Thursday, March 20, 2014

Iron Claw - s/t. 1970-1974 Scotland

Iron Claw - s/t. 2009 Rockadrome (USA) Archival recordings from 1970 to 1974.

LP reissue: 2014 Lion (USA)

Packaging: The first authorized release of Iron Claw is the Rockadrome CD (first photo), and that's what I currently own. It's an excellent reissue, as is typical of Rockadrome, filled with informative historical notes and photos. The second photo is the newly released Lion LP version. I haven't seen this one personally, but the label says: "This collection of sixteen original studio tracks documents Iron Claw's existence from 1970 thru 1974 and includes extensive liner notes, lyrics and photos inside the gatefold and on a 12" insert; also includes an 11x17 poster." Sounds like a nice package to me (and includes all of the CD material), and I'm sure it's yet another fine release from the high quality Lion. The last photo is from the first CD release of Iron Claw - entitled "Dismorphophobia" (1996 Audio Archives) - which has been tagged as "unauthorized" by RYM. I have a copy of this on CD-R, and it's a different set of music, only focusing on their 1970 material. And it's of very poor sound. I would stick with the Rockadrome or Lion versions for this one and avoid the latter.

Notes: Where to even start? So the deal with Iron Claw is they have four different historical Marks similar to Deep Purple in that way. The first Mark (1970) demonstrates Iron Claw emulating Black Sabbath's early style of crushing heavy blues rock, and this is the sound most associated with the band. The material - and sound - is very raw and distorted. It's good stuff, but not devastating. The first 5 tracks on the CD are from this era. The second Mark (1971) contains only one song and is very similar in sound and scope to Mark I. I found that the real revelation on this CD is Mark III (1971-72), which begins to add in more sophistication and introduces a broad palette of tones including woodwinds. The sound quality is excellent on these tracks, differentiating it greatly from the prior material. Fortunately this stage of the band has a strong presence on the disc - and no less than 8 tracks are presented here. Mark IV (1973-74) sees Iron Claw going full throttle towards complex progressive rock territory. Unfortunately there's only two tracks from this period and the sound isn't ideal, but the music is quite brilliant and demonstrates a band that is really starting to fire on all cylinders. It's a pity they never were able to release a proper studio album. So all in all, an excellent archival collection. It's worth noting that the music is presented chronologically, so this isn't a title that works well in "random play" mode.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Brain Police - s/t. 1968 USA

Brain Police - s/t. 1968 K.B. Artists

CD reissue: 2000 Shadoks (Germany) as "San Diego's Only Psychedelic Cops"

LP reissues: 1997 Rockadelic; 2012 Guerssen (Spain)

Packaging: As you can see, there are numerous covers and releases for this album. The top is the original demo, which didn't come with a sleeve, and is ridiculously rare and expensive. I first heard this album via the Rockadelic LP reissue (2nd picture), which I bought as soon as it was released, and has all kinds of goodies included. I didn't care much for it originally (who knows why?), and sold it rather quickly. Not a smart move. I didn't think about this album much until a couple of months ago - listened to a CD-R I had - and changed my mind in a big way. Fortunately the Shadoks CD is still available (3rd photo), and I snapped one up right away. It's a fine reissue with full historical liner notes, concert poster replications, newspaper articles, and 10 bonus tracks going back to the mid 60s! The last photo is from the Guerssen LP reissue, which I haven't seen or heard. It appears this cover also graced the Akarma issues of the album.

Notes: Tremendous late 60s psychedelic album from San Diego, with some bona fide monster tracks in 'I'd Rather See You Dead' (my personal fave on the album), 'Getting Too Much Higher', 'Gypsy Fast Woman', and 'I'll Find Love'. Heavy fuzz guitar, organ, snotty vocals, snakey bass, and snappy drums define the music. The CD bonus tracks of pre-Brain Police outfits such as the Man-Dells (1964-65) and Other Four (1965-1966) demonstrate a strong Beach Boys influence. This extended experience with vocal harmony shows up throughout the album, adding that extra dimension that makes it special. Listen to tracks such as 'Find Me a Moment', 'Ride My Train of Love', and 'I'll Find Love' to hear this dimension of the band, and I think this is where the Strawberry Alarm Clock references come in (and I agree).

Monday, March 17, 2014

Eloiteron - s/t. 1981 Switzerland

Eloiteron - s/t. 1981 private

CD reissue: 2013 Belle Antique (Japan mini-LP)

Packaging: The photo above shows an old ebay auction that best captures the entire original package. The "skull" photo was actually a single poster sheet that lays on top of the sunrise album cover. Only the earliest presses had this sheet, and many copies were released without it. This was a feature on our CDRWL for many years, and it came as a major surprise that Belle Antique of Japan is the first and only CD reissue. Apparently the band got in touch with Marquee, and sent them a digital copy for reissue purposes. As is typical for the label, Belle Antique reissues whatever is provided to them. Sometimes it can be a fantastic remaster (like Old Man & The Sea or the Speed Limit albums), and sometimes it can be cheap digital copy (like Aquarelle). This is unfortunately of the latter quality. It's too "digitized" for my tastes. I think it could use a better remaster from a sound perspective. However, the quality of the packaging is awesome as usual, and it contains all of what the original LP would have - including the skull outlay. It's nice that there is a legit CD, but I wish a specialist label from Europe would tackle it with a newly remastered sound, and with full historical notes in English. I personally own the LP, but without the skull (but with the insert as shown above) and this Japanese CD.

Notes: Much better than average early 80s symphonic album. There were many of these type of private progressive rock albums released in Germany and Switzerland during this period and Eloiteron are one of the best. Trumpet adds a nice touch, and recalls the Austrian group Klockwerk Orange in a similar setting. Plenty of excellent organ, mellotron, guitar, piano, synthesizers, and flute as well. I appreciate the strong attention to melodic detail. It's primarily instrumental, though there's some sparse unobtrusive vocals that are decent. Recommended album, for certain, and holds up well after many listens. The kind of album Musea Records of France would have reissued, had they gotten to it during their prime.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Raven - Who Do You See... 1976 USA

Raven - Who Do You See... 2013 Golden Pavilion (Portugal). LP only archival release of 1976 recordings.

Here's another great recommendation from The AC!

Packaging: Single sleeve cover with biographical data "obi". This issue surprisingly lacks historical detail, though you can find more on the internet. The vinyl itself sounds very fine - especially for something that wasn't intended to be issued in the first place. Give it a few years, and I'll probably be adding this to the CDRWL...

Notes: Classic progressive rock from Midwest America. This time from Terre Haute, Indiana, and features none other than the same drummer from the monster psych rock band Micah (1971) - who had relocated to upstate New York from Terre Haute a few years prior. So it takes a Portuguese vinyl only label to release this wonderful archival LP - OK, works for me. Global economy indeed.

This album (recorded 1976) has all the trademarks of a band from the era and region: Straightforward radio friendly tracks are offset by highly complex compositions and serious musical chops. And loads of that wonderful Hammond organ and Moog synthesizer! Perhaps not the greatest sounding recording, but certainly excellent given the circumstances. Other Indiana bands like Yezda Urfa, Ethos, and even Vindication will point the way if needing comparisons.

Overall a great find!

And, as it turns out, drummer Robert Wolff is still going - participating in none other than a progressive rock band from Finland called Corvus Stone, who have a new album coming soon! So we have a drummer from Indiana, who lived in New York, who's first album (Micah) was reissued by a German company (Shadoks), whose next band was released for the first time by a label from Portugal, and who is now a virtual member of a band from Finland. Got that? Wow.........

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Blops - s/t (Locomotora). 1974 Chile

Blops - s/t. 1974 Alba

CD reissue: 2006 Shadoks (Germany - as Locomotora from box set along with first two albums)

LP reissues: 2006 Shadoks (same setup as CD box); 2011 Acme (England)

Packaging: The top cover (single sleeve) is the original, while the second one came along later - some say it was originally a pirate edition, others say it was a legit reissue. Details are sketchy, but for certain it's not the original. Shadoks went forward with the latter cover (and secondary title of Locomotora) for its LP and CD box sets. The Acme LP reissue replicates the original cover. It's a brick, with no other information, and muddy sound. Not the best reissue, but it's the only version of the album I own at this time.

Notes: Blops' third self-titled album, later titled "Locomotora" (and with a different cover), is primarily an instrumental rock album with flute, piano, organ, and fuzz guitar providing the lead work. Not particularly complex, but also not as kitschy as some of the Italian instrumental psychedelic albums like Blue Phantom or Underground Set. There are some wordless voices peppered throughout that add an exotic vibe. Perhaps this is South America's equivalent to the French band Catharsis, though Blops appear to have more of a jazz background that they apply to their improvisations. Highly recommended if you enjoy the rougher analog tones of the early 70s, and for fans of flute driven rock. You can put me down as such for those categories.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Friendsound - s/t. 1969 USA

Friend Sound - s/t. 1969 RCA

CD reissue: 2014 Real Gone (with Brotherhood (1968) and Brotherhood Brotherhood (1969))

Packaging: The original is a typical US single sleeve press, and as was still custom in 1969, features liner notes on the back. I first heard about this album via England's Audion magazine circa 1989/90 and then bought a mint one immediately for all of about $10. Even today, this isn't an expensive record, though the days of $10 mint copies I'm sure are far in the past. And I continue to own that copy. As for reissues, Joyride languished in the pirate markets until the high quality Real Gone label came to the rescue. I think the main purpose of this reissue is for the two post-Paul Revere & The Raiders Brotherhood psych albums, and they threw in Friend Sound as a bonus. Works for me! The first Brotherhood album is decent psych, and the second is more commercial. I wouldn't buy them on their own, but they make a nice supplement. Regarding the band name, here's what I said in the CDRWL: "And if we look carefully at the label description, we'll notice the band is known as Friend Sound - two words. The original LP gives us a mixed message on that front. The spine is two words, but everywhere else (label, back liner notes, track titles) indicate it is one word. So it appears there will need to be some discography adjustments applied on the various sites out there." As you can see, I left the old name as the post header, since that's how most people will look for it. This is a fantastic reissue, BTW. Great liner notes with participation of the band, photos, and great sound. Don't miss this one.

Notes: Great experimental psych weirdness from a group that evolved out of Paul Revere and The Raiders. Truly cutting edge for the late 1960s. The kind of album that I'm sure record executives today hold out as an example of Huge Mistakes from the Past. First 10 minutes are an awesome display of psychedelic rock, and the last 25 minutes go waaay the hell out there into druggy la-la land. I'm not sure who was more stoned: The band or the label? File alongside other late 1960s pioneers like Fifty Foot Hose and Silver Apples. Excellent.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Cybotron - Implosion. 1980 Australia

Cybotron - Implosion. 1980 Cleopatra

CD reissue: 2006 Aztec

Packaging: This album comes in a nice gatefold sleeve and is relatively common. I bought the LP years ago and I rarely, if ever, have pulled it out since. Recently I had a chance to source the CD cheap, so I nabbed it. It's hard to beat Aztec's multi-fold out digipak covers, not to mention the extensive liner notes - and great sound. In addition, the CD features 6 fine bonus tracks. And if you've been watching my CDRWL blog recently, you'll have noted that Aztec is back up and running! I have both the CD and the LP for this title, but definitely the CD is the way to go here.

Notes: By this time, Cybotron were clearly more of an instrumental electronic rock band, similar to groups such as France's Space Art, rather than a strictly sequencer based Klaus Schulze clone (though fortunately there's still some of that here). The saxophone is retained from "Colossus" as well, and is put to good use. Other than the last track, which is a smooth jazz clunker (and fortunately short), fans of the band's earlier albums won't want to miss this title either. The band admits in the CD liner notes that they were seeking a more commercial based style, but they didn't want to let go of their progressive past either. Perhaps the least satisfying of the 3, but still quite good. Those who like real drums in their electronic music will be pleased here.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Planes (Gregor Cürten & Anselm Rogmans) - s/t. 1974 Germany

Planes (Gregor Cürten & Anselm Rogmans) - s/t. 1974 private

CD reissue: 2012 Entr'acte (UK)

Packaging: Basic single sleeve design. Originals are scarce but not particularly expensive. This album was first introduced to me in the early 90s as Planes - I'll Remember the Landscape On Your Face. I had this title on the CDRWL for close to 20 years, and was surprised to learn of a legit CD reissued a full two years back. As for this CD reissue and its packaging, here's what I wrote on the CDRWL: "The Gregor Cürten / Anselm Rogmans "Planes" album has been reissued by a UK label called Entr'acte, who do not normally reissue albums. It took me a bit to obtain this CD, but after finally receiving it, I'm kind of glad they aren't in the reissue market. Their CDs come in a silver foil bag, with perfunctory information printed on the front regarding the release. I think the idea is to then go to their website and print out the front and back covers, and other relevant artwork. Hence the label name (interact - get it?). Yea, no thanks on that approach. You guys can stop reissuing albums at any time. It might be fine for new CDs, but that's not the way to do reissues. On the plus side, the sound is great and it is absolutely legit. So bravo to them for that at least." After writing that, a couple of my loyal readers said they had no issues with Entr'acte's approach. So there you have it.

Notes: Planes features two long brooding electronic pieces that remind me of the two Kluster (yea, with a K) albums. Droning voices add some uniqueness on Side 1, whereas Side 2 has some nice touch guitar amongst the usual dark electronic moods.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mad Curry - s/t. 1971 Belgium

Mad Curry - s/t. 1971 Pirate's

LP reissue: 2013 Wah Wah (Spain)

Packaging: As you can see, originals are housed in an extraordinary poster cover. If you hustle around the more obscure European websites and catalogs, you might be surprised that this title isn't always super expensive (though it certainly can be, so shop around). I obtained my original back in the 1990s via a trade with a Belgian dealer, and will probably stay with me to the end of days. As such, it's been on my CDRWL for close to 20 years. And sadly, it remains there. For vinyl collectors, the reissue on Wah Wah solves the problem. My original is hardly in mint shape, so I went forward with this reissue as a backup copy. The reissue packaging is wonderful and replicates the original in every way except the cover texture. The original has a soft vinyl finish, whereas Wah-Wah's is common stock. As a special bonus, they also pressed the original 45 single with picture sleeve. I hadn't heard this single prior, and the music is of the same quality as the album proper. The LP also comes with fine liners, though I believe they come from the band's own website. I wasn't overly pleased with the sound, however, as it seemed too bass heavy. I'm hoping any legit CD that comes around will consider a new edit. And finally, this release confirms the 1971 release date, which was also considered the norm in collector circles (many of the current websites append a 1970 date). The original LP, however, does not have a date listed anywhere.

Notes: A superb early jazz infused progressive rock album with organ, electric saxophone, and witchy female vocals that is distinctly European, and of that era. Earth and Fire, Sandrose, Julian's Treatment, Fusion Orchestra, and Circus 2000 are all good reference points here. Fellow Belgian band Shampoo as well, more so with the jazzy disposition. 'Music, The Reason of Our Happiness' is just flat out one of the all-time great progressive jazz rock tracks.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Quicksand - Home is Where I Belong. 1974 Wales

Quicksand - Home is Where I Belong. 1974 Dawn

I've got a backlog of albums ready to be published. Let's see if I can schedule a few for the upcoming week.

CD reissues: 1997 Si-Wan (Korea); 2002 Victor (Japan mini-LP); 2005 Breathless; 2007 Strange Days (Japan mini-LP); 2011 Esoteric

Packaging: Originals on the collectible Dawn label come in a fine gatefold, and are pretty scarce. Nice copies generally sell in the $150 to $200 range. My first exposure to the album came via the first Japanese mini on Victor, and as always, replicates the original cover to perfection. In addition, I recently picked up the Esoteric CD as a supplement, as I wanted to check out their mastering and liner notes, which are splendid as usual. I'm keeping both CDs for now. I've not heard or seen the other three CDs that are listed. Perhaps surprisingly, there isn't a legit LP reissue to date, especially given the scarcity of the original. As an aside, most of the websites attribute a 1973 date to the original, though according to the Esoteric CD, the album was released in February of 1974.

Notes: Quicksand are a Welsh progressive rock band that recalls other interesting UK groups - that aren’t necessarily progressive in the classic sense of the term - but are musically interesting all the same. Originally released on Dawn, and consistent with the label’s musical outlook. One can hear Fantasy, Jonesy, Spring, Cressida, and early Fruupp. Plenty of organ and guitar jams to satisfy even the most discerning 1970’s progressive rock heads. And, of course yea, there's even a little mellotron. There’s also a distinct Quicksilver Messenger Service 1960’s “West Coast” sound that permeates – which was also a huge influence on fellow countrymen Man. There are two tracks here that clear the 8 minute mark, that are truly overt progressive rock pieces and are brilliant. You don’t hear many folks talk about this album, but it’s a really, really good one… definitely a hidden classic from the almost infinite and fertile British 70’s scene.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Laurence Vanay - Evening Colours. 1975 France

Laurence Vanay (Gateway) - Evening Colours. 1975 Galloway. Also released on the CAM label (Italy)

CD reissue: 2013 Lion (USA mini-LP)

LP reissue: 2014 Lion (USA)

Packaging: The original on Galloway, with the profile of the easy-on-the-eyes Ms Thibault, is nearly extinct, as very few copies were pressed. The library label CAM is actually the hero in this case (see below), and is far more common. Unfortunately, it features one of their generic covers. As with Galaxies, this album has been screaming for a reissue for many years. Lion stepped up and provided a wonderful Japanese styled mini-LP, as well as a full blown LP that replicates the single sleeve original (fortunately utilizing the original Galloway cover). Both feature (the same) copious liner notes. The CD also contains a multitude of bonus tracks. Essential pickups for both LP and CD collectors! More detail here in regards to my personal history with these albums.

Notes: After the stunning "Galaxies", Ms. Thibault comes back with "Evening Colours", which can only be categorized as a triumph of will. The same beauty she brought forth on her debut, is also present here, perhaps with a bit more instrumental oomph. However, there are no song based tracks with lyrics (though plenty of wordless voices). Despite finding its way onto the Italian CAM label, "Evening Colours" is no film library album. These are fully realized compositions with wonderful analog keyboards, fuzz guitar, bass, and drums. As we learn via the excellent Lion CD (2013), Jacqueline originally was presented as the artist "Gateway", so as to not reduce sales, since the norm of the day was that only male artists were to be treated with respect in the marketplace. This album, intended to be issued on the Galloway label, ended up as a very small press and is extremely rare nowadays. The more common aforementioned CAM issue happened via a friend and ensured everyone was compensated for their efforts.

Hearing this album once again reaffirms my position that females are far too unrepresented in progressive rock circles. Their inherent knack for melody and subtlety is much needed in this most testosterone fueled genre, where technical show-off chops are often placed in favor of thoughtful composition and form. Unfortunately even today, females continue to be stage singers, directed behind the curtain by those looking to profit from their talent (of course I mean in general, not progressive rock. Nobody makes money in progressive rock...). Hear the defiant and fiercely independent Jacqueline Thibault - compare - and judge for yourself. Brilliant and beautiful.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Troc - s/t. 1973 France

Troc - s/t. 1973 Cy.

CD reissue: 2013 Frémeaux & Associés

Packaging: Originals come in a nice gatefold cover. While scarce, they're not terribly expensive, and prices consistently are in the $50 to $70 range. I was a bit cool towards this album when I first heard it in the early 90s, so I didn't bother to own one until the recent CD came out. This is UMR's first encounter with Frémeaux & Associés, a large publishing house who have quite an extensive catalog of jazz oriented CDs. And they did a fine job on this CD, with unique liners in both French and English, great sound, as well as two short bonus tracks. 

Notes: Drummer Andre Ceccarelli is joined here by the Magma alumni of Jannick Top, Francis Moze, and Claude Engel - all apparently slumming in the (then) trendy soul oriented jazz-rock waters, that no doubt had Christian Vander shaking his head in disgust. The vocals are sung by Scotsman Alex Ligertwood, who would provide a similar white boy crooning on Brian Auger's albums shortly thereafter (and later more famously for Santana, who was performing similar music by that time). Ligertwood also gets credit for most of the compositions presented here. Other key members are Henry Giordano on Fender Rhodes and Jacky Giraudo on guitar, who honestly do a lot of the heavy lifting here on the solo front. There's quite a bit of talk about Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, and Soft Machine in the liner notes to the CD. Those are what are known in the literary world as red herrings. Radio friendly blues numbers such as 'Old Man River' tend to keep albums like this from being recognized as the stone classic it could have been. Oh well, missed opportunity. A good album that comes recommended, but with reservations as stated above.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Maxwells - Maxwell Street. 1969 Denmark

Maxwells - Maxwell Street. 1969 MPS (Germany)

CD reissue: 2003 Long Hair (Germany)

Packaging: The original is housed in a very nice gatefold cover and was released on the fine German jazz label MPS. Maxwells was an odd choice for the imprint, indicating an exploration into different markets at the time. Originals are surprisingly not too expensive, somewhere in the $75 to $100 range will score you a sweet copy. The only reissue is the excellent Long Hair CD, complete with full liners, photos, etc... This is the only version I own, though I probably will get the original at some point too.

Notes: Really fine exploratory effort from Maxwells, a band that continued to progress musically via the Rainbow Band moniker and even further as Midnight Sun. The music here is definitely inspired by the cutting edge horn rock movement as portrayed by the Chicago Transit Authority, but with an avant garde edge in places, perhaps recalling Friend Sound on their "Joyride" album. Splendid little album that demonstrates once again that Denmark was about a full year ahead of their Continental European contemporaries when it came to innovations in rock music.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Socrates Drank the Conium - On the Wings. 1973 Greece

Socrates Drank the Conium - On the Wings. 1973 Polydor International
Socrates - On the Wings. 1973 Peters International (USA)

CD reissue: 1996 Polydor

LP reissues: 1991 Polydor; 2008 Anazitisi

Packaging: As you can see above, the record labels seemed to have fun playing around with the images and poses. The top is the Greek original; the middle is the US original with a different photo and a shortened name (that they were later to adopt); and the last photo is the CD which reverses the silver and black. True Greek originals are very rare, and I've never actually held one, and they go for multi-hundreds in auction. Like the Sahara album we spoke of before, the Peters copy is likely to be the introduction for 99.5% of American collectors. I found mine at a Dallas record show in the late 1980s. I did sell it eventually a few years later, and that looks to be a mistake. While most Peters International albums are still cheap and easy to source, Socrates would have to be considered the exception, and copies have been known to sell for well over a $100 in mint shape (though that can be tough to find given the black cover). I was surprised to learn of the '91 LP reissue, given that vinyl was becoming extinct about that time. The 2008 release is a gatefold apparently, so that would appear to be the desired reissue. As for CDs, the '96 major label release is all there is. Like the other CDs on Greek Polydor, they are straight reissues with little more than what was on the original LP. But they are from the masters! I had forgotten about this album until a good friend of the UMR had one for sale recently, so I nabbed it. This is the only copy I own.

Notes: Socrates' third album shifts from the blues rock of their first two albums to full throttle hard rock here. In some ways, On the Wings could be considered a distant cousin to the Icecross album we recently spoke of. It's not quite as sinister, and Socrates hasn't quite yet abandoned its blues rock background, but there's no denying this is a pioneering album in the hard rock genre. I appreciate that Socrates occasionally uses Greek scales within their guitar melodies. This is a good one for fans of early 70s aggressive hard rock.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Contraction - s/t + La Bourse ou La Vie + Live 1974. 1972/1974 Canada

Contraction - s/t. 1972 Columbia
Contraction - La Bourse ou La Vie. 1974 Deram
Contraction - Live 1974. 2009 ProgQuebec. 1974 archival recording

CD reissue for Contraction: 2005 ProgQuebec
CD reissue for La Bourse ou La Vie: 2005 ProgQuebec

In addition to the ProgQuebec release of Live 1974, there's a mini-LP version on Belle Antique (Japan).

I originally had planned on featuring each of these separately, but then as I thought about it, they are intrinsically linked together.

Packaging: The debut was released in a single sleeve, a gatefold, as well as an English language version. The latter is pretty scarce, but the others are relatively common. La Bourse ou La Vie was released as a gatefold only. My first LP copies of each go back to the early 1990s. Modern dealers will try to pump these up as rarities, but there is a lot of supply, especially in Quebec. The tricky thing is finding mint copies. Canadian covers used the same materials as their American counterparts, and as such, the cardboard is subject to ring and edge wear, as well as seam splits. Many of these have languished in Montreal record stores for years, and have been worn down by being picked over and over. If they weren't stored in plastic sleeves prior, the situation is hopeless. Unfortunately I've never owned mint copies of these. As for CD's, ProgQuebec was the first to market, and closed the book on what needed to be done. The debut CD only features lyrics, but no history. I think the prevailing thought was that anyone who buys the first will most assuredly want the second (and honestly I have to agree, I can't imagine somebody liking one and not the other). And as such, La Bourse ou La Vie does feature a brief history, which is also included on ProgQuebec's website. The Live 1974 CD, that was released 4 years later, actually sounds better than the studio albums (it was a radio broadcast, so that partially explains why), and it features more unique liner notes. All 3 CDs are essential IMO.

Notes for Contraction: To appreciate Contraction it helps to enjoy the unique Quebecois songwriting style. First half of the album is a classic early 70s period piece, with the beautiful voice of Christiane Robichaud adding some sunshine to the otherwise dreary and smoky clubs of Montreal. The melodies are gorgeous, and the Franck Dervieux (his "Dimension M" album another must listen from the region) influence is quite apparent. Second half focuses more on instrumentals. Contrary to what may be my common inclination, I tend to favor the first side here.

Notes for La Bourse ou La Vie: And continuing with the contrary theme, I tend to disagree with my fellow peers, and I think the more straightforward debut is the (slightly) stronger album compared to the more overtly progressive La Bourse ou La Vie. I think the songwriting on the debut is a bit more engaging. However, the side long epic on La Bourse ou La Vie is their strongest moment across both albums.

Notes for Live 1974: "Live 1974" is a splendid radio recording, perhaps even better than the studio recordings proper. Most of the material is taken from their terrific debut, with the lengthy title track of the second representing the tour de force. Opening track is the English version of 'Chant Patriotique' from the first album, and since I've not heard the English version of the album, it's interesting to hear it with the different vocal inflections. As if to underscore that point, the second track does a bit of franglais, as it mixes French first / English second, which is entirely unique. Then there's the three unreleased tracks: 'Solid Shine', ' Le Temps Fuit comme une Ombre', and 'Sagesse' (and the latter also gets the studio version treatment), that are all unmistakably Contraction, and great to hear after all these years. The live renditions play it pretty straight to the original album recordings, but it's still a superb performance, with perhaps better sound, and significant unreleased material. Definitely a worthy addition to the collection.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Lagger Blues Machine - s/t. 1972 Belgium

Lagger Blues Machine - s/t. 1972 CBS

CD reissues: 1994 Mellow (known as The Complete Works and includes Tanit Live) (Italy); 2012 Veals & Geeks (also with Tanit Live)

LP reissues: 2006 Amber Soundroom (Germany); 2012 Veals & Geeks (as Tanit)

Packaging: My introduction to this album came via the Mellow CD that I bought immediately upon release. I'd actually heard the Tanit Live (1970) posthumous album when it first came out in 1992, and it's a miserable sounding album, so it's nice that Mellow made those as bonus tracks here. The sound of the album proper is a bit muffled. About 10 years ago, I lucked into buying an original LP very cheap, for roughly 20% of its current value. It's hardly mint, but we were able to clean the vinyl and it sounds pretty good. The cover has some flaws, but it's still very nice. Expect to pay around $500+ for a mint one (which are extremely scarce in that condition). And finally I went forward with the Veals & Geeks LP to see what they did with it. I like the use of rough paper for the cover. But that's where my appreciation ends. The cover art is blown up too big, and it's out of focus.  The vinyl is one of those bricks with very poor sound, and the mastering is worse than the Mellow CD. And there was no history accompanying it. The CD apparently has an 8 page booklet detailing the history of the band. Why this wasn't also included in the LP is anyone's guess. Overall, it seems more like a cheap bootleg, then the authentic reissue that it is. Fortunately I didn't pay much for it, or I would have been sorely disappointed. I cannot recommend the V&G issues (I presume the sound of the CD to be poor as well). I have not seen or heard the Amber Soundroom version. One more comment on the sound for those of you who have only heard the reissues: They are all muffled and sound pretty horrid. The original LP (even in the VG condition that I own) is considerably clearer than any of the reissues. Like Soft Machine's "Third", it isn't a great sounding album to begin with, but the original vinyl absolutely destroys the Mellow CD, or even worse, the Veals & Geeks LP. I continue to own all 3, but will move the V&G LP at some point. The Mellow release continues to be the best CD out there.

Notes: Lagger Blues Machine's sole studio album is right in my wheelhouse for European instrumental progressive rock (there are some sporadic voices here and there, but hardly a vocal album). There's a jazzy base to the rhythms, with constant twists and turns, along with plenty of colors provided by the variety of keyboard, sax, and guitar tones. Nothing sits still too long, and all of the sections focus on composition and melody rather than on lengthy, or worse atonal, soloing. This is a must have if you enjoy the Canterbury bands like Soft Machine and Moving Gelatine Plates, along with Frank Zappa's "Hot Rats" and all its followers (which were usually Continental European). One of Belgium's best albums for certain.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Icecross - s/t. 1973 Iceland

Icecross - s/t. 1973 private

CD reissue: 2013 Rockadrome (USA)

LP reissue: 2013 Rockadrome (USA)

Packaging: I first stumbled onto an original of this album in 1988 for cheap, not knowing quite what it was, but I just knew it had to be worth something. It was, in fact, probably the first major rarity I tried to trade away (it was a little outside my interest area back then). Even at that time, it was going for $300, which was an enormous sum in those days. Today, you'll find one in similar shape for less than double that, so its price trajectory hasn't been near what we've seen with UK, German, and Italian albums from the same time frame (fortunately I kept most of those). In the process of working a deal, I received a lot of bad advice. And as it turns out, that's because these guys were greedy bastards and wanted the album for themselves! I had one great offer in particular from a gentleman in Spain that I turned down because of this. I still regret it and I didn't get near what I wanted from the album in the end. Well, you have to learn this game somehow. I put that copy on cassette, and many years later picked up a boot CD which can now be kicked out the door... because....

--- We now finally have legit reissues of this classic, on both LP and CD. I went for the CD, and it comes with fantastic liner notes, photos, and a great sound. There were no bonus tracks to offer. Rockadrome continues to be the leader of quality reissues in the hard rock realm.

Notes: I've owned this album in one form or another for 25 years, and it remains one of my all time favorite pure hard rock albums. For 1973, as others have said, this is frighteningly ahead of its time, predating the entire 80s metal movement by a full 7 years. While Side 1 plays it a bit safe with the tepid opening 'Wandering Around' and the excellent, but albeit softer, ballad 'A Sad Man's Story', Side 2 is a blitzkrieg of heavy riffs, powerful vocals, blistering leads, and absolutely insane drumming. When talking Scandinavian hard rock, about the only other album with these type of nimble fingered acid leads is Elonkorjuu, though within a slightly different musical context. This is essential listening for fans of creative hard rock who enjoy hearing the history of the style.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Virus - Revelation. 1971 Germany

Virus - Revelation. 1971 BASF

CD reissues: 1991 Second Battle; 1996 Spalax (France); 1997 Second Battle; 2013 Garden of Delights

LP reissues: 1995 Second Battle; 2013 Garden of Delights

Packaging: Originals are definitely rare, and can get pricey well into the multiple hundreds. The album never had proper distribution here in the States, so if you're in the market for one, you'll want to hang out on the German record selling sites. The above photo is from a past German ebay auction, and as you can see, it's a standard single sleeve. This album was pretty legendary by the time the first CD appeared on the market, and so I nabbed one as soon as it was released. In addition to that, I also picked up the 1995 version on LP. Then sold it... bought it again years later... sold it again. Ha, OK, so I can be a mess sometimes. Honestly, unless you're a vinyl-only collector, there isn't a compelling reason to own the reissue LP. I just recently picked up the Garden of Delights CD, which should be the end state on that front. As usual for GoD, it comes with a full history, photos, and two bonus tracks from a single. These bonus tracks were also on the 1997 SB version, but I never upgraded. Both LP versions do not have the bonus tracks. Given how short those songs are, I think they should have appended them to the LP. If they had, I may have bought that instead of the CD, since I already had it in that format (and would have obtained the bio info from the LP). I'm also keeping the '91 CD, though I suspect I'll eventually part with it, as the GoD version is superior IMO. Maybe one day I will shell out for an original, but it's not a top priority right now.

Notes: Virus' debut is one of those albums that perfectly defines the Krautrock genre as we know it today. It's a mix of psychedelic, hard rock, and that secret ingredient, one that is only whispered about in the dark halls of the murky and mysterious underground. An underground that is hard to describe, but you know you're there when you hear it. And when you hear it, you say "that's Krautrock!". Sure, the title track includes The Rolling Stones' 'Paint it Black', a song that I might add, would itself be a blueprint for all things European psychedelic underground with its Eastern jam cycle motif. If you're looking for loud acid guitar, flute, and jamming organ with tribal drumming, plus stoned vocals - and you haven't heard Virus' "Revelation" - then let me be the first to tell you that you have come to the right place. And the album gets freakier as it goes, so that by the time you get to 'Hungry Looser' (sic - and finally spelled right on the GoD CD), and especially 'Nur noch Zwei Lichtjahre' with its foreboding German narration, then you know you have found ground zero for the entire zeitgeist. This isn't the cosmic Krautrock wing of Ash Ra Tempel or Guru Guru, but if you're looking for the hard rock portion of the Krautrock house, then you found it here. Congratulations on your new baby.

The two tracks appended onto the later CD's, from the 1970 45 single, are also worthy and similar in style.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Mikael Ramel - Till Dej. 1972 Sweden

Mikael Ramel - Till Dej. 1972 Ljudspår

CD reissue: 2003 Universal/Sonet/Mellotronen

Packaging: This is an album that I wasn't aware of until the CD release, and it was another half dozen years or so until I finally heard, and subsequently bought, a copy for myself. The original LP comes in a gatefold, and the CD is housed in a wonderful triple FOC digipak, filled with liner notes (in English), photos, bonus tracks, lyrics, and perfect sound. The Ljudspår label had rolled up into the Universal chain, and fortunately this album, along with the second Flasket Brinner that we featured long ago (and Ramel was a member at the time), has been lovingly restored with the assistance of Mellotronen. The CD is my only copy.

Notes: Mikael Ramel's debut starts off almost like a children's album on Swedish Public television, in a silly folk manner with cartoonish voices. After about 6 minutes of that, the music becomes far more interesting in a progressive folk rock direction starting with 'Pengar'. Wonderful flute and guitar throughout the album, and the melodies stick with the listener. The next two following tracks further draw the listener in, until we get to the massive one-two punch of 'Långt in i Naturen' (7:41) and 'Artificiell Prana' (10:52). When in the midst of the large scale percussion and voice piece that suddenly appears on the latter track, you begin to realize you're in another zone completely. And then the subsequent high energy jam that blows out of that, with wah wah "electric speed guitar" blistering your speakers (and your ears), completes the wallop it set out to do. The album then closes as it starts, with a goofy two minute outro. This is the type of album I often refer to as the "wonderful freaky underground". The liner notes mention that Ramel had experimented with various tape recording techniques, which no doubt gives the album those odd dimensions. In some ways, I believe the artist intended to release something straight forward, and ended up with something far more different... and yea, freaky. Love it.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Mammut - s/t. 1971 Germany

Mammut- s/t. 1971 Mouse Trick Track

CD reissues: 1993 Ohrwaschl; 2009 Long Hair

LP reissues: 1996 Little Wing; 2009 Long Hair

Packaging: As an original, the single sleeve Mammut's album is seriously rare, and you can expect to pay between $1,500 and $2,500 for a nice copy. I've never actually held one myself. My introduction to the album came via the Little Wing LP reissue, that I bought upon release, as this was one of my top wants at the time. As is Little Wing's unfortunate custom, they created an entirely different cover, so as to not desecrate the original. Whatever. Their CD reissues were even worse, only using a generic brown and red sleeve. Fortunately they didn't get around to doing this one on CD. On the topic of CDs, imagine my surprise when I learned a few years later (I want say around 1999 or so?) that Ohrwaschl had already reissued this on CD! This became an immediate top want for me. Apparently the story is that someone challenged the legality of it, and they pulled it from the shelves immediately. So it is genuinely rare and only a few got out there. I did finally source one, and dumped the LW album. Of course the CD isn't anything special, like all Ohrwaschl releases. According to this, as late as 2008, the band were looking for a legal CD press (thus further condemning the Ohrwaschl version). So it was Long Hair who finally came to the rescue and reissued this the right way, on both LP and CD, with full liner notes and a relevant bonus track. I bought the LP to get LH's full version, and I'll probably keep the OW CD in addition to that, just because.

Notes: Well, it's certainly German, but it doesn't sound "Krautrock" in the sense the term has come to mean. A much more compositionally focused band with copious use of piano, organ, and flute, and an almost American sense of psych-pop songwriting considering the vocal approach. Love the constant pounding drums that keep the toes tapping. Borders the psychedelic and progressive era's nicely. A fine album, that needs many listens to penetrate.