Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Coupla Prog - Death Is A Great Gambler (1972 germany, remarkable psych prog krautrock, 2002 remaster)

1971 was a fateful year for Coupla Prog as singer and guitarist Rolf Peters died of a sleeping-pill and alcohol overdose. As the band's main musical influence and songwriter he left a huge gap that the other musicians were at first unable to fill asking themselves whether Coupla Prog should continue or split.

It took the remaining members, Wolfgang Schindhelm (organ, piano, and vocals), Reiner Niketta (bass, organ and piano) und Hubert Donauer (drums), a few months to get to grips with the shock of their loss. They decided to have a go anyway and recruited a friend of Schindhelm's, Walter Kummich, as the new guitarist. Vocals were shared between Schindhelm and Niketta who had started writing new material together. At the end of the year the band was ready to play a live set of new and old material. It was also time to go into the studio and it was a great help to Coupla Prog that they were, together with Fashion Pink (Long Hair LHC 3), one of SWF Producer Walther Krause's favourite bands, resulting in him booking the band into SWF's studio. In the meantime drummer and founding member Donauer left the band and for the SWF-Studio U1 session on 18. 02. 1972 Reinhold Hirt, who has since made a career as a professional musician (amongst others Hubert K.), was drafted in.

With this line-up Coupla Prog recorded four songs which form the basis of this CD. One of the most outstanding tracks on the CD is the 18 minute long title track "Death Is A Great Gambler ...", a true emotive, dynamic and hypnotic masterpiece of psychedelic underground rock dedicated to Rolf Peters. The rest of the tracks on the CD are made up of a previously unreleased SWF session from 16. 02. 1970, with a highly individual interpretation of Donovan's "Season Of The Witch". Also included on this CD is "Your Time Has Come", an early version of "Pamphlet To Mr. M. Thompson" which appears on Coupla Prog's rock opera Edmundo Lopez.

This CD rounds off the SWF produced Coupla Prog trilogy. Further information about the band can be obtained by purchasing the following CDs: Coupla Prog "Sprite" SWF-Session Vol. 2 (Long Hair LHC 2) and "Edmundo Lopez" SWF-Session Vol. 4 (Long Hair LHC 4).

"Sprite" includes three of five tracks from the first SWF session (26.02.1970) and all four tracks from the third recording session (16. 04. 1971). The usage of the term "session" does not stand for spontaneous improvisation (although some of the tracks last over twelve minutes!) but describes the circumstances and conditions that Coupla Prog had to put up with at these radio sessions. All of the tracks were recorded live in the studio with no possibility for overdubbing and editing. The best tracks were then chosen for broadcast. "Sprite" was first released in September 2000 to the acclaim of underground and progressive rock fans.

Finding these wonderful recordings from a mainly unknown band could be compared with striking gold. The quality of the music has been widely celebrated in the media: Oldie Markt (04/02): Listening to the quality of this record it is hard to understand why the record companies didn't give this band a chance.

Good Times (04/01): Referring to the song "Ode To The Vanilla Fudge" Coupla Prog were a cross between the American band of the same name via a musical slaughtering of classic Stax soul such as Arthur Conley's "I Wanna Be Free" best known in Europe in a grooving version by the VIPs to their own long wild and dreamy compositions such as "Auf dass er sich im Grabe umdrehe" (engl. that he would turn in his grave) "Edmundo Lopez", Coupla Prog/s masterpiece, recorded on the 16.07.1970, is a German rock opera about a young South American who escaped military service by fleeing to the mountain calling on others to desert. Good Times (04/01) compared the band to The Doors and The Nice and Wolfgang Schindhelm's vocals to Jim Morrison. The 60 minutes were recorded "live" in the studio in two takes. The recordings were then offered to the label Liberty (Amon Duul 2, Can etc.) and inexplicably refused.

It is left up to every listener themselves to judge Coupla Progs significance within the German underground and progressive rock scene. For LONG HAIR the band is an enrichment within this genre. Many thanks to SWF for producing, archiving and licensing these recordings.
by Manfred Steinheuer, November 2002 
1. Chandra (Wolfgang Schindhelm) - 6:30
2. That's The Way It Goes (Wolfgang Schindhelm) - 4:12
3. Tochter Im Delirium / Daughter's Delirium (Reiner Niketta) - 9:15
4. Death Is A Great Gambler But If I Win, Finally I Can Die (Reiner Niketta) - 18:34
5. Your Time Has Come (Rolf Peters) - 4:25
6. Season Of The Witch (Donovan Leitch) - 13:47

Coupla Prog
*Hubert Donauer - Drums
*Rolf Peters - Guitar, Vocals
*Reiner Niketta - Bass, Organ, Piano, Vocals
*Wolfgang Schindhelm - Organ, Piano, Vocals
*Reinhold Hirt - Drums
*Walter Kummich - Guitar

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

T. Rex - T. Rex (1970 uk, stunning psych folk boogie glam rock, 2014 double disc deluxe edition)

Amazingly, it all comes out rock and roll; there's no questioning it. But rock and roll with lyrics dealing with such subjects as wizards, Druids, and a Liquid Poetess in a buckskin dress. Bolan is clearly infatuated with mysticism, as well as the pure sounds of the English language.

It's difficult to isolate any one or two songs as being special favorites; "One Inch Rock" is fun, beginning instrumentally like a big band swing piece (all on guitars, percussion and vocals) and then turning into an easy little rock number. "Seagull Woman," with backing vocals by Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, sounds as though it were pulled from about a dozen different Beatles songs, but without being anything like any one. "The Wizard" is the longest piece on the album, at about eight minutes, but interest is sustained nicely through changes in mood.

One of the most fascinating aspects of T. Rex is their ability to intermix vocal and instrumental sounds — the voices often go into a feedback guitar imitation. It's not the kind of trick every group should try.

One sour note is sounded by Tony Visconti's string arrangements, applied here and there by what sounds like a rusty old Mellotron in an unnecessary effort to "fatten up the tracks." The sound would have been a lot cleaner without their addition.

Everything good about the album can be found on the single "Ride a White Swan" which would have been a hit except by the time Blue Thumb found out what a great record it was, they'd released the group to Warner's. So the single is out on Blue Thumb (and shrink-wrapped in special copies of A Beard of Stars) and the same cut is found on the Reprise album. But you should try to find the single, because the B side is a T. Rexy version of "Summertime Blues" that doesn't sound a whole lot like the Who's but which will give you an even better idea of what Bolan and Finn are up to.

And, as a last thought, the Dumb Packaging of the Year award should go to Graphreaks, who designed, and Warners/Reprise, who are selling, the current album. When you break the shrink wrap to get at the record, the cover separates into two pieces. One's a nice picture of Marc and Micky, if you're into such things, and has the words to about half the songs on the back. The other piece is the actual jacket, and features the other half of the lyrics. There is no way, short of staples, glue or rubber bands, of keeping the two halves together. Boo!
by Todd Everett, July 22, 1971
Disc 1 The Original Album / Singles A & B Sides / BBC Sessions
1. The Children Of Rarn - 0:53
2. Jewel - 2:46
3. The Visit - 1:55
4. Childe - 1:36
5. The Time Of Love Is Now - 2:42
6. Diamond Meadows - 1:58
7. Root Of Star - 2:31
8. Beltane Walk - 2:26
9. Is It Love? - 2:34
10.One Inch Rock - 2:26
11.Summer Deep - 1:43
12.Seagull Woman - 2:18
13.Suneye - 2:06
14.The Wizard - 8:50
15.The Children Of Rarn - 0:36
16.Ride A White Swan (Single 'A' Side) - 2:30
17.Summertime Blues (Single 'B' Side) - 2:42
18.Jewel (Bbc Radio One, Top Gear) - 3:30
19.Woodland Bop Medley (BBC Radio One - In Concert) - 6:27
20.Beltane Walk (Backing Track, Bbc Radio One Club) - 2:23
21.Summertime Blues (BBC Radio One, Dlt Show) - 3:30
Bonus Tracks 16-21
Disc 2 Home Demos And Alternate Takes
1. The Children Of Rarn (Suite) - 15:21
2. Jewel - 3:34
3. The Visit - 2:14
4. The Time Of Love Is Now - 2:45
5. Diamond Meadows - 2:09
6. Root Of Star - 2:34
7. Beltane Walk - 2:23
8. Is It Love? - 2:36
9. One Inch Rock - 2:23
10.Summer Deep - 1:47
11.Seagull Woman - 2:25
12.Suneye - 2:00
13.The Wizard - 8:40
14.The Children Of Rarn - 0:52
15.Ride A White Swan (Top Of The Pops: 10th November 1970) - 2:35
16.Dark Lipped Woman (Home Demo) - 1:29
17.Deep Summer - 4:42
18.Meadows Of The Sea (Electric Demo) - 4:22
All songs by Marc Bolan

*Marc Bolan - Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Organ
*Mickey Finn - Bass, Drums, Pixiphone, Vocals
*Tony Visconti - Piano, String Arrangements, Production
*Howard Kaylan - Background Vocals
*Mark Volman - Background Vocals

1970  Tyrannosaurus Rex - A Beard Of Stars (2014 deluxe double disc edition)
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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Nobody's Business - Nobody's Business (1978 uk / us, solid hard groovin classic rock, 2007 bonus tracks remaster)

In the sleeve notes of Angel Air's reissue of Nobody's Business' sole, self-titled album, Tony Stevens explains that the group formed in response to "the need for a new and original rock band that could really play." The year was 1977, and he couldn't have been more wrong. The last thing the world, least of all Britain, needed was a new conglomerate of old rockers touting a warmed-over mixture of classic blues-splashed rock and funk. Outside the U.K. it might have been different, for the band certainly had the pedigree to excite attention.

Bassist Stevens had been a stalwart of both Savoy Brown and Foghat, while lead vocalist/percussionist Bobby Harrison was a founding member of Procol Harum, Freedom, and Snafu. The American members' pasts were less illustrious, but still intriguing. Guitarist Joe "Jammer" Wright began his career as a roadie in the '60s for some of rock's greatest legends, before moving into session work. Drummer Jerry Frank, brought in to replace original Business man Reg Isadore, had spanned the musical spectrum, from soul band the Babysitters to country-popper Gary Smith. 

The sleeve notes explain in detail how it all went wrong, with the album receiving only a Japanese release. But if Nobody's Business' timing was off back then, it may be nigh on perfect now. The set is tight, the music exciting, and the band's hybrid style is all the fashion at the moment. The moody, blues-laced "Losing You" and haunting "Unsettled Dust" should work a treat with the neo-proggers, the storming "Cut in Two" and stomping "Bleed Me Dry" equally so with the hard rockers, and "Living Up to Love" and "Doing the Best I Can" should appeal to the urban-funk crowds. "Looks Like I'm in Love" will boogie it big time in the frat houses, while the title track should easily cross over, much like Humble Pie did long ago. If an edited cut of that isn't the first choice for airplay, then the driving "Highway," one of a trio of bonus tracks, is the obvious choice.
by Jo-Ann Greene
1. Bleed Me Dry (Bobby Harrison, William Wright, Jerry Frank, Tony Stevens) - 4:25
2. Tell Me You Love Me (William Wright) - 2:59
3. Losing You (Bobby Harrison, Schaffer) -   4:23
4. Cut In Two (William Wright, Bobby Harrison) -   3:20
5. Living Up To Love (William Wright) - 3:09
6. Looks Like I'm In Love (William Wright) - 2:55
7. Unsettled Dust (Bobby Harrison, Tim Hinkley) - 6:10
8. White Boy Blue (William Wright) - 2:45
9. Doing The Best I Can (William Wright) - 3:26
10.Nobody's Business (Bobby Harrison, William Wright, Jerry Frank, Tony Stevens) - 3:23
11.Rainbow Bend (Bobby Harrison) - 3:14
12.Crucifer (Bobby Harrison, Tony Stevens) - 4:03
13.Highway (Bobby Harrison, Tony Stevens) - 3:29
Bonus Tracks 11-13

Nobodys Business
*Jerry Frank - Drums, Percussion, Vocals
*Bobby Harrison - Congas, Percussion, Vocals
*Joe Jammer (William Wright) - Guitar, Vocals
*Tony Stevens - Bass, Vocals

Related Acts
1969  Freedom - Freedom At Last (2004 remaster)
1969 Nero Su Bianco / Black On White
1970  Freedom
1972  Is More Than A Word
1973-74  Snafu - Snafu / Situation Normal
1969  Savoy Brown - Blue Matter (2004 remaster and expanded)
1969-70  Savoy Brown - Raw Sienna / Looking In
1972  Foghat - Foghat (Japan Remaster)
1973  Foghat - Rock And Roll (Japan Remaster)
1974  Foghat - Energized (Japan Remaster)
1974  Foghat - Rock And Roll Outlaws (Japan remaster)

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Friday, February 23, 2018

Tyrannosaurus Rex - A Beard Of Stars (1970 uk, enormous psych folk rock, 2014 deluxe double disc edition)

This fourth album, which Marc Bolan released in 1970 under his Tyrannosaurus Rex incarnation, introduced fans to new percussionist Mickey Finn, and is furthermore notable for being the first album on which Bolan used electric guitars.

Now available as a new 2-CD Deluxe Edition, complete with new sleeve notes from Mark Paytress, A Beard Of Stars captures the transitional moment between Marc’s star child and boppin’ elf periods… an artist as yet galaxies away from the glam rock sound that would catapult him to super-stardom.

With new musical partner Mick Finn in tow (after having had a fallout with previous percussionist Steve Peregrin Took), and with the sole agenda in mind to move one step closer to international success, the album is comprised mostly of folky psychedelic tunes seemingly concocted in the realms of Tolkien land, while on the other hand sharp e-guitar riffs set an unexpected contrast to the usual airy-fairy vibe Bolan’s music was known for.

The instrumental Prelude is a warm sounding intro, with an e-guitar play that remains understated… just as A Day Laye remains folky, with a hippy-dippy air to it and some fine catchy hooks.

Woodland Bop comes on rather unsettled in structure, while the more melodious Fist Heart Mighty Dawn Dart makes more use of e-guitar sounds, and certainly does so by picking it sharply during Pavilions Of Sun.

First real highlight turns out to be By The Light Of The Magical Moon – a thoroughly accessible and surprisingly poppy sing-along number with a choppy and upbeat rhythm.

Wind Cheetah appears almost gloomy by comparison – this one must have been composed in Mordor…

Thankfully, the electric guitar derived title track A Beard Of Stars bounces the listener back to groovier places (in the head at least), with the bongo play upping the happy factor.

Lofty Skies is a pleasant enough love song interspersed with guitar twangs, though the ground doesn’t exactly shake upon listening to it.

We still get Marc the cosmic warbler on Dove, but oh boy what a changes are unleashed when he lets rip on closing number Elemental Child! Fuzzed up guitar riffs are delivered hard and edgy, and are obviously inspired by Hendrix. This track definitely offers a taste of the style and direction future Bolan compositions would take, while the album itself proved to be Bolan’s farewell to his mysticism-laden 60’s sounds.

Disc One, the original album, furthermore contains some Bonus Tracks incl. B-side single Find A Little Wood, as well as John Peel BBC Sessions.

Disc Two contains 27 songs including 12 previously unreleased home demos, and 4 previously unreleased alternate takes from the Trident Studio sessions which produced the album. The outtakes, many previously unreleased, has been handpicked by T. Rexpert Clive Zone - who also provides memorabilia for the booklet. 
by Claudia A
Disc 1 The Original Album 
1. Prelude - 1:05
2. A Daye Laye - 1:56
3. Woodland Bop - 1:39
4. Fist Heart Mighty Dawn Dart - 2:45
5. Pavilions Of Sun - 2:49
6. Organ Blues - 2:48
7. By The Light Of A Magical Moon - 2:51
8. Wind Cheetah - 2:38
9. A Beard Of Stars - 1:37
10.Great Horse - 1:45
11.Dragon's Ear - 2:37
12.Lofty Skies - 2:54
13.Dove - 2:05
14.Elemental Child - 5:33
15.Find A Little Wood (Single B-Side) - 2:04
16.Fist Heart Mighty Dawn Dart (BBC Radio One, Top Gear: 17th November 1969) - 2:43
17.Pavilions Of Sun (BBC Radio One, Top Gear: 17th November 1969) - 2:51
18.A Daye Laye (BBC Radio One, Top Gear: 17th November 1969) - 2:01
19.By The Light Of A Magical Moon (BBC Radio One, Top Gear: 17th November 1969) - 2:47
20.Wind Cheetah (BBC Radio One, Top Gear: 17th November 1969) - 2:35
All songs by Marc Bolan
Bonus Tracks 15-20
Disc 2 Home Demos And Alternate Takes
1. Fist Heart Mighty Dawn Dart (Home Demo Take 1) - 2:35
2. Organ Blues (Home Demo Take 1) - 2:51
3. A Daye Laye (Home Demo Take 1) - 2:00
4. Lofty Skies (Alternative Home Demo) - 0:51
5. Organ Blues (Home Demo Take 2) - 1:33
6. Black Cat Sittin' On My Shoulder (Home Demo Take 1) - 1:28
7. Instrumental (Guitar And Organ Home Demo) - 1:23
8. Pavilions Of Sun (Home Demo 1) - 2:32
9. I Got The Blues So Bad (Home Demo) - 1:15
10.By The Light Of A Magical Moon (Home Demo) - 2:58
11.Find A Little Wood (Home Demo) - 2:04
12.Great Horse (Home Demo) - 2:04
13.Wind Cheetah (Home Demo) - 1:39
14.Pavilions Of Sun (Home Demo Take 2) - 2:31
15.Elemental Child (Home Demo) - 2:51
16.Black Cat Sittin' On My Shoulder (Home Demo Take 2) - 1:32
17.Fist Heart Mighty Dawn Dart (Home Demo 2) - 2:09
18.Oh Baby (Home Demo) - 2:42
19.Prelude (Alternative Take 1) - 1:14
20.Dove (Alternative Take) - 2:07
21.Dragon's Ear Parts One And Two (Take 2) - 2:35
22.A Beard Of Stars (Alternative Take 1) - 1:42
23.Organ Blues (Alternative Take) - 3:34
24.Lofty Skies (Alternative Take) - 3:01
25.By The Light Of A Magical Moon (Instrumental) - 3:07
26.Elemental Child Part I (Alternative Take) - 2:19
27.Elemental Child Part II (Alternative Take) - 3:33
All songs by Marc Bolan

*Marc Bolan - Vocals, Guitar, Organ, Bass
*Mickey Finn - Backing Vocals, Moroccan Clay Drums, Table, Bass, Finger Cymbals

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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Frankie Miller Band - The Rock (1975 uk, splendid pub classic rock, 2003 remaster and expanded)

Unlike his first two albums Frankie Miller’s third album “The Rock” featured his own backing band so was marketed as being by The Frankie Miller Band rather than as a solo release. Recorded in sight of the famous Alcatraz prison during the first half of 1975 it still contains certain elements of those first two albums “Once In A Blue Moon” and “Highlife”. It is testament to Miller’s skill as a songwriter and vocalist that the basic pub rock of that opening album, the laid back New Orleans soul of “Highlife” and the country tinged rock and blues of The Frankie Miller Band all blend together so seamlessly on “The Rock”. 

The band itself featured Henry McCullough on guitar, Chrissy Stewart on bass, Mick Weaver on the keyboards and Stu Perry on the drums. All of whom already had illustrious CV’s to their name. The “Highlife” style soul feel was provided by no less a talent than The Memphis Horns and the Edwin Hawkins Singers of ‘Oh Happy Day’ fame. Add to that a backing vocal appearance by James Dewar vocalist with Robin Trower and it is no wonder “The Rock” is such a solid and consistent effort. The production duties were handled by Elliot Mazer who had been involved in the recording of Neil Young’s “Harvest” a few years previously. As he had been with the previous years album “Highlife” Miller was critical of the final mix and production sound, feeling that it lacked the real live feel that he desired. 

A couple of years earlier Miller and former Free bassist and songwriter Andy Fraser had attempted to put a band together but despite spending several months in the studio they never managed to get anything solid going. What they did achieve though was to form a lifelong friendship and a great song writing partnership. ‘A Fool In Love’ was one of the tracks that came from those sessions and that gets “The Rock” off to an explosive start. Miller’s vocal kicks in virtually as the track begins and the gritty delivery is reminiscent of the first album whilst the horns and backing vocals are more akin to something from the second album. The influence of Fraser gives the song a real feeling of being a band song rather than that of a solo performer and also adds a commercial flavour showing that he was never the junior partner in the main song writing team with Paul Rodgers in Free. It provided Miller with his first considerable success in America and was later covered by Delbert McClinton, Etta James and UK rockers UFO to name but three. 

Second track ‘The Heartbreak’ is a slower struttier track with a good mix of rock, blues and soul feeling in both the vocal and the musical backing. The piano underneath the vocal drives the song along nicely and a decent guitar and organ solo along with some typically classy horn work all blend together to make it a real stand out track. It is almost a precursor to Miller’s rockier albums of the eighties. 

The title track is next up and gets the toe tapping straight away with its country rock flavoured tinge. A twangy guitar, some bar room boogie woogie piano and gospel backing vocals all compliment Miller’s easy vocal and it really should have provided him with his first major hit. The song itself was inspired by the sight of Alcatraz from the recording studio and Miller’s belief that were it not for music he would probably have ended up in somewhere similar. Subsequently the album was dedicated “ …to the plight of prisoners ….”. The Frankie Miller Band actually played a gig in promotion of the album at San Quentin jail where Johnny Cash recorded his famous live album.

The second of the tracks resurrected from the Rumbledown Band sessions with Andy Fraser ‘I Know Why The Sun Don’t Shine’ slows things down considerably. A gradually building brooding blues it is a little slower and more of a stripped back basic blues than the original Rumbledown Band recording which featured Paul Kossoff on guitar and eventually surfaced on the Paul Kossoff compilation album “Blue Soul” in the mid eighties. Although Henry McCullough is a fine guitarist and puts in a typically classy performance it is difficult not to prefer the faster and more soulful Rumbledown Band version with Kossoff. 

The first half of the album ends with ‘Hard On The Levee’ which despite being one of the lesser cuts on the album is still a mighty fine piece of work. It was an integral part of the live set and gives a clear indication of the direction Miller would go in with his next album “Full House”. 

One of Miller’s most loved, and most covered, songs ‘Ain’t Got No Money’ gets the second half of the album off to the same high standard as the first. A live favourite it is classic Miller and has claims to be the best bar room stomp track of all time. The song has a no frills fast paced approach with some more great boogie woogie piano, frenetic drumming, another tasteful solo and even a bit of cowbell unless I am very much mistaken. Throw on top of that a dirty gritty Miller vocal and you have something which is impossible to fault. The track has been covered by such diverse acts as  Chris Farlowe, Bob Seger and Cher. Having never heard the Cher version I can’t comment on it but I would assume there were a few lyrical changes. The Seger version is pretty true to the original albeit with more of an American country feel. Segar is often compared to Miller stateside and openly cites Miller as a huge influence. 

‘All My Love To You’ displays Miller’s more soulful side and is very Otis Redding/Arthur Conley like vocally. A Miller composition it has the feel of an old time soul track and it is not difficult to imagine it being belted out by those soul greats Miller admired so much. The Memphis Horns give the whole thing a great authenticity and Miller’s vocal is as good as any of those he admired. 

Things quicken up again for ‘I’m Old Enough’ which features a typically well thought out Miller lyric over a bouncy fast paced rock beat. Some simple but effective guitar and more classy ivory tinkling add to the track nicely and the whole thing has a great sing-along feel. As with the earlier faster tracks Miller’s vocal is full of grit and attitude. An edited version was released as a single but failed to trouble the judges although that didn’t stop the French Elvis, Johnny Halladay, trying with his own version. 

The final two tracks of the album take us back to Miller’s roots in Scotland. ‘Bridgeton’ is named after the area of Glasgow he came from and is another slower brooding track which builds nicely and tells the tale of Miller’s days there. The guitar has a dobro or even steel feel in places and there is even something which sounds uncannily like bagpipes although there is no suggestion of either in the sleeve notes so I am guessing it must be an organ effect. Whether that is the case or not the more obvious organ work is one of the highlights., as is the very sing able vocal melody.

The title of the final track ‘Drunken Nights in The City’ is pretty explanatory and tells the tale of Miller’s nights of heavy drinking with Celtic footballer Jimmy Johnstone. Miller is an avid Celtic fan and often wore a Celtic shirt on stage. The track itself is a simple vocal over an acoustic guitar. On live performances Miller would often play the song alone and the guitar playing here sounds like it is Miller rather than McCullough. The vocal also has a feel of being recorded after a decent amount of alcohol had been consumed. This gives it a very authentic feel and is either a great display of vocal acting by Miller or totally authentic. Having seen a few live shows my money would be on the latter ! 

Despite being released to critical acclaim ‘The Rock’ like its predecessors failed to shift a huge number of units but the American tour to promote the album was a huge success and they regularly went down better than the acts they opened for. A UK tour with Rory Gallagher was not as successful though as guitarist McCullough was pre-occupied with recording his solo album and eventually the band began to fall apart. A disconsolate Miller went off to Holland to sing with old mates Procul Harum. 

For me “The Rock” is the album where the final pieces of the Frankie Miller sound and style came together. The basic pub rock elements of the first album and the smooth laid back vibe of the Toussaint collaboration are both evident throughout but have now been married together with a bluesy soulful band feel and a smidgeon of American country commerciality. This was very much the blueprint for his next venture “Frankie Miller’s Full House”, a band which encompassed the sound and styles of his first three albums into one tight unit and finally delivered the chart success he deserved.
by Martin Leedham, July 7, 2012
1. A Fool In Love (Frankie Miller, Andy Fraser) - 3:05
2. The Heartbreak - 4:03
3. The Rock - 3:33
4. I Know Why The Sun Don't Shine - 6:01
5. Hard On The Levee - 3:17
6. Ain't Got No Money - 2:55
7. All My Love To You - 5:37
8. I'm Old Enough - 4:51
9. Bridgeton - 4:47
10.Drunken Nights In The City - 3:54
11.Hard On The Levee (Live) - 3:27
12.Sail Away (Live) (Randy Newman) - 5:12
13.Drunken Nights (Live) - 5:25
14.Walking The Dog (Live) (Rufus Thomas) - 6:11
All songs written by Frankie Miller except where stated
Bonus Tracks 11-14

The Frankie Miller Band
*Frankie Miller - Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
*Henry McCullough - Lead Guitar, Vocals
*Chrissy Stewart - Bass
*Mick Weaver - Keyboards
*Stu Perry - Drums, Percussion
*The Memphis Horns - Horns

1972  Frankie Miller - Once In A Blue Moon (2013 japan remaster)
1974  Frankie Miller - High Life (2003 extra tracks remaster) 
Related Act
1969  Eire Apparent - Sunrise (2010 remaster) 

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Frankie Miller - High Life (1974 uk, excellent pub soulful classic rock, 2003 extra tracks remaster)

After Frankie Miller had recorded his debut album “Once in a Blue Moon”, with pub rockers Brinsley Schwartz, record company Chrysalis decided that what he really needed to bring out the best in his talents was a producer. Miller suggested three, Phil Spector, Jerry Wexler and Allen Toussaint. Never really believing any of them would come to fruition Miller told them his preferred choice was Toussaint. Chrysalis duly shipped a copy of the first album over for Toussaint to hear, without any great expectation of agreement. At that point Toussaint had never worked with a white artist, let alone on an unknown one. Toussaint however was more than a little impressed with Millers soulful delivery and Miller was soon booked on a flight.

The result was the album “Highlife”. An album which many believe to be Frankie Miller’s finest but which he subsequently disowned after Chrysalis ordered a complete remix after the album was recorded. There is no doubt that Miller’s vocal performance is top notch throughout but you also get the feeling that the final sound is just a little too polished and he is a little too high in the mix. The original mix had, on Millers request, been left as rough and gritty around the edges as possible but Chrysalis insisted it was given a ‘Philly’ mix. A sound which Miller hated.

Songs wise the album is a mixture of Miller and Toussaint originals and includes three original versions of Toussaint compositions that went on to be hits for others. Namely ‘Brickyard Blues’ for Three Dog Night, ‘Shoo-Rah’ for Betty Wright and ‘I’ll Take a Melody’ for Hues Corporation.

The title track which opens the album is surely one of the most criminally short songs ever recorded. Quite why it wasn’t extended to the length of a proper song is beyond me. At only 58 seconds it can barely count as anything more than an introduction. Despite this it sets the mood perfectly so maybe that was indeed the intention. Toussaints simple piano intro doesn’t hint on whats to come with ‘Brickyard Blues’ though as Miller launches into a fully fledged soulful blues soaked vocal. It is not difficult to see why he was being referred to as the white Otis Redding by many. An acoustic guitar leads into a more country and rocky track ‘Trouble’. The organ solo is perhaps a little too understated and this is surely one of the songs that would have benefited from a punchier mix. The same can be said of ‘A Fool’. Although to be fair this one does at least feature a more prominent guitar and horn sound in the solo and instrumental passages. Miller is still too high in the mix though throughout the verses and chorus. The organ is back to the fore for ‘Little Angel’. A song which is very reminiscent of the style Millers career would take on his “Full House” and “Falling In Love” albums of the late seventies. Toussaints ‘With You In Mind’ was another perfect opportunity for Miller to emphasise his natural ability to deliver a blues soul vocal with a raw gritty edge. Also recorded by Gladys Knight and Aaron Neville amongst others, Toussaint still maintains this Miller version is the best.

‘The Devil Gun’ written by Miller is the track that is closest to those he recorded later in his career and is the one that straight rock and blues lovers will like the most. Almost a blueprint for the 1975 album “The Rock” it is by far the rockiest track on the album. It is also arguably the best. ‘I’ll Take a Melody’ follows and Miller has quite openly stated that he didn’t really think much of it as a song. That is certainly not evident in his performance though although I’ll agree that the end section may go on just a little too long. ‘Just a Song’ probably has the nicest melody on the album. It starts with a simple vocal over a piano before the horns and the backing vocalists come in for the chorus. It is probably my favourite track, despite most people overlooking it. Like ‘Highlife’ I would have liked to have seen it extended a little longer. ‘Shoo-Rah’ ups the tempo considerably and has a great horn break in the middle. It is a country mile better than the Betty Wright version …. and that was pretty good ! The closing ‘Falling In Love Again’ displays Miller at his gritty best. A build up not dis-similar to a Free track leads into Miller snarling over an understated swirling organ. The song still comes across as something of a menacing threat despite the unhelpful mix. It is pretty obvious why former Free bass player Andy Fraser wanted to build his new band around him as the Paul Rodgers comparisons are clear.

Sadly “Highlife” didn’t provide Frankie Miller with a hit record or become a springboard to worldwide fame and riches despite the critical acclaim it recieved at the time. It did, however, pave the way for several other British singers to go down the Allen Toussaint route. Most notably Jess Roden who like Miller has never been given the accolades he deserves. “Highlife” is without doubt a superb album and is still one of my most played. Whether or not it is his best is open to debate and personally I can’t decide.
by Martin Leedham, February 2011
1. Highlife - 0:58
2. Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues) - 3:34
3. Trouble (Frankie Miller) - 3:30
4. A Fool - 2:48
5. Little Angel (Frankie Miller) - 3:12
6. With You In Mind - 3:18
7. The Devil Gun (Frankie Miller) - 3:35
8. I'll Take A Melody - 4:33
9. Just A Song - 2:47
10.Shoo-Rah - 2:47
11.I'm Falling In Love Again (Frankie Miller, Allen Toussaint) - 4:04
12.With You In Mind - 0:57
13.Brickyard Blues (Live) - 3:12
14.The Devil Gun (Live) - 5:04
15.If You Need Me (Demo) - 5:44
16.With You In Mind (Demo) - 4:15
All songs by Allen Toussaint except where stated
Bonus Tracks 13-16

*Frankie Miller - Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
*Allen Toussaint - Piano, Organ, Conga
*Joe Wilson - Guitar, Slide Guitar
*Tom Robb - Bass, Conga
*Mike Huey - Drums
*G.C. Coleman - Drums
*Auburn Burrell - Dobra Guitar
*Barry Bailey - Guitar
*Lester Caliste - Trombone
*Clyde Kerr Jr - Trumpet
*Gary Brown - Tenor Saxophone
*John Longo - Trumpet
*Alvin Thomas - Baritone Saxophone

1972  Frankie Miller - Once In A Blue Moon (2013 japan remaster) 

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Saturday, February 17, 2018

Nirvana - To Markos III (1969 ireland / greece / uk, beautiful orchestrated psychedelia, 2003 issue)

Nirvana's third and final album for Island (sometimes titled Dedicated to Markos III in discographies) was extremely rare in its first 1969 LP issue, the U.K. release limited to a few hundred promo copies. 

They were still offering the kind of light orchestrated pop-rock that they had on their previous Island records, with some jazz and classical influences. It's a more mature product than their first two albums, but a little tired-sounding, and lacking in the more psychedelic ambition that produced some of their best songs, like "Rainbow Chaser" and "I Believe in Magic."

Although the orchestration, often combining strings with harpsichord, is often sumptuous (if just short of cloying) and the melodies pleasant, not much of this sticks to the bones. The somewhat more soulful, straightforward rock of "Christopher Lucifer" and "It Happened Two Sundays Ago" provides some nice relief, if only because it's different from the wistful fantasy aura that predominated in Nirvana's world. 

This rarity gained easy availability with its 2003 CD release on Universal/Island, which despite remastering still has some noises that sound suspiciously like tiny vinyl bumps at the beginning of "Black Flower," one of the more dramatic and better numbers. Also in the package are extensive liner notes, though these (like those on all the 2003 Universal/Island reissues of Nirvana's first three LPs) contain annoying undue repetition of the text that appears on the liners to the other Universal/Island Nirvana re-releases. 
by Richie Unterberger
1. The World Is Cold Without You - 3:45
2. Excerpt From "The Blind And The Beautiful" - 2:38
3. I Talk To My Room - 3:38
4. Christopher Lucifer - 4:06
5. Aline Cherie - 3:03
6. Tres, Tres Bien - 2:54
7. It Happened Two Sundays Ago - 3:08
8. Black Flower - 4:32
9. Love Suite - 6:04
10. Illinois - 3:37
All Music and Lyrics by Patrick Campbell-Lyons, Alex Spyropoulos.

*Patrick Campbell-Lyons - Guitar, Vocals
*Alex Spyropoulos - Keyboards
*Roger Cook - Backing Vocals
*Billy Bremner - Guitar
*Lesley Duncan - Vocals

1967  Nirvana - The Story of Simon Simopath (2003 remaster and expanded)  
1968  Nirvana - All Of Us (2003 extra tracks issue)
1972  Nirvana - Songs Of Love And Praise (2005 japan remastrer)

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Ballin' Jack - Ballin' Jack / Buzzard Luck (1970/72 us, great jazz funky psych brass rock, 2006 reissue)

Ballin’ Jack was formed in Seattle by former childhood friends Luther Rabb and Ronnie Hammon. Both of them had gone to school with and been friends with Jimi Hendrix at the city’s Garfield High School.  In the early 60s Luther Rabb played around the NW with several moderately successful outfits on the teen and R&B circuits.   He had even played saxophonist alongside Jimi Hendrix’s in The Velvetones, the first band Hendrix had been involved in.  Ronnie Hammon was a drummer who’d also backed a few Seattle bands-none of them particularly notable.  

In 1967 Rabb and Hammon decided to form their own band.  Rabb, a multi-accomplished musician would leave the saxophone behind and switch to bass guitar.  Hammon continued drumming, thus forming a strong rhythm section.  Almost immeadiately they added Jim Coile on flute and Tim McFarland on trombone. A bit later Jim Walters would come onboard as their saxophonist and Glen Thomas providing the lead guitar.  The name Ballin’ Jack has obscure origins.  It could be based on “Ballin’ the Jack” a 1913 song written by Jim Burris and  Chris Smith.  It could refer to the and the ensuing dance that became popularized by the song.  The expression “Ballin’ the Jack” also has ties to railroad workers who used the expression “to go full speed”.  But the band’s use of the shortened expression probably was chosen for one of two other reasons.  Sometimes the term “ballin’ the jack” implied having a great time.  There’s certainly enough examples of the expression being used in film, on Broadway and popular music….but sometime he meaning was (literally) deep, full-on sex.  Blues great Big Bill Broonzy sang in “Feel So Good”

There’s several ways to interpret the term, but “ballin the jack” was an expression often used in jazz and blues circles to mean deep, full and fast sex.  It may be this veiled, slang reference is the meaning the band intended their name to represent.

Ballin’ Jack found themselves moving to Los Angeles, living in a large house cum-home studio near the Sunset Strip.  Although all of the members had put plenty of time paying dues, their signing to Columbia Records and tour success came almost immediately, partly due to the encouragement of their old friend Jimi Hendrix.  One key to their success is that Ballin’ Jack had been formed not only as a soulful funk unit, but also as one of the “horn bands” that were popular on the fringe of pop music in the late 60s and early 70s.  They found themselves treading the waters of both James Brown and Sylvester Stone along with bands like WAR, Pacific Gas and Electric, Cold Blood, Tower of Power and other rock bands featuring horns that were arising from on the West Coast.  Obviously the most successful of these bands was the more commercial Chicago Transit Authority-later shortened to Chicago-from the Windy City

Many of these bands had begun creating a new hybrid of soul, jazz, funk with strong horn sections. They also followed the current (at the time) move to integrate multi-ethinic players into their line-up. Ballin’ Jack could be counted among this new genre, and their rise had been quick, but Ballin’ Jack they only found modest success outside the Northwest and Bay Area of being an incredibly tight and incredibly well-loved live act.  They played the college circuit, auditoriums  like the Fillmore West and the Fillmore East and a myriad of rock festivals.  In 1970 Billboard Magazine proclaimed

“Ballin Jack’s’ reputation was that live their shows were so good that fans were known to have left afterwards, and that some headliners had actually refused to have them again as an opening act”.

Unfortunatly none of this translated into the kind of album sales and radio play they deserved. The band only lasted five years, but not before becoming a reliable touring draw and Jimi Hendrix insisting they be included as openers for several of his 1970 Cry of Love tour. After .Hendrix’s death that year they would continue to share bills with the likes of B.B. King, Spirit, Elton John, Sly and The Family Stone, The Kinks, and more of the most famous artists of their day.  They even found themselves playing two of America’s most venerated small clubs, The Bottom Line in New York City, and The Troubador in Los Angeles.  The band also played two separate sold-out dates in their hometown, at Seattle’s Paramount Theater in 1973 and 1974 respectively.  In 1973 Ballin’ Jack were featured on Burt Sugarman’s prestigious late-night show The Midnight Special.  One thing that distinguished the show was that bands played live in the TV studio.  No lip-synching.  No backing tracks.  Of course, Ballin’ Jack tore the place up.

In 1974 Ballin’ Jack called it quits due to poor album and single sales, and the band’s running it’s natural course. Co-founder Luther Rabb went on to tour as vocalist with Santana in 1976.  He then began working with Lola Falana and in 1977 released his own solo album Street Angel. Throughout the early to mid 1980’s Rabb was the bass player for

In 1986 Rabb was involved in a serious automobile accident that left him with nerve damage-consequently ending his career as a bassist.  At that point Rabb moved on to management and production until, sadly, he was left paralyzed by a stroke in 2002.  Eventually Rabb died in 2006, but he’s still recognized for his incredible talents in Ballin’ Jack,  Santana, and WAR.  He had kept close contacts with friends and musicians in the Seattle area, where his passing also had a great effect.

Although Ballin’ Jack never found the audience they should have in the 70s it’s ironic that since the band’s demise their music has been used in TV and Radio ads for the ESPN X Games and Found A Child was re-recorded in 2005, by Kon & Amir” and released as 12″ vinyl for sale to hip-hoppin’ live DJ’s.    The Beastie Boys also sampled Ballin’ Jack’s  “Never Let ‘Em Say” on their album Paul’s Boutique.  Their music has also been sampled by Ozamatli, Gang Starr and DoubleXX Posse Cheetah Girls .  Their most famous and most heavily sampled Found A Child was used liberally on Young MC’s international hit, Bust A Move.
by Dennis R. White
Ballin' Jack 1970
1. Found A Child (Jim Walters, Luther Rabb) - 2:50
2. Super Highway (Jim Walters) - 2:43
3. Festival (Jim Walters, Luther Rabb) - 4:31
4. Telephone (Jim Walters) - 2:09
5. Only A Tear - 2:11
6. Never Let 'Em Say - 2:45
7. Street People (Jim Walters, Luther Rabb) - 2:00
8. Carnival (Ballin’ Jack) - 6:13
9. Ballin' The Jack (Chris Smith, Jim Burris) - 1:54
10.Hold On - 6:43
Buzzard Luck 1972
11.So Do I (Glenn Thomas, Luther Rabb) - 5:03
12.Good Man - 2:37
13.(Come 'Round Here) I'm The One You Need (Brian Holland, Edward Holland, Jr., Lamont Dozier) - 3:38
14.Stay Awhile - 3:08
15.Trouble (Ronnie Hammon) - 3:31
16.Telling Lies (Jim Walters, Luther Rabb) - 3:45
17.Country Pine (Glenn Thomas, Luther Rabb) - 3:54
18.Playin' The Game - 2:26
19.You And Me (Jim Walters, Luther Rabb) - 3:10
20.Bye,Bye,Bye (Jim Walters, Luther Rabb) - 5:58
All songs written by Luther Rabb except where noted

Ballin' Jack
*Jim Coile - Saxophone, Flute, Clarinet, Backing Vocals
*Ronnie Hammon - Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals
*Tim McFarland - Trombone, Piano, Backing Vocals
*Luther Rabb - Bass
*Glenn Thomas - Guitar
*Jim Walters - Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Lead Vocals
*King Errisson - Congas
*Jimmy Haskell - String Arrangements

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Nirvana - The Story of Simon Simopath (1967 ireland / uk / greece, wonderful baroque psychedelia, 2003 remaster and expanded)

In February 1967, an English band called Nirvana released their debut album, The Story of Simon Simopath. Historically, the album was perhaps the first narrative concept LP ever produced. It predated similar works from The Who, The Kinks, and The Small Faces. Nirvana was really the duo of two singer/keyboardists, Patrick Campbell-Lyons from Ireland and Greek composer Alex Spyropoulos. To augment their studio work, they added various players for live gigs and band photos including Ray Singer (guitar), Brian Henderson (bass), Sylvia A. Schuster (cello), and Michael Cole (French horn, viola). As recounted in Campbell-Lyons 2009 autobiography, Psychedelic Days 1960-1969, this Nirvana enjoyed exuberant times in international youth culture while touring and working in England, Greece, France, South America, Morocco, and points in between. Their most memorable gig was on a French television show hosted by surrealist artist Salvador Dali. While the band performed, Dali threw black paint at them.

While the group worked and played on a world stage, the one place they didn't make a splash was the states. For one matter, while they were one of Chris Blackwell's early signings to his fledgling Island Records, his distribution deal with Bell Records didn't pay off for Nirvana. Bell released The Story of Simon Simopath and a few singles with no promotion whatsoever. Even the band didn't know the album had come out. In 1968, the duo recorded their second album, All of Us, which continued the orchestral pop of their debut, but it didn't appear in the U.S. Then, Blackwell rejected their third outing, Black Flower, and thereafter Nirvana disbanded until 1985 when Campbell-Lyons and Spyropoulos reunited for on-again, off-again recording and touring.

Why did Nirvana fly so low under the radar all these years, at least in America? Clearly, the Bell debacle didn't help. It's also true they came out during an era of guitar gods, and their emphasis on harpsichords, pianos, and strings were slightly out-of-step, although organ-based groups like Procol Harum and The Zombies found a comfortable niche for themselves. Some feel Nirvana was too "continental," but it's hard to see how anything with European themes would be ignored in the wake of the British Invasion. Perhaps the real issue was that Nirvana defied easy catagorizing. Their lyrics were full of dreamy portraits and character sketches of young people told with trippy wordplay. Proto-power pop? 
by Wesley Britton, June 27, 2012 
1. Wings Of Love - 3:21
2. Lonely Boy - 2:32
3. We Can Help You - 1:59
4. Satellite Jockey - 2:35
5. In The Courtyard Of The Stars - 2:36
6. You Are Just The One - 2:07
7. Pentecost Hotel - 3:08
8. I Never Had A Love Like This Before - 2:51
9. Take This Hand - 2:18
10.1999 - 2:16
11.Wings Of Love - 3:22
12.Lonely Boy - 2:33
13.We Can Help You - 2:07
14.Satellite Jockey - 2:39
15.In The Courtyard Of The Stars - 2:35
16.You Are Just The One - 2:09
17.Pentecost Hotel - 3:13
18.I Never Had A Love Like This Before - 2:50
19.Take This Hand - 2:18
20.1999 - 2:10
21.I Believe In Magic (B-Side To "Tiny Goddess") - 3:25
22.Life Ain't Easy (Previously Unreleased Version) - 3:17
23.Feelin' Shattered (B-Side To "Pentecost Hotel") - 2:22
24.Requiem To John Coltrane (B-Side To "Wings Of Love") - 4:54
All songs written by Patrick Campbell Lyons, Alex Spyropolous
Tracks 1-10 Original Stereo Mix
Tracks 11-20 Original Mono Mix
Bonus Tracks 21-24

*Patrick Campbell Lyons - Guitar, Vocals
*Ray Singer - Guitar
*Alex Spyropoulos - Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
*Michael Coe - French Horn, Viola
*Brian Henderson - Bass
*Peter Kester, David Preston, Patrick Shanahan - Drums
*Sylvia A. Schuster - Cello
*David Preston - Drums
*Patrick Shanahan - Drums

1968  Nirvana - All Of Us (2003 extra tracks issue)
1972  Nirvana - Songs Of Love And Praise (2005 japan remastrer) 

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Osmosis - Osmosis (1970 us, brilliant heavy experimental jazz prog rock, 2017 remaster)

Hailing from the Boston area of the USA, Osmosis was a seven-piece group fronted by the legendary saxophonist and flautist Charlie Mariano and also featured Bobby Knox (vocals), Andy Steinborn (lead guitar), Danny Comfort (bass), Charlie Bechler (keyboards), Lou Peterson (drums) and Bobby Clark (drums, percussion).

On stage, Osmosis were a powerful band, featuring two percussionists. In the studio the group were brave and experimental, arguably becoming one of the first true Progressive bands to emerge in the United States. Their sole album can be compared to the work of British groups such as Van Der Graaf Generator, Soft Machine or King Crimson, whilst also revealing a more jazz orientated side to their character.

Long overlooked, Osmosis has been re-mastered from the original RCA master tapes. The booklet features an essay by Sid Smith featuring an exclusive interview with guitarist Andy Steinborn. This remarkable album was a fusion of early Progressive and Jazz Rock and was released by RCA Records in 1970.
1. Of War And Peace (In Part) (Andy Steinborn, Bobby Knox, Charlie Bechler, Danny Comfort) - 1:06
2. Beezlebub (Andy Steinborn, Bobby Knox, Charlie Bechler) - 3:51
3. Thoughts Aften Stray (Bobby Knox, Charlie Bechler) - 2:50
4. Sunrise (Andy Steinborn) - 2:31
5. Shadows (Charlie Mariano, Miki Boni) - 3:34
6. Adrift (Bobby Knox, Charlie Bechler, Danny Comfort) - 4:52
7. Sunlight (Bobby Knox, Charlie Bechler) - 2:32
8. Scorpio Rising (Bobby Clark) - 2:58
9. Please Let Me Go (Bobby Knox, Charlie Mariano) - 4:24
10.Geoffery's Tune (Bobby Knox, Charlie Bechler) - 3:40
11.Of War And Peace (In Full) (Andy Steinborn, Bobby Knox, Charlie Bechler, Danny Comfort) - 7:22
12.Sleep, My Love (Epilogue) (Charlie Mariano) - 1:52

*Charlie Mariano - Soprano, Alto Saxophones, Flute, Nagaswaram
*Bobby Knox - Lead Vocals
*Danny Comfort - Bass
*Lou Peterson - Drums
*Bobby Clark - Percussion, Drums, Vocals
*Andy Steinborn - Guitar, Background Vocals
*Charlie Bechler - Keyboards, Melodica, Tympani, Chimes

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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Improved Sound Limited - The Final Foreword (1966-73 germany, fabulous swinging beat psych kraut rock, 2003 remaster)

It is certainly correct, the quote from "Rolling Stone" in August 2002, that the eponymous double album (re-released as LHC 007) was the real debut album of Improved Sound Limited. Still, there were numerous notable releases of the band even before that, all of which have, in different ways, specific and unique "Improved" characteristics which make them forerunners of the future sound. This album attempts to document those early years, as the music developed out of the "beat" culture of the sixties, with some input from the eclectic styles of west coast, psychedelic and underground, before heading in the seventies toward progressive rock and expressive ballads.

Whereas CD No. 4, "Road Trax", contained primarily instrumental music for films by Wim Wenders and Erwin Keusch, CD No. 5 returns to vocals, in the band's chosen language of English, as in previous releases. In an article published on 15 April 1972 in the legendary "Melody Maker", Michael Watts wrote about German bands singing in English: "The most popular of these is 'Frumpy', who won a poll not long ago in a German magazine, but the most accomplished that I've heard is 'Improved Sound Limited'." Be that as it may, this album is both prologue and epilogue. But these pieces without opus numbers are anything but scorned rejects. They run the gamut from the short hidden track by the "Pyjamas Skiffle Group" (as the band called itself around 1961) to "The Very Last Waltz" from 2002. Incidentally, even in the skiffle days, the band's instruments were "Improved". As the photo shows, Johnny and Axel had already traded their standard four-string guitars for the six string electro Spanish variety. Rolf was never satisfied with a wash board as the usual drum ersatz; he had a Sonor drum kit. Only the less discriminating Uli stayed with a self-made, original tea box bass, with two strings of clothes line.

Improved Sound Limited released a total of four singles, two of which are on this CD: "It is You" and "Sing Your Song". The other two singles are not included here, for good reason. One had mono mixes of the nursery rhyme "Hoppe Hoppe Reiter" plus "I'm Exhausted" (the stereo versions are tracks 6 and 11). The fourth single contained rough mixes of "Oedipus" and "Where Will The Salmon Spawn" which are hardly different from the recordings on the eponymous double album LHC 007. Instead, I chose for this album the interesting original versions of both songs, as featured on the soundtrack of the TV show "Kommissar" in the episode "Dr. Meinhardt's Tragic End". Compare the audibly different atmosphere of the two versions.

The track list of "The Final Forward" starts with the band's very first single, "It Is You" (B side: "We Are Alone"). With "It Is You", Improved Sound Limited won the beat music competition of Bavarian Radio in 1966, and with it a recording contract. They garnered the most points from a jury including noted classical composer Werner Egk ("Abraxas") and soundtrack specialist Peter Thomas, as well as tumultuous applause (105 dB!) from the audience.

The single was then produced by Polydor's Gerhard Mendelson, who had tremendous success with the German language productions of Connie Francis, Rita Pavone, Gigliola Cinquetti, Gus Backus and Thomas Fritsch, among others. Unfortunately, the release came six months later, so the promotion effect of BR's airplay was lost. But "the beat goes on...".

Tracks 3 and 4, "Marvin Is Dead" and "Sing Your Song", are songs from the film "Der Bettenstudent", directed by Michael Verhoeven. Behind the snappy title is the bestselling novel "Und so was lebt", in which author Finn Søborg sends up bureaucrats and administrators. The cast was strong: Gila von Weitershausen, Hannelore Elsner, Karl Dall, Stella-Maria Adorf and Christof Wackernagel.

The next songs (tracks 5 to 12), from the film "Engelchen macht weiter - Hoppe hoppe Reiter" with Gila von Weitershausen and Mario Adorf, also resulted from the collaboration with Michael Verhoeven. Film producer Rob Houwer, who had made a deal with Rolling Stones guitarrist Brian Jones to do music for Volker Schlöndorff's film "Mord und Totschlag", was quite taken by the Improved Sounds and asked them for some music (see the booklet for the CD LHC 007). The success of the film, and also of the soundtrack LP and single on the Cornet label, would prove him right. On this CD are all significant pieces of music, omitting only smaller bits such as the backround music in a department store.
Rob Houwer himself remixed the music (four track was then state of the art) for the film and the soundtrack album. It was slightly different from the mix on this album, which sounds less commercial but is preferred by the band. 

But getting back to Michael Verhoeven: he called on the "wonderful band from Nürnberg" (Verhoeven in the AZ, 11 Jan. 1969) for something special for an episode of the TV series "Kommissar" titled "Dr. Meinhardt's Tragic End". They gladly fulfilled his wishes, for example with a section reminiscent of Gainsbourg/Birkin in the middle of "Oedipus", or just a touch of Procol Harum's "Whiter Shade Of Pale" in the instrumental version of "Where Will The Salmon Spawn". Neither version has appeared before on any commercial recording. The same goes for the music for the TV series "Krempoli" (tracks 15 to 20), which was also directed by Michael Verhoeven and broadcast throughout Europe. Incidentally, a cameraman on the TV series was Joseph Vilsmaier, later himself a director of such internationally successful films as "Herbstmilch", "Stalingrad" and "Comedian Harmonists". The band immersed itself with enthusiasm and virtuosity in the series' plot and scenes, without sacrificing the unique "Improved" touch. For me, some tracks sound like early demos of songs on the "Road Trax" CD (LHC 017), for example "Down The Dusty Road", "Mexican Hat" or perhaps "Le fleuve tranquille". Also previously unreleased is the title song of a Fischer&Welz-/Kare-Kraus film called "Lass knacken, Ive", with an imaginative story and highly professional production in the tradition of the young Munich filmmakers. The cameraman was Peter Ettengruber, who edited Schlöndorff's film "Baal" starring Fassbinder in the title role. But the changing zeitgeist stood in the way of this film's success. What remains is the wonderful ballad "The Policeman", which with its mellifluence resonating in melancholy (please excuse the pathos!) could only come from one band: Improved Sound Limited.

The quartet built up a fine reputation as a live band. This makes it all the more unfortunate that I have been unable to locate any surviving recordings at the numerous sources contacted, for example a tape of their appearance at Constantin Film's German premiere of Andy Warhol's film "Trash" in Munich, at which the band was praised by Warhol and his star, Joe Dallessandro. 

It is also sad that there are no recordings of their various works for the theater, which drew national attention. Improved Sound Limited provided the music for the German premiere of Fernando Arrabal's "Bella Ciao", by the director of the world premiere at the Théâtre National Populaire in Paris, Jorge Lavelli. The "Frankfurter Rundschau" wrote of an "important, stimulating evening of exciting theater. Improved Sound Limited, which led the tonal troupe in a show/revue which reminds somewhat of "Mahoganny", performed their own compositions just right for the theater." The "Abendzeitung" (Norbert Neudecker) noted "musical numbers which range from highly rhythmic, resonant sounds to schmalzy tango, all extremely attractive and thus appropriate in their ironic context." The "Weserkurier" (Rainer Wagner) reported that the "renowned pop group Improved Sound Limited wrote and played appealing and imaginative songs for this spectacle." The acerbic theater critic Hans Bertram Bock asserted in his review, "the band demonstrated with precision and in responsive collaboration with the other participants their brilliant abilities." The sheet music has survived, any tapes that may have been made have not. But I personally am happy and satisfied with the five CDs (a total of 84 tracks) we have assembled. Concerning the fifth one, I agree with the magazine "Sounds" (Nov. 1973): "Improved Sound Limited reminds at times of the late Beatles, at times of the Byrds. All their songs are very clearly crafted compositions, sound pleasantly fresh and still reflect a lot of experience."

I don't want to conclude my essay without sincere thanks to the band for their cooperation, and also for providing me with numerous recordings and photographs.  I am especially grateful to Johnny Fickert and Bernd and Axel Linstädt for fulfilling my request for a very special encore, "The Very Last Waltz", recorded in 2002. I like it just as much as the old "Improved" songs. I almost wrote "classics", because it seems the more I hear them, the more I like them. I think R.W. Schmidt wasn't far from the mark when he quoted Michael Verhoeven in the April 1969 issue of the then trendy magazine "twen": "These guys are in a class of their own in Germany." And I agree with both his overall opinion and with the last sentence of his article: "To paraphrase Richard Wagner, Improved Sound Limited are the ‚Meistersingers of Nürnberg'."
by Manfred Steinheuer, March 2003
1. It Is You (Axel Linstädt, Lothar Johnny Fickert) - 2:07
2. We Are Alone (Axel Linstädt, Lothar Johnny Fickert) - 2:22
3. Marvin Is Dead - 3:40
4. Sing Your Song - 2:26
5. Love Is a Natural Thing - 2:22
6. Hoppe Reiter - 2:04
7. Don't Know Baby If You Are Safe - 2:05
8. Leave This Lesbian World - 3:03
9. Old Captain Cook - 2:17
10.Don't You Feel Any Pain - 1:53
11.I'm Exhausted - 2:24
12.Offering a Highly Sophisticated Way to Ride - 1:54
13.Oedipus - 3:11
14.Where Will the Salmon Spawn - 2:26
15.Krempoli Tune - 1:54
16.Down the Dusty Road - 0:54
17.Mexican Hat - 2:35
18.Are You Kidding - 1:09
19.Return to Fender - 2:47
20.Le fleuve tranquille - 3:50
21.The Policeman - 3:36
22.The Very Last Waltz - 2:20
Music by Axel Linstädt, Lyrics by Bernd Linstädt unless as else stated

The Improved Sound Limited
*Lothar Johnny Fickert - Vocals, Percussion, Flutes, Alto Sax, Rhythm Guitar, Hammond Organ
*Axel Linstädt - Guitars, Keyboards, Ocarina, Vocals, Soprano, Alto Recorders
*Uli Ruppert - Bass, Vocals
*Rolf Gröschner - Drums

1971  Improved Sound Limited - Improved Sound Limited 

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