Monday, January 14, 2013

Black Merda - Black Merda (1970 us, heavy funky psych blues rock)

Usually linked in with the brief explosion of "black rock" bands that followed Jimi Hendrix in the late '60s and early '70s, Black Merda's formula was a good bit more complicated than most, and their debut album blends elements of hard rock, blues, soul, folk, and embryonic funk with a tough and uncompromising political consciousness that makes the disc at once a product of its time and not quite like anything else around back in the day. 

The guitar work from Anthony Hawkins and Charles Hawkins is tough and organic, whether they're stretching out on extended blues jams such as "Over and Over" and "Windsong" or cutting some hard R&B-accented rock on "Cynthy-Ruth" and "Prophet." Bassist Vessee L. Veasy (who also contributes most of the lead vocals) and percussionist Tyrone Hite generate a lean but effective groove throughout as they jump from the streetwise soul of "Reality" to the acoustic meditation of "Think of Me." But as good as the music is on this album (and despite bland production from someone named Swan, most of it is very good indeed), what really sets it apart is the dark vibe reflected in the minor-key tenor of the melodies and the bitter realities of the lyrics. 

Grinding poverty, racism, political and social inequality, the ongoing nightmare of Vietnam, the growing schism between youth culture and the establishment, and the absence of any easy answers to the dilemmas of a nation spinning out of control dominate songs such as "Reality," "Ashamed," and "That's the Way It Goes," and the grim but wholly appropriate fable of "I Don't Want to Die" ends this album as if a lid were being slammed shut on a coffin. 

Black Merda anticipates the grim consciousness-raising session of Sly & the Family Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On, which wouldn't arrive in stores until a year after this album, and if it isn't the stark masterpiece that Sly's album was, it's good enough that this group deserves to be regarded as much more than a footnote in the black music scene of the early '70s. 
by Mark Deming
1. Prophet (Anthony Hawkins) - 2:54
2. Think of Me (Anthony Hawkins, Charles Hawkins, Tyrone Hite) - 2:33
3. Cynthy-Ruth (Roosevelt Veasey) - 3:06
4. Over and Over (Anthony Hawkins, Charles Hawkins, Tyrone Hite) - 5:33
5. Ashamed (Anthony Hawkins) - 3:52
6. Reality (Roosevelt Veasey) - 2:01
7. Windsong (Anthony Hawkins, Charles Hawkins, Tyrone Hite) - 4:14
8. Good Luck (Anthony Hawkins) - 3:46
9. That's the Way It Goes (Roosevelt Veasey) - 3:16
10.I Don't Want to Die (Anthony Hawkins, Charles Hawkins, Tyrone Hite) - 3:52
11.Set Me Free (Anthony Hawkins) - 0:43

Black Merda
*Anthony Hawkins - Guitar, Vocals
*Charles Hawkins - Guitar, Vocals
*Tyrone Hite - Drums, Vocals
*Roosevelt Veasey - Bass, Vocals

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The Aggregation - Mind Odyssey (1968 us, atmospheric psychedelic trip)

Ever since Hermann Hesse suggested back in 1927 that the cost for one admission is your mind, metaphors of magic theatres, carnivals and fun fairs have been popular among those wanting to illustrate altered states of mind. During the psychedelic 1960s the use of such symbols was so frequent and often so ignorant that the serious concept degenerated into a meaningless prop, much like what happened with incense or prayer beads. But as Hesse showed in "Steppenwolf" it is a powerful image with plenty of artistic possibilities.

One of the more remarkable uses of the "funhouse" as a metaphor for exploration of cerebral frontiers can be found on the 1969 "Mind Odyssey" LP by Los Angeles band the Aggregation. The LP is a somewhat obscure cult item today, and not many listeners are likely to realize how immediate, and ironic, the band's use of the concept is. A 5-piece of college graduates, several of which had degrees in music, the Aggregation were one of a small number of rock bands who played regularly at Disneyland. Hit covers of the day were delivered as a diversion for visiting teenagers, but the band also composed original music to work in conjunction with the rides and expositions on offer at Disneyland's "Tomorrowland".

The details behind the Aggregation signing with LHI and the work on the album can be found in the accompanying website interview, leaving us to concentrate on the resulting music. "Mind Odyssey" is a completely realized concept LP that uses a visit to an amusement park as a metaphor for an inner, ostensibly psychedelicized, journey. 

The most remarkable aspect of "Mind Odyssey" is that its' surface is deceptively similar to any number of cheesy concept LPs that appeared in the wake of "Sgt Pepper", yet if you stick around it will open up to reveal layers of elaborate composition and internal logic that surpass all those Beatles imitations, and indeed Sgt Pepper himself. The Charleston/vaudeville track is a telling example -- on the typical post-Pepper album this is a throwaway number made for no other reason than to echo "When I'm 64". When Aggregation does one it makes perfect sense, and even convinces of its need to be there, although it's unlikely to be anyone's favorite track. 

Formally trained and mature enough to understand the use of irony and intermusical references, Aggregation uncover a terrific analogy for a psychedelic experience in Disney's "Tomorrowland", and the way they proceed to deliver it makes "Mind Odyssey" one of my favorite albums from 1969. I bet old Herman Hesse would have liked it too.
by Patrick "the Lama" Lundborg
1. The Lady at the Gate (Potts. Braun. Burt. L. O'Hara) - 4:45
2. Looking for the Tour Guide (Bun, L. O'Hara) - 2:13
3. The Long Windy Tunnel (Taylor) - 6:15
4. Flying Free  (Taylor. L. O'Hara) - 3:05
5. White Light  (Taylor. L. O'Hara) - 2:00
6. In the Garden  (Burt, L. O'Hara) - 3:05
7. Reflections  (Braun) - 2:55
8. The City of Toys and Games (Gregory) - 3:23
9. Change (Burt) - 2:50
10. Life's Light (Pott,Taylor) - 6:00

The Aggregation
*Lewayne Braun - Lead, Rhythm Guitar, Vocals
*Dale Burt - Organ, Piano, Honky-Tonk, Vocal
*Bayard Gregory - Drums, Timpani, Bongos, Tambourine, Vocal
*Richard Jones - Rhythm Guitar, Vocals
*Leo Potts - Flute, Clarinet Soprano, Alto, Baritone Saxophone (Electronically Enhanced By Selmervaritone Conn Multi-Vider And Echoplex), Recorder, Kazoo, Vocals
*Bill Sissoev - Bass, Slide And Valve Trombone, Vocal
*Lemoyne Taylor - Flute, Clarinet, Alto, Tenor Saxophone (Electronically Enhanced by Selmervaritone and Music Maestro), Recorder, Slide Whistle, Vocal

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