Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Kinks - Preservation Act 1 1973

Preservation is Ray Davies' most ambitious project -- a musical that used the quaint, small-town nostalgia of Village Green as a template to draw the entirety of society and how it works. Or, at least that's what the concept seems to be, since the storyline was so convoluted, it necessitated three separate LPs, spread over two albums, and it still didn't really make sense because the first album, Preservation, Act 1, acted more like an introduction to the characters, and all the story was condensed into the second album. Davies intended all of Preservation to stand as one double-album set, but he scrapped the first sessions for the album, which led to record company pressure to deliver an album before the end of 1973 -- hence, the appearance of Preservation, Act 1 in mid-November. Stripped of much of the narrative, Preservation winds up playing like an explicitly theatrical Village Green, this time with specific characters -- a bit like a novella instead of short stories. There are moments where everything clicks on Preservation and they're the ones that are closest to typical Davies -- the stately "Daylight," the endearingly lazy "Sitting in the Midday Sun," the fairly rocking "Here Comes Flash," "Where Are They Now?," and the absolutely gorgeous "Sweet Lady Genevieve," a real candidate for Davies' forgotten masterpiece. Then, there's the rest of the record: unfocused attempts at story, showtunes, and characterizations, some of which are interesting, but the whole of it is rather tedious. Preservation, Act 1 winds up as listenable due to the strength of those five songs, which form the core not only of this record, but the musical drama as a whole. The rest plays as artistic hubris, which is exactly what swallows Preservation, Act 2 alive. AMG.

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Laura Nyro - New York Tendaberry 1969

Although New York Tendaberry was nearly as strong a record as its predecessor, Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, it wasn't as accessible. In large part that's because, unlike her first two albums, it didn't have three or four songs that would become instantly recognizable hits in the hands of other artists. But it was also because the mood of the record was considerably darker and the production quite a bit starker. It was hardly a gloomy affair, but the emphasis was on soulful laments and arrangements that often featured, in part or whole, nothing but her voice and piano. Without at all sounding blatantly derived from gospel, it often sounded very much in the spirit of gospel in its fervid passion, though using melodies from a wide pop/blues-soul canvas and addressing concerns far more secular and personal. There were crafty, dramatic punctuations of orchestration, yet these were far more subdued than they had been on the more jubilant Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. "Save the Country" (along with the upbeat section of "Time and Love") is really the only song here that has the immediate uplifting impact of her most famous early tunes, and even that track could have benefited from a less-bare setting. It's a rewarding album, but one that takes some effort to fully appreciate. The 2002 CD reissue adds two bonus tracks: the mono single version of "Save the Country," which has a far fuller arrangement than the album take, and the jaunty, previously unreleased "In the Country Way." AMG.

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Little Richard - The Rill thing 1970

The Rill Thing represented Little Richard's most serious attempt at a comeback since his 1950s heyday. "Freedom Blues," Richard's debut Reprise single, released in April 1970, was a mid-chart hit, his first in five years. "Greenwood Mississippi," released as a single concurrently with the album, also charted. Richard adopted a Cajun/country-rock approach (even covering "Lovesick Blues"), with a heavy beat and twangy guitar backing up his rough, forceful vocals. Despite the indulgence of the rambling ten-minute instrumental title track, the LP was a convincing update on his early work. But it did not propel Little Richard back to the top of the charts. AMG.

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The Kinks - Preservation Act 2 1974

Ray Davies released the "song" songs from Preservation -- the character sketches, the wry observations, the lovely ballads -- on the first record (or "Act") of the musical drama, leaving the narrative for Preservation, Act 2, a double album released six months after its companion. Simply put, the record is a mess, an impenetrable jumble of story, theater, instrumentals, "announcements," unfinished ideas, guest singers, and, on occasion, a song or two. There may have been a workable theatrical production hidden somewhere in Preservation, but it was utterly lost on record (reportedly it was better live), due in no small part to how it was unevenly divided, a practice that revealed Davies' lack of realized songs for the project, plus his unfinished story. It was later revealed that Ray was at the end of his rope during the making of Preservation -- he would have a breakdown during its supporting tour -- so, perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that the album doesn't work on its own. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that he was in such a fog, that he didn't realize that "Slum Kids," a staple in the Preservation shows and a concert favorite throughout the '70s, was the best rocker he penned for the project and left it off both records. Thankfully, it was added as a bonus track to VelVel's 1999 reissue of the album, improving the quality of the album considerably. The single version of "Mirror of Love" was added as a second bonus track to this edition, as well. AMG.

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Bob Welch - Three Hearts 1979

After the platinum success of 1977's French Kiss, Fleetwood Mac alumnus Bob Welch obviously decided there was no need to alter the formula for 1979's Three Hearts. The album was another slick, smartly crafted slice of late-'70s pop/rock, yet it only went gold. Welch blends richly distorted hard-rock guitar hooks, disco-influenced strings, and bright vocal melodies on Three Hearts, which includes guest appearances by Fleetwood Mac members Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie, and Stevie Nicks. The vibrant, insanely catchy "Precious Love" was the album's only Top 40 hit single; the prominent strings and bouncy chorus fuel this gem. "Church," a minor hit, features warm keyboards and smooth vocals. "The Ghost of Flight 401" deviates the most from the pop/rock blueprint, and its sparse acoustic guitar and piano lines add a dark, mysterious feel. "Devil Wind" peaks with a driving rhythm in the coda that also highlights Nicks on backing vocals. Other decent cuts include the buoyant pop tune "Little Star," "Oh Jenny," and "China." The only misfires are two covers: a quirky, pseudo-funk version of the Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There" and a fairly straightforward rendering of the Fleetwoods' "Come Softly to Me." AMG.

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King Floyd - Heart of the matter 1971

Best remembered for the smash "Groove Me," New Orleans soul singer King Floyd was born in the Crescent City on February 13, 1945, and raised in nearby Kenner, LA. He began singing on street corners while in his early teens, befriending local musicians like Earl King and Willie Tee. With the aid of New Orleans blues legend Mr. Google Eyes, Floyd landed his first paying gig at the Bourbon Street club Sho-Bar in 1961, although his fledgling career was soon put on hold by military duty. Following his army discharge in late 1963, Floyd migrated to New York City, signing with booking agents Shaw Artists and regularly performing throughout Manhattan. He also began writing songs, encouraged by the likes of Don Covay and J.J. Jackson. After about a year he resettled in Los Angeles, befriending another New Orleans expatriate, composer/arranger Harold Battiste. Through Battiste, Floyd met DJ Buddy Keleen, who in turn brought him to the Original Sound label, which in 1965 issued his debut single, "Walkin' and Talkin'." Floyd's debut LP, the Battiste-arranged King Floyd: A Man in Love, followed on the Mercury subsidiary Pulsar in 1967; the album went nowhere, and as he was barely making ends meet as a songwriter, he finally returned to New Orleans in 1969.

Now a family man, Floyd accepted a post office job upon returning home, but within a month he ran into producer Wardell Quezerque, then a staffer at Malaco Records. On May 17, 1970, they traveled to Malaco's Jackson, MS, studios to cut "Groove Me," recorded in just one take at the same session that would also yield another Quezerque-produced blockbuster, Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff." Floyd wrote "Groove Me" while working in an East L.A. box factory in honor of a young college girl on staff. He was set to give her the lyrics on the morning she abruptly quit, and he never saw her again. With Quezerque's assistance, he transformed the song into a deeply funky, percolating jam somewhere between the best of James Brown and Otis Redding, but ironically, the song first appeared on the Malaco subsidiary Chimneyville as merely the B-side of Floyd's soulful "What Our Love Needs." Only when New Orleans DJ George Vinnett flipped the record over did "Groove Me" begin meriting the attention it deserved, and as the record emerged as a local smash, Atlantic scooped up national distribution rights. "Groove Me" went on to top the Billboard R&B charts and hit number six on the pop charts, going gold on Christmas Day of 1970. Needless to say, Floyd quit his civil service gig and went on a national tour, returning to the R&B Top Ten early in 1971 with the follow-up "Got to Have Your Love," culled from his self-titled Atlantic LP.

Creative differences quickly undermined Floyd's relationship with Quezerque, however, and subsequent efforts, including the fine 1973 LP Think About It, attracted little attention. In a surprise move, Atlantic then issued as a single "Woman Don't Go Away" from the 1971 King Floyd album, earning a gold record three years after the song's original appearance. But Atlantic's agreement with Malaco soon ended, and the latter signed a new distribution deal with Miami-based TK, which also assumed Floyd's production reins for 1975's Well Done, which featured the minor hit "I Feel Like Dynamite." He split with Malaco soon after, landing with Mercury's Dial subsidiary for a one-off single titled "Can You Dig It?"; at the same time, Malaco issued Body Language, a collection of his unreleased recordings for the label. The emergence of disco left few outlets for Floyd's staunchly Southern brand of soul, and in 1978 he returned to L.A. in an attempt to reignite his career and battle some personal demons; upon coming back to Kenner three years later, he mustered up a few local gigs, and in 1982 spent a month touring South Africa. Floyd spent the remainder of the next two decades drifting in and out of the music industry, finally releasing a new Malaco effort, Old Skool Funk, in 2000. AMG.

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Fleetwood Mac - Peter Green´s Fleetwood Mac 1968

Fleetwood Mac's debut LP was a highlight of the late-'60s British blues boom. Green's always inspired playing, the capable (if erratic) songwriting, and the general panache of the band as a whole placed them leagues above the overcrowded field. Elmore James is a big influence on this set, particularly on the tunes fronted by Jeremy Spencer ("Shake Your Moneymaker," "Got to Move"). Spencer's bluster, however, was outshone by the budding singing and songwriting skills of Green. The guitarist balanced humor and vulnerability on cuts like "Looking for Somebody" and "Long Grey Mare," and with "If I Loved Another Woman," he offered a glimpse of the Latin-blues fusion that he would perfect with "Black Magic Woman." The album was an unexpected smash in the U.K., reaching number four on the British charts. AMG.

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Caetano Veloso - Caetano Veloso 1971

One look at the doleful expression that Caetano Veloso wears on the cover of his third self-titled album, from 1971, and it's clear that the listener is in for a bummer. It's a dead-eyed look that says, "Friend, sit down, have a drink, and listen to my weary tale." And a weary homesick tale it is, for the man who only a few years earlier had been one of the catalysts in a revolution that sent the Brazilian music world on the psychedelic Beatles-lovin' roller coaster of Tropicalia was now living in the U.K. in a government-imposed exile. Gone are the Day-Glo flashes of his earlier albums, replaced by the realism of a revolutionary whose dreams have been shuttered. If there was any doubt to the depths of his melancholy, Veloso clears it up right away with "A Little More Blue," reflecting on being thrown in jail and declaring that his exile is worse than his Brazilian imprisonment. Even more dismal may be the lovesick tribute to his sister, "Maria Bethânia," which plainly spells out his physical and emotional disconnection. It's not all so dismal, though; there are upbeat songs as well, like the acknowledged classic "London, London" and the lone Portuguese-sung track, "Asa Branca." There are Brazilian touches in the drums and Veloso's phrasing, but the album is more in the tradition of downer folk classics like Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks and Tim Buckley's Happy Sad. If that seems like heavy company, then seek out this emotionally rich and complex work by an artist who doesn't merely stand on the shoulders of giants -- he is one of the giants. AMG.

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Ahmed Abdul-Malik - Spellbound 1964

Ahmed Abdul-Malik was one of the first musicians to integrate non-Western musical elements into jazz. In addition to being a hard bop bassist of some distinction, he also played the oud, a double-stringed, unfretted Middle Eastern lute, played with a plectrum. Abdul-Malik recorded on the instrument in the '50s with Johnny Griffin and in 1961 with John Coltrane, contributing to one of the several albums that resulted from the latter's Live at the Village Vanguard sessions.

Abdul-Malik was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. In his twenties and thirties, he worked as a bassist with Art Blakey, Randy Weston, and Thelonious Monk, among others. He played the oud on a tour of South America under the aegis of the U.S. State Department, and performed at one of the first major African jazz festivals in Morocco in 1972. Beginning in 1970, he taught at New York University and later, Brooklyn College. In 1984, he received BMI's Pioneer in Jazz Award in recognition of his work in melding Middle Eastern musics and jazz. AMG.

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Fleetwood Mac - Mr. Wonderful 1968

Although it made number ten in the U.K., Fleetwood Mac's second album was a disappointment following their promising debut. So much of the record was routine blues that it could even be said that it represented something of a regression from the first LP, despite the enlistment of a horn section and pianist Christine Perfect (the future Christine McVie) to help on the sessions. In particular, the limits of Jeremy Spencer's potential for creative contribution were badly exposed, as the tracks that featured his songwriting and/or vocals were basic Elmore James covers or derivations. Peter Green, the band's major talent at this point, did not deliver original material on the level of the classic singles he would pen for the band in 1969, or even on the level of first-album standouts like "I Loved Another Woman." The best of the lot, perhaps, is "Love That Burns," with its mournful minor-key melody and sluggish, responsive horn lines. Mr. Wonderful, strangely, was not issued in the U.S., although about half the songs turned up on its stateside counterpart, English Rose, which was fleshed out with some standout late-'60s British singles and a few new tracks penned by Danny Kirwan (who joined the band after Mr. Wonderful was recorded). AMG.

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Gil Evans Orchestra - Into The Hot 1961

Although this album (reissued on CD) proudly states that it is by the Gil Evans Orchestra and has Evans' picture on the cover, the arranger actually had nothing to do with the music. Three songs have the nucleus of his big band performing numbers composed, arranged, and conducted by John Carisi (who also plays one of the trumpets). Those selections by the composer of "Israel" are disappointingly forgettable. The other three performances are even further away from Evans for they are actually selections by avant-garde pianist Cecil Taylor's septet! Taylor's music features trumpeter Ted Curson, trombonist Roswell Rudd, altoist Jimmy Lyons, tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp, bassist Henry Grimes, and drummer Sunny Murray and is quite adventurous and exciting, the main reason to acquire this somewhat misleading set. AMG.

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Gilberto Gil - Gilberto Gil 1971

As on Caetano Veloso's album from the same year, Gilberto Gil does not sound happy away from his homeland. Recorded in London, the eight songs on his final self-titled album are mostly blues and introspective, downbeat pop songs. Steve Winwood's "Can't Find My Way Home" is an inspired choice, delivered with a crushing sentimentality rarely found in other versions. Gil also reprises "Volks, Volkswagen Blues" from his 1969 LP. The effect isn't quite as doom-laden as Veloso's work, but Gil is definitely homesick, as the touching "Nêga (Photograph Blues)" shows. [Most CD reisssues included three bonus tracks: a live version of "Can't Find My Way Home" along with "Up from the Skies" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."] AMG.

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Fleetwood Mac - Then Play On 1969

This Peter Green-led edition of the Mac isn't just an important transition between their initial blues-based incarnation and the mega-pop band they became, it's also their most vital, exciting version. The addition of Danny Kirwan as second guitarist and songwriter foreshadows not only the soft-rock terrain of "Bare Trees" and "Kiln House" with Christine Perfect-McVie, but also predicts Rumours. That only pertains to roughly half of the also excellent material here, though; the rest is quintessential Green. The immortal "Oh Well," with its hard-edged, thickly layered guitars and chamber-like sections, is perhaps the band's most enduring progressive composition. "Rattlesnake Shake" is another familiar number, a down-and-dirty, even-paced funk, with clean, wall-of-sound guitars. Choogling drums and Green's fiery improvisations power "Searching for Madge," perhaps Mac's most inspired work save "Green Manalishi," and leads into an unlikely symphonic interlude and the similar, lighter boogie "Fighting for Madge." A hot Afro-Cuban rhythm with beautiful guitars from Kirwan and Green on "Coming Your Way" not only defines the Mac's sound, but the rock aesthetic of the day. Of the songs with Kirwan's stamp on them, "Closing My Eyes" is a mysterious waltz love song; haunting guitars approach surf music on the instrumental "My Dream"; while "Although the Sun Is Shining" is the ultimate pre-Rumours number someone should revisit. Blues roots still crop up on the spatial, loose, Hendrix-tinged "Underway," the folky blues tale of a lesbian affair on "Like Crying," and the final outcry of the ever-poignant "Show Biz Blues," with Green moaning "do you really give a damn for me?" Then Play On is a reminder of how pervasive and powerful Green's influence was on Mac's originality and individual stance beyond his involvement. Still highly recommended and a must-buy after all these years, it remains their magnum opus. AMG.

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Walter Bishop Jr. - Coral Keys 1971

Walter Bishop, Jr. was a valuable utility pianist on many a modern jazz session during the bebop era, remaining an active performer until his death at the age of 70 in early 1998. The son of composer Walter Bishop, Sr., he grew up in Harlem's Sugar Hill area, and as a teen counted among his friends Sonny Rollins, Kenny Drew, and Art Taylor; acknowledging Art Tatum, Bud Powell, and Nat King Cole as important influences, Bishop first attracted notice on the Manhattan club circuit around 1947, going on to play and record in bands led by Art Blakey, Charlie Parker, Oscar Pettiford, Kai Winding, and Miles Davis in the years to follow. In 1960 he played in trombonist Curtis Fuller's group before forming his own trio the next year with bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer G.T. Hogan. In 1964 Bishop toured with vibist Terry Gibbs, and in the late '60s he studied at Juilliard with composer/pianist Hall Overton. He moved to Los Angeles in 1969, where he continued to study and work as a freelancer with local groups, including Supersax and trumpeter Blue Mitchell's band. From 1972 to 1975 Bishop taught jazz theory, both privately and in local colleges. He returned to New York in 1975. The next year Bishop authored an insightful if neglected book on jazz theory, A Study in Fourths, in which he proffered a technique of chromatic improvisation based on the use of cycles of fourths and fifths. Bishop played in trumpeter Clark Terry's big and small bands in 1977. He continued to lead his own groups, and in the early '80s began teaching at the University of Hartford; in 1983 he played a solo concert at Carnegie Hall. In the mid-'90s Bishop appeared to great acclaim at the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival on New York City's Lower East Side. AMG.

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Paul Chambers - 1st Bassman 1961

As a lead instrument in jazz, the acoustic bass was in many ways liberated by Paul Chambers, and paved the way for many others to follow. Though Pops Foster, Jimmy Blanton and Ray Brown also deserve credit, Chambers was allowed to put his bass on top, become a leader in his own right, and play lead melodies with a clear, ringing, well enunciated tone. 1st Bassman is anchored by rising stars from Detroit such as Yusef Lateef, Curtis Fuller, and adopted (from Pittsburgh) car city resident Chambers, with trumpeter Tommy Turrentine, pianist Wynton Kelly, and drummer Lex Humphries evenly balancing the session. Interestingly enough, it was recorded not in New York or the Motor City, but Chicago. Lateef wrote all of the material, save for Cannonball Adderley's slow jam "Who's Blues?" which was included only on the CD re-release. The emphasis on the compositions of Lateef all display a spare construct, rearing the horns to a marginal level except for solos, allowing Chambers to take care of business and control the shaping of the melodies, with little unison play involved. The small horn inserts of "Melody" give sway to the big bass strut of Chambers, with solos from Turrentine's stoic trumpet, Lateef's advanced tenor, and Fuller's wanton but mushy trombone included. "Bass Region" is even more spare, a one note horn punctuation setting up lengthy solos. The slightly dour post-bopper "Retrogress" gives Kelly's piano his due diligence, "Mopp Shoe Blues" completely offers Chambers his freedom to work out, and the ballad "Blessed" features the arco bowed bass of the leader in a mournful mood, brightened up by the effervescent and hopeful flute of the brilliant Lateef. This CD and its companion piece Go complement the preceding Blue Note sessions, comprising a small but potent body of work that few bassists have produced in modern jazz. If you are a student or lover of jazz bass, the complete Paul Chambers Vee Jay sessions, of which this is one, belongs in your home. AMG.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gary Farr - Take Something with You 1969 - (Isle of Wight 1970)

Although Gary Farr had started his recording career as a part of the mid-'60s British R&B wave, by the time he did his first full-length album, he was heavily influenced by folk and progressive rock. Members of late-'60s British progressive cult bands Blossom Toes and Mighty Baby, in fact, help out on Take Something with You, which sometimes has a pastoral rock-jazz-folk-blues feel à la Traffic. The songs aren't nearly as solid as Traffic's, though, and Farr's vocals, while decent, don't have the punch of a Stevie Winwood. The result is a record that's admirable in its attitude, but not that memorable, particularly as -- in common with some other projects by this loosely affiliated group of musicians, as heard on albums by Mighty Baby and Reg King -- there's sometimes a drifting, unfocused feel, as if the songs are sketches that haven't been fully worked out. Farr's at his best here when the compositions and arrangements are the folkiest, slightly recalling American songwriters Tim Buckley (a resemblance that's strongest on "Curtain of Sleep") and Tim Hardin. There's an attractive melancholy atmosphere to many of these tracks, just not quite enough follow-through or distinction to other the songs or singing to mark it as something outstanding. AMG.

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Supertramp - Supertramp 1970 - (Isle of Wight 1970)

Progressive in texture for the most part, Supertramp's debut album became increasingly disregarded as they blossomed commercially through the '70s. The album was the only one on which drummer Bob Miller and guitarist Richard Palmer appeared, replaced by Kevin Currie and Frank Farrell for the Indelibly Stamped release which surfaced a year later. Quite a bit different than their radio and AOR material, Supertramp is inundated with pretentious instrumental meandering, with greater emphasis and attention granted to the keyboards and guitars than to the writing and to the overall effluence of the music. There are some attractive moments, such as the mixture of ardor and subtlety that arises in "Words Unspoken," "Surely," and "Nothing to Show," and some of the fusion that erupts throughout the 12 minutes of "Try Again" is impressive even though the whole of the track results in one of the most extravagant and overblown pieces the band has ever produced. Hodgson's use of cello, flageolet, and acoustic guitar is endearing in spots, and while both he and Davies had just recently formed their alliance, it was evident that their songwriting was going to be one of the band's strengths. Ultimately dissatisfied with the results of the album, they retorted with Indelibly Stamped, which disappointingly followed suit. It wasn't until 1974's Crime of the Century that things began to improve for Supertramp, when they replaced Farrell and Currie with saxman John Helliwell, bass player Dougie Thompson, and drummer Bob Benberg. AMG.

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Andy Roberts with Everyone - Andy Roberts with Everyone 1971 - (Isle of Wight 1970)

In the early '70s, the Ampex label was marketing the work of Andy Roberts in a most confusing and somewhat misleading way. When they issued his early-'70s LP Home Grown, it actually combined tracks from two previous editions of the album with others that appeared on his second proper solo record, Nina and the Dream Tree. And although Andy Roberts With Everyone was simply credited as a self-titled LP by Everyone in his native United Kingdom, the reworked title on Ampex implied that it was a Roberts album, rather than an album by the group Everyone. Whatever the billing, Andy Roberts With Everyone really isn't an Andy Roberts solo album; it's a band endeavor by Everyone, with Roberts only writing half of the eight songs, most of the other material coming from keyboardist Bob Sargeant. It's a curiously at-odds-with-itself work, low-key easygoing early-'70s rock sharing space with a couple of Sargeant-dominated efforts that verge on bombastic boogie-prog rock. The Roberts tunes are likable in a mild way, though there's nothing nearly as good as Home Grown highlights like "Queen of the Moonlight World" and "The One-Armed Boatman and the Giant Squid." Instead, it sometimes sounds like a bridge between folk-rock and pub rock. While Sargeant does contribute a fair ballad in "Sad," his flashy prog rock keyboard workouts on "Too Much a Loser" and "This Way Up" almost suggest he's trying to push the band into some weird sub-Emerson, Lake & Palmer or Deep Purple territory. That was an approach incompatible with not just Roberts' music, but the rest of the record as a whole, sealing its status as an inconsistent, fairly unremarkable album. AMG. Thanks to RareMp3!

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Frankie Miller's Howl - Once In A Blue Moon 1972 - (Isle of Wight 1970)

Frankie Miller had a group Howl with who he performed in the Isle of Wight in 1970, Howl was scottish hard-rock band formerly known as "The Stoics", they didn't record any album during their short live. Here is the first Frankie Miller's first solo album. This first album features pub-rock favorites Brinsley Schwarz as his backup band. That alone is reason enough to own this record. Add to that a nice batch of songs (mostly originals) and you have an enjoyable album.

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Black Widow - Sacrifice 1970 - (Isle of Wight 1970)

Black Widow may have enjoyed a reasonably long and defiantly varied career. But to anyone who cares, they will be remembered for just one song, "Come to the Sabbat" -- not a hit single, but a standout on a cheapo label compilation in the early '70s, and destined to live on for decades after the band. Naturally, the accompanying Sacrifice album has bounced along in its wake, first as an increasingly expensive vinyl collectors' item, more recently as a regular on the CD reissue circuit, and here it comes again, this time bearing more primal Black Widow than you could ever have dreamed of hearing. Ultimate Sacrifice: One opens, naturally, with the original seven-song album. More fascinating, however, is the chance to hear five of the seven ("Way to Power" and "Attack of the Demon" are absent) in their original demo form, where they are revealed, if anything, to be even more dramatic than on the final vinyl. "In Ancient Days" in particular profits from the looseness of the performance, while "Come to the Sabbat" packs a feel of abandonment that makes the familiar version seem quite sedate. Of course, the bonus tracks are really only of interest if you truly worship the original record, and, once past "Come to the Sabbat," there probably aren't many people who feel that strongly. But the liners tell the band's tale well, the remastering is impressive, and if you're not doing anything next weekend, you might well want to drop by Black Widow's house. They've got somebody visiting, you know. AMG.

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Groundhogs - Blues Obituary 1969 - (Isle of Wight 1970)

Recorded during June of 1969 at Marquee Studios in London with Gary Collins and Colin Caldwell engineering, the trio of Groundhogs put the blues to rest on Blues Obituary in front of a castle on the Hogart-designed cover while six black and whites from photographer Zorin Matic grace the back in morbid Creepy or Eerie Magazine comic book fashion. Composed, written, and arranged by Tony "T.S." McPhee, there are seven tracks hovering from the around four- to seven-minute mark. The traditional "Natchez Burning," arranged by McPhee, fits in nicely with his originals while the longest track, the six-minute-and-50-second "Light Is the Day," features the most innovation -- a Ginger Baker-style tribal rant by drummer Ken Pustelnik allowing McPhee to lay down some muted slide work. As the tempo on the final track elevates along with manic guitar runs by McPhee, the jamming creates a color separate from the rest of the disc while still in the same style. Vocals across the board are kept to a minimum. It is all about the sound, Cream without the flash, bandleader McPhee vocally emulating Alvin Lee (by way of Canned Heat's Alan Wilson) on the four-minute conclusion to side one that is "Mistreated." While Americans like Grand Funk's Mark Farner turned the format up a commercial notch, Funk's "Mean Mistreater" sporting the same sentiment while reaching a wider audience, the Groundhogs on this late-'60s album keep the blues purely in the underground. The pumping beat on "Mistreated" embraces the lead guitarist's vocal, which poses that eternal blues question: "what have I done that's wrong?" Blistering guitar on the opening track, "B.D.D.," sets the pace for this deep excursion into the musical depths further down than Canned Heat ever dared go. While "Daze of the Weak" starts off sludgy enough, it quickly moves like a train out of control, laying back only to explode again. "Times" get things back to more traditional roots on an album that breaks little new ground, and is as consistent as Savoy Brown when they got into their primo groove. AMG.

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Terry Reid - Terry Reid 1969 - (Isle of Wight 1970)

Reid's initial pair of albums are very similar, and it's really a toss-up as to which one is better. If either rates a slight edge, it would be Terry Reid, as it finds his songwriting skills slightly more developed. The Donovan influence is again apparent on the cover of the Scotsman's "Superlungs My Supergirl," and "Stay with Me Baby" is another well-done blue-eyed soul showcase. As a songwriter, Reid still had a way to go, sounding better on the gentler, folkier numbers than the all-out power trio numbers. Such unfulfilled promise was understandable to a degree, as Reid was not yet 20 when this was released; unfortunately, he would never significantly expand on the promise of his first two LPs. The CD reissue on BGO adds four bonus cuts from the two rare non-LP singles he recorded in 1967 and 1968, prior to the issue of Bang, Bang You're Terry Reid. AMG.

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Gilberto Gil – Gilberto Gil 1969 - (Isle of Wight 1970)

It's not only ironic that the record with Gilberto Gil's first major hit ("Aquele Abraço") is also his most experimental album; it also speaks to the diversity of Brazil's emerging pop superstar. Beginning with the loose-jointed groove-pop of "Cérebro Eletrónico" (the album's subtitle), this second of three straight self-titled LPs includes a few Carnival-styled pop songs, as on his previous album. Most of the experimentation comes at the end of side two with "2001" and "Objeto Semi-Identificado," both of which are filled with odd tape-music portions, spoken-word elements, and a reliance on studio trickery rarely seen on any Western pop albums. Even the pop songs are produced with an eye toward noise; the tropicalia anthem "Volks Volkswagen Blue" features a few psychedelic guitar lines breaking into distortion, and a small but devastatingly brassy horn section punctuating the melody. It's a very disjointed album, not quite as consistently entertaining as last year's entry, but definitely a masterpiece of forward-looking pop. AMG.

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Caetano Veloso - Caetano Veloso 1969 - (Isle of Wight 1970)

This second Caetano Veloso solo LP was recorded in June 1969, when Veloso and Gilberto Gil were behind the bars of the military dictatorship. The albums (Gil also recorded his own) were devised in part to provide them with a connection to the outside world through which authorities would be discouraged of attempting some violence against them. The voices were unsophisticatedly recorded with the sole backing of their own violões and a metronome, and the arrangements were added later in the studio, which was an indigenous and competent subversion of the basics of production, especially if you take into consideration the available technology at that time. The general tone of this album is coherent with the depressing moment Veloso and the rest of the country were going through. The English lyrics of his "The Empty Boat" have several strong images of desperation and sadness, and "Irene" has been largely misunderstood -- especially the verse "quero ver Irene rir" (I want to see Irene laughing). "Irene" was the "name" of a machine gun owned by Tenório Cavalcanti (a robber somewhat celebrated by leftists at the time). His fado "Os Argonautas" represents implicitly the aspiration that, as Portugal had got ridden of Salazar (in the precedent year by a stroke), Brazil could also got rid of its dictatorship. The superbly modern arrangements of Rogério Duprat and the songs "Não Identificado," "Acrilírico," and "Marcianita," on the other hand, contribute to the anarchic, chaotic, and psychedelic setting of Tropicalia in which make part the rustic fuzzed-out guitars. But maybe the most important thing here is the evident artistic sincerity felt throughout the album: it is when the listener feels himself as a voyeur, peeping through the artist's deepest emotions. AMG. Even if Caetano is not mentioned he was also in exile in England with his friend Gilberto Gil and it seems they performed together.

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Isle of Wight 1970 Thursday 27th August

Here I'm back with the festival second day's performances. Gary Farr, Supertramp, Andy Roberts with Everyone, Frankie Miller's Howl, Black Widow, Groundhogs, Terry Reid, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso. It's a fine warm up before the three festival big days.

Enjoy!

Johnny Cash - At Folsom Prison 1968

Folsom Prison looms large in Johnny Cash's legacy, providing the setting for perhaps his definitive song and the location for his definitive album, At Folsom Prison. The ideal blend of mythmaking and gritty reality, At Folsom Prison is the moment when Cash turned into the towering Man in Black, a haunted troubadour singing songs of crime, conflicted conscience, and jail. Surely, this dark outlaw stance wasn't a contrivance but it was an exaggeration, with Cash creating this image by tailoring his set list to his audience of prisoners, filling up the set with tales of murder and imprisonment -- a bid for common ground with the convicts, but also a sly way to suggest that maybe Cash really did shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die. Given the cloud of death that hangs over the songs on At Folsom Prison, there's a temptation to think of it as a gothic, gloomy affair or perhaps a repository of rage, but what's striking about Cash's performance is that he never romanticizes either the crime or the criminals: if anything, he underplays the seriousness with his matter-of-fact ballad delivery or how he throws out wry jokes. Cash is relating to the prisoners and he's entertaining them too, singing "Cocaine Blues" like a bastard on the run, turning a death sentence into literal gallows humor on "25 Minutes to Go," playing "I Got Stripes" as if it were a badge of pride. Never before had his music seemed so vigorous as it does here, nor had he tied together his humor, gravity, and spirituality in one record. In every sense, it was a breakthrough, but more than that, At Folsom Prison is the quintessential Johnny Cash album, the place where his legend burns bright and eternal. [This Expanded Edition of At Folsom Prison added three bonus tracks to the songs included in the original 16-track LP.] AMG.

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New York Dolls - Too Much Too Soon 1974

After the clatter of their first album failed to bring them a wide audience, the New York Dolls hired producer Shadow Morton to work on the follow-up, Too Much Too Soon. The differences are apparent right from the start of the ferocious opener, "Babylon." Not only are the guitars cleaner, but the mix is dominated by waves of studio sound effects and female backing vocals. Ironically, instead of making the Dolls sound safer, all the added frills emphasize their gleeful sleaziness and reckless sound. The Dolls sound on the verge of falling apart throughout the album, as Johnny Thunders and Syl Sylvain relentlessly trade buzz-saw riffs while David Johansen sings, shouts, and sashays on top of the racket. Band originals -- including the bluesy raver "It's Too Late," the noisy girl-group pop of "Puss N' Boots," and the Thunders showcase "Chatterbox" -- are rounded out by obscure R&B and rock & roll covers tailor-made for the group. Johansen vamps throughout Leiber & Stoller's "Bad Detective," Archie Bell's "(There's Gonna Be A) Showdown," the Cadets "Stranded in the Jungle," and Sonny Boy Williamson's "Don't Start Me Talkin'," yet it's with grit and affection -- he really means it, man! The whole record collapses with the scathing "Human Being," on which a bunch of cross-dressing misfits defiantly declare that it's OK that they want too many things, 'cause they're human beings, just like you and me. Three years later, the Sex Pistols failed to come up with anything as musically visceral and dangerous. Perhaps that's why the Dolls never found their audience in the early '70s: Not only were they punk rock before punk rock was cool, but they remained weirder and more idiosyncratic than any of the bands that followed. And they rocked harder, too. AMG.

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Redbone - Redbone 1970

Redbone was a Los Angeles-based group led by Native American Pat and Lolly Vegas. They hit paydirt in 1974 with the million-seller "Come and Get Your Love." Lead singers Pat and Lolly Vegas had previously worked under their own names, appearing in the 1965 film It's a Bikini World prior to forming Redbone. Their first success as Redbone came in 1970 with "Maggie" on Epic. "The Witch Queen of New Orleans" did somewhat better the next year, and "Come and Get Your Love" gave them their largest and last hit in 1974. AMG.

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Joni Mitchell - Court and Spark 1974

Joni Mitchell reached her commercial high point with Court and Spark, a remarkably deft fusion of folk, pop, and jazz which stands as her best-selling work to date. While as unified and insightful as Blue, the album -- a concept record exploring the roles of honesty and trust in relationships, romantic and otherwise -- moves away from confessional songwriting into evocative character studies: the hit "Free Man in Paris," written about David Geffen, is a not-so-subtle dig at the machinations of the music industry, while "Raised on Robbery" offers an acutely funny look at the predatory environment of the singles bar scene. Much of Court and Spark is devoted to wary love songs: both the title cut and "Help Me," the record's most successful single, carefully measure the risks of romance, while "People's Parties" and "The Same Situation" are fraught with worry and self-doubt (standing in direct opposition to the music, which is smart, smooth, and assured from the first note to the last). AMG.

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The Herd - From The Underworld 1972

Before '70s superstardom, even before Humble Pie, Peter Frampton got his first taste of celebrity as a singer and guitarist in the Herd, who chalked up several hits in Britain in 1967 and 1968. Frampton was only 17 when the single "From the Underworld" went into the British Top Ten in late 1967; "Paradise Lost" and "I Don't Want Our Loving to Die" were hits for the group in the first half of 1968. The Herd's brand of mod was extremely commercial and good-timey- and pop-oriented, a bit like a muted and mainstream Small Faces. Much of their material (including all of the hits) was written by their management team of Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, who had supplied songs for the Honeycombs (of "Have I the Right" fame). Frampton and keyboardist Andy Bown wrote most of the band's original tunes, and one can presume that the limitations of the Herd's overtly pop approach (which sometimes encompassed MOR ballads and orchestrated arrangements) were a factor in his decision to leave for Humble Pie after the Herd had issued just one album and a few singles. After a few Frampton-less singles, the Herd scattered; Andy Bown released a few solo albums and has done session work with Frampton and Pink Floyd. AMG.

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David Bromberg - Wanted Dead Or Alive 1974

This is a reissue of Bromberg's 1974 album. Backing musicians include several members of The Grateful Dead as well as Andy Statman on mandolin and tenor sax. Some of Bromberg's strongest and best-loved material can be found here, including "The Holdup," "Danger Man," "Send Me to the 'Lectric Chair," "The New Lee Highway Blues," and Bob Dylan's "Wallflower." AMG.

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Judas Jump - Scorch 1970 - (Isle of Wight 1970)

Judas Jump was a heavy progressive rock band, with lots of Mellotron, flutes, and sax in their sound and who had the distinction of inaugurating Parlophone Records' new numbering sequence with their first (and only) album, Scorch, as PAS 10001. Their members made them a kind of U.K.-level super-group with guitarist/keyboardman Andy Bown and drummer Henry Spinetti having come from the Herd and woodwind player Alan Jones an alumnus from the Amen Corner. A trio of singles in 1969 and 1970 was followed by a rather ornately designed album that didn't get a U.S. release until 1972, when the group was already on its way into history. Their music was on the bombastic side of progressive rock, which may be one reason why it didn't succeed, as well as explain why they didn't get signed to EMI's progressive rock imprint Harvest Records. After attracting a decent amount of press, the records proved lacking and the group faded away, with Bown passing through the band Storyteller before joining Status Quo for a time. AMG.

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Kathy Smith - Some Songs I've Saved 1970 - (Isle of Wight 1970)

Originally released in 1970 on the miniscule Stormy Forrest label, Kathy Smith's Some Songs I've Saved is no lost treasure on the level of, say, Linda Perhacs' Parallelograms, no matter how much obscurantist collectors may want it to be. Stormy Forrest was Richie Havens' label, and Havens' signature blend of folk and jazz influences is all over this album musically, with flutes and upright bass alongside the acoustic guitars, strings, and Indian instruments. But Smith is not a particularly soulful or jazzy singer: indeed, if anything, she's oddly stiff and proper, over-enunciating her lyrics in songs like "Same Old Lady" like a much more mannered version of the early Judy Collins, when a looser, more rhythmically freewheeling approach would have worked better. Similarly, the songs are fine examples of the whole chamber folk school of female singer/songwriters from this era, but the arrangements are neither trippily psychedelic nor old-school Elizabethan enough to attract the full attention of the Judee Sill and Vashti Bunyan devotees one would assume to be the target audience for this reissue. At its worst, Some Songs I've Saved is merely drearily competent, and at its best (the opening "Topanga," the delicate ballad "If I Could Touch You"), it's a solid L.A. folk-rock album in the early Joni Mitchell school. Don't approach it expecting a magical lost treasure and you likely won't be disappointed, but Some Songs I've Saved is a fairly slight curio overall. AMG.

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Rosalie Sorrels - Folk songs of Idaho and Utah 1961 - (Isle of Wight 1970)

Rosalie Sorrels is a collector and performer of traditional American folk songs, but in all her music, traditional and original, there is a deeply personal vein. Sorrels' music is about loss and survival. When she was 16, she had an illegal abortion; when she was 17, she gave up a child for adoption. She married and had five children, left her husband, and struggled to raise her family alone, and then saw her eldest child take his own life. Finally, she suffered a cerebral aneurysm in 1988. Through all her suffering, Sorrels has found solace in her ability to make music, an ability that has enraptured audiences for years.

Sorrels' musical career began in the 1950s, when, as a way of alleviating the tedium of domestic life, she took a class on American folk songs while living in Salt Lake City. Work for that class resulted in her first album, Folk Songs of Utah & Idaho. Her albums since then have been a mix of traditional and original material; always sung with great passion and personal feeling, they have become increasingly autobiographical. AMG.

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David Bromberg - David Bromberg 1971 - (Isle of Wight 1970)

Years after he left Columbia University, where he majored in music, David Bromberg graduated from sideman status on his Columbia Records debut. Bromberg has paid his dues, playing guitar on Jerry Jeff Walker's chart single "Mr. Bojangles," among dozens of other recording sessions and gigs as a backup musician. Notably, he played on Bob Dylan's Self Portrait and New Morning albums, and, though uncredited, Dylan has reportedly returned the favor, contributing harmonica on this LP's searing final track, "Sammy's Song." Just before that comes the jocular highwayman romp "The Holdup," co-written by Bromberg and George Harrison, with a lead guitar part that sounds characteristic of the co-author. Those may be Bromberg's heaviest friends, but he also employs a batch of folk and country compatriots throughout the album, among them David Amram, Norman Blake, and Vassar Clements. Typical of a debut album, this one finds the artist determined to demonstrate the range of his talent, and that range extends from pop/rock to bluegrass, with lots of blues and folk-blues thrown in. Bromberg sings in a matter-of-fact style, often with a comic edge, although he also brings out pathos in such tracks as "Dehlia" and "Sammy's Song." The album seems to be a combination of live and studio recordings, the better to bring out the spirit of the music, and the musicians spark each other with lively performances. Bromberg may still be more of a player than a frontman, and more of a tradtionalist than a songwriter, but this disc presents a new wrinkle in some very familiar styles, suggesting that it's possible for an accomplished sideman to move downstage and take over the spotlight. AMG.

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Redbone - Potlatch 1970 - (Isle of Wight 1970)

Redbone was a Los Angeles-based group led by Native American Pat and Lolly Vegas. They hit paydirt in 1974 with the million-seller "Come and Get Your Love." Lead singers Pat and Lolly Vegas had previously worked under their own names, appearing in the 1965 film It's a Bikini World prior to forming Redbone. Their first success as Redbone came in 1970 with "Maggie" on Epic. "The Witch Queen of New Orleans" did somewhat better the next year, and "Come and Get Your Love" gave them their largest and last hit in 1974. Their first of six Epic releases is a strong follow-up to the self-titled debut the same year. The album-opening "Maggie" is a perfect example of their distinctive sound, a funky, highly rhythmic itch that gets under your skin. The limitations of Lolly Vegas' singing means the all-native California quartet is more adept on faster numbers, although "Alcatraz" is a touching ballad with a seldom-heard Indian perspective. The segue on "Chant: 13th Hour" from tribal chanting to Redbone-style funk predates Robbie Robertson's similar experiments by more than 20 years. AMG. Thanks to RareMp3!

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Kris Kristofferson - Kristofferson 1970 - (Isle of Wight 1970)

Kris Kristofferson was approaching his mid-thirties and had been kicking around Nashville for several years when he belatedly became an overnight success in 1969-1970. The impetus was "Me and Bobby McGee," which he co-wrote with Fred Foster, who ran Monument Records. Roger Miller cut the song, and his recording peaked in the country Top 20 in August 1969. By that time, Kristofferson had performed at the Newport Folk Festival at the behest of Johnny Cash, and Foster decided to sign him to Monument as a recording artist. Before this debut album was released in 1970, Ray Stevens had scored a pop and country chart entry with Kristofferson's "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down." AMG.

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Mighty Baby - Mighty Baby 1969 - (Isle of Wight 1970)

This hour-long CD is one of the best bodies of British psychedelia ever released. It contains the complete Mighty Baby album from Head Records, expanded to 13 tracks with the addition of five tracks cut by the Action during its 1967 transition period. The opening number, "Egyptian Tomb," sets the tone for the entire album -- in terms of content, structure, and beat, it sounds like the early Allman Brothers, or maybe the Grateful Dead in one of their harder-rocking moments, jamming with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young on an impromptu version of CSN's "Pre-Road Downs." The beauty of the original Mighty Baby album tracks is that they're psychedelia with a solid beat, none of that noodle-rock that drugged-up Brits usually engaged in. "A Friend You Know But Never See" mighthave passed muster on the Byrds' Notorious Byrd Brothers album. Other songs noodle around too much, but overall this is some of the most energetic psychedelia to come out of England, and anyone who enjoys psychedelic guitar will love Martin Stone's and Alan King's work on this album. The bonus tracks, all "lost" demos, are even better: highly rhythmic, driving rock (check out "Understanding Love") with lots of spacy guitar and tougher-than-normal flower-power introspective lyrics, with some gorgeous harmonies dressing it all up -- a near perfect meld of garage rock and psychedelic sensibilities. AMG.

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Isle of Wight 1970 - Wednesday 26th August

Roy Harper - Sophisticated Beggar 1967

Recorded under primitive circumstances and not distributed well on initial release, Harper's debut proves that the definitive cult folk-rock singer's idiosyncratic weirdness was firmly in place from the start. Mostly but not wholly acoustic, there are lingering similarities to Donovan and Bert Jansch, as well as a light similarity to Al Stewart on occasion. But Harper's scrambled lyricism is already his own, as is his peculiar melismatic phrasing. Those two traits combine to give the impression of a singer-songwriting dyslexic, not able or willing to write words that are easily digested and apparently unsequenced in any linear fashion. That isn't the most appetizing recipe, but it's leavened by fairly attractive British folk melodies and very accomplished guitar work (the liner notes infer that John Renbourn and Ritchie Blackmore helped out). Although this is largely acoustic, electric guitar and backing are used from time to time, as well as reverb and backwards effects that give it a dated charm. Certainly the most uncharacteristic arrangement is "Committed," a crunching, ominous rock tune whose first-person account of madness recalls Syd Barrett's most distraught work (and is if anything more distraught than Barrett's loony tunes). And speaking of Pink Floyd, "October 12th" makes you wonder if Harper's influence didn't find its way into the post-Syd Floyd on tunes like "Grantchester Meadows." AMG. Thanks to ChrisGoesRock.

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