Friday, September 30, 2011

Acqua Fragile - Mass-Media Stars. 1974 Italy


Acqua Fragile - Mass-Media Stars. 1974 Dischi Ricordi; 1974 Import Records (USA)

CD reissues: 1991 Contempo; 2007 BMG (Japan mini-LP); 2011 Sony; 2011 Esoteric (UK)

LP reissue: 1979 King (Japan)

Release details: Earlier this month I featured Esoteric's reissue of Acqua Fragile's debut. To be honest, I had intended to get this title instead, but wasn't paying attention and grabbed the first one. I already had that one in the four poster Japanese mini-LP, so I was content and was looking to get the Esoteric album in the future as a supplement. Well I certainly did that- just way ahead of schedule! Anyway, here we are with their second album Mass Media Stars.

---MMS is one of the earliest Italian progressive rock albums I ever bought, and was included in a pile of albums I bought in a small record store in the DFW area in the mid 1980s. It was the US Import copy of course, and not terribly rare, but I was just starting to collect European progressive rock and so I picked it up cheap (I picked up everything cheap back then - I barely had any money!). That same day I also bought a couple other Italian albums: Arti+Mestieri's "Tilt" on Cramps - and the big find, yet at the time I had no idea what it was - Il Balletto di Bronzo's "Ys" (the original with the libretto booklet - an album that will most certainly be buried with me). So unfortunately for Acqua Fragile, their album wasn't the one that wowed me that day when I returned home to the stereo. Eventually I sold the LP copy, and recently realized I never bought the CD! Well good timing on Esoteric's part! As I'm rather certain this is the best CD version of the album. (update: And I've now secured an Italian original LP as well!)

Notes: As I said in the CDRWL, let's hope that Esoteric continues with Italian progressive rock albums, and doesn't stop with only the English language ones (which are very few in any case). While BTF / AMS of Italy have done a good job on many titles - there are plenty more that could use a better reissue.

Last update: February 22, 2015

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

French TV - 9: This Is What We Do. 2006 USA

French TV - 9: This Is What We Do. 2006 Pretentious Dinosaur (CD)

Another new album from French TV. Another great album from French TV. There are few bands that can match French TV's consistent high quality over a long period of time. For 20+ years, French TV has produced and continues to produce complex, challenging progressive rock. Even more amazing, they actually get better with each release. Now they didn't set the bar real high in their early years, but they never put out a bad record either. But they seem to be getting better almost exponentially. I’m in awe of a band who can release nine albums in a 23 year time span, and never sound stale, retro or trendy. They never mail it in. And they are what one would want from a band that carries the heady term of progressive around. French TV are a mix of Avant Prog, Canterbury, big name UK symphonic, French and Scandinavian styles, even some of the more obscure over the top US progressives like Cathedral and Mirthrandir (and yes, they would have had access to these bands since their inception). But mostly they sound like French TV. In fact, as I hear This is What We do, I recall another elder statesman of creative rock music: Patrick Forgas and his Forgas Band Phenomena. Commercial success was never part of the blueprint for these gentleman. The material they compose is both complex and mature, yet still maintains the edge of youth. We have so few role models in rock music that carried the creative banner for decades, so we must look to jazz and icons like Miles Davis to see this kind of pushing forward as the years go by.

This is among my favorite releases by French TV. I've never listened to all of their albums back to back, but it would probably be interesting to note the ascension.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hands - s/t. 1977-1980 USA


Hands - s/t. 1996 Shroom. Archival recordings from 1977, 1978 and 1980

We first spoke of Shroom in the Arabesque post a few months ago. For a period in the late 1990's, they proved to be the premier CD reissue archival label for America's unreleased progressive rock gems. I've never been intimately involved with the label, but do know pretty well a couple of guys from the original days, including one that is now an active, and fellow, RYM participant.

Hands is the album that pretty much started it all for Shroom. I'll never forget when I first heard this CD. I fell off my chair, perhaps literally. The fact that Hands were from Farmers Branch*, TX was surreal for me. Your humble author grew up and went to school all of about 2 minutes from the suburb, in NW Dallas. Anyone who is from the area, will remember the landscape well - with KZEW and KDFW 102 (pre-Q102) leading the way in FM radio. The years of 1977-1981 is where I cut my teeth on rock music - loyally listening to Randy Davis on weeknights, calling (bugging?) him many nights, and this incredible man taking my calls, and sometimes saying "hold on dude - let me put on a longer song and we'll talk". I mean, seriously, I was a 15 year old heavy metal punk with a thirst for knowledge and this radio professional would give ME the time? Wow. And he told me where I could find rare records and the like. That folks, is inspiring - even as I reflect over 30 years later. No rose colored glasses either - straight fact.

And so with my Sanyo all-in-one stereo, I would religiously pop in the cassette, and record KZEW's album of the night- which included everything from mainstreamers like Rush and Pink Floyd to local Dallas area AOR's such as Airborne (heard of them, have you?). Endless radio ads summoned you to wet T-shirt night at some local Dallas dive rock club (Ritz Theater, The Electric Ballroom, The Paladium, Agora Ballroom) with enticing band names, all long forgotten. But for certain, Hands was not among them. Can we go back to 1978? I want a do over.

Anyway, let's talk Hands for a brief moment. Yes, Gentle Giant, Genesis, ELP and every other mainstream progressive rock band will instantly come to mind. While never forgetting the longneck Pearl or Lone Star hard rock beer moments either. Guitar, violin, flute, keyboards, bass, drums...I mean really? In Farmers Branch? FB's Finest must've pulled them over a dozen times for going 36 in a 35 on Webbs Chapel (locals will get it).

A strikingly great piece of Americana progressive rock, that had NO CHANCE at major label attention. By 1980 The Police, Asia, The Buggles, Loverboy, and Journey ruled the airwaves. That's what the labels wanted to hear. Complex progressive rock was out. The New Wave and what we then called "corporate rock" were in. MTV was here to stay (I know, I'm so old I remember when MTV played music videos).

** So why does the name Farmers Branch mean anything to you? Perhaps you'll recall one of the earliest white rappers claiming he went to some "tough school in the projects". That was Vanilla Ice. And he went to Farmers Branch / Carrollton R.L. Turner High School (didn't even graduate). No street cred in that I'm afraid. Fraud.

*** And while on the personal topic, my good friend Dave, who was then starting a band called Storm at Sunrise - asked me my opinion on a guitarist he should choose - someone who could play both hard rock and progressive. I thought of Ernie Myers of Hands immediately - plus he was local to the area. Dave contacted him, and the rest is history.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

National Health - Missing Pieces. 1975-1976 England


National Health - Missing Pieces. 1996 ESD. 1975-76 recordings, with one 26 second silly audience bit from 1979.

East Side Digital of Minneapolis are most famous for reissuing all 3 National Health studio albums in one glorious 2 CD package - as far back as 1990. It's worth the price of admission alone for the absolutely hilarious liner notes from main protagonist Dave Stewart. So when ESD announced they had unearthed a pile of unreleased gems, prior to their first album, with Mont Campbell (Egg), Steve Hillage and Bill Bruford amongst the usual Canterbury suspects - along with more hysterical liner notes - well... we all couldn't get our wallets out fast enough.

Perhaps most amazing is that most of this CD is on par with their brilliant first two albums (and I'll proudly go on record here - I'm a huge Canterbury fan - and I think National Health are the best band of the entire scene - especially "Queues and Cures"). Some folks even say it's their best album period. While I won't go that far, I will say this is one of the most essential archival albums ever released.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ramses - La Leyla + Eternity Rise. 1976,1978 Germany



Ramses - La Leyla. 1976 Sky; 1976 Annuit Coeptis (USA)
Ramses - Eternity Rise. 1978 Sky

CD reissue for both: 1993 Sky

Packaging details: Both albums on one CD. Pros: From the original label (masters) and both albums in their entirety. Cons: No extras, liner notes, new photos, no nuthin'.

Notes: The Sky label was founded by a former Brain label executive, and originally the label was patterned after the successful cult institution, before pretty much dedicating to electronic music by 1979.

Ramses, along with Shaa Khan, were probably their most overtly progressive rock unit. Eloy seems to be the most obvious influence, with a strong English lyrical content, analog keyboards (mellotron, organ, synthesizers), loud acid guitar, fat bass, heady concepts and extended track lengths. The decidedly slower pace was very much in vogue in Germany during this era (Novalis, Minotaurus, Albatros, Indigo, and dozens of others) clearly demonstrating a love for classic Pink Floyd in their commercial prime.

Eternity Rise is a very slight drop off from the debut. There are a couple of more overt attempts at commercial success here, and that's really the only misstep. Otherwise, the sound is pretty much the same as the debut.

Ramses were a solid, though not a spectacular, German symphonic progressive rock group.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Luciano Basso - Voci. 1976 Italy


Luciano Basso - Voci. 1976 Ariston

CD reissues: 1994 Vinyl Magic; 2007 BTF (mini-LP); 2009 Belle Antique (Japan mini-LP)

LP reissue: 2008 BTF

Packaging details: Currently I own the original Vinyl Magic CD as well as a true original LP - that is one with a textured cover, which is actually quite scarce (many of the originals were smooth covers, which were pressed slightly later). I haven't personally seen the Japanese mini, but it is likely to mimic the textured version.

Notes: 1976 is pretty much the last hurrah for this kind of "big" symphonic progressive rock coming from Italy. Madrugada, Corte dei Miracoli, Celeste, PFM and Banco DMS all threw in their lot for one last try - before either folding or succumbing to more trendy fusion or pop styles.

Basso's debut is a very fine example of this sound. Eschewing the heightened frenzy of the classic early 70's sound, Basso takes on a more mature and measured disposition, and the album is very pleasant. The keyboards are all the classic vintage 70's toys (Mellotron, Hammond, electric piano) along with quite a bit of expertly played acoustic piano parts. A strong violin/cello presence adds a unique dimension, while guitar and a sprightly rhythm section round out the sound. Hard to go wrong with this one for progressive rock fans. And while it doesn't extend much beyond the genre's norm, for something perhaps truly extraordinary, it nonetheless fulfills the daily bread portion of one's progressive musical diet.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Grupo N.H.U. - s/t. 1978 Spain


Grupo N.H.U. - s/t. 1978 Novola Zafiro

CD reissue: 2000 RCA (Zafiro/BMG)

Packaging details: At least the CD is 100% legit, from the master tapes and the original label. Otherwise, it's a bit of a disappointment (no liner notes, bonus tracks, etc..). Typical of reissues from Spain unfortunately. And like many Spanish albums, the original LP is worth owning for the quality and the cover - and I certainly kept mine.

Notes: In 2001, I wrote the following for Gnosis: "1978 was Spain's boom year in terms of progressive rock music, and Grupo N.H.U. met the challenge head on. One of the finest from the Spanish progressive scene, Grupo N.H.U. contains everything that made the Spanish scene so special. Strong compositions marked by many changes. Fat keyboards, loud acid guitar, and a complex, exciting rhythm section make up the centerpiece of the group. An excellent vocalist and a strong fusion edge a la Mahavishu Orchestra rounds out one of the true bona-fide classics of the Spanish scene. An absolute must hear. "

Gosh, do I have anything to add? Perhaps a bit more psychedelic space rock oriented than I implied above. You know, it's not really a typical Spanish release, in the sense that it lacks indigenous qualities - qualities which were still in abundance in late 1970's Spain. Final smokin' fusion track reminds me of primo Crucis (Argentina). N.H.U. stands for Noche Hermosa Una (A Beautiful Night).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Spektakel - s/t. 1974 Germany


Spektakel - s/t. 1996 Laser's Edge. Archival recordings from 1974.

I still remember when Ken first put this CD out - myself and my running pack all bought it immediately and unconditionally. I can only imagine his initial enthusiasm at discovering such buried treasure as this. It had to be transcendental. A few years earlier, he had released the full canon of SFF's works (Schicke, Führs & Fröhling) - already a monumental achievement, especially for an American label. But now this? Sounding like demo versions of Cathedral's famed "Stained Glass Stories" or the also-to-be-discovered-later Deju Vu "Between the Leaves" (Norway), Spektakel is the mellotron soaked fantasy of every progressive rock collector's dreams. Is it a little loose in places? Well, sure. It wasn't ready for prime-time. But when you consider how strong the material is despite the lack of original editing, holy cow - this is about as good as it gets. An absolute must own archival release.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Epidaurus - Earthly Paradise. 1977 Germany


Epidaurus - Earthly Paradise. 1977 private

CD reissue: 1991 Garden of Delights (then known as Penner)

LP reissues: 1995 Resurrection; 2010 Garden of Delights

Packaging details: This is release number #1 for the famed Garden of Delights label, and is considerably weaker from an archival perspective (music is great!) than later reissues. There's a very brief bio, all in German, and one fuzzy photo - and that's it! They were to improve dramatically as a label from here though. I bought the CD shortly after it was released and was the first time I'd ever even heard of the band! I've also owned the Resurrection LP reissue which is definitely a high quality job, but ultimately decided to sell it as the overall package isn't that much of interest. No regrets. And even if I did, I could easily pick up the new GoD LP version - which no doubt would have a better bio than the CD (6/23/14 update: And I did just that a couple of years ago...)

Notes: If there's ever an album that is misunderstood, it's this one. Naysayers are a fact of life in the progressive rock world, and boy do they line up to skewer this baby. They hyperventilate in their glee to scream "overrated!", "overhyped!", "over-everything-I-hate-about-progressive-rock-collectors-even-though-I-am-one!". Favorite target of course is vocalist Christiane Wand. She sings soprano, which sounds a bit disorienting at first, but actually adds a certain amateur charm. Her total impact? About 4 minutes of the disc - all on Side 1. Yep - that's about it. 4 minutes. And her wordless voice is quite enticing, further adding to her value. You'd think by reading many reviews she was all over this thing like Diamanda Galas.

So even if her rather strange voice is not according to your taste, there is close to 30 minutes (it's a short album anyway) of HIGH QUALITY instrumental dual keyboard-driven progressive rock. The album is loaded to the gills with mellotron, Moog, organ, flute, Taurus pedals, active rhythms, the works (no guitars though). It has a very fat sound that I find highly appealing. In fact in some ways, Side 2 could work well as an excellent example of Berlin School sequencer based electronic rock (Schulze's "Moondawn", Wolfgang Bock's "Cycles", You's "Electric Day") - especially the track 'Mitternachtstraum'.

Don't let the wet-blanket crowd get you down. This one is truly a gem.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Tangle Edge - Improvised Drop Outs. 1983 Norway



Tangle Edge - Improvised Drop Outs. 1983 Mushroom (cassette)

Cassette reissue: 1990 Auricle (UK)

CD reissue: 2010 private  (2 CD)

LP reissue: 2010 private (3 LP)

Improvised Drop Outs is well named, as that's exactly what it is. Basically these are relatively short song skeletons, with free form psychedelic improvisations thrown on top. If you're familiar with Tangle Edge at all, the style is instantly recognizable even at this early stage. It can all be a bit much. As the AC joked on the CDRWL: "seems like nine and a half hours", but it does have a trance like effect if you leave it in the background. It's incidental film and TV music for an opium den. For my ears, this is way more preferable than the modern noise makers such as Acid Mother's Temple.

The CD is titled Dropouts and is self-released by the band. It's a 2 CD set in a small flip pack. It's lacking any extras, like bonus tracks, liner notes or photos, but it's still nice to have this on CD - and much better than those old cassettes!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ibliss - Supernova. 1972 Germany


Ibliss - Supernova. 1972 Aamok (Speigelei)

CD reissue: 2009 Garden of Delights

Packaging details: Way back in the 1980s, I found a brand new copy of this LP in a record store for about $5. I couldn't wait to bring it home with a cover like that! But I didn't like it. I wasn't quite ready then for what we now call "Kraut Jazz". And I traded it to a dealer friend shortly thereafter (he gave me a fair price for the era). I regret it now, but I was still new to record collecting. But the good news is that we finally received a wonderful CD reissue from Garden of Delights. And so I now own this copy and maybe one day I'll splurge for another original LP. The CD features great sound, liner notes and photos. No bonus tracks for this one though (which is rare for GoD). Which means, of course, there aren't any extra tracks to be found I'm sure.

Notes: Ibliss are a superb ethnic jazz rock band with psychedelic flute, percussion and guitar. Music can best be described as moody / atmospheric mixed with heavy jamming. A bit like classic Embryo, as found on "Rocksession", but more loose and free.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Axe – Live & Studio. 1970 England


Axe – Live & Studio. 1991 Kissing Spell. Archival recordings primarily from 1970 with one live track from 1969.

Axe were a bit more psychedelic influenced than most UK bands from this era, though they do remind me somewhat of the Julian's Treatment album. The female siren squeal vocals recall Circus 2000, and in fact, Axe's recording here seems like the missing album between the two Circus 2000 gems. Some really splendid guitar (with acoustic accompaniment) can be found here.

Kissing Spell found all sorts of oddities like this in the early 1990s. Mostly in the hard rock and folk genres, but with an occasional foray into progressive rock. Their booklets were light on details, but still better than nothing.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Acqua Fragile – s/t. 1973 Italy


Acqua Fragile – s/t. 1973 Numero Uno

CD reissues: 1990 Crime (Japan); 1991 BMG; 2004 BMG (Japan mini-LP); 2011 Esoteric (England)

LP reissue: 1980 King (Japan)

Packaging details: The original comes in a cool four sectioned poster cover as does the Japanese LP reissue from 1980. I really managed to mess myself up on this one. I originally owned the original and then traded it out and kept the Japanese LP. And then I sold that. Dumb, dumb, dumb. I really do wish I had the original still. And damn if the price hasn't skyrocketed since (Acqua Fragile was one of the few Italian albums you could still get relatively cheap - but no more). Since I had the LP,  I was slow to pick up the CD and didn't gobble one up until the Japanese mini came out in 2004. And that's worth having for the cover alone. I really had no intentions of obtaining the Esoteric CD, but ended up with it by accident (and yes, I paid full price, but it's OK). So I might as well keep both I figure (which is what I should have done with the LP's!) The Esoteric CD is the way to go here with liner notes and unique photos. No bonus tracks, but definitely the best sounding CD version out there.

Notes: Given that Acqua Fragile sing in English, their sound is more typical of the UK progressive rock movement (elements of Genesis, Yes and Gentle Giant are obvious). Despite that, I still find both Acqua Fragile albums appealing - and Lanzetti has a unique voice that served PFM well for many years afterward.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sunbirds - s/t. 1971 Germany

Sunbirds - s/t. 1971 BASF

UMR feature on Sunbirds - Zagara

CD reissue: 2011 Garden of Delights

Release details:  Originals are housed in a wonderful gatefold cover and can get quite pricey. I personally paid top dollar on ebay recently, as it was something I really wanted to own. Not long after, I was thrilled to see the CD reissue, and I pounced upon one immediately as a supplement to the LP. The CD features two excellent bonus tracks, great sound, and GoD's usual full booklet with history and photos. Nobody does reissues better than Garden of Delights!

Notes: Sunbirds are perhaps the ultimate soundtrack for your next autobahn excursion. We're talking open top BMW convertible, hot megababe sitting next to you, hairspray, loads of mascara and thigh high white go-go boots - with 4 inch heels. Oh really, you have no idea what I'm talking about? Go over to your cable TV and find some independent channel that has some feature at 3:00 in the morning with a name like Weird Ass Euro Theater. Catch a flick like The Girl on a Motorcycle and you're there.... BABY! Must be a European production, even a soft core flick will suffice. Put on the Sunbirds, kick back, relax and drift into your inner vertigo. Extra points if you have shag carpet and wood paneled walls....

Musically the Sunbirds' albums can best be qualified as "flute groovers". That is to say, they are seasoned in the jazz idiom, but also wanted to venture into the psychedelic sounds of the day. Chris Hinze, Lloyd McNeill, and Bjorn J:Son Lindh did this too. But the Sunbirds also had that Krautrock thing going on, and you know they were hip to Wolfgang Dauner, Association P.C. and the whole gang at MPS Records. Plenty of wild fuzz guitar and electric piano. Especially on the first album, the Sunbirds could have easily fit on the Brain label, and may have had they come around a year or two later. File next to your T. Yokota and the Beat Generation record. Of course you have that...

Last update: July 27, 2015