-punk space-rock commune from Notting Hill; longtime associate Stacia’s contribution consisted of stripping nude, painting herself blue and gyrating energetically to the rhythms. Robert Calvert’s efforts were a little more artistically substantial: he was an established poet and playwright who featured at intervals during the 1970s as the band’s lyricist and singer. His first “solo” album was originally conceived as a stage play, but in the pilled-out experimental spirit of the times, and with the willing assistance of most of Hawkwind’s musicians and some suitably eccentric guest vocalists, it became a studio-produced concept album alternating songs with darkly-comic sketches and Monty-Pythonesque dialogues. Though having nothing thematically in common with the Monkees’ Head album, its structure is not dissimilar and it’s just as absurd and disorienting. Bob Calvert was famously bipolar, always teetering between rationality and madness and passing occasional intervals in institutions; unsurprising, then, that he produced such an off-the-wall opus.

Calvert had nursed a boyhood yearning to become an RAF jet pilot, an ambition thwarted by a perforated eardrum. His simmering regret for this is probably reflected in his choice of theme for Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters: the German Luftwaffe’s F-104G scandal. The story is well known, but briefly the air arm of West Germany was persuaded to purchase the Lockheed Corporation’s F-104 Starfighter, conceived for the USAF as a supersonic daylight interceptor, as an all-weather strike fighter, a role for which it was totally unsuited. The story also allegedly involves ruthless hard-sell tactics by the manufacturer, bribes accepted by high-ranking German officials, a lamentable lack of training for flight and ground crews and various technical shortcomings including ejector seat failures, the end result being 292 lost aircraft and 115 dead pilots and the nicknaming of the plane as “Widowmaker”. Calvert was clearly familiar with all these factors and included them all in his hard-hitting and highly satirical libretto.

The eight songs commonly employ familiar Hawkwind motifs: driving, repetitive riffs, pounding bass and drums and howling lead guitar and sax, with Calvert’s unhinged vocals wailing over the top. “The Right Stuff”, “The Widow Maker” and “Ejection”, all of whose themes are obvious from their titles, follow this template closely. “The Song Of The Gremlin Part One” and its subsequent companion “Part Two” are more intriguing, with freeform arrangements and some fine synthesiser work. The closing “Catch A Falling Starfighter” is a blackly-humorous dirge resting on the obvious tasteless pun. The intervening spoken-word interludes follow the uniquely British late-sixties fashion of absurdist comedy, seemingly largely improvised in the studio by Calvert, Arthur Brown, Vivian Stanshall of the Bonzos and, unexpectedly, Jim Capaldi of Traffic. Stanshall’s stereotyped hysterical voicing of the German officers is desperately non-politically-correct by today’s standards but hilarious to anyone who appreciated John Cleese’s contemporary “Don’t mention the War” routine, and on “Ground Crew (Last-Minute Reassembly Before Take-Off)” Stanshall and Capaldi recall the best moments of Peter Cook’s and Dudley Moore’s witless, peerless partnership.

One reviewer subsequently described the work as “Vaudevillean rock’n’roll theatre from a time when rock was intelligent (and) dangerous”, which seems to me to sum it up admirably. Normally anything this far leftfield would have sunk without trace, but its Hawkwind associations at a time when the band was at its popularity zenith meant it enjoyed considerable appreciation among the Hawk-faithful. Resuscitated for CD in 2009 by Cherry Red, its unique, utterly offbeat nature means that it doesn’t sound at all dated today. For a fuller understanding of Calvert and his oeuvre  read this account.

mp3: The Song of the Gremlin, Pt. 1
mp3: Ground Crew (Last Minute Reassembly Before the Takeoff)

:D Reissue | 2009 | Cherry Red | buy here ]
:) Original | 1974 | United Artists | search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Ya Ho Wa 13 “Savage Sons”

When discussing obscure rock and roll bands from the 1960s, you often find yourself mired in the same old backstory; local band starts out in some cat’s garage and tries on Beatles and Stones songs for size until they finally meet Sgt. Pepper, turn on with the rest of the country, chip in for a sitar and some guitar effects, and start getting metaphysical. Fortunately, however, you will occasionally get a group of musicians that has a tale far more interesting and unique – such as Ya Ho Wa 13.

Formed not out of someone’s garage but out of someone’s cult, Ya Ho Wa 13 was the house band for the Source Family commune, a tight-knit group of wayfaring strangers under the tutelage of health food restauranteur and ex-Nature Boy Jim Baker, alias Father Yod. With Yod at the helm, the group spent the late 1960s and early 1970s recording a series of wildly eccentric albums of cosmic improvisation, philosophical earth-child hymns and pounding drums. Though many of these records remain almost overwhelmingly anti-commercial and generally inaccessible to the general listener (wait, who?), their 1974 record Savage Sons of Ya Ho Wa brims with strong songs and righteous grooves, and comes highly recommended to all fans of underground American rock and roll.

It is perhaps telling that musical accessibility first arrives with Father Yod taking a backseat to the proceedings and allowing members of the Source Family to contribute their own material. Though the band itself remains constant here – Djin and Rhythm Aquarian on the guitars, Sunflower Aquarian on bass, and Octavius Aquarian on drums – the lead vocals are handled by whoever contributed the song. This gives each cut an individuality that really keeps things burning, and allows for a consistently exciting listen. The two strongest voices here are Electron Aquarian’s frenzied growl on cuts like“Fire in the Sky” and “Man the Messiah,” and what I believe is Djin Aquarian channeling Topanga-era Neil Young on “Red River Valley,” among several others. The music here is definitely in the old west coast tradition, full of weird, chiming guitars, fiery San Francisco style leads and raw jams. In fact, this is some of the best of this type of music I think I’ve ever heard, with the record’s backwoods production helping to ground the band’s most lysergic explorations. The band is real tight, with a funky back-beat over which Djin’s guitar weaves transcendental – check out his playing on the seven minute odyssey “A Thousand Sighs,” as brother Electron drips cosmic soul across lyrics like “the church, the archive/with rules contrived/the truth you hide”.

Unfortunately, Savage Sons is one of several Ya Ho Wa 13 recordings to remain out-of-print, released in limited number on vinyl, and only being reissued once in 1999 when former Source family member Sky Saxon oversaw the release of the six-disc God and Hair box set. Until someone oversees a proper re-release of this album on its own, you’re going to have to try and track down either that box set or one of those 500-1000 existing original copies. Meanwhile, you can learn more about this unique group and the people behind it by checking out Isis Aquarian’s great book The Source.

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“The Edge of A Dream”

:) Original | 1974 | Higher Key Records | search ebay ]

News “Hot Off The Press”

Definitely not what I was expecting from a 1974 private pressing with a strangely modern sleeve and a pedal steel guitarist. News, who were four or more lads from Yale University, had the late 60s sound nailed down five years too late, but who’s to complain about a throwback to the best era in rock history? Hot Off The Press is a unique and unknown LP featuring super tight performances, lovely four-part harmonies, and songs that won’t take long to get comfortably lodged in your head.

Kicking off with a pysch-flavored spliced radio parody performed by some of the band members, Hot Off The Press gets right into its first sweet spot with “Loser,” showcasing Mark London’s expert and refreshingly twang-free steel. Throughout the record’s nine songs he has no trouble fitting the instrument in with a pop/rock sound, and essentially designs the rare flavor of this record with soaring, jazzy licks. There are a couple pretty tough rockers, and I must agree with Llama where he labels “One Night Stand” a “so-so Creedence ripoff.”  But lighter fare like “Ooo La La” and “Misty Day” (one of the band’s first songs) groove with the sunny sound of Montage. I love the jabber at the end of optimistic bopper “Easy Street:” “…somebody’s way off key…I was doing a 7th,” which adds just the right amount of silliness to this laid-back affair. “Farmer’s Daughter” gets bonus points for the album’s second Beach Boys reference and “New York City” ends the original lineup with an 8-minute jam that finally belies News’ sixties psych disguise. Bonus tracks include the 60-second radio bed that got the band their first shot in the recording studio (1970) and an early demo recording of “Misty Day.”

The CD package is a mini-repro as faithful to a vinyl sleeve as I’ve ever seen, the extensive details of the News story told by principal songwriter Bob Pretcher in the liners. But if you’re willing to shell out some bucks, I’d say go for one of the limited 1974 sealed pressings available direct from Yoga Records. Don’t miss this excellent reissue.

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“Ooo La La”

:D CD Reissue | 2010 | Riverman/Yoga Records | buy from yoga ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1974 | private | ]

PODCAST 21 Dark in my Heart

THE RISING STORM!!

Running Time: 51:43 | File Size 70.3 MB
Download: .mp3
To subscribe to this podcast: http://therisingstorm.net/podcast.xml [?]

1.  Hank Williams – Lonesome Whistle (1951) from Revealed: The Unreleased Recordings

2.  Lee Hazlewood – Dark In My Heart (1967) from Lee Hazlewoodism, Its Cause and Cure

3.  Addie Pray (Bill Lincoln from Euphoria) – Wings In The Wind (1970-1971) from Late For The Dance

4.  Elyse (with Neil Young) – Houses (1969) from Elyse

5.  The Youngbloods – Foolin’ Around (The Waltz) from The Youngbloods (1967)

6. J.J. Light – Gallup, New Mexico (1969) from Heya!

7.  Roscoe Holcomb – Coal Creek (date unknown) from An Untamed Sense of Control

8.  Buffy Sainte-Marie – Poppies (1969) from Illuminations

9.  Bert Jansch – Cluck Old Hen (1974) from LA Turnaround

10.  Graham Nash & David Crosby – Frozen Smiles (1972) from self-titled LP

11.  Ry Cooder – France Chance (1970) from Ry Cooder

12.  John Simon – Did You See? (1970) John Simon’s Album

13.  The Beau Brummels – One Too Many Mornings (1966) from Magic Hollow Box Set

14.  Space Opera – Blue Ridge Mountains (1972) from Space Opera

15.  Pearls Before Swine – Ballad to an Amber Lady (1967) from One Nation Underground

16.  Muleskinner – Muleskinner Blues (1972) from Muleskinner

17.  Tim Buckley - Song to the Siren – Morning Glory – The Tim Buckley Story

18.  The Band – The Rumor (1970) from Stage Fright

Starry Eyed And Laughing “Starry Eyed And Laughing”

The elder statesman of rock historians, Fred Dellar, wrote of the hugely-underrated Starry
Eyed And Laughing that “they were either 15 years ahead of their time or 10 years too
late”, by which he meant that with better timing they could have been as big as the Byrds or
REM. Certainly, SEAL arrived somewhat late for the first and most popular phase of their
chosen genre, country-rock. The two involuntary albatrosses they carried round their necks
didn’t help much, either: being cast by the UK rock media as an ersatz Byrds by dint of their
prominent Rickenbacker twelve-string jangle and close harmony vocals, and being saddled
with the uncultured, back-to-basics Pub Rock image by virtue of working the same London
venues as the R’n’B and Chuck Berry-fuelled likes of Dr Feelgood and Ducks Deluxe.
Neither association was deserved.

SEAL was initally old school friends Ross McGeeney and Tony Poole from Bedford, who
worked the capital’s folk clubs, pubs and subway stations as a guitar/vocal duo in the
early 70s, taking their name from a line in Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom” and covering the
Zim himself, Jackson Browne, Michael Nesmith and other quality singer-songwriters. Late
in ’73 they aspired to a stable four-piece line-up with Brighton bassist Iain Whitmore and
appropriately-named drummer Mike Wackford, and began working up a set of country-rock
originals based around the songwriting of the three frontmen, Poole’s chiming Rickenbacker
330-12, McGeeney’s bend-laden Telecaster and fluid vocal harmonies. These graced
the eponymous debut album which appeared on CBS in October ’74 to considerable
critical approval. While the Byrds influence could be detected, so could those of various
other heroes of the genre – CSN&Y, Poco, even Moby Grape – and there were yet plenty
of original touches. The songwriting may not have been as smoothly adroit as the more
sublime compositions of McGuinn or Browne, but still showed an adventurous respect for
their West Coast antecedents. Poole’s dexterity on the Rick Twelve was (whisper it low . . .)
way ahead of Roger McGuinn’s, and his duels with McGeeney’s fiery Fender made the
uptempo cuts sizzle.

The debut’s twelve tracks comprised a classy, energetic, varied set. “Lady Came From
The South” recalls Notorious-era Byrds with flanged 12-string, powerhouse percussion
and psychedelic overtones, while the joyous boogie “Oh What?” rocks along on guitar
and piano in best Southern Rawk style. All four musicians generate an absolute tour-de-
force on “Going Down”, on which Poole’s licks in particular are incandescent. But despite
support from heavy UK touring the album failed to sell in large numbers at home, and didn’t
get a release in America at all. CBS nonetheless optioned a follow-up which appeared
eleven months later as Thought Talk and which, following the prevailing trend, offered more
keyboards, less twelve-string twang and more mature, complex compositions; different, but
certainly as accomplished and rewarding as the debut. SEAL then embarked on a brief but
well-received US tour, during which McGeeney visited Gene Parsons to have his Tele fitted
with a String Bender.

The history becomes sketchy thereafter; at a tour post-mortem meeting McGeeney was
summarily fired or resigned (depending on whose account you read) for reasons never made
public, and the depleted band fell apart shortly afterwards when their management went
bust. Unlike many of their contemporaries, there has been no reformation, though Poole
remains active in the genre as producer and record label owner and struts his Rickenbacker
along with Whitmore in the rather excellent Falcons. The best way to experience SEAL’s
oeuvre thirty-five years on is via the fine 2CD package That Was Now And This Is Then,
containing all of both albums, interesting bonus cuts (including their version of “Chimes Of
Freedom”) and snatches of concerts and radio broadcasts, available only from their official
website
.

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“Lady Came from the South”

:D 2CD Reissue | 2003 | Aurora | buy direct from starryeyed ]
:) Orig Vinyl | 1974 | CBS | search ebay ]

Grateful Dead “From The Mars Hotel”

From The Mars Hotel

For some reason I came late to the Grateful Dead. A perceptive workmate introduced me to Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty in the mid-70’s, and then loaned me this, their latest release, which subsequently became a lifelong favourite.

Now nobody’s ever going to claim this period as the Dead’s golden age. Their collective creativity was heavily diluted by the loss of two original members and a slew of solo and side projects; their organisation was financially mired by its 300-plus employee wagebill, massive organised bootlegging of their first independent release Wake Of The Flood and the spiralling cost of their cocaine habit; and their new fifty-ton PA system, the notorious “Wall Of Sound”, demanded yet further intensification of their already exhausting touring schedule to recoup its outlay. Somehow out of all this they managed to produce in 1974 an immaculate studio album, which despite its quality still remains largely under the critical radar.

The eight songs here all feature taut songwriting and, in contrast with the legendary loose nature of the band’s live shows, gratifyingly tight performances. All would lend themselves to funky stretchout treatment on stage, yet benefitted from the distillation necessary to fit them into a studio collection. Jerry Garcia still finds space to weave his magical, sparkling lines among the verses, and the tight three-man rhythm section (only Bill Kreutzmann on drums here) effortlessly surmounts the exotic, often shifting rhythms. Keith Godchaux provides a new versatility on keys – acoustic piano, synth and harpsichord as well as trademark organ – and his wife Donna gives a new Grace Slick-like edge to the harmonies so saccharine-sweet on American Beauty.

From the opening jaunty shuffle “U.S. Blues”, which captured good-humouredly the cynical yet defensive national attitude following Watergate, to the brooding, diminished-chord-laden Dylanesque closer “Ship Of Fools”, there really are no weak tracks here. For me the standouts include Garcia and Hunter’s oh-so-funky “Loose Lucy” which gallops along on one of Captain Trips’s most irresistable riffs, and Bob Weir’s highly enjoyable reinvention of the old Motown standard “Money” as “Money Money”, in which the avarice is transferred to his unidentified lady friend and the original riff neatly subsumed into a new chord structure and irregular time signature. Phil Lesh finally attains composer recognition with the hazy, shimmering “Unbroken Chain” and the lilting “Pride Of Cucamonga” on which guest pedal steelist, Cactus’s John McFee, provides tremendous accompaniment to Lesh’s earnest tenor. The most gifted singer in the band is of course Garcia, and my personal favourite is his rollicking “Scarlet Begonias” which forefronts the Captain’s delightful plaintive whelp either side of a brief, exemplary Garcia/Godchaux instrumental dialogue, plus some exhilarating Lesh bass on the jazzy coda: definitive 70’s Dead stuff. Oh, yes, and the album title refers to the nickname of an itinerants’ hostel around the corner from the studio.

This album could be the Dead’s best kept secret. Go discover.

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“Pride of Cucamonga”

:D CD Reissue | 2006 | Rhino | at amzn ]
:) Vinyl | 1974 | Grateful Dead | at ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Gene Clark “No Other”

No Other

Barely understood when it was released in 1974, No Other is Gene Clark’s most polarizing record but generally considered essential today.

Almost every song an epic, Clark’s songwriting was never up for debate, nor his genuinely poetic verses, but it’s Thomas Jefferson Kaye’s production that would weed out hordes of would-be fans. I contend the producer made only one mistake: the use of “power gospel” backing vocals on every track is probably what turns most people off to No Other. Strike the voices and this record would be hailed as a mid-70s masterpiece for Clark’s efforts as much as its lush, candied orchestration.

The record starts off without skipping a beat from the Clark oeuvre; “Life’s Greatest Fool” sounds like a natural step forward from his earlier country rock. The supporting musicians are perfectly in tune with the vision; I want to dig in deeper with the sound every listen, so I hardly consider it overcooked. One tune does embody Gene’s new super-glam image in sound, where you can “hear the cocaine” churning the record: the sinister title track, “No Other,” is slathered with sleazy synth lines and electric guitars. Whether for camp or pure songcraft it’s an irresistable jam and centerpiece of the record.

All of the numbers possess the signature Gene Clark sound. Say when he waits for “Strength Of Strings” to reach full crescendo before sinking into his minor-tinged verse with that untouchable heartworn vocal. Clark is one of the world’s greatest songwriters, his skill in transforming traditional progressions to his unique brand of song unmatched.

Give this record the right chance and you’ll reach the point where you appreciate every overdone detail, down to the gorgeous sleeve and awesomely hideous poster of Gene decked in flowing garments, beads, and makeup in front of an airbrushed Gene Clark monument. I only have the record, but the CD resissue is reportedly worth it for the alternative versions and “Train Leaves Here This Morning,” a retake from the Expedition.

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“No Other”

:D CD Reissue | 2003 | WEA/Rhino | amazon ]
:) Orig Vinyl | 1974 | Asylum | search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]