Sunday, October 16, 2016

Eela Craig - s/t. 1971 Austria

Eela Craig - s/t. 1971 Pro Disc

CD reissue: 1997 Garden of Delights (Germany)

LP reissues: 2004 Amber Soundroom (Germany); 2015 Garden of Delights (Germany)

Eela Craig are a band from Austria's third largest city of Linz, and their debut is completely different than the group's later symphonic keyboard heavy works from the mid 70s and beyond. Here, they are absolutely dead center in the middle of the classic 1971 Krautrock sound, where the whirling and droning Hammond organ is king, with chirping flute melodies laid on top, and angry fuzz bursts are on the ready. Somewhere between Out of Focus, Orange Peel, Thirsty Moon, and My Solid Ground is where you'll find the sound of Eela Craig. This album is a certified classic, and very much earns its reputation. And staying power. These are the albums that bring us back again and again.

Originals on Pro Disc are off the charts rare and expensive and I've never been in possession of one. I own both the Garden of Delights CD (Penner technically at this point) and Amber Soundroom LP reissues. The former comes with copious liner notes and 4 bonus tracks. As the label admits, the masters were lost, so the CD was mastered from a new LP copy, and it sounds like it. The Amber Soundroom LP is most assuredly the same mastering as the GoD CD, as they worked together in 2004. The layout is nice, and replicates the original gatefold cover, but no liner notes. There are only two of the CD bonus tracks featured on the LP. Both Discogs and RYM have this all messed up (and I'll go fix the Discogs entry myself soon). 'Irminsul' and 'Yggdrasil' are from 1972 and are on both the reissue LP and CD. The tracks 'Stories' and 'Cheese' are from 1974 (both sides of a 45 single) and only on the CD and 2015 GoD LP. These latter tracks feature a good dose of mellotron.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Blue Effect - Meditace. 1970 Czech Republic

Blue Effect - Meditace. 1970 Supraphon

CD reissues: 1994 Supraphon (as The Story of Blue Effect 1); 1996 Bonton; 2009 Supraphon (as The Blue Effect 1969-1989 9 CD compilation)

To alleviate any confusion from other reviews you may read, Side 1 is the Czech vocal pop session, whereas Side 2 is the Blues rock portion in English. Despite Side 2 having the better rep, arguably the first track on the album is the clear winner (sounding more like Os Mundi's Latin Mass). Just the fact that The Blue Effect were allowed to sing in English is quite the extraordinary accomplishment for a band behind the Iron Curtain in 1970. A fine album given the time and place, but far different than the jazzier efforts to come, and one could easily make the case this is Blue Effect/Modry Efekt's weakest album.

Aquelarre - Brumas. 1974 Argentina

Aquelarre - Brumas. 1974 Talent

CD reissues: 1992 Microfon; 1997 Microfon/Sony; 2008 Acqua; 2009 Microfon/Sony

LP reissue: 1985 Talent

Brumas is the 3rd album from Aquelarre, a band from Argentina that mirrors what was going on in Italy at the time. For those deep divers of Italian progressive rock, they'll know that the basis of some of the albums were singer-songwriter/romantic romps with long stretches of heavy instrumental rock thrown in at either predictable - or better - unpredictable times. And that's precisely what you get here. There are no head turning and flashy breaks here, so it's definitely workman like in its approach. Final track adds a nice jazzy touch to the above formula. A good album, borderline 3.0-3.5 (Gnosis 9-10), but giving the nod as the longer tracks are, as expected, more interesting. Satisfying overall, but not stellar.

Originals are stored in a nice gatefold cover. My copy is the standard jewel box CD from Microfon/Sony released in 1997. Master tapes sound (with some hiss), with reprinted lyrics. Also has two bonus tracks. The first one is similar to the album proper while the latter is a throwaway pop number.

Charisma - Beasts and Fiends. 1970 USA

Charisma - Beasts and Fiends. 1970 Roulette

CD reissue: 2008 Wounded Bird

Charisma were a band from the Hartford, Connecticut area, and were very typical of the confused American year of 1970. I speak of this often, and it basically means that bands were throwing any and everything against the wall hoping it would stick - or in practical terms - obtaining radio airplay. And Charisma falls in line with their mix of blues, hard rock, progressive, psych, and old fashioned rock and roll. It's a mess basically. But some of these albums had gems in the midst of the ordinary, and that's where we come in. Charisma has a strong Hammond organ and overall keyboard presence, and there are a couple of tracks that display this in an instrumental progressive rock format ('Street Theatre', 'Ritual Dance of the Reptiles'). There are other very good proto-prog/bluesy numbers in 'Leopold's Ghost' and 'The Age of Reptiles'. The rest is take it or leave it...

... And then there is the title track. Believe me folks, it is worth the price of the CD just for this piece of mesmerizing insanity. Sounding like a most incongruous meeting between Comus, Uriah Heep, Stark Reality, and Funkadelic - a bizarre kindergarten story made for the Public Broadcasting Service on LSD. Whoa. I wasn't ready for that. Amazing.

The CD on Wounded Bird states a 1970 copyright date, and this is corroborated on Discogs. Typical bare bones CD from Wounded Bird, with lyrics for 4 of the 5 tracks and album credits. Sure would like to know the story behind the title track...

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Chalibaude - Les Noces du Papillon. 1976 France

Chalibaude - Les Noces du Papillon. 1976 Cezame

No reissues!

Interesting, and very good, folk rock album from Nantes, an area that traditionally belongs to Brittany, but administratively falls outside of it. Likewise, Chalibaude's music is heavily influenced by Celtic culture, but is sung in French. The liner notes inside the gatefold go so far as to translate the French words into Breton for the local buying populace. Musically, Chalibaude is similar to a combination of Malicorne, Gwendal, and Avaric. A fine progressive folk rock album, that is remarkably consistent without any major highs or lows. 

This is an album I never got around to featuring separately in the CDRWL, though I've owned it since 2003. So here is its much belated debut.

Osiris - s/t. 1982 Bahrain

Osiris - s/t. 1982 private

CD reissues: 1997 Musea (France); 2007 MALS (Russia)

LP reissue: 2015 Pharaway Sounds (Spain)

Osiris are arguably the Arab worlds' most prominent progressive rock band. They are from the tiny kingdom of Bahrain, once a British Protectorate, and as such you have an English speaking nation with an underlying western background. It is out of this environment that Osiris emerged. And yes, it's true, the band are heavily influenced by the UK progressive rock scene of the 1970s. Most notably Camel, but any number of mainstream bands will come to your lips as you hear this debut. Even a bit of what would later be known as Neo Prog is presented here. Sadly there are no indigenous elements to their sound, so it's not like you'll hear Yes meets Agitation Free's Malesch for example (perhaps we can dream for this one day?). It's best (and fair) to approach Osiris as an anonymous progressive band from the US or England. And on that front, they come up aces. The compositions, while not incredibly dense, are complex in the right places - and they never forget that melody drives the song. If only there were more examples from the region...

I did once own the original private press of the album, so it does exist. I traded the LP in the late 90s, after obtaining the Musea CD, for something else I needed (Nattura from Iceland - and still own!).

The Musea CD is excellent with great sound and full liner notes. And it's in these liner notes that we are made aware of...

The last track 'Look Before You Leap'  is actually a bonus track and was recorded in 1989. Musically it is far more poppy than the album proper and shouldn't be considered in the overall evaluation.

As well, note that track 7 is called 'Paradox in A Major', presumably referencing the scale, not some confusion in college curriculum. 

Bauhaus - Stairway to Escher. 1974 Italy

Bauhaus - Stairway to Escher. 1974. Archival

CD issue: 2003 Akarma

LP issue: 2013 Akarma

Comparisons to Perigeo are about right, and that’s definitely where the Italian band Bauhaus built its campfire from. But whereas Perigeo seems to get stuck in slickly polished fusion hell, Bauhaus have a much more raw sound and energy about them that is completely endearing. What I particularly enjoy is the nimble guitar playing, but with a raw biting fuzz tone. The ensemble playing is highly melodic (sax, electric piano, guitar), another great quality. Fantastic rhythm section as well. Sometimes the group will go in no mans land, as the jam will hit a dead-end road and they'll just grind their way through it. Since it wasn’t really meant for release to begin with, hard to fault the final product too much. Other reference points are fellow Italians Napoli Centrale and the German outfit Out of Focus on Four Letter Monday Afternoon. All clearly looked to Soft Machine and Nucleus as inspiration here. If any of these bands set off your iPhone Fusion Want app, then by all means investigate Stairway to Escher.

Akarma's track record on reissues is clearly checkered, but this archival release is nothing but first class. Fully authorized with band participation and fantastic liner notes - all housed in a wonderful hard bound digi-pak. Great sound of a live concert recorded in Rome, May 1974.

Subject Esq. - s/t. 1972 Germany

Subject Esq. - s/t. 1972 Epic

CD reissues: 1992 Ohrwaschl; 2003 Ohrwaschl

LP reissue: 2003 Ohrwaschl/Green Tree

Like fellow countrymen Nosferatu, Subject Esq. are informed more by current British rock trends, than what was happening in the German underground. So if bands like Raw Material or Indian Summer are to your liking, then Subject Esq. will most certainly satisfy. I think it's a very good example of the sound, with high energy, creativity, and plenty of great period instrumentation. They would later change their name to Sahara and embark on a similar sound, while adding more complexity to the compositions.

The CD also includes two live tracks totaling 28 minutes. The sound is of good bootleg quality, and the tracks are more jamming in nature, hardly surprising given the era. A nice addition and much welcomed, but not essential on its own.

Ohrwaschl has completely wrapped up the rights on Subject Esq., and my CD is housed in a standard jewel case (also issued later in a digi-pak). The CD features fine sound, and the aforementioned bonus tracks. There are liner notes on the backplate, but they are in German.

Troya - Eruption. 1976 Germany

Troya - Eruption. 1976 Förderturm

CD reissues: 1993 Lost Pipedreams; 2001 Garden of Delights

LP reissue: 2002 Very Good Records

When I first bought this CD on Lost Pipedreams - not long after it was released - I hated it, and sold it immediately. Years later, I had a chance to hear it again, and my opinion softened considerably. And now I have the Garden of Delights CD in my possession, and think the album is quite good actually. What changed? Well me of course... and thousands more albums have been heard with these ears (and brain presumably, don't hold me to it though). Helps form the time and place aspect of the music. So yes it's true what they say - hardly a progressive rock masterpiece. And for certain a lo-fi recording, and with the master tapes forever lost, no chance of improving upon that fact either. All of which doesn't make for a bad album really. Musically, it's quite interesting, very much a product of its time. Melodic, semi-progressive tracks, with excellent period analog instrumentation (Hammond Organ mainly with some nice fuzz tone guitar among other usual suspects). The performance is good, and honestly it reminds me more of what you would find in "basement America" than what is typically associated with high quality German progressive rock.

As the above states, I have a long history with the album. The GoD CD is awesome with full liner notes and photos. And the best sound possible (having heard the Lost Pipedreams CD, I can vouch for this). Originals are off-the-charts expensive, and given that only 200 were pressed (and I believe it given how few I've ever seen), it's a case of no supply. Stick with the CD here. 

Alas - s/t. 1976 Argentina

Alas - s/t. 1976 EMI. Also released in Chile and Portugal

CD reissues: 1993 EMI; 1996 PRW (Brazil); 2007 EMI

Coming from Argentina, Alas displays their Italian heritage quite vividly. In many places, one can hear that distinct early 70s Italian prog interpretation of ELP (Triade, Metamorfosi, The Trip, etc...). In addition there's also a predominance of mid 70s jazz fusion dispersed about, so there are many long stretches of gratuitous soloing. And finally, there's a bit of avant-garde experimentalism sprinkled indiscriminately, including drum solos. I do think it's a worthy addition to any progressive rock collection, though I don't appear to be as high on it as my peers.

There are gatefold and single sleeve versions of the LP. My current copy is the PRW release, which was licensed from EMI Argentina. The first side is clearly taken from vinyl, whereas the second seems from master tapes. So unless the 2007 EMI release has found the masters, the sound will be suspect. Most original vinyl I've heard isn't much better either. Too bad really.

All the CD's do include a rare 45 single from 1975, and demonstrates Alas in more compact form.

Now - Now What? 1990 USA

Now - Now What? 1990 Syn-Phonic

CD reissue: none

Now's sophomore effort shows the group leaving the hippie university town of Boulder, Colorado, and resettling in the San Francisco Bay Area. Musically, Now What? is more subdued than its riveting predecessor, demonstrating a mix of neo prog, rural psych, and symphonic progressive. The last two tracks, though, recall the debut's psychedelic eclecticism and quirkiness, and represent the highlights here. Reminds me of another Bay Area band, Episode. Not an album likely to set one's world on fire, but still a decent way to pass 40 minutes or so.

To the best of my knowledge the LP is still available at the source. Can't imagine much demand for a CD at this point. I doubt I would buy one if that were the case, and just stick with the LP for the time being.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Jukka Tolonen Ramblin' Jazz Band - Jazz Liisa 03. 1973 Finland

Jukka Tolonen Ramblin' Jazz Band - Jazz Liisa 03. 1973. Archival

CD issue: 2016 Svart w/ KOM Quartet

LP issue: 2016 Svart

If there's an artist that is neglected in my collection, it would have to be Jukka Tolonen. Even though I possess his first 2 albums, it's been ages since I last heard them, and I can't recall much either. Truth be told, the same could be said about Tasavallan Presidentti, excepting my recent listen to their own Liisa session. In fact, Tolonen's studio concert is very similar to his own groups' foray. Even though 'Ramblin' is a track taken from his debut album, it actually serves better as a metaphor for the band itself, at least as evidenced by this concert. These are two lengthy excursions (the other track coming from Summer Games), where the band seem at ease improvising in front of the studio audience. There are no fiery rave-ups, or complex changes, but rather the band just sort of... rambles along. There's more diverse instrumentation here than with Tasavallan Presidentti, including trumpet, that befits more a jazz session than rock. This is easy listening for veterans of the early 70s jazz rock movement, and is yet again another fantastic find from the good folks at Svart.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Jukka Hauru & Superkings - Pop Liisa 02. 1973 Finland

Jukka Hauru & Superkings - Pop Liisa 02. 1973. Archival

CD issue: 2016 Svart (w/ Tasavallan Presidentti)

LP issue: 2016 Svart

Finnish guitarist Jukka Hauru had two fine albums from the 70s (Information, Episode) before hanging up his music career for the writing pen. Both are still quite obscure due to a lack on any modern reissue. This all instrumental live concert encapsulates perfectly the sound of both, most notably the raw and edgy Information. As I state on that review, it's quite apparent Hauru is influenced mightily by a one Frank Zappa, though for this live concert, the humor bits have been completely rubbed out. Other guideposts include Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report.

In listening to this set, it probably would have been a better fit for the "Jazz Liisa" series. All the same, Hauru has just enough progressive rock sound and composition style to qualify for the genre. And one reason for this is violinist Juhani "Jupu" Poutanen, whose nickname would lead to another obscure band without a proper reissue: Jupu Group. A band that now also has a "Liisa" concert available on LP and CD (review coming soon). Poutanen is one of the "Superkings", a made-up-on-the-spot moniker meant as a joke to counter the quintet being called by the local music press a "supergroup". So melodic and shredding violin and electric guitar define this kinetic set. It really is too bad Hauru called it a day, as he had some fiery chops to display. Keyboards and an agile rhythm section round out the ensemble.

Worth noting that opener 'Mai-Ling' appears to start in mid-jam form, but as it turns out, the first 3 minutes of the tape had been damaged, so they salvaged what they could. Also of note, both 'Twilight Time' and 'Angel' are previously unreleased tracks.

Yet another essential pick up for fans of early 70s Finnish progressive jazz rock.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Baxter - s/t. 1973 USA

Baxter - s/t. 1973 Paramount

No reissues!

How about another old CD Reissue Wish List item? This comes from a recent listen, though the notes more or less stayed the same.

Paramount were one of America's unsung labels. They signed some interesting acts, and I don't think any of them did very well from a revenue perspective. Baxter, hailing from New York's Long Island, were one of their more original bands. Mellotron, Moog synthesizers, Hammond organ, wah wah guitar solos, and some wonderful nutty/unpredictable progressions. And of course, rural singer songwriter pieces in the CSN&Y mold ('Gentle Arms', 'Can't Find the Time'), boogie rock n' roll ('Give it All'), hard rock ('51'), Yes-like progressive ('By the Gates', 'Renaissance Woman'), Polyphony-like progressive (yea, exactly... who knew right?) ('Moonfire II'), and the amalgamation of every style featured here ('Doctor, Doctor', '197 Three'). Wildly inconsistent, but there are some truly inspiring progressions to be found here. Unfortunately no continuity, just like the label itself. But there's just enough good here to recommend as an album worth buying.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Hoenig / Gottsching - Early Water. 1976 Germany

Hoenig / Gottsching - Early Water. 1976. Archival

CD issues: 1995 Musique Intemporal; 1997 Spalax (France)

Early Water sounds exactly what you expect from Michael Hoenig and Manuel Gottsching circa 1976. Somewhat like New Age of Earth meets Departure From the Northern Wasteland, with sequencers raging and Gottsching letting loose on the electric guitar - more so than he did on New Age of Earth. Apparently this recording was made in the studio just before the duo were to embark on a tour of France, which was cancelled at the last minute. Fortunately Gottsching kept the tapes and sent to Hoenig (nearly 20 years later) who was then residing in Los Angeles as a studio producer. So the whole thing sounds magnificent. If all this resonates with you, this CD is a must own. Otherwise, maybe not the best place to start with either artist, as a 48 minute continuous track may be a bit much to open with.

The original CD came out on Bernd Kistenmacher's Musique Intemporelle label in 1995, and was repressed by Spalax in 1997 housed in a digi-pak. Today, either CD is incredibly scarce and expensive. I would expect another issue at some point, especially since it's never been pressed on LP.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Modry Efekt - Nova Synteza. 1971 Czech Republic

Modry Efekt - Nova Synteza. 1971 Panton

CD reissues: 1997 Bonton;2009 Supraphon (as The Blue Effect 1969-1989 9 CD compilation)

Nova Synteza is Modry Efekt's second album (not counting the co-release with Jazz Q Praha), and quite a departure from the blues rock/Czech pop oriented Meditace. I think the first thing one will pick up on this album is just how BIG it sounds. The Czechoslovak Radio Jazz Orchestra (or its indigenous name Jazzový orchestr Československého rozhlasu) proved to be quite the rockin' bunch, and Modry Efekt does a great job integrating with the difficult charts. For 1971 Czechoslovakia, this album is quite an extraordinary accomplishment. It is here that Radim Hladik begins to demonstrate his immense chops on the electric guitar. There's really no album quite like this one. It's not a rock meets orchestra type release, as many a UK band did back then (Deep Purple, Caravan, etc...). Nor is it a large scale horn rock band like Chicago on steroids. The album is all instrumental, and maintains a healthy tempo throughout. Blue Effect Blues is a bit typical of the medium, until the second half when Hladik feels the need to polish off a few licks. And 'Clinging Ivy' (3rd track) sounds a bit too familiar at times with some of its cliched orchestra type melodies. Otherwise, this is an album not to be missed, both from a modern aesthetic perspective, as well as an historical one.

The original LP stayed in print until at least 1980. My copy is part of the awesome 9 CD set Blue Effect 1969-1989. This will be the first of many posts from this set.

Caedmon - s/t. 1978 Scotland

Caedmon - s/t. 1978 private

CD reissue: 1994 Kissing Spell; 1995 Si-Wan (Korea)

LP reissues: 1997 English Garden; 2012 Acme

Caedmon are a Christian folk rock band from Scotland, with a psychedelic streak that comes many years past others of this sound. Perhaps Mellow Candle, Agincourt, and Spirogyra are good guideposts here, and the music is clearly anachronistic for 1978. Crystal clear female vocals, acoustic guitar, String Synthesizer, cello, and a fuzz tone guitar define this fine work. A very pleasant, breezy, somewhat harmless psychedelic album. Its reputation is well deserved for the style, though it's very much inside the rails, so not one likely to wow anyone but the most dedicated progressive folk rock collector.

The original LP is incredibly rare and sought after (as in 4 digits). The original also includes an additional 45 single. Funny to read the Discogs sales history for the original LP. Median price: $24.55. Yea. Of course, if you drill down on the sales history, you'll see that they are all commented as reissues, and simply placed there incorrectly. Unfortunately, Discogs has a lot of bad data like that which needs cleaning up. 

It appears I first picked up this CD in the mid 90s. And that CD is a co-production of Nices and Si-Wan. The former is a division of manufacturing giant Samsung, and the high quality CD is pressed by them. In effect, though, it's simply a repress of the Kissing Spell release from England, and is credited as such.

Kissing Spell, apparently, have issues with Christianity. They don't have the balls to say it as such, but that's exactly what it is. They hide behind the following phrase: "Kissing Spell is opposed to all forms of mysticism/religion - the sentiments expressed on this record in no way reflect those of K. Spell." Do you really think this would have been appended were the album representing Shinto, Hindu, Norse Mythology, or Islam? You know the answer already. I do tire of this kind of disguised hypocrisy. They even titled the final track simply as 'Give Me....' leaving out Jesus as originally presented. That's just pathetic. If it was 'Give me Thor', you think they would have changed it? Accept the music as it was presented and let others do the judging on their own. Leaves me with a bad taste for the label.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Topper - At Last. 1977 USA

Topper - At Last. 1977 Scot

No reissues!

As stated in many places, I truly enjoy the underground rock scene of the great American Midwest and Topper are no different. This time hailing from Kansas City, we have a band that was typically over ambitious, and wonderfully amateurish. The Moog soloing in particular is inspired. There are a lot of ideas on their one album, and it's clear they had a few Uriah Heep, Nektar, Yes, and Led Zeppelin albums in their closet. Basically a mix of hard rock, progressive, and a little bit of FM/AOR too. And they get a little too close to plagiarism in a couple of places ('Smile for the Clown' rips straight from 'Stairway to Heaven' incredibly. Guys, surely you were aware everyone knew this song already. Right?).

Another longtime album from the CDRWL. Apparently the band did reissue it, but based on conversations with them, it sounds like it's a CD-R hand-pressed by the group. That doesn't count for me, but others may not care about such a distinction. I bought the LP recently while we await a CD.

Mythos - Concrete City. 1979 Germany

Mythos - Concrete City. 1979 Venus

CD reissues: 1997 Spalax (France); 1999 Zyx

Mythos, under the direction of Stephan Kaske, were always an odd bird. Never fitting convention, they went on to release a number of albums that do not fit any preconceived notion. Concrete City was the latter of two "normal rock band" albums from Mythos. Kaske couldn't sing to save his life, but yet he continued on cluelessly here, always offsetting that weakness with his brilliant flute and synthesizer play, and having the smarts to employ an excellent guitarist. I can assure you, Concrete City sounds nothing like anything you've heard prior - yet it is familiar all the same. There's symphonic progressive, electronic, NDW, AOR, and hard rock all within the confines here. I find this album more enjoyable now than ever. Not one to win any awards, but well worth your time to give an ohr.

The Zyx CD is clearly taken from vinyl and offers up nothing more than album credits. Not a stellar reissue, though audiophile freaks may appreciate the lack of compression and digital remastering attempts.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Charlie Mariano with the Chris Hinze Organization - s/t. 1973 USA/Netherlands

Charlie Mariano with the Chris Hinze Organization - s/t. 1973 Freedom/Intercord  (Germany)

LP reissues: 1974 Freedom/Trio (Japan); 1976 Freedom (Germany)

CD reissue: 1995 Black Lion (Germany) as Blue Stone

Straight up jazz session with American WWII veteran saxophonist Mariano joining forces with the Chris Hinze Combination from the Netherlands. This CD is a reissue of Charlie Mariano With The Chris Hinze Combination with the 18+ minute "bonus" title track improvisation thrown in the middle. Mariano himself was just taking baby steps into the European underground (see Osmosis for some American subversiveness) with jazz flutist Hinze's outfit. He was later to embark into an enlightening journey with Krautrock legends Embryo, and participate on some of their finest works shortly thereafter. 'Traditional South Indian (Carnatic) Kirtanam' is exactly the type of music he performed later with the underground Embryo. A real Hepcat, man.

For a long time I didn't realize my CD of Blue Stone was the same album as this, and I couldn't understand why I never could find it on the online discographies. I ended up adding it myself to Discogs very recently, and have suggested to RYM to link them together. Freedom is the primary and original label, and is owned by Black Lion.

Merkin - Music from the Merkin Manor. 1973 USA

Merkin - Music from the Merkin Manor. 1973 Windi

CD reissue: 1997 Gear Fab

LP reissues: 1999 Akarma (Italy); 2013 Out-Sider (Spain)

Where to even start? Merkin are... weird. Not-on-purpose-weird either. They're from Orem, Utah for starters - right in the heart of Mormon country. Their album was released in 1973, which is a good 5 years past its sell date. This kind of flower pop psych was long out of fashion and I have a feeling the band would have no idea that was the case. Merkin sound like the Free Design if they were a real psych band with a killer fuzz-tone guitar right out of the Haight-Ashbury 60s scene. Make no mistake, Merkin are a bunch of squares like Free Design, which is where the allure lies actually. For years I questioned the quality of this album, and thought it might be part of the collector hype machine. Perhaps it still is, as the compositions here are wildly uneven. But when they hit the zone, it's downright divine. 'Ruby' is an all-time classic, one of my faves of the 60s (oh wait...). 'Todaze' and 'Watching You' are also awesome, mixing it up where you least expect it. They have this whimsical sunshine pop charm about them - mixed with an angry psych tone, that projects their inner conflict no doubt. The Osmonds they are not.

Monster album? No. But one that is so incredibly alluring. One of those Gnosis 10 / 3.5 star albums that is better than the grade implies.

The heavy cardboard single sleeve LP reissue from Akarma is taken directly from the Gear Fab CD, and is credited/licensed as such. So this is definitely one of their legit reissues. Unfortunately the CD itself was taken from vinyl rather than the master tapes (likely lost). And there is no additional history provided. On the plus side, the 3 bonus tracks from the CD are maintained, and the first 2 are very good.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Spaces - Border Station. 1981 USA

Spaces - Border Station. 1981 Red Giant

No reissues!

If you saw this cover in a store, you'd swear it was a typical late 1970s disco album - or perhaps even a slick fusion album. But Spaces are neither (though the opening track may have you thinking it might be). Yea it's fusion, sure. And, yes, there is a funk component. But primarily this is one hard hitting jazz rock album in the mid 1970s style, with plenty of fiery guitar, rumbling rhythms, and period keyboards (Rhodes, Mini-Moog, Clavinet, etc...). Well worth obtaining. Spaces appear to be from Provo, Utah - and the album was released in Salt Lake City.

Gift - Blue Apple. 1974 Germany

Gift - Blue Apple. 1974 Nova

CD reissues: 1994 OHB (as A German Legend w/ the first album) (Switzerland); 1998 Telefunken

Gift is a good example of why I'm somewhat reticent of the all-encompassing Krautrock tag. It means many things to many people. I first heard this album via the bootleg Germanofon CD near on 20 years ago, and didn't think much of the music at all. Well it certainly wasn't the Krautrock I was looking for! And I hardly was a kid back then - what? 31-32 maybe? I recently obtained the Telefunken (EastWest) CD and now I hear the album for what it is: Organ driven German hard rock, another genre I'm quite fond of. What you'll find here is a mix of Night Sun, Gomorrha, Epitaph, Birth Control, Dies Irae, and Fly to The Rainbow era Scorpions (listen to the two part 'Reflections' for the latter reference). The album starts off rather straightforward, though the title track features an abundance of flute-tape mellotron, not exactly a staple of the hard rock medium. Starting with 'Don't Waste Your Time', things become obviously more progressive... and more interesting for this listener anyway. There's even some heavy Italian prog references towards the end, especially the closer. Yea, I blew the call on this one. No doubt my rating on the debut is off too, but that's for another day...

The Telefunken CD has a nice sound with a small history of the band and lyrics. Surprisingly there have been no legitimate LP reissues to date, especially considering the scarcity of the original. There are, however, a lot of pirate editions floating about.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Crysys - Hard as Rock. 1981 USA

Crysys - Hard as Rock. 1981 Long St. Records

LP reissue: 1983 Metalworks/Jem

CD reissue: none

Crysys were a band from Portland, Oregon who released this one fine hard rock / metal album and then disappeared without a trace. Though released in 1981, they were clearly following along the same path as others of that American late 70s restless breed like Riot, Granmax, The Rods, Bad Axe, and Alkana. Judas Priest were certainly an influence, perhaps even early Van Halen. There's some sophistication in the arrangements, and all the tracks rock hard with plenty of metal riffing, and remain interesting throughout the length. It's from the era where the blues still played a major role in everything hard rock, and there's traces of that here within the songcraft. The psychedelic cover and hair metal styled moniker doesn't do the band any favors with an expected audience that never appeared, despite two LP pressings and covers. For late hard rock / early metal fans, this is an historical gem not to be missed. Excellent.

This album is a new discovery for me, when I stumbled upon the Metalworks LP for cheap in Dec, 2015 (which I sold in our Purple Peak Records sale this spring). Of course, I soon found out that was a second pressing, and seeing that the original wasn't that much more expensive, I had to secure one, which I've now done. There is no legit CD as I write this, though a pirate does exist. So straight to the CDRWL it went!

The original is on Long St. Records and features the cool psychedelic cover as mentioned in my notes above (1st scan). The Metalworks issue (1983) usurped a photo from the back cover of the original and blew it up for their front cover (3rd scan). I can understand that, given the audience it was trying to lure in. Though perhaps a fantasy warrior cover may have been more appropriate.

As an aside, Metalworks was a sublabel of importer/label Jem Records, who were clearly trying to tap into the burgeoning heavy metal market. As far as I can tell, this is the only full length album to be released, before abandoning the project. They certainly had the right idea, and one has to look at their execution as an example of poor business judgement. Time has proved they made a costly mistake, and Jem ultimately ended up bankrupt in 1988 (for various reasons).

Manfred Hubler / Siegfried Schwab - Vampiros Lesbos: Sexadelic Dance Party. 1970 Germany

Manfred Hubler / Siegfried Schwab - Vampiros Lesbos: Sexadelic Dance Party. 1970. Archival

CD issues: 1995 Crippled Dick Hot Wax!; 1996 Motel (USA); 2006 Crippled Dick Hot Wax!

LP issues: 1995 Crippled Dick Hot Wax!;  2006 Crippled Dick Hot Wax! (2 LP)

Can you believe I found this in a garage sale right here in DFW near one of the local suburbs where we reside? From a middle aged lady about my age. Sitting right next to Willie Nelson too. You never know what you'll find in people's closets....

Vampiros Lesbos is pretty much what you would expect from an album such as this: Psychedelic tinged jazz rock instrumentals. Nothing cutting edge, but good rhythms and wonderful early 70s analog tones. Schwab would go on to Embryo not long after, giving him future street cred. A fun set of music, and a good way to shock your neighbors next time you have them over for a glass of wine and cheese (literally and figuratively I suppose).

I did see the movie once, didn't even get through it. Pretty dull stuff, though I'm sure it was much more exciting in 1970.

The copy I found is the Motel CD. Comes with fine liner notes including from Jess Franco himself. Nice sound too. Very much recommended. The 2006 CD adds 3 tracks, and the LP adds 5 from the original release (making it a 2 LP set).