REVIEWS #31 - 40


        NEW DAWN      DOVERS      JAN & LORRAINE    


Note: Some of the reviewed titles have not been reissued, while others are out of print. The availability stated reflects the status at the time of writing.


(Review #31)

STAINED GLASS: Open Road (Sweet Folk & Country, UK 1974) 

Rating: 8 out of 10

Sounds best on: weed smuggled in from Southern California

More info: 

Availability: Should be reissued!

It is my belief that the British folk/folkrock scene contains more unreissued quality items than any other genre that we 1960s-70s aardvarks go poking our snouts in. I am sorry if reviewing these highly elusive titles comes across as elitist, but if noone stands up for them then how should word on them get around?

The rare "Open Road" LP by Stained Glass is certainly good enough to deserve wider attention -- in fact it's better than a whole bunch of items already recycled. I know very little about the band, which is your standard 2 guys 1 girl line-up, the guys in this case being brothers by the name of Kaliski. The album appeared on a Kent-based label well-known among UK folk collectors, and has been described as the rarest item in their catalog.

"Open Road" is an easily accessible contemporary folk album with a certain American influence. It balances daringly at the edge of the commercial export abyss into which Tudor Lodge tumbled, but has enough class and skill not to fall into it. Needless to say there are no ill-conceived string sections or woodwinds here, but rather a small selection of acoustic string instruments and the occasional electric piano. The rest is all down to the vocal harmonies, which are truly great; Sylvia Kelly carrying most of the leads in a convincing manner, crystalline and a little moody, owing something to the west coast hippie ladies in addition to the Brit folk valkyrias. The guys sing unusually well and are able to handle difficult multipart harmonies, which is an important part of the professional nature of this album, and again recall certain Californian predecssors.

The material is about 2/3 Stained Glass originals and 1/3 trad material. Of the originals the opening "Wild and free" sets an appropriate tone and is likely to make anyone buy the album if scrutinized via record-shop speakers. Over on side 2 Sylvia Kelly provides the epic "Poll Miles", a memorable pagan lament on witchdom that is perhaps the highpoint of the LP; all minor chords and windswept English moors. The trad material includes the atmospheric "Lord Franklin" which deals with a North Pole expedition, as well as the unexpected "White House Blues"; an old Stateside tune that again suggests that the band had a keen eye or three for the New World. Shirley Collins did the same in '64 but 10 years on it's surprising to hear foreign material on a UK folk LP. These pointers across the Atlantic make me think of the second Wooden Horse LP in addition to a non-orchestrated Tudor Lodge, but I think it's safe to say that Stained Glass is better than both of them. Derivative to a certain degree, and clearly in the middle of the "Open Road", it still comes out a winner because it has no weaknesses.


(Review #32)

THE SMOKE: The Smoke (Sidewalk, US 1968) 

Rating: 8 out of 10

Sounds best on: smoke & bennies

More info: 

Availability: not yet reissued... originals aren't terribly expensive

Though it’s not in the realm of PET SOUNDS or ODESSEY AND ORACLE, here’s an album that’s chock full of brilliant melodies, perfectly realized arrangements, gorgeous singing, and at least an honest effort at lyrical depth. It also has the advantage of clearly being influenced by the psychedelia that was swirling around at the time. Michael Lloyd was a great songwriter, but also willing to take some risks, most of which really pay off here. This album has been compared to Sagittarius, Millenium, and the Left Banke but most of it rocks with way more conviction than any of those bands (and the album is weakest on the songs that don’t). 

The album kicks off with “Cowboys And Indians,” which has a powerful hook and kickass organ and drums. It doesn’t really hint at what’s to come, though, as the songs that follow go in many directions. The waltz tempo and flutes in “Looking through The Mirror” threaten to make it ordinary mainstream pop, but here and there a theremin (I think) appears out of nowhere, and wouldn’t you know, soon enough the melody grows on you too. And all in only a minute and 45 seconds. Elsewhere, “Self-Analysis,” “Song Through Perception” and “Philosophy” expose Lloyd as a social scientist wannabe, while “Gold Is The Colour Of Thought” (note British spelling; won’t fool anyone though since this album sounds American as all get out), “Fogbound” and “October Country” are stunning hits that never were. I guarantee that if one of them were played on an oldies station most listeners would hum along, not realizing they’d never heard them before! Strings and horns throughout augment rather than dominate. These guys learned some lessons from the Beatles (or George Martin) and the Beach Boys without losing their own identity. Indian-themed music shows up out of nowhere in the closing “Odyssey,” (Why didn’t they spell it “Odessey” to further mine those Britpop roots?), which is neat. The song itself is a suite that encompasses pretty much every other style found elsewhere on the album, a fun way to end. And in the middle of side one, what’s this? A prog-like instrumental mini-suite entitled “The Hobbit Symphony?” Well, why not? It’s great!

It would have been nice if the stunning chorus of “Gold Is The Colour Of Thought” hadn’t been so severely compressed-—the song would have been even more powerful if it had gained volume at that point. Also, some jagged edits make “The Hobbit Symphony” appear to have been shortened from their original recording. That’s probably OK-—it seems perfect the way it is. And some short interludes lighten the mood a little bit and give the impression that the album is longer than it actually is. A Beatles theft at the end of “Fogbound” is cute, if a little obvious. Overall, though, this is a great pop-psych album, in league with the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band.

- review by Aaron Milenski

(Review #33)

DEVIL'S ANVIL: Hard rock from the Middle East    (Columbia, US 1967)

Rating: 7 out of 10

Sounds best on: Dawamesk

Info at: Liner notes with CD reissue

Availability: Collectables reissue on a split CD with the Freak Scene

I guess in 2003 the chances of a large American label releasing a rock/Middle-East crossover record, sung in Arabic and displaying a band member dressed up as a sheik in a desert landscape, are slim to the say the least. But back in 1967 a lot of things were possible and in their broad attack on the teenage psyche CBS threw plenty of wild cards on the wall, seeing what would stick. "Hard Rock from the Middle East" was released a few catalog numbers after the legendary Freak Scene album and could be seen as an adopted brother to Rusty Evans' mind excursion, approaching a similar mood but from the Middle East side rather than the NYC folk side. The band line-up is a 50/50 mix of immigrant musicians and local boys, with Felix Pappalardi on hand to hold the ship together.

The Devil's Anvil is surprisingly bold as the scale is tilted so strongly towards the Middle-East side of the equation. I don't know much about the traditional music of the region, but it does seem that one needn't remove many elements to end up with something completely foreign to Western ears. Most of the lyrics are sung in Arabic, a few are in Turkish and Greek. The passionate, slightly guttural vocals by Jerry Satpir and Kareem Isaaq are completely removed from any rock style, and the rhythmic patterns project a hazy night of opium and dawamesk at a Beirut belly-dance joint rather than some Village melting pot café. So from a strictly commercial viewpoint it's no surprise that the album sank without a trace; even without the rather unfortunate outbreak of the Israel/Arabic Six-days War the week the LP was released!

From the psychedelic music fan perspective it's a fairly rewarding trip. More than Freak Scene I think the obvious reference points are the Orient Express LP on Mainstream, and John Berberian's "Music from the Middle East" on Verve. In fact if you drew a line between these two you'd find Devil's Anvil at exactly half the distance; less musician-oriented than Berberian, more genuinely Middle-Eastern than the Orient Express. It may be unfair to invoke these two crossover classics into the seance, and while I can't say that the Anvil reaches quite the same heights it stands on its own as a cool and slightly surprising artefact from a free-spirited era. The performances are very good, as far as I can determine, and in particular the uptempo numbers project a dervish-like, unpredictable trickster energy; the superb fuzz/oud tracks "Besaha" and "Shisheler" placed at the mid-point of the running order are the best examples of this. Apart from the non-rock string and percussion instruments there is excellent use of organ throughout.

I wish the band would have emphasized the hard-rock aspect of their repertoire (a mix of trad and originals) more, as my main objection is the prevalence of 3-4 slower tracks which seem less inspired and have a certain crooner/lounge feel to my ears; here the foreign-language lyrics are also a drawback rather than an exotic asset. A & R mathematics aside, "Hard rock from the Middle East" remains a recommended experience for major label psych fans searching for something quite different. As a bonus you'll get to hear the actual lyrics for "Misirlou".

(Review #34)

ZERFAS: Zerfas (700 West, US 1973) 

Rating: 10 out of 10 

Sounds best on: A beautiful October day

Info at: liner notes with OOP reissue

Availability: A CD release has been rumored for several years. Everybody e-mail Howard Phillips [] and harass him until he goes ahead with it.

Picture some extremely talented teenagers, still young enough to think that nothing in this world can matter more than rock and roll, but mature enough to understand exactly what makes good music and what doesn’t. Now imagine that these teenagers win the lottery and decide to use their windfall to spend an entire year in the recording studio. They write until they have eight songs they know are great, then spend that year perfecting them, using every ounce of their imagination so that each song reaches its absolute maximum potential. Luckily, they have a studio engineer who’s as creative as them, and while they go out of their way to experiment like crazy, everyone involved has enough taste to use only the very best ideas.

Once you’ve let that concept sink in, clear your mind and try to imagine what might have happened if the Beatles hadn’t stepped away from psychedelia after 1967, and through some magic time warp they went straight to 1973 with their inspiration and songwriting skills still at their peak. And when they chose the songs for the 1973 album, someone smartly convinced McCartney to save his crappy ballad for a B-side. Sound too good to be true? It’s not. This album is every bit as good as both of these scenarios. All of the studio effort wouldn’t mean much if the songwriting isn’t first rate, but it is. It’s at the level of, say, Anonymous’ INSIDE THE SHADOW (oddly enough, also from Indiana), or the Zombies’ ODESSEY AND ORACLE. And while the band isn’t composed of virtuoso instrumentalists, neither are the Beatles or the Stones. The members of Zerfas play well enough to express their ideas fully, have a solid sense of rhythm and timing, and every guitar solo, keyboard interlude and drum roll are perfect. They’re not complicated or show-offy, just perfect. The lead guitar throughout also has an absolutely ideal sound, not too far removed from that on ABBEY ROAD. It sounds like a Gretsch through a Leslie speaker; whether it is or not, it’s just right for these songs.

The Beatles’ comparison, while justified, simplifies Zerfas and their sound. One can find bits of Pink Floyd (from both prog and psych eras) here and there, ideas drawn from any major psychedelic band you can imagine, and even a tiny nod towards punk rock (which they must have invented because the Ramones’ first concert was still more than a year away) on the opening “You Never Win”. The sound is a rich mix of keyboards and guitars, heavy only on “You Never Win” and the joyous boogie tune “Stoney Wellitz,” but never wimpy. The vocals, other than the rough sing-speak on “You Never Win,” are smooth and poignant; the harmonies soar. The production is dense but not cluttered, just dark enough for the effects to have power, but clear enough for the vocals to shine through.

The structure of the album is impeccable. From the opening moment, it’s obvious you’re in for something truly special. “You Never Win” fades in with a backwards loop, over which a lovely melody appears. It goes on for a while, but could continue for hours more without becoming tiresome. It’s as great and true a musical moment as there has ever been. Rudely, the drums disrupt the calm to begin the body of the song, an updated 60s garage punker with powerful organ. As the song nears the end, the opening melody recurs, only this time it’s played forwards. It’s at this moment that you realize that this album is a true work of art, not just a bunch of great moments but a perfectly conceived synthesis of ideas. If only to prove the point, within a few seconds of the next song, “The Sweetest Part,” we are treated to the most beautiful fuzz guitar riff in history. As the album moves along, all of the eight songs have moments that, while unlikely to match the perfection of the backwards bit or the searing fuzz riff, should send shivers down the most jaded spine. 

The songs are enlivened by psychedelic experiments that range from the slowed-down laughter of a tickled child to someone belching the words “mushroom soup.” Not just each song, but each verse is arranged with intricate care, and surprises like the stunning percussion that ends the quiet “I Need It Higher” keep the listener guessing. The two songs that begin side two show a bit of the spirit of 1973. The bouncy “Stoney Wellitz (and its almost trendy moog solo), and “Hope”, with its ocean sound effects and long, layered keyboard solo, are longer and more likely to appeal to, say, prog fans, than the pop-oriented songs on side one. That’s not to say the seem out of place or don’t work, because they do, in spades. And in no time at all, we’re back to massive walls of 60s-inspired psychedelia. The introduction to “Fool’s Parade” is interrupted by a stunning backwards vocal (don’t listen to people who claim it says something; it’s gibberish in both directions.) The body of the song ends after only two minutes, only to be followed by two further minutes of sped-up guitar, slowed-down guitar, space sounds and the aforementioned “mushroom soup” reference. 

This is all set-up, though, for the album’s finest moment, the closing “The Piper.” A more ideal pop song is unlikely to exist. From the opening piano trills to gorgeous verses to gorgeous bridge to gorgeous chorus to stunning keyboard solo to the most perfect of the album’s many perfect guitar solos, in just four minutes they’ve done the impossible. They top what came before. The album ends on the final moment of genius; the piano trill returns and then is abruptly cut off, leaving the listener with his or her mouth hanging wide open. Not only has the song itself been framed by the piano, so has the album as a whole; the first and last song share the framing device, and the abrupt end is as compelling as the backwards fade-in.

No, this album isn’t completely perfect. I’m not entirely convinced that the speak-singing on “You Never Win” really works, and perhaps the plethora of clever arrangement ideas push both “Stoney Wellitz” and “You Don’t Understand” a verse too long. Oh, and this will never be my own personal favorite album because the lyrics don’t hit home with me in the way something has to in order to be a #1 desert island pick. But musically, there’s no album on this universe I enjoy more than ZERFAS, and no album from which I can discover more new joys after hundreds of listens. The first reissue of this album contains several pages of notes about the band, and presumably gives some idea why they never released any more music. I’ve never found this issue of the record; I’m not sure I even want to know the answer to the many questions I have about these guys. And, oddly, the fact that it was never followed is almost a plus, a way of making sure that this album’s greatness will never be tarnished by the company it keeps. Obviously my view on this album is full of bias; only a few people will love it quite as much as I do. But most will love it almost as much. 

This is one of those rare albums that justifies its huge price tag. It’s also proof that an independently produced album can have the perfect combination no mainstream album ever had after the mid 60s: it’s free of any commercial pressures, but was made with the kind of studio time and energy normally allotted to major label releases. There are more great ideas here than in the whole history of (to pick a band who used more studio time than anyone else) Queen, and more inspired freakiness than in the entire catalogue of 60s San Francisco bands. Psych fans and classic rock fans alike can appreciate it. In all seriousness, collectors spend their whole lives looking for just one album that justifies their quest. I’ve found mine.

- review by Aaron Milenski



(Review #35)

NEW DAWN: There's A New Dawn    (Hoot US, 1970)

Rating: 9 out of 10

Sounds best on: Anafranil

Info at: you tell me

Availability: reissued a couple of times

This rarity out of small-town Oregon is one of the more extreme examples of a "grower" LP I've encountered, and I'm impressed with how record dealer Paul Major quickly identified it as a winner after discovering it in the late 1980s. It took me years to get into it, and I'm still not sure whether it will go through yet another change in my cranium before the day is done. One thing I've learned over the years is not to dismiss LPs that have a samey, or even monotonous, sound too quickly. I think Kristyl was the LP that originally taught me that, and without this precaution in place I might have sold New Dawn as a mediocre Music Machine imitation after a few weeks. Instead it's grown itself into a bit of a Lama favorite.

A major advantage of this album is that it has none of the bad aspects - such as a goodtimey music hall track, or a bad blues attempt - that plague late 1960s LPs. There's no room for that in the New Dawn world, because it has nothing to do with what they want to say. Exactly what it is they want to say I'm not entirely sure, but some tracks deal with a working class experience that sounds genuine to me, while others are brooding, suicidal, like a poor kid on a college scholarship sitting alone in his dorm room and feeling like shit. 

The songwriting and playing is late 1960s garage rock, stripped down, minimalistic, removed of everything except the raw core -- an admirable exercise that constantly shifts the focus to the lyrics. The absence of cover versions and the naked, direct communication with the listener is reminiscent of the Bachs album, but New Dawn clearly belongs to a "post"-psychedelic era, full of crashed dreams and an unchanged reality. The use of fuzz guitars on one track seems a surprising extravagance in the humble world of this mysterious band. The playing is competent but unassuming, and the moody vocals never stray into Lizard King theatrics or Steppenwolf machismo. All the pieces in the puzzle fit just right, yet it does not seem overly elaborate, but rather an effect of unconscious purity.

New Dawn is a fine example of how the best rock music in the world has been made by unknown US bands who scraped together the dough to put out a record because they had something to say, and in the process reaped the unexpected benefit of not having to compromise one iota.


(Review #36)

DOVERS: We're Not Just Anybody    (10" Misty Lane, Italy 2002)

Rating: 9 out of 10

Sounds best on: the day after prom night

Info at: liner notes

Availability: justly OOP, but may be reprinted

Sometimes I just don't understand these retro garage fans. For 20 years people have been going on about how California's the Dovers are one of the great lost 60s bands; how their career and origins are a complete mystery; how unfair their lack of success was. Then when someone - specifically, Massimo at Italy's Misty Lane label - delivers what everyone's been asking for, which is a retrospective sampler of all known Dovers recordings wrapped inside detailed Mike Markesich liner notes chronicling the band's history, the response is a thunderous boom of... silence? Hello?! The brief review in Ugly Things magazine reflects the enthusiasm of someone hearing a Swinging Blue Jeans budget reissue, and beyond that most folks seem unaware that "We're not just anybody" exists, even though it's been out for 18 months now.

So let it be known, once and for all: everything you've heard about the Dovers is true, they were a great fucking band that deserved a Beverly Hills Mansion next to Jim McGuinn's, and this Misty Lane sampler is one of the most essential releases of the third millennium. I'm sure the 10" format made some potential buyers nervous but with only 8 tracks to work with that's what you're going to get, and I'm all for 10-inchers anyway. Brief recap from the liners: the Dovers came out of Santa Barbara CA, the two main guys were vocalist supreme Tim Granada and lead guitar maestro Bruce Clawson, they released their first 45 in September 1965 and their last in May 1966. That's four 45s in 9 months, and each one a goddamn masterpiece of 60s teen music.

Here's what it's all about: She's Gone - one of the original building blocks of the Dovers legend via its appearance on Pebbles vol 2 back in 1979; 24 years after that, and 37 years after its release, it sounds as fresh as a vintage Phil Spector tune blaring from the radio of a convertible headed towards a '65 Malibu beach party. Genre-wise I'd call this a transition tune from Invasion beat into CA folkrock; the chords and lyrics are Merseyish while the jingle jangle guitars spell L A. The guitar solo is wonderfully inept, almost reluctant, while Tim Granada's awesome zitfaced teen vocals carries the laments of a 1000 scoreless high school dances. What Am I Going To Do - I think a key to understanding the Dovers' greatness is that they weren't just a moptop band, but in fact had a third leg placed in a pre-Invasion girl group sound, especially if you recognize the atavistic debt owed to Frankie Lymon & his ilk. None of the eight Dovers tracks show that heritage as clearly as this flipside, which opens with a deceptive Byrds riff before putting you right in the middle of a vintage Ronettes drive-in fest. And dig those lyrics: "If you were 17, I'd still feel the same way". What the hell does that mean? That she's 12? Or 40?

Still, it was Hollywood Hills folkrock that would exert the strongest pull on Granada, Clawson, et al. The 2nd 45 featured I Could Be Happy which to me seems clearly inspired by the teenier side of the first two Byrds LPs; "You won't have to cry" in particular. Granada has modulated his vocal style into a slightly guttural McGuinnerism, and there's no doubt where the 3-part harmonies come from. A fine tune, but not as good as the flipside's People Ask Me Why, a work of pure perfection where the verses seem to lean more towards the moody pop of '64-65 Beatles than the Byrds; minor chords ringing with teen moodiness straight out of the awesome "Things we said today"/I'll be back" school, and lyrics lamenting the fate of being a sensitive longhair in a world of crewcuts and Hawaii shirts. Most people know these two tracks from the Reprise 45, but there was in fact a little known Miramar label release of it prior to that.

It's hard to understand today, but it wasn't until 1986 that the incredible The Third Eye 45 became known to the world, via the otherwise rather questionable Highs In The Mid-Sixties series. I still remember the first time I heard it -- it was the Dovers, so it was bound to be pretty good, right? Well, after the tune was over noone said a word. It just seemed beyond comprehension that there was a previously unknown Dovers tune that was even better, a 100% psychedelic raga/folkrock crossover monster, and early (April-1966) to boot. The track has made a few more appearances since, but it belongs on a piedestal in the Getty Museum alongside other great works of art of the 20th Century. According to the liner notes, the 45 died a swift death under the feet of "Eight miles high" which appeared around the same time, and the similarity between the two tracks is interesting. So, maybe the Byrds invented psychedelia, but then again maybe the Dovers did. Over on the flipside Your Love can't help but suffering in comparison, even though it's trademark Dovers from edge groove to dead wax, a fine Searchers-style beat/folkrocker that many other 1960s groups could have claimed their best number.

The Dovers' swansong release did not pursue the acid path of the preceding 45, but rather marks the closing of a 9-month cycle as we're here back in the woe-filled teen yearning of the debut. She's Not Just Anybody seems to be the fave Dovers tune among some respectable pundits, and it does represent the perfection of the group's unique marriage of pre-Invasion teen sounds, the Beatles, and the Byrds. There is a clear maturity and selfconfidence on display which makes the band's dissolvement an outright crime. Only a truly unique band could deliver an instrumental break where there is no solo per se, but simply a demonstration of the greatness of the underlying riff and chord structure, before diving back into ethereal vocal harmonies that define 1960s music at its greatest. The flipside's About Me was the only tune I hadn't heard before, and of course it's no disappointment; slightly weaker in the songwriting department than their most glorious outings but still with a fine Beatleish guitar break, an unusual bell-like riff, and tough moptop outcast lyrics reminiscent of "People ask me why".

I can't think of any other local 1960s group with such a consistently stunning output as the Dovers. The Unrelated Segments cut 5 killers and nothing else, and neighborhood rivals Thee Sixpence had an extraordinary run at All-American; We The People in Orlando and Kenny & the Kasuals in Dallas released a very impressive number of great garage/psych discs, yet none of them carved out a distinct musical niche and expanded it the way the Dovers did with their brilliant amalgam of the best elements of vintage teen music.

In conclusion, a few words about the Misty Lane release. The sound is as good as you can ask from a vinyl-sourced release; nothing for hi-fi geeks but certainly acceptable for any garage hound. The packaging is pretty cool with scans of rare 45 labels galore but suffers somewhat from the complete lack of photos of the band (not Misty's fault -- there ARE no pics of 'em), and I believe the retro front sleeve design will look a bit dull in a record stall. The liner notes are excellent. A CD release on Big Beat/Ace is promised on the sleeve but has yet to see the light of day. No matter, because this 10" can be tracked down and there isn't a soul in the world who doesn't need it. Apart from that, all I can say is that if Tim Granada or someone who knows him should read this, get in touch! Mr Granada is a genius.

(Review #37)

JAN & LORRAINE: Gypsy People (ABC, USA 1969) 

Rating: 8 out of 10 

Sounds best on: hmm...

Info at: 

Availability: no reissue

Jan Hendin and Lorraine Lefevre are a Michigan duo, surrounded by top-notch studio musicians, whose album, one of considerable variety and personality, was recorded in England but only released in the United States. It’s wholly original and unlike a lot of singer/songwriter types of the era, they had considerable creative input. They wrote seven of the ten songs, and the other three were written for them. They play all of the guitars on the album, and also some keyboards, and are credited with “ensemble arrangements.” 

While it’s probably not the ultimate femme psych masterpiece collectors like myself go out of their minds looking for, it’s pretty darn close. It’s a reasonable cross between British folk-rock and American psychedelia (with a strong Indian influence), and is the most interesting and successful album by a folk-psych duo, male or female. It also rocks with conviction, and while it does contain two off-the-wall experiments it doesn’t lose its focus. More importantly, unlike virtually every late 60s/early 70s album by women, there’s not a song here with a bland or simplified arrangement. More to the point, there's no song or arrangement that seems to have been thrust upon them by a sales-happy label or producer. They never opt for the easy way out, erring on the side of daring rather than on the side of omission. Even the two orchestrated ballads avoid the traps of mainstream pop, as the strings create an eerie atmosphere not far off from the sitars and effects elsewhere. The women’s voices are high and a little thin when apart, but rich and evocative together, even when one or the other hits an unlikely note here or there. They’re full of substance. Throughout there’s an exciting “anything goes” feel that makes the album more than the sum of its excellent parts.

The opening “Break Out The Wine” starts things off with vigor; it’s a powerful rock song with terrific drumming and lovely vocals. The only remote concessions to folk are the acoustic rhythm guitars, which are strummed so hard that they’re louder than electrics. In the first of the album’s many clever and creative arrangement touches, the song changes tempo near the end, then changes chords. It’s a surprising way to end the song, and sets the stage for the many unusual ideas to follow. The next two songs, “Bird of Passage” and the title tune, are both ragas. The slightly extended “Gypsy People,” in particular, is something special. The rhythm section on it is fantastic; a full drumset augments (and often overshadows) the tabla and the bass playing, by Brian Odgers, is outrageously high and even speedier than the rhythm guitars on “Break Out The Wine.” It’s somewhere between REVOLVER and FOREVER CHANGES, and more nimble than either. After “Foolin’ Myself,” a brief and moderately dramatic ballad, side one ends with the song most likely to rankle psych fans, “Olde Tyme Movie.” With its car horns, kazoos, slide whistles, and scratched-vinyl effect, it’s the kind of post-“When I’m Sixty-Four” music hall song that normally screams out “bandwagon.” All I can say is that it’s really well done, and feels true to Lorraine’s musical roots. If you’re not inclined to like it, you probably won’t. I’m fine with it; I also like the many similar songs done by the Kinks. 

Side two gets back down to business with “Life’s Parade.” Its jarring stops, whispered lyrics and gypsy-like backing vocals are angelic and powerful. It also benefits from further outstanding bass playing by Odgers. “Snow Roses” is another brief ballad, with delicate acoustic guitar work, and subtle deeply echoed backing vocals (via mellotron?) that are even more effective than those on the previous song. Side two’s centerpiece, though, is the nine-minute “The Assignment Song – Sequence,” written by Jan. Like “Break Out The Wine,” it’s a straightforward folk-rock song with emphasis on the “rock,” anchored by that terrific rhythm section. After a while, the singing ends but the groove continues on. A simple, but effectively freaky, guitar solo gains power as the drums stick into a repeated set of rolls (the song’s unusual ¾ construction makes it sound like almost like the record is skipping.) Before you know it the rolls continue straight on without stopping and the intensity level hits a tremendous peak before the song ends not with a bang but a whimper. It comes apart at the seams, ending with each instrument letting out a few quiet gasps. It’s followed by another oddity, the brief “Number 33.” It is sung by a very young girl (Jan’s sister? Her daughter?) I dig it. You might not. Unlike “Olde Tyme Movie,” though, it isn’t silly. It’s downright creepy, like a child’s nightmare, with a metronome-like beat, more echo-happy backing vocals and lyrics such as “I went up the apple tree/all the apples fell on me.” The ominous tone continues on the final song, “Don’t You Feel Fine,” whose jarring shifts from major to minor keys and dissonant vocal sections belie the positivism of the lyrics. “Have you ever know the pleasure of giving for the sake of getting nothing/loving for the sake of knowing pleasure/knowing for the sake of teaching others” is a great sentiment, but it’s sure backed by a moody melody. Fittingly, a stray bass note ends the song and the album.

The vocals throughout are always agreeable, but daringly and impressively stop short of being truly “pretty,” with “Don’t You Feel Fine” being the most glaring example. It’s many levels above the sunshine pop that was in the charts at the time, which surely made it impossible to market; the irony is that its artistic success probably assured its commercial failure. Like the most well-known femme psych artists (Lily & Maria, Wendy & Bonnie, Linda Perhacs, Nancy Priddy, Feminine Complex, etc…) the album is a one-shot. It’s a mystery why it isn’t better known now.

- review by Aaron Milenski

(Review #38)

JOHN GILBERT / MEADE RIVER: same    (A.V US 1972) 

Rating: 8 out of 10 

Sounds best on: a sixpack & some weed for old time's sake

Info at: here and here only

Availability: unlikely to get reissued

On a sad, fucked-up day in October 1971 a 17-year old kid named John Gilbert was hit and killed by a car in a small town in Kentucky. John Gilbert wasn't a famous person, and the sole reason I'm talking about him today is because his family released an LP in his memory. The album consists of home recordings of John playing electric guitar on one side, and of his rock band Meade River on the other side. Proceeds from the sales went into a memorial fund, but given the rarity of the album these are likely to have been slim. 

There are certain records where you need the background story to get the most out of the music. For a few titles, such as Palmer Rockey's "Rockey's style", the background story is the entire record. After seeing "Meade River" referenced in rare record lists I've been wanting to hear it, and I finally managed to lay my hands on a copy. I pretty much knew what to expect, nevertheless the impact it made on me was surprisingly strong. As a reminiscence it works a lot better than the similar Steve Ellis & the Starfires LP as an example, although I need a few paragraphs to explain why that is.

The liner notes add more flesh to my crude summary above, but there's nothing in there to suggest that John Gilbert was anything but a regular teenager interested in learning to play guitar and write songs, among a dozen other things likely to have kept him busy. The band Meade River appears to have been a garage outfit in the most embryonic stage, with performances limited to "block parties, school events, and private homes". Apart from Gilbert the only other member was his drummer friend Brett Barker, who wrote the liner notes to the LP, and on one track a bass player named John Whalen. Gilbert and Barker "dreamed of one day making a record album of their own music" but I think it's fair to say that this would have been 3-4 years away, if disaster hadn't struck. So even in a world of privately released, primitive basement recordings Meade River is unusual. None of this was intended for release, or perhaps even to be heard by anyone but the musicians themselves. 

John Gilbert

Side one is obviously the less interesting. Unless you're a guitar tutor, it's all down to atmosphere and presence. I get a clear image of Gilbert sitting on the side of his bed with a cheap Sears guitar in his lap, a tiny amp plugged in, and a reel-to-reel recorder with an old mic pointing at the amp. The tracks consist of 9 guitar workouts of varying length; some obviously structured compositions, others improvised freakouts, and one or two closer to scale practice than actual music. The year being 1971 you can hear echoes of the hard-working guitar heroes of the day, under the credo the faster the better. Gilbert is actually a pretty fast player and gets a nicely distorted sound out of his box, whether by tech limitations or deliberate gadgets I do not know. If this was a tape handed to you by a buddy you're unlikely to play it more than once, but given the circumstances it's not without a naked, sinister charm.

That naked, sinister charm grows into a fullblown spooky funeral hallucination over on side 2, which is where the Meade River rock band recordings are. The side runs to almost 22 minutes, thus compensating for the skeletal nature of side 1. The opening track is the one most likely to impress, a 6-minute piece of chaotic basement guitarpsych titled "My my my". Think Boa on their drunkenest gig ever, or Hasil Adkins trying to sound like Rayne. It's amazing stuff, with the atmosphere so thick you could put it on a slice of bread and eat it. The rest of the side is somewhat more low-key, with crude Neil Young folkrock delivered by Gilbert's likable amateur vocals and murky $15 guitar sound. There's one track written and sung by drummer Barker, the rest are all Gilbert/Barker or just Gilbert compositions.

Then there is "The night is cold and dreary", and this is where I freak out. It's another folky ballad, right, but after a few lines of teen melodrama Gilbert suddenly sings "Hold me tight my love, I'm afraid to die". Aargh! What the hell is this? The kid was 17 years old for Christ's sake -- he had no reason to sing that! I try to find comfort in a theory that it was really about Vietnam, although that has no foundation in the lyrics whatsoever. In any event, the line about dying shocked me in a way few records have before or since, and when I played it again the effect was almost as strong. Just as you're getting into the vibe of the LP being a cool artefact to file among your other local early 1970s trips, the whole tragedy of what it really is comes back and hits you like a Jake Lamotta jab in the solar plexus. And the scariest part is that it's all chance, not deliberate in any way. This, along with "My my my", made the album for me, even at the rather substantial pile of dough it cost me.

John Gilbert/Meade River is a very special album that will be appreciated in a special way by certain people. Others will not get it, or dismiss it because half of it is unaccompanied amateur guitar solos. What I love about it, apart from the pure emotional impact of the thing as a whole, is that it isn't just an "incredibly strange" LP with a certain history, but that side 2 works as a good local underground LP even without the background... and with the background it turns into a spinechilling experience seldom found on a rock record.

(Review #39)

TERRY MANNING: Home Sweet Home (Enterprise, US 1970) 

Rating: 7 out of 10 

Sounds best on: alligator wine 

Info at: 

Availability: recently reissued

It’s not daring or impressive or challenging to cover a Beatles song. It’s just stupid. At best you can hope it will be one of two things: an amusing novelty or a pleasant carbon copy. In neither case will it stand up to more than a few listens or be an essential part of a great album. The exceptions to this rule are so few that I can count them on one hand (you might pick a few others of your own; I know some favor Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help From My Friends,” for example). Until I discovered this album, my list stood at two: the Zoot’s marvelous hard rock rewrite of “Eleanor Rigby” (arranged by Rick Springfield!) and Area Code 615’s stunning instrumental country-rock version of “Hey Jude”. 

Now I can add Manning’s ten-minute take of “Savoy Truffle” to my list. It does more for the concept of “lengthy cover version” than the Pink Fairies’ “Walk, Don’t Run.” If such a thing exists, “Savoy Truffle” is one of the Beatles’ most underrated songs, making it a genius choice for a cover. Manning begins his epic version with a moog solo that is unlike anything else on the album. Then, one by one enter drums, guitar, bass, blues harmonica, and a searing guitar solo. After an abrupt stop, Manning’s gruff voice, not what you’d expect for a Beatles’ song or from a guy who worked with Big Star, enters. Finally, the song becomes somewhat recognizable. Manning dispenses with the smooth saxophones that drove the original, and though the key guitar riffs remain, Manning’s vocal, the harmonica, and the jarring stops give the song an edge that’s missing from the Beatles’ version. That edge serves to increase the power of its gruesome lyrics. Surely enough, Manning emphasizes the “you’ll have to have them all pulled out” refrain ad nauseam (literally) before the harmonica, drums and guitar descend into flanger heaven. George Harrison is the last Beatle anyone would expect to lend himself to a warped hillbilly-psych (and psycho) blues interpretation, and that’s exactly why the song is so compelling. Manning finds something in it that Harrison barely tapped. Manning isn’t much of a songwriter, so it’s a testament to his brilliance as an arranger that he can win over a “purist” like myself, someone who generally has no interest in albums that aren’t wholly or at least mostly composed of originals. 

The fun doesn’t end with just that one song. It’s followed by a sprightly version of “Guess Things Happen That Way” and then the album’s two choice originals. “Trashy Dog” is a lowdown dance tune, complete with a female chorus singing “do it” as Manning shouts out instructions to the dancers. “Wild Wild Rocker” carries on the forgotten Little Richard/Jerry Lee Lewis tradition of speed-happy piano, buoyed by some bitchin’ fuzz guitar the likes of which those 50s stars never imagined. It’s irresistible.

Side two has its moments, but isn’t quite up to the standard of side one. It starts well, with “Choo Choo Train,” which was pulled from who knows what store of “obscure-blues-to-cover” and suits Manning’s not-so-pretty vocals ideally. The song peaks with one of the most absurd drum breaks in recorded history. Manning’s take of “I Ain’t Got You” is even better, as the recurring fuzz guitar riff hits the same magically comical high octave note as Soft Machine’s “We Did It Again.” It’s so bloody cool that you barely notice the rest of the song. If you do pay attention, you’ll have to love the way Manning says “womens” and how one guitar solo is lame acoustic plucking while the other is pure feedback. The album, unfortunately, sputters to a close with a fun but dispensable Booker T-style instrumental called “Sour Mash” and a second Beatles cover (“I Wanna Be Your Man”) that proves by comparison how impossibly good “Savoy Truffle” is. Otherwise, this album is a pure funfest, as cool as rock gets. Manning shows equal parts reverence and disdain for a whole host of rock and roll traditions. Perhaps it’s mostly a novelty, but psych fans will like it, roots rock fans will like it, punks will like it, garage fans will like it, and warped soul fetishists will like it. Beatles fans might even like it. Now let’s all get down and do the trashy dog!

P.S. Manning is most well-known for his work with Big Star, but it should be noted that he also played a big part in the music of the Hot Dogs, who released a nice post-Big Star pop album on Big Star’s label and who created a cover version every bit as good as “Savoy Truffle.” Their power pop rewrite of Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line” blows away everyone who hears it. While searching for HOME SWEET HOME, look for this single as well!

- review by Aaron Milenski


(Review #40)

TRUTH: Of Them and other tales  (CD Epilogue, US 1995) 

Rating: 9 out of 10 

Sounds best on: Sierra Nevada weed

Info at: liner notes galore

Availability: copies still available if you search

I was surprised to learn that this magnificent CD, one of the best retrospective releases of the mid-1990s, is still in print. Apparently a second run was made for a licensing deal which then fell through, leaving the good people at Epilogue with a big stack of CDs for a release that had already run its course on the home market. The good news is that 8 years down the line a new generation of heads have an equal opportunity to jump into this exhilarating roller coaster ride of west coast-style guitarpsych at its finest.

TRUTH is one of the more obscure twigs on the amazingly vast tree that grew out of a 1964 Belfast hoodlum r'n'b act first (and last) known as Them. You've heard the great Van-era recordings, the even greater Belfast Gypsies recordings, the inconsistent but occasionally brilliant Texas-era recordings -- but prior to this CD you're unlikely to have heard this Chicago-based franchise, featuring guitarist Jim Armstrong and vocalist Kenny McDowell from the Belfast/Texas incarnations of the band, lured back to the US by a music biz impresario circa 1969. The ex-Themers teamed up with two local musicians and Truth was born, rehearsing like crazy and playing local Windy City gigs with some success. I'll refer to John Berg's very detailed liner notes for the full story and move on to the music.

The bulk of the 14 songs contained on the CD are 1969 recordings made for a movie titled "College For Fun And Profit" in which the band can actually be spotted in one scene. The remaining tunes come from a 3-track acetate recorded for a prospective Epic LP that never happened. According to Jim Armstrong "Truth was the best band I ever played in. There was no pulling in different directions". It's not hard to believe him, because that's what Truth sounds like -- skillful musicians delivering music that radiates warmth, harmony and synchronization. If this sounds a bit like vintage Grateful Dead then all the better, because there is a distinct similarity between the Dead of, say, "China cat sunflower", and the airy, good-natured guitarpsych of Truth. Not much is said about the band's influences in the liner notes but if I were to define them in terms of a pin placed on a wall-map of the USA, the spot would be Highway 1 halfway between LA and the Bay Area. There is already a pin there, marked Stalk-Forrest Group, and apart from the Dead that's one band that Truth remind me of.

Impressive credentials for sure, but Truth needn't be embarrassed in this company, because their music is faultless and at its best outright stunning. So very few bands manage to play music that allows space for the members full range of versatility without degrading into prog or fusion; Truth manage to do so and still deliver melodic, open-ended music. The opening "Music is life" is a program declaration as good as any; complex rhythms and bold chord shifts, yet as inviting as a Byrds 45 with McDowell's joyful vocals setting the tone for all that follows. "6 O'Clock Alarm" is your standard white-collar grind lament except with a 5-minute Garcia/Lesh-style jam in the middle, before the vocals pull you back to planet Earth.

I have to refrain myself from describing every track in detail but all of it progresses along the superb '69 Dead/Stalk-Forrest axis described above; an exquisite sitar track adds a foreign flavor, while the 10-minute revisit to the Texan Them's "Square room" shows just how good raga rock can be if done with serious intentions -- like a sequel to "East-West" by the Butterfields 3 years earlier. There is another great track called simply "HIGH!" which is how you feel when hearing it, and a take on "Circle round the sun" that suits the band very well. The CD closes with the 3 tracks off the aforementioned acetate, and they're just as swell, bringing in organ and flute and a slight British influence (think Traffic) to produce one of the very best tracks on the entire CD, the powerful "Castles in the sand" that is likely to blow anyone's head off. There is some very minor surface noise on the acetate tracks while the earlier recordings are crystal clear and can be played loud as fuck! 

Most of the unreleased 1960s-70s stuff that appears is disappointing and shows mainly why it wasn't released in the first place, but this Truth CD is the perfect antithesis of that cynicism -- just like Stalk-Forrest Group it's better than almost anything that WAS released at the time.


© Patrick The Lama 2002-2003

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