Posts Tagged ‘ Review ’

Bronco “Country Home”

British country rock sounds about as likely and as authentic as British blues, but both were forces to be reckoned with in late sixties and early seventies rock respectively. Whilst the UK country rock vein certainly aped its US counterpart rather than actually kickstarting it as its blues predecessor had done, a number of artists from this side of the Pond found moderate success working in the form back across the water as well as at home. One of these was Bronco, whose early work compared favourably in its low-key ensemble construction with such luminaries as Neil Young’s Crazy Horse and The Band.

Vocalist Jess Roden had been featured frontman for the Alan Bown Set, one of London’s foremost live soul and R’n’B outfits during the late sixties. When the Bown train began to roll in a more psychedelic direction, Roden re-teamed up with guitarist Kevyn Gammond and bassist John Pasternak from his earlier blues combo Shakedown Sound. Gammond recommended second guitarist Robbie Blunt and drummer Pete Robinson from his own previous Band Of Joy – which had also featured a certain Robert Plant – and Bronco was ready to start buckin’. Happy to change direction yet again and clearly inspired by the likes of The Band, Bronco became one of the first British groups to take a punt at the upcoming country rock form. Widely regarded even then as “Britain’s finest unknown singer”, Roden had no trouble bagging a recording contract at the mighty Island Records, and Country Home and a leadoff single “Lazy Now” (not on the album) appeared rapidly. Roden and Co. toured it extensively on both sides of the Atlantic – I recall seeing them supporting fellow Island labelmates Traffic at Bristol University Union during the autumn of 1970 – to favourable responses which unfortunately failed to translate to record sales.

Composed principally by Roden but with input from all band members plus close friend, future schlock-folk singer/songwriter Clifford T Ward, the album exudes rough charm with its low-key, live-sounding recording. The first five of its seven tracks ride mainly on acoustic rhythm guitars with clean countrified electric licks from Blunt and rather more pentatonic input from Gammond plus occasional restrained piano from guest Jeff Bannister, Roden’s former colleague in the Bown set, and bluesy harmonica from drummer Robinson. The harmonies are endearingly rough-edged throughout with a distinct Band vibe. My favourite tracks are “Civil Of You Stranger” with its rolling rhythm, E-string twang and funky modulation, the jugbandish “Misfit On Your Stair” recalling the Lovin’ Spoonful and “Home” with its simple two-chord motif decorated by distant wailing cross-harp and a soulful piano solo. The last two tracks see the band “man-up” with a saw-toothed twin-electric guitar attack that certainly recalls Young’s and Danny Whitten’s partnership or perhaps Free’s slower, funkier material.

Despite the failure of Country Home to sell in droves, a second album Ace Of Sunlight appeared the following year. This featured considerably more composer input from Ward and songwriter Suzy Worth plus a lot more instrumental arrangement and studio gloss, and consequently sounds much more urban mainstream soft-rock, lacking the rough rural edges that had made Country Home such a charmer. When this too failed to set the charts alight Roden saddled up for the States to team up briefly with ex-Doors Robby Krieger and John Densmore as the Butts Band. Blunt and Gammond would work extensively again with Robert Plant post-Zeppelin, whilst Roden finally embarked on an uneven solo career producing a body of work that confirmed him as “Britain’s finest unknown singer” until a total change of direction saw him become a graphic artist in the mid-eighties. Country Home and Ace Of Sunlight are available as a mid-priced twofer, as is a two-disc anthology of Roden’s solo work, reflecting the high regard in which a small but discerning cognoscenti still hold him.

mp3: Civil Of You Stranger
mp3: Home

:) Original | 1970 | Island | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2010 | 2fer | buy at amazon ]

 

Linda Perhacs “Parallelograms”

This unique and fascinating album has belatedly garnered a considerable following in recent years as a result of the new interest in what is nowadays referred to as Acid Folk. In reality it’s finely-structured acoustic folk-rock, but with strong elements of psychedelic studio treatment and twentieth-century avant-garde classical and choral music. Until now it’s only rated a couple of oblique references in these pages; now it’s time to give it the full exposure it deserves.

The album was the product of a chance conversation between Los Angeles periodontist Linda Perhacs and one of her patients, film score composer Leonard Roseman. Perhacs had written the songs as a hobby sideline, composing with just modally-tuned acoustic guitar and her own beautifully clear voice. Stimulated by Perhacs’s own graphic visualisation of her composition “Parallelograms” as “visual music sculpture” encompassing light, form and colour as well as sound, Roseman offered to develop her songs into an album, arranging and enhancing them in George Martin fashion and utilising the services of his studio’s state-of-the-art technology plus session musicians including guitarist Steve Cohn and percussionists Milt Holland and Shelley Manne. The stunning results found a release on Kapp records, but there the interest stalled; the label pressed the songs out of sequence with dull AM-friendly equalisation on poor quality vinyl, and then proffered no publicity for it, and the brashly commercial Los Angeles AM radio stations refused to play it. When what would become her first and only album in almost four decades tanked, Perhacs went back to the day job. Over thirty years later she was alerted to the fact that the new generation of Acid Folk musicians such as Devendra Banhart were drawing inspiration from her long-lost work. Reissued by Wild Places in 1996 and by Sunbeam in 2008, the currently-available CD is correctly sequenced, beautifully remastered and comes with eight bonus demos, alternative versions and unreleased songs plus a superb booklet history by Perhacs herself. Perhaps best of all, its belated success has induced Perhacs to start creating music again and she’s issued two albums of new music in partnership with musician/producer Ben Watt of Everything But The Girl since 2007.

The quirky acoustic guitar tunings of Parallelograms may suggest early Joni Mitchell and the clear, crystalline vocals similar-period Joan Baez, but on this album Linda Perhacs utterly transcends both with her dazzling originality. The gently-rippling guitar arpeggios and cascading multi-tracked harmonies of the opening “Chimacum Rain” set out the collection’s predominant motifs, but the following “Paper Mountain Man” is surprisingly funky and blues-inflected with its jazzy percussion and distant, ethereal harmonica, and the wonderfully ironic critique of South Californian society marital celebrations, “Porcelain Baked-Over Cast-Iron Wedding”, rocks along similarly on oriental percussion and delightfully atonal 12-string. Head and shoulders above the rest, the title track even eschews proper lyrics, the singer’s tongue playing mischievously with the syllables of the title and the names of other geometric forms in a sinuous flow of sound, broken by a Gyorgy Ligeti-like musique concrete interlude, all being the product of Roseman’s realisation of Perhacs’s original scroll-like pictorial depiction of the song. “Moons And Cattails” and “Morning Colours” are similarly, though slightly less, experimental, the former again utilising superbly melismatic vocals and the latter glorious electronically-processed flute obbligati. The rest is more conventional, but still well to the left of the field. As with the avant-garde music that largely inspired it, this is an album to be listened to, not merely heard.

mp3: Paper Mountain Man
mp3: Parallelograms

:) Original | 1970 | Kapp | search ebay ]
:) Reissue | 2011 | Sundazed | buy here ]
:D Reissue | 2010 | Sunbeam | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Faine Jade “It Ain’t True”

Many of the artists that made the classic psych/garage comps Nuggets and Pebbles tend to have a disappointing discography, other than that one killer track. Whether they recorded an album full of filler or no album at all, diving in based on one single is a risk. But damn, the search pays off when you dig up just one well-buried record that should have been a classic.

Long Island’s Chuck Laskowski began his recording career, along with friend and collaborator Nick Manzi, as The Rustics, an overlooked yet top-notch mid-60s garage combo (whose material comprises much of this record). Donning the name Faine Jade in 1967 with the single “It Ain’t True,” Jade went on to record the psych opus Introspection: A Faine Jade Recital. It’s commonly known as a collector’s piece and the best of Jade’s material, but my money is on this 90s comp of Faine’s earlier stuff. I guess I just like it stripped down and dirty, tape warble and hum. While the sound can be cavernous, dark, moody (clearly aided by members of the Bohemian Vendetta, who were part of The Rustics and backed Faine on Introspection) the writing is an ingeniously catchy mix of pop and garage rock.

“Look at Me” boasts the cleanest sound on the record, propelled by a commanding electric rhythm and a lovely slop of tambourine. Wild surf guitar leads take us through “Cant Get You Out of My Heart,” a rumbling, poppy driver I can’t get out my head. Then there’s a sad and out take very much like a ballad from Bermuda’s wild Savages,  “I’m a Wanderer Too,” featuring shimmery electric piano and some downright evil-sounding bass guitar. Though a compilation, the record flows like a well-thought out album, moving from dingy marches (“Don’t Underestimate Me”) to downers (“Gonna Love You Anyway,” “December’s Children”) highlighted by great,  memorable rockers (“Can’t Let You Go,” “Look Before You Leap,” “I Lived Tomorrow Yesterday”), light psychedelia (“Cold Winter Sun”,) and genuine garage thrash (“It Ain’t True”).

This may be a collection of discarded tracks from a little-known band’s early beginnings, but It Ain’t True plays like a best-of record, one of the better garage collections from any artist. Make an effort to get your hands on this underrated classic.

Faine Jade, along with Nick Manzi, would later record a promising country rock departure, 1971’s Dust Bowl Clementine.

mp3: Look At Me
mp3: Can’t Let You Go

:) Compilation | 1992 | Distortions | buy from Faine Jade ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Rare Bird “Epic Forest”

Rare Bird formed in London in 1969 and rapidly became one of the standard-bearers for the new neo-classical, keyboard-driven strain of British progressive rock. Whilst eschewing the pompous on-stage approach of ELP and Yes, they exhibited an equally impressive musical pedigree. Unusually, they included no guitarist, the four-man line-up consisting of organ, electric piano, bass guitar and drums. Classically-trained organist Graham Field’s songwriting and bassist Steve Gould’s powerful, soulful voice yielded an immediate UK and pan-European hit single in “Sympathy”, and this line-up subsequently recorded two moderately well-received but sparingly purchased albums. Field then announced his departure and the Bird was forced to re-fledge. Moving from one extreme to the other, it became a twin-lead-guitar outfit, though retaining pianist Dave Kaffinetti, with Gould upgrading from four strings to six and new second guitarist/singer Ced Curtis giving them fine opportunities for harmonies, both instrumental and vocal.

The first album to feature the new roster appeared in 1972, its title a skit on Epping Forest, a sylvan suburb of the capital. It displays two of the dominant threads of mainstream UK rock music of the time: the melodic guitar-driven soft-rock approach of bands in the Wishbone Ash mould and the soaring close-harmony vocals lifted from Californian good-time outfits such as CS&N. With two first-class singers and the extra dimension provided by Kaffinetti’s organ, piano and synth work, it’s probably fair to say that this incarnation of Rare Bird transcends the Wishbone template. Sadly, unlike the latter this didn’t translate into gratifying record sales: possibly their change of direction alienated their original prog-rock supporters, whilst a potential new soft-rock fan base may have wrongly construed them as old, po-faced art-rockers. Such are the vagaries of rock fame! They certainly achieved more penetration in Europe than at home, whilst recognition in America eluded them almost completely. The Bird flew haltingly on for a further four years, suffering several further changes of personnel and releasing two further albums to modest critical acclaim but little commercial success before bowing to the punk-powered inevitable.

Having recorded more material for Epic Forest than required for a conventional single-disc vinyl release and not wishing to shelve any of the completed tracks, Rare Bird adopted the then novel tactic of pressing three of these as a maxi-single included free with the album. The twelve tracks, totalling over sixty minutes of music, exhibit a uniformly high quality in the writing, singing, playing and production. Up-tempo and languid compositions alternate, electric and acoustic guitars predominate, but the support from Kaffinetti’s keyboards and the rhythm section of Paul Karas on bass and Fred Kelly on kit is unerringly solid. The two opening tracks set out the menu; I love the simple, powerful bass riff that drives “Baby Listen” and the ensemble guitars and harmonies on the much softer “Hey Man”. There are some harder touches; on “Turn It All Around”, they even move mildly into riff-rock territory, Zeppelin style, after a deceptively quiet intro. The extended instrumental interludes on the nine-minute title track and on the ten-minute closer “You’re Lost” were clearly as enjoyable for the musicians as they will be to the listener, on the evidence of their final whoops of satisfaction on the latter’s fadeout.

A quality second-division seventies outfit worth investigating in both its principal incarnations, Rare Bird’s complete discography remains gratifyingly in print. Epic Forest is currently available on CD on the estimable Cherry Red imprint’s Él subsidiary. When investigating the Bird’s oeuvre, it’s probably as good a place to begin as any.

mp3: Baby Listen
mp3: Hey Man

:) Original | 1972 | Polydor | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2007 | El Records | buy here ]