Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Glitterhouse - Color Blind (1968 us, great psychedelic rock, Vinyl edition)



The Glitterhouse is best-known for the title song from the cult classic film Barbarella, but this is plainly an injustice. First, although featured as vocalists on that song and several others from the film’s soundtrack, the band does not play on the album and did not write any of the material. Second, and more importantly, the band released, at nearly the same time, a far superior album featuring their own playing and their own original material and it is that album—Color Blind—that is our subject here. It is one of the best American psych-pop albums of the ’60s and, other than Love’s Forever Changes, perhaps one of the few that really competes with the work of the great British psych bands.

Even among American psych bands, the Glitterhouse was unusual. For one thing, they were from New York City rather than California. For another, they were produced by a well-credentialed square, Bob Crewe, mastermind of the Four Seasons and the Godfather of easy listening. And finally, there were an interracial band—a plausible inspiration for the title of their sole LP, Color Blind.

The Glitterhouse story begins in 1965 in Great Neck, New York, where vocalist Mike Gayle, guitarist Hank Aberle and bassist Al Lax all met at a party and, shortly thereafter, formed a band called the Justice League. Signed to Epic in 1966, a single was released (“Rumplestiltskin” b/w “Ode to an Unknown Girl”), but credited—much to the band’s surprise—to the Pop Set. Later, keyboard player Moogy Klingman joined the band and, due mostly to management issues, Gayle got fed up and quit. After adding a new lead vocalist and releasing another failed single, the band broke up―but about six months later, in the fall of 1967, Gayle, Aberle, Lax and Klingman reformed, along with drummer Joel O’Brien, formerly of James Taylor’s formative band, the Flying Machine. Rolling with the tide of the Summer of Love, the group adopted the name the Glitterhouse and began playing the New York circuit.

Crewe discovered the band at a party (though he was, in fact, set up by Klingman’s father who arranged the gig as an ersatz audition) and signed them to a management and production contract. Taken into the studio almost immediately, the Glitterhouse and Crewe began work on both the Barbarella soundtrack and Color Blind. The songs sung by the Glitterhouse on Barbarella are just what who would expect: plastic, campy, easy-listening pseudo-psych. They are very enjoyable, however, with the title track especially lush and catchy.

Color Blind, though, is the real deal. The opening track, “Tinkerbell’s Mind” is the standout track on the album. A slow, descending chord progression in the verses is complemented by an ascending set-up, then a return to the descending pattern in the choruses. Swirling organ, melodic bass and great harmonies complete the track, while the lyrics are a lysergic projection into, well, the mind of Tinkerbell (the hook line: “Tinkerbells’s mind is a crazy machine at the best”). An absolute classic. “Princess of the Gingerland” opens with organ appreggios and a wordless vocal arrangement, followed by swelling organ and guitar crescendos and trippy lyrics recounting a royal morality tale (almost a trope in the genre). Again, all the vocals are excellent. “Sassafras and Cinnamon”—despite the bubblegum title—is a raga-driven pop tune that lands somewhere between the Herd and Spanky and Our Gang, though the arrangement is far more adventurous that any of the work by either of those bands. “Child of Darkness” opens with a fairly straight garage-psych feel, but gradually moves through a cycle of psychedelic musical ideas that are arranged like dominoes, never returning to the original verse or chorus material. The second side of Color Blind drops most of the psychedelic touches and offers more straightforward pop material. While not as impressive as the first side of the album, the songs, vocals, and arrangements are all excellent and, as sort of a bookend, the last track on the album, “Happy to Have You Here Again,” features two very psychedelic breaks near the end of the song.

Only one single was released from Color Blind: “Tinkerbell’s Mind” b/w “I Lost Me a Friend.” The single did fairly well in the New York area, but failed to create a stir nationally. Crewe and the Glitterhouse parted company and there were no more official releases (an unofficial comp featuring some reunion demos recorded in 1974 was released by Klingman in 2006). O’Brien went on to record sessions (including the James Taylor LP on Apple and Carole King’s Tapestry). He passed away in 2004 from liver cancer. Klingman was the original keyboardist in Todd Rundgren’s Utopia. He too has passed away, from bladder cancer in 2011. Aberle went on to become a recording engineer and luthier. Gayle participated in Glitterhouse reunions in 1974 and 2002, but then fell off the radar entirely.
by Peter Marston
Tracks
1. Tinkerbell's Mind - 4:43
2. Princess of the Gingerland - 4:24
3. Sassafrass and Cinnamon - 4:16
4. Child of Darkness (Journey of a Child Traveler) - 4:22
5. I Lost Me a Friend - 4:19
6. Times Are Getting Hard - 3:50
7. Where Have You Been Hiding - 2:25
8. Hey Woman - 3:55
9. Happy To Have You Here Again - 3:25
All songs by Michael Gayle

The Glitterhouse
*Hank Aberle - Guitar, Violin, Vocals
*Michael Gayle - Guitar, Vocals
*Al Lax - Bass, Vocals
*Mark Moogy Klingman - Kyeboards
*Joel "Bishop" O'Brien - Drums, Percussion

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Sunday, July 21, 2019

Robin Lent - Scarecrow's Journey (1971 cuba / us, wonderful acid folk rock)



Robin Lent is a Cuban born US citizen who moved to Netherlands where he recorded and relesead this solo effort in 1971, Robin later joined bands like "Robinson Cruiser" and Max'n Specs accompanied by dutch musicians. He also was part of the Dutch cast of the musical Hair. 

His solo effort "Scarecrow's Journey" is a barely played 1971 recorded on the very short lived UK nepentha record label, and it's an excellent super-rare psych-folk-prog album. 

Future Focus band members Thijs Van Leer and Jan Akkerman (also Brainbox member) play on this excellent rare album, which has become highly sought-after in collector’s circles and the music within is highly regarded by critics and fans alike.
Tracks
1. Scarecrow's Journey - 3:10
2. My Father Was A Sailor - 3:55
3. Pushboat (Traditional) - 3:32
4. Leaving Since You Came - 2:46
5. Almitra (The Love That Became Us) - 4:41
6. The Sky Has Called Us Out To Dance - 2:46
7. Waiting For The Morning - 3:35
8. Ocean Liner Woman - 2:54
9. Sea Spray - 3:22
10.Speak Softly Now (Lyrics Edwin Shaw) - 1:45
All compositions by Robin Lent except where stated

Musicians
*Robin Lent - Guitar, Harmonica, Vocals
*Jan Akkerman - Electric Guitar
*Kees Kranenburg - Percussion
*Jan Hollestelle - Bass
*Tijs Van Leer - Piano, Flute

Related Acts
1969-70  Brainbox - Brainbox (2011 Esoteric expanded)
1970  Focus - In And Out Of Focus (Japan remaster)
1971  Focus - Moving Waves (Japan remaster)
1972  Focus III  (Japan mini lp release)
1973  Focus - Live At The Rainbow (japan remaster)
1974  Focus - Hamburger Concerto  (Japan remaster)
1975  Focus - Mother Focus (Japan remaster)
1976 Focus - Ship of Memories (japan remaster) 

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Monday, May 13, 2019

Poco - Pickin' Up The Pieces (1969 us, splendid country rock, 2013 SACD)



Poco came to fruition after the breakup of Buffalo Springfield. The late Buffalo Springfield masterpiece Kind of Woman (every bit the equal of Gram Parson’s Hickory Wind), written by Richie Furay, had already provided a template for Poco’s sound. Jim Messina (a late Buffalo Springfield addition) and Furay built a group around this new, emerging country-rock sound. The lineup that recorded the above debut was Richie Furay (guitar/vocals), Jim Messina (guitar/Vocals), Rusty Young (dobro/pedal steel/organ/vocals), Randy Meisner (bass/vocals) and George Grantham (drums/vocals).

Prior to the recording sessions Poco had worked on creating a live following, a clear vision, and a strong group identity. Song for song, this 1969 debut is one of the best buys in the country-rock genre. The playing is well above average, and because of the early release date and origins of this group, Poco’s importance was understood from the very beginning.

Many of these tracks are graced with beautiful hickory smoked harmonies and plenty of fine guitar playing. I have noticed that Poco is usually labeled as a good-time effort and while this is only partially true (due to the excellent Pickin’ Up The Pieces) there are plenty of country weepers and superb hard rockers. Tracks like Tomorrow and First Love capture the group in a reflective, mellow buzz mood and are highlighted by excellent lead vocals and great steel playing. Other stellar tracks like Short Changed and Calico Lady rock really hard and give the listener a solid dose of blistering fuzz guitar. The above mentioned Pickin’ Up The Pieces captures the genre’s essence and is one of the great country-rock classics. Another classic, Make Me Smile is one of the most heartbreaking love songs you’re likely to hear, with a great guitar oriented arrangement and plenty of unique twists and turns.

Poco had already developed into a first-rate group by the time of this recording, that’s a rare thing and it’s part of what makes these songs so great and fully realized. Also of note is the group’s strong, varied songwriting. Unlike many of their country-rock/country contemporaries Poco was able to deliver an album full of well written, fully formed originals. Poco would go on to record another 4 or 5 good albums but this is their finest and one of the seminal, early country-rock lps.
by Jason Nardelli
Tracks
1. Foreword (Richie Furay, Kathy Johnson) - 0:50
2. What A Day (Rusty Young, Richie Furay) - 2:30
3. Nobody's Fool (Jim Messina, Richie Furay)3:30
4. Calico Lady (George Grantham, Skip Goodwin) - 3:05
5. First Love (George Grantham, Richie Furay) - 3:15
6. Make Me A Smile (Richie Furay) - 3:21
7. Short Changed (Richie Furay) - 3:25
8. Pickin' Up The Pieces (Richie Furay) - 3:15
9. Grand Junction (Rusty Young) - 2:55
10.Oh Yeah (Jim Messina, Richie Furay) - 4:28
11.Just In Case It Happens, Yes Indeed (Jim Messina, Richie Furay) - 2:45
12.Tomorrow (Richie Furay, Skip Goodwin) - 3:10
13.Consequently, So Long (Richie Furay, Skip Goodwin) - 3:50

Poco
*Richie Furay - 12 String  Guitar, Vocals
*George Grantham - Drums, Vocals
*Jim Messina - Guitar, Vocals
*Rusty Young - Banjo, Dobro, Pedal Steel Guitar, Organ, Piano, Vocals
With
*Randy Meisner - Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Vocals
*Bobby Doyle - Piano
*Milt Holland - Percussion

Related Act
1967  The Poor - The Poor 

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Sunday, May 12, 2019

John Hammond - Can't Beat The Kid (1975 us, awesome electric acoustic blues)



Released in 1975 on the Capricorn label. John Hammond's career goes right back to the early '60s as part of the Greenwich Village Folk scene. On this slice of audio Blues bliss, Hammond covers songs by the likes of Lightnin' Slim, Willie Dixon, Sleepy John Estes and Blind Willie McTell.
Tracks
1. Can't Beat The Kid (Eddie Hinton) - 2:19
2. It's Mighty Crazy (Otis Hicks, Jerry West) - 2:40
3. I Hate To See You Go (Walter Jacobs) - 3:01
4. It's Groovin' Time (Otis Redding, Steve Cropper) - 2:48
5. Diddley Daddy (Ellas McDaniel, Harvey Fuqua) - 3:34
6. Help Me (Sonny Boy Williamson II, Ralph Bass, Willie Dixon) - 2:18
7. Southbound Blues (W.R. Callaway, Clarence Williams) - 3:21
8. Statesboro Blues (William McTell) - 2:58
9. Terraplane Blues (Robert Johnson) - 4:44
10.Chattanooga Choo Choo (Harry Warren, Mack Gordon) - 2:12
11.Screamin' And Cryin' (Traditional) - 2:22
12.Rag Mama (Traditional) - 1:36
13.Drop Down Mama (Sleepy John Estes) - 3:26

Musicians
*John Hammond - Vocals, Electric, Slide Guitar, Harmonica
*Eddie Hinton - Guitar, Piano
*Tommy Cogbill - Bass
*Kenny Buttrey - Drums
*Spooner Oldham (Dewey Lindon Oldham, Jr.) - Piano
*Roger Hawkins - Percussion
*Randall Bramlett - Piano

1965  John Hammond - So Many Roads (2005 remaster)
1967  John Hammond - I Can Tell (with bonus tracks)
1967  John Hammond, Jr. - Mirrors (2016 remaster) 
1968  John Hammond - Sooner Or Later 
1970-72  John Hammond - Source Point / I'm Satisfied (2007 remaster)
1973  Bloomfield, Hammond, Dr.John - Triumvirate (Japan expanded edition)

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Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Fabulous Rhinestones - Freewheelin' (1973 us, fascinating groovy blues jazz brass rock, 2011 japan remaster)



Produced by Bill Szymczyk on Lang's Just Sunshine label, 1973's "Freewheelin'" offered up a first-rate set.

With all three members contributing material, tracks like 'Down To the City', 'Go with Change' and 'What Becomes of Your Life' bore more than a passing resemblance to Robert Lamm, Terry Kath and Chicago. The Brecker Brothers were even there to provide horn arrangements.  That may not seem like a very promising comparison to some folks, but I'm talking about early career Chicago when they still knew how to craft a rock song.

Perhaps no surprise to learn that Grebb late went on to play with Chicago.   With the exception of the cocktail jazzy instrumental 'Whitecaps' virtually any one of these tracks would have made a decent 45, though Just Sunshine managed to pick what was probably the least appropriate song for a single - 'Freewheelin'' b/w 'Whitecaps' (Just Sunshine catalog number #509).  Given these guys weren't the best looking trio you've every heard it might not have been a total surprise to discover the album did sell squat.  

It’s to their credit that this group didn't reprise the first album here. Yes the Rhinestones have already developed a signature sound but they've brought in an A-team of guests to flesh out some more terrific songs and the result is another big winner. Some of the distinguished guests are David Sandborn {Alto Sax}, Randy Brecker{Trumpet}, Michael Brecker {Tenor Sax} and Barry Rogers {Trumpet}. Joe Walsh programs the Arps. Of notable interest is a nice piece of jazz fusion called "Whitecaps.", It's a perfect ending to a bright and very worthy record.
by Allan J Moore
Tracks
1. Freewheelin' (Marty Grebb, Harvey Brooks, Kat McCord) - 3:07
2. Down To the City (Kal David, Marty Grebb) - 4:22 
3. Go with Change (Kal David, Marty Grebb, Harvey Brooks) - 3:55
4. What Becomes of Your Life (Marty Grebb) - 3:54
5. Vicious Circle (Kal David, Marty Grebb) - 4:46
6. Do It Like Ya Mean It (Marty Grebb, David Thomas) - 4:05
7. Roots With You Girl (Kal David, Marty Grebb, Harvey Brooks, Kat McCord) - 4:19
8. Hurt Somebody (Leon Russell) - 4:18
9. Whitecaps (Instrumental) (Marty Grebb, Harvey Brooks, Kal David, David Sanborn) - 5:30

The Fabulous Rhinestones
*Harvey Brooks - Bass, Acoustic Bass, Vocals
*Kal David - Vocals, Guitar
*Marty Grebb - Piano, Organ, Mellotron, Saxophone, Guitar, Vocals, Synthesizer
With
*Dave Sanborn - Alto Saxophone
*Kat McCord - Vocals
*Reinol Isaac "Dino" Andino - Congas
*Greg Thomas - Drums
*Dennis Whitted - Drums
*Jean "Toots" Thielemans - Harmonica
*Joe Walsh - Synthesizer
*Michael Brecker - Tenor Saxophone
*Tito Puente - Timbales
*Barry Rogers - Trombone
*Randy Brecker - Trumpet

1972  The Fabulous Rhinestones - The Fabulous Rhinestones (2011 japan)
1975  The Rhinestones - The Rhinestones (2011 korean remaster)
Related Acts
1968  Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, Steve Stills - The Super Sessions (2014 Hybrid Multichannel SACD 24/88)
1968  Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, Steve Stills - The Super Sessions (2003 remaster and expanded) 
1967  Electric Flag - The Trip
1968-69  Electric Flag - An American Music Band / A Long Time Comin'  
1968-72  The Electric Flag - Live

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Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Fabulous Rhinestones - The Fabulous Rhinestones (1972 us, marvelous blues jazz brass rock, 2011 japan extra track remaster)



In 1971 Woodstock promoter Michael Lang became interested in financing a band. The Fabulous Rhinestones carried a beefy set of blues rock numbers featuring lucid lead vocalist and guitarist Kal David. Marty Grebb on keyboards, vocal and sax, Harvey Brooks on bass, Greg Thomas on drums and Dino Andino on drowned out congas rounded out the group mixing more standards with their own original material.

The result is a cool carefree sophisticated album of first rate rock with a strong blues accent. This band has terrific chops. The rhythm section with Brooks and Greg Thomas percolates perfectly, and though Kal David's guitar solos are short they are top notch. Marty Grebb fills out the groups sound with distinctive keyboard work. Kal David's stylish vocals are truly memorable and it all adds up to a cheerful, laid back, very attractive record. 
by Allan J Moore
Tracks
1. Nothing New (Kal David) - 5:04
2. Easy As You Make It (Kal David) - 3:36
3. Just Can't Turn My Back On You (Marty Grebb) - 3:42
4. Living On My Own Time (Kal David) - 3:26
5. Free (Harvey Brooks) - 4:15
6. What A Wonderful Thing We Have (Kal David, Marty Grebb) - 4:55
7. Live It Out To The End (Harvey Brooks, Marty Grebb) - 3:41
8. Harmonize (Harvey Brooks, Marty Grebb, Reinol 'Dino' Andino) - 3:12
9. Big Indian (Kal David) - 4:03
10.Positive Direction (Marty Grebb) - 5:12
11.What A Wonderful Thing We Have (Mono Mix Bonus Track) (Kal David, Marty Grebb) - 4:53

The Fabulous Rhinestones
*Harvey Brooks - Bass
*Kal David - Lead Vocals, Lead Guitar
*Marty Grebb - Keyboards, Vocals, Bass, Saxophone
*Greg Thomas - Drums
*Reinol 'Dino' Andino - Congas
With
*Bob Pritchard - Trombone
*Terrel Eaton - Saxophone, Flute
*Ben Keith - Pedal Steel Guitar
*Paul Butterfield - Harmonica
*Stan Shafrin - Trumpet
*Jean Eley - Violin
*Harry Lookofsky - Violin
*Lewis Eley - Violin, Viola
*Hilda Harris - Vocals
*Marvin Grafton - Vocals
*Maretha Stewart - Vocals

1975  The Rhinestones - The Rhinestones (2011 korean remaster)
Related Acts
1968  Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, Steve Stills - The Super Sessions (2014 Hybrid Multichannel SACD 24/88)
1968  Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, Steve Stills - The Super Sessions (2003 remaster and expanded) 
1967  Electric Flag - The Trip
1968-69  Electric Flag - An American Music Band / A Long Time Comin'  
1968-72  The Electric Flag - Live

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Monday, May 6, 2019

The Rhinestones - The Rhinestones (1975 us, delicate funky soul jazz rock, 2011 korean remaster)



The Fabulous Rhinestones were an R&B-based band formed in San Francisco in 1971 by ex-Illinois Speed Press guitarist/singer Kal David and ex-Electric Flag (and Bob Dylan, Al Kooper, and Miles Davis) bassist Harvey Brooks. They moved to Woodstock, NY, where they played with members of the Band and some of their own fellow Chicago bluesmen, including Paul Butterfield, and were signed by producer Michael Lang -- the co-producer of the Woodstock festival -- to his own Just Sunshine label. 

The group cut three LPs over the next three years, all of which received critical raves without selling in huge numbers -- they also got considerable exposure playing on the same bill with the Allman Brothers, Stevie Wonder, and the Doobie Brothers, but their most visible gig was probably playing a 1971 antiwar rally in New York with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. They split up in the mid-'70s and David later played with Etta James, Al Kooper, and Johnny Rivers. The Fabulous Rhinestones' work has been compiled for reissue on CD in Japan in the 21st century. 
by Bruce Eder

In 1975 they dropped the Fabulous from their name but one can't remove it from their music. This is the funkiest album they made. They've stepped out of core group, did a few covers, and brought in some outside players. 

Among the many new contributers are Brian Auger [Organ], Eric Kaz [Arp String Ensemble] and Bill Curtis on congas. Kal David's vocals are super fine and the background vocals are flawless. This is just great stuff. If you like The Average White Band,Hall & Oats, or the music released on Philly International in the heyday of the 70's you are going to like this record. For the Rhinestones it's another one in the winners circle.
by Allan J Moore
Tracks
1. One Time Love (Harvey Brooks, Kal David) - 3:39
2. Ridin' Thumb (Jim Seals, Dash Crofts) - 4:42
3. Party Music (David Wolfert, Melissa Manchester) - 3:02
4. Get It Up For Love (Ned Doheny) - 3:59
5. Love Jam (Harvey Brooks, Kal David, Bob Leinbach, Arti Funaro, Eric Parker) - 2:07 
6. Another Song For You (Harvey Brooks, Marty Grebb) - 3:04
7. Love On My Mind (Harvey Brooks) - 3:57
8. Crossroads Of My Life (Eric Kaz) - 3:07
9. This Devil In Me (Harvey Brooks, Kal David) - 5:18
10.All My Love (Renaldo Benson, Val Benson, Len Perry) - 4:11
11.Party Music (Alternate Mix Without Strings) (David Wolfert, Melissa Manchester) - 3:05

The  Rhinestones
*Harvey Brooks - Bass
*Kal David - Lead Vocals, Lead Guitar
*Bob Leinbach - Keyboards, Trombone, Vocals
*Arti Funaro - Rhythm Guitar, Vocals
*Eric Parker - Drums
With
*Brian Auger - Organ
*Bill Curtis - Congas
*Marty Grebb - Melodica, Vocals
*Greg Thomas - Drums
*Daniel Ben Zebulon - Congas
*Richard Bell - Piano, Clavinet
*Paul Harris - Organ
*Billy Mundi - Drums
*Eric Kaz - ARP Strings Ensemble
*Jack Scarangella - Drums

Related Acts
1968  Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, Steve Stills - The Super Sessions (2014 Hybrid Multichannel SACD 24/88)
1968  Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, Steve Stills - The Super Sessions (2003 remaster and expanded) 
1967  Electric Flag - The Trip
1968-69  Electric Flag - An American Music Band / A Long Time Comin'  
1968-72  The Electric Flag - Live

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Sunday, May 5, 2019

The New Hobbits - Back From Middle Earth (1969 us, wonderful sunny psych)



Originally this album was to be released by Perception Records in 1969 but was shelved. It's a delightful example of orchestrated US 60's pop with a psychedelic edge very much in the mould of the other two Hobbits albums.

Back From Middle Earth, The Hobbits third and rarest psychedelic recording, appeared in 1969 on Hobbit-supremo Jimmy Curtiss¿ Perception label, an imprint that bizarrely was to include Dizzy Gillespie, Shirley Horn, Tyrone Washington, Johnny Hartman, Astrud Gilberto and even Jimmy Lunceford amongst its alumnists.

Although The Hobbits owed their name to the writings of Tolkien, there was little of The Shire about their music, which Curtiss described as ¿vocals with instrumental accompaniment¿, with the emphasis very much on sophisticated harmonies reminiscent of contemporaries such as The Cowsills and Jay And The Americans. Curtiss made his recording debut as Jimmy Curtiss & The Regents in the late ¿50s, but surprisingly Return To Middle Earth is a solid ¿60s pop album which highlights the vocal talents of Curtiss and session-singer Gini Eastwood and is completely free of any references to Curtiss¿ doowop past, as indeed are the three heavily psych-influenced 45s Curtiss produced (he also co-wrote two of the tracks) for Decca stable-mates The Bag in 1968. Exactly why The Hobbits changed their name to The New Hobbits is unclear, but this may, along with the album¿s release on Perception (the band¿s two previous efforts had both appeared on Decca) go some way to explaining why the album remained largely unknown (many Psych collectors have never seen a copy of the album), and consequently is so highly sought after today.
Blue Orchard Records
Tracks
1. You Could Have Made It Easy - 3:09
2. Growin' Old - 2:53
3. I Could Hear The Grass Growin' - 2:50
4. Comin' Out - 2:14
5. The Devils Gonna Get Me - 2:08
6. Underground - 2:35
7. Love Can Set You Free - 2:59
8. Flora - 2:51
9. Woman So Worried - 2:05

*Jimmy Curtiss - Vocals

Friday, May 3, 2019

Van Morrison - Astral Weeks (1968 northern lights, folk jazz rock MASTERPIECE, 2015 remaster and expanded)



Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” has always seemed like a fluke. In November, 1968, the irascible songwriter from Belfast released a jazz-influenced acoustic song cycle that featured minimal percussion, an upright bass, flute, harpsichord, vibraphone, strings, and stream-of-consciousness lyrics about being transported to “another time” and “another place.” The album was recorded in three sessions, with the string arrangements overdubbed later. Many of the songs were captured on the first or second take. Morrison has called the sessions that produced the album “uncanny,” adding that “it was like an alchemical kind of situation.” A decade later, Lester Bangs called the album “a mystical document” and “a beacon, a light on the far shores of the murk.” Bruce Springsteen said that it gave him “a sense of the divine.” The critic Greil Marcus equated the album to Bob Beamon’s record-shattering long-jump performance at the Mexico City Olympics, a singular achievement that was “way outside of history.”

Ryan H. Walsh’s new book, “Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968,” takes up Morrison’s sui-generis masterpiece and unearths the largely forgotten context from which it emerged. Though the songs on “Astral Weeks” were recorded in New York and are full of references to Morrison’s childhood in Northern Ireland, they were, in Walsh’s words, “planned, shaped and rehearsed in Boston and Cambridge,” where Morrison lived and performed for much of 1968. In documenting the milieu out of which the album came, Walsh also argues for Boston as an underappreciated hub of late-sixties radicalism, artistic invention, and social experimentation. The result is a complex, inquisitive, and satisfying book that illuminates and explicates the origins of “Astral Weeks” without diminishing the album’s otherworldly aura.

What was Morrison doing in Boston? The short answer is that he was hiding out. Stymied but full of ambition, the twenty-two-year-old songwriter had come to New York, in 1967, burdened by an onerous recording contract with the Bang Records producer Bert Berns, who’d worked with Morrison’s band Them, and who had also produced Morrison’s hit single “Brown Eyed Girl.” When Berns died of a heart attack, in December, the contract came under the supervision of a mobster friend of Berns named Carmine (Wassel) DeNoia. One night, Morrison, whose immigration status was tenuous at best, got into a drunken argument with DeNoia, who ended the conversation by smashing an acoustic guitar over the singer’s head. Morrison promptly married his American girlfriend, Janet Rigsbee (a.k.a. Janet Planet), and escaped to Boston.

Boston was home to the other major figure in Walsh’s book, Mel Lyman, a musician who reinvented himself as the messianic leader of a commune in the Fort Hill area of Roxbury, where he and his followers, known as the Lyman “Family,” commandeered an entire neighborhood of houses. As Walsh notes, the Fort Hill Community “attracted followers of a pedigree far more impressive than that of your run-of-the-mill sixties commune,” including Jessie Benton, the daughter of Thomas Hart Benton; Mark Frechette, the star of Michelangelo Antonioni’s film “Zabriskie Point”; Paul Williams, the founder of the music magazine Crawdaddy; two children of the novelist Kay Boyle; and Owen deLong, a former speechwriter for Robert Kennedy. Lyman controlled every aspect of life in Fort Hill. Members who had trouble following the rules might be given an LSD trip, guided by Lyman himself, or subjected to a rigged astrological reading. Commune members were also expected, among other duties, to distribute the provocative biweekly underground newspaper Avatar. Lyman died in 1978, but his death was kept secret until the mid-eighties. The Fort Hill Community, unlike so many other sixties communes, still exists.

There’s no evidence that Morrison and Lyman ever met, but their trajectories through the book operate like melodic counterpoints. With his harmonica, Lyman serenaded mournful fans who were departing the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, after Bob Dylan’s scandalous electrified set. In “Astral Weeks,” Morrison abandoned the amplified sound of his earlier work in favor of acoustic instruments. Lyman was a charismatic leader able to create and sustain a community through the force of his character. Morrison was hotheaded and irritating to many of the musicians who played with him, and he exasperated a series of managers. Both men believed fiercely in the power of their own internal visions and were propelled by the tumult of the late sixties. Each has a legacy that endures half a century later.

Walsh fills out the book with a plethora of other figures, famous and obscure, who were living in or passing through Boston during that year. There was David Silver, a Tufts University Shakespeare scholar from England, who created the wildly experimental television show “What’s Happening, Mister Silver?” “It was the first TV show that spoke to the stoned generation,” Peter Simon, the younger brother of the singer-songwriter Carly Simon, said. There were the members of the Velvet Underground, who played at the Boston Tea Party, a local rock venue, fifteen times in 1968. (Lou Reed called it “our favorite place to play in the whole country.”) There was Peter Wolf, the future front man of the J. Geils Band, who worked as a late-night disk jockey on WBCN, a free-form station that Morrison liked to call in to. Wolf’s early band, the Hallucinations, played gigs with the Velvet Underground, Howlin’ Wolf, and other notable acts in Boston. Jonathan Richman, who would found the Modern Lovers, in 1970, was in the audience for some of those shows and serves as a source for Walsh.

This flourishing of countercultural activity was not accidental. Its foundations were laid a decade earlier. Walsh writes that “in the late fifties and early sixties, Boston and Cambridge served as ground zero for both the folk music revival and the origin of the American hallucinogenic revolution.” Boston was where Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert started the Harvard Psilocybin Project, under the auspices of which they conducted experiments on the effects of psychotropic drugs. Mel Lyman took LSD at Alpert’s house. Alpert later travelled to India, returning to Boston as a spiritual guru with the name Ram Dass. His best-selling book, “Be Here Now,” published in 1971, introduced many readers to Hindu spirituality and yoga. It also inspired the George Harrison song of the same title.

The common thread among the myriad personalities and communities profiled by Walsh is a yearning for transcendence and rebirth. These are also the central themes of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks.” Morrison’s route to the spiritual plane was through music, not drugs. (A notorious drunk during his time in Boston, he is said to have eschewed dope after “burning [his] brain on hash” when he was younger.) The singer seems to have been guided by his subconscious in creating “Astral Weeks.” Some of the songs emerged from dreams and reveries. Morrison was a student of the occult who believed in automatic writing.

Morrison spent the summer of 1968 playing rock clubs, roller rinks, high-school gyms, and amusement parks across New England with a group of local musicians, under the banner the Van Morrison Controversy. While Morrison was refining the songs that would become “Astral Weeks,” a Warner Brothers executive named Joe Smith, who’d seen Morrison perform in Boston, bought his Bang Records contract from the Mob with a bag full of cash. “He was a hateful little guy,” Smith said of Morrison, “but . . . I still think he’s the best rock ’n’ roll voice out there.” Smith dispatched the producer Lewis Merenstein to audition Morrison in Boston, in September of 1968. Upon hearing him perform “Astral Weeks,” Merenstein said, “What are we wasting time for? Let’s go make a record.”

So what magic happened during those three recording sessions on West Fifty-second Street? At Merenstein’s insistence, most of the band Morrison had been touring with that summer were not invited to the studio. Instead, the producer gathered an √©lite group of session musicians, featuring the bassist Richard Davis, who had performed with Sarah Vaughan and Oscar Peterson, and the guitarist Jay Berliner, who had recorded with Harry Belafonte and Charles Mingus. Perhaps intimidated by the company he was in, Morrison skulked to the vocal booth and kept his interactions with the musicians to a minimum. Davis recalls that Morrison strummed his songs once or twice for them and then let them improvise their parts as the tapes rolled. It hardly seems like a recipe for success, but it was very much in keeping with the unstructured and unorthodox temper of the time. Merenstein and the musicians were thrilled with the results, but Morrison, ever the contrarian, had a different opinion. “They ruined it,” he said later. “They added strings. I didn’t want the strings. And they sent it to me, it was all changed. That’s not ‘Astral Weeks’.”

For the rest of us, though, it very much is.
by Jon Michaud 
Tracks
1. Astral Weeks - 7:04
2. Beside You - 5:14
3. Sweet Thing - 4:23
4. Cyprus Avenue - 6:57
5. The Way Young Lovers Do - 3:12
6. Madame George - 9:42
7. Ballerina - 7:00
8. Slim Slow Slider - 3:30
9. Beside You (Take 1) - 5:58
10.Madame George (Take 4) - 8:25
11.Ballerina (Long Version) - 8:03
12.Slim Slow Slider (Long Version) - 4:54
All selections written by Van Morrison
Bonus Tracks 9-12

Musicians
*Van Morrison - Vocals, Guitar
*Jay Berliner - Guitar
*Richard Davis - Bass
*Connie Kay - Drums
*John Payne - Flute, Soprano Saxophone
*Warren Smith Jr – Percussion, Vibraphone

1967  Blowin' Your Mind! (extra tracks edition)
1971  Tupelo Honey (Japan SHM remaster)
1973  Van Morrison - Hard Nose The Highway
1974  It's Too Late To Stop Now (Japan SHM remaster)
1974  Veedon Fleece  (Japan SHM remaster)
with Them
1964-66  The Story Of Them (two discs set)

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Thursday, May 2, 2019

Gonzalez - Our Only Weapon Is Our Music (1975 uk, wonderful funky jazz brass rock, 2009 japan remaster with bonus tracks)



The songs on this album, that comprise this horn dominated and tightly rhythmed outfit from England carry a pageful of impressive credits that surface in the music on the group's second release.

Soulful and smoothly energized Gonzalez selections are both punchy and lyrical, resulting in an optimistic tone and uplifting delivery pushed even further by the velvet vocal harmonies. 
Tracks
1. Got My Eye On You (Bob Marshall, John Miles) - 3:23
2. Da Me La Cosa Caramba (Larry Steele, Roy Davies) - 4:41
3. The Love You've Given Me (Jerome Rimson) - 3:21
4. Ain't It Funny (Gordon Hunte) - 3:20
5. Rissoled (Gonzalez) - 3:27
6. Nothing Ever Comes That Easy (Mike Finesilver) - 3:56
7. Ahwai Five-O (Robert Ahwai) - 3:38
8. D.N.S. (Gordon Hunte, Lenny Zakatek) - 4:13
9. Love Me, Love Me Not (Gordon Hunte, Lenny Zakatek) - 3:40
10.Our Only Weapon Is Our Music (Chris Mercer) - 2:59
11.Just My Imaginations (Norman Whitfield, Barry Strong) - 5:59
12.Leave Old Dreams (Roy Davies) - 4:40
13.Neptune (E. Reid) - 5:51
14.Tribute To Puente (Gonzalez) - 6:04
15.Virgin Flight (Roy Davies) - 7:57

Personnel
*Robert Ahwai - Guitar, Soloist
*Bud Beadle - Flute, Baritone, Soprano Sax
*Ron Carthy - Trumpet
*Roy Davies - Keyboards
*Mick Eve - Tenor Sax
*Ken Freeman - Synthesizer
*Steve Gregory - Flute, Alto Sax
*Malcolm Griffiths - Trombone
*Gordon Hunte - Guitar
*Glen Lefleur - Drums
*Godfrey McLean - Percussion
*Chris Mercer - Tenor Sax
*Allan Sharpe - Percussion
*Larry Steele - Bass, Vocals
*Bobby Stignac - Congas
*Viola Wills - Vocals
*Lenny Zakatek - Vocals

1974  Gonzalez - Gonzalez (2009 Japan extra tracks remaster) 

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