Thursday, September 18, 2014

Blackbirds - Touch of Music. 1971 Germany

Blackbirds - Touch of Music. 1971 OPP

CD reissue: 2005 Long Hair

LP reissue: 2006 Long Hair

Release details: Originals are as seen in the photo above. Copies aren't as expensive as you might think, and $75 seems to be about a median value. Long Hair is the only label to step up on the reissue front, and they did a fine job on the CD, adding full liners, great sound, photos, and two bonus tracks from a rare 1970 single. I suspect the reissue LP to be similar (except it only features one bonus track).

Notes: Blackbirds' second album is a bit more UK and Dutch oriented than the usual 1971 German organ bang fest. Now nobody likes a German organ bang fest as much as moi (especially when the organ is a Hammond), but there's always room for a band like the Blackbirds' more classically oriented styled progressive rock. And it's quite the keyboard extravaganza too. References to Trace, Rare Bird, and The Nice are necessary. And the dour atmosphere of the vocals recall bands such as Procol Harum and Still Life. Touches of violin, flute, and recorder adds much needed color to the canvas. The CD version includes the rare 1970 single, where Blackbirds prove they were quite a force in the ways of psychedelic music as well with a searing acid guitar sound and gruff vocals. Very good album.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Steve Linnegar's Snakeshed - Classic Epics. 1982 South Africa

Steve Linnegar's Snakeshed - Classic Epics. 1982 Snake

CD reissue: 2014 Guerssen (Spain)

LP reissue: 2014 Guerssen (Spain)

Release details: Originals come in a gatefold sleeve. Albums coming from South Africa are hard enough to find, but privately pressed ones are even that much more difficult. The non desirable date of 1982 is the only thing holding the price down on this one, and originals are usually in the $200-$300 range. I was first sent a cassette of this album in the late 90s, and I've had it in the CDRWL since its inception. And as first reported on that site, via Linnegar's sister Diane, we learned of these Guerssen reissues. The album sounds great (from the master tapes) - much better than my old cassette which came from the crappy bootleg LP I'm sure. The album features a detailed review from Acid Archives contributor Aaron Milenski, as well as the full set of lyrics, newspaper clippings, and photos. The LP reissue, it appears, replicates the original in every way. Don't miss these reissues if there's any interest at all in this album.

Notes: What's most telling about Linnegar's album is just how out of sync the album was with its release date of 1982. The psychedelic guitar, optimistic vocals, folky acoustic guitar and violin overlays, and overall songwriting point to an album that could have been released in 1974 England. "Classic Epics" is a crafty mix of folk, psychedelic, progressive, and AOR. Best track is the lengthy 14 minute psychedelic space rocker 'Desert'. A wonderfully out of touch album, perhaps due to its remote location on the (then) shunned South African subcontinent. The new reissues on Guerssen really open this album up from prior bootleg copies, and even from the typically dirty South African originals. Be sure to hear this album as it was intended before passing quick judgment.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Opus III & Friends - s/t. 1970 Sweden

Opus III & Friends - s/t. 1970 Sonet

LP reissue: 2013 Sonet/Universal

Release details: Very rare album that is stored in a basic single sleeve cover, that will set you back about $150 to $200 for an original. It's more scarce than expensive. This has been part of my CDRWL for over 4 years now, ever since The AC fed me a copy. So you can imagine my surprise when I found 2 sealed copies of the LP in a local record store recently (!?!?!)*. I go record hunting locally about.. ohhh.. once a year maybe? And I look for common $5 stuff that I don't feel like mail ordering because of postage costs. But Opus III? I had no idea it had been reissued in any form. The LP reissue is straight up - not even one hint of an extra, liner notes - or anything for that matter. But it is absolutely from the masters (sounds great), comes in a limited release of a 1000, and even uses the original Sonet orange and purple trumpet label. 100% legit release for the skeptical out there (and none are more so than I). However, it stays in the CDRWL as there is still no CD. *If I can get off my arse, look for an auction this Sunday and I'll put the extra one up for sale.

Notes: What strikes me most about Opus III & Friends is how much it reminds me of an American album circa 1970 as found on labels like Paramount, Rare Earth, and ABC. It actually sounds like a horn rock album - without the horns if that makes sense. But the compositions have that similar flavor about them. It's clearly a post psychedelic release and many elements of that genre are present, most fortuitously on a couple of the guitar solos spread throughout the 8 tracks here. The instrumental tracks go for a quiet introspective electric guitar trio sound. Which is a logical conclusion when you realize the band is headed up by no less a luminary than the legendary guitarist Jan Schaffer. And the "Friends" part of the moniker includes none other than Bjorn J-Son Lindh on piano and flute. This is definitely not the subversive underground Sweden of Parsson Sound, International Harvester, Algarnas Tradgard, and Flasket Brinner. Not much is unfortunately. A good album though, and well worth picking up if you see it.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Dakila - s/t. 1972 USA/Philippines

Dakila - s/t. 1972 Epic

NO reissues!

Release details: Single sleeve major label cover that lends itself easily to ring and shelf wear, like the cover above (and my personal copy is this way too - I bought it in a local store well over 20 years ago for about a $1 and never bothered to upgrade). It's a relatively common record, and one can secure a nice copy for around $30 with little effort (and less with more patience and hustle). No legit CDs have surfaced, which is a real tragedy, and thus is a standard feature on my CDRWL.

Notes: Despite looking like the bad guys from a vintage Hawaii Five-O episode, Dakila were a band from the Filipino immigrant community residing in the Mission District of San Francisco (a generation later, another Filipino group would emerge from the SF Bay Area, and that would be the excellent thrash metal band Death Angel). But this was 1972, and given the Latino influenced culture of the area, Dakila put no less a luminary than Santana on a pedestal and made a similar go for their fortune. The music contains copious amounts of passionate sustain guitar, chunky Hammond organ, fuzz bass, active Latin percussion, and soulful vocals. The latter sung in Tagalog, Spanish, and English. Dakila definitely have that Lowrider Soul culture in their veins as well, and Carlos' brother's band Malo is also very much in play here. Personally, I cannot possibly hear enough bands in this style, and many are favorites, especially Chango. Other reference points would be Macondo, Pantha, The Antiques, Naked Lunch, Azteca, and Broth. Absolutely killer stuff.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Fusion Orchestra - Skeleton in Armour. 1973 England


Fusion Orchestra - Skeleton in Armour. 1973 EMI. Released in Germany and Canada as well

CD reissues: 1993 EMI (Japan); 1994 Si-Wan (Korea); 2009 EMI (Japan mini-LP)

LP reissue: 1994 Si-Wan (Korea)

Release details: UK originals come in a wonderful textured gatefold (first photo). Look to pay anywhere between 1 and 2 balloons* for a nice one. As with a few of my albums, I actually found a new original LP copy at a local record store here in Dallas in the mid 1980s. I almost didn't buy it because of the unrepresentative name of the band. But as fortune would have it, I gave up a dinner that night, and now still proudly own that copy. As for reissues, they have been the sole proprietorship of the Asian market. Not sure why this album hasn't been treated to a UK specialist label like Esoteric with full liner notes, but these Asian reissues will suffice until then. The Japanese mini-LP is a perfect reproduction of the original in miniature.

Notes: Fusion Orchestra aren't a jazz, nor chamber, rock band. Rather they represent, to me at least, the swan song for the Post Psychedelic, Proto Progressive with Female Vocals sound, as I've documented via the link provided. Fusion Orchestra are a spirited bunch, and the music borders hard rock, with blazing heavy psych guitar at every turn (with some great solos). There's also a jazz undercurrent, and Jill Saward's voice (and she plays a mean flute too) is husky in that blues sort of way that was popular at the turn of the decade. This is one of the most kinetic albums of the genre, with multiple fast paced meter shifts and a wealth of ideas, and no fan of any of the genres mentioned above will walk away disappointed here. Jill Saward was just a cute teenager when she joined the band in the early 70s. Later she went onto be the professional blond bombshell leading the slick, and very popular, 80s jazz funk band Shakatak.

(*old New York City colloquial meaning $100...)

And, would you believe, Fusion Orchestra has reformed and released an excellent followup album. And that album is today's feature on Under the Radar.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Steve Maxwell von Braund - Monster Planet. 1975 Australia


Steve Maxwell von Braund - Monster Planet. 1975 Clear Light of Jupiter

CD reissue: 2013 Aztec

LP reissue: 2013 Dual Planet

Release details: The album was pressed in a quantity of about 2000. Braund wasn't too keen on the cover design (nor the von designation), and so he had approximately 500 of the albums reprinted with a more favorable cover (to him at least), and that's the second photo you see (and the liner notes of the CD go into great detail about the issues surrounding the cover). Originals have always been scarce, and the album generally sells between $100 and $150. So convincing was the German styled cover design, that when I first read about the album from a catalog in the mid 1980s, it was simply listed as Monster Planet on the Cosmic Couriers label. For many years, dealers told me such an album didn't exist. And finally the puzzle was resolved for me, and eventually I bought the LP about a decade later (original cover). Then a few years ago, it was announced that Aztec would reissue the album on CD, following on their successful reprinting of Cybotron's "Implosion". Shortly after that, Aztec went bankrupt, and it appeared the opportunity had been lost. But as announced on the CDRWL, Aztec reemerged, though in a somewhat confused state. Fortunately Greg Walker has been successful in bringing in the Aztec CDs, but who knows for how long. If you are interested at all in these albums, now would be the time to get them while there's still some availability.  Both the Aztec and Dual Planet reissues replicate the original cover (this presumes, then, that Braund has reconciled with it). The CD also features a very telling 14 minute radio interview from back then. I did have to admit wondering why Aztec would reissue such an obscure album, especially after falling into financial trouble. And the answer is provided in the extremely informative liner notes: Label head Gil Matthews plays bass and drums on the album!

Notes: "Monster Planet" is arguably Australia's first electronic album. Influenced by the German Cosmic Courier LPs (all of which were imported to Australia), and Braund's own time spent in the English and German underground, "Monster Planet" mixes both rock (including vocals, sax, bass, and drums) and electronik elements. The latter element proving to be the main characteristic of the album. The synthesizer was limited to strictly a Korg-700, so the possibilities were quite limited - and the album is a bit monotonous in places because of it. There are no sequencers, organ, or mellotron - just static and spacey electronics. Shortly thereafter Braund began to assemble a full arsenal of synthesizers, and thus the Cybotron legacy was born. All the same, the album has its charms, and is a good example of the pioneering 70s electronic music movement.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Irish Coffee - s/t. 1971 Belgium

Irish Coffee - s/t. 1971 Triangle

CD reissues: 1992 Voodoo (Austria); 2007 Thors Hammer (Germany)

LP reissue: 2010 Guerssen (Spain)

Release details: Originals, of the few that have actually managed to be up for auction, regularly fetch north of $1,000. My first taste of the album, along with dozens of other people I'm sure, came via the Voodoo CD reissue which I picked up sometime in the 90s. Over the years, this reissue had been tagged a pirate edition, but I was pretty certain it was legit. And sure enough, the band themselves reissued it in a limited edition (Voodoo was an early name for the band). It featured 7 bonus tracks and a small history. Naturally it vanished into various collections over the years, and the bootleggers hit the market hard (there are a few not worth mentioning). Fortunately Garden of Delights came to the rescue (under their non-German Thors Hammer moniker), and this is the de facto reissue. Full historical liner notes, new photos, scans of all their singles (and all 7 extra singles are here as bonus tracks), and great sound. Here we learn of the authenticity of the original CD (but points out one glaring recording error), as well as confirming the original LP release date as July 1971 (I still see 1972 appended on some discographies). Later on, the high quality Guerssen label put the vinyl back on the shelves.

Notes: Irish Coffee's debut is practically the definition of the Continental European rock sound of the era. Heavy guitar and Hammond organ are the main instruments, while the English vocals are delivered in a forceful gruff style. The music is deceptively complex, and a casual listen will likely result in labeling the album as "hard rock". Perhaps, but in the same way as Nosferatu or Culpeper's Orchard. Tracks like 'Can't Take It', 'When Winter Comes', and 'Hear Me' pack a lot of ideas and meter shifts into their sub 5 minute time frames. The single tracks are indeed more straightforward, and the last recordings come from 1974 where it appears the band hadn't progressed at all.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Light Year - Reveal the Fantastic. 1974 USA

Light Year - Reveal the Fantastic. 2010 Green Tree (Germany). Archival recordings from 1974 (CD & LP)

Today we have a real gem. And it's been out there for 4 years now, and I'm just hearing it for the first time!(?) I discovered it the old fashioned way: Research. This is the type of album I'm usually tipped to ahead of time by my loyal friends and researchers. So perhaps today I can return the favor? I hope so. I think all of my readers will adore this one.

Release details: The CD comes in a nice digipak and features newly written liner notes (from 3 of the members), lyrics, and photos. The sound is excellent. The LP is a gatefold, though I haven't possessed one myself. I know that Green Tree has a somewhat checkered past, but this one is clearly legit, and a superb archival album. Buy this one before it gets away. Special thanks is given to Doug Larson, who I presume had something to do with this release.

Notes: An extraordinary find, Light Year were a band from San Francisco circa 1974 that played a cross between heavy fusion and progressive rock, with dominant female vocals. To me it sounds like the Belgian band Cos playing the music of Mahavishnu Orchestra! Yes... I'm serious - Pascale Son fronting John McLaughlin and crew. A 6 piece of guitar, keyboards, bass, drums, vocals, and percussion (much of it tuned). Mixing a Bay Area band with an additional percussionist will call to mind who? Yes, that's right, Santana. And guitarist Randy Sellgren certainly possesses that hyper kinetic electric technique of Mahavishnu John meets Carlos type sound. The music is jazz oriented, but with ferocious rock segments, in the same manner as Santana's "Lotus". And the final track, clocking in at a whopping 20:20, has a distinct space rock element - propelling the album to its greatest height.

And the story doesn't end there. And this is perhaps the most fascinating aspect for me; the liner notes don't mention it. And there's only one reference to it on the label's home page. And (lots of ands on this one...) this is how I discovered it in the first place: I recently bought a second LP copy of Mingo Lewis' "Flight Never Ending" which I have listed in the CDRWL. This copy, however, included a promotional insert, where it says (typing it out literally): "Mingo's band lingo (sic) is a tight, young outfit: Drummer Dave Logemen (22), bassist Eric McCann (17), plus the remains of another San Francisco band called Light Year which includes guitarist Randy Sellgren, synthesizer specialist Michael Kapitan, and keyboardist Kincaid Miller." The latter two are not mentioned in the CD liner notes (Mingo's album came out two years later) - but then again, neither is Mingo Lewis. Holy smokes - who knew??

This album is absolutely essential.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

L'Orchestre Sympathique - En Concert a la Grande Passe. 1979 Canada

L'Orchestre Sympathique - En Concert a la Grande Passe. 1979 Les Disques Cadence

CD reissue: 2005 ProgQuebec

Release details: Original LP is a single sleeve cover. While the original album is certainly low on supply, there's almost no demand, so if you're in the market for one - it will (or should) come cheap. The album was included in their concert pricing  - a novel idea that helped fund the project. It's only been in the last couple of years that I was first introduced to the album. The CD, while not completely gone, is definitely tougher to source. It features liner notes and wonderful sound like all of ProgQuebec's product.

Notes: L'Orchestre Sympathique's jazz rock sound (recorded live, but perfect sound) is defined by flute and tuned percussion, and thus draws comparisons to Pierre Moerlen's Gong and fellow Quebecois legends Maneige very easily. And those references are certainly on the mark. One band that isn't mentioned often, but I pick up in the more intense spots, is that of Dun's "Eros". There's no hints of Zeuhl here, and it certainly isn't a dead-on reference, but there are a few similarities especially on 'Houmalaya'. As with any live jazz oriented album, there are a couple of loose improvisation spots that get stuck in the mud, but in general those moments are fortunately held at bay. About 15 years after this album, the Argentine band Las Orejas y La Lengua would release a similar type effort. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Madder Lake - Stillpoint. 1973 Australia

Madder Lake - Stillpoint. 1973 Mushroom

I sense a theme here...

CD reissues: 1991 Mushroom; 2008 Aztec

Packaging: Almost a repeat of yesterday's entry. Originals come in a nice rough paper, non-laminated gatefold. Though in this case, I picked up the LP (of all albums, this was my first ever ebay purchase way back in April of 1999 - funny that). If in the market for one, they can still be had for less than $40 if you look in the right places. Of historical interest, this was the first album on the Mushroom label, and was more or less created by the manager of Madder Lake. I felt the bare bones Mushroom CD (my first copy of the album) was superfluous at the time and I moved it out many years ago. But the allure of the fantastic Aztec reissues proved to be too much, and I recently plunked down for one before they disappear for good. And this edition comes with 8 bonus tracks! I've spoken at length already about how great these Aztec reissues are, so I'll stop here. Just buy one before it's too late.

Notes: Madder Lake's debut is a varied work, that references many of the influences of its day. Anything from the Oz standard of boogie/shuffle ('On My Way to Heaven') to catchy folk rock pop ('Goodbye Lollipop') onto Santana influenced jazz rock - it all can heard on "Stillpoint". Perhaps the best track is the opening 8 1/2  minute 'Salmon Song' (wait a minute, was Steve Hillage...? Naw...), a primarily instrumental jazz rock piece that features some fantastic guitar and organ leads. Other highlights include 'Helper', which sounds like it could have fit in the middle of Blue Oyster Cult's "Tyranny and Mutation" album; the first half of 'Listen to the Morning Sunshine' is typical boogie, but the second half is all psychedelic goodness; and the two progressive oriented closers 'Song for Little Ernest' and '12-lb Toothbrush'. Ironically the latter track had a pop vocal motif that they filtered out for a hit single (as presented on the Aztec CD as a bonus track) - and became somewhat of a caricature sound for the band. They apparently never recovered their reputation locally because of it ("a millstone around their neck" as the liner notes put it). From my perspective, this is by far their better of two albums, and I could never reconcile with their sophomore effort "Butterfly Farm" despite a splendid cover.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Mackenzie Theory - Out of the Blue. 1973 Australia


Mackenzie Theory - Out of the Blue. 1973 Mushroom

CD reissues: 1993 Mushroom; 2009 Aztec

Packaging: Originals come in a fine gatefold, and can still be sourced for a reasonable $40 to $60 depending on condition and weekly economics. My first exposure to the album goes back to the first CD pressed over 20 years ago. The original label was still around at that point (ultimately being rolled up into the Festival brand and is now defunct), and this was sold as a "budget CD". So it's a straight transfer, right off the masters, but has little else to offer. As is often the case for me, I waited too long to replace it with the Aztec reissue, and then when the company was announced to have gone kaput, I knew I missed my chance. But recently the company has resurfaced (as announced on the CDRWL), and Greg Walker was able to score a variety of titles (which was no easy feat believe me). I encourage all of you to follow my lead here and not wait too long to buy what you want/need from this label. This CD, like all of Aztec's reissues, is magnificent. Comes in their usual tri-fold digipak complete with copious/insightful liner notes, photos, a much improved sound, and one smoking hot bonus live track. I'd like to eventually pick up the original at some point, but it's not a top priority. I'm keeping the Mushroom CD for now, but I'm sure it will be on an early bus out of here whenever I get around to selling again. By that time, the Aztec CD will be long gone, and this is a great album worthy of having on CD - so even the Mushroom reissue will suffice for those who waited too long (cough)...

Notes: I think the best way to describe Mackenzie Theory's debut is that of a laid back Mahavishnu Orchestra. Which sounds like an oxymoron, but when you hear "Out of the Blue" it will make sense. Electric guitar and electric viola are the main protagonists here, and both put in a splendid performance. Not only do they possess the necessary chops, but also achieve the most wonderful psychedelic tones. The music is clearly composed, and offers far more than the usual three note backdrop while throwing endless boring jams on top. The tight ensemble work is really where the Mahavishnu Orchestra comparison comes in, especially at the time of "Inner Mounting Flame". Another element that Mackenzie Theory excels at is pacing - that is to say, their ability to slow a song down and suddenly propel it back to a blistering speed. It adds a level of unexpected excitement, and it's just these kind of surprises that make "Out of the Blue" a truly progressive jazz rock album. And don't miss the live version of  'New Song' as presented on the Aztec CD, as it will leave your speakers smoldering for a few hours afterward. This is a must own album for early instrumental fusion fans.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Plastic Cloud - s/t. 1968 Canada

The Plastic Cloud - s/t. 1968 Allied

More from the Personal Collection....

CD reissues: 1990 Laser's Edge (USA); 2006 Lion (USA)

LP reissues: 1999 Void (USA); 2007 Lion (USA)

Packaging: Single sleeve cover with insert as shown above from an old ebay auction that no doubt covered that month's mortgage payment for the seller. Original copies can get way up there, and frequently sell for well over $1K. My original discovery came via a new upstart label called The Laser's Edge way back in 1990. I'd never heard of the group, and I was myself only in about Year 3 of having disposable income for buying albums when I felt like it. So I took a chance, and was rewarded in a big way from a music perspective. The CD comes with a fold out insert and replicates the original liner notes. Many years later I picked up the Void LP reissue - and it's probably superfluous to own this version given it's a straight reissue with the same original insert. But since it's such a favorite album of mine, it's nice to have a vinyl copy - especially since originals are pretty much out of reach. The Lion reissues include - according to their website - "The accompanying twenty-page booklet has all the lyrics, thanks to Don Brewer, the man who wrote them, as well as rare photos and a replica of an original press release that must be seen to be believed". And their edition of the LP is a gatefold. So if I was looking to pick these up for the first time, no doubt I would run to the Lion versions, which hopefully are still available. I'll always keep the Laser's Edge CD - but if I happen upon any other reissue (or God forbid, an original), I most certainly will consider supplementing it.

Notes: Kingston's The Plastic Cloud - to my ears anyway - practically define what late 1960s underground psychedelic music sounds like. Look at the cover - fast forward 45+ years - and tell me they wouldn't fit perfectly into today's hipster culture. They have a strong sense of that era's light ethereal melodies coupled with credible vocal harmonies, and yet they also possess this subversive streak that shows up primarily in their heavy use of a biting "bumblebee" sounding fuzz guitar. Tracks like 'Shadows of Your Mind', 'You Don't Care', 'Face Behind The Sun', and 'Civilization Machine' are massive in their execution, and the jams can get super intense  - especially on the longer tracks (two of which go into the 9 to 10 minute mark). Imagine The Doors going "all in", as they would in their early days, but utilizing fuzz guitar instead of electric organ. And even the "straight" psychedelic tracks are memorable such as 'Art's a Happy Man' and 'Bridge Under the Sky'. If you're a fan of the underground 60s psych movement, it's pretty hard to imagine not freaking over this masterpiece. A genre defining album if there ever was one.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wolfgang Dauner's Et Cetera - Knirsch. 1972 Germany

Wolfgang Dauner's Et Cetera - Knirsch. 1972 MPS / BASF

Next up on the personal collection project. We featured the debut of Et Cetera earlier in the year. I would encourage you to revisit that post as I've updated the contents of the Packaging section greatly.

CD reissue: 2010 HGBS

LP reissues: 1979 Crystal; 1984 Corona Music Jazz

Packaging: "Knirsch" comes in a mighty fine thick and sturdy gatefold, and as with every MPS album, is pressed on excellent vinyl. Like all of the Et Cetera albums, there is much supply, but it's matched by the demand and originals sell consistently for around $125 (though I found copies slightly cheaper on a quick search - so definitely do your homework). I bought my personal original LP copy on ebay about 15 years ago and added it to the CDRWL immediately. Dauner's albums are being reissued slowly, and on different labels, so it was with great delight that a new label HGBS (which stands for original MPS founder Hans Georg Brunner-Schweremerged) reissued "Knirsch" on CD. And so I purchased one as soon as it became available. It comes in a nice digi-pak and sounds fantastic (surely from the masters). Unfortunately there are no historical liner notes or bonus tracks. I know nothing about the '79 reissue, though it would appear Crystal is a "budget label" so probably best to steer clear unless desperate for an LP copy at a cheaper price. I know even less about the Corona Music Jazz release.

Notes: A mixed effort, "Knirsch" combines the higher key heavy fusion of Mahavishnu Orchestra with Dauner's own affliction towards experimental free jazz. On board for this excursion are noted jazz guitarist Larry Coryell, Colosseum's Jon Hiseman (drums), and long time Dauner contributor (and future Exmagma member) Fred Braceful on hand percussion - the all-star cast proves up to the challenge of mixing these diverse styles. Dauner himself provides a nice variety of keyboards from traditional Clavinet, piano, Mini-Moog, and Rhodes onto off-key analog electronik instruments for the most "out there" segments. Some of the experimental bits go on for too long, as was common from this era of jazz rock, but still a very worthy addition for any underground fusion collection. Final piece 'Yin' is the best track and closes the album in fine fashion.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Poliphony - s/t. 1973 England


Poliphony - s/t. 1973 Zella

CD reissue: 2012 Audio Archives

Packaging: Housed in a standard single sleeve, and looking all the studio jam session album that it purports to be. Originals are very scarce and will run anywhere between $200 and $400. My introduction to the album was about a decade ago while visiting Heavyrock's house. And he was kind enough to burn the LP onto CD-R for me for the ride back home. The recent CD reissue on Audio Archives definitely took me by surprise, as I would suspect demand to be very low. It took me a bit of time, but I finally sourced one for the collection recently. It's a fine reissue with very good sound (I suspect a vinyl transcription, but well done), with unique liner notes and clear participation from the band. Audio Archives decided to change the color from the original beige to a pinkish hue - perhaps to its advantage.

Notes: Poliphony is a very nice instrumental jazz psych record. Not too far from some of the Italian film library bands like Fourth Sensation or Psycheground - or even the UK group Hungry Wolf. Some pointed fuzz guitar leads and flute forays add volume. Elsewhere, there's some jazz-tone guitar and plenty of Rhodes, typical of the genre. I think a little more fire in the belly would have lead to a better experience overall, but it's still worth hearing, and perhaps then getting the CD. This Poliphony is not to be confused with the more well known US band Polyphony.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Mandrake Memorial - s/t + Medium + Puzzle. 1968-1969 USA




The Mandrake Memorial - s/t. 1968 Poppy
The Mandrake Memorial - Medium. 1969 Poppy
The Mandrake Memorial - Puzzle. 1969 Poppy

Next up from the personal collection...

CD reissues:
The Mandrake Memorial - s/t. 1996 Collectables
The Mandrake Memorial - Medium. 1996 Collectables
The Mandrake Memorial - Puzzle. 1996 Collectables

LP reissues:
The Mandrake Memorial - Medium. 2009 Wah Wah (Spain)
The Mandrake Memorial - Puzzle. 2009 Wah Wah (Spain)

Packaging: The first album is housed in a standard thick single sleeve, whereas the other two are gatefolds. And, if you're lucky, you might find the circular insert for "Puzzle". I first bought the debut LP almost 25 years ago, appropriately enough, while in Philadelphia. I replaced that, and picked up the others, as soon as the CDs hit the market in the mid/late 90s. Prices tend to be all over the lot for each of the original LPs, but in general, the later the date, the more expensive it gets - which is usually the opposite. The debut sold well (over 100,000 copies according to the CD liner notes), especially within the local Northeast Philly/NYC/Boston market, and thus finding an original isn't too hard. Even though you won't find one for $8 in a store as you could have back then, you can still find nice copies for under $40 (though they can go for much higher - so watch carefully). "Medium" is certainly more scarce though not terribly expensive, but again, prices are volatile, and patience will pay off. "Puzzle" is definitely the hardest one to score. Not only does it feature the fetching Escher cover ("House of Stairs" from 1951), but comes with a cool insert, though the latter will definitely add $ to the final product. Interestingly enough, the CDs may be even rarer and more expensive than the LPs (except for maybe "Puzzle"). That's a rare occurrence these days! These were issued by the local Philadelphia CD label Collectables and were widely distributed in the late 90s. All copies were consumed eventually and now trying to source one is a pricey proposition. All 3 CDs feature full liner notes (the same liner notes for each unfortunately, though "Puzzle" adds in the original liners which are in Dutch and likely come from Escher himself). "Puzzle" comes with both sides of their final 45 single as a bonus, though they inexplicably "colored in" the Escher sketch (who knows why?). All of these are taken from vinyl copies, and only the debut sounds decent. I think they could have done a better job, though it didn't bother me much until I heard them intently with headphones. As for LP reissues, the high quality Spanish label Wah-Wah put the latter two back on the market for vinyl hounds. I'm guessing they decided not to reproduce the debut since originals are still in abundance. I personally haven't run into these reissues. Watch out carefully for pirate editions, as they have proliferated the marketplace.

Notes for s/t: Philadelphia based The Mandrake Memorial began their career as a psychedelic pop group, with the distinction that all the songs here feature distant "lost" vocals and electric harpsichord. There's a certain sameness to their sound throughout. The music is every bit of its era, practically defining 1968 for us. The best tracks, naturally enough for a group existing in the psych world, are those that feature biting fuzz guitar licks such as heard on 'Here I Am', 'Dark Lady', and 'Strange'. Closer 'Sunday Noon' sounds like The Mandrake Memorial covering The Doors. And it's just as great as that might sound.

Notes for Medium: Side 1 sees The Mandrake Memorial taking a step back as they try to define their sound to a finer point. There's more of a downer folk blues sound going on, though its still psych based, and there's phasing and fuzz guitar here, along with the prevailing electric harpsichord. Side 2 definitely takes the straightjacket off, and the band spreads their wings further into longer compositions and creative instrumentals - peaking on the 6 minute instrumental 'Barnaby Plum'. A mixed album, with a much greater discrepancy - both at the top and from the bottom.

Notes for Puzzle: Side 2 of "Medium" was a harbinger of things to come for The Mandrake Memorial. Gone is the trademark electric harpsichord and its place is the guitar trio - with a fully staffed choir and orchestra in tow. The conventional psychedelic songs are undoubtedly The Mandrake Memorial of the first two albums, but the other tracks show the band pushing the boundaries of rock into exciting new directions, oddly reminding me some of Pink Floyd's 'Atom Heart Mother' suite that had yet to appear. Guitarist Craig Anderton's growing interest in electronics is given a test drive on 'Bucket of Air' - a splendid display of proto Kosmiche Krautrock if there ever was one. Overall, it's definitely an experimental record, and one that did not result in commercial success for the band. The subsequent 45 single sees The Mandrake Memorial heading back towards the middle - not sure where else they could have gone honestly - and then decided to hang it up, having accomplished a great deal in only 2 short years.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Robert Connolly - Plateau. 1978 Canada


Robert Connolly - Plateau. 1978 Tube

Next one from the personal collection....

NO reissues!!!

Packaging: Single sleeve cover with a comic book, that's absolutely awesome in its goofiness. And dig that back cover with the mounds of hair and double neck! Like the Pascal Languirand's from Canada, this is an album I bought used well over 20 years ago, and could still buy one for the same price today. One would presume they won't stay cheap forever - so buy the LP while you still can. It really is a good album too (and still quite obscure - few seem to know about it after all these years). No reissues to date, and I've had it in the CDRWL since day 1 of the list. There isn't a year listed anywhere on the LP. However, the comic book is dated 1978, so that's generally the accepted release date for the album.

Notes: I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: Ontario in the 1970's was an extension of the US Midwest - at least from an economic perspective. And so it comes as no surprise that the music shares similarities. We've waxed on a number of times about this most unique of American made rock music. And I'll be honest, I never viewed Connolly with this lens, until a revisit of the LP a couple of years back. Wham-bam, bullseye! Get your Ethos, Dillinger, Starcastle, and October albums out and compare.

Even though Connolly is standing next to a double neck guitar on the back cover, I believe his true passion is keyboards (and he's loaded with all the fun analog stuff like Mellotron, Mini Moog, and Hammond). The concept is pure 1970's space alien fantasy and comes complete with a goofy comic book (and any righteous CD label MUST reproduce this bad boy). For the album, Connolly put together two entirely different groups, each side represented. Side 1 mixes narration, female vocals, acoustic balladry and all out progressive rock that recalls Eloy's "Power and the Passion", but truthfully better. Side 2 is where Connolly hands over the guitar duties as well as brings on a male lead singer - while he focuses entirely on the keys. No question this side is the more traditional progressive rock, though the vocals tend towards the AOR side, typical of the region. Given this new outlook, I'm appreciating Robert Connolly's album more now than ever. It's the time and place.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Deja-Vu - Between the Leaves. 1976 Norway

Deja-Vu - Between the Leaves. 1995 Research Records (Sweden). Also released in 1996 on Record Heaven (Sweden LP). Archival recording from 1976.

More from the personal collection project...

Packaging: Supposedly a test pressing from 1976, I don't think one has ever been for sale. So a classic case of an archival tape, and my first exposure - along with just about everyone else I presume - was the Research Records CD, which I bought immediately upon release in the mid 90s. Today that CD is pretty much extinct and will probably remain a collectable unless it gets reissued again. The CD is an excellent release with liner notes, photos, and great sound. The LP is a picture disc, and is actually a bit more common - though I've never owned one.

Notes: Deja-Vu features two members from the Norwegian hard progressive band Høst, and the music is very similar actually, especially at the time of "Hardt mot Hardt". Perhaps more symphonic given the heavy keyboard presence (Fender Rhodes, Mini-Moog, String Ensemble, Clavinet, Mellotron), but the compositions have that relentless bass guitar induced driving flair - also recalling Trettioariga Kriget or Ruphus' works a couple of years prior to this. Hard to imagine anyone into the symphonic progressive rock sound not appreciating this album at a high level. As you listen to Deja-Vu, it becomes apparent that a modern band like Wobbler has no doubt digested this album as a matter of national pride. And it shows in their own recordings, especially their latest Yes-like offering "Rites at Dawn".

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Lost Nation - Paradise Lost. 1970 USA

Lost Nation - Paradise Lost. 1970 Rare Earth. Also released in the Netherlands

From the Personal Collection project...

NO reissues!

Packaging: Single sleeve cover with colorful label as shown above. I was first tipped to this record over 20 years ago by a friend who also happens to be one of the biggest Dutch record collectors (where the album was also released). He told me that if I was looking for a great hard psych album from my own country, I should look for this LP since he knew it wasn't very expensive - and it was still an unknown (it kind of still is!). True enough, I bought a new copy without markings for all of about $12 at the time - and this is the copy I still own. For one in the same shape as mine you're looking at paying over $75 today (rare to find one without a cut corner, saw cut, cut-out hole, etc...). If cover cuts don't matter to you (like the photo I have here with the cut corner), then you can score one for under $30 still. Unfortunately this album remains completely ignored in the reissue market (beyond pirate editions of course), and has been in the CDRWL since its inception.

Notes: Detroit's Lost Nation recalls another band from nearby Ann Arbor: SRC. Especially at the time of "Traveler's Tale". There's a distinct late psych vibe here (the dreamy vocals and harmonies are a pure giveaway). The driving guitars and Hammond Organ call out Deep Purple from their late 60s era, and the music definitely carries over into progressive rock territory with their sophisticated development of composition - especially over the longer tracks of which there are a few. It's a pity Lost Nation didn't catch on, as they certainly were one of the stronger groups to emerge from the American confused year of 1970. For my tastes, the best album on the Rare Earth label.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Brainchild - Healing of the Lunatic Owl. 1970 England

Brainchild - Healing of the Lunatic Owl. 1970 A&M (also released in Italy)

More from the personal collection...

CD reissue: 1991 Pony Canyon/A&M (Japan)

Packaging: Originals are stored in a single sleeve, and features that rather goofy - but wonderful - cover as seen above. As for reissues, yep - that's it - the CD from A&M's parent company in Japan. It's direct from the masters, and comes in a standard jewel case with an insert in Japanese, and nothing else. Esoteric has talked in the past of reissuing it, but nothing has come of it to date. It was by pure chance I received the CD in the first place. It was literally a throw-in to a larger deal I made about 20 years ago. I was curious about it, but didn't have much hopes that it was anything special. Not to be too dramatic here, but it damned near changed my life! Needless to say, it remains one of my favorite albums ever. And it so desperately needs a specialist label to do it right. I do hope Esoteric will continue to pursue this one. The CD is so obscure - and ridiculously out of print - that I listed the album on the CDRWL in hopes that it would gain some exposure. From a financial perspective, I should hope one doesn't show up, as my CD is worth a fortune these days. But that's not how I roll, and I want everyone to hear it in its full glory! (and not some cheap bootleg of which there are many out there of course). By now, you've probably discerned that picking up an original LP was of paramount importance to me. That day finally came over two years ago. Of course, it wasn't cheap, but there are just some things where it's worth paying top dollar for - and this was one of those things. They'll be throwing this LP in the grave with me. If you're looking for one as well, expect to pay between $200 and $400, depending on who's giving it attention that week on ebay or anywhere else.

Notes: Brainchild's "Healing of the Lunatic Owl" is perhaps the single best album to have emerged from the late 1960s brass rock movement that had gained immense popularity due to Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Chicago Transit Authority's chart topping hits. Brainchild definitely falls on the Chicago side of this equation from a musical perspective. I've long felt that Chicago is somewhat under-appreciated in today's world for how groundbreaking they truly were - mixing carefully crafted pop songs, with complex horn charts, and insane unhinged psychedelia. The latter two elements eventually fell off the train (so to speak), and all that most anyone remembers today is an old boring pop band for middle aged housewives who spend all day on Facebook. The English septet Brainchild is the embodiment of everything that was good about Chicago - without any of the excess or trivial moments. Brainchild's ability to pen a beautiful pop song is jaw dropping in its execution. The horn charts are complicated, perfectly played, and yet still tuneful. There's an element of psychedelic rock, but it's not the main focus - but rather a powerful ingredient to the overall stew. There's also one other aspect to Brainchild, that most horn rock bands did not pursue back then, and that's an absolute appreciation of progressive rock. The latter element shows up repeatedly in how each composition develops - the constant changing of moods, dynamics, and meters. The title track perhaps is the best example of everything mentioned above: A stunning pop melody, great vocals, psychedelic interludes, and a progressive rock structure. Other superior tracks include 'She's Learning' which features a grungy organ, gravelly vocals, psych guitar, and an ominous brass section; 'A Time and Place', a progressive oriented track clocking in at 9 minutes, which starts with melancholy flute, before launching the Latin percussion, organ, jazz rhythm guitar, and hard hitting trumpet/trombone charts; 'Sadness of a Moment' is the kind of song that Greg Lake could have penned for King Crimson in his prime - complete with soft echoed vocals, acoustic guitar, and flute. Goosebump inducing music right here!; 'To "B"' closes the album, after a brief but beautiful flute opening, as it started with 'Autobiography' - a powerful horn rock song in the Chicago Transit Authority tradition. For me, the best horn rock album ever. Unless the style reemerges in our lifetime, it's hard to imagine anything ever besting it.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Maxophone - s/t. 1975 Italy


Maxophone - s/t. 1975 Produttori Associati; 1975 PAUSA (USA - English version)

Back to documenting the existing collection....

CD reissues: 1992 Crime (Japan); 1993 Nices (Korea); 1997 Mellow; 2005 Arcangelo (Japan mini-LP); 2008 BTF (mini-LP) ; 2011 Belle Antique (Japan mini-LP)

CD reissues (for English version): 1993 Mellow; 2008 BTF (mini-LP)

LP reissues: 1988 Crime (Japan); 1993 Si-Wan (Korea); 2010 BTF

Packaging: The original album is housed in a splendid gatefold cover. True Italian originals are scarce and in demand, like all original progressive rock albums from there. Expect to pay north of $300 for a nice one. Watch out for German originals on the same label. Some dealers like to sneak those in as originals - which they are - but still not quite the same (though I might add - would still make a great addition to the collection - and costs about 33% of the real thing). You can distinguish by the catalog number, and that the label is orange instead of the original black (the original is the first photo). The English version was released in America on the California based PAUSA (Produttori Associati USA) label (second scan). Like most folks here, this was my introduction to the album, and while it wasn't common, finding copies for under $5 in the used bins in the 80s and 90s wasn't unheard of either. Usually with a big fat sawcut in it and major ringwear too. These US pressings can still be found for a reasonable price, but not super cheap as in the past (thus eliminating any need for an LP repress of the English version). Like most Italian albums, hearing the English language version is going to be an inferior experience. And as such, I wasn't overly impressed, but kept it around long enough to replace it with the first CD to hit the market which was the Japanese Crime version. Now I could hear the album as it was originally intended in glorious Italian, and the album jumped a couple of points as a result. I eventually replaced that version with the first Japanese mini-LP that replicates the original down to the last detail (including a rare sticker). The CD is from Vinyl Magic of Italy and pressed in 2000 (though oddly I'm not finding that version in the discographies online). Starting with the '97 Mellow release, all the reissues feature the rare 45 single from 1977 as a bonus (taken from vinyl). Maxophone's album, whether on reissue LP and CD, is easily available today. Maybe one day I'll get the Italian original, but it's not of the highest priority right now.

Notes: Late to the game, Maxophone's album missed the heyday of the Italian progressive rock movement by about two years. To add more doubt, Produttori Associati was a pop label that hadn't shown much interest in progressive rock, having only released the very obscure jazz rock Duello Madre album prior. Despite these setbacks, Maxophone's sole album is a fastball-down-the-middle for the style. Everything is here: Complex compositions, memorable melodies, dizzying meters, large symphonic sound, a myriad of analog keyboards (incl. Hammond organ, piano), biting electric guitar leads, soft acoustic guitar soundscapes, flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, French Horn, tuned percussion, and fantastic vocals in Italian. If you're a fan of the style, then it's hard to imagine Maxophone not satisfying on many levels. As is usually the case, be careful not to judge based on the English language version. Hear it in Italian, as it was originally intended, and then draw your conclusion. The 1977 45 single (added as a bonus to later reissues) is geared more towards orchestrated pop, and it clearly shows Maxophone had walked away from progressive rock by then, as just about everyone else in Italy had during those days.